Posts Tagged ‘Robert Hilles’

Here is a new poem from my book Line (coming April 2018) to remember my father who died 21 years ago today.

Dad by Rock 1940sMy Dad on Smith Farm 1940sPicture 001


This precarious perch
our one go
the row of lights
blinding at times
but around them only dark
a hedgerow of rhododendrons
spiked intent
behind the facade
a child plays with spark plugs
the timing of my father’s engine
the grin godly
mischief how it all leaps ahead
the timing belt on his truck
could snap sends stars
scattering into the night
no one draws near
all wrongs not righted
but propped up somehow
every creature
complete with some sort of spine
or other mechanism
for explaining
that the perch is gained
but once and not for that long
the moving parts always different
if my father looks now to one side
as a bear or beaver
hurries in the underbrush
down the way a creek swells its banks
the birch and poplars around
greedy for all that water
roots pushed so deep
they hit rock and progress sideways

my father parks
on the other side of the creek
carries a 30/30 rifle on his shoulder
finds a rock to settle
disturbs the moss and sits
waits for a deer
there are few noises
now and then
the huff of wind
leaves flutter
or to his right a bird of some sort
calls once
a squirrel chatters
then bounds between trees
all this movement
how it all keeps
spinning out of control
if not brought here
then how
does it come to be?
all of it a lurch of some sort
explained only in some
unravelling prayer
it is autumn
my father the deer hunter
wears running shoes
red checkered hat
pushed back exposing forehead
glasses scratched
teeth mostly gone
he holds the rife a steady aim
he was once stars
and will be stars again
and is stars now
but that day he
is all of us
ashamed holding fast
telling the truth
in his head
he craves a cigarette
but stays focused
hears the deer
to his right
advancing toward the creek
for water
each animal
needing precisely what
the earth serves up
even my father here
moments from killing the deer
sees how everything he needs
has been provided
all of it working fine
before laws
before the amassing of wealth
before that nimble thing
called history
that prepared argument
even a god would shun
if one were asserted into place
the precarious perch
even my father
then only a decade or so
from being dead too
he has known this bush
since a boy and now
hunts it as an old man
the deer too has a journey
that took it to this
very creek
its head a truthful place too
even if my father has no sense
of what its thoughts might be
later after my father
pulls the trigger
and approaches the still warm body
it is all familiar to him
as he cuts into flesh
hands bloodied
he learned this chore
years ago
the meat inside
only a ghost of something older
the wind at his back
another of those negotiations
he knows
later he washes his hands in the creek
carries the carcass to his stone boat
drags it back to his truck
parked between spruces
lifts one end of the deer
onto the tailgate
then the other
pushes across that metal scrape

on the drive home
he could check on the dead deer
in his rear view mirror
but doesn’t
his thoughts race
past the point of words
when he signals
for his road
there are no oncoming cars
but waits a moment before turning
as though there were
can’t explain that
now or later
when I ask him about it
all he says
is that it was his last deer
that there wasn’t as much meat
on it as there used to be
that’s his argument with god
I know that even if he doesn’t say
it takes a very long time
to gain what a life holds
and then it is all lost again
the final exhale
erasing it all
then he is still my father
even if all that made him
is mostly shut off

that day though with the last deer
he sits on the tailgate for a few moments
after loading the deer
sniffs the air
catches hints of spruce needles mixed
with the sourness of fallen leaves
he doesn’t reflect on the deer’s life
or his own or what brought them both
here today
mostly his mind empties of thought
the moment not really requiring thought
only the necessities of being
breath, balance, movement, pause
attention or at least attending
eventually he gets in the truck
and drives away
his hands perched on the steering wheel
grip firmly and he aims his truck
down the highway
the dead deer in the back
not the only thing he
is transporting with him


Here’s a poem from my new book Time Lapse to remember my father on Father’s Day 2014. He has been gone now 19 years. He died on the morning of July 16, 1995 at the Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg from complications of pneumonia as my mother would also some 17 years later – in the same hospital on the same floor.  Here is a picture of the four of us taken before my sister was born. My brother and I were dressed alike even though we were 22 months apart.

(for Austen E. Hilles August 27, 1920 – July 16, 1995)

Yesterday a butterfly died on our deck
I watched its final twitches before wings lay flat
only then did it become familiar

I thought of my father fifteen years earlier
going still in his hospital bed
no one there to notice he’d stopped breathing

In the morning a slight wind scattered the butterfly’s
torn parts on the deck and I took comfort
in that rugged chain of command
each flaw shapes a powerful join

The anniversary of my father’s death
each life a trajectory under regulated sky
the moving parts made from something that was once a tree
before that a rock
or bits of soil and before that
a positive charge

Without that butterfly
I wouldn’t have remembered as clearly
that first moment when my father wasn’t in the world anymore

Brian and Cathi Laughing 1img005

A poem to remember my brother Brian Austin Hilles who died 5 years ago today. His laughter gone for good but not forgotten.

The Night Season

whenever I walked abroad in the night season, when
the firmament was clear and cloudless, I abandoned all else without
exception and gave myself up to the beauties of the heavens
. . . .
– Julian, Augustus, Hymn to King Helios

I think of my brother
At the end of his life
The air ahead thick
With squawking birds or
The dull drone of a tired machine
No music or kind words
A drumbeat maybe
Or the static from a radio station
Signed off for the night even the priest
Already having done his needless bit.

Today as I walk
In Chiang Mai a rat
Scurries ahead of me
Escaping the exterminator
Blowing smoke into street drains
The man works with his head down
And either does not see or care
About one that gets away.
We are all safe only for now.

Time’s forward will
Shapes an instant in its bubble.
My brother did not know why
The end came so fast.
When he asked my sister what he’d done
To deserve this pain
Nothing was all she could say
My brother the Good Samaritan
Always lending a hand when needed.

On his final day he did not sleep well
He woke several times
And in the morning had trouble breathing
Pam drove him to the hospital
And he walked in on his own
They led him to a room
With a blue number on it
As if that made a difference.

Welcome to the Website of Robert Hilles Canadian Poet and NovelistRobert Hilles Poet and Novelist

I live on Salt Spring Island with my partner Pearl Luke. In 1994, I won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for Cantos From A Small Room. In the same year, my first novel, Raising of Voices, won the Writers Guild of Alberta George Bugnet Award for best novel. I have published thirteen books of poetry and five books of prose. My other books include: Finding The Lights On, Near Morning, Nothing Vanishes, Kissing The Smoke, Breathing Distance, Somewhere Between Obstacles and Pleasure, Higher Ground, Wrapped Within Again and Slow Ascent. Wrapped Within Again, New and Selected Poems was published in the fall of 2003 and won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for best book of poetry. My second novel, A Gradual Ruin, was published by Doubleday Canada in 2004 and now is in paperback. My books have also been shortlisted for The Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Prize, The W.O. Mitchell/City of Calgary Prize, The Stephan Stephansson Award, and The Howard O’Hagan Award. My second non-fiction book, Calling The Wild, was published in the fall of 2005 from Black Moss Press. My thirteenth book of poetry, Slow Ascent, was published in the fall of 2006. I am currently at work on a new novel titled Solo and a collection of Short Stories.