Triumphs

 

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Triumphs

Now is the time of minor triumphs:
waking to birdsong in the morning,
making it safely to the bathroom,
shaving without cutting my face,
getting in and out of the shower
with neither a slip nor a fall,
drying those parts of the body
that are now so difficult to reach,
especially between my far-off toes,
pulling my shirt over sticky patches
still damp from the shower,
negotiating each leg of my pants,
tugging the pulleys that permit
my socks to glide onto my feet,
forcing my feet into my shoes,
hobbling to the top of the stairs
and lurching down them, left
then right, one step at a time …

Bistro

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Bistro is a finalist, one of three, in the New Brunswick Book Award (2016) for Fiction. The photo is an older one, taken by the local newspaper in my basement in 2014, and reproduced in the paper today. Funnily enough, I am wearing the same clothes today as I was when the photo was taken three years ago. Luckily, Clare has washed them for me, on several occasions, in the interval between then and now. Thank you, Clare, for all the little things you do to keep me alive and happy. Without you, I don’t know what I’d do. This book, like all my creative work, is dedicated to you.

Bistro is available online.

Sun

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Sun

The sun has decided to take a vacation.
He’s left us and gone down to Mexico
for a week or two. Right now I think
he’s in the main square in Oaxaca.

He’s wearing a flashy, floral shirt
and a panama hat and he’s sunning
himself in El Jardin as he sits in the shade
and sips his ice-cold Oaxacan beer.

This evening he will go to Monte Alban
to see himself set. Tomorrow, bright
and early, he’ll pop over the mountains
to Puerto Escondido where he’ll gild
sand castles and play games on the beach.

I know where he is, because he sent me
a postcard saying “Having a great time.
Wish you were here.” I miss him so much.
I really do hope he’ll come home soon.

Comment: Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 107 years old. I was thinking of him this morning, how he loved the sunshine, the sea, and his glass of cold beer. He also liked to travel. I don’t think he ever went to Mexico, but he would have loved Oaxaca and the beaches at Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. He would have appreciated the old temple compound and palaces at Monte Alban.  I thought of calling this poem, this ‘very raw’ poem, Sun & Son, but it’s all about him really, the Sun as warmth and protector and father, and the Son as missing the Sun.

Battle Axe

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Battle Axe

Grim-faced, ageing,
wrinkles bone-deep
sculpting her skin
into unsightly waves,
a grimaced frown,
much practiced,
worn as a mask
to keep the world at bay.

Over her shoulder,
the mail-pouch slung,
brimful of letters,
bills, in all probability,
their content unknown
until the recipient’s
thumb or pocket knife
slits open the envelope
and reveals the secrets.

She carries more secrets.
They bob along in the streams
that flow beneath her skin
where joy and sorrow mingle.

Tomorrow, the surgeons
will perform their biopsy
and search out those secrets.
For now, she walks
with her eyes cast down,
unwilling  to meet
my all-seeing gaze.

Double Trouble

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Double Trouble
“I’ll need some ID,” the guy selling Fred a new cell phone said. “Something with a photo on. May I see your driving license?”
“Of course,” Fred pulled out his driver’s license.
The salesman took it, glanced at the picture, walked over to the computer, and started to type in numbers. Fred watched him as he nonchalantly punched the keys. Then Fred saw him stiffen and straighten up as he held the license up to the light, double-checked it, and frowned.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the salesman said, looking very sad. “This license has expired. It’s more than two years out of date.”
“You’re joking,” Fred said
“No sir,” the salesman replied. “This license expired two and a half years ago.”
He handed it back to Fred who also checked it with care. At first, the figures seemed blurred. Fred took out his glasses and put them on.
“You’re right,” Fred said. “It is out of date. I must have the new one in here somewhere.”
He started to rummage through all the plastic cards in his wallet. But there was no new driving license.
“I must have left it at home,” Fred muttered.
“They usually shred the old licenses,” the salesman smiled. “They never let you keep them. You must have forgotten to renew.”
Fred placed his hands on the cell-phone counter, looked down, and saw his face mirrored in the shiny plastic. He gazed into his own eyes and they looked back at him. Then his mind flashed back two and a half years.
He had just been through the biopsy, a messy, painful, and unnerving affair, and the results had come back positive.
The urologist demanded a new battery of tests: X-rays, bone scans, blood tests, MRI’s, examinations, more examinations, questionnaires, discussions about possible forms of treatment …
The different treatments were set out like food in a self-serve restaurant and, like the strange foreign foods that Fred liked to try without knowing exactly what they were, their names meant nothing to him.
Then there was the travel: out on the road between his little place in the country and the major cancer hospitals in the province with an examination here, and a consultation over there. All the medical staff he encountered were kind and helpful and the suggestions they offered were sound. The winter road conditions complicated matters, though, and twice he was forced to cancel appointments because of road conditions.
Then, a week or so after the MRI, the allergic reactions set in and, over a three week period he lost all the skin, first off his hands, and then off his feet. He watched the skin bubble, then he saw it go very dry, and then it just flaked off. He remembered getting out of the shower one morning, drying his feet, and staring down at the little pile of flaked-off skin that had come away with the towel.
A little later on, came the injections, the tablets, and that was before the start of radiation treatment …
Now, two and a half years later, Fred’s driving license, the one that should have been renewed on his birthday, had expired. He remembered that birthday well. He lay on his side in the hospital and the specialist drove that first needle into his buttock … what a birthday present. And now, two and a half years later, he had another special gift from that birthday, an expired driving license.
He thanked the cell-phone salesman, put his expired driving license back in his wallet, and said how sorry he was that e would be unable to purchase the cell-phone at this time.
Early the next morning, Fred went down to the Driving License Renewal Center to discover his fate.
The lady on the counter was most sympathetic. She listened to his story and told him not to worry.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It happens all the time. But I’m afraid you’ll need to take all the tests again, including the road test. That’s the law. I’ll need to see some documentation. A photo ID is preferable. Do you have your birth certificate or your passport with you?”
Fred nodded. He had checked online to see what he needed and had brought all the right documents. He handed the passport over.
The lady behind the counter took the passport, opened it, and looked up at Fred with a sad little smile.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “You are in trouble. Your passport’s expired as well.”

 

Walker

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Walker

It’s as good as a walker, this shopping cart.
I set my heart on finding one and when I do
I hang on to the handle and goad myself
onward, up the supermarket ramp.

I hate it when people to see me like this,
body and confidence broken by my fall.
For when I fall there’s no safety net,
no security, just an old man lying hurt.

A leaf on a tree, I shake in the breeze.
I pause for thought, catch my breath,
then struggle forward, caught like a high-
wire dancer in the spotlight, my heart in my

mouth, trying not to look down, or fall,
struggling on, fighting the good fight.