François Turcot. My Dinosaur (Mon dinosaur). Trans. Erin Moure. (BookThug 2016).
Following her postface, the title of which, ‘Si Moure traduit Turcot; A Book of Hours becomes a Book of Ours,’ begins to suggest the complications embedded in both the original text & in this translation, Erin Moure’s Acknowledgements concludes: ‘Finally, François Turcot’s Mon dinosaure was a fierce companion to me during my own father’s terminal illness in August 2013 in Edmonton. I knew I had to translate the book; in every way, my translation is fuelled by my love for my Dad, and by my gratitude to François for loaning me his.’ So this book comes to us as a doubled labour of love, first of Turcot’s love for his father turned into a kind of translation of his (never written, it seems) stories, & second, of Moure’s love for her father turned into this real translation of the book, already written in our second language, that so spoke to her in her grieving.
The original is a series of suites in poetry & prose that attempt to write for the father as they write back to him, that figure looming so large in the son’s (& in the daughter’s) memories, so a dinosaur, a whale, a whole lake full of fish & events, & most tellingly a source of tales. The first of these, ‘Six Weeks Before the Shades,’ presents in a kind of countdown a series of tight, taut, minimalist poems that keep sliding into a surreal world of memory & loss. ’36 // cold ramble like a first / snow // in the refuge / of his hand // there I’d settle / my rectitude’. Or: ’32 // true geographies, numb/ journey // sucked into the verbiage / of décor // tense as a plaster / dog // I’d militate, silent’.
All this passes through seasons, months, mentioned or alluded to in passing, ‘setting down the Book of Hours’; yet ‘ill-equipped to / say a long while’, until finally ‘-1 // January four butterflies / melting // would leave at night without / lips // without / wings without // saying tomorrow’. Which leads to ‘Meteors’ (one cause of the end of dinosaurs?), where ‘When January burst / December // two minutes short / two // in the white of his / eye // the clock froze / to zero’ (& see Moure’s explication of how difficult the translation of this bit was). Here the poet engages with the whole concept of dinosaur, in a quest to discover what has been hidden, in the bones, in the man: ‘To lift up a dinosaur, suspend it out of reach, is to measure its silence right to the crater of its teeth, is to calculate its wrinkles and its coves, is to grab fast onto all its crevasses. // A dinosaur: creature or man who exists by half, who offers a reading of a world without words.’ But, most importantly, ‘It was my dinosaur wedged in the folds of his own time. / Unreadable, imagining the weight of further stars.’
The father speaks (or writes) to say that his Book of Hours can not exist except in his son’s book, or the next section of it, ‘Prehistories.’ Here a story (or some stories) of fishing & hunting with his dad emerge & dissipate in ‘Contraband of memories / adulterated // white gin of / ravages // at 6 o’clock the gin / tasted of the past’. Any reader will understand ‘never was there such / uncertainty of / landscape / he names of streets / as if family / stories / strewn everywhere’. As these pieces continue, the ‘I’ finds himself lost among memories, hopes, & desires, all combined & ever more fused, or confused. Here the son has only himself left, to ponder. These poems keep invoking the father, but keep returning to the self invoking, & a palpable sense of the love holding on, the loss refusing to leave emerges. Despite its feel of a fragmentary collage, My Dinosaur coheres, an arc of longing-as-story hides within.
In the final section, ‘The Box of Whalebones,’ where the giants evoked earlier seem reduced to the whalebone stays for shirt collars his father left, they (he) reassert their place in the son’s remembering: ‘It might just be a case of a step back so as to dive in, I reminded myself, my dad’s one devious dinosaur, at the very least. // Schemes and stratagems one after another. // I’ve never compared him to a fickle animal – sea mammoth – somehow he has always – been one’. And a power; in the final piece, the poet ironically acknowledges that (while demonstrating his own power to inscribe remembering): ‘I’m going to the lake with its bonfires – to call up his whales more elusive – loquacious – than me’.
But the loquaciousness we have encountered here, in this writing (rewritten in translation for those of us with insufficient French) belongs to François Turcot & it offers us a tough, awkward, fantastical, & loving remembrance of a father missed, & now booked for his readers.