Never The Man

Never The Man

if you don’t ask

you won’t get –

no one says no

if you don’t ask –

often what you get

you didn’t ask for


I felt

I was never the man

my father expected me to be

I was never the man

I saw on TV

in movies

I would never be up to scratch

I would always be less than

all those guys who were real men


I would never be a real man

with sweaty rough-and-tumble garb

of that sort of pride

would never be mine

even if I wore that garb

it would a costume

a disguise

to hide my heart


the man I was 

was someone 

who strove not to be defined

contained by definition

so I lost

the comfort of the acceptable

an acceptability

I never asked for


I felt was was never the man

my father wanted me to be

not that he wanted me to be like him

but to be the man he wanted to be


I was never asked

if his expectation a good fit for you

I wasn’t aware

that I could say no

or that once I started to choose

the definitions 

that I hoped would suit me

that I’d have to constantly be adjusting

to make the shoulders fit

to make the pants crease properly

but by losing the comfort of the acceptable

I found the ease of being me


This starts with with a variation on the internet meme – if you don’t ask the answer is always no – an exhortation to less fearful in making our hopes clearer. What troubles me about this is that it is too easy to ask for what we think our culture wants us to ask for – things that supposedly make it comfortable for everyone – or at least more comfortable for the majority.


I grew up with the cultural narrative of what boys are & what they want to be is men – not ‘want,’ because ‘want’ has a sense of freedom of choice. The dominating narrative is too narrow to allow for choice. Even as laws changes, morals change, the majority is so uncomfortable with changes they feel attacked not enlightened.

The man my father expected me to be was not his fault – he fought a war that defined his masculinity in a culture that equated masculinity with physical prowess. You faced violence with violence – bullies were bested & defeated. As a kid I never questioned that equation but never could face violence with violence, hence I would never be a real man. I probably hated myself more for being a ‘coward’ than for any other reason.

So growing up has been a process of recognizing, questioning and putting those heteronormative notions of masculinity in perspective – the constant adjusting of shoulders. Not something I asked for but something I couldn’t refuse to deal with either. Today I have the ease of being me, most of the time. But I know enough ‘real’ men to know even they don’t have as much ease as I do.


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Lalo and Litolff

Édouard Lalo, the French composer, is best known for his Symphonie Espagnole which I have as a stand-alone cd along with his Violoncello Concerto. Like Dukas, Lalo is one of those artists reduced to one or two ‘big hits’ that remain in the contemporary concert repertory. Was he even Spanish? (He wasn’t.) So is his  Symphonie Espagnole considered cultural appropriation? Regardless it is a compelling, stirring work that is both playful & emotional at the same time. Almost melodramatic is easy to let it take one to Spain. The accompanying Concerto is similar in its emotive orchestration & sweet cello writing. Well worth listening to too.

Did he write anything else? Yes! Mainly for violin or cello. But these are the only pieces of his I have in my collection. Maybe it’s time to add more 🙂 This cd I picked up at Sam The Record Man (remember Sam’s) way back in 1995 to replace my lp version of it. 

Worse than being a one or two hit wonder is to be a no hit wonder such as the Scottish composer Henry Litolff (1818 1891) I have an lp to CD transfer of his Concerto Symphonique No. 4 in D minor, Op. 102 with piano obbligato. If he is known at all, it is for one movement of this work. A romantic composer he was over-shadowed by the likes of Liszt & Chopin. Maybe it is sauce he was Scottish too. The classical scene was dominated by European composers. British composers were not considered as good.

Would you rather: Liszt or Litolff? Liszt even dedicated one his piano concertos to Litolff. I’ve kept this recording more as a curiosity than as something I love to hear. The piano is good but feels uninspired, & it is matched by the orchestra. None of his vast writing is in the contemporary concert repertory. Listen to it on YouTube before you rush out to pick it up. 


‘Fighting in the Middle East escalated today with the announcement by President Elect Bratlat that he would not back down on the demands of his predecessor. Spokesman for the Grey Dawn Forces say this stance is unacceptable.

Two separate forays where made into the disputed territories resulting in extensive damage and at least ten deaths. A shrapnel bomb hidden in a baby carriage …

‘Please turn that off. We are trying to have nice meal here.’

‘Can’t hide from the world Mom.’ 

‘I know that but we don’t have to invite it in to supper.’ She reached for the remote.

‘Oh no.’ Dave grabbed it and switched to the music video station.

‘You got look

where ya gonna cook

hook you jus a ho

no more no less 

so don’t mess

with with dis itch

or you’ll find yourself

on the end of a fish bitch hook

fish bitch hook.’

‘And enough do that too.’ She took the remote from him and turned the TV off.

‘Aw mom.’ The other two children moaned.

‘Look we are going to have a quiet meal for a change. Okay.’

Their sullen faces were acceptance enough. All that was heard was the click of forks on plates and the tick of a clock.

‘How was school Dave.’

‘Nothing happened. Just school. You know mom.’

‘When will Dad get home,’ Trish, the youngest asked.

‘Soon. He’s gonna take us down the to rink.’

‘Don’t get your hopes up too high kids. You know this is the busiest time of the year for him.’ She reminded them.

Just then the door opened. Trish dashed from the table.

‘Daddy Daddy.’ she jumped up into his arms. He held her and put her down in her chair.

‘Thanks for waiting supper for me.’ He slumped at the table without taking his coat off.

