Call Girl

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Call Girl
McAdam Railway Station 1

“She came down from Montreal
to look after all the railway workers.
We called her the Call Girl.”
The men in the room sit up
and pay attention. The women
look rather expectant.

“She was a great worker,
performed her duties willingly.
Up at four in the morning,
out into the streets,
knocking on the men’s doors,
waking them up for work
with her morning call.

We called her the Call Girl
because it was her vocation.
she was called to call.”

Comment:
I visited McAdam Railway Station last week, a Canadian National Heritage Site. The guides who were there, many of them members of the local historical society, were well-versed in tales of the station and the people who used to pass through there. I listened to their words with great care, admiring the quality of their images and speech, the terseness and accuracy of their words. This sequence of poems is based upon those people, excellent guides and raconteurs in the best sense of the word. These are their words, not mine, and with their permission, I am posting their stories here. The first poem was spoken by Elsie. Thank you so much, Elsie, for allowing me to share your words. Click this link to the McAdam Railway Station site if you want to see some great photos and read about the history of the McAdam Railway Station.

 

 

 

Quill

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Quill

This old fashioned quill,
a goose feather, plucked,
trimmed, and split,
hare-lip of split hairs,
words and ideas cleft,
sucked in, thrown out,
no clout in the cloister
where the mind walks dry
amidst terminal showers,
meteors of rhyme and reason,
shootings stars falling,
filled with imperfections,
each star a still-born child,
running wild in some meadow,
a heavenly paradise
where walled-in imps
seek an exit outside the box
into which they have been boxed,
with mindless spiders
weaving webs of fine spun words,
filling the sails of pea-green boats,
laden with meanings
destined to set out
and never arrive.

A Fly on the Wall

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A Fly on the Wall

Behind me, two elderly ladies, obviously grandmothers, exchanged intimate family details about husbands, daughters, grand-daughters, acquaintances.
“Bessy, my granddaughter, you’ve met her, well, she can’t have any children. Something wrong with her womb after that bout with cancer. You must remember that?”
“I do. Terrible thing, cancer. Had her whole womb removed didn’t she?”
“That’s right. Well, she’s thinking of adopting.”
“I don’t like adoptions. All those yellow and brown babies. You’ll never find a white one.”
“She’s working with the church. They say they’ll find her a nice little pink one.”
“That would be nice. Boy or girl?”
“She wants a girl. That’s why they said ‘a nice pink one.’”
“My Annie has breast cancer. They want to cut them off, but I told her ‘no,’ there must be another way. So they’re giving her chemo. They wanted to send her to Moncton, but she said she wasn’t going anywhere near that French speaking lot. So, she’s going to Saint John instead. Her daughter drives her down most days.”
“Lucky to have a daughter like that. So many cut you off when they lave home. They just don’t care.”
“I know. Not the churchy ones, though.”
“Them too, sometimes.”
“How’s your Bert?”
“He walked out.”
“Never!”
“He did. Just up and left. Never said where he was going or anything.”
“Younger woman, probably.”
“Don’t know. Took to the road and went out west, I think.”
“Just one of them things. My husband’s gone, too. Stroke or something. I sat with him in the hospice for a week. He never spoke again. I just sat and held his hand. Poor thing.”
“At least it was quick.”
“A week at his bedside didn’t seem like quick. All those tubes. Stuck in everywhere. And me, left all alone now with the grand kids. I’ll cope somehow, and the fourteen-year old, with her belly already swelling.”
Words settle. Fine dust dances in a sun ray that spotlights floating motes. Lives and worlds end and begin. I spot my beloved walking down the stairs in the heath centre and get to my feet. The two women are silent. I do not turn to look at them. My beloved waves and I walk towards her. Hand in hand, we go to the door and walk to the car. When we are safe inside, we’ll start to talk.

In the Cave

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In the Cave
(514-520 BC)

one goes on a journey
knows where one’s been

reality returning
one tells what one’s seen

shadows dancing
on night’s silver screen

verbal sketches
from where one’s been

speaking other languages
heard not seen

the more one speaks
the more others think
‘dream’

a dream for those
who’ve never been
where one’s been

 

After the Floods

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After the Floods
(2004 BC)

as the crow flies
so the pigeon
holding straws
within its beak
time to rebuild

not so easy
mud walls fallen flat
rubble and rubbish
litter river banks

warped wooden planks
water-swollen
so much stolen
by wind and wave

who now knows
the unknown
perceives the abyss
beneath egg-frail
cockle-shell hulls

waters recede
islands re-emerge
bald skulls of hillocks
stripped of grass and trees
water-logged fields

old bones dug up
displayed in the ditch

Murals

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Murals

Painting a mural,
inside, interior
wall, knowing it will
stand time’s test.

Viaduct broken,
a tumbled engine,
Canadian workers,
railwaymen all,

some from Macadam,
pebbled the floor,
handrail, radiator
camouflaged for war,

part of the painting.
Depart from the station.
Turn right. Straight ahead,
flaked peeling paint.

So sad, this outside
mural, exposed to winter’s
snow, frost, winds, and ice.
So vulnerable

and so ephemeral.
Butterfly on a rock.
Such a short-lived
summer, over in a day.

Comment:

My friend, Geoff Slater, inventor of line painting and a renowned muralist, is painting a mural at Macadam Railway Station celebrating the role of Canadian railway engineers in WWI. Here are two fragments  from his unfinished mural. The poem above is based on his lamentation that his outdoor murals, subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous Canadian winter weather, are ephemeral, like butterflies, and cannot endure.

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Crows

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Crows

one day
whirled off my feet
next day
toes set
in concrete

a single black feather
floats down from the sky
meaning?

a bone to a dog
sun-flower seeds
strewn before squirrels
red and grey
the occasional chipmunk

only crows
black-winged marauders
monarchs destined to wear
a weighty crown,
cry out their anguish

mobbing the hawk
longing for the day
when they’ll rule again