My Five Year (Dead Friends)

With my AA anniversary this week (43 years on July 6) I’ve done some reminiscing about my early years in recovery. My memory is helped by the journals I kept at that time – this was before keyboards & morning pages. Handwritten & for the most part more a listing of events than reflections on those events. In my poetry archive I have pieces that I wrote then which are more about discovering the gay world than exploring sobriety.

One artifact I have is a cassette recording of my 5 year anniversary from 1983! I’m not sure if I have heard it since it was first recorded. I also have a photo taken of the occasion, plus some of the cards I was given! The photo brings back some memories. I listened the the tape a few months ago though before passing it on to the Archives for preservation as mp3.

It is, I’ve been told by the head of that committee, a piece of gay recovery history that shouldn’t be lost. I had to hear it first before letting it go. It was a bit embarrassing to hear myself praised, to hear my actual ‘acceptance’ remarks. It was bittersweet to hear these voices of members who, for the most part, are no longer with us. Dead friends. So many dead friends.

Some murdered by HIV, some who died of life itself, some who moved away to Vancouver or Calgary to struggle with their sobriety in different surroundings but didn’t make it, deaths I heard of eventually. Voices I still recognized. Voices that I was happy to hear again. I even recognized laugher of people in the audience.

I do recall the tape being made but don’t remember who made it. Side A says ‘Duncan’s Fifth – Key unknown – 7 July 1983.’ Side B ‘‘Duncan’s Fifth in AA major – 7 July 1983.’ Printed by the hand of the taper. I love the Beethoven reference. It is the entire meeting from opening serenity prayer, passing the basket & the closing prayer. 

I was a little surprised that it played at all. Cassettes often dry out, loose their ‘dynamic tension,’ tape ends become disconnected from the spools. One of the reasons I was so happy to to move to from tapes to cds. There was nothing more dismaying than having the tape on your Walkman jam up & pulling it out with endless feet of tape dripping out of it. I may wait another 43 years before hearing it again though 🙂

This is a piece I wrote in Cape Breton back in 1977 when I was deep into my alcoholism.

Blackout

1

the fear

aware of the light

shapes the unseen

the fear

<>

is being awakened

at the wrong trembling moment

to your own pulse

2

I gave in today

without a fight 

without a second thought

gave in to nothing

being nothing

doing nothing

going nowhere

<>

I gave up

my dreams & hopes

plans of a great future

that’ll never come true

all that’s left for me

is to relax into resignation

without bitterness

to keep on giving in

without a struggle

<>

the plan now

is to sleep in

on all fours

to a snug shadow

of calm reserve

a smug disinterest 

about the things

I once had to become

3

I’m getting old 

the feel of fall

is colder in my bones

every year

<>

I find it easier to drink

to forget old unfinished fears

than to make new motions

toward an altered shape

I find it easier

every time I empty another bottle

the next seems more welcome

more of a proffered hope

than a fleeting solace

leading to remorse for old hurts

4

resignation

is a futile gesture

it is an admission 

to pretentions

I once had a vision 

a true sense of a special offering

a vision proved to be

am insecure self-indulgence 

a vision

that kept me so in awe

I could never confront

even my basic mortality 

<>

the vision of immortality 

before more than I could bear

no one is fooled but me

there is no dream revelation

just the dream

just the dream

to black out the image

of the self-pitying 

aging

drunken

unfulfilled visionary 

with no shape

no broken heart

just his fear

<>

the fear

last feeling of fall

has no vision

5

the unseen

is the futility of resignation

the inability to admit

that even as these words are

I intend to deny their meaning

<>

this is not defeat

I have nothing to lose

this is not resignation

I have nothing to concede

<>

the dream

will never change

that it may never come true

is the heart of the plan

<>

the fear

pulse of the plan

has no end

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Paper Ghosts

Thanks to the pandemic I’ve been purging my past. Papers, first drafts, photographs & memories. A basement full of lumber, bricks, paint, nut & bolts saved, salvaged, kept for another day now gone, with out regret. Stage set pieces from Bushwack Theatre finally seeing the light of day in the back of a junk removal truck 🙂 