‘Thanks for telling me you’d be late and then not being late.’

‘Yeah well things change. So where’s my dinner.’

She got up from the table and went to the kitchen. As she passed him he grabbed her by the wrist. ‘Don’t take that attitude, you hear. I’m not one of your brats.’

‘Let go of me.’

‘Sure enough.’ He slapped her playfully on the butt as she passed. ‘So why so glum everyone. It’s Xmas eve after all. Let’s have some TV. Better than this silence. Eh?’

The TV blared on. She leaned against the stove and scooped mashed potatoes onto a plate for him.

every Tuesday

October 5/6/7 – Gratitude Round-Up

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

June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C. 

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

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Reinaldo Arenas

Fridays will become a spot for revealing my literary influences & inspirations starting with Reinaldo Arenas. These posts will not be wiki detailed – if you want that you can google wikipedia yourselves:-) His life is remarkable though I read some of his novels before reading his full biography. The introductory notes to The Doorman had enough details to stun me.

The Doorman was the first of his novels that I read. Set in New York it is an allegory similar to Animal Farm. An immigrant writer gets a job as a doorman in an apartment building of odd-ball characters  & learns life lessons. Dogs, cats, even parrots talk but only he can understand them. It is a funny, wild & trippy novel. If you aren’t familiar with Arenas it is the best one to start with.


Pentagonia is a set of five novels that comprise a “secret history” of post-revolutionary Cuba. If you have been following my Village Stories (Wednesdays) you will see some of the direct influence he has had on me. The first couple of books mythologize his childhood. One in series sees Cuban society as insects with endless layers of governmental departments, another contains a huge poem/canto, another deals with his escape from Cuba.

It was his persistence in writing under nearly all circumstances that inspires me as much as the quality & imaginative depth of his work. I have enough trouble reconstructing a poem I’ve accidentally deleted whereas he rewrote a 300 page novel after finding out his original manuscript, written on, amongst other things, toilet paper, that was smuggled out of prison had been destroyed by the friend who was to keep it safe. It was his writing that gave him hope while he was in prison.

His literary style in these is breathtaking, even in translation. Like Joyce’s Ulysses there are sections in play form, footnotes, asides, verse, endless run on sentences. At times stunningly imagistic, impressionist & at others grimly & viscerally real.


His life in America was not the paradise he expected. partly because he was openly queer he wasn’t accepted or as culturally recognized as he hoped (or as he deserved). The film Before Night falls acknowledges some of this but I also found the film too deliberatively manipulative. I’m currently reading all that I have by him on my shelf.



he had a shitty attitude

everyone knew that 

even passing in the the street 

strangers knew he had a shitty attitude

and he didn’t give a shit

if they didn’t like his shitty attitude 

they could eat shit and die

for all he cared

for all they cared he was dead


he knew that 

by the way they glanced so quickly

looking a way in dismay 

acting as if he wasn’t even there

as if they could see though shit

they didn’t know jack shit

that much he knew

and so he didn’t care

if they shit in their shoes 

when he was near them

he chuckled



would be his superhero name

is it a bird

is a plane

no it’s shitman

and they would crap their pants

that would fix 

all those mucky muck politicians

if he went to a big important speech

stood in front of them

as they spouted their 

bullshit to the nation

and glanced down at him

and shit their pants 

right there on stage


he could see the look on the president

the prime minister the queen

as they found themselves 

in front of the world

all those cameras microphones reporters

unable to hold it in another minute

that panic 

as sphincter muscles relaxed 

and they crapped their pants

as the smell was recognized


what a laugh that would be

as everyone pretended there was no shit

acted as if the mucky muck had not 

just dumped a load in his pants 

right their in front of everyone

as he waddled off stage

with that shit my pants walk

crap oozing down into his shoes


yea for shitman

that would be so sweet

every Tuesday

October 5/6/7 – Gratitude Round-Up

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

June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C. 

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

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The Red Menace

The Red Menace

My mother

was sure the RCMP

would take an interest in me

because I had a pen-pal

from Czechoslovakia

at that time

I had pen-pals from a round the world

New Zealand Trinidad Uganda



because Czechoslovakia

was a Communist state

my mother was sure 

our family would fall under suspicion 

that our house 

would be under surveillance

I thought she was joking

I was more interested in the stamps

than I was in the letters

in which we talked about

schools music 

we exchanged photos


I thought my mother was foolish

the image of a car 

across the street from our house

with officers watching us

with binoculars

made me laugh


would the RCMP read my mail before I got it

the non-capitalist nature of communism

made sense 

it sounded fair

the red menace

the arms race

struck me then as being

a sort of USSR USA 

slap fight 

to preserve their individual status quo


what did I really know

about international politics

other than the world could end

in a nuclear pissing match

which kept me up at night

wondering worrying

about my individual status quo

Another piece that steps back into my past. I had many pen-pals at different times in my teen years. Boys & girls from around the world. Some that I found through some pen-pal agency that was listed in a teen magazine distributed in high schools. I was exchanging letters with kids in most of the provinces then from around the world. The guy from Czechoslovakia even sent me a couple of 45s – I wish I had them today. I remember the name of one of them Tony Lee-Mack from Trinidad. The remember the photo of one of them – maybe from Kenya – I remember it because his pants were revealingly snug & I had endless dreams & fantasies about meeting him.

