Gordon Lightfoot - Sundown

Ring Them Bells

I share here a remembrance of Gordon Lightfoot, written after seeing him perform back in 2012 on a rain-soaked evening in Toronto’s Massey Hall. I never sought to have it published. I somehow knew it should wait until now.

Textbook weather for Gordon’s concert this evening: rain-slicked streets, brisk winds, classic moody November evening in downtown Toronto. His band was minimalist, as is his wont. To wit, lead guitar, bass, drummer, keyboards, and himself. None of them under 60. I’d seen a couple of them on stage with him many times before.

Gord struts out with his characteristic long stride, guitar at his hip– on the stroke of eight bells, of course — to thunderous applause, seeming still a little shy and embarrassed by it all, amazingly. (He even joked about the night before how, because of the city’s subway breakdown he’d had to start eight minutes later. Eight whole minutes. Oh the horror, he said. And we all knew he was only half kidding.

Opened with Did She Mention My Name? Closed with Blackberry Wine. In between, everything from If You Could Read My Mind to A Painter Passing Through.

The crowd was quiet (save for the one requisite (by then) shout of “We love you, Gord!”  very attentive (dare I say, Canadian?), reflective, appreciative, almost conspiratorial, you know that feeling Gord (and Gord alone) inspires in hometown crowds? It was so obvious everyone there was delighted to see him back onstage for another go.

Yes, he is frail, ravaged, bone thin, and easily looks his age (71). Actually, he looks like any of a dozen down on their luck guys who used to hang around (seemingly in rotation) outside one of the hotels in the small town where I lived as a child. His voice wavers and falters from time to time and he whispers when he should shout, but no matter. His spirit is fully intact. His delivery is so evocative, so exquisite, he reminds you with each outing that he is the one who wrote the stuff – that no one gets it like he does — and no one, of any age or stage, will ever do it better. Michael Buble, take a seat. And hush.

We did hear at least a few pins drop at Massey Hall that night, especially during Song for a Winter’s Night. (He rarely does that tune and it was utterly bewitching.) His rendition of Step Back (one of my top five of his) was rollicking, everyone up and rocking, what a great tune that is to move to, and then he headed into Early Morning Rain. Wistful, evocative, iconic, all.

Let it go/Let it happen like it happened once before… from the song Shadows. Another captivating rendition. This one in particular brought to mind Dylan’s comment about Lightfoot: “Whenever I hear a Gordon Lightfoot song, I hope it never ends.”

His banter with the crowd was so relaxed, so unscripted, he charmed the boots off all of us. He riffed randomly, about writing songs on airplanes, the perfect place for it, he says, with the juxtaposition of stars above, cities below… getting his “shoulders lowered” as a boy at the town barber shop in Orillia, and his joy at being “home” and playing for us again.

A gentleman, pure and simple. And a poet non pareil. By the end, he even makes you believe his lustrous words: “Everything will be fine by and by.”

A legendary story about Lightfoot resulted from a concert he did long ago in his hometown of Orillia. A young man in the audience was hit by a flying bottle and had all of his front teeth knocked out. Lightfoot heard about it and went to visit the young boy, on his own, no fanfare. Before he left he gave him a check to cover all his medical expense.

The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are liftin’
The morning light steals across my windowpane
Where webs of snow are driftin’
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you.

 Lightfoot didn’t care for interviews. Apparently, he was rather shy. But no matter. His songs tell us everything we need to know.

Listen to The Affair on Eight Avenue, for me always his most exquisite song.  https://youtu.be/KTu_Uu0TgTQ

I will miss you, Gord. We all will.

Waystations

Waystations

The test results we await from teachers and doctors
are neither good or bad –
yet.
But we give that time away in worry,
the between time.
The tent posts of our lives, ever the attention whores,
the limelight stealers.
But it should count for something.
The dense weighty bud of the peony, its tight, shy secrecy
before its brazen unfolding.

Anticipation can be delicious,
the finale but a part.
Your wait for the bus at dusk in the cold
when a stranger mentions the bruised light in the sky.
That’s what he called it:
Bruised.

