church-cross

Reverence

I can’t step into a church without being reminded of Leo.
I see him, leaning heavily on his cane, waiting in the vestibule
to usher the parishioners to their seats,
his labored gait up the aisle, one leg stiff,
the shoulder of his Canadian Legion jacket strewn
with medals and ribbons.
In the stillness the rubber tip of his cane
squeaks loudly against the polished floor.

The star resident at her mother’s boarding-house,
my friend Linda said we should visit him.
He’d insisted,
and there had been toffees promised.
Restless and bored one spring day I relented,
followed Linda home and climbed the stairs lazily to Leo’s room.
Unlike the others his door was open.
There was Leo, lying on his bed, his cane alongside,
rest the only respite from his affliction.

Come in, close the door.
Feed my bird Charlie.
I worried then about telling my mother this.
But Leo wasn’t a stranger.
Everyone knew Leo.
Father Blackwell told us in catechism class
it was men like Leo who had kept us free.
The shabby room smelled of wet wool
from clothes drying on the radiator
and of Old Sail, his pipe tobacco.
A bowl of sweets beckoned by the bed.
Charlie was bustling about in his cage.
Sit beside Leo, honey.
A good Catholic girl, I did as the hero said.
The bristles of his beard stung my face,
his breath turned to a rasp.
I smelled something fetid on his breath.
When he released me
Charlie was singing,
still.

book-1696642_960_720

While cleaning out a bookcase.

For Richard Blessing

There is a poet I’m reading
After being surprised to come 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,
His slim dusty volume so callously abandoned.
How quickly I am reminded of his sublime voice,
Like that of a long forgotten beloved friend,
Resurrected now line by line,
Rising off the yellowed pages
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, as sweet as any teacake,
the ball’s leaping arc making the field small.

It’s gratitude I feel to find him once again,
Someone I didn’t even know I had lost,
Relieved to have unearthed his particular genius, restored it to my life.

I won’t be rich or famous, you said, sad on your birthday.
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, this long dead poet
With no name you would know:
May grace be drawn to our ill-suited hands.

christmas lights

Minor Defects Will Not Affect Wear

How can you care not
For this earthly life?
Even with its vagaries,
Its ragtag beginnings,
Unspeakable endings.

Remember how
The latte at the corner café that late afternoon
Arrived as the autumn light dappled your newspaper just so,
Intertwined hearts atop the foam,
Courtesy of the beaming waitress who announced
She was getting married.

You sometimes reach the bus just in time.
Blood tests come back perfectly normal.
Simple mini lights transform a sad house.
A fresh fall of snow perfects a neglected yard.

Awaken to the astonishing delights of the
Here and now.
The two legged terrier with the tailor-made chassis,
The tired little girl in the shopping cart who smiles back,
A favourite Phil Collins song on the car radio
In the pouring rain.

There are blessings.
They must be heeded.
It doesn’t get better.
It just may be enough.

Jeff-Phillips-Reflection-in-Puddle_840x400

November Came to Me.

 

Without warning

November came to me

In June.

The morning primrose newly budding in their sun warmed beds,

Always a welcome harbinger,

Now meaningless to me from

The dark and deep quiet of my bedroom above.

 

The stars when they appeared seemed meant for others

Capable of joy, even simple recognition,

My November revealing them as distortions,

Pinpoints of lights in the torn fabric of a distant

Foreboding world.

 

November came for the best of me

To extinguish my light,

My peace,

Leaving behind flats of nothingness

Hours, days, never to be accounted for,

Regained,

As I groped blindly through them.

Or slept. Or stared.

 

Laughter seemed inconceivable.

Sadness lay deep in my marrow

When November came to me

In June.

 

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Philips.)

little girl

Forget Everything.

Today’s prompt from my writer’s group “Forget everything” prompted this… assisted – ably – by three cups of coffee.

 

The Deceptively Simple

Forget everything you’ll never know about
Quantum physics
And oil futures.
What constitutes prime.
Leave string theory
For the committed.

Focus on the knowables
One at a time. Small bites.
Start with the deceptively simple.
This:
How to Talk to a Small Child at a Party.

Just like you would anyone else.
No special voices. They hate that.
No crouching down like you’re best friends.
Share casual observations.
Recommend the artichoke dip.

Do it right.
Before long
She’ll end up beside you on the couch
Asking your name
And your opinion of the latest Star Wars.

b&w photo for the Confessional

The Confessional

 

 

Waiting in line for my turn

in Saturday confession,

Still young enough

To not conceive of why the young woman in the last pew

sobbed,

so piteously.

I stared and stared

at her hunched figure, shoulders heaving,

her quiet rasps obliterating the stillness.

 

By the time I entered

The dark pocket of the confessional

My curiosity could not be contained,

And even before Father Blackwell

had slid open the wooden panel between us,

I blurted it out, brazen.

Why is that lady so sad, Father?

His response was clipped, dismissive.

She has not been forgiven.

More importantly, he demanded,

What was it I needed forgiveness for this week passed?

 

When I emerged,

Chastened, reborn,

The woman had gone.

I never saw her again.

But I remember the child

I was that day,

The one who could not yet know

A grief so profound.

A heart so broken.

A life never

Bargained for.