Reminiscence

Have I Ever Told You About My Ghost Sister?

Have I Ever Told You About My Ghost Sister?

When we were young
Mom would ship us off
to spend the summer
in Newfoundland for what
must have been her
own personal bit
of relief as well.

I loved these trips.
They meant I was without
a bedtime because I
had always stayed up late
but grandparents never anticipate
their home becomes the
largest open cage for the most curious
of child-mice, and I discovered
in those summers, my love for late night TV.

Cheers was still in its glory,
Diane’s dress was pure 80’s conservative,
and Sam’s hair was still flush with colour,
even Cliff had hopes he wouldn’t die
only having lived with
his mother, who was the great
and the marvellous Jessica Tandy.

It was after 1984,
the summer when Rebecca,
as though signalling a shift
in the public conscious,
took over when Shelley Long mistook
her popularity for greatness.

I remember because I hated her at first.
She didn’t read like Diane.
She was all about money.

That was the year I met my Ghost Sister,
and just the once.

During the day I had
left my model glue under the
kitchen table where I spent many
of my days, back when being under a table
was not merely acceptable but in fact
the greatest place one could occupy in the house.

Under the table was where
you got all the best stories.

I heard my Aunt Jane tell Nan
over Tetley and Camel’s, about
her husband’s gall-stones and
how it was “like a golf ball coming
through a garden hose”, an image I
have never forgotten either when
watering the lawn or seeing a second
of golf on TV before shuddering
changing the station to, hopefully,
a pre-Becca episode of Cheers.

My grandmother had a small fit
over my younger sister, a creature
I had decided was mostly a waste of time,
except when I managed to get
a moment alone and made a grotesque,
zombie face, until she wept, and then
adults came and nobody understood why.

She had somehow gotten the cap off
the model glue, proving she was not
completely a pile of baby fat and stupid,
and was digging right into it like it was
plum sauce, her chubby fingers the chicken nugget,
and my Nan made sure I understood, in typical
“I don’t believe a child can be too traumatized” fashion,
that I had almost poisoned my sister, to death.

That night, she came to me in a moment of lucidity.
I had never seen a ghost, so it was exciting before
it became completely terrifying,
when she pointed toward me, as if to say

“soon I will be able to speak,
and your faces of zombies
will be known to the world”

before she literally tipped over,
sideways, like she was cardboard
that had been held up by a gust of wind,
and her phantom-form mist-and-blue light,
evaporated into the floor,
presumably to the downstairs of the house,
to watch something that was on TV,
or to finish eating my model glue,
and I knew then, even without being
aware of it fully,
that I loved the terror of my imagination,
and that I only had a few good months left,
before Sis learned to talk,
and then,
the gig was up.

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The Gas Station Angel

Hell exists. I have seen it. It is contained in a stretch
of about 6 city blocks in Downtown Vancouver where
people twitch out like glitch background characters in
a sandbox game, every third vehicle is law enforcement or paramedic.

I would get up at 6 am and take a bus there, with the other
Suckers and suits. By the time the shift ended I was sweaty,
and had my fix of junkies for the week, no matter what time it was.
I had learned empathy from their ashtray faces, their rusty chain link arms.

Horror is not a genre to them. It’s a state of being,
Wedged between “waking” and “high again”.

She always came mid-day and always wore a cheap green coat
I was sure she bought at the Value Village next to us, along with
the strange costume bangles she wore to compliment her over-applied rouge.

It was a wind breaker, wrinkled as though left a hundred times
after rain-walks when she has forgotten her umbrella again,
and again, and now the thing was as withered as her
vein splayed hands that count loonies on the glass counter as I smile.
She was an Irish princess to someone once, and Hastings a booming community.

She looked like Jessica Tandy (whom I secretly teared
up over at 12 in Fried Green Tomatoes and feel far
less ashamed now than I did for it, thankfully.)

She would come in and buy these French Vanilla
powdered machine drinks, made buy some massive
and dark corporation with little care for the former
Princess of and Irish Poet, nor Hastings or its glitch mobs.

Sometimes her husband had a chance before work
(his suit and tie never perfect, him always mildly agitated)
and would walk the four blocks from their cramped, dim- lit apt.

I know it because one day, much to the anger of my boss,
I walked her back there when she all of a sudden, having left
and gotten ten feet, all of a sudden perked her head up like
a Scottish Terrier hearing some inaudible sound, seemed altogether
lost and out of herself. She did seem off to me earlier, but
I hadn’t noticed, busied by a slew of usual as usual.