I have seeing my history in the paper I used for writing on. Scrap paper recycled from Famous Players old daily multi-coloured sales report forms – pads of which became redundant as they were updated. Colour coded for filing & mailing purposes. Flyers for movies, for theatrical productions. Lined or blank loose leaf, pages torn out of scribblers, note book of various sizes & even shapes. Notes, poems, fiction typed on various typewriters, hand written in various inks & pens, dot-matrix print outs that had never been separated. https://topoet.ca/2021/03/16/past-of-the-future/

The ‘See Europe’ was one of several road show productions that travelled around the maritimes with special presentations – this was Travel, another was Alpine Skiing – the most popular was the in person show by Raveen – a hypnotist, magician – I wish I had some of those flyers. The travel shows weren’t big draws mind you but they were rentals – in this case Tony Smith was in charge of his ticket sales. We got the rental fee plus sold lots of popcorn 🙂

The various papers help date when some of these pieces were written as many of them were undated. The Famous pages are before I moved to Toronto in 1978. Days Of Heaven is from my first year here. The Famous Players form bring back memories beyond what I had written on the blank sides. One of my jobs there was to type details onto them. There was carbon paper between the pages that were 4 form thick so one had to hit hard to make sure the bottom one was legible. A mistake meant whiteout on all copies before re-entering. A total pain. Life before computers & data entry. 

This piece was typed on the blank side of a ‘Days Of Heaven’ flyer

My Left Hand

he gives me a call

a peace offering

an invitation

an offer

to nail my left hand

to the floor

but he has no camera

<>

he calls

on days

when his memory

is fading

the echo of the moon

in an old well

he speak

French threats

innuendos

of vague violence

I cannot resist

<>

I cannot confront

direct violence

I have a fear of pain

pain as in death

facts to face

I am afraid

I’ll enjoy the nail

relish each thud of the hammer

<>

I remember

the bite of his teeth

even when I cannot

recall the feel

of his lips

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Past of the Future

In my pandemic purging I came across unused paper for dot-matrix printers. Also in my writing archives were pieces I semi-dated because they were in dot-matrix print. In telling more than one friend about this I was a little surprised to find out they had no idea of what dot-matrix was! They had never seen anything printed in it, nor had they seen that printer paper. I showed it to them & one asked me, seriously, if it had any collector value!

If you are one of those to whom dot-matrix is a mystery – it was the computer printer method before ink-jet became the standard. Wiki says: “A dot matrix printer is an impact printer that prints using a fixed number of pins or wires. The pins strike an ink-coated ribbon and contact between the the paper, so that each pin makes a small dot on the paper. The combination of these dots forms a dot matrix image.”

At that time many publishers refused submissions that were printed in dot-matrix as the print itself can be a challenge to read after a couple of pages. The ribbon ink wasn’t that consistent. I have some things that have pretty much faded, some where the ink has matured to blue, some where it looks as good as the day I printed it out. Much like typewriter ribbons it would wear out but quicker. We got rid of our printed when we moved up to ink jet. Ink jet is faster & not as noisy:-)

When someone doesn’t know who a classic rock group, such as Procol Harum, is, I’m not that surprised but these days there people who don’t even know what a desktop computer is, thanks to their cell-phones. Guys I know with iPads or such don’t even have printers anymore. I show them my flip phone & they are like ‘wow! that’s so retro.’ I wish I had a rotary dial phone to scare them with 🙂

speaking of retro – here’s a poem from the archives – 

August 1962 (Broad Cove, Cape Breton)

even though it had rained all night

I didn’t stop to think

just how quickly

I’d be soaked by still dripping fir

as I clambered unsteadily

through the campgrounds’ pine thicket

juggling binoculars in one hand

my life in the other

<>

I was out to hunt spies

to search the ocean for pirates

from my evergreen look out

inconspicuous in a yellow rain-slicker

I exploded stealthily

through the trees

suddenly falling

head-over-heels

ten feet down in terror

of the deadly rocks beneath

that turned out to be

a new york family

spreading their towels

on the beach

<>

their peach-fuzzed son

a few months older than me

was quick to show off

the benefits

of his American education

He’d always felt sorry for King Kong

<>

the very next day

between furtive cigarettes

and timid first wrestling

I tried my best to be monstrous

growling & leaping about

<>

his mother found me a show-off

his father found us fondling

they left that night

<>

at fourteen

he was too old for me

anyhow

September 1973

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sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet