Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Essence of Memorization

Cinna-berry… She says.
You have a Cinna-berry car freshener.
He always had one of those, Marco.
He told me that whenever I smelled that smell
I’d think of him.

What a cunt. I say.
Thinking of the scents
Intertwined with memory.

How blueberry lip-gloss makes me think
of a blonde haired boy at age fourteen.
The aroma of buttered pop-corn in a dark movie theatre
and his breath, hot
and smelling of red liquorice.

At sixteen, the boy who smelled of sweat, aftershave,
and cheap cologne,
strong enough to stop your breath.
How I cannot smell the scent of Aqua-Velva
without feeling young and naiive.

Twenty and the odour of night-clubs, hot and stagnant,
two hundred moving bodies, writhing.
The stale odour of spilled alcohol,
pot being smoked secretly in corners and bathrooms,
the blue cloud of cigarette smoke
hanging in the damp, dark, air.
Notes of vanilla, orchids and sandalwood
emanating from girls on the dance-floor.
Whiskey and lust perspired through the pores
of the drunk old men who watch from the bar.
Beer on the breath of the guys who shout
Wanna dance?

At twenty-five the scent of the one I loved,
like a fingerprint, hidden underneath the scent
of his shampoo, aftershave and soap.
I breathed it in, could not fill my lungs enough.
How when he left
I slept curled in a pile of his shirts pulled from the laundry.
How as time wore on that same lingering scent
became torturous, invading my place of recovery.
The scent of strawberry Glade to mask it
can now take me to dark places.

And now,
how I can’t help but be tricked
by men who smell of cigarettes.
Feel a stirring as I watch them inhale
carcinogenic-sex through pursed lips,
exhale clouds of smoke that
cling to their clothes and hair.
I assume they’ll be kind and caring.
They carry the scent of the only man
who’s never hurt me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


When I get up you aren’t on the couch watching cartoons.
The front door is ajar and you are outside
digging with a kitchen spoon,
still clad in cartoon pyjamas,
an apple core in your little hand.

Your kindergarten class is learning about seeds.
Bean sprouts grow tall out of a Styrofoam cup with
“Caleb” printed in blue crayon across the side.
You pick up all the pinecones you see and tell me that
trees will grow from them.

You tell me you are planting the seeds from your apple.
I tell you that apple seeds might not grow in the shade of the house,
from earth more rock and clay.
You tell me you don’t mind,
there are always apples in the fridge.
What you want is the tree.
You explain plans for a luxurious tree house.

Later that day we sit at a table for two.
You drink root-beer from a child-sized paper cup
and we eat hamburgers and fries covered in ketchup.
You pick the sesame seeds off the bun,
examine them,
and with a flash of excitement in your eyes,
clench your fist around them.
Staring intently into my face
you ask:

If I plant these seeds will a hamburger tree grow?

I am careful not to laugh.
You hate not being taken seriously,
and your face is too earnest in its wonder.
I take a sip of my cola,
pondering your question.
I don’t want to lie to you,
but looking into your eyes
I have entered your world,
and maybe hamburgers can grow on trees.

I tell you that I don’t really know,
that maybe we should plant the seeds.
You wonder whether the tree will produce
Cheese burgers or regular hamburgers.
You’re pretty sure that you’ll have to add your own ketchup.

At home you drop the seeds in a hole you scratch
in the dirt next to where you planted
your apple seeds this morning,
your pinecones yesterday,
your peach pit last week.

I hope that hamburger seeds are resilient,
that they will sprout through this tough and rocky soil,
that they are able to germinate
in this harsh Newfoundland climate.

Bonfire Night

When my mother calls out that it is supper time we run to the table and shovel food into our faces as fast as we can.

“Slow down and chew your food or you won’t be going anywhere. There’s no need to act like savages.”

“Mom! We want to get down there, the fire is startin’ soon!” I plead back at her.

“The fire is still going to be there after you’ve got your supper eat.” She says as she cuts my little sister’s food into bite-sized pieces.

My father, who attempts to turn everything into a history lesson, launches into a story about Guy Fawkes and my brother and I mumble answers about British parliament and conspirators through mouths full of tomato sauce covered meat-loaf and mashed potatoes.

We take extra care to chew thoroughly each mouthful of supper so that mom doesn’t try to keep us indoors any longer than needed, exaggerating the chewing motions any time she happens to glance in our directions.

As soon as my plate is cleared I blurt “Good supper mom!” and dash away from the table and down over the stairs. I wander around our basement looking for my winter jacket.

“MOM! Where’s my old coat?” I yell.

“It’s in the box of clothes in the laundry room. Bring up your brother’s things too, and make sure you put on rubber boots and splash pants, it’s not fit up on that field.”

I tear all the folded clothes out of box in a flurry of 11 year old excitement, scattering sweaters, coats and last years winter wear all over the floor. I grab coats for myself and my brother and scramble up to the porch where Danny is standing on the steps, rummaging around the closet shelf in search of mitts and hats.

I pull on my jacket, it’s a hand-me-down from my cousin and because it’s a boy’s jacket, mom has designated it as my “outdoor coat”, the one that I can destroy with mud and filth and that must never be worn to school. Danny tosses me a pair of mini gloves and dads blaze orange hunting beanie as he pulls his black and green Ninja Turtles toque down over his little boy-monkey ears.

