T.S. Eliot

Writing about ‘inspirations’ has me thinking about my high-school English literature courses where we had some Shakespeare, some Dickens – smattering of short stories (The Lady or the Tiger) and lots of verse, most of which I have no real recollection of, by the classics Tennyson, Shelly & the like. Ornate & fussy is all I recollect – though I have read them since as an adult & now merely find them lofty.

There was some Canadian poetry represented by E.J. Pratt, Robert Service – butch man’s writing. The only female I recall is the dainty Emily Dickinson. No actually modern poets except for T.S. Eliot. One it was his big hit: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. After the forced feeding of the sacred texts by Tennyson, Shelly – Eliot was a breath of fresh air.

Surreal imagery that used ordinary English but wasn’t a pop lyric. Did I understand him? Probably not, because trying to write an exam essay on this was a stuttering stumbling mess. The layers of meaning in his work was merely hinted at by our high-school English teacher. 

This was probably the same English teacher who told me I’d never be a writer because my spelling was ‘inventive’ and my grammar was hopeless. That teacher made me feel stupid. But I persisted.

I have Eliot’s collected poetry & plays in one book & his essays in another. Plus a biography. I’ve read them all. His essays are a bit too academic for me to say I enjoyed them. His poetry is more comic than one expects. reading it today I find him to be more sardonic than perceptive. Prufrock is much easier to ‘understand’ when seen as a humorous poem. The Waste Land has great comic moments as well. I re-read the poetry every three or four years.

What inspired me about him was his concise use of language to covey multifoliate meanings. His work isn’t melodramatic or high-flown the way the romantics became. He wasn’t confessional even while talking about himself. Narrative line was more stream of consciousness as opposed to story telling. He freed me find the shadows that fall between the words.

Calypso’s Cave

I want to return to Calypso’s cave

for more erotic instruction

the ways of love I had been taught

never seemed enough for this world 

 

like Lazarus I could not 

remain in the shelter forever

I cannot rely on Neptune

to fulfill all my body’s longings

 

released from his tender endless coil

onto this shore where

I am unsure of my welcome

unsure of my name

 

unsure of anything except

I need another seven years 

to prepare me for cities of silver glass

for the fumbling turmoil of men

 

who tumble excitedly 

grasping for quick satisfaction

not having the time

to indulge in the erotic lore

I have received and long to pass on

 

let me return to Calypso

for another seven time seven

this school of sorrow and longing

I have been cast into a world

that holds no secrets for me

or is this the next lesson 

 

pleasure isn’t the end 

only a beginning

sorrow isn’t the result 

only a symptom

 

as I wander these streets

I cannot feel the river’s flow

I see their mouths open 

but no water comes forth

 

I want to return with Neptune

after sailing seeking

from one golden fleece to the next

is there anyone awaiting me

 

or am I the one waiting

to bring new light the cave

where Lazarus wrote on its walls

Calypso’s joke

Neptune’s revenge

 

the lover of the world 

ready for love 

yet no river bed 

to lay my body on

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every Tuesday

October 5/6/7 – Gratitude Round-Up

https://www.facebook.com/TorontoGratitudeRoundup/

September or October but to be confirmed – feature – The Art Bar, Free Times Cafe

June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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The Best

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks.

Who knew the simple life could be so complex.

The Best

‘you will be my third today’

he was proud of his virility

‘I save the best for last’

I wasn’t interested in being his best

‘you have a nice ass’

 

not that I thought he was

anything more than a fun fuck

but to hear of his conquests

wasn’t impressing or arousing me

 

we’d met on line

he was a 30 something

whose nickname was blktop4u

blk meaning black

it started with him messaging me

I had glanced at his profile

even though there was no pic

it laid out the facts honestly

 

the first time we hooked up

I didn’t expect him to show

but he did

he was as he claimed to be

though his profile

didn’t say he needed to fuck

three times a day

 

that fact didn’t come out for a year

we’d meet every month or so

I’d hear about his background

but he was so fearful of identity theft

we could only make contact

via the dating site

no cell phone

no email

 

sometimes longish text chats

on the site

then he’d show up

as arranged

until one day he didn’t

he contacted me two days later

to explain

he’d had a better offer

in a deluxe condo

 

so my interest changed

next time we chatted

and he was so keen to play

I declined

I declined another two times

then said sure come on over

but if you’re a no show

it’s no go ever again

things were okay

for another year or so

but I began to discount

everything he told me

there was no truth

in the shifting life of a man

wouldn’t even tell me his name

okay until he told me

‘you will be my third today’

‘I save the best for last’

 

I declined to be part of his body count

said no

he asked why

I replied

you can’t always get what you want

then blocked him

because he wasn’t the best

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Childhood’s Swirl


For the summer I’m going back to the series of pieces mythologizing my growing up in Cape Breton.

