February 2009

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Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau - 1817-1862

I come to Concord
in the winter and
walk to the cemetery
on Author’s Ridge to feel
the soft late light of day
press down among
the pines and
towering oaks
and touch the stone
that bears his name,
oaks that were little more
than acorns when he
walked these hills
and the only sound
to break the spell was
the moan of a passing train,
pines he would have
bowed before as
the great lone pine
he watched the loggers fall
that day on Fair Haven Hill.
And it seems
so very fitting now
that his spirit should
rest in this place where
his voice yet whispers
to those who
retrace his footfall and
breathe the air that
fed his clarion soul.
These were his woodlands
and his skies, the ponds
that held the seasons he
knew on long afternoons
and took with him to his cabin
to return in endless measure
with his words. This was
the ice that receded at Walden
and glittered in August mists
along the Concord;
this also was the light that
fell upon the Town House
in his plea for Capt. Brown -
“the most American of us all”
- and shadowed his wagon
beneath the stars on the
fugitive road to Canada.
I come here out of gratitude
for his fearlessness and
the gleaming shards of truth
he shook from life.
I come in reverence
for the hills and fields
that cradled him
but mostly I come because
I too am a pilgrim on the road
“and with respect to knowledge
we are all children of the mist.”

© February 2009

The Orange Parade


On the twelfth of July
they still rise early in
places like Merrickville
and Carleton Place,
Shawville and Smiths Falls,
and nail orange signs
to hydro poles and
wait for aging visitors
to gather at the arena,
an echo from another time,
long dead but not quite gone.
They come in Chevs
and GMCs, and polished Ford
convertibles from the fifties,
relics themselves from
faded towns that free trade
has deserted and
children have left behind,
old men with canes
and bright suspenders
limping through the parking lot,
women in white with lavender hair
holding dresses against the wind.
The beef is cooked
the squares are cut and
morning drifts to afternoon
until the fife and drum corps
takes its place, and wagons 
muster in a summer field.
Then at last a bagpipe wails
and the assemblage teeters forward
for what always seems the final time,
a lone police car out in front,
an ambulance trailing behind.
Orange sashes, Union Jacks
the St. George Cross
and purple star,
spartan words spelled out
on banners that bob
along the main street.
Remember the Deeds of
our Forefathers,
Defender of Our Faith, and
We Support our Troops,
all led by Old King Billy
on a weary horse,
riding for Queen and Country,
riding for “religious liberty”
in its “purest form” -
which has of course been
Protestant since the Boyne.

© 2009


two kids and a dog
frozen full of sunlight
on a field in Arkansas,
an image flicked
by the tongue of time
across the dark Mississippi,
and it means nothing
at all that I can tell
in America’s 200th year,
nothing to the memory
of the Rebel South,
nothing as we the people
sail beneath the overpass
and slingshot on the wind
past a sign that
reads Union 76,
nothing in a white ford van
that flies on the
guard-rail wings
of too much throw-away
Budweiser, and John
blowing hash
through a pen in the back,
just an image that
will not erase itself
as Al steers west
to the heartland through
this soft green hour of day
running going streaking
away away / or is it
coming home wierdly
sober at last to
wrappings ripped off
something sharp inside,
and there is a half-recalled
hooker in midnight Nashville
receding in heels down
Tin Pan Alley as
a siren wails and
rain slants into the neon,
all waiting solemnly
for two Arkansas kids
and a peanut dog,
womb figures
unknowing yet of a
hovering rip-tide continent
and heads cut off like
grass on America’s
insistent lawns.

©12 May 1976
(Route 40 west of Memphis)

Keeping the faith

We could spot the
Jehovah’s Witnesses when
they turned the corner
at the Otterbrook Road
and stopped at the end
of the laneway to let
the children out as decoys.
They always knocked
at the wrong door
and my father would usually
send them packing before
they got the Watchtower out.
There were no fundamentalists
in those days except
Billy Graham on television
and even he was suspect,
asking for money
from Minneapolis.
There was only the
United Church then;
even the Baptists seemed
extinct, remembered only by
the cemetery beyond the hall
where the grass was
rarely mowed.
There were no Jews
of course and
hardly any Catholics
though it was understood
that Ray, who lived with us,
and worked at the mill, was
a good man, if divorced,
and unable to marry Hilda,
the nurse he went to see on
Saturday nights in Truro,
all eyes watching as
he donned a dark felt hat and
drove his great blue mercury
out the laneway and
down the gravel road.

