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. 

Blanca

Post Script

Post Script.

You need to know that I want
Unabashedly sentimental songs.
Think Van Morrison
In his earlier, less angry days and
Dylan, in his later, gentler ones.
An instrumental of Annie Laurie is a must,
As too Mark Knopfler,
Who so magically supplied the soundtrack
For my days here.

You’ll need really good food for after.
Excellent, piping hot coffee and brewed Orange Pekoe in china pots,
Kentucky Fried Chicken,
Pizzas made to order,
And a Build Your Own ice cream sundae station
To add the requisite whimsy.

Display a very few pictures of me,
Not huge Bristol boards packed full of them,
So popular these days.
Black and white predominating, if you will,
My unwavering preference.

Flowers?
Yes, my nod to tradition,
Scads of calla lilies, but white only,
The yellow look fake somehow,
Oh, a few off white roses, would you,
Champagne they call them now.

And in the middle of everything
Position one commanding vase of
Fat white peonies,
Because their fragrance, their sheer deliciousness
Outdistances all the others combined.

Everyone there ought to tell
One story about me that stands out for them,
And not just of sweetness and light.
The dark, too.
You all know
I was more than one shade.

A piper would be wonderful at the close,
Just one, as there was for my father,
A whole band of them he felt excessive
And I must agree.

Then let me go.
Knowing that most days
I cherished this life of mine
And that while briefly here,
Laughed probably more than most,
Loved a few of you beyond measure,
And with providence in my corner
Was able to write a few poems
I would not change one word of
Even now.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

track-2327611__340

Distance

A prose poem sparked by a mention of trains I came across this morning …
I remember hearing a train whistle in the distance the night my mother died. I was in her home that night, sleeping in the front room on the couch because for some reason I couldn’t bear the idea of going to bed. I was in the first stage of grief, the shell shock of it when you feel wrapped in thick layers of cotton wool, looking out from inside a bell jar. I lay there, sleepless, trying to distract myself by making a mental list of all that needed to be done the next day. Suddenly I heard it, ever so faintly.
We lived very close to train tracks when I was a child and this served as part of the soundtrack of my young life. The sound of that whistle unleashed such sorrow in me that I remember it well even now, 25 years later. it was then that I wept. Wept for losing my lovely mother too soon. Wept because I would never again hear her sweet Scots’ voice commanding the very best in me.
Wept. Because the sound echoed the emptiness I would now always feel with her gone.
for Maggie post 2

Rest easy, Maggie

I lost my lovely wee Maggie last week. She took her leave as sweetly and bravely as the day she came to us as a rescue years ago. She was 10 – and it was heaven having her every day of those years.

Rest easy, sweet lassie.

 

Missions

 

Crabs can rest a little easier now on Bahamian beaches,

with the little white four legged pest gone.

They were never truly at risk.

Sorry, Maggie,

you were fast, but never as fast as them.

The hunt was your delight in and of itself.

You’d look up from your dig,

bedevilled,

your wee nose sand-covered, twitching,

before diving down time and again,

up and down the shore, irrepressible,

resolute,

until all light had left the sky.

and I called you home.

 ***

 

Ebb. Flow.

 

The tidal pools down the beach

will remain relatively undisturbed now.

Future visitors there would be wise to follow the moon

to discover them at their warmest,

their most inviting.

 

There was a woman who did so once,

frequenting them with her two little white dogs.

She dressed all in white too,

making them a matched set.

I watched them once from afar, wading languorously

among those becalmed shallows just offshore,

their very own roman baths.

 

They stepped gingerly among the rock and coral

that contained them,

distracted in their reverie by only a rogue wave

or a dark cloud scurrying overhead.

 

I think the woman was a poet.

They were terriers, I believe,

Scottish like her.

I heard once that she loved her dogs well.

 

urban-1087628__340

While sitting on a bench at the Brooklyn Promenade. 

The Galleons

Because I am reading Frank O’Hara
while sitting on a bench at the Brooklyn Promenade
 

I am aware it is 10:30 in New York
on a Tuesday morning

the way O’Hara was always aware
of what day and hour and season were in front of him

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
he wrote almost sixty years ago on a July moment

that must have been like the one I am having now
the summer hour blossoming

at the promenades by the rivers and in the parks
and in the quiet aisles of the city
 

when everyone who should be at work
is at work and the trees are meditating

on how muggy it will be today
and the fleets of strollers are out in the sunshine

expanse of the morning
the strollers that are like galleons

carrying their beautiful gold cargo
being pushed by women whose names once graced

the actual galleons Rosario
Margarita Magdalena along with other names

Essie Maja from places that history has patronized
like O’Hara going into the bank

for money or the bookstore to buy
an ugly
NEW WORLD WRITING to see what

the poets / in Ghana are doing these days
or the liquor store for liquor

or the tobacconist for tobacco
and sitting at the Brooklyn Promenade I haven’t looked

at the news to see who now has died
though my fingers keep touching the phone’s face

to find out that when it is 10:30 in the morning
in New York it is 11:30 in the night

in Manila and it is 4:30 in the afternoon in Lagos
and in Warsaw and it is 9:30

in the morning in Guatemala City
where it is also Tuesday and where it is also summer.

 

– Rick Barot