Dear Santa

My mother was a memory hoarder. My sister has been going though boxes of things stored in our family home & has unearthed things from my past. This letter to Santa was one of those treasures. It tells me so many things about myself at that time – when was that time? Probably when we first moved to Cape Breton in the mid50’s. Before my brother was born. While I was learning cursive writing in school.

The spelling mistakes & writing errors are things that I am still plagued by in my hand written notes. Even then I couldn’t write as fast as I thought & so my letters stumbled over each other resulting in scratching words out or writing over them. 

I can remember learning cursive in grade school. We had to have a special scribbler with lines to train us how to keep uniform sizes for small & capital letters. I have vague memories of the actual exercises but, much liking tying my shoes, there is no specific moment. I do see the influence of my Dad’s writing in the shape of some of the letters.

I was very keen on that cowboy suit. It was not the first one I had – it was a hat, vest, chaps & a two-gun holster. A cowhide print but probably not on cowhide. I recall getting fire engines a few times. Red plastic with ladders that could be swivelled & cranked up with a gear. I love me asking for ‘any old toys you don’t want’ Even then there was no such thing as enough but willingness to accept the mystery ‘any.’ 

I suspect the ‘thank you’ was suggested by my mother though, that’s not the sort of thing I would have added. An early lesson in trying to curry favour though gratitude. The ‘good at school’ sounds like me. I can’t say if that ‘good’ means if my marks or my behaviour had improved 😉 

Envy

if I want what I want

& want it now

does that make me 

motivated

decisive

or obsessive

<>

is it better to be goal driven

or to live in the moment

is what happening now 

as an end itself 

rather than a step 

to something  better

something so much better in fact

that is happening now

loses flavour

makes me impatient for this to be over

so I can get on to the next best thing to do

<>

if i don’t what i have now

how did i end up with it

should i have had better plans

did i miss the turn

take the wrong page 

out of the wrong book 

& end up with the last thing i wanted 

or is this what i want

but don’t recognize it

have i been blindsided 

by some urge 

that spun me so far off reality

that i no longer know 

what i like anymore 

do i want what what i have

<>

if i have what i want

is it important to reach fulfillment

is contentment settling for less

or accepting things as they are

because things aren’t that bad

pretty good in fact

though it took some time

to sort through wants needs 

haves 

& don’t needs

<>

i always thought i wanted 

to be adored

worshipped in fact

because being loved 

wasn’t fulfilling

then it dawned on me

that what i really wanted was envy

i wanted people 

to wish they had what i have

not that i know 

what i really do have

<>

it took awhile to sort that out

to filter it through 

the expropriations of cultures 

to a point where i had 

a hard kernel of fact 

that then escaped me[

because there are so many

bubbling hesitations to distract 

direct my attention

that i forget what i discovered

so maybe that isn’t 

the hard truth either

though i’m better off now 

than i was once upon a time

when the world was young

and i was a mere boy

on his way to the old fishing hole

dangling a can of worms 

on the end of his line

hot sunny day barefoot on the path

he walks down to the stream bank

warm rocks to sit on

not evening thinking of writing a word

or getting laid

just being

just being

without want

<>

now that is something to envy

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Catholic Girls

Mary Teresa

Mary Teresa said

I can’t play with you anymore

her mother came out

get out of our yard

you aren’t welcome here

her brother Gerald

pushed me to the gate

you heard my mother

get lost

<>

Why

<>

Gerald shoved me again

punched me in the face

stop that his mother shouted

but Gerald hit me again

I could taste blood

<>

get going

you trouble maker

his mother pulled him away

you people are always trouble makers

now get going

don’t come back

don’t speak to Mary Teresa again

you hear me

she said

<>

Mary Teresa glared at me

from the top of the steps

stuck her tongue out at me

<>

I didn’t know what I had done

Mary Teresa was a year older than me

so I guess she was eleven

her bother maybe thirteen

they lived a block over from us

but neither went to my school

they had their own

Saint something or the other

where the Catholic kids went

I wasn’t Catholic

<>

we had lived in the neighbourhood

for about a year now

I knew the different schools 

there was taunting and chasing

that I avoided

<>

I didn’t understand how their God 

gave them the right to bully

told them who was good

who was bad

years later I still don’t

understand

Catholic Protestant whatever

caught in a match

of who’s piss is closest to the good book

<>

I never did speak to Mary Teresa again

<>

Here I have a sweet mash-up of real memory, somewhat fictionalized characters, and the real social context of Sydney, where I grew up. There were separate schools for the Catholics that remained separate for decades. Up to grade 10 – when some mix was allowed with catholic boys going to the multi-denominational high-schools. Catholic girls had their own high-school so keep them from being raped by heathen Protestant boys.

