a review by David Warriner
If you’re the slightest bit squeamish, or a lifelong vegan, you might find yourself skimming over a few sections of this novel. Then again, you might just end up being morbidly fascinated by how close it takes you to nature. Poacher’s Faith is a tale to be savoured, and once you’ve turned the last page you’ll want to go right back to the beginning again. It left me feeling like I’d been for a walk in the woods, wondering what a mouthful of black truffles would taste like.
Half Mohawk, half Caucasian, Marc Morris grew up on a reserve outside Montreal. He is on a quest, trying to find something. Will he find it through faith? Perhaps. He spends time in a seminary, befriends men of the cloth, and coins the idea of earning Pope Miles, yet questions organized religion. Notwithstanding faith, will love conquer all? It seems he’s looking in all the wrong places until destiny – if you can call it that – leads him to Emma, the mother of his child.
Marc spends his time searching, but he’s far from lost. At the wheel of his pickup truck, he criss-crosses borders just because he can. Borders that only exist in what we know today as North America, not in the land of his forefathers. He’s physically tracing out his disillusionment, driving the giant “Fuck You” he scrawled over a map of the continent in his second year of college.
Why is Marc a poacher, not a hunter? Because he’s a rebel. As he says himself, his nature requires him to break the rules others have made. He masterminds elaborate scams to harvest caviar from sturgeon in a Great Lakes wildlife reserve, labels it as Russian, and routes it through the Port of Montreal to world-class restaurants in the States, making a pretty penny along the way. He knows everything there is to know about extracting a bear’s gallbladder and selling it to the Chinese for its mythical aphrodisiac properties. But still, he has such a profound respect for nature and extraordinary culinary talent you can’t help but feel he’s a good guy.
Poacher’s Faith manages to be profound, thought-provoking, and satisfying in one delicious mouthful. It has so many layers, it’s like a dinner menu with too many courses to digest in one sitting. There’s only one thing for it: to read it for yourself. Once as a main course, then another time for dessert. ≈
From Poacher’s Faith
by Marc Seguin
≈ translated by Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo
I knew the animal was huge as soon as I saw the thick black bulk of its body appear on the road. I was glad to see no one ahead of me and no one in my rear-view mirror. I don’t seek these things out, but they do happen to me, just like some people happen to love Proust and others happen to play the violin, or write, or learn a new language, I guess. It’s a talent or some kind of predisposition whose codes are still a mystery to me.
By locking the wheels with a calculated twist of the steering wheel, I slued the back of the pickup across the road in just the right way. In a split second, I was able to open my door with my left hand while with my right, I grabbed the gun lying on the floor in front of the passenger seat. The bear had stopped, curious like almost all wild animals – too curious. Bang. Gunned down on the spot.
I am a consequence of modern America, the America that gunpowder conquered and made a conqueror. Even if I am an intellectual product of the middle class, one half white and the other half American Indian. Still flowing through my veins are the motives of a predator. Or a “regulator,” as the biologists and hunters aware of hunting’s bad reputation would say. It should be called “removing the resource.” Bunch of hypocrites. I kill animals so I don’t kill men. Gives men a bit of a reprieve. When I can, I bring back part of the animal to eat and I make no effort to hide the body. A ton of other species in the food chain can make use of the carcass.
At best, I would get the bear out of plain sight, but that would only be to delay discovery of my misdeed. No question of bringing the whole thing back: it would be impossible to move. I don’t think I could even have lifted it the metre necessary to hoist it into the bed of the pickup. That settled it. Had it been a human, I would have had to camouflage the body because the root of that problem is frankly quite simple: no body, no crime. But here again, the weight was a burden. That is why killers, in the controlled perpetration of the act, carve up their victims. They’re thinking ahead.
The Globe and Mail said that, of course, the bear’s gallbladder was missing. No kidding. Someone paid me forty-five hundred dollars for that one gallbladder. In 1991, that was an incredible amount of money for an Institut d’hôtellerie cooking student. The bile alone is worth up to twenty times its weight in gold if you know how to prepare it. The recipe calls for the organ, which looks like a long dried-up crabapple, to be dried in total darkness, cut into three or four pieces and then marinated in several bottles of whiskey or scotch. “Seems it’ll cure what ails you, eh, my friend?” I had said out loud. I always talk to the animal I’ve just killed: it does help personalize the relationship of dominance.