The Greek Goddess I never had the courage to chat with
except to learn she worked in “publishing”.

The one we called “Mr. Chu” whom was the one homeless
one allowed free loitering-reign in the store (a common practice
I noticed in many stores throughout the city, something I always
rationalized was both for Karma and a handy witness to deter or
in the chance report malicious behavior, of which this neighborhood
could provide enough for a thousand gas stations and Mr. Chu’s)
of course all he ever wanted was the washroom key, he was
granted microwave access and spent hours stood at a lottery table
that nobody but him seemed to use, and scribble childish pictures,
occasionally laughing to himself, causing me to smile and stop.

The man I called “The Gambler” because he ritualistically
came in 3 times a day and dropped hundreds on Keno,
and I decided must work in some type of stereo business
or manufacturing, because his hands were clean but he was
always in a denim jacket and smoked cigarillos and what
the fuck did I know at 21 anyway you’re thinking and you are right,

I didn’t know shit.

But when I saw her there, lost, I couldn’t not walk her home,
carry the drinks (her quiet seemed to testify to accidentally
pouring a second but having been too embarrassed to say.

She had the sweetest frailty, the bluest eyes, long and straight
and still mostly blonde hair and I thought, the slightest lilt in her voice.
She mentioned having been confused, and when she realized I was
listening she calmed down pretty quickly, and we reached her apt door,
and I even came in and set down the syrupy, leaky mess of the cups.

Seeing she was safe, turning to leave, I will always remember that the
entire place was bathed in yellow light, and dozens of paintings had over
taken the entire place, everywhere space permitted they were jumping out;
each one of a sunet, or a valley, or an ocean and Cliffside

Some were quite good, but the ones closer to me revealed someone else
had painted them, more child-like, less aware.
The suns looked like burning sunflowers in the sky, the clouds and cliffs
often shared commonality to the point of bleeding into one another.

She had been slowly giving over to fantasy, as all around her the old streets
were filled with anomalies, and walking back to a reprimanding boss,
the sun cutting through the high trees, to Victoria and Hastings,
I knew there were only so many canvas’ and pages to fill before
we all end up negotiating the dark like the Irish Princess or Mr. Chu,
and all we get is now, now is heaven- now is West Hastings, clean
and ready to greet us each day.

“Epic Fantasy, Schmepick Scantasy”

Epic Fantasy Schmepick Scantasy,

give me the summer of our love,
and I will forever me oval faced,
pancake iris’d, enveloped by the arrows
and pointed spears and deadly artefacts
of your bad, bad love. I can get back to it,

but as of yet I am always confined
to the scrying scope of a neighborhood crow
who took up territory a block over,
by the used car lot and corner store,
that same hot, hot year. Once in awhile

I can see a glimmer of your head from
the strict hedges, unmistakable curls
no less telling than the very fingerprints
on your charcoal stained fingers. Once I heard
us make love, me and my cackling scrawny

soul’d salut, all bark and very little, limpid bite.
You, turning out the kids from the back porch.
Walking out into the summer when all
the lady bugs were mating, like jazz-dust
shook from the blanket of the night, trailing
around your vixen, freckle crescent smile.

Caw.

Your orange zest and patchouli and acrylic paint.

Caw. Caw.

The sound of your bangles smashed against
the august humidity of midday.

Caw.

And then I’m gone again over the downtown core,
past the burger stand and the grocery store and the
tacky Chinese restaurant awning, where some angry
Chef tries to beat me to death for shitting on his clean,
recently de-shit-if-ied walkway, so I caw again and swoop.

You can keep your epic fantasy series.
I’m making my own.

Poem for the Harvey Danger song, “Radio Silence”

I don’t know that I am anything
but a Frankenstein robot, poet model,
a heart made of sound bytes
and those parts of speech
from my better friends and loves.

I don’t know that I’m not doomed
to be like
“the lo-o-o-oonie up in Togus”

I’m afraid not of patterns in the
program or the walls, but the
Dead Literary floor that’s turned
your average neighborhood underground
into a snotty man’s hyper-ceiling.

I think it’s a little demeaning to
expect your audience to know what
you’ve been feeling when it’s
layered so heavy beneath
your “intensity” which I think
we can easily ascertain as just
some assumption of superior rank

in a non-existent illuminati
of time immemorial. You think you
have the prose of an aural aurora borealis?

Maybe so, but what’s its function aside
from your peers and a few couture critics?