Childhood’s Swirl 

my childhood was such a swirl 

of legends superstitions and secrets

I was never sure what was real

and what was allegory

like sifting through the red bible

to find out if there was a truth 

or merely a moral

 

the village thrived on these stories

on things that would shift from fact to fancy

as if that sift was to teach 

us children something valuable

mostly it taught us fear and anxiety

 

the leaping men of the Whistling Woods

the hiding places of the traitor robins

how the moose came from the moon

all these things would haunt us as children

then amuse us as adults

 

even what we experienced

would be called in to doubt so quickly

we couldn’t trust our senses

the Bishop would try to teach us

what he was taught

when he could remember it

the choir would sing without knowing the notes

 

it did teach me

that with the grace of the moose

one could experience doubt and survive

one could sing without knowing the notes

and become a multimillionaire pop star

just because some talk show host

saw your video on line

and thought your hair looked terrific

When you realized Santa Claus wasn’t real did you think: I’m growing up – or: what else have my parents been lying to me about? This the sort of swirl my hero is reflecting on as he reflects on his village past. The secret of Santa was that this legend oils the wheels of commerce. One of those secrets that some people never realize. It was also a way of manipulating children with guilt.

Fairy tales that were to entertain us as children were ways of teaching us that all old women were witches and not to trusted. That gallant men would always save us if, in the case of girls, they were pretty enough. Those tales showed boys that only through over coming the giant could we be victorious. Winning was proof of masculinity, being rescued was proof of being femininity.

“even what we experienced/would be called in to doubt.”  I can’t imagine the uncertainty children grow up in today when a politician can blithely deny saying something that he said in an interview. People with ‘truth’ are accused of being unfair for insisting on that truth. Making someone accountable  for their actions turns them into victims. To correct someone’s spelling is now elitist.

 

It ends with our hero being more than a little bitter about the nature of fame and how to acquire it. In a world were working hard is supposed to be the road to success it often is merely the road to working hard. In reality there are no multimillionaire pop star who can’t sing, who rely on their great hair to as the ladder to success. A sly nod to yet another myth – Rapunzel. 

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Chapter XX – Birk Catches A Fish

Coal Dusters

Chapter XX

Birk Catches A Fish

“The crying’s coming from over there.” Birk nodded to a nearby back garden.

They walked over to a fence covered with sweet pea vines. A woman sitting on a bench in the corner of the garden was sobbing.

“Why, miss, what is the matter?” Clancy asked.

When she looked up Birk recognized her. “Ah tis her.”

He saw the bruise on her face and though she explained it as some sort of accident she caused herself he didn’t believe her.

“Come on, Clancy we best be on our way.” Birk didn’t feel comfortable in this part of the town and especially talking with with someone in the priest’s yard. After the way they had led on Manny last night he didn’t want to add anything to that fire.

 

They continued on their way.

“Burns me up,” Clancy kicked a stone on the path. “See a woman treated that way. Any man that’d do that don’ deserve to live.”

“We sees it often enough around though don’t we. Ma says it’s a sin but a good man’s fault too. Some wives can’t keep their mouth shut when a man needs a bit of quiet. I hear that in the house next to ours. He says ‘Give me a bit of rest’. She says ‘Rest! I got them kids all day, I needs the rest.’ And the next thing you know – bam.” He hit the palm of his left hand with his right fist.

“Not right.” Clancy shook his head.

“Another reason fer me not to get married. You see how fast I can be with m’ fists.”

“Yeh but who’d want to hurt her? Surely not Father Patrick, a man of God would never do that sort of thing.”

“True. Maybe she was speaking the truth. Ma slipped in the kitchen once’t and hit her face some hard on the table. Most knocked herself out. Bruise was bad for days after that. Everyone thought Blackie done give her a whooping.”

“Yeh but …”

“Funny thing to see her right after Manny jumping to defend her honour against us.” Birk said.

“It’s a sign or something do you think?”

“A keep away sign, if you ask me.”

It took them another half hour to get to Blue Lake.

“It isn’t a full lake, ya see. River starts somewhere in the hills there.” Birk pointed to some distant mountains. “There’s rapids along not too far that cuts it off, makes it swells up here before turning back into the river. Best place for fishin’ is along here.”

