Taking The Bait

Back in the BS (Before Sobriety) days I was a fountain of opinion, often rather uninformed, but that didn’t slow the flow. The less I knew the more dismissive & cynical it would be. I felt obligated to have something to say. In recovery I eventually realized that I didn’t have opinions just smart-assed one-liners that could shut-down any dialogue so my lack of thoughtful insight would remain hidden.

Over the years I have learned to stop taking the bait to be dismissive & cynical, particularly with things that are irrelevant to me – you know I frankly don’t care who wins an Oscar, which political party is in crisis mode, what newsworthy figure looks amazing in a jaw-dropping anything. If anything I more dismayed that some of these things are worthy of taking up so much space in the media.

One good thing about not taking the bait is that I hardly notice things that once would have got me wisecracking or disturbed. Even things that I know something about I can step back & think – Is it worth it to wade in? How important is it, to me, in the long run? Am I saying things to appear smart, intelligent, witty to be smart-assed or to add something constructive to the dialogue? In a culture where being critical, negative is a sign of intelligence & to be positive, non-judgemental is to be delusional or stupid – it can be a challenge not to mouth-off.

Through spokenword performances I’ve learned that what I say & what you hear are often two different things. I’ve stopped apologizing when people choose to take offence when none was intended – the fact that my piece about my Dad triggered bad memories about yours is not my fault. The fact that my gay sex positive outlook is a sign of the moral decay & destruction of family values isn’t my issue.

When people ask for my opinion what they hear isn’t what I say but what they feel is in accordance with theirs, if it isn’t then I’m being argumentative or shaming, or am just not as hip, sensitive, liberal, conservative as they are. They don’t want my opinion they want to educate me as to how right theirs is. Then again that’s only my humble opinion.

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Cape Breton Calendar Boy

Cape Breton Calendar Boy

I recently ordered a scenic Cape Breton 2023 calendar. (from: The Best of Cape Breton Gift Shop: https://bestofcbgiftshop.ca) I love the photos but I’m more into the ‘old times’ not the ‘today’ on the island – I doubt if these pictures will ever show their ‘age’ & could be for any of last 10 or next 10 years. I prefer vintage photo calendars like these promotional political calendars from 2000, 2009, 2010. My Dad sent me the first one, then my sister sent the others. Were they published in the between years? I don’t know. 

But these were very smartly put together with excellent, fun archival photographs. Many photos of streets in Sydney. My favorite shots are the groups – high school hockey teams, well-dressed teens at a high-school prom, cadets in formation. Looking at them I think ones similar to these would be great fund-raisers. I would certainly buy one of, say, Sydney Academy class photos over the decades or one of local hockey teams over the decades, pee-wee baseball anyone?

On some of these are notes of things I was doing here in Toronto. The August 2000 reminds me that I went to the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-lake to see a production of Lord of the Flies. The July 2009 reminded me I saw Chekov’s Three Sisters at the Stratford Festival that month. June 2010 – nothing noted so a quiet month, I guess. 

But in July 2010 I attended the Writer’s Workshop that was a part of The Loyalist Summer Arts program in Bellville. This was all before I started the TOpoet blog so no links to these past events 😦 I only know I saw Lord of the Flies by checking the Shaw Festive web site to see what shows were in that season. Calendars – thanks for the memories 🙂

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Can You Dance Summer

Can You Dance Summer

I was excited to see So You Think You Can Dance make a comeback & also that the show had revamped some of the old format that was becoming sort of predictable & stale. It did bring back host Cat Deeley with new judges: Stephen (tWitch) Boss, JoJo Siwa & Leah Remini. tWitch, a past alumni of the show along with Cat are links to the old days of the show. 

To be honest I underwhelmed by the new format, the current competitors, the new judges & the voting system. No longer is it America’s Favourite Dancer but the studio audience at the taping’s choice. Easier to comply votes from, what is it – 500 people? Than from all of the USA. Only one of the competitors has charisma – the Patrick Swayze clone.

Often the most dramatic thing on stage is Cat Deeley’s outfits – who dresses her in the dark? Some are laugh-out-loud messes & others are merely dismaying. The judges aren’t much better. Leah often needing safety pins to keep her cleavage from upstaging the dancers. JoJo, suffering from hideous costumes, often mistakes shouting for energy. Boss hold his own nicely between the two women but at times even he seems puzzled by what his fellow judges are wearing.

As for the dancing – none of the pieces or dancers seem to take joy in the act of dancing deep emotional storylines or jumpy hop-hop fidgeting. The Broadway & jazz routines were flat & forced – but trying to squeeze something into a 2 minute routine doesn’t really give time for anything to develop beyond an emotional pop. 

P.S. More AfroJazz & please bring back breakdancing. 

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Buried Moons Drums and Caramel 

Over the past year of so I’ve rediscovered some of my childhood treats at a local supermarket – things that Shopper’s never has on their shelves. I can’t say that I longed for them but trying them again after decades did bring back some sweet memories of growing up in Sydney.

I can remember buying the individual Half-Moon’s at Flubs (I think that’s what it was called) a family run corner store (St. Peters Rd at Ashby). Cellophane wrapped & merely a sugary cloud with nearly no texture or much flavour. There was also a chocolate version but Preferred the bland vanilla. The current version is smaller, has less cream filling & remains relatively flavourless.

I was allowed one a week & would usually buy it on my way home from school. It took less than a minute to eat but was totally satisfying. For some reason there has never been a 100% whole wheat version lol. Flubs also had home-made molasses candies I loved & super moist molasses cookies.  

Another one is Ah Caramel – the name of which I forgot until I saw a package on the shelf – these are smallish squares of cake with a ring of cream filled with caramel on top & all dipped in chocolate. They came in cello packs of two, so you could share one. Like the half-moons these are smaller than I recalled. Thanks to the chocolate & caramel they actually have flavour & though the chocolate shell is too thin to give it much of a texture.

Then there is the Drumstick – ice cream filled sugar cone dipped in chocolate & the top rolled in peanuts. In my day there was only one vanilla kind – now there is a range with chocolate, crushed oreo cookie, fillings but still dipped in chocolate & rolled in peanuts. I’ve tried them all but I prefer the traditional. Sadly another one that has been sized down but still large enough to satisfy.

Finally, one that I haven’t found is Buried Treasure – orange sherbet & vanilla ice cream on a plastic stick. As you ate the ice cream, a figure, your buried treasure, would appear on the stick. As I remember it actually tasted like orange! I wish I still had some of my treasures – I loved the circus lion. Buried Treasure is no longer available 😦 I guess it is not the sort of hand-held device to keep children amused.

What were your favorite childhood treats.

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Did anyone every send away for these gifts?

(Buried Treasure/Popcicle images sourced from internet)

No Morals Inventory

genderizing toy

The dreaded, by many, fourth step in the recovery program calls on one to take a fearless moral inventory, which at first glance seems to be a list all the bad things we did. The lies, money we stole – if only it were that simple. Growing up queer I was confronted with things like ‘an abomination unto the face of the Lord.’ if one is an abomination to begin with what difference to those petty failing make?

the almost hidden heart

I didn’t have any morals to begin with anyway. What I did have was a cultural encoded set of behaviours & expectations that were in place before I was even born. Men do this, women do this – not to conform was a no-no, to question those suppositions was also a no-no. If one was a bit of a girly-boy you got teased into manhood. To confront bullies was a step to manhood: violence = masculinity. Not to confront = cowardice.

conformity shattered

In the lgbtqia world not to get married was to be a bad queer, to sleep around was to be a bad queer, not to fly the rainbow flag with the added trans chevron was to be transphobic. Assumptions & encoded expectations can’t be avoided – there is always a pressure to conform in the queer community or rather to ape heteronormative behaviours to be ‘acceptable’ – please no leather men at the pride parade, hide those drag queens, hide anyone over 60 (or it is 50 now) so we don’t scare the children or our corporate sponsors with the bare breasts of motorcycle dykes.

Getting back to my inventory, I eventually had to address deeper issues than a list of people I resented or who resented me for what I was. Some resentments are hard to get to the roots of, as my biggest abuser was/is the culture I grew up in & one in which I have to live. One result of doing this step several times over the past decades as guided me to confront those cultural encoded behaviours & realize that being the sort of non-conformist I am isn’t cowardice but bravery. 