I link my day to a page and afterwards,
scour with most basic set of senses,
my surroundings Are the next sentence,
line, next moment, next kiss, write, next,
dream, write wake next, sip cackle groan vent, next,
write, next.
and it just goes on like this.

If you like dj Bl3nd maybe
you’ll like my schizoid-script.

I beat the beat beaten until
Broke, and beaten, got out-spoken
and beat the silence back that beat him!

Let us beat the wool
with universal words
like Ya Basta!

And while the inner circle
of finely crafted naval gazing
fills in the required allotment
to be considered a kind of
crafty craftsmen,
help the others row the
Drunken Boat ashore.

“I get out of bed like Rimbaud,”

(Anything else you pay more)

The new words will be spoken
and will resound with a bored thud,

A Shock-Shock-Shock you
(Yeah-Yeah-Yeah)
when you see they’re just
the same primary colors’.

Poem in the Key of Shadow

I call him my pharmacological doppelganger.
He is the me I would have certainly been,
had I not jumped from the rooftops of my own
semi-serious conditions, to the streets of our
hand written to chalky wall poems.

I call him the one I am glad to have avoided,
the one whose parents must have cared so much
they made too great a movement toward the shelves

at the behest of all the recent (best selling) authors,
and got him all plump on the pills, all pale and low-pulse,
distant and dreary. He peak’s at you, a puppy under a blanket

of hoodies for bands he’ll never get a chance to see live,
and from the perforated palace of a hundred Star Wars
side-quest novels that keep his imagination resuscitating
before being re-submerged, over, and over and over.

But he avoided all the bad trips, and all the near-od’s.
He doesn’t have a single scar on him.
He’s the perfect model for how it pays to plug

the heart up and batten down the eye-lashes with
sleepy time pills and hell, what was this world going
to do with a quiet, shy type but turn him into the new
poster child for disaffection anyway?

There aren’t enough Nirvana albums yet?
We haven’t lost enough of the pumping heart of
Eliot Smith? Does Buckley wash up again?

The cure for life is quiet. It will always look
better on paper and in theory. If there is any problem
with him now, it’s the “solutions” effect.

Cue theme of The Twilight Zone. PS,
I call him my shadow.

Meanwhile, Back at the Glass Cabin…

(for R.E. and M.W.)

Up until now, I only understood my old friend in passing. I mean I knew his type of (or rather what I until now regarded to be) his type of cynic. Or even a passive aggressive way of dealing with the acceptance of legions upon legions of things one knows today that readers of Dickens’s serials didn’t likely have to bear the weight of. I’d get drunk and pick arguments that had no real conclusion, knowing he would say the same things he said, and I would say the things he said. And I would feel smug, and then shameful for thinking that of someone so important to me. There are certain voices in your life that might take you a decade to hear properly, but when you do you have one of those synchronistic clashes of a bunch of things like at the end of Signs. Except creepier because I actually do bear resemblance to the scariest 2 seconds of an alien apparently, ever.

“It’s always been bad. Have you read the Canterbury Tales? Shit has always been bad, but I believe people will figure it out. They always have.”

Then I would go on about some new internet sensation, something about Monsanto or Bees (but nothing so ridiculous as the last parts of The Happening), and we’d always end up at the same seeming loggerhead. Recently I found the center of that kernel budding in me, and much like the cocoon-gestation state for the baby face biters of Ridley Scott’s far superior, (pre-Prometheus puritan right here) Alien/s series, the early life of what I will call the “letting go of fictional friction” because I see now that is what it all is. Fiction.

Even if the government is out to get you, what good is it to run around like Charlie Sheen with your crack cut off?

Our fear for the future is a frictional fiction, something we invent to justify whatever we need to, in order to survive in body and mind. This shouldn’t be mistaken for the real kind of change people pursue as a result of the need for change, like reducing ones footprint or recycling (unless you worship at the church of Pen & Teller’s bulls**t) or any number of proactive tings people are doing in hordes nowadays, like the kid in Pay it Forward Because people can do things in a calm way, a collective way, after being presented with facts and proof, and logical and sane practices in presenting them. But nobody ever changed the world with worry or the worrying of all around them. No matter of scare-mongering or chicken little-fretting ever really amounts to anything, except antagonizing one’s community. State your concerns, write them out, act them out, film them or sing them or scream them to the nearest mountain (like all those terrible Scripturama’s, or even the occasional gem), and let it be, like the song, the sentiment and the necessary sacrament to the acceptable social cues and norms.