They went along the rocky shore of the lake. Then walked through a patch of purple wild flowers and scared a rabbit into the open. Some ducks squawked and swam away from the shore.

“Gramp Dusty used to bring me and Geo along t’ here. Dusty lost an arm in the mines and two fingers off’n his other hand – wasn’t much he could do after awhile but he kept busy lookin’ after us boys. He always said we was more than a handful. That’d alway make us laugh ‘cause he didn’t have hands. But he could sure catch fish.”

“Gramp Dusty was your father’s father.”

“That’s right. Lost the fingers when he was about my age. Crushed in a rock fall. But didn’t stop him from becoming the best fuse man they had. Then one shift he’d set the fuse and it didn’t go off. They waited long enough and he went back to check and boom!” Birk had held his hands apart as if he was holding a ball then threw them apart when he said ‘boom.’ “Not a chance to think of gettin’ away.”

“Don’t expect I’ll want to be a fuse man any time soon.” Clancy scratched his forearm. “Even it does pay more.”

“Company pensioned him off with hardly anything. He taught us all how to cast and fish though.”

They climbed over a small rocky bluff above a cove that was sheltered by maples and willows. There was a trail that lead down to the lake.

“This is best spot.” Birk pulled off his boots and socks. Slipped a basket across his chest to hold the fish he caught. He rolled up his pant legs and waded into the lake. 

“Cold?”

“No worse ’en the wash tubs at the mine.” he said. He cast his line, pulled it back, cast it again. “Gramp Dusty taught us this way to give the impression of a fly flying.”

Clancy waded out a few yards to Birk’s left. “Ya think she’ll remember who we are?”

“She? Ya mean that Boston gal. Maybe.” There was a yank on his line. “Got something.”

He let the line play a little then pulled it back. The fish darted up into the air trying to escape. Birk let it have its head then begin to pull it back in again. 

“Just a brook trout but got some fight, eh?” Birk grinned as he dropped the speckled fish into the basket around his belly.

With an hour they had caught a dozen fish between the two of them. Birk catching the most. Most were trout but here were a couple of smallmouth bass.

“How you tell ‘em apart?” Clancy asked.

“Can’t till we lands ‘em. Bass shaped a different. Trout’s got spots. Ma’ll be pleased with these. We’ll save the bass for her.”

“I’ll be pleased with these. Don’t care what yer mother thinks.”

Clancy found some dry scrub brush and started a small fire. 

“Let’s see if I’m a better cook than a fisherman.” He gutted and cleaned two of the smaller trout and speared them with a branch and held them over the fire, a little out of the flames.

“A grand day.” Birk laid back on the rocks and shaded his eyes with his forearm.

“Yes.”

“How did you end up here in Castleton?” He rolled over to watch Clancy turning the fish carefully to cook them.

“Took the train.”

“Yeh, I know that, but why here? You could a gone anywhere, Halifax even Montreal.”

“When my Da died I knew I had to something. I was still in school, you see, doing pretty good.”

“School? How far did ya get.”

“Grade ten. Graduated that but with my Dad gone and us needed something, I knew I had to do something for my mother and sister. Not that they needed much. My mother comes from good folks. She went back to their farm. I didn’t see myself working in some farm so I set out.”

“Yeh, but with schooling you could be doing more than raking coal. You could be one of them clerks, even an engineer like Blackie. Why break your back.”

“I had to prove to myself that I could do it.”

“I sees that. Wished I stayed for more schoolin’ though.”

“Suppose it was different for you though. Not much opportunity for anything else, eh?”

“Once a miner’s son always a miner. I knew I was going to follower me Dad as he followed Gramp Dusty into the pits. Not the same pits mind you but coal’s in the blood. No need to decide anything.”

“These are ready.” He pushed one of the charred fish onto a piece of bread and handed it to Birk.

Birk took a bite. “Not bad.”

“Nothing beats fresh air and sun to make a bad cook job taste the best thing you ever ate.” Clancy laughed. He took off his shirt. “Sun feels good.”

“Yeh.” Birk finished his fish. “Yer right about sun being the best salt.”

“You saying you didn’t enjoy my cooking?” Clancy swatted at Birk’s bare back.

“The branch might’ve tasted better.” Birk joked.

“You …” Clancy rolled on top of Birk and they wrestled each other.

It started playful but became serious as each refused to surrender to the other.

“Think you tough, ya mine rat.”

“Tougher than some soft arse like yourself.”

Unaware they rolled into the embers of the fire.

“Ouch. Ouch. Yer burning the hair off m’back.” Birk shoved Clancy off himself and jumped up. He dashed to the lake and dove in.

