Man With A Past 1

For the summer I’m looking at my Brown Betty chapbook. All the pieces dealt duh growing up in Cape Breton. Sadly WordPress had imposed line breaks that I can’t figure out how to fix.

Man With A Past 1

I am from a cup of King Cole black tea

steeping in a Brown Betty pot
flat fried scones
burned pancakes on Sunday mornings

born in Manitoba
moved to Cape Breton before I was ten
the Cape is an island of cousins aunts uncles 

I had none
only good parents

who couldn’t protect me

from a context they wanted to fit 

I am from the rusted rain
seeded by steel plant exhaust
black pearl gritted snow
that fell in layers of grey white grey white 

my mother a Welsh war bride
a family of eleven brothers and sisters 

lots of cousins aunts uncles in-laws 

oceans too far away
to coax me into this island world 

told that not fitting in was my fault
why didn’t I try harder 

be more like other kids 

so I hid    but that’s not the point
because we all hide 

I am from an east coast pollution pulsation 

I still call home
where paying the rent and feeding the kids

was worth the cold damp steel poison price 

while the blast furnace
spewed the air
to pepper the food we ate
at night no one saw it
flood our dreams

I am from Swedes who changed
the last name of their first born to Armstrong 

a name I could never live up to
never defend in school yard brawls
would come home
with a bloodied nose   bruises
that disappointed my dad
who didn’t understand
why I couldn’t stand up for myself 

stranded on the molehill of 

growing up queer
no role models to offer hope
in a culture of judgement and fear 

so I hid   but that’s not the point 

because we all hide 

I am diverted from
the history I have
by a history that is denied to me 

when researchers into
the lives of gay men and women 

in WWII fighting forces
are asked 

why sully the memory 

of our brave men and women 

I am from an unrecorded past 

where there was no name
till what I am became labelled 

by incomprehensible fear 

the point is – I survived what past I had
by creating a self 

out of the fear and shame 

hidden in my past
but today
no longer hiding from it

I suppose from the context you know that King Cole is a black tea 🙂 It is blended for the Maritime market & first sold in 1910. It is a strong, black tea found, at one time, in nearly every Cape Breton home. Brown Betty is a common tea pot also found in many east coast homes. Traditional, functional & not ornamental. Solid. I’ve had mine for so long I don’t remember when I got it.

My mother preferred Red Rose. She was the maker of the flat, fried scones – they were almost cookies. She added raisins & pressed the thick dough with an egg flipped onto the frying pan to brown each side. Yummy with butter. My Dad was the pancake man. He would make them nearly every Sunday for us kids.

As you might conclude by now this piece is autobiographic. Full of real details & understanding. Though the understanding came years later. I don’t think my Dad realized how interconnected the families were when he settled us in Sydney. All my cousins were in Wales. I couldn’t visit them after school, or stay with an aunt for a weekend. Fitting in was my problem not theirs.

The main industry in Sydney was the steel plant. As the piece says it belched clouds of smoke regularly. Sometime white, sometimes black, sometimes grey. In school we were taught how steel was made but it was never explained to us what this smoke was made up of – clearly it wasn’t just steam. Years later, when the Steel Plant closed it was revealed how dangerous this was & how poised even the soil in areas closest to the plant were.

But that’s not the point of this piece – except that it was merely one of the secrets hidden like the the secrets I kept hidden. Looking back I see how isolated I was in this culture – on that molehill – knowing my queer secret & the shame that forced me to keep it. 

 

The WWII book is Paul Jackson’s excellent One Of The Boys. He had to deal with this attitude of ‘why sully’ while doing is research. The ‘why sully’ still exists when it comes to allowing queer representation to be part of my history. It was only recently that Tchaikovsky’s love letters were allowed to be published. That they weren’t destroyed at the time – which happened to many ‘creatives’ though history – is a surprise. My ‘love letters’ will live forever thanks to the Internet 🙂 There is no hiding here.


Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

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