I Was A Teenage Coward

My sense of masculinity growing up was never up to the rough-and-tumble masculinity that was expected of me. I never lived up to those unquestioned imperatives. Some of this was because we moved east from Manitoba for a couple years making it difficult for me to establish ‘buddy’ friendships with other boys. When we did settle in Sydney, Cape Breton we changed neighbour hoods at least two times before settling in a third.

I did many ‘boy’ things mind you – rode my bicycle everywhere, played backyard baseball with a bunch of kids near by. But was never a fighter. I got into a couple of fistfights but it was easier to avoid them. So I never establish a position of respect amongst boys (or as I felt, with my father.)

Because I was never a fighter I was called ‘yellow,’ ‘coward’ long before I was called ‘gearbox,’ ‘queer.’ Being queer was to be less than a man, to be feminine – a girly-boy who would never be considered masculine & thus to be derided, ridiculed etc. There was no support system for ‘otherness’ other than becoming a butch fisted boxer to eat the shit out them – which wasn’t going to happen. I’m glad that I didn’t get the help that I needed then because sexually confused teens were given chemical castration, lobotomies to make them non-threats the fabric of wholesomeness.

That feeling of being a coward has never fully left me but I’ve just finished reading Mad Blood Stirring: The Inner Lives of Violent Men by Daemon Fairless. The book addresses the nature of violence as a means of defining masculinity. A definition that is culturally approved. The drag queen that beats the crap out of homophobes is respected, the one that minces away to avoid conformation is not respected.

Mad Blood Stirring is an excellent book, part case study, part interviews with ‘violent’ men, part the author’s own journey to discover the roots of his own violent nature. He recreates incidents of violent confrontations so vividly that I could feel the emotional rush that pushed him over the edge. As I said this is an excellent book well worth reading even if one isn’t a man or violent. 

That fact that I didn’t take the bait of confrontation wasn’t because I was a coward but because I was already stepping out the cultural imperative that manhood is only in the fist. Or maybe I had a testosterone imbalance 🙂

(one again WP does weird things to lines breaks)

The Killer In The Morning 

with a harsh shout 

the killer awoke from a dream
someone smothering him
a pillow over his face 

when heʼd killed 

he never used a pillow
or anything that hid the face

the best part of the kill
was in the eyes
that I canʼt believe you are doing this 

combined with the actual pain
as his hands crushed 

the wind pipe squeezing
hollow bones in his strong hands

he could crush an apple
the hardest granny smith
heʼd hold it up so juice 

splashed his face 

like a warm summer shower

cleaned and ready 

the killer sat at his kitchen table 

looked out at the sunny day
at people on their way to death 

death at his hands 

maybe not right now 

but soon sooner than they expect
at least one of them would die today

he knew that
the knowledge armed him
gave him power
gave him a reason to live
to be there amongst them
each of them ripe for his desires 

the headlines no longer cowed them 

they had little fear
a killing a day
the papers screamed 

who will be next 

the tv clatter box went on and on 

flashed from his latest victim 

to breakfast cereals
that would help you lose weight

ha he laughed to himself
I have a program
thatʼll give you a permanent weight loss 

donʼt bother calling
Iʼll find you today
it is a good day to die

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January 10, Thursday: 8 p.m. Hot Damn! Its’ a Queer Slam – Buddies in Bad Times Theatre: feature Regie Cabico

http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday


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

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton 

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

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Winter Whisky – Part 4

Scott was bigger than me so I wasn’t sure if I had much that might fit him. My one piece long-johns would do the trick for now. I had pyjamas for myself. I pulled on bottoms too as I usual slept with just the top. 

Donnie came up, bumping along the sides of the stairwell as he tried to warm himself by roughly rubbing a towel on his head.

“Stand still. You can’t dry your feet while you’re walking, you know.” I said to keep him from falling back down the stairs.

“I know. Jus’ fix us a good drink, m’son, and we’ll be fine.”

He slumped into the living room and sat heavily in an arm chair.

Scott came up. He had taken a bit more time getting dried off and was pushing a comb through his matted hair. My long-johns weren’t as long or baggy on him as they were on me.

“I feel a little strangulated in these.” He adjusted his balls.

He sat in the other armchair and dropped the towel on his lap.

I brought out a bottle of whisky with three glasses. “Have a quick one.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Scott twisted the top off and drank a huge gulp from the bottle. He shuddered a little as it went down. “That’s almost worth getting here. Takes the chill off.”

Donnie did the same before he handed the bottle back to me. He slumped back in his chair, took a few ragged breaths and passed out.

“Some guys can’t take the snow,” Scott laughed.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, Donnie’s snores the only sound in the room. The warmth of the house made me feel sleepy too. After the cold, the longing for sleep was hard to resist.

“So what’s your secret?” Scott threw his damp towel at me.