Clancy followed suit.

“Whoa that’s cold water.”

“Not too bad once you get ducked under.” Birk jumped on Clancy and pushed him under then released him.

Clancy surfaced sputtering water. “Guess I had that coming. Turn around I see how bad the burns are.”

Birk turned. He could feel Clancy’s fingers as they pushed his hair.

“A bit red.” He shivered. “Too cold to say in this water though.”

He went back to the rocks and peeled off his pants and under drawers and put them to dry in the sun. Birk did the same. They lay back on the sun warmed rocks using their dry shirts as pillows.

“This is the life.” Birk sighed. “Can’t remember having a quiet day away from the mines.”

“Think I’d rather be spending it with that priest’s niece though.” Clancy said.

“You got that gal stuck in your mind. You never seen a pretty gal before or what?”

“Sure but there’s something about her. I can’t say what though. She goes from my mind to down here.” Clancy put his hand between his own legs.

Birk glanced over and saw that Clancy was handling his manhood.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice-cream in Washington at 2019’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

The Hayes of Our Lives

Isaac Hayes was a pop icon who wasn’t afraid to mock himself as he did as Chef on South Park. His smooth, sometimes syrupy, soul romanticism wasn’t big with many on the east coast so I didn’t really get into him until I moved to Toronto. I found a used copy of the double lp Shaft soundtrack at Cheapies & really liked all of it. Jazzy, soulful, plus that strutting Blaxploitation wahwah. 

I have an mp3 collection his Very Best Of that includes things like I just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself. That deep sensual voice of his is hard to resist despite the heteronormative content of his lyrics. On this cd I includes Barry White’s Ultimate Collection another deep sexy voice that owes everything to Hayes. Here also is Carl Douglas’s Kung Gu Fighting – too bad he got trapped by that big hit.

 

On this cd is also The Jackson’s Destiny & Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall – prime disco & beyond, that is full of fun dancing memory for me. As is Marky Mark’s You Gotta Believe. Can Marky rap? I don’t know but he sure has a great six-pack and excellent taste in producers, as the samples that drive this album are amazing. Let’s here it for Loleatta Holloway for making Good Vibrations a classic that will outlive Marky’s six-pack.

Speaking of Blaxploitation I have a mp3 cd that includes Hayes wonderful Shaft soundtrack, as well his soundtracks for Tough Guys and Truck Turner (which he stars in). Funky with a dash of that Hollywood smoothness. It also has Soundtracks for Shaft’s Big Score by Gordon Parks; and Shaft in Africa by Johnny Pate. More wahwah with slightly different flavouring but not up to Hayes work. Finally a real jazz lp Jack McDuff – a funky organist in the Booker T mold. Here is his Sophisticated Funk & it is a delight.

Delight

‘Just what is this supposed to mean?’ Jill pointed to the inscription I had put in the book of Symbolists’ poetry I had given her.

‘What do you think it means?’

‘That you don’t value all the work I do to improve myself.’

‘It does not.’

‘Perhaps you have forgotten what you wrote – it says ‘Jill, you will find more in here about spiritual matters than in any self-help book.’ You mean to say that isn’t putting down all the good I get out of self-help books.’

‘Jill, it means that poetry comes from the heart, speaks to the heart – those self-books come from the head and speak to the head. The spirit is in the heart not the head.’

‘At least I can understand those books. This poetry doesn’t speak to me at all.’

‘Try reading it out loud. The delight is often in the sound of the words and not in any meaning.’

‘Then what’s the point?’

‘Are you so sure the spirit wants to have a point or is it merely to be experienced.’

‘You are talking in circles.’

‘Good. If you get dizzy enough maybe you can shut of your chattering monkey mind and just enjoy the sensation of being dizzy.’

‘What’s the point?’

‘There isn’t a point. Let go of the need to have a point. That’s what poetry can do for you. Savour it – what is the point of … say … the taste of food. Do you eat chocolate because it is nutritious or because it tastes so good. Poetry tastes good to the soul. Try it.’

‘It’ll rot my mind.’

‘As if that’s ever stopped you from eating candy.’

‘So now I have an eating disorder too. Is that it?’

‘Jill, you have to get rid of the notion that the mind does the work. If you want to open to spirit you have learn to let go of the mind. I said let go, not throw away. Surrender to the power of the images in the poetry. Picture them without need to understand them and perhaps then you may even begin to understand them.’

‘Easy for you to say.’

