Leaving

The sick trees,
the weak trees
leaving first
giving up

too ready to concede
the red flag
in a sea of green

warning of what is coming
not living for today
as I am

A Poem (after Robert Creeley)

"I Love You", says the coffee
scent wafting up the stairs
 
"I Love You" says the open book
face down on the table, waiting

"I Love You" sing the birds
flitting through the frigid air
to crack the seeds of life

"I Love You" say the squirrels
bushy flags flicking
as they nosh on nuts

"I Love You" say your eyes as you
spread your arms and lock in for a hug
like a shuttle approaching the mothership

"What was that for?" you ask
as I cradle you, unaware from behind

"What wasn't that for?" I reply
"I love you. That's all there is!"

Miss Duke

I just read an obituary for a beloved High School Phys Ed. teacher who touched so many lives in a positive way. One of the testimonials from one of his former students stated that “Chuck” had stood up for him twice to prevent his expulsion. I never knew “Chuck”, but the stories in the comments generated by his obituary and the personal testimony of some of my friends and acquaintances who knew him made me think immediately of Miss Duke.

I attended three different High Schools (sequentially….). The second High School I went to was a big rural “Regional” high school. My classmates came from very diverse communities. People from my region tended to come from educated parents who had recently quit the urban scene but still commuted to the city (an hour away). my region was also a ski resort, so many outdoorsy families as well. Other stops on our school bus route picked up regular kids whose parents (or parent) perhaps worked in retail, or trades or other jobs that one would expect to find in a small village or town. Other buses that fed the school had kids that came from very rural communities where farming and occupations like well-drilling and/or septic tank maintenance or tractor repair were the norm.

Miss Duke was not that much older than us grade ten students. I believe it was her first posting out of teacher’s college. She was very prim and proper. In a way, like Mary Poppins. She came from a small farming community herself and was perhaps the first one in her immediate circle to get a college education. She was passionate about books! She got excited about poetry. She loved to invite opinions from her students and was very disappointed in students who were apathetic, dull, or unthinking.

I was also passionate about books and poetry and finding meaning in the seemingly meaningless. My lifelong friend Jon describes himself and me as “searchers, seekers, on the road”. Not just passengers. I also really liked hallucinogens and pot. Miss Duke was the epitome of sober, (but I digress).

I was a royal pain in the ass to some of the other teachers who I deemed to be “assholes” whose classes I treated as non-compulsory, but in Miss Duke’s class I was attentive and contributed to the class discussions in a way (so I am told) that was beyond my years. I never skipped her class. Miss Duke inspired me. She stood up for me when “the suits” wanted me gone from the school for spotty attendance to certain classes and the various shenanigans and general mayhem that my cohorts and I fostered through our increasingly counter-cultural behaviour via music, dress, attitude and drugs. Rebel without a cause.

One of these events was “Mandrax Day” (which was never pinned on us) which caused the school to close early one day as there were dozens of us completely, howlingly bent…. It has reached legendary proportions by now, so you can’t really believe a word I say about it, except that a buddy of mine swiped a huge pile of Mandrax from his granny and gave them out to the adventurous (quite ignorant and stupid, actually) like me. Mandrax is sort of like Quaaludes…. a tranquilizing effect if taking properly, but quite a bit of fun if abused. Naturally, we abused them.

Many (40) years later as my generation’s parents started to die off, I got re-acquainted with one of my cohorts and one of my best friends as he returned to Quebec to attend to his ailing father. We had a great visit and his wife snapped a picture of us at one of the lookouts on the mountain that dominates the Montreal skyline. It was great to see him as we live very far apart. I didn’t know I’d be seeing him two weeks later when his father died and he had to fly back.

I attended the funeral with my buddies and it was great to get reacquainted and reminisce about things. Miss Duke was at the funeral as well, and I was delighted to catch up with her after four decades had passed. I was talking with her when my friend’s wife interrupted us to give me a gift that she had brought from Winnipeg. I unwrapped a coffee mug with the image of us that she had taken two weeks previously on it. Underneath the photo were three letters: BFF. I jokingly asked my friend’s wife if it stood for “Big Fat Fuckers”? Probably shouldn’t have done that in a church hall with my former English Teacher present…..

I actually thought nothing of it until the next day when my phone rang. “Ian!” barked the oh so familiar authoritative voice from a different age. “Miss Duke” I meekly replied, knowing I was in deep shit. She exclaimed:”I have a bone to pick with you”… I replied desperately: “I am so sorry to offend you by swearing yesterday….” She replied, cutting me off, “I don’t give a shit that you swore,” she continued “Don’t you Ever, EVER put yourself down!” Then she said “Now, please give me your mailing address”.

