dust & anger

this isn’t why my mother had me
rooms of dust & anger
but maybe my father did—
had me like you’ve been had
he was funny that way (ha comma ha)
whereas my mother
(the Casserole Goddess)
had me in innocence
raising me first with patience
then disappointment then
epiphany as the neighbourhood swayed
my father smoked
& the gallant automobiles of the sixties
slept at the curb &
much later when we spread her ashes
(always stand up wind when spreading your mother’s ashes)
watching what was left of me
she grinned in the trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Campbell Avenue

It was the day he died. Jake was in his wheelchair, with the beach nearby. He tried chewing a cheese sandwich with his poorly fitted dentures, holding it in a fingery hand, fat knuckled and shiny, blue veined with ridged fingernails, ready for clipping. He was ninety, his eyes failing pale and his once thick hair, a memory of primeval mirrors.

“Is it wrong to recall a shady path I hiked as a boy?” he said, his voice like a rainwater hiss. “It lead up a hill to the stand of maples. Not the small leafed maples from back east, that go red in the autumn. But the large leafed ones, that go yellow. Even those are rare out here. It was a summertime camp. The Church sent us there, to sleep in wasp infested cabins and have the Bible read to us.

“Is it wrong to talk about that?” said Jake. “Because the nurses at the Home say I talk too much.”

“No,” I said, wondering why. “It would be wrong to remember it silently.”

“Maybe I should just keep it to myself,” he said. “How the path twisted round an outcropping and later, a small pond. The leaves made these quick round and round gestures in the wind, some falling, dying early. Maples are that way, you know, letting good leaves fall too soon.”

“It’s remembering that makes conversation pleasant,” I said. “It pulls you out of yourself, like a weed.”

He gave up on the sandwich, and placed it on a knee.

“I swam in that pond. It was a few years before I went to war.”

“The war must have been terrible,” I said.

“It was. It was a special kinda hell, assigned to boys with hunger where they should have kept their common sense.”

It was a quieting comment, unintended but necessary. We listened to the waves on English Bay.

Then he said, “I remember how my father and I would take to the wharf at the foot of Campbell Avenue, and fish off the docks for bullheads. They rarely took the bait, though, because there were so few of them then. They were the only species that could make a living in the filthy water. The Depression had made even bullheads gamefish. But still, they were rare.

“So few fish meant that our excursions were more for boat watching. There was the Anna Marie, there was the Zephyr Sound. The docks sweat creosote in the summer. It was where fishing boats tied their lines, crews smoking and mending nets. Bait was loaded there. Occasionally, there was even a steamer moored to the opposite pier – massive compared to the seiners and trollers, as large as the Great Wall of China, crewed by foreign looking men, spitting tobacco into the ocean from high on deck, leaning over the rail to watch the wads of it go splash.”

“Vancouver was different then,” I said.

Jake stopped talking, and thought.

“It smelled like coal smoke and pulp mills,” he said, coughing, barely able to raise a hand to cover his mouth.

“One day,” he said, “we arrived on the docks to see the police pull a body out from between the boats. It was June, 1935; I was thirteen. We stood there watching, holding our fishing rods. After a while my father said, That’s Buzz Turko. He said it like Buzz was the risen Jesus, Himself — all wet and dead.

“A steamer crew from across the way leaned on the rail of their ship and laughed, slapping each other’s backs. For them, it was real entertainment.

“A loop went round his body and came up under his arms, and they used a fishing boat winch and boom to hoist him out. The water poured off of him at first, then he just hung there and dripped, while they waited for the Coroner. His head hung limp and he swayed on the line for a while, so I could see his silvery popping eyes. His skin was white, and there was a clean black hole in his forehead.”

“Who was Buzz Turko?” I said.

A gangster, my father whispered, fixes the horses, runs brothels, sells cocaine. Not anymore, said my ten year old mind. How he came to be in the water, I didn’t know. But Buzz was for the undertaker now, that much was for sure.

“The papers were smug about it — a bad guy gettin’ his. The funeral was grand, and the bullheads did without a free lunch. But Vancouver still smelled like coal smoke and pulp mills.

“Then the war came four years later and men fell like leaves, covering battlefields like a forest floor.”

on turning 54

perhaps I’ll find an unfound synonym for the past

a word the Mayans never chiseled into stone
or placed in a pyramid they abandoned
a word you have to take a number to see
a word without syllables that
cannot be calligraphised or
rest on the tip of your tongue

one you will say is not the word you’ve been looking for

a name for those who have arrived without forgetting
their ear against a flimsy wall
that keeps their occult absolute
and their secrets from spilling onto the floor

ageism perception scale

As my 54th birthday approaches, I can’t help but notice the new ways in which I’m perceived by the world. When people, young or old, bother to look, they seem to see me through a lens that I never thought possible. And though I find their biases offensive, it’s fun to play on them — the alternative is to weep. So, I have created the ageism perception table. I understand that I now occupy a middle area, age-wise; this is reflected here. If your eyes are as bad as mine, you can click the image for something more readable.

ageism scale

attic

I am my reflection in the glass
tall & standing in the middle of age
sure of the custodian who minds my years
when I am unconscious of their passing 

there is a box of things here
people in old fashions
items they wore to ceremony
in their flag and streamer decades they
said things then that
would sound familiar now
but it’s easier to believe they would not
that their words were absolute & that
mine are unfinished 

I feel the air move here in a way it
does not
in the rest of the house

 

 

 

erosion

Metaphor falls like snow in the night, and can’t be seen until we peek through the blinds in the morning. By then we’re surrounded by it. It’s just the way of things, and ever-linked to the universal law of irony: The easier it is to recognise a string of events, the less precisely its outcome can be known.

