Childhood’s Swirl


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

Childhood’s Swirl 

my childhood was such a swirl 

of legends superstitions and secrets

I was never sure what was real

and what was allegory

like sifting through the red bible

to find out if there was a truth 

or merely a moral

 

the village thrived on these stories

on things that would shift from fact to fancy

as if that sift was to teach 

us children something valuable

mostly it taught us fear and anxiety

 

the leaping men of the Whistling Woods

the hiding places of the traitor robins

how the moose came from the moon

all these things would haunt us as children

then amuse us as adults

 

even what we experienced

would be called in to doubt so quickly

we couldn’t trust our senses

the Bishop would try to teach us

what he was taught

when he could remember it

the choir would sing without knowing the notes

 

it did teach me

that with the grace of the moose

one could experience doubt and survive

one could sing without knowing the notes

and become a multimillionaire pop star

just because some talk show host

saw your video on line

and thought your hair looked terrific

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

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

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

 

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

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The Great Fire

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

The Great Fire

we were awakened

but the resonant howl

of the harbour foghorn

deep endless 

blasts so rapid they overlapped 

 

away to the window I flew like a flash

the black of night was blacker

than the print in the red bible

no stars or moon to be seen

then

at the edge of my vision

I saw the flames

scatter sparks like leaves

into the sky

‘fire fire’

someone below was shouting

‘the great cathedral is aflame’

 

my father dashed out of house  

men from other houses followed suit

‘fire fire

we must save the relics’

I had this terrifying image

of the Moose at the foot of the cross

melting into a golden puddle

at the feet of the blessed one

everyone in our village

gathered to watch and pray

as the firemen did their job

the choir spontaneously burst into song

singing ‘The Moose and The Saviour’ 

 

the hoses were attached to the hydrants

only a trickle of water appeared

this was also the hour

the fission plant

was flushing out the their flow valves

when contacted

they refused to stop

because if the flow valves

were not flushed 

there would be hell to pay

 

we stood and watched

as our beloved

centuries old cathedral 

paid the price of prosperity

while the acolytes 

darted in and out of the flames

rescuing all they could

up and down the 10001 steps

like an army of ants

 

then from out of the smoke

the men from the Whistling Wood appeared

they danced around the fire

chanting

arms linked

the flames flickering & illuminating

their private parts

as a group they coiled up the steps

stopped

faced the flames

holding their flame framed privates 

began to piss on the fire

 

the stench of their burning urine

made many vomit

the naked men

began to pelt the fire

with moose dung

the stench of the burning shit

made many vomit

the flames began to die down 

in the steaming smother

of piss and moose shit

that oozed down the 10001 steps

 

the fire stopped

the naked men 

vanished into the mist

 

the next day

when the water pressure returned

the fire department

hosed down the ashes 

to wash it clean of the shit and piss

to reveal

no scorch marks

only glistening golden surfaces 

 

the cathedral

was whole again 

In Sydney we lived one street away from a fire station. We were occasionally awakened by sirens. There were a few big fires but none that we ever saw, unlike my hero. The worse, which happened after I left, was when Moxham Castle burned down – actually it was gutted by flame & then the brick shell collapsed. My experience of fires comes from movies. 

This entry in the Village Stories pulls on many threads of the mythology: the choir, the moose, the 10001 steps. I recently saw a documentary on the Windsor Castle fire in which people were rushing in & out of galleries saving the art. They weren’t regarded as reckless but as heroes. Oh no not the Faberge egg collection! 

I also had to take another poke at the fission plant and water. I have read of cases where, in some cities, the water pressure was so low thanks to ‘industry,’ fires couldn’t be put out – hence the invention flame suppressant foam. Yes I know fire engine pumpers supply the pressure but if there’s not enough water they are useless.

The praying & singing villagers make me think of those politicians who sent their thoughts & prayers at a time of crisis but that’s it until they tell people to be strong: i.e. don’t moan & bitch about your losses because we’ve done all we can by praying for you. Cheer up because your unhappy faces won’t make things better, neither will we.