Pay day, two days away,
but while you waited,
those delicious dollar store finds.
Your long destination drive,
so full of discovery all on its own.
The café owner in Alameda with his Hollywood memorabilia.
And wasn’t Joan Crawford a firebrand.

I am always amazed when any of us are asked
what we value most
and we don’t say
instantly:
Time.

Jello 🌊

Bioluminescence

Simply too good not to share..

Bioluminescence

There’s a dark so deep beneath the sea the creatures beget their own
light. This feat, this fact of adaptation, I could say, is beautiful

though the creatures are hideous. Lanternfish. Hatchetfish. Viperfish.
I, not unlike them, forfeited beauty to glimpse the world hidden

by eternal darkness. I subsisted on falling matter, unaware
from where or why matter fell, and on weaker creatures beguiled

by my luminosity. My hideous face opening, suddenly, to take them
into a darkness darker and more eternal than this underworld

underwater. I swam and swam toward nowhere and nothing.
I, after so much isolation, so much indifference, kept going

even if going meant only waiting, hovering in place. So far below, so far
away from the rest of life, the terrestrial made possible by and thereby

dependent upon light, I did what I had to do. I stalked. I killed.
I wanted to feel in my body my body at work, working to stay

alive. I swam. I kept going. I waited. I found myself without meaning
to, without contriving meaning at the time, in time, in the company

of creatures who, hideous like me, had to be their own illumination.
Their own god. Their own genesis. Often we feuded. Often we fused

like anglerfish. Blood to blood. Desire to desire. We were wild. Bewildered.
Beautiful in our wilderness and wildness. In the most extreme conditions

we proved that life can exist. I exist. I am my life, I thought, approaching
at last the bottom of the sea. It wasn’t the bottom.

It wasn’t the sea.

~~ Paul Tran

A poem by Tricia McCallum May 11, 2020. A parched windswept landscape in sepia tone with a large bare tree in foreground.

Evermore

There are absolutes.
Not just in physics, dogma.
Untrue is stronger than not true.
It seems the cat didn’t come back.
All boats do not rise.
Dreams trump wishes.
The light of a late November day prompts a very particular longing.
I always wish I had said something wiser.
I will never stop missing the mere sound of your voice.

In a Maine Junk Shop

Others’ lives are on full display here.
Through the late afternoon
The light makes its way through motes of dust
Onto collection after collection.

The shrewd pickers look right past the string of musty pearls
That catch my eye,
Honing in instead on a pair of tiny opal earrings
With an eye to resale.
They know how this is done.

A table off on its own offers cloth-bound books
Arranged by colour.
Who would devise such bizarre cataloguing?
Pride and Prejudice propped up against
Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy,
With their similar covers of cherry red.

An exhibit of photographs comes next.
The people shown with seemingly little to smile about.
Matching sepia toned oval photos show three young girls, sisters it would appear,
The outer plastic sheath now splintered and yellowed.
Obscuring, endangering, what it was once
Meant to preserve.

The savvy pickers haggle now with the bored shopkeeper
But none seem the least concerned
About the back story. Who might the earrings have been worn by, I wonder.
What young girl’s hands carefully inserted the tiny buds?
Before what special evening.
What hopes lay in her heart as she descended the stairs for the dance.
Did she later tuck them away for a daughter
Who was never meant to be?

We want it all to mean something.
So we hold on to the unremarkable snapshots of those long dead,
A child’s single mitten,
An ancient love letter in painstaking calligraphic script.
A matted braid of strawberry blond hair
From whose head we shall never know.

thoughts

Just Once

The Elephant Man finally relented.
He wondered what it would be like to just once
sleep like other people.

So he laid his gigantic head down on a pillow
instead of resting it atop his knees.
Just that once.

By morning he had suffocated under the weight of it.
In some people’s lives
there are no words for happiness.
There are only ones for sorrow.

Writer and Poet

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Tricia McCallum

Always be a poet. Even in prose.
Charles Baudelaire.

In essence I am a storyteller who writes poems. Put simply, I write the poems I want to read.[…]

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