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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.

Check Up

He looks over the top of his glasses and asks,

(in a Russian accent) do I have any

“pre-existing conditions? You know...

a sickness or medical condition, for which

you exhibited symptoms, or for which

treatment has been received or taken,

and/or which existed prior to the effective

date of coverage, whether or not that

condition had been diagnosed by a physician...”

Half way through the insurance screed

I remember the summer of my double hernia.

I was ten, drowning in that hospital smell,

when my father’ visited. The popsicle he brought

was unconditional love. The Russian’s eyes glaze,

his pen hovers over the page. I wonder,

Who will remember the popsicle when I’m gone?

Who will audit the stitches and medications?

What will happen to the medical history that

shows a tendency toward aortic aneurysm--

the condition that finally killed my old man?

Before I answer, he jabs the needle into my arm.

“You have ripe veins,” he says dryly,

a flicker of humourbriefly flashed across his face.

The extracted blood hits the glass tube,

months spill into the ether. Genome awaits.

He taps the tube with a bony finger. Distracted,

his smile fades. “Yes, very good veins.”

Variations On A Theme By Ray Carver

Just when he had given up, thinking

he'd never write another line of poetry,

she began brushing out her hair.

And singing that Chopin Polonaise

he loved so much.

The one about George Sand, whose

real name was Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin,

the Baroness Dudevant.  "She repels me"

he'd said at first. But then he

changed his mind when they

disembarked on the shore in Mallorca.


The humidity peels like acetylene.

On the slanted light, blue herons tiptoe

on alligators. My mother squeezes

pulp from a bowl of new oranges.

Telling small lies in the fungibles.  

She recalls now the tangled dance of

flyer and singer, struggling for a path

forward. Followed by the dark acts

of contrition behind closed doors.

Walls rising to collect the survivors.

Sanctified by coming-through,

They sit now in a room swallowed

by Florida heat. The dining table still

beckons for seven hands. My mother

passes the bowl around and says,

“The Honeybelles are the best this year,

no doubt about it. Here, take one.”

Swimming In New Orleans

I watch you swim toward me,

your body moves like zydeco

above and below the water line.

The red bricks of the Church of

the Immaculate Conception,

gatherer of Cajun souls, float

over your shoulder in the haze.

Jazz from the French Quarter

still dances across the afternoon.

Seeing your steady strokes

I dream of the gator, floating

close by in the bayou. For the two

of us there is no tomorrow

or yesterday. Only this moment,

this splendid moment, as glory

swims ever closer to the sun.