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Collecting, Bay of Islands, 1998

John Steffler

Collecting, Bay of Islands, 1998




today a calm, thinking of Joseph Banks I fished
out the open car window with my eyes and at once
just west of Benoit's Cove caught (1) a Bib
Shadow, Umbra fimbriata, which spilled from the
foot of a poplar stump on uneven ground, it had
somewhat the form of a cast-aside skirt or slip,
dark indigo among dandelions & new grass, also
(2) a Faun Shadow, Umbra variata, occurring
where an aspen tree's leaves sifted the falling
sunlight into a school of ovals, soft yellows
and greens swimming on a blistered blue clapboard
wall, the whole aggregation fading and reappearing
now and then as though frightened into some refuge
by (3), Umbra nebulosa, shadows of clouds cruising

My blood was up finding such varied species close
together, yet underneath I had the persistent
faint sensation of being nothing more than a
ribcage, flayed eviscerated, like that of a sheep
hanging at the butcher's, the sea air, the odours
of buds and pollens pulled through my chest
cavity by the working ribs. Perhaps with what I
collect I hope to flesh myself out, reconstruct
my anatomy in a form less human, less estranged.
Or is it characteristic of the creatures I search
for to erode or digest their observers? If so,
I should list my sense of dismemberment as one
of their properties.

sighted also 2 examples of what the local people
call Cobblies, Phantasma lascivum, one (4), probably
a Bell Sprite [Phantasma medusum (S.)], flashing
in the corner of my right eye between the blue
house and the road, domed & transparent with his
edges pink-tinted and a little fringed, or so
it appeared in passing -- whether an effect of light
reflected off the waves of Humber Arm distorted
in the heated air along the road or some as yet
unstudied life-form lacking material substance,
I know not -- the other (5), Phantasma voluptum,
is in the form of an infinite series of naked
female legs high-kicking above the footlights
of a stage, this occurring in my imagination upon
seeing a row of white birch trunks, Betula
, diminishing down the grassy slope
to the northwest


today being also fine I was at the mouth of
Blomidon Brook early and took what I hope
will prove a complete aquatic variant of No. (2)
[Umbra salvelinalis fontinalis (S.)], this,
having mobile crescents of light in opposed pairs
like wings fluttering in abundance, resided
under two feet of blended salt and fresh water
on a bed of ridged sand

in the background, car noise swelled and tapered
on the road from time to time, the tires drumming
hugely on the concrete bridge, and in the
intervals when stillness gathered to a heaviness
that had to drop, a white-throated sparrow
would sing very loud nearby, all of earth's
gravity in its words -- so good to have weight,
to be drawn in


yesterday & today low concourse of cloud
obscuring the tops of the Blomidons, no doubt
the rock outcrops and shrubby knolls are dissolved
and widely dispersed in the intense mist, an
absorption of elements I am convinced the rocks
respond to freely, ranging far in a blind
conversation of touch

loose herds of rain mammoths, shag-sided
the colour of rough-hatchelled tow, blunder out
of the northwest very cold, thrash through
the spruce and alder knocking branches to either
side, not a fit day for venturing out

John Steffler's works copyright © to the author.

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