For the first twenty-two years of my life Thanksgiving held no meaning, no life, no substance, no form, nothing familiar, nothing special to hold my attention.
When I emigrated to Canada my cousins changed all that with an invitation to visit them in Kincardine for Thanksgiving.
Turkey on the table, colored table napkins, and a family gathered, arms outstretched, to make me welcome.
We were all surprised at how alike we looked. “Like Cousin George, in Vancouver,” they said. “Like Cousin Elsie in Revelstoke.” “Like my mother’s mother, back home in Swansea,” I said.
They told me how the Second World War had brought the family back together on these special holidays: Christmas in Wales for the Canadian boys or Thanksgiving in Winnipeg for the Welsh boys learning to fly.
That Thanksgiving, the old family names turned to photographs: snaps of my mother’s wedding, my grandmother holding me, age three, on her knee.
And finally, as a special Thanksgiving gift, a long-distance call to Britain and Clare on the telephone saying “Yes,” she would come to Canada, and “yes,” she would marry me.
And I remember crying all the way from Kincardine to Toronto, and that was my first Thanksgiving in Canada.
Comment: A Golden Oldie, indeed. This poem is from my collection Secret Gardens. The secret love poems I write to Clare. It was published on our Silver Wedding Anniversary, 24 December 1991. It is a pleasure to re-publish it here for Thanksgiving, 2021. Now what am I going to do for 24 December 2021?
“I left her by the gate to the Beaver Pond at 2:38. It takes her twenty minutes to walk around the circuit. I always check my watch. Then I know when I can expect her back. In exactly eight minutes, she comes out of the woods and I can see her at the end of the boardwalk. I park the car in a spot from which I can watch her and wave to her. Today, I didn’t see her come out of the woods. It’s the radiation for prostate cancer … it’s left my bowels weak. I had to go to the bathroom … so I turned the car engine on … it was 2:44 … about two minutes before she was due to appear on the boardwalk … yesterday, a Great Blue Heron stood fishing in the pond … he flew when he saw her … a great crack of the wings … but today, the heron wasn’t there … just ducks … they flapped their wings, stood on the water, you know, the way they do, and scattered from the spot where she should have appeared … she walks very quietly, tip-toe, you know … she likes watching the heron and the ducks … she doesn’t like to frighten them … I don’t know what to think … I had to go … it was urgent … so I turned the car around and drove to the nearest bathroom … about one hundred yards away … I was in there … I don’t know … about five minutes … I didn’t check my watch … it’s dark in there … no electricity …besides, between hobbling on my sticks, praying to God to help me to hold on, opening and closing the door, struggling to get my pants down without soiling them …and then I drove back to the picnic tables … and waited … and waited …and she never appeared. I haven’t seen her since … she’s gone missing … I fear the worst … “
On the other end of the phone, a long silence, some heavy breathing, then:
“We’ll file a missing person’s report.”
“You will find her, won’t you? I love her, you know. I must find her. I want to know what’s happened … ” the old man wiped the corner of his right eye with the knuckle of the index finger of his left hand. He coughed and cleared his throat.
“Twenty years younger than you, you said?”
“Yes,” the old man nodded.
“Well, sir: we’ve already started our investigation. We’ll do our best to find her. We’ll contact you as soon as anything turns up.”
The police officer put down the phone and the circuit clicked out.
“What the hell you gonna do?”
“Not me … us.”
“Okay … us then … well … what the hell we gonna do?”
“You tell me. We got her on video. She walked out the other exit, by the park HQ, straight into the arms of the Deputy Police Commissioner. She’s twenty years younger than her husband and her husband’s got the sort of cancer that’s killed his sex life. Cancer? And the Deputy Commissioner’s the one who’s waiting for her? What the hell do you think we’re gonna do?”
Comment The Beaver Pond at Mactaquac is a beautiful place to be, all year round. We love it in summer and fall and Anne Stillwell-Leblanc (< click on link for website) has captured the stillness and silence of the place in the above engraving. As I have become less mobile, so I have sent Clare cantering around the pond to enjoy the beauty we used to enjoy together. Meanwhile, I sit in the car and watch for Clare’s regular appearances through the trees and on the footbridge. As I sit, I write. Sometimes it is journal style, sometimes poetry, and occasionally a short story, like this one.
Just one leaf dropping from the tree and the fall a call of nature and no freak chance of fate. What throw of the dice eliminates Lady Luck? None at all, or so the poet says, lying there, indisposed, his ribs cracked hard against the wooden boards of the porch and his right foot caught in such a way that the hip slips slightly from its socket and try as he may he cannot stand but lies there in the chill evening wind, a lone leaf, getting on in age, plucked from his tree and cast to the ground.
Comment: And don’t forget the family of crows, sitting in the tree, giving me the eye. watching every movement. I half expected them to flap down on to the balcony, and take a closer look, but when I started to move, it was game over, Rover, and they all cawed and flew away.
Spotify Remember to scroll down to appropriate audio episode.
Vets A Thursday Thought
I met her unexpectedly in a restaurant in St. George. I was masked, but she knew me right away. She hadn’t changed. How could she have? She is as she is. Straight forward, upright, honest, true to her words and her values. Ex-military. A United Nations Peace-Keeper. A Blue Beret. World traveller to some of the roughest, toughest, ugliest, craziest spots. Everywhere she went, she helped keep the peace.
She came back home to find out what she already knew: that rural New Brunswick was as wild as anywhere she had been. She was anonymous, here, was just another number in a book, a casualty in a nameless war of attrition after which the winners rewrite the history of events, twisting them this way, that way to suit themselves and their own instincts and interests.