While mom is helping my brother put on his splash pants, I go to my room and stuff my jacket pockets full of yellow and orange suckers, rockets candy and Oh Henry bars. Gloriously I find one left over peanut butter cup that has somehow managed to last the 5 days since Halloween. I zip the overstuffed pockets shut so the candy doesn’t fall out and go down to the porch where mom tucks our mittens into the sleeves of our jackets and sends us out the door.

Outside it is starting to get dark. The air is cold and smells like mud, rotting leaves and the wood smoke pouring out of nearby chimneys. Before we go down to the bonfire we must keep with our yearly ritual; I pick up the pumpkin on our doorstep and carry it awkwardly out to the road where my brother counts backward as I lift it high above my head and throw it to the ground. It’s orange flesh would be soft if not for the cold evening air already starting to freeze its insides, and it splits into three uneven pieces leaving a cracked grin smiling up at us.

“That was cool!” Danny shrieks as he hops up and down in excitement.

Across the road our cousin D.A. comes out of his house and we all exchange excited greetings before taking off down the road, rubber boots pounding against the hard-packed mud of our unpaved road.

We can see the orange glow of the fire lighting up the sky behind our Uncle Fred’s house and the trail of flankers flying hundreds of feet into the air. The buzz of a chainsaw grows louder as we near the enormous hill of combustible material set ablaze in the center of the field. My uncles are busy cutting felled trees in to manageable sized logs to throw onto the pile. There are hundreds of wooden pallets salvaged from businesses, green boughs, scrap wood from building projects and even an old couch, but the most wondrous to us are the hundreds of rubber tires stacked nearby. We run over and begin climbing about on them, scrambling up the steel belted sides to get the highest perch on the stacks eight tires high. I watch my aunts lugging huge metal pots and grocery bags from their houses up to my uncle’s shed, which is equipped with a wood stove where they will prepare hot chocolate and hot dogs to disperse to the crowd that gathers to watch the monolithic fire.

The boys from Centennial Place have seen the flankers and been alerted to the start of the bonfire by the thick clouds of smoke drifting over their neighbourhood. They start showing up in droves and run over to the tires and begin climbing up with us to nestle into their makeshift seats. Under regular circumstances there is a mild rivalry that runs like an undercurrent through our acts and conversation with each other, but on bonfire night that’s all changed. We sit as equals, enthralled by the camaraderie of watching things burn.

Travis, a kid that regularly shows up in our neighbourhood looking for a game of basketball or road hockey, remarks on the size of the bonfire.

“This is da biggest bonfire in Corner Brook, ‘s even bigger than the one they has up next to da shoppin’ mall.”

Other kids concur, but a few argue. A kid in a L.A. Kings hockey jersey with the number 99 emblazoned across the back retorts.

“No i’s not Trav, da fire down in da bean is bigger than dis.”

“Yeah? How come your not down dere den, hey?” Travis asks as he gives the kid a small shove. We laugh in agreement and the kid mumbles something about not being allowed to go down there.

Uncle Karl comes over and picks up a tire in each hand and heaves them toward the fire where they bounce and roll, weaving across each other’s path into the flames. One is thrown with a little too much force and exits the other side of the fire, flames trailing behind it. We cheer as someone runs after the tire and ushers it back toward the pile, rolling it with a stick. We marvel at how close they get to the flames when we are more than 30 feet away but can still feel the heat prickling our faces and some of us have abandoned our winter jackets.

“Get down offa dem tires ye hooligans, next t’ing der all gonna fall on ye.”

We grumble and shuffle down to the ground. I hear a small voice wailing.

“Sissy! Sissy I fell in! Halp!”

I bounce up over a stack of tractor tires stacked like stairs to look into the high stack where my brother’s face is peering up at me, stuck in the hole in the center.

“Danny, your some stunned, jus’ use the inside like a ladder and climb up b’y!”

“I can’t!” He wails. “I don’t have enough room to move!”

Colin and Dougie, two kids I go to school with, help me lift the tires and replace them on the stack next to us and I pull my brother up.

“Get down out of it Danny, your too little to be up here.” I say using all the power of an older child to banish him to the lower stacks of tires. We have already forgotten Uncle Karl’s previous warning and are climbing back up the stacks.

The crowd is growing larger. There are adults and children gathered all around talking and laughing, fathers with little babies sat upon their shoulders to keep them out of the mud and mothers clustered together in little packs clapping their gloved hands together and bobbing up and down on the balls of their feet in order to stay warm as they discuss their children and home life.

It has started to snow a little, but it melts and falls as drizzle all around the fire. Someone yells out that the hot chocolate is ready and we all take off to the shed where my aunts hand us cups full of hot chocolate and hotdogs wrapped in paper napkins. I raise the cup to my lips and burn the tip of my tongue on the sweet scalding liquid, hissing air in between clenched teeth to cool my mouth.

“Don’t drink it yet Danny, its really hot.” I say and he nods at me, placing his cup next to his feet as he picks up a bottle of ketchup and squeezes it onto his hotdog and mitten.