I was happy to see a reappearance by the naked men of the Whistling Wood. They present a facet of male magic that isn’t destructive while at the same time isn’t pleasant. Often the things that rescue us have a cost one doesn’t expect. Like the dentist’s freezing – slurring & drooling for an hour is a cost. I also couldn’t resist that image of male private parts illuminated by the fire.

I love the way this ends with a miracle. The Villagers prayers were answered by the outcasts of the Whistling Wood. These men pissing on the cathedral have magically restored it. 

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The Violet Moon


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

The Violet Moon

see how the full moon 

is wrapped by red cloud

in our village 

we call that the Violet Moon

this the one night

when the one beast

which the Denizen fears

walks the earth

a shape shifter

that usually lives as human

as you or I

humans who forget 

what rests coiled inside

till the violet moon appears

to nudge a latent beast to wakefulness

none who have this curse

can resist its call

can remember what has happened

those who have met the beast

have been struck dumb

speechless with fear

 

I mean the weremoose

don’t laugh

because your derision is the one thing

that can invite it to occupy your body

you will awake

feeling cold breath shivering

your feet   your hands

toes will start to point

fingers will become stiff

your bones will crack

your neck will thicken

you will scream as your hips rent apart

backbone snapped reshaped

each moment of the change

is an agony

any who hear will fear

your family will hide

but you will hunt them down

 

there is no escape the weremoose

you can recognize one

if you have time

because the antlers seem slightly askew

like the roof of a house not quite right

or the colour of the fur

that never stays the same brown

when you try to focus on it

a mist of violet hue

flows behind it

scarring any tree that it caresses

the cloven hooves

can crush skulls

the jagged teeth

can rip a throat in one bite

the same teeth

can crack a man’s ribs

to pull out your heart

and eat it

while the last of your blood

spurts through your veins

you are alive

long enough to see your own blood 

oozing from the satisfied maw

of the weremoose

This is a ‘new’ village piece thatI  wrote specifically for Camp Pinebow. It harkens back to Moose-mare https://wp.me/p1RtxU-1Vv as I extend moose myth into a darker territory – this one even more cinematic. Moose-mare echoed Jacob wrestling the with angel – here we get sense that perhaps many men of the village have a beast within them that is affected by the moon – which is were according village legends the moose came from.

The piece clearly uses werewolf legend as well. One is powerless to stop the transformation or even it initiate it. I also call on that horror trope that disbelief invariably turns the scoffer into the next victim. I enjoy the description of the change. I was probably thinking of Seth Green as Oz on Buffy during his werewolf changes – though he looked like & moved more like an orangutang with a wolf’s head than a wolf.

 

I dwell on how the weremoose kills because this was originally meant as a scary campfire story. Those stories call for a certain amount of visceral gore to make them effective. Do moose have cloven hooves? I’m not sure but we do know who the Cloven One is, right 🙂

Some of details are invented – the acidic mist that scars tree bark is my own addition to the cannon. Violet comes up a few times as the host of the show where I first performed this was Lizzie Violet – it never hurts to pay tribute to your host in a way that isn’t too overt. Violet is also a nice change for the colourless mists that appear in horror most of time. They are either murky blacks or, for some reason, lime green.

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Giddy Up Redux

For the summer I’m going back to the series of pieces mythologizing my growing up in Cape Breton. The first of these appeared in my Camp Pinebow series, which is an extension of the Village Stories set in a summer camp. This was rewritten somewhat to fit into Camp Pinebow – for a previous version & discussion see https://wordpress.com/post/topoet.ca/3230 

