Four Poems by Gerald Hill

New Work

The Goddamned Birds of Saskatchewan

Drown them out with Occupational
Health and Safety DVDs or else
birds owned him. First thing, morning,
dreams ripe, they’d wake him up:
coo-ooooooh, coo-ooooooh. Stan hired
neighbour kids to pelt Mr. Mourning Dove
with lengths of rebar, stones, worthless coins.

He’d be sitting in his breakfast nook—
slice of bread with peanut butter, toasted.
Milk, banana, orange, pot of tea—
he’d  open windows into sweet
morning light, hear krrrrrr-rrapp,
krrrrrr-rrapp. He’d go for a walk.
If he can’t escape the so-called songs,
he’ll write them down, way down,
in his doomsday book. They might
look better than they sound,
hiccup, gurgle, chatter, twitter, chip,
oodle-oodles, that’s enough.

He’d never spent such a long afternoon,
ignoring forty or fifty “songbirds” yakking,
one bitter the rest worse. Fifteen species
of swallow, his bird friend had said.
Some you won’t hear anywhere else!
Not just noise, they flew, sewing the river
to ragged trees except for the lucky ones,
gliders, far above the sound of other birds.

In the best of all worlds the end
of bird book means the end of birds.
The cottonwoods could blow,
the river remember, all of it clear
as May. But in Stan’s habitat,
he must choose. One, put music on,
The Wailin’ Jennies, see if that helps.
Two, go further in, downstairs,
the deepest corner of the darkest house,
where a man can imagine birds
a man can’t hear.

The Haircut

George the barber kicks the box aside,
swings the chair around. In the mirror
Stan sees one-inch-wide demolition
around the shadows of his ears, leaving
a patch further up. No offence, Stan thinks,
but that’s the head of a man in over-alls
working the field all day. “You can take
more off the top, please George.” “More yet?
You’re gonna look raw, but here goes”
(whine of George’s ancient shears). He tells
Stan of his 80-horse motor at Spike Lake
and gals named Marge or Edna who like George
in a boat and happy. For his final pass,
George tips the razor toward the depths
of Stan’s ears and nose and across
his eyebrows. Good enough, Stan reckons.
“Five bucks, please,” George says.

Stan Gets Twice as Simple (As Before)

In the bare hills north of town facing
the Whitemud valley south, his legs spread out,
Stan imagined coulee. Like any groove
in his body, the coulee began
with slight creasing of an even field.
The crease defined a pair of rounded banks,
winding deeper to thick woods and, lower,
the open field again. Today he’d walked
across the top of several such events.

In dreams he grew bright colours that night—
wildflowers, rock-coats. He witnessed fissures
and decay, wind-assaults, familiar rubs
of sage. No stumbling in Stan’s dreams,
no picking up of sticks, no startling deer.
Waking up was easy, just a gentle
lift, but laborious, so gradual. In fact,
waking is to dreaming as one coulee
is to the next. You just keep following.

Stan’s Odyssey

He’s no Ulysses but doesn’t mind
a story when morning arrives wet
from night and the west view bleeds mist
and wind. He packs sweet Whitemud water,
a jackknife, whatever fits in his father’s jacket—
stout gloves, vital creams and lotions,
tin of smoked meats. A staff he’ll prune
from the first fine tree.

Stan, a man who once
was a boy, hangs the jacket on the back
of his kitchen chair, west-bound. His father
used to say after you’ve sat long enough,
get up and go, all the motion Stan needs.
He’ll finish his pot of tea, leave a note
for care of the house, lift his arms into
his father’s jacket and go.

Morning is disguise
he believes. The river is a thin road
to the iron bridge. What bright-eyed goddess
formed that notion, he wonders, adding two
pens and slips of paper to his pockets,
packet of seeds, something he can offer.

Let us know, Muse—what tumbles from the hills
this morning, what thought-rocks, what ancient bones?
Look, prepare yourself, earth is your witness,
for Stan has taken steps to leave the yard.


  1. Sylvia Gibbs
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    My husband got his haircut in Havana Cuba from a little mama sita that was so short she could barely reach the top of his head….and he was sitting down in the chair. The rusty scissors that she took out were so scary that I couldn’t watch – I had to leave. He came out unscathed. She didn’t seem too happy to have him there.
    What an adventurous soul he is.

  2. DW
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    poems that speaks to the senses. especially like the first one. great write.

  3. Victor
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    I get my haircut by Ron at the Italia Barber in the McClaren Hotel on Main Street. Forty years in the business, always happy to provide a straight razor shave. He was a white kid abused in a residential school, always talks about a settlement. I’m just happy he’s had his cataract surgery.



    I’m cut, but not by Ron’s straight
    razor against my throat, about as much danger

    as I see in a day, but by the two double Georges
    and a Standard Lager in the McLaren Hotel.


    Ron has a history he is only beginning
    to share when I sit in his chair.

    He is waiting for $540,000, a settlement
    from Ottawa, for personal reasons

    accrued during his stay in a residential school.
    Only problem, he was white, and a firmer racist

    it would have been hard to raise. Not satisfied,
    he accepts no apology, and makes none.

    To him it’s all about money;
    whether he has seen as much as is

    necessary to retire, or whether he loves
    to cut enough to open his own shop.


    I didn’t come here for beauty, I’d never go that far.
    I see the pregnant aboriginal daughter

    buy Old Stock for her abusive father, and what I think
    is pop I hear her tell him is a rye and ginger and a rye and coke

    making another Fetal Alcohol Syndrome baby
    for who any apology is too late, and I forget

    my own need
    for salvation.

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Gerald Hill

Two-time winner of the Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry, Gerald Hill published his sixth poetry collection, Hillsdale Book, with NeWest Press in 2015. He lives and writes in Regina, teaching English and Creative Writing at Luther College at the University of Regina.