‘No easier than for you. I’ve just more practice at it. I had to start somewhere. Once I let go of the idea that understanding would do me any good I began to actually understand.’

‘But without understanding what good is the mind, knowledge.’

‘Both are good things and I said this isn’t throwing away the mind or knowledge but letting go of the notion they are all there is. They are the key not the door. You can do it. Try these poems. Take them. One a day. Read them out loud. Feel foolish doing that and eventually something will happen. Just don’t try to explain them. All they mean is what they the words pull out of your heart, not some articulate explanation of what they mean.’

‘Forget it.’ She handed me back the book. ‘I’ll stick to what I know.’

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6


http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday

October 5/6/7 – Gratitude Round-Up

https://www.facebook.com/TorontoGratitudeRoundup/

September or October but to be confirmed – feature – The Art Bar, Free Times Cafe

June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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Entertainment Afoot

The Shaw Festival production of Hound of the Baskervilles is top-flight entertainment. Well staged with a great ensemble cast it delivers a fun, fast-paced adaptation of the the Doyle novel that chills and even surprises in ways that will please the most dedicated Sherlock fan. Sounds too good to be true? Trust me I was anticipating a muddled mess like the Shaw production of Dracula last season.

With Sherlock it is hard to say who the lead is Sherlock or Watson. Damien Atkins, as Sherlock, heads a sharp ensemble cast, with Graeme Somerville as his Watson. Both were good – I found Atkins a bit young but enjoyed him all the same. Somerville gives us the ‘Nigel Bruce’ Watson, as opposed to the Jude Law take on the character.

The staging was perfection. The use of projection & scrims was precise & as effective as their use in Stratford’s current Coriolanus. I love the rolling stairways in the chase scene & the clever use of trap. The moors were perfectly created & properly moody. Sadly, in this preview production, the hound itself was not a success. John Gzowki’s music was so good I hoped to find a cd of it in the gift shop – no such luck.

The text brought in elements of the Sherlock mythos not in the novel. It stuck to the essential points of the Hound’s plot & characters but did insert some new scenes – a dinner party that was not in the novel but which worked perfectly giving a more romantic edge to the story. It also introduced layers of villainy that were satisfying. I was gratified that there was no nods to the current modernized Holmes. A fine production that I’d recommend to anyone.

Other summer reviews:

Long Day’s Journey Into Night: “a ghost haunting the past” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-30f 

Coriolanus: “My rage is gone” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-31K 

The King and I: The King and My Memories https://wp.me/p1RtxU-31Y

Julius Caesar: Honourable Women https://wp.me/p1RtxU-33T 

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https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

Ginsberg


Is Allen Ginsberg taught on any Canadian high-school English course? The most daring poet I remember readings at that time was T.S. Eliot, some Dylan Thomas (more about them later.) Then the rock bomb went off with Bob Dylan, Paul Simon & the like. My first exposure to Ginsburg was via pop music. Only at the time I didn’t know it.

 

It wasn’t until years later when I picked up the City Lights edition of Howl that I realized where Bob Dylan had sprung from. Reviewers mentioned the Kerouac influence but not the Ginsburg. Was it to avoid tainting the new rock God with Ginsburg’s deviant sexuality? No that couldn’t be there was no homophobia is that scene.

I have the massive Collected Poems, Barry Miles’s biography, “Howl” Fifty Years Later, edited by Jason Shinder, plus cds of Ginsberg performing his work. I have read Ginsberg’s direct influence as well: Walt Whitman (more about him later). I am a fan.

I was lead to him via the beatnik connection & reading a Kerouac biography. I knew the famous opening ‘I have seen the best minds’ but was unfamiliar with anything else of his poetry. The Collected Works is a challenging read solely for the quantity but it is worth working through. Not that everything he wrote is a work of genius but it is compelling, emotionally real & his imagery is frequently stunning.

What inspires me about him is that he was only queer though the hippie era at a time when ‘free love’ merely meant men getting as much sex from women as they could. Where there any gay people at Woodstock? At the love-ins? Much of his work is of the moment & about himself in a gentle yet revealing way, frequently very conversational. Some of it is also timeless & reflects things in today’s world that remain true – I have seen the best minds of our times lost to drugs, street violence & cultural genocide. 

