Blanca

Retrospect

I always thought roses would have been nice,

great, mysterious boxes of them

delivered to my door,

but I am older now

and realize that roses are extravagant after all.

 

I’ve had my days

of sitting dreamy-eyed at lunches with the girls

while they recounted their latest escapades.

Now I know better: only half of me listens

while the other half studies the menu.

 

I’ve been known to envy couples on street corners

entwined in each other,

but I am past that

and instead

take stock in my independence.

 

I’ve fantasized about dancing to waltzes,

slow, whimsical ones with lots of sax,

being whirled around an empty ballroom,

but styles have changed

and disco is the rage again.

 

If all be told

I’ve even craved an eloquent invitation to dinner

complete with reservations and candles,

but I have lived without it

and now find pleasure in eating alone.

 

As you can see

in retrospect I have managed fine,

but from time to time I have also wished

that roses

weren’t quite so beautiful.

 

(Photo entitled “Blanca” by John Benigno.)

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What Are They Waiting For?

What Are They Waiting For?

The little face stares out at me

from the faded poster

in the front window of the Tops Market,

partially obscured by

an ad for Downy,

and one for L’il Debbie’s Snack Cakes,

Buy one get one free.

 

Stephen. His name is Stephen.

Quick math tells me

he’s been missing three years.

Makes him nine now.

This would not quite

be his face anymore.

 

Time goes on.

The poster is faded, curled at the edges.

It needs replaced, updated.

Stephen looks straight ahead

and will tomorrow from the same place

with the same face.

Passive, calm,

he waits for us

to find him.

 

 

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The Edge of the World

Glancing down at my bare feet

I see plainly the feet of my forebears:

long thin finger-like toes that link us,

irrefutably, astonishingly, across time,

these claw-like appendages that enabled them

to scale the cliffs of St. Kilda

in search of seabird eggs for food.

 

Ropes tied to their waists

barefoot Kildamanes as young as four

rappelled off the island’s vertical rock faces,

two sea stacks jutting out of the Atlantic

like giant pointed teeth.

 

For hundreds of years this resolute tribe

foraged for the eggs their lives depended on

among the hidden ledges and wind-battered crags

where the gannets, puffins and fulmar roosted,

eggs their only hope of sustenance

in that unforgiving place,

further out even than the Hebrides.

Fishing, incongruously,

considered too dangerous a pursuit.

Salt killed crops stone dead.

Trees steadfastly refused to grow.

Stories say the sea beat so hard in one storm

it blew sheep and cattle over the cliffs,

left villagers deaf for a week.

 

Survive they did,

surrounded by nothing but birds,

churning blue black ocean and stretched-out skies,

until visitors brought maladies they were defenseless against.

The seabirds owned it first:

it is theirs alone,

again.

 

I study the ominous hunting grounds of these birdmen,

my ancestors,

I see the spectacular waves battering the shore.

I look down at my feet,

their feet, wiggle my long agile toes

and whisper

in Gaelic,

the only language they knew,

Cuimhním.

I remember.

 

Photo courtesy of Alex Mahler.

 

 

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Flying Over West Texas at Christmas

I will occasionally share with you work of other poets that stop me in my tracks. This is one, by the sublimely talented Billy Collins.

Oh, little town far below
with a ruler line of a road running through you,
you anonymous cluster of houses and barns,
miniaturized by this altitude
in a land as parched as Bethlehem
might have been somewhere around the year zero—

a beautiful song should be written about you
which choirs could sing in their lofts
and carolers standing in a semicircle
could carol in front of houses topped with snow.

For surely some admirable person was born
within the waffle-iron grid of your streets,
who then went on to perform some small miracles,
placing a hand on the head of a child
or shaking a cigarette out of the pack for a stranger.

But maybe it is best not to compose a hymn
or chisel into tablets the code of his behavior
or convene a tribunal of men in robes to explain his words.

Let us not press the gold leaf of his name
onto a page of vellum or hang his image from a nail.
Better to fly over this little town with nothing
but the hope that someone visits his grave

once a year, pushing open the low iron gate
then making her way toward him
through the rows of the others
before bending to prop up some flowers before the stone.

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” ‘Twas Four Nights Without Heat”

We are still not back on the power grid but…

We do finally have a working generator as of about two hours ago. Finally found someone who knew what was wrong with it.