“Secret? What d’you mean?” There was only one secret and I had made damn sure no one suspected.

“You never seem to get caught up like I do with some bitch.”

“ ’Cause I don’t think of ’em as bitches.”

“Don’t hand me that.”

“You have better luck than I do.”

“Luck! When Suze and I broke up, I wanted to kill myself. Fuck, we’d been together for two years. I even bought the rings. And how long has it been? Three years, now? And I’m still not over her. You know? Yet when you and Cindy broke up after four, it was if she was never there. Know what I mean? She really dug you. Still does.”

I shook my head to clear it. Scott was talking and I drifted out of consciousness.

“Sorry, I must have dropped off a bit there.”

How long had I been out? The room was dim. Scott was talking, but I couldn’t make out what he said. I focused on him in hopes that would keep the room from spinning. His head and face were sort of twisting too.

“What were we talking about?’ I asked.

“Why you and Cindy split.”

“Oh, she wanted kids. I told you guys all this before anyway, didn’t I? I’m not ready to settle down. You . . . ” I reached for my drink. The coffee table was suddenly closer than I expected. The drink darted away from my hand.

“You sure that was why?”

“You mean that other guy? Of course that too.”

“Or was this is what you really wanted?”

He had something in his lap. At first I thought it was his drink. He stood up. Through the haze I realized it was his cock. The foreskin was so tight, the head of it seemed to be bursting through and being choked at the same time.

I fell back into my chair. It was what I wanted, but not from him. I didn’t know what to say. The truth was as always out of the question.

“Fuck no!” I pushed myself up, shoved him away and went to the bathroom. I had to hold myself up along the walls to keep from falling.

I recalled a guy, Greg, at university, and how I had to be this drunk before letting him know I was interested. I knew it was safe because Greg made the first move. We were both pissed but after that first drunken fumble, we were able to meet sober as well. But we had to be careful. Rumour had it that known homos could be denied their teaching license.

Greg was safe because I knew once I left there I probably wouldn’t have to see him again. He was going to teach in Africa or was it China. It was easier to be honest with someone under those circumstances. But that was nearly three years ago and I hadn’t had a man since then. I’d even started seeing Cindy that last year to convince myself that I really wasn’t that way after all. She was the cure for what was just a phase. Only it wasn’t a phase and I was merely pickled not cured.

“You’re pickled not cured.” I sang as I pissed. “Pickled not cured.”

I flushed the toilet and went to my room. The house felt empty as I sat on the edge of my bed. Empty again. What was so right once now seemed miles away and so wrong. To let people know I was queer would change everything. This comfortable life would cease to exist. It wouldn’t matter if I was pickled or cured. I never did hear from Greg after he went to China.

I felt a draft. The guys would be cold in the living room. Even with the heat turned up, that wind always found some way into the house. I got a couple of spare blankets and went back to the living room. Scott was gone. Donnie was still slumped in the armchair.

“Scott?” I looked in the bathroom. “Scott? You dumb fuck you passed out somewhere?”

When I got to the kitchen, the back door was open. I pushed it shut agains the wind.

“You down here?” I went into the basement and his clothes where gone. He had left.

I tossed a blanket over Donnie. Back in my bed I finished off the whiskey. I knew exactly where to put the bottle in the dark so I wouldn’t knock it over in the night.

I woke around eleven the next morning to the smell of bacon frying. My head throbbing, I made my way to the kitchen.

“Have a seat, m’son, and dig in.” Donnie put a plate of bacon and eggs on the kitchen table. “Where’s Scott?”

“Not sure. He was . . . uh . . . here when I went to bed to pass out.” I didn’t know what to tell Donnie. I pick dup a piece of the bacon with my fingers and tried to eat it. “Maybe he went to pull your car out.”

“Fuck. I forgot all about that! I should be there helping them. My coat in the basement?”

“He’d’ve called if he needed your help.” I chewed another piece of the bacon and swallowed it. “Perfect for a hangover.”

It was the end of February and I hadn’t heard from Donnie about a good drink for a couple of months. That wasn’t unusual for us, but I had that thirst myself. I missed the guys but wasn’t sure why.

I saw in the paper that Scott’s band, Pals Of Mine, was at Stoners that night for the pub’s Survived Valentine Blast. Rather than call Donnie, I decided to drop down to surprise them and see how things were.

There were bristle board hearts on the outside windows. They were drooping and the red was dripping thanks to the melting snow. Over the door was a sign that said “Lover’s Leap.” Someone had written ‘on each other’ under it.

The place was full when I arrived. I was sorry I hadn’t taken a few more belts before I left home. That always made me feel more relaxed when I went anywhere. The tinsel tree was still in the corner only now it had hearts dangling from the branches.  Donnie and Trish were at a table near the front with another pretty girl. I walked over.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Good, Dave. How’s by you?” Trish turned and smiled at me. “We haven’t heard much of you of late.” She nodded to the empty spot at the table. “I was asking Donnie if you’d show up to join us for a good drink. You can make up for the ones I can’t have.” She patted her stomach. “Any day now.”

