Low Tide


Kingsbrae 22.1
22 June 2017

Low Tide

Now we can see
the reason for the buoys,
a mud bank here,
a shoal of shingle there,
and water flowing into
rock blocked cul-de-sacs.

Markers stand
in appropriate places,
exposed to sun and wind.
As the sea roughens,
a bell clangs,
gently at first,
and then louder.

Here on the shore,
sea voices reach out to us,
high-pitched, irregular,
deeper with the rising surf.

Pity the poor black ribcage
of the burned-out barge,
its blackened bones
a playground stage
for schools of tiny fish.

Teddy Bears FFF

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Teddy Bears
Friday Fast Fiction

Now they sleep in separate rooms in single beds each tucked in with a monogrammed teddy bear.
He likes to cuddle his, keeping it warm, tucking it carefully under the bedclothes. He calls it Ready Teddy, and his favorite game, especially in summer, is to hold his teddy bear by one back leg and say in a loud voice “Ready, Teddy, GO!”
At the word “GO” he hurls his teddy bear skywards and takes great delight in the fate of a sleeping fly, pinned against the ceiling and squashed. His delight doubles if one of the pointed waves of ceiling paint impales the fly and leaves it squirming there, buzzing impotently. This means target practice and he hurls Ready Teddy, “GO, GO,” skywards again and again until the unfortunate fly, falling like a condemned angel, tumbles back to earth.
She still follows the same ritual as when they were sleeping together in the same bed. First she pummels the pillows, fluffing them up with sideways movements of the hands. Next, she lays them on the bed and beats them flat. Then she picks them up and plays them like a concertina, pushing them together then stretching them out again. As for her teddy bear, she likes to discipline it, to beat it into shape. Once upon a time, it made noises and let out little squeals and squeaks, but the constant violence has silenced its sound box.
When they slept together she often took her teddy and beat it against her husband’s head. He would wake from the deepest dream head a-throb, ears and cheeks stinging, as she flailed him with her teddy and struck him blow after blow. When his headaches grew worse, they decided to sleep apart. He felt it was better and safer that way.
Last night, she sleepwalked into his room, and sat on the side of his bed. She clasped her teddy by the feet, a rabid Rottweiler with a rag doll, and thumped her teddy’s head against her husband’s face again and again.
The sleeping tablets had made him drowsy and slow to wake. His wife kept up the barrage until he finally woke, eased the teddy bear from her grasp, and walked her back to bed
On the way back to his own room, he checked into the bathroom and examined his face in the mirror. Blood seeped from his nostrils. He had bruises under his left eye and his cheeks glowed red where veins had broken near the surface
Next morning, he sat at the breakfast table, his grandfather’s First World War magnifying mirror in his hand, and examined his face. The ice pack had taken effect and he looked less damaged now. He reached for the color correction cream in the packet beside him and read the directions with care. Then he placed a tiny drop of the magic serum onto the paintbrush and worked the correction cream over the marks on his face. He watched them disappear one by one. Now he would be ready to face the world.
He stared into the magnifying mirror gazing deeply into his own eyes. Was that how it had happened? Or had their first child really fallen downstairs, banging her little head on each wooden step at eighteen months old?
The inquest had been inconclusive, his wife held blameless. They had remained childless after the trial.
Was that a blessing or a curse?

Empress: A Survivor Contemplates

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A Survivor Contemplates
the Crucifix on the Point
Ste. Luce-sur-mer

Christ of the Rocks
hanging here on the point
from the crucifix
with your open eyes:

do you see, out at sea,
where gray waves cover
the graveyard of the Empress,
at rest, her passengers,
caressed beneath shallow waters.

They have gone on before me,
those friends I numbered,
their piercing eyes
lie covered now.

Splayed toes:
last night’s footprints
erased by wind-blown
dust and sand.

 Dry crunch of skull and skeleton
crushed underfoot by sea boots
ascending, descending
the beach’s gentle slope.

these lands around me:
emitte lucem tuam /
send forth Thy light!

these mountains that surround me:
ipsa me deduxerunt /
such things have led me on.

these mysteries that confound me:
in montem sanctum tuum /
unto Thy holy hill …
in nomine Patris /
… in the name of the Father.

 I wander from grave to grave,
reading the headstones:
quare me repulisti? /
why hast Thou cast me off?

Coarse grass weaves bindweed
with columbines combining.

Incessant mourning of glove grey
morning doves,
drawing tears from dawn’s face:
quare tristis incedo? /
why do I go sorrowful?

 Verdant stems,
unsophisticated flowers,
weeds dark between stark
granite stones.

Whose names?
My long lost brothers’ names,
Eric, Phillip, Peter,
not yet carved in stone:

 non in tabernacula tua /
not yet in Thy tabernacle.

 This churchyard,
will it always be
as steady as a headland
even in a storm?

 Here, the terrestrial
centre is stable:
quare tristis es, anima mea? /
why art thou sad, oh my soul?

 The ark on the waters
moves from side to side,
lulled by the sea waves,
up and down.

 On the altar,
a gilded chalice,far from the far flung
malice of the sea:
quare conturbas me? /
why dost thou disquiet me?

Empress: A Survivor Lights a Candle

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A Survivor Lights a Candle
During the Latin Mass for the Dead
Before the Main Altar
at the Sanctuaire Sainte-Anne

I am afraid of fire:

 in principio erat verbum /
in the beginning was the word.

 I am afraid of the loud voice of the match
scratching its sudden flare,

narrowing my pupils,
enlarging the whites of my eyes:

 et lux in tenebris lucet /
and light shines in darkness.

Booming and blooming,
igniting the soul’s dark night.