Because otherwise you’re just waiting for someone to teach you a similar lesson. Like at the end of Rudy when the coach got the ole “we are all Spartacus” treatment. Nobody left in the Western hemisphere is going to benefit from being grabbed by the proverbial shoulders’ every day and called a “sheeple” told the sky is poison and the government is under their boogeyman beds (like Howie Mandel before the germ thing in Little Monsters).

You know what? People need solutions. People need a hundred more Venus Projects before one finally sticks, they need engineers busting their assess and they need to understand how rigged the democratic system is. They can learn all this in morsel like bits of earth shattering info, but I have yet to see anyone in my life take to the kind of fervent, snake-oil hucksterism of most extremist conspiracy nuts (Alex Jones, et al.) when they pound the same points in daily, in some effort to – for all I can seem to interpret- ascertain some level of control in their lives. Join Greenpeace. Sell your car. Dig wells. Plant trees. Garden. And yes, collectively mobilize. But there’s no need for Jerry Maguire tactics. “Gee you know, that maniac in the street daily screaming about chemtrails dear, I think we should really heed his prophesies of doom, don’t you?” – said but nobody rational, ever.

And I for one stopped reading a bulk of the more preposterous links. I don’t benefit from that kind of hyperbolic mindset even if its 80 percent true. Why? It’s gaudy, that’s why. Yeah I said it, I like my philosophy like I like my women, presented clearly and cleanly in fresh, and inviting formats. I don’t go for the bottom of the barrel assholes like David Icke and Jones et al. I’m sorry. That’s not how you win friends, and it is only how you DISASSOCIATE good people form learning anything. So from now on I read nothing that’s hackneyed and ridiculous, unless it’s my own poetry during the dreadful next day scan, like buddy with his Kublai Kahn in Pandemonium.  If it has some level of professionalism and doesn’t simply reiterate the Alex Jones “They Are All Part of One Grand (I’m kind of off my meds so I see grander patterns than usual) Insidious Plot of Illuminati”, then I just scroll on, brothers and sisters. Unless it’s Unsolved Mysteries, I have a soft spot for that level of “professional” terribleness it imprinted in childhood. Perhaps that’s why I have trouble taking people seriously that present facts like Sean Penn high on blow in Hurly Burly mid-rant.

Old friend if you are out there, know that I acknowledge it. You were right. It’s never THAT fucking bad. People will rally, and shit will get fixed, or it won’t. No need getting out of your groove over it, right? Besides how else are we ever going to get to see a post-apocalyptic world where you can buy peoples experiences on the black market like Strange Days, if it doesn’t keep on truckin’ right? We already have Juliette Lewis primed as a singer for it too…

I guess what I’m saying is, I would rather talk movies, than hollah at the masses so often, they fail to listen when I finally do, Marvel and Greek God’s forbid, say something. Leave the slaughterhouse to the task of setting about chickens sans top, now and again. It’s been happening since Chaucer and will long after “Mr. Vickers” aka “The Heff” aka “Ginger” et al.

Dedicated to the Spirit of Film Friendships,

Namely Mr. Ebert

(and the sock puppets formerly known as Theodore and Roosevelt)  

The Rest & The Peace

On my tombstone
there will not be
a history
of my online debates
or a recent perusal
of my playlist or
the movie’s I was obsessed
with and there will not be room

for all the books I loved and that
is because I want my stone to
have a list of about a dozen
people I loved, trusted and learned
from in this life.

There will be some left out,
because I plan on going out poor
unless published, the stone will be
thin I imagine but my point is

treat your life like it’s going to
have about a stones worth
of space to fit in the immense
amount of booze you drank

or the many many lays you were
a part of or the jobs and roles and
dignify your every moment with
something, somehow,
more sacred than a
all the times you beat or
were beaten in a video game.

Or how quickly you got the new ifucktoy
in contrast with the other kids
or the salad you made from

the self garden you cooked from the
more the more ethical choice
in your yearly struggle to out-hippie
the last ones on the street.

Give it the chance to be a list of love.
Or fuck it, don’t.

I could really care
less,
but that would take effort,
and like most,
I save it for the few
who ill take a piece
or two or will take a
piece of me when they
too leave this digital,
fleshy, omniverse.

To be honest somewhere between
year 8 of the 9/11 discoveries and
analysts disputed claims and aliens
on the history channel and reality tv,
I just decided to say fuck it,
and accept one very important thing.

Nothing is True anymore, if it ever was,
except love. Use it or lose. Abuse it or screw
it to the wall like another bragging right.

It’s there to help or haunt.

And yet no amount of it is going ot do any good
if its wasted on shit that goes nowhere.

So keep your list short.
And keep those folks close.

