Wind Shadow, L’Anse aux Meadows

John Steffler

copyright ©2010 by John Steffler

Wind off the Strait of Belle Isle rakes
the cape clean. Anything wanting to live here
finds it enjoys crouching in a still pocket
behind a rock (eight months of the year
a white drift) where once in a while a companion
will tumble in: an ant’s leg or cinquefoil leaf.
Just arrived is a scuffed mountain avens seed,
which in the next rain might burst its seams and
help pack the small summer room with green, except
for the week in July when it will parody snow.

Leif Eriksson dropped the erratic fact
of his briefly inhabited outpost here,
and now the fascination of tourists gusts
over the ancient site, their exclamations
and money tumble into the shadow it casts
along Route 436, feeding a clump
of restaurants, gift shops, B&Bs, new
bright-painted homes. The local people want
more boulders like L’Anse aux Meadows, more
nooks where money drifts in, especially now
that the Strait is raked clean of cod.

Notes on the Poem

Sometimes it's a bit surprising what a poem can remind you of ... as was the case when this reader reread and pondered "Wind Shadow, L'Anse aux Meadows" by John Steffler. Steffler captures economically but strikingly a remote, harsh but beautiful part of the world, the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland. Moving from "(eight months of the year a white drift)" words made almost all the more claustrophobic as they are confined in parentheses, which could also represent the outer casing of a seed, to indeed "a scuffed mountain avens seed, which in the next rain might burst its seams and help pack the small summer room with green" Steffler juxtaposes frozen stasis and bursting, tenacious life. In the first verse, that fierce will to survive characterizes the island itself. In the second verse, that survival instinct is illustrated pragmatically and no less tenaciously by the people of the island. What came to mind then, contemplating a resourceful people making the most of a thorny but arresting part of the world? Why, this compelling series of advertisements, capturing this very dichotomy. The surprise isn't really that the poem and the advertising campaign both literally and figuratively cover the same territory. The surprise isn't even that the tone of one could be argued to be consistent with the other. The surprise is (and who knows if the poet would agree) that it feels perfectly legitimate and not sacrilegious to feel the two are complementary. Perhaps the surprise is that in comparing the two, it reveals the artistry in a medium not always given that credit and the accessibility in an art form not always perceived as having it. Do you agree?

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