Voice of fire:

et Deus erat verbum /
and the Word was God.

 Flourishing to nourishment,
flames whispering on the flood:

omnia per ipsum facta sunt /
all things were made by Him.

Wool and water,
this sodden safety blanket;
and what of the cold plush

of the pliant teddy bear,
the staring eyes of the doll:

et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt /
and the darkness comprehended it not.

The lashes of their eyes
bound together with salt water,

they were doused in a silken mist:

hic venit in testimonium /
this served as a witness.

 Still the patterns pierce my sleep,
hauling me from my opaque dreams,

holding my wrists in this sailor’s double clasp:

 non erat ille lux /
he was not the light.

Oh! Curse these dumb waters rising!

“Not a hair on your head
shall be harmed!” he said,
hauling my sister up by her hair

only to find her staring eyes
belonging to the already dead:

et mundus eam non cognovit /
and the world knew her not.

Night waters rising.

The moon raising
its pale thin lantern glow:

et vidimus gloriam ejus /
and we saw His glory

 shining forth
upon the waters’
mirrored face.

Dark Night of the Empress

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Dark Night of the Empress

 Her cooled lights drowning now,
fires subsiding, dying under rising waters.

Grit and river-bottom clog the dream:
eyes and mouths wide open, faces blurred.

 Seaweed: mermaid’s hair
drifting slowly before the eyes;

the cold tide sucking in at ankle and heel,
pulling them down.

 Celluloid fictions,
black and white films,
their mouths stretched in a silent scream.

What became of the photographers,
of the men and women who stood their ground
clicking their cameras in unison
as the ship went down?

The air breaks apart:
delirious with dots and devious dashes.

 The lighthouse light goes round and round.

It points a finger of silence at the collier
looming silent through the mist.

What price the black pearl in the oyster?

 What price the nightmare,
cleanly wrapped in transparent plastic,
desperate fingers tearing the see-through
fabric from the face?

 Salt water dashed on mouth and lips,
this dream:
sharp bows, wet rocks, and a tugging tide.

Toys and boys and dolls and girls
and men and women,
their bodies disgorged untidily,
their useless limbs
flopping at the sea’s foamed edge.

 Last night,
mist shredded itself on the sea-cradled headland.

This morning, the spring tide is a gentle hand
erasing life’s autographs from the witnessing sand.

Silence after the storm:

a pocket full of posies
gathered into a dreamless sleep

they have all fallen down ….

Empress of Ireland

15 May 2002 Pre-Rimouski 109.jpg

Photo: Museum and Monument to the Empress of Ireland, Pointe-au Père, PQ.

M Press of Ire

 Background and Dedication

The poems that have come together to form the M Press of Ire were begun in Ste. Luce-sur-mer, Quebec, in May 2002.

It was off shore from Ste. Luce, in the early hours of the morning of the 29th of May, 1914, that the Empress of Ireland collided with a Norwegian collier whose bows had been strengthened for ice-breaking. There were approximately 15 minutes between the moment of impact (1:55 am) and the moment the ship caught on fire and sank (2:10 am). Although the disaster has received little international attention, more passengers were lost in this incident (840) than in the loss of the Titanic (832) or of the Lusitania (791).

I read these poems, for the first time, at the University of St. Thomas at Houston, Texas. The Virginia Tech shootings took place on Monday, 16 April, 2007, and I read these poems on Wednesday, 18, April, 2007, while memorial services were taking place on university campuses all over North America. I dedicated that reading to the victims and survivors of the shootings. I now re-dedicate these words to all those who have been touched by sudden loss, shock, and / or grief, and especially to those who have suffered loss under extraordinary circumstances.


I first heard those voices in the cries of the sea birds on the beach at Ste. Luce.

Borne on the wind, over the sigh of the waves, they seemed high-pitched, like the voices of children, or of men and women in distress. These were lost voices, the cries of people alone and frightened by the dark. I heard them calling to me.

That night, there were knocks at my cabin door and finger nails scratched at my window. Tiny sounds, almost beyond the range of human hearing: the snuffling of puppies when they turn over in their sleep and tug at each other, whimpering in their dreams.

“Who’s there?”

I started from my sleep. But there was only the wind and the waves as the tide’s footsteps climbed a moonbeam path to ascend the beach. When I walked on the sand next day, at low tide, there was a whispering behind my back. Little voices crying to be set free.

“Who’s there?”

A lone gull flew past my head and battered itself against the wind’s cage with outraged sturdy wings. That night, the mist descended. The church stepped in and out of its darkness and shadows gathered, persistent, at my door.

I walked out into the night and I saw a lone heron mobbed by gulls. It was as if an adult, surrounded by clamoring children, was standing guard over the beach. Then I saw the shadows of little children searching for their parents, the shapes of mothers and fathers looking for their off-spring, lost in the tide mark, among the seaweed and the grains of sand.

Beyond them, on the headland, the church stood tall above the shadows. I saw family survivors, their lips moving in supplication, kneeling before the granite cross that stands above the sea. As I approached, they turned to me, opened their mouths, mouthed silent words, then disappeared.

When I went back to bed, faces and voices visited me in my dreams. When I got up next morning, they came to me in the speech of birds hidden in the foliage, in the words dropped by the osprey’s wing, in the click of the crab’s claw as he dug himself deeper into the sand.

“Release us! Speak for us! Set us free!”

The words of the Empress of Ireland are not my words. They could never be my words. Foundered words, they are, rescued from the beach, and dragged from the high tide mark filled with its sea weed, carapace, charred wood, old rusted iron, and bright bone of long dead creatures polished by the relentless action of wind, sea, and sand.