We hang around by the shed eating hot dogs and waiting to see if we can get seconds on the hot chocolate. The snow is still falling lightly and the ground is cold enough that it is actually sticking. Older kids, scary teenagers, have taken our place on the tires so we wander off to rummage around underneath my cousin Tonya’s patio until we find two beat up plastic sleds and set them at the top of the short slope in her backyard taking our first slide of the year in the orange glow of the fire reflected off the cloudy night sky and snowy ground. When we tumble off the slide to keep from crashing into the side of the house I feel the cold wetness of the ground under the snow seeping into the knees of my splash pants. We ride over the thin covering of snow until it doesn’t exist any more, taking turns to see who can make it to the bottom of the hill while standing on the slide. My brother wins, not falling once, while the rest of us end up covered in mud and grass stains.

Parents start showing up and plucking their children from the crowd and dragging them home. My father, carrying my sister who is bundled up like a baby marshmallow in his arms, tells us its time to go home and we protest, asking to stay for just a little while longer, but he attempts to reason that tomorrow is a school day and shoos us up to the house where mom has run baths for us to scrub away the smell of smoke that clings to our hair and the soot, grime and grey clay-like mud that stains our skin and clothes.

After we’ve been clad in fleece pyjamas and tucked into bed, my brother and I lean out of our bunk beds to stare out our window and down the road where the fire is still rolling. Tomorrow when we go outside after school the massive hill of ashes will still be smoldering.

The Life of Gertie Gould (A poem in 7 parts)


T’rowed out
like a pair a’ trousers
gone bar tight across da arse.
Mudder can’t feed us sure,
starving offa cod fish
and anyt’ing else me fadder
can pull out a’ the sea.

“The Lord will provide”
they says, but he haven’t yet.

Sends me up da coast,
up wit’ me grand parents.
We lives in the light house,
Point Riche,
and I don’t understand a Jeezly t’ing
they says,
‘cause they only speaks French.


Sixteen years old
when they packs me up and
sends me off again.

“Not a youngster no more”
and should be holdin’ me own
they says.

Sends me to the new
mill town, hours away.
Right full of company housing
and people w’it money.
I gets on right away w’it a family,
Ol’ man works the mill
and everything else in between,
he’s wife is sick as a dog
and can’t take care of her youngsters
so I does that too.
Neider bit o’ time to meself
Cause suddenly I’m woman of the house.

Not really,
But it gets so her youngest
starts callin’ me “mudder”.
I’m doin’ all the stuff a good wife should
and the ol’ man starts lookin’ some good…


God forgive me

I’m packin’ up to go back to Port Aux Choix
when her baby is born.
All figures the two of em’
won’t make it to spring,
puts the little t’ing in a basket
on the stove door just to keep it warm,
Then the poor mudder passes away.

The ol’ man don’t know what to do,
4 small youngsters and a sick baby.
Almost had her give away
to another family when
he finds out why I’m leavin’.
Says he’ll make an honest woman of me
if I takes care of he’s youngsters.
And I’m all smiles
cause t’is nothin’ I haven’t been doin’ anyway
For the past t’ree years,
but feels some bad when poor T’resa
isn’t cold in the ground
and I got a ring on me finger.
Hopes God’ll forgive me
If I takes good care of her babies.

Now there’s six,
I’m not even ten years older than the biggest one.
But thanks be to Jesus
T’rese’s last was born premature,
There’s barely 9 months between our two as it is,

And people ‘round here loves to talk.


Gets to be so that I spends
the next 20 years
with a youngster growin’ inside me.
Has 15 to add to his 5,
16 if you counts the baby that died,
and loves them all the same.

Some lucky,
me youngsters is all born strong
when I knows better women than I
has baby after baby
that never draws a breath.
One hard labour,
a baby girl,

Sweet Jesus the pain.
Born with a crippled arm because of it
and they tells me “don’t have no more”.

Try tellin’ a man that.

I has three more,
but one got something wrong,
throws fits, will stay a child,
even in old age.
I wonders if that’s my penance
and if it is, I’ll gladly take it.

By the time I has me last
the oldest are grown and gone
and gettin’ married,
T’anks be to God.

Gets to be so that I’ve spent 20 years
cookin’ and cleanin’,
hands in a pan of bread,
tellin’ this one to watch the youngsters,
that one to start supper,
and I never knows where the b’ys are,
just knows the babies is outside
tied on in the yard so’s they’re out from underfoot.
Grabs a young one as they runs past,
can’t get a name straight in me head.
Gives him he’s fadder’s lunch basket
and tells him to run fast as he can
down to the mill
so it don’t get cold.


You drags them to church every Sunday
‘til they’re old enough that
they takes off first t’ing Sunday mornin’
and it don’t do a jeezly t’ing.

The by’s is always in trouble,
starts comin’ home with girls
wit’ babies in their bellies.
I wants to give ‘em a knock in the head,
Makes their fadder tell them
they’d better do right by them young girls.

One of me own
heavin’ her guts out in the mornin’.
sees her belly swellin’ out
and she, scared to death to say.
But I hears her sisters whisperin’.

Jesus loves me,
I’m no one to judge.

She pours it outta her one day
while I got me hands into supper.
Still got me own little ones yet
and gonna be a grand mudder.
“Yes my dear, I knows.”
I says, and warns her;
Now she got herself into it.

But shes the last of my girls
that I’d ever worry about;

hard as nails,

tough as a boot.


Down to Maggie’s;
room t’ick wit’ smoke and
half of ‘em’s drunk.
Dealin’ out cards to all hands
who can manage to hold ‘em.
My youngsters scattered
halfway down the coast
just so’s they got a place to sleep.
No baby-sitters in them days,
just big ones takin’ care of little ones.

