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.

olive garden

At what cost?

I’ve been thinking about social media a great deal. It is an unequaled tool for writers, manna from heaven actually as a way to connect with readers, old and new. But at what cost, I wonder? In its formidable wake, what is it that we are relinquishing?  

Are we forsaking the art of conversation? The glorious handwritten letter that flutters through the mailbox? The relaxed, cozy, stop and chat????

Here is a poem that resulted from my musings:

 

Bowed in Prayer.

At the Olive Garden on a Friday night, on my own,

I have just ordered the Tour of Italy and

notice the family huddled into a booth across the way,

six of them, three each side,

their heads collectively bowed over a cornucopia of glowing electronic boxes,

their fingers tapping away at microscopic keys,

the light reaching up to their faces at speeds

impossible to imagine.

So enchanted is the group with the cavalcade of data

pouring forth beneath them that I count a full two minutes

before any of them notices the waitress,

standing waiting at the head of their table.

Shall I come back, she asks graciously,

exhibiting a patience far above her pay scale.

 

Yeh, the one nearest to her finally pipes up,

the closest he’ll come to a conversation all weekend, 

and he didn’t even lift his head to say it.

schoolhouse sepia

So It Begins

So It Begins.

If I’m looking for the seeds of
my intolerance of injustice
I need look no further
than a Grade Nine girls’ only Health class.

Sister St. Cletus calling us up to the front,
two or three at a time, those still seated
charged with critiquing, in turn,
on a scale of one to ten,
each of the girls’ personal grooming.

The plump unkempt Rosario
newly arrived from Sicily suffered most.
The bookish pale Margaret also paid dearly.

It wasn’t just that the exercise was callous, arbitrary.
It was its pitting girl against girl for reasons entirely inconsequential,
the time and sheer energy it exacted,
the pitiful tears shed privately after,
when those same girls
could have been banding together and begin to
change the world.
I asked my friend Chuck what the boys did.
Turns out their Health class was held outdoors.
They ran the city streets in all weather,
he said proudly,
in matching shorts and tees,
a pack, cohesive,
strong
and growing stronger.

clock-2331699__480

The Trouble with Science

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,

if all bets are off,

what exactly 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 ever as fervent,

passion as acute.

And in that special place

the moments worth remembering lie in wait for us,

inviolate,

undefiled by synapse

and the waywardness of time.

 

 

sea glass.

I Am a Poem

I was thinking about the sheer power of a poem this morning over my third coffee, watching the ebb and flow of the sea from my perch here in the main room. Ruminating on all that a fine poem can do, exactly what it can deliver to us. And this resulted.

 

I Am a Poem

 

I remember when you’ve long forgotten.

I return to you the details that still matter,

The ones that got lost along the way.

 

I tell your story.

My lines are your lines.

My words, entirely yours.

 

Exactly what it feels like to not be chosen.

That time you felt like giving up

And almost did.

Under a leaden sky one long ago winter morning

When he bid a cavalier goodbye.

Your saddest songs, your deepest regrets,

I hand them back to you, intact.

I resurrect them all.  

 

I hold fast to the anguished moments you find

too painful to remember.

I speak the words you are afraid to say.

I lay them bare.

 

I am holding fast to them all.

I am ready when you are.

I am a poem.

 

 

 

sky-2836161__480

And Something Else the Priests Never Mention

I get the feeling this is a way station.
Especially on days like this one when I think
this can’t be as good as it gets,
when I am 24th in line at the DMV
(I count to torture myself)
or when the robot’s soulless voice tells me my wait on hold
will be approximately 33 minutes.
But on the way to where exactly?
If it’s to wander mindlessly from cloud to cloud,
footless to boot, it would appear,
in shapeless generic shifts that by the way
do nothing for anyone unless they provided a belt
and even then,
I’m not exactly delighted with the quid pro quo.
Who among us would forsake a life of debauchery
for a reward that doesn’t include a simple flat screen,
let alone feet.
And wings that probably hurt, stuck on our back like that,
not to mention how do you clean them.
Don’t get me started on the whole halo thing.

I mean,
think about it.
schoolhouse sepia

September

September #1

Obligatory backpacks bought,

duo-tangs and the cornucopia of Sharpies,

heralding the dull march back to classrooms, schedules.

In this forlorn wake a trail of

unhurried pancake breakfasts,

scrabble games that last for hours

and lying perfectly still on the sun-scorched dock,

until perhaps trailing a finger,

but only one.

 

September #2

Boats pulled out for the season

children rushing to school

and like a switch was flipped overnight

the water in the bay now darker

somehow

deeper

 

Undercover

Late August
slyly

slowly

the light becomes a

miser.

 

Compulsory

The school uniform, penance.
The wool knee socks even in summer.
The black serge tunics
shiny, slick, crisp, from too many
hot irons.

 

Warmer

The geese now heading south
emit unearthly,
unsettling sounds overhead,
clearly the desperate pleas

of those who seek release.

strip mall4

The Sadness of Strip Malls

 

A long grey cloud gathers above their gloomy line of thinness

as above islands.

Slack-jawed proprietors grab smokes at the various doorways up and down

the scattershot collection of stores  

with their ill-advised names.

I Heart Clocks. Wok This Way.

Names that almost guarantee failure.

The 24-hour laundromat does a brisk business, the ongoing star of the show.

A pawn shop sits somewhere in the mix

where the lights are never on yet

the neon sign blinks Open Always,

missing the letter L.

Patrons shuffle back and forth across the pock-marked parking lot,

children trailing,

hopelessness on parade,

resignation their calling card,

and the long grey cloud above,

hovering.