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Kafka's Last Wish

Kafka

 

Upon his death, Kafka requested 

that all his manuscripts be 

destroyed. The Trial. The Castle. 

Amerika-- ashes. But when poor

Franz died of TB at age 41, 

little known outside gloomy

Prague, his good friend Max Brod

considered his last request. And 

promptly ignored it. So Franz Kafka

became a world-famous author

against his express wishes. 

Think of that next time you take 

thirty seconds to order coffee.

Me Ma'

Me Ma' is slipping from my life

the past rushing behind those eyes

watery blue in the failing light.

And my Irish has gone with her.

The lace curtains, the novena candle

Her brothers singing the Ave in

choir loft, the Lachine spinster aunts.

Who will I tease about the troop 

shows? Or ask aboutthe wartime

telegram saying Burke was gone?

She was raised by French nuns, 

she hated them for beating her.

Now she greets the Filipino nurse

with a look of mad mischief.

On good days she knows my name

when I show her wedding photos.

On others we watch the birds

that fly past her window garden.

She shows me the women she hates.

And the men that she likes. But

the trappings have now failed her.

The sad music of The Chieftains, 

the brandy snifter in her purse

in case of dire emergencies. 

The weathered photo of her father 

reading the Montreal Herald in 1937.

So I close the door quietly behind

while she watches golf on the TV.

The past, I see, is now a distant shore

where I can visit, alas, no more.

Jack Pine

Jack Pine

 

Standing on the crevasse,

jack pine against the odds,

last honest man leaning on 

the wind, a lesson in survival. 

Like a young man, tilting hard

against timberlines. Battling

elements. Blown by the sky. 

 

The choice in life lies between

putting out roots in thin soil

or wandering the scree line.

The jack pine on his crevasse 

or the whistling wind. 

Knowing you, knowing me 

Put me down for the latter.

Filling my arms with night.

Orford Lake

When I was a boy, wasting slack

summer, I’d sprawl on my belly beside 

the CNR railway tracks, listening

for the dayliner on its clickety-clak 

from Sherbrooke into Montreal. Most 

days the train flew by. But on special 

July days kissed with mystery the

ratty flag would rise from the back

of the two-car train, and a bundle 

of mail would tumble into the weeds. 

Or a passenger descend, blinking 

against the sunshine at me behind

the tiger lillies and feverfew. Like a 

ferret in the undergrowth. Today, 

the engineer smiles as he passes, 

consults his silver watch without stopping, 

at precisely3:23. His mail bag 

empty of surprise. The train does 

not stop beside the tickweed anymore.

Mr. Parrott does not stumble off

the train after half a dozen pilseners.

nor would I wish it so if he could. 

Cuffs And Coins

Passing through my father’s room

on the way to find shoe trees, I see

he still hangs his best pants, cuffs first,

from the sock drawer. Still keeps small

change in a jar with coded colours

for the dimes and nickels and quarters.

His cuff links burnished in a small bowl.

It has always been this way, an order

inviolate, like Ozymandias in the sand.  

When my children were born I too 

became a pant hanger and coin collector. 

Tradition received is tradition honoured.

Now I wonder if my kids will long remember 

Cuffs tucked clinically in the drawer. 

Coins in jars on the bureau top.

Or simply the idea of a man facing 

evening with his bureau ordered just so. 

Fulham Road

We prepared to cross Fulham Road--

me and a girl who’d picked me up

on the Russian freighter. It was the

fall of 1977, and we were in London

on our way to-- well, it doesn’t matter

now. It ended badly. She stepped from

the curb, looking the wrong way. I

saw the snot-brown Vauxhall headed

straight for her blind side.

Instinctively, I threw out my arm to

restrain her. Just in time. The buffeting

announced that we were still alive.

She said, “Don’t patronize me.

I know where I’m going. Never do that

again. And another thing. Stop telling

people who pick us up that you’re a

writer. That’s not for you to say.

That’s for others to decide.”

I looked her in the eye. She was

serious. And I wondered if I’d made

a mistake in saving her from the

Vauxhall. But then, this was 1977.

And everything was different then.

 

Bachman's Warbler

"My luck is always bad”, he said

one morning over his skim latte.

“I don’t know what it is about me.

I waited for months to visit Boston and

then spent the weekend sick in bed”

And I said, “Bad luck? Bad luck?

You don’t know bad luck, let me tell you.

Bad luck is the Bachman’s Warbler,

that’s bad luck. Had a memorable song,

a high, sweet trill among Georgia pines.

Died out completely in the 1930s. Or

so they thought. Then nine years later,

birders foundBachmans, a pair of them,

a few miles fromeach other. Heard that

fine “trrree, trrree” song once more. So 

they shot them both and called it a day.

A Split of the Atomic

The physicist Wolfgang Pauli was

first to discover the neutrino, a

particle so small as to be invisible;

with his eye fixed on the theoretical

he never saw the possibility that

his wife might be drifting away.

When told she was leaving him for a

colleague, the distinguished man

could only think to respond, “A

chemist? You say that you’re leaving

me for a chemist?” But she did.

And history was still made.

Not The Beep

I phoned the winter place in Florida,

got my father’s voice still vivid

on the message machine. Not

expecting to discover Dad there,

I almost hung up the call; but

hearing him once more, I stopped

to listen to the voice of Pater.

I could see him recording the message,

seated alone at his sun-splashed office

desk, the text written in his clear

engineer’s hand. “If you have a

facsimile please press the number

sign now.” A fax? He’d barely learned

to use the computer the last year.

He could have been describing

the wild tribes in Borneo. Then,...

“We’re not here at the moment...”

Not here. It might have been the

first time it had truly registered

since he’d gone. That he had

taken the time to let me know

that he would always be there,

just a call away if I cared to

simply leave him a message

.... after the beep.