A cold? Try a hot toddy made with bear-bile scotch. Erectile dysfunction? A shot of bear whiskey. The following year, in 1992, the American black bear would be added to the list of animals named in CITES, an agreement that prohibits the sale of organs removed from threatened or endangered species.
Asian prescriptions abound. But death? No one knows if that will cure what ails us. Not even the Chinese, and there are many more of them dying than there are of us.
As for the bear in Manitoba, he died dead in his tracks. If I had to calculate where it happened, the exact location of the stretch of dirt that ran through Riding Mountain National Park, I would say that it lay on the imaginary yellow line. “Bullet to the brain,” I’d whispered. Hit squarely in the head, a centimetre below the left ear. Even if animals had the ability to comprehend, he still would never have known he’d died. There was a neat little hole the size of a pea, almost invisible where it had entered, and a sticky black crater the size of an apple where it had exited. Eyes wide open. That’s how you know when an animal is dead. A human too, I suppose. Eyes closed, it’s still alive and you have to finish it off. Open eyes always add a little something extra, a knowing wink when you understand that you are right.
Big wet snowflakes, damp twilight. Loud music: Nirvana’s Nevermind. The war in Kuwait and Iraq had been over for several months, but the oil-well fires still burned each night on the news. I always loved filling up my tank and smelling the fresh odour of the gas. I could even close my eyes, like you do in a Pepsi challenge, and tell the difference between regular and super. I guess they’d call me a gasophile. “Smells like Teen Spirit.” The band had just released its second album and I listened to it in an endless loop, thanks to the replay button on the cassette player I’d stolen from a car parked on the former Dorchester Boulevard, a street whose name had been changed to Boulevard René-Lévesque in 1987 although Westmount refused to comply. I had taken it from a sky-blue Audi 5000 right in the middle of rush hour and no one had been the least bit surprised. Audi 5000s were so easy, with their little code that served as a key. You had to punch the numbers in to unlock it, but if you held down both the one and the five for eight seconds, you could open the door. One, two, three and the car was mine. Then all I had to do was slide the fingers of one hand behind the audio unit and push it gently toward me.
I had managed to flip the bear onto its back by pulling it to the edge of the ditch with the pickup. The two left paws were still attached to the bumper. I wondered how novelist Jean-Yves Soucy could have imagined the trapper-hero of Creatures of the Chase making love to a dead mother bear. Twisted. Had I been so inclined, I could easily have fucked my bear in the ass, considering how I had him tied up. But that shapeless mass aroused no desire.
You have to start cutting at the solar plexus. There is less fur on the belly, which my Buck 119 knife slit with precision. I am always surprised to find a real warmth inhabiting everything from the stones to the treetops there in the natural, perpetual chill of an October forest. The heat, dying. Life is hot and the bear’s slipped away in a cloud of steam. In physics, they say that sublimation is when a solid becomes a gas. I like to know the proper terms for things. In any case, my frozen hands were grateful for this small fortune of blood and steaming organs, which felt almost burning hot in contrast to my icy fingers. Once the bear’s skin has been slit to the genitals, which the knife must carefully skirt all the way to the anus, you have to cut the membrane containing the entire paunch and remove it completely to reach the liver. A beautiful web of lace, once used to make sausages and blood pudding.
A 350 kilo animal must have at least 50 kilos of stomach and intestine. It slips and slides and always has the same smell of hot blood: a metallic odour, not at all like perfume or flirtatiousness or baking. There were sucking noises like those you hear when making love, mixed with the sound of my breath, which I held and then released as I turned my head away.
At night, in my bed, when I was little, I tried to break records by holding my breath as long as I could: forty, fifty, sixty seconds. I once held it for over a minute. My stopwatch already registered 104 seconds. I exploded and caught my breath again, completely satisfied and fully convinced that I had won a battle against an imaginary enemy.
I managed to extract from the bear the soft, formless mass of the liver, which suddenly escaped from the belly and slid onto the ground. It was attached to the stomach and I remember smiling when I saw the little cream-coloured mound of the gallbladder attached to the liver. It was the size of a summer apple. I felt like preparing a bear stew with apples and peas. ≈
Poacher’s Faith is available in bookstores or online from Exile Editions.
Book cover image: i love america and america loves me – part 1, by Marc Séguin. Oil & coyote on canvas. 2008.