Depending on the Catholicism of the parents us kids weren’t allowed to mix. The incident here is based on more than one event. I did have some kids who we had played tag with tell me they couldn’t hang out anymore because we weren’t Catholic. Simple as that, as children we didn’t have the knowledge base to get into theological discussions. I did hear of kids told to get out of yards because they weren’t ‘micks.’

Even then the excuse of religion to justify bullying was acceptable. I say excuse because even today one can use ‘religion’ to justify any unreasonable fear rather than face that fear. The Bible says races shouldn’t mix so to prevent that lynching is logical. The Bible has relegated to a photo op prop anyway. I’m not anti-christian by any means but not particularly Christian either – so please, piss on someone else.

 

(I’m still getting use to the new WP editing program & can’t figure out how to put in poetry line breaks hence the use of <> to indicate were breaks would be if I could figure out how to get them there.)


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Undercover

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks.

Who knew the simple life could be so complex.

Undercover

I wanted to throw

the math book across the room

the brown paper didn’t cooperate

as I folded it over the cover

one side was too big to fold

the other too small to cover

I tried to slide the book

so everything was even

so it would be neat tidy

the real cover protected

I wanted it to look as perfect

as the book my mother had done in minutes

 

I lacked her eye hand coordination

perfected by years of knitting

of dress making

I couldn’t even colour between the lines

now here I was

with a pair of scissors

a roll of heavy brown kraft paper

attempting to make covers

for my school books

as requested by the school

if the books weren’t kept tidy enough

we would have to pay for them

I wasn’t even supposed to write on the books

not even to underline

couldn’t dog ear the pages

 

the book refused to fit

I managed to get it wrapped

taped the corner to keep it in place

I didn’t care that it was bunched up

that there was a crease 

on the back cover

 

I tried to slide myself

through grade school

high school

so everything was even

so I would be neat tidy

bland as brown kraft paper book cover

a cover that never quite protected

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Colby Days 2


Our Cottage Road house, between Park St & Whitney Ave by a laneway, was a compact two-story home belonging to Miss Kelly who lived in the house next door. Her house was huge. She had boarders on the second & third floors & she lived alone on the first floor. Her house was the model for the boarding house in my novel Coal Dusters. She deserves a post of her own, so this is all I’ll say about her now 🙂

This was a more upperclass neighbourhood. Larger houses, doctors & lawyers & sport celebrities abounded. Larger houses too – many 3 story, single family dwellings. Colby remained within walking distance & I would trudge Cottage Rd. in the morning, home for lunch, back for the afternoon. I’d walk home along central with the guys.

I was at Colby for grades IV & V. I have a class photos of me in Grade VI at Ashby school. I don’t recall if that was another summer move though. I do remember some of my Colby teachers though. The principle Miss Greenwood, Mrs. Butterworth & Mrs. McLeod. There were others but even seeing the list of teachers on the Colby School page didn’t ring any lunch bells. https://www.facebook.com/groups/colbyschool/

I do remember the hand bell that rang to get us into the school. I was a middling student even then. I had attention issues 🙂 I was also aware that I didn’t have the same feelings about girls as the boys claimed to have. I was, in fact, a sissy who preferred hopscotch to baseball. I don’t recall having any real pals or playmates of either sex.

I did get into a couple of fist fights though & lost. It was hard to keep punching when everyone around you was encouraging the other guy to teach me a lesson. I became a coward because proving my masculinity with violence was beyond me. Shame & fear were the biggest lessons I learned at Colby School.

It was here that I had to spend a summer writing out  words from a speller. I did page after page of writing each word out twenty times. Then had to retake the spelling exam at the start of the new term before I could go on. I did pass but again, the real lesson learned was shame, not how to spell.

The other thing I remember from then was the birth of my brother. Now that my Dad was settled in Sydney, his job was going well, may parents felt secure enough to raise a family. I felt I was a disappointment & now they wanted to get it right this time. My brother was about a year old when my mother was pregnant again, & we moved again, this time to the Ashby area.