It was the guy from Czechoslovakia that distressed my mother. She in fact was worried about the RCMP thinking we were Communist sympathizers. Even then I doubted if they would care what a couple of teenage boys were writing to each other about. Sydney was not that crucial to national security. Besides Communism wasn’t the big deal in Canada that it was in the USA.

I was, like a lot of kids at that time, stressed about the possibility of nuclear war. It felt like we were on the end of ending the world. I collected bomb shelter plans. I wasn’t that alarmed though I was too lazy to find out what the ideological difference between the nations were. I bought the notion the the USA was right. Turns out they weren’t.


As for the RCMP watching our house I was totally disappointed that after being on the watch for that car, any car, keeping an eye on our house, there wasn’t anything. Of course I was visualizing them in their red riding outfits – where are perfect garb for staking out a house.

That was the red menace I dreamed of manhandling me into submission 🙂


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Sea Green Nina Hagen

By Great Big Sea I have the stand-alone Up that I picked up back in 1996 after seeing them perform Mari-Mac on TV. An east coast band they bring me back to my r’n’r days. Strong Celtic songs to great Cape Breton fiddle music. High energy and tender moments too. But you know one of these was enough to & still is enough to satisfying my yearning for this sound.

Next to it is Green Green Grass Of Home – another collection of nostalgic song such as This Is Your Land, We’ll Sing In The Sunshine – performed by The Fireside Folksingers choral. No fireside sing-a-long I ever experienced sounded this good 🙂 Its a Reader’s Digest release that I never ever would have bought. It was my in my Dad’s collection & when he passed I sort on inherited it on one my visits home to the east coast. When it comes up in rotation I enjoy hearing it even if some of the songs are banal.

From the opposite end of the spectrum is this sand-alone by Nina Hagen combines two eps: Nunsexmonkrock and TV-Glotzer. This is my sort of sentimentality 🙂 It brings me right abaft to my first years in Toronto. I rocked out on the dance floor whenever African Reggae was played. Nina was such a force of nature no one really knew how to deal with her energy. Too aggressive for mainstream popularity she certainly inspired many female performers – Madonna, Lady Gaga – with her wild fashion.


Her music was cutting edge then & even today these early tracks burst with an energy that hasn’t been matched. I have seen her a few times on stage & the shows were intense & high energy. I have much more of her scattered thought my collections but this is the one started it.


‘We don’t know anymore than I’ve just told you.’

‘As little as that?’


The wail of the ambulance cut through the fog. It pulled away slowly.

Jack looked out the window as the police cruiser’s lights faded into the mist. His wife, Sue, lay on the stretcher. Barely breathing. Her face covered with a clear plastic oxygen mask. A medic held one of her hands.

‘She will pull through?’

‘Sir, I just don’t know.’

He must have seen the look on Jack’s face.

‘But I’m sure she will. I’ve seen people survive worse. much worse.’


Jack wasn’t really listening. The moments before the accident played over and over. He had to talk to keep that replay from starting up again.

‘How about the other car?’

‘Don’t know. Didn’t look too bad though. Hate this fog. Almost as bad as booze for accidents. Worse.’

‘Yeah.’ Jack stroked Sue’s leg gently. It felt so thin and frail under the blanket.

‘Couldn’t see a thing. I was driving slow.’

‘Can’t do much when it gets like this.’

‘I … we should have waited till morning.’

‘Couldn’t be helped.’

Sue moaned under the mask.

‘You’re okay . Your husband is right here.’

Her eyes flickered opened. A thin dribble of blood came from the corner of her mouth.

‘I’m right here honey. You’ll be fine. We’re on our way to the hospital now. You’re in good hands.’

Her eyes closed. Jack leaned against the edge of the stretcher and bent to kiss her.

‘We get this sort of fog a lot this time of year. Comes in quite sudden. Haven’t seen it this thick for some time though. Not a good sign.’‘


‘Yeah the worse the fog the worse it’ll snow in the winter.’

Jack nodded. 

‘Snow’s worse even than fog. Slippery. Makes the roads very slippery.’

‘We were …’ Jack stopped. He didn’t want to  explain. He’d been through it with the patrol man. He rotated his arm. It ached.


‘Yeah, but I’m fine.’

‘No, no. Better check you out while we have a bit of time here. Turn around.’

Jack turned and faced the back window. He couldn’t see beyond the glass. How did the driver see? He felt the medic’s hands as they pressed along his shoulder.


‘It’s alright. Nothing broken. This gash should be looked after.’


‘Guess you didn’t notice. Shock does that. Strange the way it takes away the pain.’

Jack felt something wet dab his shoulder.

‘You’ll need some stitches.’

every Tuesday

June 8-9 – Capturing Fire 2018 – Washington D.C. (flight & hotel already booked) 

September or Oct – to be confirmed – The Art Bar, Free Times Cafe

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

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Coal Dusters – Chapter IX

Chapter IX

Clancy Saves Birk 

By the end of the week Birk’s hand wasn’t as stiff. He was relieved that it hadn’t slowed his work enough for Clancy to notice. It took all he could do to be civil with Clancy. He didn’t want Blackie on his back again about fighting even when it wasn’t him who started things. Anything Clancy said was to him a challenge so the less he said to Clancy the less they would rub each other the wrong way.

In the change room they avoided even looking at each other. Which suited Birk fine. He wasn’t sure what it was about the other man that riled him this easily. Clancy had turned out to be a good worker. He didn’t have to told or shown anything a second time. Didn’t chatter constantly the way Manny did about his important relatives. 

