resized low res cover photo for The Music of Leaving

Funeral Sandwiches

 

It comes down to the ceremony now, the detail.

Pressing your shirt with the cutaway collar, not too much starch,

the way you liked it.

I sent the shoes that were a bit small,

but they were so fine-looking and you would approve.

At the last minute I remembered your favorite photo of all of us

for tucking into your suit jacket pocket.

 

Now to prepare the food for the mourners,

sandwiches to begin.

Made differently today,

the correct word is painstakingly.

The butter must be spread

to each and every corner of the bread,

sliced precisely

from freshly-baked loaves.

 

Heap both sides of the bread lavishly with spreads,

no scrimping.

No celery, you hated it.

Remove the crusts.

 

Assemble them ever so gently

before making the final cuts

into perfect quarters.

Clean the knife after each one.

Display them proudly

on my most treasured serving pieces.

And cloth napkins.

Only cloth.

 

All is ready.

Invite them in.

I’ll get this right

for all the times

I didn’t.

scarlet soda

Thirst

 

The sun was hotter.

You can tell.

Look at us squinting against it in photos then.

Everything washed out by the glare,

cheekbones, jawlines,

all detail surrendered.

Dazzled,

we could be anybody.

 

The gardens, look,

they’re parched.

It hurt to walk on the grass.

We lay in scorched backyards

slathering butter on our chests,

chain-smoking, eating fluorescent cheesies,

swilling bright red soda.

Everyone burned raw.

Everyone looked deliriously happy.

 

We knew

nothing could go wrong.

Our lives lay ahead of us.

Men were above us,

landing on the moon.

 

The Trouble with Science

 

If it’s true

as grim neurologists now claim,

that our memory is far from intact,

that the very process by which we retrieve the past

is flawed, random, that it plays fast and loose with

fact, detail, even

colour. Then how exactly do I conjure

what was us.

 

If it’s all up for grabs,

all bets off,

what was true?

The way you looked at me that evening

on the boardwalk,

was it as tender as I picture it now?

And your kiss. As deeply felt?

Did you profess your love in three languages

or was it just two?

Before you round the corner do you actually

turn to look at me

one last time?

Are you in the blue shirt

or the red?

Are those actual tears?

 

But science falls short. It overlooks

the power of the human heart

which has a memory all its own,

where the moments of our lives never alter,

fade

or grow old.

Where a look remains as tender

as when first it was delivered,

a heart quickens just as it once did.

Yearning as fervent,

passion as acute,

and in that special place

the moments worth remembering

lie in wait for us, inviolate,

undefiled by time

or synapse.

OLD SHOES

Coming to Nothing

Coming to Nothing

 

The day-to-day momentum

carries us with it,

making it impossible to imagine

this all shall pass.

 

Too much to think this will end,

carrying us into oblivion alongside

all of our carefully honed plans,

our exquisite attention to detail.

 

Who can contemplate that one day

and not so very far away,

another, perhaps even a stranger,

will be charged to sift through our lives,

tossing into random piles

our old day timers, nail polishes

and favorite sunglasses,

expired library cards.

 

Who can comprehend that one day

Some distant cousin may glance

at a dog-eared photograph

of a laughing, red-haired woman,

and ask with fleeting interest

to no one in particular:

Wasn’t she a writer?”

 

 

book revised

There is a Poet I’m Reading

 
There is a poet I am reading
after coming upon his dog-eared collection
while cleaning a bookcase.
I had forgotten even owning it.
His name won’t mean anything to you, never famous or fashionable.
But it draws me after all these years,
this slim dusty volume so long abandoned.
And how quickly I am reminded of his sublime voice, resurrected now
line by line in the slate gray light of this autumn afternoon. 
 
His father’s nurse says she’s too tall for marriages.
The younger poets are ample in their margins.
The migrating salmon leap like sparks from some windy chimney.
The sound of his son’s bat on a baseball, sweet as any teacake,
the ball’s arc making the field small.
 
It’s gratitude I feel to find him once again,
his particular genius now back in my life.
I won’t be rich or famous, you said, sad on your birthday.
And I don’t have a baby. Now it’s too late.
I pull you close. We have missed nothing. This is our only life.
And just when I think he can give me no more
Comes his closing prayer:
May grace be drawn to our ill-suited hands.  
coca-cola revised

The Spark of Serendipity

 

Fleming left his dirty dishes in the sink and found penicillin.
Modern medicine was never the same.
The inventor of Coca Cola just wanted to cure headaches.
Velcro,
because a dog owner scrutinized
the tenacious burrs
embedded in his retriever’s coat.
The most profound discoveries
are pure accident.
Go looking for one thing and find another,
Maybe better.
On my way to a purebred prize winner
A mongrel butted in.
Best dog ever.
I thought the invitation said Thursday.
And found you.
Leave room for error.
Cast off loosely.
Await the entirely unexpected,
The astonishingly,
The utterly new.

ginger hair 2

Phantom Pain

 
My womb lies intact, unused.
But on afternoons that stretch too long in gloom
I allow myself to imagine her.
Perhaps hair the color of cinnamon and a tendency to
sink into a slough of despond.
A writer, too, I wonder.
Or just as easily a short order cook, a firefighter,
a glassblower.
Her hair would probably have parted to the left,
her second toe longer than the first.
She’d need spectacles from day one,
have a weakness for blackberry jam, the minor chords,
night over day.
Odds on she’d be left handed 
and prone to itchy rashes that would randomly occur
and vanish the same way.
Her name would be Catherine like her grandmother’s.
She would be no one’s fool
and no one’s daughter. 

vietnamese girl

If This Is Your Final Destination, Welcome Home

If This Is Your Final Destination, Welcome Home.

Always the smell of tiger balm
takes me back to Kuala Lumpur in 1980,
the sweltering airstrips,
the sea of expectant upturned faces
of the refugees waiting en masse
at the bottom of the airplane stairs,
on their way to Canada
and to second unimaginable lives.

Plane load after plane load,
week after week, three years running,
we ferried them across oceans.
After days and sometimes weeks
in crowded buses
they waited to be next in line,
these survivors of Pol Pot and
his merciless Khmer Rouge,
these witnesses of unimaginable horror.

We delivered them to Gander, to Montreal
and to Toronto,
away from all they had known,
everything they owned in small tidy bundles
at their feet.
We chose our words carefully
for the interpreter,
Trying to prepare them in some small way
for what lay ahead.

Where do you begin?
How do you tell someone how cold feels?
We played them music
we wanted them to hear,
hits of the day, Blondie, REO Speedwagon,
handed out sandwiches and Pampers
and wet naps.

They in turn watched our every move,
accepted anything given to them,
suspiciously at first,
then with vigorously nodding heads,
pouring forth their thanks,
holding up their solemn, silent babies proudly
for us to hold.

When we dimmed  the cabin lights,
hearing their guarded whispers
to one another,
sharing late night confessions in the dark
high above the ocean,
these people for whom
no sadness had gone unknown.

It was boarding them I remember most.
Even when I urged them
up the aircraft stairs, off the blistering tarmac,
beckoned them toward me,
they held back, tentative,
and only when I descended the stairs
took the first of them by the hand,
would they dare take the first step
toward this wild and inconceivable freedom.

I see their faces clearly now and I ask:
Who among us could possibly measure
the courage we asked of them.