Now in its 51st year of publication, West Coast literary magazine Event gave me a boost by publishing me with “six new poets” in the 1970s. I am just as pleased to be published by Event in 2023. Here are the new poems, which revisit my post-war Calgary upbringing and that time someone in England published my poems as his own. The first is a prose poem.
I don’t remember what movie we saw or whether it played at the Capitol or Palace, only that my sister and I arrived late, walked in partway, and stayed for the next showing. When we reached the scene where we came in, I was ready to go but she wouldn’t leave. So I stood by myself at the bus stop downtown on a Saturday afternoon, 1959.
I couldn’t tell how old the man was, the one I’d learn to call a drunk. Shaky on his feet, he squatted beside me on the sidewalk, staring into my eyes, almost crying. He put his arms on my waist and asked me to hold him, so I reached out.
Next thing, a uniform stooped over me,. A second cop pulled the man up by the collar of his dirty coat, asking me if I knew him and did he hurt me. Frightened now, but innocent, I shook my head. More questions followed, but what stayed in my mind ‒ what I talked about later ‒ was my ride home in a police cruiser, radar on the dash, siren wailing when we stopped a speeding motorcycle.
These memories have stayed with me ever since, specific and unchanging. But something is missing from the story, something everyone else could see but I could not: the blood-red birthmark splashed across my face.
Of course the police had to check, but maybe the man on the sidewalk was no molester but the one passer-by who looked at me and cared. Run in for a show of kindness. Maybe he was a war vet, as all men seemed to be, and the sight of me brought him flashbacks of ruined towns, crying children.
I didn’t wonder about any of this then, nor afterward for many years. My memories, if fragmentary, were secure. It was the summer a neighbour’s new Edsel parked in front of our house, and when the squad car pulled up behind it, our front door stood open. My sister called out that I was late for supper, but cobs of corn were boiling on the stove.
Sunday afternoons my father sometimes slept till five,
weary from a week of work.
Weary too from his year at the front
of the war that defined our world.
A survivor, one of the victors, he earned his rest.
Other Sundays he would lie fully clothed on his bed
and smoke. If I passed the door he would call me,
have me lie down beside him. In silence
we lay, his arm around my shoulder, breathing slow.
I inhaled when he inhaled, exhaled when he did,
trying not to breathe his smoke.
For a few moments, a meditation, we breathed together
and after the time it might take to fall asleep
I would rise and quietly leave him
smoking, perhaps remembering.
One week in summer, disinherited tribes
were allowed to camp as their ancestors did
where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet
and wear regalia for once-banned rituals.
Inside the stockade of Stampede grounds
we watched in awe as boys our age
arrayed in feathers and coloured beads
stamped and whirled to pounding drums
near the arena where, last winter,
between periods of a hockey game,
we Scouts performed the Musical Ride
on skates, weaving patterns on the ice.
Clumsy black costumes hung from our shoulders
like bumper cars with wooden horses’ heads,
but our privilege fit so well
we hardly knew we wore it.
When my poems resurfaced
under another man’s name
I found second selves in cyberspace.
In the midst of a bull market …
I ran the table …
scored from mid-field …
spent a night with the Stones …
between campaigns for Palestine …
Then these chilling words.
Last seen wading into the ocean
in boxer shorts on Christmas Eve …
On site after site the headlines read
Local man missing, feared dead.