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A friend from the Bahamas visited me recently in Toronto.

I baked butter tarts for her, a Canadian staple, and added a bottle of maple syrup. Next, I set about preparing the card I would include: a compendium of quotes about Canada, with noteworthy observations and commentary by both residents and visitors. And for fun, a soupçon of the ill-advised and the flat out wrong.

The first quote that popped us was this, attributed to the indefatigable Britney Spears: “You get to travel to overseas places, like Canada.”

From brainy Britney we move to, who else, the French explorer Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce de Lahontan (now that’s a handle!), who said in 1702: “To survive the Canadian winter, one needs a body of brass, eyes of glass, and blood made of brandy.”

The Iroquois wars gave him his glass eye, his blood would definitely have had a high brandy content, and he probably did have certain nether regions composed of brass to venture here 300 years ago.

Next up, the ever-capricious Al Capone: “I don’t even know what street Canada is on.”

Rather amusing, from someone who actually knew Canada rather well, since he visited with the infamous distiller Hiram Walker frequently at his Walkerville, Ontario mansion. The two would carouse while making arrangements to ship Canadian Club Whisky south. You see, CC was aged a minimum of five years in oak casks, while American whiskies and bourbons were aged a paltry year. Al knew his booze.

Comic Jon Stewart weighed in next with this: “I’ve been to Canada, and I’ve always gotten the impression that I could take the country over in about two days.”

Not so fast, Jon Boy…might not be so easy to do. It’s a common misconception that Canadians don’t have guns.  But for good or bad, seven million of us are armed…that’s about 20 percent of our population. Not to worry, though; we tend to shoot mostly deer, bear, moose, and caribou..

Writers were no gentler with us.

Here is W. Bruce Cameron in his book Emory’s Gift: It was Canada where they let people do whatever they wanted because it was too cold to bother stopping them.”

Kelly Link in Magic for Beginners said: “The zombies were like Canadians, in that they looked enough like real people at first, to fool you.”

Ouch. Leave it to Jane Fonda to save the day with this love note: “When I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like.”

Jane, how you talk!

This also cheered me up, from Spook Country, William Gibson’s political thriller: “Canadian cities looked the way American cities did on television.”

Winston Churchill may have exulted about Canada more than anyone. “There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its virile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people.”

Nice schmooze, Winnie…that was in 1939, and he was desperate for volunteers. We did not disappoint him.

In my travels I find people’s knowledge about Canada has vastly improved; now the real facts are a few keyboard clicks away. But misconceptions still abound, mostly about our (yawn) weather.

Does it snow all the time?  Do you snowmobile to work? Do you use British money? You all speak French, right?  It’s stuff like this that really gets our fur collars up.

And no. We don’t all play hockey. Many of us have never even strapped on skates. I, for one, am allergic to ice and am still traumatized by the time I tangled skate blades with a bully at the local arena and was catapulted straight into the boards, effectively kyboshing the slightest affection I might ever have had for the colder climes.

A somewhat hardier Stephen Leacock, the country’s celebrated humorist, eloquently characterized our national sport this way in 1895: “Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive.”

Another native, comedian Rick Mercer, offered this truism: “The U.S. is our trading partner, our neighbor, our ally and our friend… and sometimes we’d like to give them such a smack!”

Truth be told, Canadians are quite kindly disposed to our neighbours to the south. We visited you 23.4 million times in 2013!

Toronto activist and author June Callwood was ever the straight shooter. “The beaver, which has come to represent Canada as the eagle does the United States and the lion Britain, is a flat-tailed, slow-witted, toothy rodent known to bite off its own testicles or to stand under its own falling trees.”

Our very own Mike Myers quipped: “Canada is a subtle flavor — we’re more like celery as a flavor.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt after reading this sentiment from Jan Wong’s memoir, Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now. “Living in China has made me appreciate my own country, with its tiny, ethnically diverse population of unassuming donut-eaters.”

But leave it to Robin Williams to skewer us to perfection. “Canada is like a loft apartment over a really great party. Like: ‘Keep it down, eh?'”

I can’t find out who came up with this little jewel but it may rank as my favorite of them all:

“Canada is like your attic. You forget that it’s up there, but when you go, it’s like ‘Oh man, look at all this great stuff!'”

Manuela Huertar and me.

