Little Epiphanies

Poems are little epiphanies – everyone has them but poets write them down – Alden Nowlan

Stone Wall

What this garden needs is a wall
so I’ll build one
the method’s simple
can be learned from books
requires no special tools
or great strength 
if the stones are not too big
though I will be tired and sore
the resulting wall will be strong
will stand undisturbed
long after I’m gone
in the morning sun
I gather what I need
wheelbarrow, sturdy gloves
shovel, steel rebar and twine
a pile of stone
I begin where all built things
must begin
grounded in the earth
digging a wide shallow trench
where the wall is to go
ferrying barrow loads of gravel
I shovel them into the trench
and rake them smooth
begin laying down stones
filling the trench from side to side
end to end
lifting the thick granite slabs
placing them just so
each touching the next
until the trench is filled
I hammer a rod of rebar
into the ground at the four corners
angled slightly toward the centre
string the twine in two rows
between the bars
a flimsy construction
that forms a frame
within which I will build
the wall begins to grow
as I add stone upon stone
choosing each carefully
laying them one upon another 
overlapping, interconnecting
allowing no vertical seam to form
which might separate
threaten the strength of the structure
its integrity
stones stack up within the lines I’ve set
stepping back slightly as they rise
to form the gently sloping surface
I move up and down the length
choosing, placing, feeling the heft
of each stone
its rough planes felt 
through the heavy canvas of my gloves
the sun shines down
moves across the sky
the next day I’m back
and the next
laying down the days
like stone.

This poem was originally published in The Great Lakes Review, Issue 4 Summer 2014

Marching Down Division Street

                              Leaving Kingston
                              driving up Division Street toward the highway
                              up ahead a police car cruises
                              slowly, lazy red light circling on the roof
                              and behind it, walking toward me
                              a parade
                              though parade hardly seems the right word
                              no floats or bands or clowns
                              just people, young and old
                              in their Sunday best (it is Sunday in fact)
                              marching down Division Street
                              some carry banners
                              a canopy on poles
                              elaborate, rich, deep colours, golden trim
                              the people are smiling, but sober
                              a sense of solemnity, not quite festivity
                              a religious ritual of some sort
                              then I’m past it, the parade falling behind me
                              moving slowly down the street.

                              Just up the road
                              I see another parade
                              (a weekend of celebrations it seems)
                              yet still no floats, no bands
                              off to the side, standing in line:
                              have they travelled their route
                              or are they waiting their turn?
                              Tanks, a dozen or more
                              squat and implacable
                              soldiers, male and female, young
                              rifles slung over shoulders
                              walk alongside the line of machines
                              or stand in groups of two or three —
                              they have no banners
                              no elaborate canopy on poles
                              there are no rich colours, no gold
                              only the tired brown-green
                              they are not wearing sober Sunday suits
                              or pretty dresses
                              they are the same colour as the tanks
                              they will march behind
                              down Division Street
                              or elsewhere.



Marching Down Division Street was first published in inwords Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 3.

Sestina for Paper and Ink

                                    Geometric figures constructed of lines
                                    that form themselves into letters, then words
                                    ordered into patterns on paper –
                                    the architect of this arrangement of black
                                    liquid sinking into an expanse of white
                                    builds thought into a structure of ink.

                                    The composer creates in ink,
                                    in the resonance of musical lines.
                                    Silence is a pause, clean and white;
                                    the melody is in the words,
                                    and meaning is there in the marks of black,
                                    as sound moves through air and alights on paper.

                                    As the artist layers paint on canvas, paper
                                    can be filled with shapes and forms of ink,
                                    all prismed colours contained in black.
                                    a representation in colours and lines – 
                                    paint a living picture with words;
                                    fill all space otherwise left white.

                                    Cultivating blooms of red and yellow, pink and white,
                                    the gardener expresses fertility on paper –
                                    harvest a garden of words,
                                    dig it out in rows of ink
                                    form the lush growth into lines
                                    growing out of soil, rich and black.

                                   The newborn’s eyes are almost black;
                                   the worry that blanches your heart to white
                                   appears on your face as lines.
                                   Your children are dreams on paper,
                                   creatures of sound and ink,
                                   that you sing to sleep with soothing words.

                                   There is nothing more ineffectual than words
                                   when yearning for one whose heart is black.
                                   The lover seeks to hold the loved in filaments of ink,
                                   but love is weak and palest white,
                                   as fragile as the thinnest paper,
                                   on which you will write the most beautiful lines.

                                  Our lives are all in words, spread across white,
                                  set out in black on an empty expanse of paper,
                                  eternity expressed in ink, a legacy of living lines.


Sestina for Paper and Ink was first published in Main Street, Vol. Six: 2003


                                        \’ap-ne-∂\    n. – a transient cessation of respiration

                                        She lies motionless, inches from his side
                                        waits for him to breathe
                                              unsure which is worse
                                              the guttural roar of his snoring
                                              or the sweet torturous silence when it stops
                                        she counts her own breaths
                                              –    one    –     two    –    three    –    four
                                        in the gaps between his
                                        waits for the sudden
                                        the inhalation that signals
                                        that all is well once more

                                        the roaring begins
                                        and she waits for his breathing to stop.