“Work, you know.”

“Yeah, right.” Donnie scowled at me and glanced up at Scott on stage. Scott scowled back.

“Let’s go over to the bar. I’ll buy you a double.” Donnie got up from the table. “Excuse us, ladies.”

Donnie walked me past the bar to the front door and stopped there. 

“Look, Dave, why don’t you do yourself a favour just fuck right off. I know what you tried with Scott. Fuck only knows what you did to me in my sleep. We don’t want no fairies hanging ’round with us. You get that?” He poked me in the chest with a finger. “That kind of shit makes me sick.”

My face burned. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. “What the fuck are you going on about?”

“Something happened between you and Scott. That much he’s sure of.”

“I don’t know what he thinks happened. Fuck, I don’t think there was anything.”

I didn’t know how to make my story convincing. Scott’s cock had become the tip of an iceberg, the iceberg being all the things in my life that I was trying to avoid and hoped would disappear somehow or stay beneath the surface forever. I didn’t know which way to turn without sinking myself.

“Maybe I should talk to him.” I glanced to the table at Scott’s back. He had his arm around the other girl and was nuzzling her neck.

“He’ll kill you. It took me all I could do to keep him from torching your place. Just get the fuck out of here and this’ll go no further. Got it?”

There was enough truth to what he said that I didn’t know how to let him know what wasn’t true. And now I wasn’t sure myself. Maybe something more had happened with Scott. I could remember his hand on his cock and him asking me if that’s what I wanted. I was sure I didn’t do anything.

But maybe I had.

  What were my choices? To brave it out? My thirst had left me. There weren’t enough drinks in the bar. There was nothing to tell Donnie that would fix anything. Cindy was right. Who needed those assholes? If that’s what he wanted to believe, then he could go right ahead and believe it.

“I thought we were friends.” I said as he walked away.

I stood in Stoners doorway. It wasn’t as if this was the only place in town where I could have a good drink. I could feel the cool night air behind me, as I watched Jen bring a tray of draft over to their table. Scott’s laugh echoed over the din of the bar.

I glanced at the other tables. Similar groups of couples or solitary guys sat. Arms pulled hordes of glistening glasses towards them, doses of fortifying alcohol that would allow them to float from one moment to the next. That’s what I had been doing, wasn’t it? An iceberg floating from one moment to the next, hoping the surface would remain calm enough for easy drifting.

I walked over to the bar. Hec brought me a double without being asked. Donnie and Scott glared over at me but didn’t move.

“What’s with those two?” Hec asked.

“Pour me another and I’ll tell you.”

Tonight I would drink myself to the truth.

-the end-

Winter Whisky – Part One: https://wp.me/p1RtxU-39y

Winter Whisky – Part Two: https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3fR

Winter Whisky – Part Three: https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3gz

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The Cold Spot

The Cold Spot

you have to understand

I’m not the kind of guy

who has any intuitive sense

I never get feelings about a space 

about a person

I never pick up on vibes

even suggestions go over my head

eye-contact is pointless

not that I don’t see the contact

but it doesn’t say anything more

than someone is looking me

not that they are looking for me

not that they are interested

 

I need direct contact not intimation

I’m not insensitive 

to the emotions of others

mind you

but when it comes to interest in me

I’m oblivious

so when I felt your energy

from just looking at a photograph

I was a little taken aback

then when we met

that feeling was intensified

then when we got naked

I was overwhelmed

until I found your cold spot

 

your body was warm 

your tongue was hot

but your cock was cold

sure it was hard

but it felt like ice in my hands

 

I couldn’t bear to touch it

to have it touch me

it felt fine as long as 

it was kept in your underwear

when you told me

that I wasn’t the only one

who was repulsed by your naked cock

I was sort of relieved 

I wasn’t repulsed though

because it was a good cock

uncut thick long enough

but cold 

 

turns out you had a lover

one who died 

then his spirit nestled into 

the comfort of your balls

to haunt your cock

a spirit that only appeared

when you were naked with anyone

 

it was a cold

that no amount of lust could thaw 

the longer I held it

the more the cold moved into me

it became a barrier 

neither of us could over come

or come over

 

so we parted

reluctantly

and now

I am haunted by the memory

of your haunted cock

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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. 

News

‘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.

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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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.

 

Shitman

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

 

shitman

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

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

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

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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

England 

 

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.


Edge

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

‘As little as that?’

‘Sorry.’

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.’

‘Thanks.’

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.’‘

‘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.

‘Pain?’

‘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.

‘Ouch.’

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

‘Gash?’

‘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.’

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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

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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

prays

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

kneel

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

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every Tuesday

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 capfireslam.org 

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

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