 

A lovely letter I received from a Colombian child about her work and mine. A friend teaches her here – she is new to Canada  – and used my books as poem studies. Best news ever to learn I may have inspired a child to write her own poems.

An Evening with Tricia

Haynes Library presents

The Music of Leaving

An evening of poetry with Tricia McCallum

Thursday March 5th at 7 pm.

Please join us to welcome back Tricia

and spend time listening

to a selection of her work new and old.

Tricia McCallum

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Canada: A Glowing Tribute

For fun… on Canada Day, a whimsical piece I wrote about what constitutes being Canadian.

This was my entry into a contest to win a spot in “Barbed Lyres,” an anthology of satirical verse about Canada, edited by Margaret Atwood.

 

Glowing Tribute

There’s this girl I know on the Danforth

who goes to Buffalo to shop

for the bargains on Bill Blass sheets

and with her parents to Polish nights in Orillia

where she says she wouldn’t be caught

dead if the perogies weren’t to

absolutely die.

 

She takes her vacations in Warsaw almost every year

because she tells me the deals on crystal are

incredible and she can stay cheap with her Aunt Stenya.

 

It’s not like Mary isn’t into Canada

she did Banff in ’82

and drove all by herself to P.E.I. in ’84

where by the way she lucked into a

fabulous villa timeshare in the Caymans because

thanks to God she had American Express on her.

In the back window of her Beamer with the Blaupunkt

there’s one of those Canadian flag stickers and it glows

at night.

I mean what do you want from her.

It isn’t like she was born here.

Two new poems published.

My poems “Hallmark” and “Funeral Sandwiches” are featured here http://apheleiabp.org/home.html at Apheleia Broadside Publisher.

Theirs is an intriguing wonderfully creative concept for promoting the reading of poetry. On their website they publish individual poets that capture their interest and then they print the work and distribute it around New York City on flyers.

Here’s their romantic mission in their own words:

What used to be sold cheaply so that the art of many poets could reach as many people as possible, we are distributing completely free.  A book is often expensive and intimidating.  A single page is simple and quick. If you are in New York City, find one of our broadsides floating around. When you finish it, recycle it by passing it to a friend that you think may enjoy it as much as we hope you did.”

I just love this, the idea of my work being discovered randomly by someone on a New York subway who reaches down to pick up a piece of paper that blew underfoot and finds my words.

Go visit! http://apheleiabp.org/home.html

Stealth

 

I awake in the early light

to the smack of water between the hulls.

Something draws me to the tiny porthole by my berth,

not a sound really, more a sensation.

And there on the horizon through the glass

looms an ocean liner of such size

it appears mythic.

 

All glinting steel and glass,

a beacon under the new sun,

this monolith of turbines and chrome

cutting a swath a football field wide

yet so far away

that neither the bellowing of her engines

nor the roar of her wake reach me,

rendering her, eerily, lifeless,

a paint-by-number colossus,

frozen in a dead calm sea.

 

Too far away to decipher details

so I settle for only imagining

the early morning risers

now assembling on her decks,

settling into chairs with their first coffees,

breathing in the panorama before them.

Conversation would be hushed, expectant,

Another idyllic day at sea ahead.

 

Do they see me?

My tiny sailboat moored off a small island,

Might they conjure me too,

Whether I am awake yet,

Where I sail to? From?

What name is painted across my bow.

 

Will some raise their binoculars to learn more

And watch as my sails fade away behind them,

Before they turn back to their morning.

(Gorda Sound, British Virgin Islands.)

While Swimming

While Swimming.

 

Do our spines remember

gills, our bellies

the cool ocean floor?

 

Can we conjure ourselves in

the cavernous deep,

amid the ocean’s unknowable chambers,

resurrect what it was we carried,

intact,

as we slithered ashore?

 

Swimming,

I try summoning

my watery DNA that surely lurks

somewhere.

 

When my arms tire,

and all too soon,

I imagine myself armless,

sleek again, fins as my rudder.

designed for just this.

 

Forced to the surface for air,

is my resentment simply

the helix,

rebelling from memories of diving

deeper and deeper,

skimming the vast reefs, skirting beaches,

circling islands,

until the light finally left the surface

and expectantly, resolutely,

I dive deeper

again.

 

 

 

Tricia McCallum

Eleuthera

February 2014.

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.

 

 

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.

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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