end song 

the float of cups and spoons
moons and leaves
wet midnights broken by laugher
left to reflect on the puddles
red sticky slicks that caress the stage
invite the applause of over-hanging gaspers
soon to be disgraced with apologies
wondering not aloud 

what if this isn’t the moment 

to leap up once and for all 

get it over with

no beginnings only ends
only a bar counter to wipe ready
for weary prisoners to stop   rest   gripe
about the fairness of their sentence
how they deserve what they want

and they want it now 

piping hot
heaped dishes of freshly chopped
branches of moon strung stings
to replace the end of things

we all know that end is looming
bigger than 

a pole-dancer’s ass 

that hovers over 

your out-stretched glass

another drop pretty pretty please
please squeeze harder 

we know you can do it
before the song changes
it has to be on that note
the universal choir
chasing clouds of chords around
looking for the car keys put down in a hurry

your car running in the garage
who is in the back seat drifting
as the red slick sends
reflection of spoons to the moon

each prisoner barely turning
in their stools asking
are we up to guessing what comes next 

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6


http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday

October 5/6/7 – Gratitude Round-Up

https://www.facebook.com/TorontoGratitudeRoundup/

September or October but to be confirmed – feature – The Art Bar, Free Times Cafe

June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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Please Don’t Go

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks.

Who knew the simple life could be so complex.

Please Don’t Go

why are we here

there’s not a house in sight

not a car

not even a convenience store

not even a star in the sky

when I said

I think we should be alone now

this isn’t what I had in mind

nothing to sit on

no wall to lean against

no trees

nothing

 

everyone knows

this is nowhere

when I said

I would be nowhere without you

I didn’t expect to be here

I expected to be left alone

don’t go

how do I get out of here

how

which way is up

don’t go

 

please

don’t go

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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Graduation Secrets

For the summer I’m going back to the series of pieces mythologizing my growing up in Cape Breton.

Graduation Secrets

at my highschool graduation

in my village

I was sworn to secrecy

to never reveal the names

of those men & boys

whom I learned to undress

some whose names I never did know

 

many had faces I had never seen

doing my sacred ceremony

in garages with no lights

even the windows were blocked

not to permit any glimpse

as with the strip clubs

the men were allowed pleasure

without identity

there were times

when all that was allowed

was the undressing

there could be no kissing

fondling

my hands were allowed

to close enough

for the over heated warmth 

of our bodies to be felt

the rest was only for the imagination

to fuel our dreams of what could be

but would never be

 

we sacrificed the joy of actual confirmation

to the will of the moose

not to give in

was a testimony to our belief

 

yet there were times

when the darkness was dispelled

faces were clear in the street light

that shone on the back seats

of abandoned cars

were I would sometimes meet

those whose need was great 

to be undressed by me

they would send me notes

tied to a robin’s leg

requesting my services

even then visual contact

was kept to a minimum

 

with the seal of the moose

burned into the instep of my left foot

I was always to remember the vow I took

to respect the sanctity

of other men’s fear

In high school I became a member of DeMolay, as sort of Jr. Free Masons group. The ceremonies associated it with were secrets we were sworn to keep as part of the induction process. The ceremonies were banal to the extreme & I can’t remember any of them, not even the secret handshake. So some of the ‘secret’ here comes from that memory.

There was also this secret knowledge that I supposed I would learn when I left high school. The key to being an adult – like the secret to success. As if finally being old enough to buy booze without a permit would uncork adulthood. There is also the secret of ‘don’t tell anyone.’ Then there’s the sexual secret of being queer with no one to tell it too.


This piece looks as some of the myths of secrets & the power they hold over our futures. What sex I had before coming out was always cloaked in being hidden, sometimes under the excuse of ‘we were so drunk’ Here my hero indulges in sex-capades in which anonymity is part of the ceremony, because in the village sex is a ceremony performed in the dark. If neither party sees the other the sacred is maintained, as well as the secrecy. Those secrets often scar us, a brand on the foot, in ways that are often near seen by others, or even ourselves.

It ends with a respect for secrets – no not respect buy for a willingness to keep them without judgement. I’ve seen & see married men who have this secret life. Yes, even today there are active gay/bi men who are in the closet – who for their own reasons don’t want to be out or outed. I don’t think it is a positive thing but I don’t judge them either. The sanctity of their fear is up to them to break.

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Chapter XIX – Lillian Bruised

Chapter XIX 

Lillian Bruised

“Lillian!” He was shocked. “What is the meaning of this?”

Mr. O’Dowell released her and moved quickly away. “Father Patrick I … invited myself along with my sister to learn more about the Catholic Missions in Africa. Miss McTavish had no idea I would be here.”

“You will kindly remove yourself from my house at once, Mr. O’Dowell. And as for you Lillian go to your room at once.”