Someones b’y breaks in the door,

Uncle Mike’s house is on fire

and everyone is runnin’.
T’ick as the smoke is inside
t’is t’icker out here,
blackin’ out the moon
and flankers swirlin’
instead of stars.

Only half Mike’s kids is standin’ outside
and neider one got the baby,
one triplet lookin’ lost.
All hands passin’ buckets or
runnin’ for a length o’ hose.
The roof caves in and a huff
of air scorches faces,

curls eyelashes,
singes off the eyebrows of some.

I finally spots my youngest,
12 years old,
standin’ wit’ Yvonne’s b’y,
face lit up in orange by the flames.
T’anks be to Jesus
none of mine was into Mikes tonight.

I spose it says something for me
that half me youngsters never left home.
Built their houses
to surround me
and moved their own families in.

Me house is always full o’ youngsters,
and I learns all over again
to block out the noise
and find me own solitude.
Knittin’ little mitts and sweaters
For grand babies,
some cute.

Cycles goin’ again,
great grand kids born before
the last of the grand kids comes along.
No break between generations,
all ages mish mashed
from 80 to infant.
Things don’t change,
but now me own is getting’ a taste.
What you wants from them
and what you gets;
Two different things.

Loves them all the same
because that’s what you does.


She stands in the kitchen, hand on the cupboard door handle, staring in at dishes, but seeing nothing more than the scene replaying in her head for the thousandth time.

His face, his lips moving.

It’s not enough.

The sound of her world crashing: the steady ticking of the clock.

She is startled back to the here and now by the cat, jumping onto the counter top in front of her, meowing loudly. She had been looking into the cupboard for its dish.

“Fuck off puss cat.” She mutters as she picks up the slinky animal and drops it to the floor beside her where it persists, twirling itself around her ankles in fluid motion. She shuffles to a nearby drawer in search of a can opener before remembering that she never did find the dish in the first place, trips over the cat, booting it off to the side as she shuffles back.

All these dishes, what the fuck does she do with all these dishes? Single people don’t have this many dishes, she knows it, she had been single before. Single people particularly did not have matching sets of dishes. In those days she would eat from mismatched dinnerware, plastic bowls from the dollar store, a favourite mug pilfered from her mother, a plate from someone else’s kitchen, acquired when they sent her home with leftovers or a tray of cookies. Sometimes she would fore-go dinnerware all together to stand in the kitchen eating Kraft Dinner out of the pot she had cooked it in, right off the large plastic mixing spoon she had used to stir in the powdered cheese.

Now she looks in at the two full sets of dishes. Eight place settings in total. Enough dishes to invite friends over to share in dinner parties, or potlucks, or to sit at the table and have a wholesome family meal.

Family activities.

Families never stood alone in a messy kitchen eating straight out of a blackened pot.

They had picked out the dishes together, choosing the heavy, square-shaped black and burgundy plates and bowls because they were different, unique; and that appealed to both of them.

Corelle dishes, marked as “unbreakable”, yet when she had taken them out of the box at home, one had shattered, tiny pieces littering the inside of the box, ceramic dust clinging to the insides of bowls. She had gone out later that evening and bought a new plate to replace it, feeling the need to keep the set full and intact.

She wonders how many times they had shared meals together on these plates, how many times she had attempted to cook something his finicky tastes would enjoy, how many times they had pulled slices of pizza from grease stained cardboard boxes to place upon them, how many times he had eaten from them knowing he would soon leave her.

The cat chirps in anticipation and unable to find its aluminum pet dish, she takes down one of the square plates, dumps the can of food on it, and drops it to the floor in front of puss cat, who eats hungrily.


In the cool of the river we did not notice the heat of the sun.
Not even when we climbed soaking from the water
Did we feel the scorching of our skins
and because we hadn’t planned on being outside that day,
neither of us had bothered to wear sun-block .

That night we were exhausted;
eyes heavy and head groggy from exposure to the sun.
Our skins burnt a deep red,
but neither noticing as we fell into bed.

The next morning we both awoke early because everything was painful,
soft cotton sheets like knives slicing the skin off our blistered shoulders.
Shifting uncomfortably in our clothes,
our t-shirts devices of torture,
We threw them off to spray aloe vera on each other
and whimpered at the slightest touch.

In a few days we began to peel,
our skins sloughing off in great flakes.
When we could not reach our backs
we employed one another to strip away our outer cover.

It became a game to see who could pull
the biggest in-tact piece of flesh from the other’s body,
exposing fresh pink bodies underneath,
as we gathered the dead skin in our hands.

A friend of mine once remarked that
“disgusting love”
Is the kind of love that is real.

Everyday love is messy:
A morning breath kiss when you awake,
A passing of gas while curled on the couch watching television,
The scratch of unshaved legs during a moment of passion.

It is when there is no second thought about these moments
That our love becomes secure.

When we are old and dying
our bodies breaking down and leaving us
feeble and unable to care for ourselves,
I know that one will care for the other.

I would walk to the end of the earth for you,
just as I walk to the shower now
to wet a towel with cool water
to place upon your burning shoulders.

They say ninety percent of household dust consists of skin cells.

