the oar dipped into the water

black icy deep

the lake had no cold bottom

Dad once said, ‘If you fall in

you’ll end up in China.’

I believed him

I still do


the oar dipped into the water

the moonlight reflected


off the freshly wet oar

the new oar

the first time I had used it

the first time it had come to this lake

the first it felt the

lure of China


the canoe was my Dad’s

it was his Dad’s

or so he told me

I never meet his Dad

his dad had died before I was was born

his dad had died before he was born

a mistake he swore not to repeat

and he didn’t


there was a scratch inside the bow

he claimed to have made

trying to steel himself against the pull of a fish

a fish that was never seen

which pulled the canoe

‘Made it move like it had a motor’

there are no fish in the lake now

the only ripples come from my oar

as it dips into the moonlit water


I didn’t know about the lake till I was twelve

I knew Dad disappeared

for two or three weeks every summer

Mom said it was to go to his secret spot

to search for china

I expected him to bring home new cups and saucers

but he only had a few stinky fish


then came the summer he asked

‘Do you wanna look for china with me’

I said

‘Sure maybe I can find some for you’

later I realized China was a place

that the lake was a watery funnel

that could suck a little boy like me down

down down down

deep into the deepest black of it


the oar dipped into the water

I was rowing across to the island

I glanced up quickly

to see the quarter moon

high above me

to see the island still in the straight line

I was trying to move in

the straight that I rarely walked

this was the only line between my dad and me

the last connection

our lake

his island

the canoe of my grandfather


this was all that joined us together now

the one summer I tied and then untied

the straight line

the summer my dad saw

I wasn’t the son of his dreams

not the brave little forester

he never was himself

but hoped that I would instantly turn into


I was afraid of the water

I didn’t like the lantern light

it made the playing cards look yellow

turned them into spooky kings and queen

the rules changed as quickly as I learned them


‘You enjoying this’ he asked

his breath a mist in the sunrise

‘Yes’ I answered quickly

‘Liar’ he gave me a small shove

‘you hate this

I can tell you’d rather be

back in your little room at home’

‘So would you’ I blurted back


I darted from him and into the woods

not that there was much more than

scrub around the tiny cabin

but I needed to be away from him

from his fatherliness

that turned my love into fear

that made me lie for a moment


I didn’t know how to please him

I didn’t hate it here

but it didn’t fill me

the way it seemed to fill him

I knew if I told him

he’d not be happy

if I lied he wasn’t going be happy either


when I came out of the brush

he was in the canoe

half way out in the lake

the oar dipped into the water

black icy deep

I waved

he didn’t turn

I called out

he didn’t turn

the oar dipped into the water

black icy deep


now these years later

I have my own oar

I paddle the canoe and stop

half way between the shore

and the island

I peer into the water

looking for China

looking for my Dad


here was were his canoe tipped

that day

as he turned to silence my screams

for him to come back

the canoe tipped and he fell

here the lake was a watery funnel

that sucked a little boy like him down

down down down

deep into the deepest black of it


I know the lie that drowned him

wasn’t mine but his






China was an early ‘hit’ for me. It has a strong narrative line, a strong keel of emotional truth as well, but the events are fiction. Every son (I can’t speak for daughters) dreams of killing their fathers. The need for approval was always the subtext of my growing up – but my need wasn’t always reflected in behaviour designed to get that approval.

Much like the me in this piece I did things with my Dad – fishing, camping that I never fully enjoyed & never felt accomplished in when I did do them. I could feel his sense of disappointment in not fulfilling his dreams of that a son should be, of what a boy should be.


I was also pushing myself to work with iconic Canadian images – canoes, moonlight on lakes, island retreats from reality. I can’t count the number of Canadian novels I’ve read in which the main character goes into the wilderness to make deep self-realizations about themselves. All I’ve realized in the wildernesses is that bugs are annoying. And shitting in the woods is uncomfortable.

That lack of empathy for wilderness comes through here I think – a sense if I don’t find that deep self-realization thanks to nature I’m somehow lacking in authenticity. My hero does have some realizations but in hindsight.

My relationship with my Dad wasn’t as fraught with the same expectations. The moments of my realizing I wouldn’t/could’t/didn’t intend live up to his dreams weren’t as dramatic. But like my hero here, I know what separated us wasn’t entirely my fault. I don’t think there was lie between us but a set of cultural expectations I balked at.snowlamp03

I haven’t performed this piece in some time mainly because the emotional quality is so charged, so authentic that people believe that it actually happened. They ask what lake this was, they offer sympathy for the death of my Dad. As much as I’m gratified this piece works so well I’m dismayed at their dismay it isn’t true.soon

November 1 – 30 Participating NaNoWriMo

November 18, Wednesday: judging at Hot Damn! it’s a Queer Slam – Supermarket Restaurant and Bar 268 Augusta Ave., Toronto, Ontario M5T2L9




Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy more music – sweet,eh?

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr



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