Lillian ran up to her room, yanked off her smock and threw herself on her bed pounding it with her fists. She could hear Mr. O’Dowell’s protestations as her uncle lead him and his sister out of the house. Miss O’Dowell apologizing as she explained that her brother had foisted himself upon her.

After a few moments there was knock at her door.

“Come in.” she said. She didn’t know what to expect from her uncle. The news that Mr. O’Dowell knew something of her past had stunned her. It was supposed by her family that she would be safe here from any rumours.

“I had hoped you were changed Lillian.” Her uncle began quietly. “It appeared to me for a time that you were repenting and atoning for your untoward actions that hurt your family extremely deeply. But to see you practicing those same wiles under my roof disappoints me.”

“Wiles uncle? I … I did not know Mr. O’Dowell would be here. It was you who invited Miss O’Dowell, not I.”

“Lillian, explanations do not further your case. I am aware of the subterfuges you indulged in to play the sham with your family. They may have worked on the simple men in Castleton Mines but they will not work here in my house. They will not be allowed. There will be no more callers at this house. Do you understand that. I have a reputation to maintain even if it means nothing to you.” He went to the dresser and removed the mirror. He stepped into the hall with it and she heard it smashing as he threw at the wall.

“I will send a message to the Mother Superior. It is clear to me you must be placed where your wiles will not gain foothold. You will leave this house tomorrow whether she agrees to take you or not.”

“Father Patrick.” Lillian was on her knees. “Please. You must believe me I did nothing …”

“Nothing! I saw you! In his embrace. In my home.”

“That was none of my doing.” She was wringing her hands.

“That is why you must be removed. If you are as unaware as you claim I must make sure others are protected from you.”

“Uncle! Father Pat.” She began to stand and reached out to him.

“Do not come near me.” He smacked her across the face with his open hand. She stumbled back to the window. His next smack sent her sprawling on the bed. 

She rolled over to protect her face. There was stinging across her legs. 

“All women are vessels of deceit. You are vessel of deceit.” Her uncle said. “This is something that brother of mine should have done a long time ago.”

She glanced over her shoulder to see that he was holding the old bamboo fishing rod she would use with a cloth on one end to reach corners in the house for dusting.

“He thought his money would be enough. Thought it made him better than me.” With each statement he brought the rod down across her back and shoulders.

“All the money a man has cannot buy his way into grace. He bought disgrace through you. But you will not bring that same disgrace into the House of the Lord.”

The rod whizzed through he air as it cut down on her. It was tearing through the crepe of her dress

“This will beat the devil out you. You hussy. As bad as the whore of Babylon. Temptress.”

“Father Patrick!” a woman’s voice came from the door way. “What in the name of God are you doing.”

It was Miss O’Dowell.

“My brother confessed to me your niece’s innocence in his attentions. I … knocked at the door and when no one answered I came in and could hear your accusations.”

“These are not accusations.” Father Patrick turned to face her.

Lillian painfully sat up on the edge of the bed.

“Irregardless this is not the way of the Lord either. It says clearly in Deuteronomy ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ Not your’s Father Patrick.” She took the now frayed bamboo rod out of his hand and went over to Lillian. “Are all right my girl? My foolish brother has never been capable of much decorum where his interests are concerned.”

“I …” Lillian faltered. “I am willing to face ….” she wanted to explain that in some way she was deserving of being punished but not to this degree.

“Miss O’Dowell your interference in private issues of a family matter are most unwarranted.” Father Patrick said.

“They are proper when a member of my family is the cause of this conflict between you and your niece. Come my dear.” She helped Lillian to stand. “You will come with me. I cannot allow you to remain under this roof.”

“Thank you Miss O’Dowell but …” she would not be driven out of another home. “But this is my home now. I’m sure you understand.”
“Very well. But if I hear of any further … abuse, I will pursue what channels I have available to me.” She looked Father Patrick in the eyes. “We have powerful connections.”

“I’m sure you do but I too, have connections. More powerful than yours.” Father Patrick glanced upward.

“Perhaps you are unaware of my mother’s maiden name Father Patrick. Before marriage she was Madeline DuPont. Sister to His Eminence Georges DuPont. The Bishop. A word to him about your behaviour Father Patrick and I can have you removed from this diocese. Is that clear. Perhaps you would be happier in the African Missionaries.”

“Is that a threat?” Father Patrick said.

“The O’Dowell’s do not make threats Father.” Miss O’Dowell said coldly. She turned back to Lillian. “The next meeting of the Catholic Ministries in Africa will be this Monday night. I hope to see you there Miss McTavish.”

“Yes, Miss O’Dowell.” Lillian replied.

