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.”

Wednesday Workshop: Writing from Inside


Writing from Inside
Wednesday Workshop
07 March 2018

Crave More: I hate those words.  I always choose a cart with the shop’s name on the handle. I can handle that. I can’t handle a shopping cart that screams Crave More at me every time I stoop down and place another item in the wire grid. If stores were honest they would write Think More and Crave Less on their shopping cart handles. But I bet that would quickly cut into profits.

Anyway, there I was, in LaLaLand, leaning on my cart, still half asleep, when this ghost drifted towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry. I need food.” I woke up from my dream, looked at the ghost, tall, skeletal thin, cavernous eyes and cheekbones protruding, grey face drawn with shame. The single word “Sorry” came automatically to my lips. Then I too felt shame. I looked at him again. “I only carry plastic.” The excuse limped heavily across the air between. I saw something in his eyes, I knew not what, and I turned away.

In my mind, I added 120 lb of muscle to the scarecrow frame. Took forty years away. Filled his body with joy and pride, not shame, and remembered how he played the game, hard and fast, but true. I ran my hand through the card index of former players that I coached and knew: their moves, and attributes, the way they played the game, their stronger / weaker side, their playing strengths, their weaknesses. I remembered him holding up the Champion’s Cup. But I couldn’t remember his name.

I pushed the cart all over the store in a frantic search for him. He was nowhere to be seen. I went to the ATM and took out cash. I could hand it to him. I could tell him he had dropped it. I went through a thousand scenes. I could invite him to the snack bar. I could tell him to buy what he needed and follow me to the  check out lane. A single opportunity. One chance. That’s all we get. Miss it, and we blow the championship. Take it, and we win the game.


Nec Plus Ultra


Nec plus ultra

A womb wound
this open heart
clinging crablike
to your sleeve

a sudden surge
this weakened urge
to end it all and sever
this wander-wonder

how many times
must you jump
eyes closed
through life’s open
circus hoop
red-nosed clowns
falling off their trikes
hoax after hoax

your life’s blood
leaks meekly out
dribbles from
your fingertips
drip by febrile

My Body


My body

My body has so many rooms and you,
my love, possess me in them, wander
through them, and I see you, here, there,
everywhere, your presence a shadow
glimpsed in a mirror, or your warm touch
a breath upon forehead or cheek. Where
have you gone? Why did you leave me
here on my own to languish in your absence?
I walk from room to room, but when I knock
you open no doors, and though I seek,
I fail to find. I know you are somewhere near.
I hear your footstep on the stair, your voice
in the silence that surrounds me. My name,
a syllable or two, whispered in the way
I so clearly remember. How can it be true,
my love, that you have gone, that you have
left me here and forged ahead into another
time and space? I count the hours and days.
Will you prepare me a place? Will your face
be there to greet me? Alone, I clutch at straws,
embracing dust motes, counting the angels that
dance on the rainbows on the head of a pin.

Catch Up


Catch up

The mask I wear has strings
attached. Two I have tied,
two more hang down like
pigtails, swaying as I walk.

My tongue pulses round
my mouth in search of
that tooth I cracked, yet
afraid of its sharp-edged scar.

It feels as if I have lost
a part of my life and I am
running in circles looking for it.
I guess I’ll catch up with it
someday, and when I do,
I hope it will know me
and tell me who and what I am.

Meanwhile, the mask clings
heavy to my features
and prompts me in the new
role I must play. My friends
walk past me now
and do not stop to talk.

When I look in the mirror,
I no longer recognize myself.
All my ID is fake. The success
of my disguise fills my empty head
with a sudden sense of shame
and I know the sound of sorrow.


Avila 2007a 039


A sudden crick of the neck and I am back in the chalet at Perines with Trini.

“Torticollis,” she says, raising a hand to her neck, except she says it in Spanish, ‘tortículis’.

She offers me tea, very English, from the Wedgewood tea pot I brought her, all those years ago. Beside her, the Pirate with the Parrot on his Shoulder, my Toby Jug, still stands on guard, and protects my memories.

Orphaned, I was, from England, abandoned on that Spanish shore, and left there all summer to learn the language. Trini taught me how to eat, speak, choose my books and my friends … she had lost a son, same age as me, just after the Civil War, and treated me like her son, returned, like the Prodigal Son I was to all who had sent me away from home to improve my lifestyle and my manners.

Wanted? Unwanted by my family? I wouldn’t know the difference.

In that far-of land, in time and space,  I only knew the loneliness of being lost, marooned in a foreign land, feeling my way, day by day, among foreigners, still foreign, although they took me into their homes and hearts and loved me as I had never been loved before.

Back home, drowsing  at the kitchen table, I doze into my dreams, only to be woken by that beloved voice.

Wistful, I turn my head and glance backwards into that past of sunshine and beaches, where the sun sparkled on hill, sand, and sea and the table cloth was spread on the family table, pure and white, with a dozen of us sitting, talking, smiling, drinking wine, that bottled sunshine that still adorns my dining room table.

“Trini? Is that you?”

Her name slips from my lips as I snap my head towards her voice. As I turn, I twist my neck and raising my hand to the sudden pain, I hear again that word: “¡Tortículis!”