© 2007

The mill

The day Tom Fulton
cut off his thumb off
at the trimmer saw
I knew the mill was
a dangerous place.
I saw the look on
my mother’s face when
she heard the news,
and for days the tale
was told of fishing the
stub from the sawdust
and taking it with him
to the hospital - for all
the good it did.
Tom soon returned
to the dinner table but
the bandages bulged for
weeks on his hand
and the stump stayed
red and angry as long
as I lived at home and
sat in the chair beside him,
and there were other tales
from other mills like the one
in Queens County where
a sawyer caught his shovel
on a flywheel and
the handle drove
the teeth through
the back of his head.
My father was a sawyer
and I thought of that,
waiting for the whistle
at closing time as he
removed his leather apron
black with balsam
and shovelled the
sawdust from the place
he stood all day behind
the whirling saw.

© 2008

I saw no prejudice
when I was growing up.
There was no one
in the village to be
prejudiced against,
unless it was
unionists,
and thankfully
none of those ever
showed at the mill.
Yet well into the sixties,
after James Meredith
went to Ole Miss,
after Rosa Parks
was jailed and
Hattie Carroll died,
after Bull Connor loosed
the dogs and hoses,
and Martin Luther King
raised up his dream
in Washington,
after all these things,
Halifax still had
an Africville and
The Island remained
a part of Truro,
and they still sold
nigger balls
three for a penny
at the Co-op store.
No one gave it
a second thought.
We bought them, ate them,
grinned our licorice grins
and went back for more.

© 2009

Before

Before the internet
and colour television,
before Nixon and
Vietnam, even before
the moon landing and
the day Kennedy was shot,
I walked through the snow
to the Pattersons’ farm,
taking the shortcut
across the orchard
by the darkened barns.
And there in
the kerosene light
we played cards on
Friday nights in the fifties.
And it was oh so long ago
when families still ate
deer meat and gas was
thirty cents a gallon,
before the flag debate and
red headlines in the Herald.
There was no hurry there
with Velda laughing,
and Lonnie asleep upstairs,
Hughie with his tobacco tin
and Billy making mischief
with the jokers.
We ate hard candy
and drank dark tea,
and the world could
still stand still then,
when the mill was
done for the day
and the sun was down
and a fire burned
in the kitchen stove and
the only sound was
that old house
cracking in the cold
and Don Messer and
his Islanders playing
over a battery radio
from Charlottetown.

© 2009

The cobbler

He scooped tacks
from a bin behind
the counter and 
popped them in bunches
into his mouth,
retrieving them
one by one to nail
in rhythmic sequence
into the soles of
upturned shoes
on an iron last.
His hammmer sang
across the morning and
into the afternoon
as clocks ticked
upon all his walls and
neighbours came
and neighbours went,
and children stopped
on the way from school
to see the tacks
upon his tongue,
and hear the chimes
and cuckoo birds
and watch as he lit
his corn cob pipe and blew
graceful rings of smoke
half white, half blue,
through sunbeans
bright as bars of gold
that slanted through
his window.

© 2008

Fishing

We yanked trout
from the waters
of Gleason Lake,
sleek creatures that
flung themselves at
our hooks and died
beneath the spruces
on Saturday
mornings in May,
heads forced back
between thumb
and forefinger
until their white
necks broke beneath
the pressure and
the eyes went slack
and we slid
the shining bodies
onto alder slings
and carried them
three miles home.

© 2007

The village

I see the village
and all it was
undimmed by time,
images shimmering
in a lingering sun,
whole seasons
hanging like
August beans
along the rows of
my father’s garden.
Blue smoke still
wafts across the valley
from the mill,
fading over hay fields
toward the cemetery
where my parents
are not buried,
nor are the neighbours
whose names
are chiselled into
mossy stones.
They all yet live
inside white houses with
prim brick chimneys
and bent antennas,
and laneways
that twist back
from mailboxes
through soft fields
that sink at sunset
into the peace
of emerald hills.
Fiddles play
and silhouettes sway
on the waxen floor
at the community hall
where laughter floats
through open windows
and settles like a mist
on the hoods of
shining pick-up trucks.
Here the night
is black and clear,
and the perfumed
summer hangs
across the valley.
Here the years
hold all the flames
of all the fires that
burned before,
and flicker down
to embers now
that consume us all
but cannot die because
time itself stands still.
And here I stand
on the iron bridge
pinned beneath
the perfect stars,
that I might know this
point in the universe
at this appointed hour
and hear each note of
the Tennessee Waltz
rise and fall
like fireflies along
the darkened shore.
There is no sorrow here
no regret, not a moment
I would change;
here memory whispers
lies so clear that I might
bend at midnight
in holy sacrament and
drink them from the river.

© February 2009

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