And you might just get lucky,
And round out with a full dozen.

Strangers Follow Us

We are the haunted few still
undistracted entirely by screen
or pandemonium or dance, and the
stranger’s have always followed us.

This bus I was on once was
overrun with their
loud, obese stories and I
could do nothing to avoid our
imminent collision.

On my left was a young girl and
her “old man”. They
were some of the first junkies
I ever met. I was intrigued, but
wary also. I wouldn’t be taken
on my first trip out West.

I had months of notebooks and
all intents to make my mettle as per
that great Ontarian ritual-voyage
to BC. I would smoke weed and
write of all the things done wrong
by the world to the artist.

I was basically full of shit and
sure of its value to the world.

These two were heading out of
a long haul doing rehab for family
members piece of mind, all the time
planning their Bonnie & Clyde escape.

I ended up seeing them on the streets
periodically as I job hopped like some
come from away or illegal, barely keeping
some jobs long enough to take a second pay.

Behind me and junk row
was a strange solitary girl
dressed in a mix of rag and garbage bag
and patches of herself seemingly just
flesh with marker or paint.

She became if you haven’t guessed yet,
an early lesson in the unpredictability
of cross country busing,
to this younger, yours truly.

Somewhere between the beginning and
the long anticipated end of the prairies,
it started:

a noise so jarring and yet unmistakable
no matter how inexplicable it seemed,
began to emanate from the last row of
the slow going people’s Greyhound,

like a roll of tape being constantly ripped
off about 4 feet of itself at a time in well
timed, 5-8 second intervals, for at least
a half an hour although it could’ve been longer.

I slowly peeped my head up and looked
to see what was going on, since others
ahead were doing the same to me .

And there she was. Taping up her feet and
upper leg. By now she had socks of tape.
Teen junky’s Old Man got up and threatened

her, I want to say with a knife but I think he just
smelled bad and go close to me and I code him
as more harmful, more foul than he really was.
I do remember clearly the way he said. Each. Word.

“If.You.Pull.Another.Strand.Off-”

And I remember how the bus driver,
stirred to action by the Jerry Springer Show
brewing on his back rows, pulled off to the side
of the road somewhere just outside Canmore
and, making his way past each now spellbound

and rubber necked passenger, found and for some
reason I still don’t quite understand, assumed
we were all together; the greasers and the socials

and me, a young bullshit scribe, now admittedly a
little petrified at the prospect of being left in a strange
and uncertain land with such savages. I had to make it
out west, I couldn’t let it end like this.

“I have no idea who this nut bag or these
Freaks are Sir! I’m not with them!”

“I don’t give a shit, all of you make
me stop the bus again, you’re all out.”

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful.
I stayed awake in fear of reprisals against me,
besides who wants nightmares of being tied
up in tape and poked with needles when you can
scribble your first poems on British Columbian soil,

off to find some new strangers to pry another
poem from.

Losing the Teacher

I’ve always been quiet, and even more so scrawny, even frail in form, and most especially so when in that most wretched and inspiring, that most depleting and renewing of places; the institutions of education and vocation. I make this distinction not to inflate the story herein; for be assured it is a short and narrow version of a variety of moments. I have always been a thin fellow, and at 30 years and just barely entering my 3rd year of university, (and what was incidentally my first since leaving St. Mary’s in Halifax to come home, to Memorial), I was just a little less so on both accounts. I was still in that earliest of stages to the campus: when I entered the tunnels I wasn’t sure where I would end up, when I wanted to go to the Library from anywhere, I walked above ground no matter what the weather…it was…trying. Instinctually, I took a day before classes started and mapped out my class locations- I was after all, a two year vet to the game and the race.

His class was three of my mornings, every week, earliest of them too. Anyone who has had a morning class knows how debatable mere attendance, let alone the gods forbid, attention, can be at these classes. But I love short stories, and from the start I enjoyed His lectures both for their literature, and his personal asides. There is not even really much mystery to why the fondness was so instantaneous either, I hate to disappoint, although in fairness: I warned you this story was short. It’s really hard not to be content with a teacher who at once evokes figuratively and literally, the reincarnation of Santa Claus with white beard, round face, blue eyes and even pot belly, and in temperament were like the kind sort of grandfather everyone idealizes someday. He even had a couple blue wiry veins along the nostrils, like mine did, although I suspected for different reasons.