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I Love My Shirts

A few months ago I watched a British series ‘ Stitch In Time’ in which the fashion historian host, with her team of specialists, replicates clothing worn in famous oil paintings – giving us a context for the painting & the fabrics used etc. Sometimes they went to an archive that had actual clothing made in the period in question. It led me to think of the oldest clothing I now owned.

My mother was a seamstress, making clothes for herself & my sisters most of the time. She wasn’t fond of the construction of collars or putting in button holes but I did get her to make me a few shirts. On my semi-regular trips from Sydney to Halifax I would buy albums & fabric. The stores in Sydney didn’t carry ‘fun’ prints & as far as I remember, there were stores dedicated to fabric just departments at Zellers etc. I found these at a sort of Fabricland in Halifax.

I had two of the movie star shirts. This one in blue with the brown insert & one in brown with blue insert – both in this sort of western style. I made sure it had the Frankenstein monster pocket. The fabric is a heavy cotton, almost denim. I loved wearing these because of the campiness of the print & because they echoed my job – I worked at the Famous Player theatres in Sydney. This one still fits me, if I don’t button it up, but the thread is ‘delicate’ with age.

The dashiki style with the racing cars still amazes me. I love this kids pj print, though it is cotton not flannel. I also had another with a cowboys & stallions print but has been lost to time. My mother liked this pattern because it had no collar or buttons to bother with. I’ve kept my eye open on visits to Fabricland or something similar without success. Truly vintage I guess. this one doesn’t fit & the fabric itself is now delicate with age.

The tie is made from another of my Halifax fabric finds. Another cotton print that I may might have had a dashiki made of too. I have worn this tie a few times to perform at poetry readings. My mother wasn’t too sure of the construction of ties so it lacks the interlining fabric that keeps the tie in shape so it never really knotted properly so it proved not to be practical for tying someone to the bed 😦

In Sydney at this time men weren’t wearing prints expect plaids. Shirts were nondescript in mild colours. Mine were attention getters. I see now how these print choices were a part of my coming out at the time with their tres gay sensibility.

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Face To Face F2F

In Toronto some recovery groups in churches have reopened for f2f meetings, all adhering, as much as possible to safety protocols. Many of the other usual places i.e. community centres, hospitals – have been slower at reopening for user groups of any sort. There are rumours that community centres will be reopening in October, at the earliest. This depends on the return to school over the next couple of weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a return to more restrictions.

I haven’t taken advantage of these reopened recovery meetings. I’m happy with the zoom community that allows for easy attendance – no transit to deal with for one thing. Social distancing is easy to maintain & one can mute a member easily 🙂 No more leaving the room to silence them.

I went to my first f2f meeting meeting haven been asked to speak there – a twenty minute talk about my recovery experience. It was within walking distance & I timed my departure to arrive just as the meeting started. There was sign in  for contact tracing & hand sanitizer at the door. Chairs were placed for social distancing. Some members were masked a couple were not. I kept mine on. The first participant berated the unmasked for defying protocols & they didn’t bat an eyelash. The others, when they participated removed their masks to speak then put them back on. This made sense to me so when I did my little talk I did the same. 

After a very brief look at my drinking history I focused on a line in the Big Book ‘we will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.’ There is a difference between intuitive knowing & automatic reflex. One thing I’ve discovered is that if I am baffled I should do nothing rather than respond because I’m afraid to admit I’m unsure – to be unsure is admit I’m stupid, incapable etc.

I wasn’t sure what to do about the unmasked but knew my primary purpose there was to share my experiences not lecture on masks. Social distance was kept & I was thanked by some for talking about living the steps today & note dragging them through a drunk-a-log.

