At Red River’s Edge & other poems

It is perhaps inescapable, my being born and raised in a North American suburb in the latter half of the twentieth century, that my poetry should show some concern with the environmental crisis. However, being poetry, the four poems here cannot help but articulate a paradoxical relation to that concern. On the one hand, they seem to adopt a disturbingly anthropocentric perspective: all but the poem on Mount Ság spontaneously centre themselves on that unquestioned lyrical ego whose oblivious hubris is often accused of being at the root of our neurotic, abusive exploitation of the environment, the seemingly innocent pseudo-sonnet “Two” going so far as to anthropomorphize the Aurora Borealis! On the other hand, that “I” wondering on a riverbank does ultimately reorient himself (symbolically) to the fluidly circulating systems of natural history, and that toddler in the backseat perceives the phenomena of the night sky as vitally revelatory. The dilemma is clearest in contemplating the stars, which impresses a now plural “us” with that peculiar gravity of being human, being uniquely and inescapably “response-able” for constellating our own meanings and values “in the dark.”

At Red River’s Edge

I shed scales and
blood the slow water
at the river’s edge, the fish
gutted on some warming rock.
A wondering after
origins and wellsprings
rises with my standing
and squinting into the glare
of light broken upstream
at my vision’s limit.
What one source spills
up this river?  —
numberless puddles brimming
over as rain falls
to fill them, clear
water writhing
over slick dark rock
too hard to carve
a lasting path in,
waves of rainwater
draining in rippling sheets
of flat rock walling
a gleaming highway,
or running in rivulets
charging a careening stream
from a sudden height
in an opening spray of sparks
that scatter against one
mountain’s steep
lower rises. Upward,
glaciers moan and turn
themselves to fluid under
their own weight
for the sake of motion.
Lighter ice and snow
drop, overheavy
overhang, giving
the glitter of crystals
to the lift of winds
and the long swerve of descent
to dew on darting speargrass
leaves or on the grains
of the smallest antmounds
mining the glint
of sand mixed in the topmost soil
of swelling foothills.
Clouds shadow the climb
of rock, condensing
and losing themselves
in the strain
to come to nothing
but clearest light.
Everywhere, countless surges urge
one flow that fills
perfectly any particular
gap in every ground
in its scrambling run
to that ease of gravity
proper to the sea. This river
one route before me
and beyond me on
either side, never ebbing,
only ever changing course
to another.
I follow
some black bark carried free
on flashing rises of the current,
sometimes edging a shore, sometimes stilled
in the turning of
a darker random
swirl, but always
spiralling out again
to give with the slow measure
of the ocean’s deepest founding swells
or float on the light
lift of waves
and the chance of the wind
into some child’s quick
excitement in the seadrift.


I know the aurora borealis
From before I knew there were nights without them.
Gazing up at them
Alone in the backseat November highway
All the way home
The cold I was wrapped against
Tingling cheeks
Nose cold
The Northern Lights
A veil
In lifting fingers of wind
Thundering the high air
Way over the howling at the window I sit by

Budapest Suites II

                   For Laszlo Gefin

“There is a god here!”
In wild strawberry entangling thistles,
In maple saplings, a shroud on loam,
In chestnut and cherry blooms over tree-line,
In goldenrod and grass, every green stalk, bowed with seed.

And there is a god who
Quarries slate for imperial highways,
Mines iron-ore out of greed,
Who would have Mount Ság again
Ash and rock.

And there is a god
In the seared, scarred, spent, still,
For lichen, poppies and song
Here rise from the bared
And broken rock to the air!

from Grand Gnostic Central

Tonight, the world is simple and plain.
The earth is round and the sky two domes
Enclosing us, excluding nothing.

The stars are arranged in such a way
As to suggest an endless emptiness
Or heavens full of foreign deities.

And choosing to choose neither we lose
Ourselves, desiring only an end
To this plane enclosed around itself

That keeps us coming to ourselves again.

Bryan Sentes was born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan and has lived in Montreal since 1986. His academic training is in both literature and philosophy. The poems he has allowed Montreal Serai to publish come from his book Grand Gnostic Central (DC Books).