Giddy Up

a mainland business consortium

wanted our village 

to invest in a moose riding academy

where young ladies of a certain pedigree

would learn to ride to the hounds on moose

 

these men had elaborate blue prints

detailed architectural models

all they needed were investors

it would take a lot of our money

to make money

so we wouldn’t be so dependent 

on the fission plant or the strip bars

to put food on the table

when the villagers were reluctant 

to part with their hard-earned cash

these men became derisive 

of our close-minded 

small-town mentality

of our inability to see this great opportunity

we offered to invest if they could

show us how to ride a moose

 

my Dad 

took them to the moose breeding ground

we followed to witness this spectacle

much to everyone’s surprise 

these city men were able 

to get a saddle on a smaller one

when one of them climbed on it 

the moose wouldn’t move

it barely looked up at him 

as the man dug his heels into its sides

saying “giddy up – get a move on”

the moose’s dung-caked tail 

swatted the back of the man’s head

 

when Brandi Toffee

their buxom spokesmodel

arrived to sit on the saddled moose

it went berserk

sexually aroused by the female legs

clamped to its back

the sight of the moose’s erection

caused the city men to fall into a swoon

which gave us no end of mirth

the spokesmodel lost her hair extensions

as they got snagged on maple branches 

while she fled though the woods

the aroused moose bellowed pitifully 

when it trapped her in her SUV

when we went to the SUV 

to rescue Brandi

she was gone

 

the doors were ripped off 

crumpled like paper cups

the windshield covered with marks

small dainty hoof marks

hundreds of them

round hollow

Brandi Toffee was never seen

again

 

the moose riding academy never opened

and we villagers kept 

our hard-earned money

 

One of my Facebook feeds is news from Cape Breton & often the ‘news’ is of yet another small business opening there to boost the economy. Now with the legalization of marijuana there is a flood of hemp-centric businesses looking tax breaks to settle on the Island. The moose riding academy may sound far fetch but there have been equally as absurd proposals.

 

The piece also reinforces the presence & power of the moose. There are some in Cape Breton, there are more deer than moose to be found but the moose is a much more ‘amusing’ creature that deserves to be mythologized beyond that painting of the Queen riding a moose. She’s side-saddle, of course.

 

Most of this is fabricated, though I recall one time when a car plant (that eventually folded) had some starlet brought in for the opening ceremony. I don’t think they had celebrities for the closing. But they didn’t slink away in the night the way a few of these enterprises did. I recall one that built a new building, hired staff, then never opened. The pockets just weren’t deep enough.

In Pinebow this is one of the campfire stories. To fit it in I added a few scary details that are classic horror movie cliches. I enjoy the way it takes the moose mythos into darker dimension. 

 

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The Moose in the Moon

sample rough draft sample

The Moose in the Moon

for untold millennium

the moose were happy on the moon

they were free to roam without predators

living on moon moss and small cheesy rocks

they had nothing to fear

except in mating season

when the males had to prove

who had the biggest antlers

after untold millennium

of basking in earth shine

they began to wonder

if there was more to life

the moon began to bore them

it was so small

they had roamed and combed its surface

there was no longer an abundance

of moon moss and cheesy rocks

the battles during breeding

had become limpid half-hearted events

soon there were only four moose left

on the whole of the moon

where once there had been millions

the forlorn moose looked to the earth

when the solar winds blew

the smell of water and pine

wafted to their nostrils

two of them longed for escape

while the other two

felt it was fated they should remain there

these two pairs argued endlessly

plotted revenge to teach the others

the error of its beliefs

they spent hours grunting at each other

glaring over moon rills

stomped so much dust

the sun was clouded over

the sun didn’t like to get moon dust in her eyes

she decided it was time to step in

so with a flare

she carried two of the moose to father earth

he could now take care of these creatures

on earth the two moose were overjoyed

they had new fields to run in

they began to multiply once more

they were safe till distrust came amongst them

when they were attacked by a cunning creature

that appeared as a robin to some

and a smelt to others

in fear they would bellow

to the moose in the moon

to return to where they were safe

mooseonce in a blue moose

Why moose? I’ve been asked and I can’t say exactly why. I came spontaneously as words began to flow. They do have an odd comic yet rather masculine dourness about them. They don’t appear as a power or spirit animal in native traditions. Tricksters are usually foxes, ravens or coyotes. So when they came to me I went with it.