“Best of the best,” I wrote in the book I gave her. Fortuitous, it was, finding her again, finding that copy close to hand, reserved for her alone. That book and this poem are my tribute to her for her courage, her fortitude, and her strength of will. They are also a tribute to her role in making the world a safer place in which others, less fortunate, can create, without fear, their lives.
Comment: There is very little more to be said. Each former soldier is an individual with a history and personality of their own. This is my tribute to a very good friend who served her country and the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces with pride and distinction. Mary Jones, I, an academic, a writer, and a non-combatant, salute you for all the positive values which you have brought into this sometimes troubled world of ours. You and your well-being are in my Thursday Thoughts.
Spotify Don’t forget to scroll down to appropriate audio episode.
Painting the School Outing Beaver Pond, Mactaquac
The yellow of the school bus is easy, but what colors do you give the rain of school kids descending? And how do you portray their energy, their noise, the tones of French and English? What colors are their vowels, their consonants, their high-pitched voices?
You can sketch their orderly rows as they snack on the top-hat magic pulled out of backpacks. But it’s not so easy to paint the pop of Pepsi cans, the scent of chocolate bars, or the crackle of chips released from packets and popped into mouths.
Running round after lunch, they drive the wild birds wild with their unorganized games of tag, their impromptu dances, their three-legged races, their winners and losers, their joys and sorrows. Fishing nets are produced from nowhere. Girls, boys wander to water’s edge in search of prey: incipient frogs, newts, tadpoles, bullheads, but how do you paint the wet and wriggle of them?
Try painting this. Whistles sound. Kids regroup. The bus reloads and goes. Now paint the silence. Sketch the tranquility of woods, bird-calls back, of the beaver pond with its lilies stretching their green necks skywards towards a pale blue sky where cotton clouds cluster together in celestial flocks. A pastoral scene, this painter’s paradise.
Click on the link below to peruse my books for sale.
Spotify: Remember to scroll down to the appropriate audio episode.
A Farewell to Charms
Early tomorrow, my love, you’ll fly away. Today, you’ll walk around the Beaver Pond where red and yellow leaves abound. A thin grey
webbing garlands one dead tree. I’m not too fond of tent worms. I hate them when they swing from low branches. Give me a fresh green frond
caught by the morning sun in early spring or else bright autumn leaves so soon to fall. I love American Goldfinches when they sing
that last departing song. I love most of all those occasional visitors: do you recall that bright blue Indigo Bunting with his “I’m-a-lost-bird” call?
The hunting hawks give everyone a fright. They perch on top of a garden tree then step off into space to claw-first alight
on some poor songbird trilling away, quite free from fear, his unfinished symphony of song. It’s getting late, my love. You walk towards me out of the woods. I’ll end this poem with a plea: don’t forget me … and don’t stay away too long.
Late last night, a fallen star grazed by the lamp-post. A bouquet of golden sparks flew from an iron tree and sanctified the gutter. The gas lamps sputtered patiently in uniform rows. A scarecrow stuttered into the limelight and shook my hand. She was wearing my grandmother’s Easter bonnet, with all the flowers renewed, but she couldn’t keep my heart from last winter’s left over crumbs. Suddenly a tulip thrust through the concrete. It became as red as a robin and flew into the lounge bar of a public house. The bronze leaf necklace circling my throat filled with a flow of springtime song. My heart stood upright, a warped piano in my breast, and my skeleton tarried at the corner to play knuckle-bones with the wind. Torn butterflies of news fluttered round and round and kissed my eyelids when they closed. Yesterday’s horoscope winked its subversive eye and called to the hermit in his lonely cell: “Look out for the stranger with the tin can alley smile. Tie your heart to the tail of the first stray dog that comes whistling down the street and follow it home to the empty house that breathes in and out, moving thin membranes of memory.” That’s where I now live. Upstairs, downstairs, a lonely route I tread while the wind at the window scratches tiny notes. Something breaks loose in the confines of my mind and walks beside me. My twin brother stalks through this silvery sliver of splintered glass, this simian mirror wrinkling our troubled suits of skin. I glimpse the old moon’s monkey face through a broken window. Jagged and thin, it wanders like an itinerant snail, cobbled with clumsy clouds. Once, I descended the playground slide in a shower of sparks. A vagabond in a paving stone sky, I rumbled across metal cracks, a knapsack of nightmares humped on my old man’s back. Tell me: when the snail moves house, who stores the furniture he leaves behind? The hermit crab lurks naked on the beach, seeking new lodgings. Who killed the candle and left us in darkness? Two eyes in limbo watch me roll this snowman’s belly of flab across an unknown, clouded room where yesterday I got lost in the mirror. I know how to swim, but I would have drowned, except the light was too shallow and my feet touched bottom when I let the wheels down. I swam on and in looking for a deserted island on which to build my idle sand castle dreams. Two people said they saw my reflection swimming like a goldfish in the silver of that secret space. They said I stared back out at them with circles of longing ringing my eyes; but I laughed when they said they had seen me, for when I looked in the mirror this morning to shave, I just wasn’t there. My razor dragged itself over an empty space and its sharpened blade scraped white music from the margin of a cd rom that spun on edge like dust rings round a vanished planet. Now there is a black hole where my passport photo used to thrive. Someone plucked me from the circle and cut me out in the dance last night. Today I’m looking for a scrapbook in which to stick myself with crazy glue that never, never, ever comes undone.