Who knew a generator could be so complicated? And so cranky? When the repair guy-slash-pure-genius-of-a-person successfully cranked it up I momentarily thought it was the cherubim and seraphim serenading me. Maybe it’s a seasonal apparition…

So this is what heat feels like? The house is slowly… inexorably… creakily… responding, along with my extremities. The clothes I have been too cold to remove for the past 88 hours are now in a little pile in the backyard awaiting the administration of a blow torch. My hair has so much static cling I look like Chubakka. (sp?) I have slept a total of two hours in four nights and I woke up three times in that two hours – just to check I still had a pulse.

It’s been a harrowing four days – how low can a core body temperature plummet and still support life as we know it? The jury is still out…I am beginning to form intelligible sentences (or as much as they ever were) now so this must be a promising sign. It must.

Amazing how much can happen during a relatively short time without any heat or power. For starters I know every employee at my nearest Tim Horton’s on a first-name basis, along with the birthdates of all their children, grandchildren and grade school teachers, and any and all of their dietary challenges. I now know exactly the warm fuzzies Norm felt when he went into Cheers and heard his name cheerfully resounding.   In my case: “Tricia!”

It is amazing how many life stories I have been told over the past four days while sitting waiting for any trace of feeling to return to my ten digits and for my smartphone to charge. And not all of those stories are repeatable. Anywhere. trust me. Suffice it to say I have — all my life — had a face that says “Do tell me your story, even the parts that you wouldn’t tell your therapist.”

I have been added to 42 Christmas Card lists and that is at drive through windows alone.

On a more general theme, Timmy’s new and roundly heralded gingerbread doughnuts I am sad to report are overrated although I didn’t come to that realization until my fourth dozen. Note to consumers: Stick with the classic and always reliable Canadian Maple and/or Apple Fritter.

Interesting side note: The coffee shop employees handing me my first coffee of the day within a heated environment began taking on the appearance of angels with actual wings. But that could be simply caffeine withdrawal.

Have a wonderful Christmas full of laughs and great food and even better company. Oh, and best of all: heat.

 

 

 

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Zhivago’s Return

When I saw the film Dr Zhivago

what stayed with me most was not

the winter palace sheathed in ice

nor the vicious stabbing of the innocent brother

in the exotic palace ballroom while revellers danced,

not even the two opposing armies,

the row upon row of impossibly young soldiers

grimly approaching one another,

their heavy boots pounding the frozen Moscow street

late in the night,

closer and closer

until face to face.

 

What stayed was this:

Zhivago’s return to Yuryatin

and his beloved Lara

after his escape from the army, his months-long trek across Russia.

How simple it was for him to retrieve the skeleton key

from the niche in the wall below and

climb the snowbound stair

to enter her rooms once again.

To find himself there,

astonishingly,

her tiny apartment fully intact

on that crisp sunny afternoon,

her soup simmering on the stove

while she was briefly away.

 

There is her bed as Zhivago remembered it,

the same linens atop,

the finely-stitched pillow of her grandmother,

her family photos lined up identically

above the fire grate,

warming him now as it ever did.

And the soup spoons

still in the same drawer.

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Pawns

Above the island the moon is fully round these nights,

dripping light,

succulent, impossibly

perfect.

But it’s not the wolves that howl here;

it is the waves.

At the curl just offshore comes the low siren of them,

an eerie organic sound building as they cascade on shore.

Controlled, commandeered by the moon

just as the wolves are.

She, all powerful in her sphere,

they, powerless,

mere tools so far below

for her bidding.

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Goodbyes mostly, these days

A friend

I would have given my life for

without hesitation

now rushes me off the phone.

Makes excuses

we both would have scoffed at

once.

 

I listen, acutely,

for the slightest note of recognition

in her voice,

something that will tell me

she still remembers

us.

 

I wait, in hope,

to hear her simple acknowledgment

of our connection,

once so fierce,

so true.

 

Instead

I hear her distance.

I hear it

in every word she doesn’t say.

 

– Photo courtesy of Leslie Cudmore.

 

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A Hard Candy Christmas

I am one of three people in the GTA who still send Christmas cards by post. The other two are 97 year old female twins who never married and live on the Danforth in the house they were born in.