I wanted to write a sort of teaching story with legendary resonance. Something that had the feel of a story handed down by oral tradition. In fact much of the Mythology has that feel to it, I hope. There is a piece about the ‘cunning creature’ that fools them.

elk which way is up

As I child I didn’t read much native mythology. I don’t recollect that ti was ever even talked about in any class I took. There was some about the Greek gods, some Norse mythology but even that was minimal. Not the sort of stuff one needed to know to become a successful accountant. In English classes imagination was fine but spelling and grammar were always more important.

moon moon fall

This is one of the series that was most influenced by the symbolic nature of mythology. This one sprung from the phrase the man in the moon – what if it were the moose in the moon? I loved the sonic play of moo but kept that to a minimum. There a few more pieces directly about the moose.

moon there’s no place like home

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Photos of the War

sample rough draft sample

Photos of the War

 

my older brothers prepared for war

by learning the intricacies of languages

and lingerie of foreign places

no one explained what they fought for

I was told the children in our village

didn’t need to know till they were older

I didn’t think my brothers were so old

they were still learning to shave and swear

 

there was talk of death

that I didn’t quite understand

death was a place from where people never returned

in the cathedral the bishop

called it the long sleep of righteousness

I wanted my brothers to be awake

so I could watch them gut the moose

so they could show me

how to get more than shoulders touched

in the strip bars

 

but they were determined to go to war

all the young men in the village

were hungry for danger

some so hungry

they started in on each other

tore each other’s flesh

ripped clothes to such shreds

even the women couldn’t repair them

these bruised men would roam

the Whistling Wood naked

chant loudly while the choir practiced

 

I didn’t understand war

but the hungry men in the woods

would haunt my sleep

their bruised naked bodies

danced erratically around a fire

private parts painted by flames

I wanted to join in their howling

but I was too young

I was still playing with boys

learning how to howl and dance naked

smeared with smelt guts and birch bark

we started our own boys’ army

by stomping on ants

 

my brothers went to war

they emailed short notes every day

“marched to Majorca”

“wet dirty sox”

“send powdered moose milk”

they sent photos of themselves

bright lights in the background

tall buildings that reached the clouds

in one of them by an airplane

they glared at us in defiance

pointed their guns at the camera

then one of them naked on a lawn

their bodies bandaged unrecognizable

these weren’t my brothers

they didn’t look human

as cracked grins of satisfaction

played across what remained of their faces

war after the war

Here’s another of the mythology series. I rarely write directly ‘political’ stuff because I’m more of a story teller than a social commentator. Lapsing into didacticism or hectoring is too easy and drowns all, to me, any real emotional response other than self-righteous anger.

The voice of Mythology is of this innocent boy and I try to see real world events though the eyes of someone without an adult knowledge base. War is one of those things that even adults find hard to fully grasp. War and death.

shoes shoes to be filled after the war

Here I work with elements of the mythos I’ve built into this island world – the moose, strip bars, the Whistling Woods – introduced some modern elements as well – i.e. email. With a gentle hint of sexuality – private parts painted by flame – I develop this voice and this place into, what I hope, is a real comment on how war affects the rush to manhood, soldiers, the ones left behind.

rubble bombed out

There is no actual war in my mind – all wars are the same (the struggle to support the US economy – but I didn’t go into that cynical aspect here). I’ve seen these photographs though. Some were of my Dad in uniform when he fought in WW II. Others from a Viet Nam documentary. Or maybe from the movies, because many of our fondest memories are really from the movies not from our real life.

soon

August 28-31 – attending – FanExpo Canada http://www.fanexpocanada.com expo spider atingle at expo 2014

October 19 – feature – Cabaret Noir – Welcome to Lake Pinebow pineocthttps://www.facebook.com/events/1651892755035275/

 

tree02 lost in the Whistling Woods