Two Sonnets

Nassagaweya Township is where I live. Still mostly rural, it is dominated by rock and swamp and small fields, and was first settled in the early-to-mid 1800s. The lives and labour of those first settlers, who cleared huge tracts of hardwood and white pine, dragged enormous boulders to build boundary walls, and quarried limestone for rock and lime, were in part behind these two sonnets.

Nassagaweya 1: Winter Deer

Dividing wood and tangled swamp the road

Cuts survey-straight, a line drawn cleanly on

The map, unlike the trail that six deer followed

Through brush and cattail, three pairs of doe and fawn.

Their path ran crooked, keeping to high ground

Between the clumps of osier, brilliant red

Against the morning’s snow. A final bound

Brings the first doe to the road: the others, led

By her, follow, and in silent file cross

This barren space, alert, deliberate,

Unhurried; not admitting any loss

Of path or cover, valiance animate.

No survey stake or draftsman’s pen rules here:

Red osier, swamp, and wood belong to deer.

Nassagaweya 2: Rock and Water

Rock and water underlie this township,

But neither deeply; it’s rarely more than

A few feet to the rock, and every dip

Of land’s a swamp. A challenge to a man,

To try to farm this, but his chance to make

A life is here. So fields are cleared and streams

Diverted; roads are built. But rock can break

Both ploughshares and spirit: too many dreams

Of harvest awake to springtime flood

And summer drought; the skin of soil above

The limestone now like rock itself; now mud.

His sons say there’s not enough here, to love

Or prosper on: they answer other calls

As trees surround the crumbling boulder walls.

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