My eyes welled up as I hung up the phone, and I felt so amazed that she would take time out to guide me after all this time. It was a balm in a particularly hectic time in my life. I felt loved.

Three days later, a package arrived in the mail.
I received perhaps the best note anyone could receive from a mentor.

Along with the note, she sent photocopies of my correspondence with her from the mid-to-late seventies. She kept the originals!!!!! I read them aloud to my eldest daughter who was sick at the time. We both wept with joy.

January 2011

Dear Ian,
Your ingenious
ability to compose
brilliant thoughts,
always tempered by
your magnanimous heart,
Still (almost forty years later)
Takes my breath away!!

Enjoy your “diary”
Louise

framed

Which, in turn, inspired this poem….

Miss Duke

Duke had my back
Back in the day
When not much
Went my way

She stood up for me
When it counted
A teacher, a mentor
who really cared

She laughed at my
confounding questions
and deflected my
Angry Young Man
Into words and
Self-esteem.

Protected me
From the suits
And the jokers
who spat,
who never understood

She got me.
She had my back.
I wrote.
She wrote back.

Even now,
When fallow years
And other roads
Diverge,
She has my back
Still

Everyone should
Have a hero like
My Miss Duke.
I hope she knows.

As a postscript to this poem which I sent her, and may have slightly embarrassed her, She knows.

It is important to let people know how much they mean to you. It takes next to nothing to say kind, real, heartfelt things to make the world a slightly better place for people that matter.

The Sea

Uncanny
I hear waves 
at the seashore
in the blustery gusts
through the naked maples
and the whispering pines
that line my morning walk
into spring

a visceral melt
into the surf.

today would be 
a red flag day 
at the beach
waves too strong 
to tame

but to the trees
flexing overhead
it’s all the same

Charming And Trusting

As I lay sleeping just now 
A tiny force of life
Snuggled up beside me

His warmth And comfort
Charming and trusting
Brought forth
A visceral memory
Of contrast

My beloved Stardust
Charming and trusting
With the loving hands
Of my little family
On her thick black coat

The warmth of our love
Our hands, our streaming tears
To no avail

As she assumed
The temperature
of the now icy room

Roadwork

Even the detours have detours.

There is no such thing as a straight line anyway.

The GPS is hopeless as the geography

and the the topography morph away

the familar forms from fading memory

Where was I?

Why am I here?

What is to come?

All the big questions

brought on by roadwork

img_1224

Guilty Leisures

The moments between
and the things unseen .
the life unlived
when locked to the screen

isolation in density
neutral propensity
to fill all space
and avoid the intensity
Of talking to strangers

no wishes, or ideas
no solitary peace
a template for living
laid out by others
distraction without release

remote notions by strangers
Recycled ideas and
seemingly profound
Psycho babble philosophies
And jokes and memes

Creations unstarted
the Books unread
the beautiful things unsaid
Between living organisms
In public places.
The living dead

the private voices inside our heads
That lead to discovery
And art
muted by this digital dementia
This craving for entertainment
And distraction.

not to mention the postural disasters
challenges of future chiropractors
as the stooped screen tappers
can’t let anything go un glimpsed
As the scenery and the weather and
Chance encounters in the analog world
go unsiezed

Pan Of Dreams

I made Cherry Squares today

The legendary recipe

(Doubled) 

I only ate one (to test, it of course)

Enough calorific value 

To power a generator

Or keep me awake.

When we were kids

We could honk as many squares

As we could get away with 

Avoiding my mom’s wooden spoon 

Flailing at us like some 

Pathetic scarecrow

Doomed to failure.

I thought maybe the smell

Might bring her back

Or maybe the taste

Or the pride in seeing them disappear

Down the gullets of her loved ones.

Make this broken house a home again. 

My mum is gone now, almost two years

And that’s just her body. 

She started leaving several years before that.

Her Cherry Squares (the legendary ones)

Aren’t the same 

Without her around.

Now I can eat as many as I want,

And I only had one. I only wanted one

A lot less fun. A lot less magic.

A wee bit tragic. No strategy to beat

The sentry. No sentry, free entry

There they sit in the fridge

Waiting to be coveted

Waiting to be fought over

Waiting to be honked

Nobody here to honk them

It said “guard with your life”

On the recipe

Maybe that’s why i can’t sleep.

My family is all apart now. 

We come together for

Weddings and funerals

And talk on the phone

Less and less often. 

Too busy.

“If you bake Cherry Squares, maybe they will come”

Pan of dreams.

Better stolen 

Written in 2013 when things were darker.

Made them again today for my brother and sister

Family Recipe