It helped that the stories were so good I think; Poe’s “House of Usher”, “Sonny’s Blues”. “The Lottery”. Oh and that one where the captain watches over his men in a boat after their ship is sunk. That was one of my favorites. When He read passages from the story He got into the roles of the different men, and even waved when reading the part about the useless priest on shore. I got a real kick out of him I must say. It wasn’t one particular thing he said or did either; it was the overall way he said it all. He was almost…sly the way he snuck knowledge into stuff. Took a little while, see, because as I said I have long been thin and quiet, and even after you age some, the rooms of uniform chair-desks, still have a way of…quieting you. The room, and my foolish choice of spots in it- they kept me uncomfortable for most the semester. But I took solace, perhaps especially so, in the Grand-Pa-Santa performed tales all the same.

Front Row, top left had corner of the class. It’s been one of my preferred seats for some time now; you are far enough away from most the students to avoid most eyes, and when the time nears you can make a decent bolt around whoever threatens your anxiety-like, sweat-drenched, and itchy exit.  All because of one unseen, but major issue which quickly, ahem…’arose’ that first morning. I hadn’t really considered, and it worsened as class progressed with such steadiness that I actually began to clear a course of each one based on my state of discomfort- each state that worsened told me we were one step closer to the climax, then the denouement, and finally, His final remarks on the story. My release from this mental ambrosia, this physical hell. You see, the entire circumference of the left bank of our class, our troop toward understanding- our exile from darkness to lights unfathomable- was window…window that called the heat of earths mother, a window that was directly and forevermore, facing the god-damn sun.

It was not even an issue for much of the left bank of the institutional trench; it was just the top corner of the teachers desk – which incidentally He never once sat at, for obvious reasons standing centre, in the beloved and cool shade of the other 80 percent of the warzone of quiet ignorance and brilliant conjecture of young minds, which somehow surmised my place in the whole of things- skinny, quiet, and usually somehow on the fringe, mature student in the hottest little corner of the room, wondering on that fateful morning when silence killed the battlefield all over- even (and be assured to my shock) my own lips couldn’t find it- the name of the town or state or city of the days short story. And there he was, finally exasperated with months of only a couple students answering the bulk of the questions, and ready to blow his top. They had finally done the impossible with their silence: they had broken the sunny demeanour and light hearted kindness of Grampa Santa. But first, a lesson in the history, short as it had been, yet excruciatingly long for me, of that very quiet front.

As established, I was older than most 2nd years, having doddled a bit with my course load and not entered University until 27. And I have always been thin, and quiet. And fair skinned. One might even hazard the term, “red haired and freckled”. There we have my state, and of course here we are  at my predicament; the sunny corner of short story class taught by coolly shaded Grand-Pa Santa, who just happened to be a naturally gifted teacher of one of  my fondest subjects, as though the torture of basking in the rising sun, magnified by double pained Atlantic ocean style windows. Already born quiet and thin, it seemed my lot to waste away in sweat during what should have been a joyous traversing of the hollows of literature. I should have been as free as that biplane pilot in the Alice Munro story, but instead I was stranded, with only one calming source of hope- the man himself.

Every once in awhile his Newfoundland accent washed up, quite intentionally mind you, and yet he didn’t do it haphazardly. It was so sparse, see.  And He used it to both drive a point home and restate a previously “properly enunciated” version of the same sentence.

“So…what’s ‘dis all about”. “Now, what in god’s name is Poe on about with dis passage”.

That was part of the charm I guess. He already emulated Gramps, now he occasionally became the old man when he was on the piss. For like Him, Gramps could manage mainland elocution just fine- if he chose to do so. Unlike many younger teachers, he didn’t waste time trying to win the affections of his students either. And to me that was respectful of him, the profession and us most importantly- to be an ambassador of learning, a Captain of the written word as it were, this is an honourable title in my opinion, and it’s one that needn’t wilt or waiver in the face of modern youth’s expectations of “new wave” teaching. Rather than capitulation, we got these wonderfully crafted excursions into the jungles of each authors mind and life- we became enthralled by osmosis- myself perhaps also some photosynthesis- of being in his well laid path. We were safe from many things, though. We wouldn’t be spoiled. Fooled into thinking it was easy to navigate a great short story. Imbued with the notion that stand up comedy and lecturing university are one in the same. No Sir.

We were going to learn the easy way- which is to say the only way, that is, the Right one.