Fully Human

I’m not enjoying this

so it must be good for me

the less I like it

the better what I am getting

the more I suffer

the more fully human I am

what I enjoy is to be avoid

it is merely a diversion 

from suffering

because life is suffering

 

any attempt to diminish suffering

diminishes all life

we a cannot afford pleasure

to admit to liking something 

someone

is to admit to weakness

is to admit to being 

a shallow fun-loving 

corrupter of basic human dignity

dignity requires suffering 

and sacrifice

 

those who aren’t willing to suffer

aren’t worth the breath 

they take to live

they should be face 

the error of their ways 

or be shunned

 

if you are having a good time

do it in another room

quietly

we don’t want reality 

sullied by gasps 

of sexual indulgences

we don’t want to hear laugher 

behind our backs

take to another room

another city if possible

 

here we are on the righteous trail

suffering to fulfill our real 

authenticity as humans

as a parade of weeping assholes

(poem prompted by one of Montaigne’s essays)


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#BackToSchool

Back to school so this month I’ll be looking back at some of my many school poems.

school

Needle

it was that dreaded day

the city health department was at our school

everyone was to get their shot

polio mumps something like that

a swab on the arm and pow

stung

some coddled by teachers

to the library where the nurses

had set up stations at several tables

no privacy for the pow stung moment

kids came out pale

clutching upper arms

some limping

some had to be carried out

the mutter before added to the restlessness

the needle

we were told

was soooo long

it hit your arm bones

sometimes it broke off

got lost in your skin

could worm into your brain   your heart

if you fainted

they’d give you needles

in your feet to make sure you weren’t dead

one boy died last year

one girl got a rash and had to be put down

it was horrible

the principal showed up

this has to stop you kids 

there’s nothing to it – it doesn’t hurt

do you want the nurses to think 

our school is full of cry babies

so the rest of us bit our lips

looked away from each other

wanted to plug our ears

not to hear

the ouches from behind the door

inching forward

I hoped we were so slow

there wouldn’t be time to get to all of us

that they’d run out of needles

the door opened I was pushed in

over here a nurse smiled

you aren’t scared of me are you

I shook my head no

roll up your sleeve

she held my arm wiped it

asked if knew who was in the picture

at the other side of the library

I looked over the queen

pow

stung while I wasn’t looking

now that didn’t hurt did it

no

hold this till the bleeding stops

a bit of gauze where I had been stung

I held it and left

felt nothing much at all

except that tiny sting of disappointment

NPG x37877; Queen Elizabeth II by Dorothy Wilding

The ring of truth is more important than the actual truth. I do have vague memories of getting that shot, of the restlessness in the class, even of the rumours that someone had felt the needle in their arm bone.

The rest is manipulated fact and fiction. Sure some kids cried but none actually fainted. We were usually sort of happy to have an excuse to cut a class as this all took time and we’d find ways to make that wait longer to avoid school work not the needle.

buried the dog buried my homework under here somewhere

Over my years in school I had needles at various times for various things – polio, flu & other stuff that the GP didn’t need to do. There was no controversy about the inoculations either, at least not at our classroom level. We did have to have a permission slip signed, but if you forgot it you still got the shot. Or maybe that permission slip was for the TB test, that was even worse with what seemed like dozens of needles spring-loaded to bounce in and out of the skin.

Public schools in Sydney had photo portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip – government issued I think. In one school I recall huge framed ones at the top of the main stairs when we’d go it. Some of the class rooms had smaller ones.

oldshoes old shoes new term

Did a nurse ever have me glance over at those pictures? I don’t think so, but it struck me as a suitable ruse for one to use when she had to. I don’t know if the nurses really that much trouble with us kids. It did take a couple of teachers to keep us moving along and quiet.

soon1

October 10-12 – attending – Gratitude Roundup http://www.torontogratitude.org

grat14

October 19 – feature – Cabaret Noir – Pinebow pineflyerhttps://www.facebook.com/events/1651892755035275/

November 1-30 – participating – NaNoWriMo 2014 – http://nanowrimo.org

notebook

falldesk

perfect for homework

me reading Needle: http://www.rogerstv.com/page.aspx?lid=237&rid=16&sid=2923&gid=62188

Nailed

samples

I posted a school memory on Monday so here’s another one –

 

 

Nailed

 

‘don’t bite your nails’   ‘sorry’

I never knew I was biting my nails

till I was told to stop

it kept me from chewing my lower lip

good thing I didn’t have long hair

or I’d have been chewing on that too

 

I rubbed my eyes

tried to focus on the blackboard

so much to learn   all I could think

was that I’d never learn it all

 

‘stop biting your nails’   ‘sorry’