Every day I breathe you in
and in the summer I hold you,
pieces of you in my hands.

Knitting for my Grandmothers

For hours I sit
hunched under lamp light,
with a cup of tea
sweetened with carnation milk
to keep me company.

Hands moving steadily
until they are cramped
and fingertips are sore.

Needles click and move


Yarn twirling,
and bit by bit,
cloth appears.
trailing away from hands
in twisted uneven stitches.

With patience
a scarf,
a hat,
a blanket,
and part of a sweater.

I wish I had learned when they were here:

My father’s mother,
who would sit in her chair
with objects of purpose;
wool socks,
trigger mitts
and baby sized sweaters
dripping from her needles.

My mothers mother,
who could produce any object desired;
A hat with cat ears,
pink mittens with purple stripes
and once,
a pair of knit Mary-Janes for a favourite doll.

Now I knit with devotion and fervour
to save a part of them for myself.

But how I would have loved to have benefited from their

stitches in time,

purls of wisdom,

seeds of knowledge.

Memory Age 11: Morning Swim

She wakes up and the air in the room is thick and hot despite dark, heavy canvas curtains standing on guard at the windows denying entry to the morning sunshine. The slick feel and salty smell of sweat sticking her hair and pyjama shirt to her body.

Her brother is sleeping soundly on the bunk below and her sister’s tiny frame is curled into the snoring bulk of her mother’s body on the double bed against the opposite wall of the tiny room. Blinking she wipes the sleep from her eyes, sits up and quietly roots through the suitcase at the end of the bed containing her and her brother’s clothes. She quickly changes under the covers, pulling on a bathing suit, t-shirt and shorts.

She stealthily climbs down from the bunk, slides open the accordion door and is in the kitchen. Sun streams through the windows warming the worn linoleum under her feet. As quietly as possible she arranges breakfast items on the counter top, bowl, spoon, milk. She pours the Froot Loops and they clatter out of the box and into the chipped porcelain bowl. So as not to disturb her sleeping family members any further, she brings her cereal outside to the front step to eat.

It must be early, none of her cousins are running around outside, none of her aunts are sitting outside on their plastic lawn chairs with their morning tea or coffee. Her father and uncles are awake and she can hear their voices echoing through the trees. In the morning it is easy to hear, even things far away. They are already arguing about something, more than likely the manner in which a small engine such as a trike or generator should be repaired. She listens to them between crunching mouthfuls of over-frosted cereal. She can hear the thud as one of them drops a tool, perhaps a wrench, something with weight behind it, onto the peat like earth.

The morning is still very new and she breathes in the crisp coldness clinging to the air, contrasts it with the heat of the sun on her exposed skin. A nearby robin cuts through the morning quiet with a whistled blast of four notes. Within a few moments it is answered by another and another, each one further away.

Out of the corner of her eye she catches quick movement under bushes and a small brown squirrel appears, twitching, pausing, scurrying back and forth in its nervous squirrel panic.

Moving quickly, but not so quickly as to startle the neurotic little creature, she disappears into the cabin. She frantically disposes of the cereal bowl and digs through the cupboard pushing aside Vienna sausage and spaghetti cans in search of some sort of squirrel treat. Her hand lights upon a loaf of bread and she quickly un-knots the bag and pulls out the two crusty end pieces.

Back outside she thinks the squirrel has moved on. She peers around the bushes and is startled by machine gun-like chatter from a nearby tree. She tears the bread into small crumbs but the squirrel will not be coaxed down. Instead it leaps from tree to tree, waving the top branches like a false breeze. She throws down the bread crumbs and scuffs off toward the beach.

Halfway down the beach and her sneakers, black high-tops with pink laces that she had begged her mother to buy, are full of sand. She had meant to wear socks but had left them on her bed, preferring to be without them. Now the sneakers are holding sand and small rocks against her skin and digging into her feet. She kicks the sneakers off, quite literally, seeing how far she can make each one fly, smiling when one nearly gets stuck in the high branches of a nearby tree. She leaves them where they fall and walks down to the waters edge.

30 feet off shore a fish jumps, water rippling outward in concentric circles. Swimming is a must.

She peels off her t-shirt and throws it into her father’s open boat that is hauled up onto the shore. Holding on to the black gunwales, she tests the water by placing one foot in, ankle deep. It is cold, very cold, even though it is the first week of July. She breathes deep and holds the breath, puffing out her flat chest as she wades out further. Here the bottom is rocky. She watches water beetles and pin fish dash out from under footsteps that stir the water into clouds of sand and bog.

Out further the bottom of the lake turns to sand rippled by waves, so soft you can sink your toes in. There the water is perfect. Waist deep the pin fish that flee in shallow water will curiously circle around as if you’ve made the transition from land monster invading their waters to a bonafide inhabitant of the lake. You swim; therefore they believe you must be a rather large and odd looking fish.

Still further out the bottom is all slimy sticks of sunken driftwood left at the bottom when the hydro company cut down the trees and flooded the area. A man made lake. She hates the feel of the algae covered logs, prefers not to venture out there, pulls her foot back fast whenever it happens to light upon a piece. Imagines leeches and ugly dragon fly larvae living inside or under, ready to chew into her feet. Vampires of the lake.

But here at the back of the boat the water is only up to her knees. She is examining rainbow colours floating on top of the water. Gas spilled by the engine. Purple, pink, blue and green swirl and dip due to the little waves she pushes with each step.

As she walks out into the lake the water climbs higher. Her breath stops, but she keeps walking out, gradually getting used to the cold invading all her warm and sensitive areas, the small of her back.

She is glad her cousins aren’t out here, they would ruin the slow motion ballet involved in slowly getting used to the water, arms out at her sides, balancing as she moves through the steps. They don’t take the time or care, just jump in, kicking and splashing, shocking their systems and those of anyone nearby.

When she is finally chest deep in the water she stops. Arms still out for balance, she plies, slowly inching her arms and shoulders into the water, grimacing as the cold envelopes the remainder of her body. By now her feet and legs are warm as is most of her body. She watches a huge blue dragonfly swirl around in the air. It skims across and lights on the water. It looks foreign floating, its body half submerged, like it is dead: a piece of bait thrown out on the end of a hook.

She decides to dive under, soak her face and hair. She ducks in and slices through the water, surfaces in front of the dragonfly who, startled, pulls itself out of the water and takes off. She can hear the quick fluttering of its iridescent wings as it swoops away.

She floats noticing the morning air getting warmer and the stouts that are buzzing about. She periodically dips her head underwater trying to drown any that have chosen to land and prepare her skin for their morning meal.

The obnoxious buzz of a chainsaw cuts through the stillness of the morning. Her forest defiling uncles have decided that it is time for anyone left sleeping to be awoken. They are always clearing trees, opening up new areas, chopping firewood.

Within a few minutes she starts to notice movement. An aunt slips out through a screen door, mug and crossword puzzle book in hand. Certainly her children are awake inside, eating toast and cereal, slathering sunscreen on skin already burnt pink from the previous day.

Her brothers bobble-headed frame appears running carefully, picking his way down the beach. He looks like a specter in blue swim trunks, hair bleached from golden blonde to near white by the summer sun and skin pale, preferring only to burn, peel and return to white instead of ripening to a dark brown tan like her own. Within a few minutes her father will notice him outside and yell out to him, asking him whether he has sprayed on the SPF 75 sun-block bought most specifically for him.

“Sissy!” He yells as he spies her floating. “Sissy can I swim too?”

She tells him yes and he awkwardly climbs into the boat, pokes about until he finds a life jacket that fits him and buckles it on. He has a more difficult time climbing out now that he is wearing the thick Styrofoam padding and manages to fall halfway into the water.

He wades out carefully. He is always somewhat nervous in water because he hasn’t yet learned to swim, panics when he gets his head wet.

She notices her cousins barreling down the beach with swim rings, life vests and towels fluttering behind them. Her brother is now dog paddling toward her holding his head high out of the water and sputtering as he tries to speak between quick breaths.

“Sissy, guess what? I saw a squirrel!”

The Well

Curiosity killed the cat
and it might kill Kiki.
At least that's what you led me to believe.
I followed you to get a bucket of water
and crept ever closer to
the well house,
watched you throw the
gleaming galvanized bucket
down deep to hear
the sloshing sound
as you pulled frayed nylon rope
hand over fist.
I was right behind you
ready to peer down
into the gaping maw,
deep damp darkness,
liquid blackness,
when you turned
and startled,
dropped the bucket.
Flying water splashed my face,
soaked my sneakers through the leather.
You shouted at me to stay away,
warned me of malevolent mice,
fat black water rats
that lived inside.
My imagination went double time
creating Halloween creatures
and the ghosts of squirrels
that you trap and drown in buckets
because they eat your vegetable garden.
They are down there too,
and if I fell in I'd surely drown
or break my neck on the plummet downward.
Terrible thoughts for a young mind,
but it worked.
I ran away
and never again stood less than
20 feet from the well house.
But after that
when you went to the well
I went too,
filled my bucket with anxiety.
What if you tripped,
fell deep down into the dark?
And even now I avoid wells.
Conditioned to fear
corrugated vertical metal tubes
dug deep to extract water from the earth.
striking me
with the worst kind of vertigo.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Wasp's Nest

We are crowded around my uncle’s shed like a group of angered peasants attempting to oust a monster. Hefty rocks clenched in our tiny fists, my brother with the stolen handle of our mother’s broom, fervor and bloodlust in our eyes as we stare up at the three grey dome shaped paper mache treasures hanging on the eve of the shed.

We haven’t been up here in a few days and the wasps have set up house, once again forgetting our previous brutality in pillaging their villages.

“Once I saw my Uncle Ed spray stuff into the little hole in a wasp nest while he held a lighter up to it and it burned all the wasps inside, and the ones that tried to fly out got their wings burned off.” I mutter aloud as I examine the nests and plot out how to effectively demolish them.

“We can’t do that!” My cousin, Tonya squeals. “We’ll burn down my Dad’s shed!”

“I know that,” I mutter exasperatedly. “Beside, we’re not even allowed to have matches and your mom would see us out through the window and get us in trouble anyway.”

It’s true. We are disciplined on a daily basis based purely upon acts that we are caught in by Aunt Vonnie. We have searched the back of her head for the eyes that she claims she must posses in order to mind us.

“I have matches…” My cousin, David pipes up, pulling a crumpled blue packet of water proof matches from his jeans pocket. His green eyes are sparkling with intrigue.

“No.” I say with the decisiveness that only the oldest of a group of children can get away with. “We’re going to do this the usual way. Let’s get the big one first.”

The four of us stand and take aim. I give the count down and the rocks fly, most thud against the press board side of the shed chipping away great chunks of pale yellow paint, but one is a direct hit, crumpling the side of the nest and tearing half of it away. We cry out in excited panic as we scatter in different directions, sneakered feet pounding fast on the hard packed earth in order to escape from the buzzing fury spilling out of the partially destroyed nest. We sit on the side of a hill watching from afar, arguing over whose rock was the one that connected until the wasps fly away.

When we are sure that they’ve dispersed we creep back toward the shed to survey our damage. We are careful to watch for any stragglers who might be sitting and waiting for us. I take the broom handle from my brother and use it to knock the rest of the nest down to the ground.

Now we move on to nest number two.

I pass the broom handle back to my brother. “Danny, you should hit it with the stick.” I advise.

My cousins agree and under our recommendations my brother, the youngest and most easily influenced of us all, steps up and we step back, readying ourselves to run.

He is short and has to reach up with the broom handle in order to hit it. His first swing is wild, missing the nest completely, as is the second. For the third he steadies himself, carefully aims and jumps as he swings. Like a baseball the nest flies through the air, landing about 10 feet away, which gives my brother enough distance to safely escape to our perch on the hillside.

The third nest is small. We contemplate whether or not to take it down using rocks, or just hit it with the broom handle like before, and we decide it is better for everyone to launch their rocks simultaneously like a barrage of canon fire. The third nest is demolished in record time and we go off in search of better things to do.

Because we haven’t filled our day’s quota with danger and excitement, we decide on bee races. Much like destroying wasp nests, the reward for winning a bee race is not getting stung. We scour un-mowed gardens filled with dandelions and capture fat yellow bees in baby food jars left over from our baby sister’s meals, shake the jars vigorously, then smash them on the ground and run like hell. Bee races can provide hours of quality entertainment when you are 9 years old.

Later that day, when the thrill of hazardous insects has worn away, we are playing near my cousin’s house. We are playing a particularly quarrelsome game involving baseball bats, hockey sticks and a tennis ball. At some point the ball bounces away and my brother runs to retrieve it. He does not notice a new wasp nest; this one built on the ground, because it blends in too well. He does not hear the agitated buzzing over the crunch of driveway gravel under his feet, or notice the single warrior hornet flying under the hem of his light blue baseball jersey.

Suddenly he is screaming and crying, thrashing and flailing, and running as fast as he can up the road toward our house.

We stare incredulously for a few seconds, then follow after him.

Inside our porch my brother is standing shirtless and wailing, with three angry red welts rising on his pale torso. Mom comes bustling toward us holding an aerosol can that she sprays on the welts. My brother gasps as the first cold blast hits his skin.

“You were at the wasps again weren’t you?” She says scolding. We deny it, but my brother nods his head yes, as he wipes his hand across his face, leaving a trail of tears and snot across his cheek.

Later when my uncle gets home from work we tell him about the wasp nest in his back yard because we have been ordered not to go near it ourselves. He walks up to the nest and places his giant steel toed work boot on it, crunching it into the ground and scuffing his foot into the dirt producing a sense of finality. It is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

For My Boy

Excitedly you pull on a baseball cap and run outside
to play with the boys in the backyard
But within the hour
you are back at our door for the first time today
tears washing clean paths down your dirty cheeks

You remind me of my brother

When he was four and I was seven
he would come home with this same striped face
and I would go and fight his battles
All shoving and head-locks and fists-in-guts
until his tormentors left him alone

But now you are four and I am much older

You were born without a sister
to beat the pint sized bastards
that have labeled you a sooky
because you cry when they pinch you
or steal your toys and break them

You are not one of these baby brutes

The best I can do for you is talk to the mothers
who spout "Boys will be boys"
And I feel like shoving and head-locks and fists-in-guts
because it is not their sons who come home crying
but grown ups don't do those sorts of things

Instead I cradle your head to my stomach

I run my fingers through your fuzzy summer hair cut
feeling the grains of sand stuck in your hair
and when you stop crying I send you back outside
with my permission to fight
and a fistful of Mr. Freeze

But you don't fight

Instead you share your treat
and let them take all the good flavours
The blues and reds and whites
all the ones that you like
leaving you with the peach and lemon and grape

But you are happy to belong again

At bedtime I give you good night kisses
and smell the dirt and sun on your skin
Read you stories until you fall asleep
and love that you are different than them
but hope that tomorrow your face stays dirty.

Summer 1994

One summer my cousin John
took up gardening
and had a truckload of cowshit
dumped in the backyard behind our houses
next to his greenhouse

It was a terrible smell at the best of times
but worse when the sun was hot
and the air was thick
and full of blue arse flies
and the smell would lie like a blanket
that covered the entire street

My father's hatred of the heat
only grew when he couldn't open the windows
to let a breeze blow through our house
he told my mother
he had a mind to call the cops
and she laughed
and asked what he would report

Perhaps an olfactory assault charge
could be laid

Us children didn't want to play outside
because the smell would turn our stomaches
My mother and aunts resented not being able
to hang laundry on their clotheslines
because it would only come back in
smelling of sunshine and shit

And as summer wore on
John's flowers and garden grew
green grass
beautiful blooms
full of nutrients
and reaching for the sun

But really

who cares about having a beautiful garden
when the air around it
smells like cowshit?