He did wish Clancy would stop humming and singing. It was enough to hear his mother singing hymns in the morning. But Clancy’s tuneless scraps of words were getting harder to take. If it wasn’t ‘shovel and pick, pick and shovel,’ it was, ‘rake and bustle, bustle and rake.’ To Birk work was something you did not something you sung about.

Blackie didn’t mind Clancy much either and his Dad was a good judge of men’s reliability. Yet there was something in Clancy, besides him being a mainlander, that made his blood boil. Something in the the way he’d laugh as if he was laughing at Birk because he believed he was better than Birk because he was taller, not as dark or because he wasn’t as hairy.

As they approached the cage Clancy said. “Tell your folks that I’ll be there in the morning. My week at Mrs. Francis is done and I haven’t paid her for any more.”
“Never too late to find another spot. I can help.” Birk was almost crushing his lunch can under his arm as his fists clenched and unclenched. 

“Not with a family though. Sharing a room with another person, even if it is a …. you …. is better than four other guys. Some of whom don’t know how to sleep without snoring or coming in drunker’n hell from Dan’s and cursing us who is sleeping for telling them to hush.”

Dan’s was a bootlegger at the edge of town who’d let the men hoist a few in his home because most of them didn’t have homes of their own. For the right price a man could also have a wife for of his own an hour or so. 

“Ma I’d kill me if I came home drunk.” 

“Yah I know. Suppose I miss my own ma more than I knew.”

The cage rattled up.

“Don’t get used to her. If you can’t pay she’ll put you out if Blackie doesn’t.”

As the first into the cage they were squeezed into the back of it. As it went down Birk began to feel dizzy. He’d spent a restless night knowing that his time to enjoy the bed and the room alone was coming to an end. He was getting used to no complaints about him ‘shedding worse’n’ a cat’ or how his feet stank. He didn’t smell any worse than Geo did most of the time. Geo didn’t care much about his personal stink till he took up with Sheila. The smell of the scented water he’d started to use made Birk feel as dizzy as he felt now.

The cage bumped to a stop and the first miners stepped off. They walked a few steps and collapsed.

Birk stumbled forward to help them. Clancy gabbed the collar of his work shirt and pulled him back hard.

“Gas.” he shouted. “Get us up. Up.”

The operator collapsed as the door began to close. Clancy reached though the other men and pushed the lever to get the cage moving back up. He hit the alarm and it got louder as they came to the surface. Birk’s vision blurred and he was gasping to breathe. 

He leaned heavily on Clancy as they stumbled up the slope to the surface. There were men milling around. Someone helped Clancy carry him away from the pit entrance.

“Get them to air.” Red Mac shouted. “How many’s down there?”

Clancy put Birk’s arm over his shoulders and pulled him further away as more unconscious men were brought up and out of the mine.

“You gotta keep breathin’ b’y.” He leaned Birk against the wash up shed wall. 

Birk was dazed. His eyes remained unfocused. He threw up on his work boots. He gasped for air.

“That’s right. Deep breathing.”

“Wanna sit.” Birk weakened, as if he had been suffocating.

“No! Birk keep moving. That’ll get air into ya, keep the blood flowing.”

Wives and children were arriving at the colliery gates.

Red Mac stood on a box to talk to them.

“There’s been a gas leek into levels nine and ten. The mine is being evacuated as quickly as possible.”

“How many are dead?” a woman called out.

“It’s too early to tell.”

“My Larry was on the night shift. He isn’t home. He was level nine.” Another woman began to cry.

“Try to be calm and …”

“Calm.” Someone called out. “It’s not your kin down there.”

“My son is down there.” Red Mac said quietly. 

The crowd became quiet.

More men were brought up from below. Wives pushed through the crowd to greet their husbands, mothers greeted sons. 

Birk breathed deeply. His vision cleared.

“Here drink a bit of this.” Clancy offered him some tea from his lunch pail.

Birk sipped it. “Tis sweet.”

“Mrs. Francis always has sugar for us. A pinch of sugar is cheaper than strong tea she says.”

“Where’s me lunch can.” Birk looked around, patting his pockets at the same time. His mother had baked some little meat pies with the rabbits he had trapped earlier in the week. He’d been looking forward to them for his supper.

“Must a dropped it coming up.”

“How many lost?”

“Don’t know. Dave Dance and Frank stepped off at our level and went down fast. The rest got brought back up. Some of you caught a whiff.”

“The Draeger men here yet?”

“Haven’t seen ‘em. Takes a while for them to suit up.”

Birk stepped away from the wall. He wasn’t feeling as unsteady on his feet. “What can we do, I wonder?”

Three Draeger men came from the Infirmary behind the boiler shed. Walking clumsily in their heavy gear. Each carried his helmet under one arm till they got the cage to go down.

The first time Birk has seen the men in their body suits he wondered how heavy the suits they were. He got a chance to try one on, as did all the miners, to understand what was involved. The body of the suit was heavy canvas, water-proofed and air-tight so anything in the air couldn’t get in. The helmets had been fashioned after deep sea diving gear and would be clamped on with secure seals. On their backs they wore canisters of oxygen to breathe while they rescued downed miners. A single canister would last for about twenty minutes. As one was emptied they could switch to another. The empty canisters would be left to lighten their load as they worked. But the time they had was limited. 