“You may see me out, Father.” She reached out and took Father Patrick firmly by the forearm. “These steps are rather steep. Watch out for the broken glass.”

Alone Lillian took a few tentative steps but each movement rippled painfully across her calves and back. She heard the front door shut.

“Lillian.” Her uncle called from the bottom of the stairs. “There appears to be sufficient prepared for your luncheon that didn’t get eaten. I will have that for my supper. You can remain in your chambers for now.”

She removed her dress. She teared up to see that the back of the dress was in shreds but she was grateful to see that there as no blood. Even her own father had never raised a hand to her. Perhaps her uncle was right, that she might have been better for a firmer upbringing. She didn’t know.

She rolled off her stockings and there were red welts along her calves but once again the skin hadn’t been broken. As she looked at her wounds she found it difficult to connect the bruised flesh with her. With the her who had once lived such a carefree life in Boston. 

She carefully pulled her usual pinafore over her head and wrapped her apron around once again. She stepped over the broken mirror and slowly made her way down the stairs. 

She glimpsed her uncle on his knees in the parlour praying on front of the crucifix there. In the kitchen she saw that he had cleared the luncheon tray away and left it on the sideboard by the sink.

The tea was no longer hot but as she was now accustomed to the cold tea she didn’t mind. As she washed the sandwich tray she heard her uncle picking up mirror pieces on the stairs. He took the pieces to the trash bin behind the house and went to the church. With a small broom and a damp cloth she cleared up the the remaining shards.

The rest of the evening was spent in silence. Her uncle said nothing as he ate his dinner. He did look to her once and she held his gaze. If he was looking for a sign of forgiveness from her she wouldn’t give it.

The morning also passed with the same somber silence. She heated water for laundry and had filled the tub on the back veranda. It was a sunny and already warm day as she fried his one egg, piece of bacon and toasted his one piece of bread to go with it. If the cold tea was good enough for her then he could enjoy the same this morning.

“Lillian?” he broke the silence. “I’m shamed by my actions of yesterday.”

“Are you Father Patrick?”

“I forget that you haven’t had the same kind of up-bring as the families here.”

“I am aware of that. Father Patrick there may be something amiss in me, some lack in the eyes of our Lord. I do not fully understand but accept that is so.”

“Then you forgive me?” he asked.

“No.” she replied. “As you have said in your sermons. Only the Lord can forgive. Seek forgiveness there. Not from me.”

She went into the back garden. As the weather warmed and greenery started growing this had become her refuge. This was the day to wash the linens. The work allowed her mind to clear itself as she concentrated on the tasks at hand. As she worked the soreness in her back began to lessen as well. After hanging sheets on the line she sat at the small bench at the rear of the garden. 

Her uncle came out. “I will be at the church office Lillian.”

“Yes, Father Patrick.” It was only when she was sure he was gone that she allowed herself to weep. Whatever female weaknesses he thought she was a vessel to, he would never see her sorrow.

“Why miss! What is the matter?” a male voice asked from the lane that ran behind the house.

She looked up and there were two young men with fishing poles over their shoulders.

“Ah tis her.” said the shorter of the men. “The gal looking for the colliery after the gas.”

“So it is.” Said the taller of the two.

“What has happened to ye?” The shorter one asked.

“Happened?” Lillian stood to see them better.

“Yer face?” he continued.

“Oh!” she covered her cheek where her uncle had first hit her. Was there a visible bruise?

“Some man been putting his hands on you?” The taller one asked angrily. “Isn’t fittin’ ”

“That’s right. No man should … ” the shorter one had put down his fishing rod and raised his fists. “If I caught someone hurting a lady I’d learn him different.”

“No. I … dusting the other day … stumbled …”

“I see miss.”

“Come on, Clancy we best be on our way.”

“Hold yer horses Birk. Good day to yer miss.”

Birk’s shirt was unbuttoned, untucked so that the light morning breeze caught it. Her eyes were caught by the sun’s gleam in the curly black hair on his chest. 

The men continued down the lane. 

It took Lillian a few moments to connect these faces with the two that had given her direction a few weeks ago. Today these faces were clean. What names they had … ‘Birk’ … ‘Clancy’ … How carefree they were too. Free to fish. To do what they pleased. Did they have wives at home who were tied down to children, who were, as she was, washing and cooking, while they were off on a lark.

She went back to the laundry tub saying their names over to herself Clancy … Birk … Birk. 

She was comforted that there were men who would want to protect her. Not shunt her off, not blame her, but want to look after her.

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