I am an anachronism. And happy to be. In fact, it remains a favourite ritual of mine, despite the ridiculous amount of time and effort it takes, ranking right up there with baking my mother’s recipe for shortbread and preparing festive packages full of carefully chosen goodies for shipping overseas to friends two months in advance.

But my card-writing ritual doesn’t feel absolutely right unless I follow carefully prescribed motions: chalk it up to a heightened sense of occasion.

First, I prepare hot chocolate. I cannot address the first envelope without a mug of this at my side. And not from a package. I am talking real hot chocolate with whole milk and cocoa, boiled on the stove using a timer.

Then I put on six of my beloved mixed holiday CD’s featuring tunes no one admits to owning. Top of my list?  Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “Once Upon a Christmas,” with corny, wonderful tunes like “A Hard Candy Christmas.”

Second comes Andre Gagnon’s Christmas Album. (They actually used to call them “albums.”) It’s simply not Christmas season until I hear Gagnon and his sublime piano playing.

Next I clear my desk in order to begin arranging my supplies in an assembly line. Out first come my Sharpie Ultra-fine markers, lined up in red, blue and green, followed by Christmas stamps, sparkle glue, address labels and stickers. Yes, I said stickers. And no, I am not an elementary school teacher.

Over the years I’ve bought cards, ordered them online, and made my own from scratch, using just the right knife to create a classic ragged edge on thick cream-colored vellum.

I set out to make each card an event unto itself, a distinctly personal missive for everyone on my list. I include my favourite seasonal quotes and jokes and the occasional New Yorker cartoon, Christmas-themed of course.

One of the funniest ever: Two little girls are pictured chatting in the park. One says to the other: “I like the Easter Bunny: I find him less judgmental than Santa.”

And this one: Santa is stretched out on a psychiatrist’s couch and says to the doctor: “Sometimes I don’t read my mail.”

The piece de resistance: my sealing wax kit with my brass monogram tool, a treasured gift from a dear friend. Sealing letters this way is a 600-year old tradition, one that secured the confidentiality of important missives. Long ago, betrothals were pre-arranged. Therefore true words of love were covertly written and sealed so the recipient could be assured their passion was kept secret. Private political documents held an impression pressed over a strip of velvet. A broken seal implied broken trust … and no one of integrity would dream of tampering with the wax emblem.

It’s decadent and fun stamping the letter M in gold wax on the back of each envelope. It adds the final touch of elegance and tradition to my greeting.

There’s no one who doesn’t adore getting a big red envelope in the mail the week before Christmas, hand-addressed to them and embellished within an inch of its life.

And I love doing it.

Like Kenny and Dolly, it is the perfect pairing.

Oscars 2011

Random takes and tweets on the ceremonies:

Did James Franco look like he desperately needed a nap? He had the look I get when I sleep ’til two in the afternoon: vacant, dishevelled, slightly deranged.

It’s Cate Blanchett – “an Oscar winner and always stunning”, says Hathaway. Thus differentiating her from all those other Oscar winners who are now living under the L.A. freeway?

Further with Cate, handing out the makeup award for the Wolfman with a shudder, saying “That’s gross,” I think she was actually back-referencing the cadaverous Kirk Douglas’ leering egomaniacal presentation earlier. He was always such a hound dog (I read his bio, yes I was the ONE.) and he readily admits same. P.S. I am NOT Spartacus!

The wonderfully manic Live-action Short winner Luke Matheny for God of Love announces: “Ugh, I should have got a hair-cut.” No, say it ain’t so. That’s some impressive height on a wonderfully vast black bouffant.

Toy Story 3′s Lee Unkrich: “I want to thank the Academy and I never thought I’d be saying that,” says Unkrich. Um, why not? is there a bizarre history there? To wit… “I want to thank the Academy and I never thought I’d be saying that, after they sold my dog to the circus.”

Sandra (“Sandy” to Ryan Seacrest) Bullock is always a stand out. Perfectly dry and droll. Heavenly. To Jeff Bridges, “You won last year: when is it ever enough, Jeff? Huh?”

Colin Firth takes the stage as the winner, looking – as ever – like he has some unfortunate embarrassing news to reveal. “I am sorry, Academy, but all your cars have been towed and compacted. Thank you for coming.”

He should have danced. And so should we all…