He and Clancy went back the the slope to see what assistance they could give. When the cage came up empty another three of the Draeger team were ready to descend. Clancy darted past them and onto the cage and then off again.

“Here” he thrust Birk’s lunch can at him. “Don’t say as I didn’t do you a favour, b’y.” he laughed.

Birk was recovered enough to get active helping move the men injured in their panic. 

When the cage came up with the first of the downed miners he and Clancy got the victims on stretchers and took them to the infirmary. Some were breathing shallowly. At least one wasn’t breathing at all.

“Don’t seem much point bringing them here.” Dr. Drummond, the mine doctor, shook his head. “Can’t bring them back to life.”

“So what are we supposed to with ’em?” Birk asked. “Leave ’em for the rats?”

“No, no. This is the right place for them. We’ll see that they get sent to the right mortuary. Father McTavish will be here shortly.”

“Reverend Brown is already here.” said one of the doctor’s aides. “He’s taking to some of the wider’s now.”

Birk and Clancy returned to the cage exit with the empty stretcher for the next man.

“Jez it’s Dave Homolka.” Birk said. “Lives up the lane from us. His missus pretty far along.”

“Lodge’ll look after her.” He turned and his dad was there. “Your bother Geo is fine.”

“I was fearful.” Birk said. “Didn’t want get too washed with worry though. We’ve been doin’ what we can.”

“Glad to see you doing fine.” Blackie nodded. “Best go to the gate and let yer Ma know. Seems we get nothing but weddings followed by funerals.”

“You men get a move on.” Red Mac called to them “Blackie you best be keeping an eye on them boilers. Gotta keep the ventilation system working to clear that gas as fast as we can.”

“It’s under control Mac. I have as much right to check on my sons as anyone here does.”

“Yeh well keep in mind no tonnage, no pay.”

“We’ll see about that.” Blackie muttered. 

“Guess you boys’ll have the rest of the day off once they get everyone out.” Red Mac shrugged. “Can’t let anyone down till the inspector comes to give the all clear. Should be ready for work tonight’s shift.”

“How many did we lose?” Father McTavish walked over to them.

“About a dozen I’d say. We’ll know when all the tabs are turned in. You men better turn yours in too.” Red Mac said to them. 

Each of the miners was assigned numbered brass tag about the size of a twenty-five cent piece. He picked it up when he went down into the pits and put it back when he was leaving. They’d know who hadn’t been brought up.

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 2018’s – sweet,eh?

Limitless Limitations

As I’ve aged my sense of my physical limitations has increased though I haven’t always attached an age to  to those changes. For example this winter I accepted that those extreme cold alerts  say ‘children & elderly’ I am the elderly they refer to, even if I don’t think of myself that as ancient. As a result I drastically reduced my night time activities. 

I was fine in my many layered dress for the cold in the daytime – but if it was going to take me as long to get bundled up for the cold as I was going spend when I got somewhere I’d think twice if it was worth the effort. Plus most places don’t provide space for all that extra garb.

Night was worse thanks to slippery sidewalks, people didn’t shovel, or salt the black ice in front of their house, on top of city plows that delighted in mountains that made corners impossible to get over. I’d tackle them in daylight but at night I didn’t want to risk a slip & breaking anything. 

So while listening to a recent Disability After Dark in which Andrew Gurza talks with Scott Jones I appreciated their admissions of grief over their limitation. Although I’m sorry I can’t do winter walks after dark I am grateful I don’t have to negotiate their challenges. But as I get older the things that I used to do that were a part of my self-image have changed that self-image. Knee issues mean they can no longer take the stress of dancing so there goes my dream of So You Think You Can Dance. Issues with my back mean I can’t physically manhandle Andrew, as much as I would like to. 

The episode pushed me to think of how easy it is to discount our actual limitations in the face of what we want to do & then berate & take fault with ourselves. Things change & as they do I move better with those changes as part of progress not as an erosion of the good way things used to be. Dancing with the right man in bed has proved to be more satisfying than dancing in any club.


The Mystery

A man on his knees

on a downtown sidewalk

just out of the way

yet where he could be seen


mutters words of supplication

eyes open

looks out from himself

into the world around him


on the next street three women

on their knees pray

people in restaurants

slide to their knees

poets in coffee shops

after getting their double double


whisper prayers

in different words

in different languages

call to different entities


they are unafraid

of being seen as ones

who are willing to pray

when the feeling comes upon them

pulling over cars to get out

kneeling in buses

in movie theatres

with pop corn and soft drinks

balanced in their hands

reaching out for a moment

feeling the touch of something

sharing the touch of something


those that can’t pray turn away

as if seeing something

that should be done only in private

so as not to remind them

that some people have faith

those that pray often don’t know

what they have faith in


they feel the tickle of it in their blood

savour the taste of it

as they utter sweet words 

once they stand

some don’t recall the moment of prayer


they know that even if the pause

can’t change the world

can’t end war in our time

for the moment of prayer

they can be changed

in the chaos

in the peace

in the lives around them

and that’s the mystery

every Tuesday

June 8-9 – Capturing Fire 2018 – Washington D.C. (flight & hotel already booked) 

September or October, Tuesday – feature – The Art Bar, Free Times Cafe

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

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr


Coal Dusters – Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII

Birk and Clancy Get Acquainted

Knowing that Clancy wouldn’t be sharing his room till the end of the week didn’t make working with him any easier for Birk. Clancy had already paid for a week in advance at Mrs. Franklin’s boarding house and she wasn’t going to refund any part of that if he left before the week was over.