He was never forceful, quite the opposite in fact. He would ask and re-ask and re-ask questions, never a hint of stress level raised, never any indication, save the accent coming out in planned, perfect intervals for humour and emphasis that anything changed in him despite its obvious challenge. Especially when it was place names and easy stuff like that: stuff that was on the first damn page. But he didn’t. And I guess that’s where I found some recompense for silently melting to death in the top left hand corner of the chemistry building at memorial, those September days. To raise that arm and quietly break the calm more than usual. Because I was about to experience one of the quietest semesters…of my life. Perhaps, I thought, squinting one day with arm raised so as to both block sun and grab His attention, of all time.

Yes ,it was That quiet. Young people today, I remember thinking, are just quieter I guess. Tweet, Text, Gaming Online. It’s all very semi-social, and often with the graces of distance between target and shooter, talker and listener, teacher and student, to wit. But even by that standard, this class was a trench of young kids yet unable to even raise the white flag of uncertain hypotheses. It got so that each time I raised my holy thin branch of relief, I would first look back to the class and just make sure I wasn’t being too eager. I’m no greenhorn remember. Never once did it occur that way. Never. Once.

Maybe it was because he was so kind, the kids could sense it as a way to subvert the morning and half sleep through his lectures, my answers, the wind whipping around the curtain in the left corner of the room, the only redemptive burst of cool in the sun-lit area, which was two desks away from me at all times. And not a word mentioned that wasn’t dragged out, often with such reluctance He almost had to do it himself. It was a horror-show some mornings. If I had read the wrong story or not had a chance to re-read the one we were covering, it could get truly atrocious, even gory.

But then one day the impossible happened. Nobody could answer the first and most basic question of the story. I had been under incredible stress that week, my best friend and fatherly-influence, my grand, grand Grampa…had taken a stroke. Then a second. Now he was hospitalized. He was tied up so he wouldn’t continually rip out his own feeding tubes, with his gnarly, bar-fight-fed fists. He was 76, and still drank a flask or a half in the evenings with is best friend “Prince William”, a black lab “left on his Texada Island property by some crazy old goat lady down the way. He whined all night in my boot on the porch II wouldn’t look at em at first.” Mick had just had the second of what one day would be all three of his sons, all to Heroin and her varying side-effects; OD’s, HIV-related pneumonia. Found inevitably in parks and dirty hotels. Eaten by a war unacknowledged.  He had been my confidante for a decade or so of close conversations and laughter and home cooked meals, and now, he was one foot in the grave and refusing anyone outside his own kids the chance to visit.

And here was this man, who by all accounts had given it the best fight a man can give in the battle for young minds’ attention and, god forbid, the insight of that holiest, most divine thing: an individual thought. A step. It was all he had begged for, just one foot gained. It wasn’t as though he’d expected us to win the war. Just take a yard. Even a mile. And all that withstanding, if nothing else couldn’t we please Name the god fer’saken town b’y da jeeesus. This was late November now. We had been to the House of Usher, we had survived the sinking of the Lusitania with Stephen Crane and we had even worn the smothering sad injustice of Gogol’s Overcoat, and now we would fumble and break the perfect demeanour near the end, hung up on a story I can’t even recall, though I am sure it was either Cheever’s The Swimmer or Carver’s Cathedral. I mean these were modern stories, not like Poe with the weighty tongue of old gothic- and yet I couldn’t summon the answer. And he finally broke. The man who had been by all intents my Grand-Santa, smiling back at you when you asked who is speaking in A Clean, Well-Lit Place, smiling when he agreed about the ending of “The Yellow Wallpaper”, smiling and kind despite the artillery of silence and more silence daily aimed toward him, despite all the eyes blankly unable to mouth even a guess and left him to lean on even the hope of one- had finally had enough.

“Well.”

“Well I Just Can’t Believe It. I mean come ‘Awn guys”

“This is ‘tree months IN”

“Does ANYone know the setting? It’s not a big question here guys… ”

I think of him now with the other running list of them. The good ones; Mr. Pardo and the voice’s he used to do on the side for his friends and neighbours answering machines. He decided to quit the job eventually and do voice work full-time.  Mr. Hadwyn; taught me the word ambrosia, in the context it was the word he used when he had to smooth something over with the missus- “just compare her to ambrosia, the fruit of the gods gentleman.”. Ms. Macdonald who wanted my short story to get published way back in grade nine. And Mrs. Kelland later in adult high- the one who he held all other people to as a sort of moral and human meter-stick. Who attended my first big readings. The ones who should never have had to run out of patience. Not because of that gawd fe’ersakin quiet, of all ‘tings.

I was perfectly out of place to see it all; I was older, I was 3rd year, I was the guy who’d deluded himself out of adolescence with delusions of being the next Jack Kerouac or London, but ended up looking more the Burroughs, or worse, Huncke. I could see the literal unfolding of the silence over just a single gap of time – a decade and a half or so- from my earliest years as the tall lanky ginger, wise-cracking but otherwise shy kid. In high school I don’t really remember cell phones. Just weed and hacky sack, pool halls and public parks. Now a hush comes over the titillated mind. The over-twittered, under-spoken. A nation of shyness to hold us back.  And the last few good people aghast at the funeral of conjecture, of discussion, of thought- paid to try to hustle a few marks into an average, nothing more than monks robbed of their patience, hope. Passion.

And yet, by the next class, his temper returned to the infinitely Buddha-like smile and, as though Cheever’s Swimmer, half –senile, or as even the rider who manages to escape Usher- Mr. B- made his way through the trenches of quiet once more…a few good hands to aid, be assured, but amidst the fiery true force of a silence just the same.

By the time I lost Mick, exams had rushed past. I wasn’t really there anymore though. I was finally making my way from the hellish prism of that vantage; court side to the slaughter. It didn’t even occur to me until shortly before sitting down to provide my portion of the events leading up to December 8th that he was technically only a few parking lots away the whole time. My grandfather, who hated more than anything the thought of dying for years in a hospital, visited by those he hated but loved. He had refused me admittance after the second stroke with the spastic waving of clawed hands, a childish face according to one family member, who in her usual crudeness had remade the sour pus and claw outside Carnell’s Funeral Home.

The entire time I was writhing in wonder and later despair and being powerless in his end, he had made his way closer still to my discomforted place.  Whereupon he was eventually sedated and restrained after several, quite violent and swift attempts to dislodge his air tube- he finally followed that hellishly bright light.

Mick loved a few things enough to break his staunch agnostic approach to life. “I say a prayer still for my boys dead and buried” his eyes red each time they came up, “and my old man.” (his father, a veteran at 15 – notoriously declared himself the youngest Newfoundlander to enlist, lying about his age at 14 to escape the coal mines of Glace Bay)

He loved to drink, he loved his dog, he loved a woman once, and he loved to tell and almost as much hear a great story. Maybe I am misguided in my detail of his last attempt then; perhaps; hearing the silence broken by the voice of a clearly trained professional in the trade of storytelling and re-telling and re-telling again – perhaps ole’ skipper wanted just to get a better seat for the show!

To sneak one last laugh out of it all! To be away from dat god forsaken hospital. There’s a story yet to be told. It’s a good one, about two atheists who end up praying on each other’s souls, in the end.

She Has You

She is the one that first caught me.
The half human, half faerie half witch.

She listened to Tool and
she knew what am Athame was,
always buying books written
by women with strange pseudonyms
like Raven Moonchild.

This weird stuff was always happening.
Once she was saying the word paint
As I fished out a magnetic word from
Its frigid pagination into my typewriter,
the very word she’d said, and

“she had a dream about it all” and
“I was never going to be rid of her”

and “I have another inside me”
and “I’ve only shown it to you and
the clergy. ”

I haven’t got the heart to leave anyone
Or go on or forward someday unless
I sit for a minute and consider her
diamond-like personalities.

I had no idea what feminism was then,
but when I read “The Yellow Wallpaper”
I thought of that summer, (just before
“Kid A”) when we lived downtown
and she found this real pattern behind
the wallpaper. I saw it. She saw it. It was there.

People shuffled her into a hundred different
diagnostic hooplahs after that, but I knew she
wasn’t crazy. She was a real woman,
and womanhood Is a disease that is treated
as a mental illness, which itself?

Is just a way to keep the creative people
at a workable, distant and level, population
of shaky people in food by courts and on
corners screaming about their insect
encrusted genitals by the time the meds
have all gotten pumped in,
perched like prescription Jesus-
Zombies in rows along every major city,
reminders that thinking at all can
lead to lucid, stigmatized doom.

Anyway, every time I hear Kid A I
think about her. We barely heard it
in the same room more than a couple
times, but what was great was she
of all people had bought a cassette
of the thing and I later discovered
it was defective. It played the opposite
side Helter Skelter style in the background
on both sides, so you in effect had an entire remix
of an album that had already departed from
post-Kid A Radiohead. It was the single most
beautiful mistake that has ever existed.

And it’s gone.

Sometimes I put one on in one player
and the other in another but
it’s not the same. Plus who knows
what cocktail of wonder and drug
and what stage of depreciation the
ears were in, it’s hopeless to even
attempt a cosmetic replication of something
operatic, organic. Environmental.