At my zoom meetings many are longing for the social context of face-to-face, I am not one of those. I certainly enjoy that context but am content not having to deal with indoor social distancing & dealing with people only via eye contact. 

from October 2015

Conformity

<>

It’s a SOCA convention

a man in a rust-red tweed sport coat

riches out his hand

‘are you here for the convention’

it’s my hotel but not my problem

<>

though I am awake & out before 9 a.m.

not hungover or looking to score

the schooners around me are boats

not beer glasses

in some brassy sports bar

<>

I know about recovery

rooms of people sitting in circles

rounds of support

restless feet in black shoes

where they end by

holding hands

they want to show me mercy

but I don’t want to hold their hands

joining in that circle

won’t bring me into their lives

<>

one is the loneliest number 

who has one rusty nail

sees one snow flake

though no two flakes are identical

<>

I am recovering like them

but I don’t enter their circle

won’t make snow angels with them

I felt the itch that induced SOCA

but never scratched it that way

<>

he reaches out his hand

I say ‘not here for the conference’

and sail out into the morning

not ready for conformity

<>

(SOCA – Southern Ontario Cocaine Anonymous)

(Conformity

http://wp.me/p1RtxU-1pR )

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Easter Summer

Easter

without a doubt

the slimmest hope

is held on to longest

that ghost of a chance 

that finds a ledge

to balance on

awaiting the opportunity

to dash into view 

when all the chips are down

can’t you just hear

his heavy footfall

up the stairs

or tripping over a chair

with a drink in one hand

resurrection in the other

1975

Ending this look back with something humorous. I’d say funny but the ending is a bit too sardonic. I’ve written similar pieces in which I play with clichés in unpredictable ways. I enjoy the way this poem twists around language &, hopefully, takes the reader by surprise with the unexpected ending image.

The poem a bit didactic with the almost aphoristic opening about holding on to hope. How long will Trump hold on to his unsubstantiated conspiracy theory? Pride keeps some holding on rather than letting go & moving on. Slim hopes: like ‘this time it’ll be different,’ ‘he/she didn’t really mean it’ etc. We find it easier to continue to invest in hopeless causes than move on.

Lessons learned can be quickly forgotten or ignored with the promise of resurrection. Red flags ‘heavy footfall’ ‘tripping over a chair’ are ignored with that promise ‘I’ll change.’ Or we get caught in being the nice guy afraid that by establish & maintaining a boundary we won’t be liked. ‘If you love me you’ll forgive me.’ ‘Don’t you trust me.’

Alcoholics often continue to drunk, well aware of the consequences – often there is no event, consequence or loss painful enough to get them to stop. In fact that pain becomes an excuse to keep on drinking, the promise of forgetting. Doing the same thing over & over expecting a different result. 

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Welcome To The F Files

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Summer Striptease

Our Lady of the Striptease

<>

1

<>

she

becomes an angel by intimation

an angle of departure

<>

I

call on her 

at random

when the answer

needs to be atomized

<>

atomized

atomic

breaking chains

disintegration 

she

becomes

the unpiecing of form

the distortion of winter

the glare of silk

<>

2

<>

in the dressing room

she flounces once

in the golding mirror

washes past shadows

for a new wrinkle

to offer her lurching toys

<>

each ruffle in place

nipples rouged ready

pasties perk sparkling 

before she climbs the stairs

mounts the stage

<>

runs quick hands 

over her waist down

soothe fingers on rhinestones

tests the outline of a dream

plunged into a startling spotlight

<>

3

<>

our lady

steps on stage

kaboom

the curtain opens

a lace dream vista

behind her

kaboom kaboom

golden ropes

brass chains

silver buckles 

shish kaboom

<>

gold gloves peeled

ta ta ta ta booma

pink panties drop

kaboom

the sagging grind

of hips breasts

ta kaboom boomba

held up  out

robbed

kaboom

by her own hands

shish kaboom

<>

4

<>

our lady

the form of a woman

she

holds warmth

constructs life

wishbone purity

snaps 

her fingers

eyes

linger

come hither

sleepy shoulder 

turns cold

at the wrong rush

of worried air

<>

clouded

thick with mystery 

the night’s chocolate 

in torn across beds

tumbled searched under

in the look for

the afternoon caress

of roses

brushing one another

as they follow

the sun

<>

our lady

undresses

alone at midnight 

slips

silent between unsweetened sheets

our lady

listen to me call

answer me

answer me

<>

5

<>

she

brushes her hair

<>

outside her window

my legs ache

from standing

tiptoe 

for so long

untangles her hair

used a black comb

powders her shoulders

her cold white back

arches her leg

scratches her belly

my legs ache

<>

she

dims another light

opens the curtain

a lace wider

dances

the bedroom tango

alone at midnight 

slides secretly

between unsearched sheets

<>

6

<>

she

disappears 

the idea of touch

loses contact

the secret caress

hovers

passes as a mist

atomized 

unsearched

aching legs

plow home

through the snow

through the clouds

an angel sings

answer me

answer me

<>

76

This version of Our Lady is from 1976. It went through several revisions before this one was considered done, the writing of it may go back to 1974. The one change I made in 2021, beside proof reading, was to move one section to improve flow. It did come to me as a whole piece starting with that title, which is a sardonic play on Catholic reverence – ‘Our Lady’ almost being the same as Saint. There’s also an echo of The Lady of the Lake. Here Striptease is elevated to a sacred art form.

Here, too, is my structural reliance on numbered sections, a lesson learned from T.S. Elliot. I thought it made my poetry look more serious on the page. Section 3 features my interest in sound poetry ‘kaboom kaboom’ as I give Our Lady a drummer for her number. In other pieces I explore this use of sound even further. I don’t think I’ve ever performed this one so I don’t know how the sounds sound 🙂

There is almost a story line as Our Lady prepares, then goes on stage, performs, then relaxes after & goes to bed. We are the audience for this show & the tip-toe observer literally turns the reader from audience into a secret voyeur. The point of view shifts subtly through out the poem from the ‘I’ to the omniscient poet’s eye that decides her toys are lurching. Finally to the figure spying.

Striptease is essentially a heterosexual male pleasure that invites lust with distance, without real investment in the object other than the surface. Writing about it was a way of establishing my masculinity as a poet. I wasn’t really out at the time, unless getting drunk & having sex with a drunk buddy counts. I was okay being bi but I kept my poetry focus on women.

It’s also about unrequited sex. Our Lady offers it to men who can’t have her, she goes home alone. Our peeper also goes home alone satisfied with his glimpse of the off stage Lady. Both of them caught in a culture in which the observed surface replaces real connection. 

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Welcome To The F Files

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Summer Resolution

Resolution

<>

today

the grey is a force

outside of me

it is cold clouds

brooding  complete

<>

I am a part of this day

a piece of this air

thick sleepy

with a slight breeze

to move me

from room to room

from talk to thought

<>

the breeze

a fussy flute

complicates 

each motion

with a contra-melody 

is in me

as I move formless

to fill the rooms

with a frosted rush

of talk  threats

<>

the threats

aren’t serious yet

but as the wind picks up

even these subtle hints 

can’t resolve its shape

<>

a haunted flute

in a cold hall

played by a winter breeze

waits for resolution

<>

Nv75

Although music has always played a big part in my life – at time when an lp, cassette, cd, mp3 would start up within minutes after I woke up – I rarely wrote without it, but seldom actually wrote about it. This piece is partially inspired by two pieces for solo flute: Syrinx by Claude Debussy & Density 21.5 by Edgar Varese. I had  an lp with both of these by Severino Gazzelloni. Both pieces were merely over as opposed to having a definite conclusion, they ended without resolution.

The poem also uses images, variations on those images – like melodies repeated with slight harmonic changes. The breeze moving me, the shades of cold, frost echoes grey. Haunted resonated with the emptiness of the room, the hollowness of the flute. I move formless, like frosted breath, like clouds that seem to have shape until you get close, they become fog around out, you breath them in.

This was written in 1975 – what was waiting for resolution in my life? I was living in a grey area of sexual anxiety knowing I was gay & being careful about how out I could be. Gay panic was an acceptable for murder, for assault. I had an English Lit prof tell me that writing about queer sexuality would not serve my writing well (or something to that effect). Sex was drunken fumbling with other drunk guys. Sex was a fussy furtive opportunity.

My writing ‘career’ was also unresolved. I had no real mentors. I was stumbling through the writing of fiction as best I could. I have a couple of novels that I wrote between 1970 – 77. Some short stories too, even a play. All full of emotional pretence & the striving to find a voice. A striving haunted by cultural shaming. I was waiting for resolution.

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