When their shift started Birk would grunt hello and that was it. He didn’t care to know anything more about Clancy. As long he wasn’t underfoot, didn’t gripe about things and worked hard in the pit that was enough, barely enough to make him tolerable. 

Clancy had an irritating habit of humming as they worked. Sometimes muttering something under his breath or scraps of songs that Birk had never heard before. 

“Shovel and pick … pick and shovel … ” 

Things that didn’t make much sense to Birk even when he could make out what the words were. But as long as Clancy kept to himself, did his share of the work, he didn’t care. 

Clancy approached him during their lunch break on the third day of their working together. “We can’t go on this way Birk.”

“Says who?” Birk picked up his lunch pail moved to another part of the stretch they were working on. 

“If I’d known it was your house … ” Clancy followed him a few steps.

“Once you did, you coulda changed yer damn mind.”

“I can’t afford to stay at Mrs. Franklin’s on what we earn down here. I need to send something back to my Ma in Stellarton.”

“Why didn’t you stay there and work the mines?”

“Same story there as here.”

“Not my worry to deal with. I gotta deal with you.”

“Can’t be as hard as me having to deal with you.” Clancy went back to where he had been crouched for his lunch.

At the end of shift the cage was jammed already only one of the could fit on and Clancy shrugged as the cage went up leaving Birk below. When Birk got to the surface he took off his work coveralls and dashed to the wash up room to his usual spot. Clancy had taken it.

“Gotta be faster than that Birk. Yer gettin’ slow b’y.” Clancy chuckled as he continue to wash his underarms.

Birk pushed him aside. “Make way ya tuilli. You knows this is my spot now.”

“Careful.” the miner washing up next to Clancy said as Clancy stumbled into him.

Birk reached for the basin to toss out the dirty water and get fresh. Clancy upended the bowl so it splashed Birk.

“You …” Birk swung at Clancy. His fist caught Clancy on the jaw.  Clancy staggered back but quickly regained his footing. His longer reach let him swing back before Birk could react. His punch knocked Birk into a group of miners coming into the washroom.

“That’s it.” Birk took his fighting stance with fists raised, feet firmly planted on the wet stone floor. Clancy did the same.

“Bad enough I get stuck with you here.” He jabbed Clancy in the stomach. “But I’m not puttin’ up with ya any damn longer. I’ll send you back to the mainland to lick yer wounds. That’ll give you plenty worth singin’ about.”

Clancy jabbed Birk in the ribs. Both protected their faces as best they could. The other miners made a circle around them and if one fighter got too close to them they pushed him back into the centre of their ring.

“Isn’t m’ fault Red Mac didn’t think you were good lookin’ enough work above ground.”

“I didn’t want that soft arse job.”

They clinched and fell to the ground, wrestling and jabbing as best as they could. Blood dripped from the noses of both of them when someone hauled them away from each other and back to their feet.

“Enough of this.” It was Red Mac. “If yer want to beat the piss out of each other don’t do in here. We got men who deserve to be clean enough to go home to families that want them home.”

The miners held Birk and Clancy back from each other.

“Oh, it’s you Birk.” Red Mac said.  “Can’t say as I’m surprised. You two want to keep workin’ here?”

They both nodded yes.

“Then don’t let me catch you brawling during my shift on company time or on company grounds agin. You understand.”

Clancy nodded yes. Birk glared at Red Mac.

“Birk Nelson yer a good worker but yer always a disagreeable orange cuss too.”

There was some grumbling from the other miners.

“Okay! I knows there are more’n one orange men here.”

“So does we,” one of them shouted back. “That’s why we’re still buried underground and you fat arse micks get all the breaks.”

“You call this getting the break.” Red Mac said. “A good Catholic such as me having to deal with a bunch of … heathens … I mean you lot of ground hogs. Can I help it if I had the …. brains to get where I am?”

“You sayin we do don’t have as much brains as you?” another of the miners called out.

“All I’m saying is get cleaned up and out of here if you expect another shift tomorrow.” He went back to his office.

“Look! The Red Pope says its okay for us to wash up.” One of the miners joked. “The sacred waters better do their job.”

Birk filled his basin and washed off the blood, the mud from the floor and the coal dust from below as best as he could. His left hand throbbed. He had hit Clancy harder than he intended. He hoped he hadn’t done himself an actual injury. If he had Clancy would regret being the cause of that, too. How was he going to share his home with that tuilli.

As usual Jake was waiting for him at the gate.

“I dunno how I’m goin’ ta do it. Have that blowhard living with me. I’d rather move m’self before I share more than work space with him.”

“Ah lad, you gotta let go of it. Hard enough for us to get by as ‘tis. He can’t be that bad.”

“He is.”

“Things ‘re getting worse. We may not even be here long enough anyhow.”


“They may cut some of the nights shifts. That’s why there’s strike talk agin.” Jake coughed harshly and sent a thick black gob of spit onto the road.

“Careful there, some ‘un will trip over that.”

“Yah.” Jake laughed hoarsely. “Least they aren’t charging me for the dust I sneak out in m’lungs.”

“What’s that ‘bout a strike?”

“Gregory was talking with some of us while you was … washin’ up. Says to us that they want not only to do away with night shifts but aim to cut back on the tonnage rate.”

“They can’t.” Birk punched at the air with his sore hand.