I didn’t feel my teeth

try to find a bit of nail

how did it happen

that Mike Kennedy

two rows over

never did things like that

he never got a runny nose

and let it dribble on his tongue

he turned around to say something

to Trevor Steeles behind him

they laughed looked at

Liz Sampson on the other side of me

she stared out the window

as she chewed her hair

 

the teacher droned on

‘take notes this will be on the exam’

our little pens itched

page after page of big words

all of which would be on the exam

 

dazed I filled the margins

with small zigzag mazes

when I was trying not to bite my nails

or chew my lower lip bloody

little mazes

that never got me out of this puzzle

I could barely grasp

the writing on the blackboard

a scattering of thin snow on mud

I had to plod through this sludge

to rescue meaning

then I’d be safe

on  the other side of the exams

 

‘stop biting your nails    you can’t take notes

with your fingers in your mouth’

the class all looked at me    laughing

‘it helps me think’

‘another reason to stop

at your age thinking

is a dangerous thing’

‘yes sir    I’ll never think in your class again’

 

funny what I could say

when my fingers stopped getting in the way

bluesky blue sky

This is a much older piece than Quel Dommage. Just like the French class in Quel, I can remember some of this moment very clearly. The classroom itself, staring almost trance-like out the window.

It was Economics – I don’t know if this is still taught under this name – we were learning how city politics ‘worked’ – civic, provincial & federal systems. With some history in the mix. Basic info on how the stock market worked.

elasticblueelastic blue

The names of the guys aren’t real. I have no memory of names, almost of some faces though & definitely of guys popping boners and wagging their eyes to pals to take a look at the tent pitched. They’d say ‘thinking of Veronica’ – time I wrote about those memories.

bluefloor blue floor

Part of my daze was the sexual longing I felt but was too fearful to act on. I was picked on in the hallways as ‘a gear box.’ It was easier to look out the window than get caught eyeing some class mates grey flannel bound boner. Oh yes, I remember those pants.

balloon blue balloon

 

#Five Alarm Smolder

During the Loyalist workshop someone asked me how long it took to write the poem I had handed out as my business card – it was Critic – which took less than ten minutes to spew out – I had that ‘crayons’ line in my head for a couple of days and with the prompt ‘critic’ the rest of it flooded out. Add another thirty minutes for edits & it was done. I hated to tell him how easy it was to do, how quick it was to get out of me – but I am practiced. Writing everyday helps, a lot.

skating away on the gravel of the new day
skating away on the gravel of the new day

Now here’s an older & much longer piece – Five Alarm Smolder. The initial spew was once again ten minutes – I let word associations take the momentum along – variations on expected phrases, repeated images, a dash of the surreal – made it flow pretty quickly. In editing I did a fair bit of reworking that flow – sequences of images is important to me – theme & variation – the ending called for a bit more thinking.

tonight a snake in a box
snake in a box?

The last step was the title. Often I’ll use an image from the piece, but this time I opted for something that reflected the ‘smolder’ of emotions that underpinned the piece.

How long does it take to write something? Better question would be how long does it take to finish something. Who knows, sometimes I rewrite as I read a piece aloud in front of an audience. Even in pulling ‘Smolder’ up for posting here I did some tinkering with it – a poem is never finished.

love a la crock
love a la crock

Five Alarm Smolder

it seemed the best way to rekindle

the fire in your heart

was to run over to the nearest bar & drink

till there was only a stumble of drunks to deal with

with no way out except to break the windows

you get the picture

yeah   I know drawing it in crayons

on the bedroom wall wasn’t a great idea

but you have to admit

I caught the fire using only the blues

like the blues you give anyone

lucky enough to catch you on our balcony

ready to jump

don’t do it

till I get a  coffee

I know I have to be careful

the contents may be hot

but wet will always put out the flame

it doesn’t makes much difference

what burns you out of my system

hot coffee or live flame

tossing your undies in the trash

was the only way

to keep your flesh ready and pliant

not that you kept them on long

yeah   not so funny

does it look like I’m laughing

all the way to the shadow of a home

where there once was a dart of hope

now just a tangle of empty coat hangers

in a clump I can’t pull apart

that once held everything you ever wore

dust doesn’t hang well

you know    I’m a total liar

I never picked up a drink because of you

wasn’t even tempted

sure you took something out of my life

I don’t need to breathe

I can’t get over the number of times

that I wanted to use your undies

to clean the coffee machine

so I would have a fresh cup

to dump in your laugh

I’m sure that behind closed eyes

you are smirking like a tried urinal

knowing you pissed me off one more time

but if you were here now

I’d probably take you back

but wouldn’t trust you

as far as you could throw my underwear

nice hat
nice hat