Bentley LeBaron Writer

Bruce  You’re like a Renaissance man in a way, you do diverse things. Have you published your written works?

Bentley LeBaronA couple of poems in anthologies, yes. More academic work, because I w as an academic once. I had a number of scholarly articles published, in scholarly journals.

Bruce Do you still write poetry? 

I basically stopped writing when I started painting. Not that I’m finished with writing, I may get back to it. I have several writing projects unfinished.  But right at the moment, no, I’m not writing. I think about it, I think about my various writing projects still in process. They’re still spinning in my head.

Lyn  We’ve heard about your writing, and reading, on the radio.  They played it on CBC just last week!

It’s a dozen years old, and CBC trots it out every now and then. I don’t always have my radio on. They had me do, I think, four pieces. Frogs, Ravens,
Eagles, and one other. Frog seems to be their favourite, because they keep playing it. Somebody up there likes it.

I submitted it, I think Frog was the first one. They liked it and said sure, we’ll broad case it. That was before digital, but we were still recording it on tape. I had a friend, who recorded a bunch of frog sounds, we took it over and fiddled around in their studio over there, and produced it. I had a professional producer, working with me in the CBC recording studio in Vancouver. Two or three years later, when we did the last one, they had the beginnings of digital. I was still recording my bit on tape, but when we got it over there they had a really fancy machine that could minutely edit, take bits of static out, and overlap. cI got to sit right there and participate in it. They’d say, “How do you like this?”, and they’d do it again. they were very amenable, and seemed to like have me there for the fine tuning process.  They have the rights to it, they can do what they want with it, all four of the pieces that I did.


Listen to Bentley LeBaron reading his poem, “Entrances”


This is my first awareness of a possible place.

Through a green screen, from a narrow road, a glimpsed opening, shafted by light. Too small to be called a meadow, not significant, really. But wide as a sliver of dream-stuff; big enough, I think, to plant a person, and a row of sweet peas. I will push through, and look.

No path.

A scrabble through salmonberry; shadowed movement of water just wide enough to jump; grandfather firs, sword ferns, then late-summer bracken, and tangled grasses. A slender, slanted, tower of sun.

Listen. At earth level, listen. “Ears of my ears, awake.”

Capillary sounds. Carapace scrape and rustle. Humus humming. A membrane stretches, becomes transparent. Pass through it. Yes. . . here.

First task, a foot bridge.

Clear a pull-off for a car, at roadside. Open a miniature switch-back path to the creek; line it with oyster for night-walking. Cut slender poles (astonishing filaments of flexed fixed energy), place them horizontal, with cedar crosspieces, and rough arch-over, faintly Japanese, without formality.

Evening and morning.  They take pleasure, and call it good.

Call this the first, and still favorite, entrance.

Today, another season, a dozen years later, I am here at water-side just to say good morning. Stream at ease, as usual, no hurry. She knows the end of her journey is only minutes away.

Bridge, like me, shows scrapes, sags, makes creaking noises. We both acknowledge punky spots. But he jokes that in these days of redundancy and early retirement he sure is glad to still have his job. One day at a time, and all that.

Spirits of walking, and of feet. Low speech, barely audible. I lay myself down, with an ear to the path. Something about bliss, and timelessness . . . ?  Wait, make that blisters, and untidiness . . .

I can sink lower. I will say something to the hidden-under things, those always present beings, the invisible single and several cells.  But what? Suddenly I feel stupid, tongue-tied. What does  one say to one’s original ancestor (to the one who’s been everywhere, done everything, to the one who has made the long voyage, sailed every sea) that isn’t parochial and callow?

Then I do think of something. I want to ask what it feels like to divide into two. This mitosis thing – is it fun? Is it sexy? Strenuous? Or quite ho-hum after all those billions of times?

A possible answer, from some dimly remembered place in the mud:

. . . when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only wet;
when the clouds pass, sun shines through . . .

I think I have to go now. Tomorrow I may come back, looking for an easier conversation. With the ones who don’t usually mock me: maybe the gloriously golden-gowned skunk cabbage, or the newt, with startling orange underbelly . . .

   *  *  *

There is a second entrance.

Begin at the smell of salt, and the sinuous line of tangled treasure-wood. Turn your back to a sister island; turn from the sensuous fingers of wind, and wide shout of gulls; come up, away, from the female curve of the bay.

Turn right, pass the gate and garden of the good neighbours, turn left at the tall hemlocks, then again right, after the erratic rock, into what was once a lane, before these rambunctious, swift-springing, adolescent firs declared it theirs, and then we took issue with them and made it again a lane.

May we come in by this way?

Come in through the folk tale, into the faery wood, to the always, the archetypal “clearing in the forest,” where the old hag lives. And here we are, time-warped, vortexed, contracted: in from her expanse, into her enclosure, suddenly wombed.

Interior fast-ness.

Micro-cosmic vestigium of ancient Arkadia. “Taken as the ideal region of rural contentment.”

Modest modern refuge for the memory of the disreputable, the smelly goat-god. Honeysuckle and blueberries luxuriate where he danced.  Is that a faintly lingering vibration of the archaic shepherd’s pipe? Of course not. Lingering echo, perhaps, of dream music? Of rippling through the rushes, of sweet Syrinx’ cries, panic, and ecstasy? Such romantic imaginings! A modern sensibility must not credit nymph-glimpses, still less make votive offering to the Lady of the Wild Things.  Smile– but never really mind the flickering fancies of a vanished, banished childhood.

In the beginning, I simply sat, with bee-loud silence in my ears.

Eventually, I roused myself, burned a great tangle of brush and bramble at the edge of the glade, then built a small house where the ashes lay.

Like the Vedics of another continent, I asked for a blessing– or at least the acquiescence– of Vritra, deep coiling one, as I pinned the earth for a foundation corner.  A small brown snake flickered into the light, looked over the ashes, and was gone.

In five cut lengths, like small whales, we moved a massive cedar nurse log, and built a kiln-shed where her dreaming had lain, where it still lies, and will, I suppose, unmoved, for another 350 years.  A blown down maple stood smartly up again, grasped the end of a roof beam, and supported it sky-ward.

So, today, in the hag’s forest, is  house, a workshop, a garden. So far, she has permitted it. She is, it seems, as generous as she is implacable.

It has been observed that all forests are one. Every forest, even a remnant such as this, echoes the first forest. You know, the wide-spreading forest, the one that received the first mystery from rock and water, robed it in primal green, and placed it deep in cell memory, when the story was young. I guess this is why every forest is hers. Why we enter a forest at her pleasure, and our peril.

Our bounded, tamed, domesticated woodlots seem to us innocuous, and transparent.  Look again. Listen again.  Sit very still . . . lie . . . sink, as the fawn does, into shadow.  Slowly, slowly, raise the head. Turn it, imperceptibly; and look over the left shoulder.

Every forest is a forest of eyes.

The ancient forest, the one which is always dangerous, cannot be cut down.

The old self, the one suckled by wolf or bear, cannot be lost.  In darkness, without compass or star, a traveler knows the north side of a tree, by its touch, or by its smell.

Enter a forest. Watch for her brambled hidden hut, at the edge.

Enter a relationship, or a life’s work.  Listen for her footstep

*  *  *

Come now, I have one more way-in to show you. Here, on the far side of the clearing, is a third, an ordinary, and now a well-worn, entrance.

For several seasons we gathered slash here, for firewood. This area had been newly logged. Look . . . massive stumps, lurking under this lush of twining green.

I remember how we led this driveway in, a meandering way, on a tether string of October mornings. Planted these little redemptions: lilacs, walnuts, hazelnuts, to make a welcome.  Planted flowering plums, and cherries, to greet The Guest.

So now, when humans come, they mostly come in by car, down this drive.

What do they see?

Trees, then a clearing, a cluster of buildings, daffodils (if it is March, or April), a courtyard with sculpted figures.

Occasionally, thinking they’ve glimpsed the horned one, I have seen them rub their eyes, or look quickly away. If they imagine that they hear the conversations– the whispers, the muffled laughter– they mostly do not mention it.

Some do.

When I go by car– out into the community, or for a town trip– I come back in by this entrance. What do I see? My eyes see what they see, the welcome sights of home.

There is another eye.

There is another I.

There is the quick one, not bounded by this body;
the one who moves inside the song, an impulsive cantata;
the one who dissolves outward like smoke, ahead of me, meets the rooted, fierce, exuberant beings
who live here . . . tree frogs, mahonia, wood bugs . . . flows into the interstices of their bark and sap;
the one who greets, gestures, capers in motley,
hoots, whispers . . .

. . . a stillness

. . . thanks.

There is another eye . . .
the one who watches
from the shadow.

*  *  *


*  *  *

Lynette: Is this the place of the hag?

Yes, right here. It still is her space, she’ll be here when I’m gone. Her various incarnations: she’s the great mother in her hag costume, in her grain mother costume, these are Great mother in her cedar costume. Cedar tree is great mother in her cedar tree costume.