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Essays

 BY THE LIGHT OF THE LILAC MOON 

[Author's Note: This essay, commissioned for a Prairie Fire Special Issue on Sharon Butala to be published in 2012, is the latest in a series I began writing in 1978. They feature a group of "crickets" who called themselves Phenostructarchists, originally based in Winnipeg, but now scattered across the three prairie provinces. See Works Consulted.]

Dramatis Personae:
The Narrator: eponymous.
Arché: one-time, now-failed poet; relocated to Saskatchewan; see "Leona."
Feno: hermeneutically inclined, but generous; sessional lecturer, whenever possible.
Harder: prairie farmer/rancher and/or rancher/farmer; born Turnhill SK.
Leona (of the well-oiled heels): mother, partner, friend; Ukrainian origin.
Platzl: professor of rhetoric and swimming; Dean of "Prairie School of Place"; deceased.
Strook: stickler for petty detail, and somewhat neurotic; see "Feno."

Introduction

The guy always surprises me, Arché, I mean. Bad enough that he's returned to his ruts, as he puts it in his mocking way, but now he's convened the Postphenostructarchists on the flimsy excuse of celebrating the tenth anniversary of dear Platzl's passing. The group hasn't met since the 80s, as far as I know, and I'm frankly amazed that they've decided to try it again. Arché did mention several months ago that all he ever got from Strook and Feno was forwarded links to academic papers on the theory of place in Canadian literature they thought he should read, so they obviously were communicating on some level. But that's a far cry from actually meeting at the Beaver Flat Lodge, which, let me tell you, is nothing if not a real place. Apparently one of them has discovered some of Platzl's lost essays which they now want to publish in Platzl's honour. At least that's what Arché implied in his last email to me. These essays no doubt could mess up the Platzl Page that Arché maintains, which, come to think of it, I haven't visited for a very long time either. Perhaps I should have before I accepted his invitation. I remembered now, with a jolt, that I hadn't picked up a copy of Lilac Moon that Arché insisted I must read, a jolt that nearly sent me sliding off the graveled roads into a deep correction-line ditch.

Anyway, that's why I was driving down prairie roads through the riverbreaks on a Saturday evening in late fall when I should have been at home doing the weekend crossword in the Leader Post. It was a beautiful drive, though, the last sunlight fading from the mauve-coloured hills on the other side, the moon already up in the east and reflected toward me in the calm waters of the lake. I remembered the tiny coyotes I thought I'd seen in Arché's eyes, howling at the moon, as he stood on the verandah of the hotel paying tribute to Leona, the last time I was here. He wasn't given to that sort of thing, Arché wasn't, at least not in former days, and I recalled it had made me uncomfortable. But everything's former these days, I reminded myself, as I pulled up at the Lodge. The lake here was formerly a river. Beaver Flat long ago had real beaver lodges. Even the infamous Turnhill Lounge referred to a former place, according to Arché. Made me think of something else he had said about that book I hadn't yet cracked, that it was among the best he'd ever read about this part of the prairies. High praise from Arché. Another thing he hadn't been given to, formerly - or had I missed the irony that used be a constant undertone in his voice?

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©2012 WorDoctor