The sun was hotter:
You can tell.
Look at the people squinting against it in photos then.
Everything washed out by glare:
Faces, thoughts, nuance,
all detail surrendered.
We could be anybody.
The backyards are parched,
Look at them.
It hurt to walk on the grass.
We lay in barren backyards
chain-smoking and eating fluorescent cheesies,
swilling scarlet soda.
We slathered butter on our chests.
Everyone was burned raw.
Everyone looked happy.
Nothing could go wrong.
Caution was ahead of us,
Men were above us,
landing on the moon.
The world is sharing a recurring dream.
Every night we fall asleep
and take up the same challenge.
All of us are stretched out
shoulder to shoulder in an endless line,
across a barren landscape under heavy cloud.
An elusive shape pursues us from behind.
We know not why.
All we hear is the person next to us breathing
and the thunder of our feet pounding the ground
as we run.
Some of us tire more easily, rest, and start again.
No judgments are made.
We are united in this common purpose,
this breathless escape.
Every time we glance backward
the specter appears closer,
changing shape as it nears.
One minute a mammoth tumbleweed made not of brush
but of thick curled barbed wire,
next, feral snarling beasts snapping at our heels,
then, hideous vultures filling the sky overhead,
circling ever closer.
Our predator will look different tomorrow night
when we face it yet again.
We know there is nothing for us
but to outdistance it,
In this same dream
the world shares a wish.
That we awaken in our beds tomorrow morning,
to the world we once blithely shared,
knowing this was all
only a dream.
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.
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.
Crabs can rest a little easier now on Bahamian beaches,
with the little white four legged pest gone.
They were never truly at risk.
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,
your wee nose sand-covered, twitching,
before diving down time and again,
up and down the shore, irrepressible,
until all light had left the sky.
and I called you home.
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.
For Richard Blessing
There is a poet I’m reading
After being surprised to come upon his dog-eared collection
While cleaning a bookcase.
I had forgotten even owning it.
His name won’t mean anything to you, never famous or fashionable,
But it draws me after all these years,
His slim dusty volume so callously abandoned.
How quickly I am reminded of his sublime voice,
Like that of a long forgotten beloved friend,
Resurrected now line by line,
Rising off the yellowed pages
In the slate gray light of this autumn afternoon.
His father’s nurse says she’s too tall for marriages.
The younger poets are ample in their margins.
The migrating salmon leap like sparks from some windy chimney.
The sound of his son’s bat on a baseball, as sweet as any teacake,
the ball’s leaping arc making the field small.
It’s gratitude I feel to find him once again,
Someone I didn’t even know I had lost,
Relieved to have unearthed his particular genius, restored it to my life.
I won’t be rich or famous, you said, sad on your birthday.
I don’t have a baby. Now it’s too late.
I pull you close. We have missed nothing. This is our only life.
And just when I think he can give me no more
Comes his closing prayer, this long dead poet
With no name you would know:
May grace be drawn to our ill-suited hands.
Funny word for the quietest day of the year.
It’s time to be adults again.
No more ice cream for dinner,
late nights of poker and rom-coms,
sleeping until noon.
Set your alarms.
Back to work.
Will you get serious?
A story by the poet Ann Kestner I read this morning… I wanted very much to share it.
“My father worked with wood and metal and concrete. I work with ink and paper and metaphors.
It is not a far stretch between engineer and poet. We do the same work.
My father is almost 80. He worked 20 years for Otis Elevator before the layoff came and then he found employment here and there and then over there – for nearly 45 years he worked as a mechanical engineer. Nothing he designed carries his name. No one knows it was his mind, his imagination that engineered the freight elevator of the fallen Twin Towers and countless other things. His creations are all credited to the companies he worked for.
The pen in your hand, the hubcap on your car, your front door – Everyday we live our lives using things imagined by people whose names we will never know.
As poets, we may not be paid well or at all, but at least our creations carry our name.”
I am honored to be the first artist to appear at the Whitevale Arts and Cultural Centre with a reading of my poetry on Saturday, October 17 at 7:30 pm. (This is the building that housed the town’s former Public Library.)
Check out the venue’s new website at http://www.whitevaleacc.ca for more information.
Meanwhile, a favourite quote from the poet Claire Clube.
“Poetry is the long rope to heaven.”