weir 2

Apologia pro vita mea
(for Ana)

          Late last night, I opened Alistair Macleod’s book The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and I re-read the first story. I was soon dabbing my eyes with a tissue and blowing my nose.

This morning, I want to destroy everything I have written. I know I don’t possess the verbal and emotional genius of the great writers and I sense that I cannot write like them. Graduate school taught me to be passive, not active, and to write impersonally, choking every emotion when I write. Academia also taught me how to kiss and how to run away with my thirty silver pence. “Never challenge the status quo,” my professors told me. “Learn the rules and disobey them at your peril.”

But here, in this private space where I create and re-create, there are no rules. The enemy is not clear any more and the fight is not one of black against white. It is rather a choice between diminishing shades of grey, and all cats are grey in the gathering dark that storms against my closing mind. Should I destroy all my writing? I won’t be the first to do so; nor would I be the last. And I won’t be the first or the last to destroy myself either. Intellectual, academic, and creative suicide: as total as the suicide of the flesh.

I carry on my back the names of those who have gone on before me as if they were a pile of heavy stones packed into a rucksack that I carry up a steep hill, day after day, only to find myself, next morning, starting at the bottom once again. But this is not the point: the point is that if I cannot write like the great writers, how can I write?

I think of Mikhail Bakhtin and his cronotopos, man’s dialog with his time and his place. I have no roots, no memories, and that is where my stories must start: in the loss of self, the loss of place, the loss of everything. I was uprooted at an early age, soon lost my foundations, and only survival mattered.

I look at the first page of one of my manuscripts. My writing manifesto is clear before me: “And this is how I remember my childhood,” I read. “Flashes of fragmented memory frozen like those black and white publicity photos I saw as a child in the local cinema. If I hold the scene long enough in my mind, it flourishes and the figures speak and come back to life.”

I am aware of the words of T. S. Eliot that “every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it” (East Coker).

Are these stories an exercise in creativity or are they a remembrance of things past? How accurate is memory? Do we recall things just as they happened? Or do we weave new fancies? In other words, are my inner photographs real photographs or have they already been tinted and tainted by the heavy hand of creativity and falseness?

The truth is that I can no longer tell fact from fiction. Perhaps it was all a dream, a nightmare, rather, something that I just imagined. And perhaps every word of it is true.

I no longer know.

Herring Bones

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Herring Bones

Last winter, a heavy snowfall
toppled the garden wall.
Bricks and mortar now litter
the grass in untidy piles.

I take my child by an arm
and a leg and swing her round,
faster and faster till, dizzy,
she calls ‘no more’,
and I let her go.

She can hardly stand,
staggers like her grandfather
who lurches around the garden
leaning on a walking stick.

 He jabs at the red-brick wall
he wants me to rebuild
and claws,
with twisted fingers,
at words,
bricks laid
like herring bones
caught in his throat.



Portraits by Velásquez

 Velásquez sought asylum in Canada.
He set up his studio on the shore at Glace Bay.

He photographed short, stunted people
miners who worked underground
mining Cape Breton coal.

He waited while they shook or coughed,
had patience till they were still, then click.
When he had captured their spirits,
he blew up their photos to NHL size.

Slack jaws, puffy eyes:
“Man’s greatest sin
is having been born,”
one sighs.

Another seeks himself
through inner darkness.
He probes dark galleries
with Davy Lamps for eyes.
He finds no gold,
just seams of coal
that cling and clot his lungs.

Velásquez waits
for his cough to stop
and click he’s got him.
Sally Ann Second Hand clothes
lay siege to his tortured flesh.

“Life is a snap,”
Velásquez cries.
“And every photograph
a lie.”


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 Dead accurate he was
with a piece of chalk,
hit you wherever you sat:

right between
the eyes.

 “Pay attention, boy.”
“I was paying attention, sir.”
“Then repeat what I just said.”

 And the boy repeated it,
word for word.

Here, have a peppermint.”
“No thank you, sir.”
“Guess and how, then.”

 He put his hand in his pocket
and pulled out a handful of coins.

Sooner or later
we all tried,
but nobody ever guessed
how much money
he held in his hand.




All thumbs,
I can manage
two bunches,
one on each side.