She’d been observing pieces of herself being worn away for years. Linearly the current of life, like a river, had flowed over her and converted her once stone solidity into a field of silt. The process began before she reached middle age, in her late thirties she reckoned. First her youth was stripped abroad and never seen again. Then her husband was exogenetically undermined by an undetected undercurrent, and she watched him carried downstream to a place named for the younger woman upon whom he’d settled. Later, as they matured and flourished, her children fashioned lives of their own and were scoured from her surface. And now, in her fifties, her employment had disappeared over night like a rock that had unexpectedly succumbed to a tiny trickle from some unknowable glacial source.

Now she stood on the street with her separation papers and severance, looking like an oddly sculpted rock formation in a desert, left behind by the sea that had shaped her. One could see her ages in the countable sedimentary rings. Realising this, she concluded that she’d never been igneous at all, but consisted of mineral and organic materials instead. She was an epoch of layers, dead things having fallen to the bottom. She considered this a trivial revelation, in light of things, like a newly discovered facial crease or line, and moved on.

At first, her state of unemployment lacked sovereignty and was without boundaries. It lacked governance and could not establish its own uniqueness. She sent out resumes, pursued hobbies and spent money. But no one hired women in their fifties anymore. Her friends became concerned. They told her to start a business or be witness to her own ruin. It was a strange recommendation. She’d never considered going into business before. Business was the domain of the bombastic and the self-affected, she said. She was too good to flog her wares, and she had, after all, no wares to flog.

That all changed with the impetuous purchase of a machine, one ubiquitous in the city. It was called a power-washer. She’d been persuaded by her desperate circumstance to buy a monster, a 13 horsepower monster. It delivered 3000 PSI maximum pressure, had 12 volt DC ignition with a diesel fired Beckett burner. It provided a maximum temperature of 190F, had adjustable pressure & temperature control, a pressure gauge, heavy formed steel body, high pressure hose, gun, wand and tips. It had a heavy duty welded wrap around roll cage, 360 degree burnable wheels with brake on-off switch, easy pull handle, OHV engine for high efficiency and reliability. It had a general triplex plunge pump with stainless steel valves and brass manifolds, a direct drive pump system and corrosion proof diesel fuel tank.

Realising that it wouldn’t fit into her Smart Car, she bought a brand new red Ford F-150 pickup truck. And she was in business.

But business is a hard thing in which to be. Customers do not assemble at one’s door anxious to buy. In fact, they tend to stay away in droves. She knew this to be true by the end of her first month as a self-employed power washing engineer. She went door to door sermonizing on the benefits of her services. She could use her monster machine to clean sidewalks, siding, decks and even windows. She could remove filth, grime, gum wads and stubborn stains. And she could do it for both domestic and commercial properties. “Just imagine,” she’d challenge potential customers. “Just imagine the gloriously unsoiled sparkle of your surroundings when I’m done.” Then she’d show them the before and after shots of her own home that she had power washed to gleaming perfection.

But the heinous truth was that no one could imagine a fifty year old woman operating a power washer. In people’s minds, the image of her small feminine form out front of their home or business pugnaciously scouring away the grunge in her yellow rubber suit was too much. She’d never considered this, of course. A friend explained to her that it was all a question of perception management. But this was a perception she couldn’t manage. Power washing, it seemed, was the province of men. Exclusively. And though this unorganised, but apparently universal, pattern of thought had the men’s room smell of male privilege and entitlement, it was, nonetheless, what she was faced with. Even the bookish City Hall clerk who issued her a business license smirked.

As the months passed and the bills accumulated, she looked at her newly obtained but unused machine and truck and became more and more depressed. People whispered and pointed. And when she drove round the city, she saw men with power washers fully employed. Soon, her depression turned to bitterness. And being a woman of action, she began to plot.

She knew the potential of her leviathan machine. She’d gone all out in purchasing it. And when she looked out on the pitiless city she now hated, the city that had expedited her own personal erosion, she knew what she had to do. It was a small city, after all. How long could it take?

She began on a Monday morning at the western edge of town, using water from available faucets when she could and drawing from a tank in the back of her pickup truck when no faucets could be found. She set her machine to its highest pressure setting and went to work, knowing that with concentrated effort, she could use her machine to blast and erode the city out of existence.

She began with the sidewalks first, then the roads. They soon disappeared under the explosive influence of her high pressure nozzle, and were flushed away in streams of silt. Then she concentrated on structures, the houses and high-rises, department stores and business towers. She undermined them and they collapsed at her feet. The occupants screamed in terror and ran, gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair. The chemical and mechanical bonds holding the aggregate of the city together dissolved at her command, and she felt the ecstasy of her vengeance. When the police arrived, she aimed her hose at them and they too were flushed away forever. When the Mayor and Aldermen approached to plead with her, she blasted them into non-existence. It was only when her six year old granddaughter arrived to beg her to stop that she paused and thought. But just long enough to insist that the precocious child and her family get out of the city before it was entirely wiped off of the map.

It took her three days to reduce the city to a sludgy landscape of muddy deposits and puddles. Only she, in her rubber suit, and her machine were left. She loaded it back onto her pickup truck and drove away, unable now to remember where anything had once stood in the new wasteland. And as she did, she thought of the transitory nature of the satisfaction that comes from impetuous behaviour. But she only thought of it briefly.