“They can if we let ’em. We gotta send them a message that we won’t put up with all this hurting of us workers who put food on the table for them but don’t get enough pay to put food on the tables for themselves.”

“Damn rights.”

“There’ll me a meetin’ tomorrow night at St. Agatha’s Hall.”

“They ain’t gonna let us orange in there, you know.”

“Sure they will. We got our union cards.”

“Yeh, but some of us don’t have our foreskins.”

Jake began to laugh again and had to stop to catch his breath. “Lad you are gonna be the death of me before the mine’ll do me in.”

Birk went around to the back of his house. His mother and Maddy were on their knees in the garden. The same as many of the miners they had a garden patch that spilled into the field behind their house. Each year his mother would grow vegetables – carrots, potatoes, tomatoes – with seeds or eyes saved from previous crops.

“Goin’ get much out of the patch this year?”

“There’ll be some.” His mother glanced up.

He went over and kissed her on the forehead. He pulled Maddy up and held her in the air at eye level to himself.

She giggled and wriggled. “Puts me down.”

“You been to school today?”

“Of course.”

One of the things Birk wished he had been able to do was continue in school. But when he got to twelve all he wanted to do what his dad did, what his brother did, what grandfather did – be a man who worked in the mines. In the mine he didn’t have to use his thinking much, only pay attention to what was happening right then. No need spell or add numbers up. Not that he couldn’t read or do enough arithmetic to make sure his pay packet was right. He knew enough keep track of what went on in the mines.

He’d seen some of the men reading from books, or from newspapers. He tried, but all those letters and words confounded him. He could follow word by word given time. He only trusted what a man said. You can tell if he was lying by his voice. Words on the page had no voice to judge them by.

He went to the well and got water to clean his socks and face rag. 

“I’m goin’ to check m’ traps, Ma. Might have a little something to add to supper tonight.”

He took several deep breathes as he walked along the grassy field. The smell of the mine stayed with him. Somedays he couldn’t shake it. He plucked a long blade of grass and chewed on it then spat it out. 

The rabbit traps had been pretty much in the same bushy area, beyond the three apple threes, where his great granddad had first set them. The apple trees were in bloom. He pulled a branch down to smell the flowers but all he could smell was the mine.

He stretched his arms up as high as they could go. It was only out in these fields that he could stand up fully. Even in the house he was pressed down by the ceiling. He’d find himself ducking under the door frames even though they were well over the top of his head.

During the run of a week the traps would be good for two or three rabbits. There was two this day. One pretty pump too, he hoped it wasn’t about to have little ones. It wasn’t.

He skinned and cleaned them there and was happy to hand them to his mother when he came into the kitchen. 

“Good. Good.” she said. “What you do with the skins?” She took the rabbits and quickly chopped and deboned them.

“Usual place on the back fence.” 

She would salt the skins and store them. Once a year around Christmas she’d trade them in at one of the furriers in Sydney. The money wasn’t much but would add something special to the Christmas dinner.

He poured some hot water from the kettle into a basin, rolled up his sleeves and washed the rabbit blood off his hands. 

“You’d think Blackie’d built us a little boiler for hot water around here.” He said.

She dropped the meat into a pot of water already simmering on the stove.

“Why we always have rabbit.” Maddy leaned against him as he sat the the kitchen table. 

“That’s what fits the traps. That and skunks. You want a stink for supper some time.” he tickled her.

“You stink enough for me.” she laughed and pulled away.

“You bring that bedding down tomorrow so as I can get it washed up before Clancy comes to share the room wid yer.” his mother said. 

“Don’t go countin’ on that. Might be lays-offs or worse, a strike.”

“I’ve heard. We‘ll know better when you Da gets home.”
“He’s usually back before me.” The smell of the cooking food made Birk hungry.

“He went to see Jim Spot who lost a hand a few weeks past. Union’s going see if they can get him something somewhere. He can always push a broom, ya know.”

“Not as if we don’t have enough one-handed broom pushers now.”

“What the union can’t do the lodge often does. Lest the company don’t own the lodge, yet. There’s Blackie.” 

Maddy ran out to meet him at the back gate. He handed her his lunch pail and they came into the kitchen. He hung his cloth cap on a peg by the door.

“Hear ya had a donny brook at wash up.” 

“He had it comin.” Birk knew this tone of Blackie’s meant he wasn’t pleased or amused. “Why? Clancy come cryin’ to you?”

“No. Red Mac’s gettin fed up with your carrying on. You worse than school kids. You know how he feels about us orange. After all, it was him, when he got that job, who started to replace all the good orange men with his own mick pals. Getting so bad you’d think it was Father McTavish that was running things and not the union or even the company.”

“Sorry Blackie. I wasn’t think about any of that. You know how I act I get riled up.”

“That’s no excuse.” His mother said.

“I’m goin’ rest in the parlour for a spell Ma.” Blackie unhitched his suspenders and shambled away. “Stuff to consider.”

When supper was served Birk went in and woke him. 

“I’ll take something up for Sal.” Blackie said. He came down a little while later. “She’s gettin worse?”

“Yes.” his mother answered. “The reverend’s wife was by this afternoon to look in on her. She’ll be back tomorrow with a remedy she think will help.”

“We don’t need charity from anyone, you know.”

“It’s not charity to let Sal get worse.”

They ate in silence.