Memory Age 7: Nan and Pop Attwood's strawberry patch

Nan this chair makes me itchy” I say as I climb to stand on the green fiber glass bench. It used to be a seat in an old school bus, there are still brackets on the bottom where thick bolts secured it to the floor.

“Well don’t sit there maid” She says. She stops for a moment, thinking. “Come here, I’ll show you something.”

I jump off the bench onto the grass. It is more moss than grass, and I feel my sneakers sink into the soft, green ground, water soaking into the worn leather making my socks wet.

I follow my grandmother into the garden she has grown in front of the cabin, beds of strawberries, cabbage, peas and carrots stretching down to meet the bog.

One time I had tried to pick a cabbage. My Pop, busily cutting the green leafy heads from the stalks, insisted that I couldn’t pull it out of the ground, and that it must be cut at the stalk. I pulled hard. My small hands slipped from around the shiny curved leaves and I tumble backwards into the strawberry patch, squishing ripe berries against my bum. I jumped up and ran into the cabin, blaming Pop for my tumble.

Nan starts telling me about how she had been looking to see if the strawberries in the thicker part of the berry patch were getting ripe. How she had parted the leaves and was combing through the plants to find the larger berries underneath.

“Well I was reachin’ towards this plant and a bird flew right up into me face! Flappin’ he’s wings, what a fright I got!” She picks up a stick and gently prods about the plants, standing as far back as the stick will allow. After a short time she decides it is safe, drops the stick at her side and steps forward, gingerly parting the plants with her aged hands.

“Come see…” she says turning back to me.

I have nearly lost interest in her story. I’ve been watching my baby brother clumsily making his way towards us through the strawberry patch in that half-walk half-run toddlers do that makes them look like they will fall if they are to stop short. I am irked at him, because I am only seven years old, and don’t understand why he just can’t walk the right way, and he is squishing ripe berries under his dirty white and blue velcro sneakers.

I crouch next to Nan to see what is there, expecting to see a particularly large berry. I am shocked to see a small deep nest made of twigs, moss and mud, with three tiny birds lying amongst the remnants of broken speckled eggshells.

Nan its baby birds!” I say. I reach towards them and lightly touch the small brown bodies. The skin is thin and nearly translucent with a very sparse covering of feathers as fine and downy as baby hair. Two of them are sleeping, their eyes blue under thin eyelids. I pull my hand back at the unexpected warmth of the tiny bodies. The third bird is wriggling about, trying to find a way to sit upright. His small liquid black eyes look like droplets of paint.

By now my brother has made his way to us and is squealing in delight, clapping and gesturing grandly with his chubby hands as he remarks in broken toddler speech about “Birdies in tees, not on da gownd.”

“They’re some ugly hey?” my Nan remarks, then adds “but I s’pose they’ve got a cuteness to them, where they’re so small.”

My brother reaches out with drool coated fingers to try and touch the waif like creatures. I’m afraid he’ll try and grab one, crush its fragile bones in his merriment.

“Don’t!” I snap. He jumps at the sound of my voice, hand stopping just above the nest. The bright eyes baby makes a miniscule screeching sound and opens his beak wide, so wide the little bird face disappears under the gaping beak. You could probably see right into his stomach if you had a flashlight, I think to myself.

My brother wiggles his fingers above the waiting beak and the baby screeches louder. I’m irritated by him and hiss “Give it up Danny, you’re teasin’, he thinks you’ve got a worm for him.” I smack his hand away and he pulls it against his body, holding the offended limb in his chubby hand, his lip curls slightly and he begins to whimper.

“Be good to him Krissy, he’s just a little baby himself, and he’s not hurtin’.” Nan says. She pats his straw colored hair and shushes him to stop pouting, telling him she’ll get him a tin of root beer if he’ll be a big boy and not cry.

They wander off in the direction of the cabin and I listen as his sniffling moves away from me. I remain starring at the birds, examining every feature of the nest and the babies who live there until my seven year old mind has soaked up all it can about this phenomenon in the strawberry patch. I wander off to explore other wonders that the woods around the cabin have to offer.

The next weekend I asked my grandmother about the birds.

“Only one left. Crows or the squirrels must have got the rest of the poor little buggers. I sees the mudder flying down there but I s’pose she goes lookin’ for food and that’s when they gets them.”

I go out to see the one remaining bird. He is no bigger, but is now covered in soft brown down. He is asleep in the bottom of the nest and looks even smaller surrounded by the nothingness where his siblings used to be. His tiny chest rises and fall with is quick breathing. I feel sad for him. He doesn’t have much of a chance. His siblings have been stolen away and he is not strong enough to fight or get away from other hungry creatures that might happen upon his ill placed cradle.

By the next morning he is gone too.

For the next few weeks I throw rocks at every crow and squirrel that I see. Each one is personally responsible in my mind for stealing away my tiny baby birds.

The crows fly up to perch in power lines and caw down at me in protest. I caw angrily back at them, hoping that maybe I am saying “You are a bad, mean crow” in crow language.

The squirrels bound away and chirp snidely from the camouflage of the trees. I try to throw handfuls of pebbles up into the trees at them, but I’m not good at throwing and they plummet back down upon me like hard rain.