But now,
with her mother gone,
it’s much more difficult
to part my daughter’s hair
neatly into three.

I work hard to perfect
that one thick plait
she loves down her back.

As for fish-bones
and French braiding…
she begs me to try

and I promise
that when my thumbs
turn into fingers,
I’ll give it a go.




Ay Ay Ayeres

Digging around in the photo files that I transferred from my old computer to my Google drive, I discovered this golden oldie composed of my words and Clare’s images. What a revelation: I had completely forgotten that this group of work existed. I’ll dig them out ne by one and post them from time to time. Ayer is the Spanish for yesterday, hier in French. The title “Ay! Ay! Ayeres!” with its multiple plays All our yesterdays and its reference to the old song “Ay, ay, ay, canta no llores” draws together a series of memories, some in the past and some in the future. ‘How can we have a memory in the future?’ you ask. By recognizing a present moment, or one that lies just ahead in a future that ill become soon enough a present, as one that has already occurred in the past, thus confirming the circularity of our lives and the idea that all time is time present, one of T. S. Eliot’s recurring themes.

Ocho Venado: Eight Deer is a central figure (war leader) in the Zouche-Nuttal, a pre-Columbian Mixtec Codex. He is the war leader in the Conquests recorded in the codex (circa 1050-1100).
Quesadillas: Oaxacan tortillas filled with cheese and flores de Calabaza, gourd flowers.
Reyes Magos: the three wise men or kings who visited the Christ Child on January 6, the traditional Spanish Christmas.
Murcielago: the bat and a symbol of death in Oaxacan mythology.
Nueve Viento: Nine Wind descends from heaven to separate the sky from earth and its waters. Nine Wind at Tule meeting with Cortes is mythical not historical, though the meeting of Cortes with the Mixtec chiefs (caciques) did happen.
Apoala: The Mixtec nation was born form a cave (sometimes a tree) in Apoala, Oaxaca.
Spinning the wheels in the snow: a reference to Jean Chretien and one of his famous images.

The piece is written in a surrealist style that mixes historical fact with creative writing. The distant past is recalled (1050-1100), then the middle past (1525-1530), and finally the present appears. This mixing of time and place (Mexico and Canada) is also related to the surrealist movement. Surrealism creates a dream world in which images float and change shape within a time-space conundrum where dream is more real than reality and creates its own new meanings that are individual to each reader.

Any comments on this rediscovered piece will be warmly welcomed.

Small Corner


Kingsbrae 6.1
6 June 2017

Small Corner

 And this is the good thing,
to find your one small corner
and to have your one small candle,
then to light it, and leave it burning
its sharp bright hole in the night.

 Around you, the walls you constructed;
inside, the reduced space, the secret garden,
the Holy of Holies where roses grow
and no cold wind disturbs you.

 “Is it over here?” you ask: “Or over here?”

If you do not know, I cannot tell you.

But I will say this: turning a corner one day
you will suddenly know
that you have found a perfection
that you will seek again, in vain,
for the rest of your life.

Journal: I had the pleasure of reading this poem to the artists and committee of the KIRA program after the evening barbeque on Saturday, 3 June, 2017. It is indeed a Golden Oldie, but it summarizes with remarkable accuracy my own feelings about Kingsbrae and the surrounding area. There are places of peace within the world and, as our world becomes more crowded and our cities overflow with urgency, these peaceful places take on more and more importance. It is essential for us to escape the concrete and tarmac of the so-called civilization and to take refuge in nature. The cultivated garden has a long tradition going back to Medieval times, le jardin enclos and its sacred space, for example, and the monastery cloisters and their enclosed serenity,

Following in this tradition, Kingsbrae Gardens has established an oasis of cultivated peace within the larger peaceful space that is New Brunswick. We are indeed lucky to be permitted to enter these places, to renew our contact with nature in all its beauty and bounty, and to be able to refresh our spirits and drink deep of the peace that flows, and fills us, and blesses our endeavors.

The photo that accompanies this poem is of the crab apple trees in full blossom on the front lawn of the house in Island View where Clare and I have lived and worked together for a quarter of  century or more. This is the view from my writing room window. It is no wonder that poetry flows from this subtle spring beauty.