After supper Birk went to check his traps to make sure he had left them set properly. There was a dell where he could sit on a low branch of an oak tree. He’d been going to it since he was so small he needed help to get to the branch. Now he could pull himself up on it and let his feet dangle in the air. He let his heavy work boots fall off.

He rested his back on the tree trunk and stared up at the sky. He couldn’t smell the mine or the coal.  

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 2018’s – sweet,eh?

DC Dreaming 2018

Three weeks today to June 8 when Capturing Fire ignites its 8th slam happy weekend with the launch of the landmark anthology Stoked Words. The anthology captures work by the many brilliant poets who have slammed, participated or wore fabulous shirts. Yes, I’m in the anthology. What pieces? You’ll have to wait to find out. Being a US publication it might end up in the Library of Congress!

The launch, workshops & slam are all taking place at The Woolly Mammoth Theatre on D St. NW. Getting there will take me through parts of Washington I have have never seen so there’ll be lots of new photo ops, new exotic Starbucks to discover (as if Starbucks is exotic). Schedule of workshops posted here:

I’m staying at the same hotel, which is steps away from DuPont Circle metro. Google maps tells me its a 45 min walk to the Wooly, which I think is doable, depending on the humidex. I’ve checked for coffee shops & restaurants near the theatre so I’m prepared. If I get lost I’ll have someplace to eat.

A couple of day excursions have been planed. One day will be the zoo. Trying to line up a local guide so I can get some photos of me that aren’t washroom selfies 🙂 The zoo looks to be fun & also within walking distance. Another day I’ll take in the Air & Space museum. Two tourist destinations are all I can enjoy before it feels like duty.

Six Feet Under

a moment of silence

to respect

those who have been silenced

to offer a dignity

a solemnity

all that’s missing

is the hashtag

a #moment of #silence

showing support

without doing #anything


by silenced

I don’t mean marginalized

I don’t mean neutralized

I mean murdered

by others

by their own hand

by neglect

by #silent shame


where is the moment of retaliation

oh no we can’t do that

that sinks us down to their level

getting even isn’t justice 

it doesn’t get good press


gets all the good press

a moment of violence 

of striking back is tut tut not adult


we must have silence 

so the healing can begin

why not a moment of vanity

in which we all pull out a mirror

to contemplate our own faces

to see where we fit in

while the screaming is still going on

to figure out why

forgiveness is more fulfilling

that taking the victimizers to task

where was their forgiveness


so I don’t forgive

that’s my flaw

I’m called out for being bitter

not understanding enough

unwilling to make a social context

that rationalizes actions

that spring from a troubled childhood

from a drug addled brain

from books of words holy pages

that approves

making victims of others

in the name of righteousness


a moment of silence

to prove that I am emotionally more mature

I can take it

I can rise above

the blood soaked streets

an angel of mercy

fuck that

fuck fuck fuck that


I don’t care about

perpetrators’ apologies 

how they feel remorse

I don’t want revenge 

I want an eon of silence

not a moment of silence


I want it to stop

before we’re all six feet under

every Tuesday

June 8-9 – Capturing Fire 2018 – Washington D.C. (flight & hotel already booked) 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice cream in Washington at 2018’s – sweet,eh?

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr


Shelf Life

Shelf Life

moldy tub 

back of the fridge shelf

saved to save money

now lost to decay

so much food

we can’t eat it fast enough

bought in bulk

to save money

money is lost

when we can’t eat fast enough

when we eat fast enough

the time we save

is spent shopping for more


nothing that lasts

and when it does last

it can’t be used anyway

dispose don’t save

all those empty containers

take up more space

than we have to store what we need

they’ll come in handy


well if it hasn’t come in handy in a year

it’ll never come in handy

the surplus is comforting

but not profitable

share don’t save

the money you save

only pays off someone else’s bills


we reduce reuse

never have enough in the long run

while those that produce

what we have to reduce reuse

get fat bonuses 

and the prices keep going up

to cost us more than we save


when we run out

the planet gives its last gasp

don’t blame me

save your breath

even if there’s no profit 

in saving it

that is

if anyone can still breathe

on the back shelf

A neighbour recently cleaned out his garage and offered me two large boxes for jars & lids. All types of jars, glass, plastic. jars that had held jams, peanut butter, mayo and the like. He had kept them expecting to use them one day. When he ran out space in his basement he moved them to the garage. One box had 1995 written on the side, the other said 2010. He just hated to see them go to waste. I hated to think of what else he was still keeping for that someday when it would come in handy.

I identified with him though. I do have a drawer full of elastic bands mixed with bread bag clips – stopped buy bread in 1999. So this piece is about packaging and the hold ‘stuff’ can have on us.It also touches on  the fear of not having enough in a consumer culture in which having too much is seen as prosperity, while have enough is a compromise.

In Toronto we sort our garbage for recycling but I just don’t how much gets recycled – I’ve never seen a program that shows what happens to all those newspapers, tin cans, jars that we put in the right bins. Though I did see a news item a few years ago about how the cost of warehousing the city’s pick up of recycling is greater than is recouped by selling it so they were giving it away to some company and paying the shipping costs. I’m sure some executive got a nice bonus for facilitating that solution.

Toronto Hydro has a push for us wasteful consumers to reduce our power usage. More efficient lightbulbs, refrigerators and best times to lower the strain on the network. What about the strain die to sleep loss doing my laundry at midnight to save money? I wonder how energy efficient the Hydro offices are? solar powered computers? 

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