Apnea was first published in Hammered Out, Issue #5, February 2005.


                                             Arms arcing through water
                                                     again and again
                                             subdued splash of hands and feet
                                                     sounds muffled and echoed

                                             clench of chlorine in nostrils
                                                     cleansing, cool water
                                             vision blurred, the guiding stripe
                                                     ripples below

                                             touch and push off
                                                     over and over
                                             head turning, reaching for breath
                                                     rhythmic, repeated

                                             oxygen into lungs, into blood
                                                     through the body
                                             legs and arms and torso
                                                     near weightless

                                             gliding, skimming, muscles working
                                                     driving forward
                                             straining, reaching
                                                     without destination

                                             rising up at last
                                                     spent and trembling
                                             drops of water


Lengths was originally published in Hammered Out, Issue #2, January 2002.


                                          I want to write a poem
                                          like the pictures we drew as children
                                          with a yellow circle sun
                                          jabbing its stick rays
                                          across a page-white sky
                                          brown trunked trees
                                          with puffy green tops
                                          some with apples scattered
                                          like ruby stars among the foliage
                                          the landscape a straight green line
                                          across the page
                                          below is ground, above is sky
                                          a blue house centred on this linear plane
                                          a door, two windows, curtained
                                          and a chimney puffing grey smoke
                                          – but words are never as simple
                                          as that flat crayon-coloured world
                                          you could draw in a few minutes
                                          or linger, brow furrowed in concentration
                                          as you perfected creation like a god
                                          reproduce it endlessly
                                          with minor variations:
                                          today the house will be red.


Picture was first published in The Antigonish Review, Spring 2013.

Word Problems

1.  Ann has five apples and John has four apples.  Brian has no apples.  They ask Ann’s mother to make a pie with the apples.  She bakes the pie using all but one of the apples.  The pie is divided into eight pieces.  The children each have one piece of pie.  When they ask for seconds Ann’s mother divides the remaining pieces in half and gives them one each.  Ann’s mother has one piece herself, even though she promised herself she wouldn’t.  When Ann’s father comes home at 9:37 he goes to the fridge, removes the pie and eats the remaining pieces.  Ann’s mother checks the fridge at 11:23 and finds the empty pie plate.  She eats a piece of cold leftover chicken instead.  The remaining apple sits in a bowl on the kitchen table.

2.  Sandra, Peter and Mary are at a party.  Peter and Mary are standing 0.9 metres apart.  Sandra and Peter are 2.1 metres apart and Sandra and Mary are 3.7 metres apart.  Peter begins moving in a straight line towards a point halfway between Mary and Sandra.  When he reaches that point he keeps going past it until he reaches the bar.  After getting his drink he begins to move back along in the direction he came from.  At the same time Mary and Sandra each begin moving in a path that will intersect with Peter’s.  Sandra, being closer, reaches him first.  Peter and Sandra stop.  They are now standing 1.1 metres from each other.  Mary continues for 0.4 metres and then stops.  Peter and Sandra are now, respectively, 2.8 metres and 3 metres from Mary.  Peter turns 37° to his right and reduces the distance between himself and Mary by 1.8 metres.  Sandra turns and moves back to her original position.  She is now an equal distance from Peter and Mary.  She is 2.3 metres from the door.

3.  Michael is standing on the train platform.  He has a ticket for the 3:43 pm train.  It is 3:37 pm.  The train is halfway between this station and the previous one, moving at 80 km/hr.  Beth is standing on the platform of the next station, 7 km down the line.  She is waiting for Michael.  The train stops at Michael’s station.  It then accelerates out of the station, achieves its cruising speed, then decelerates into Beth’s station, averaging 37 km/hr during the trip.  It arrives at 4:08.  It is late.  The doors of the train open.  There are 6 cars with 2 doors each, and 33 people disembark from the train.  Michael is not one of them.  Beth waits for 2 more trains before leaving the station at 5:17.


Word Problems was originally published in Qwerty, Fall 2009.


                                       I often dream of houses, many-roomed
                                       and vast, connecting halls and windows large
                                       and small, with doors and archways leading who
                                       knows where, and ceilings low and soaring high,
                                       a corner here, an alcove there, a step
                                       goes up, and here three steps go down, a door
                                       hangs open next to one still closed, and here
                                       a corridor turns left and stairs ascend.
                                       I never can remember, when I wake
                                       in mornings light, if there was furniture
                                       in these dream houses, or if I was there
                                       alone – it doesn’t seem to matter though
                                       but only that I sleep and enter these
                                       blank rooms to feel the space that’s held within.


Architecture was first published in Hammered Out, Issue #3, May 2004.

April 1967

                          for Marianne S

                          We were ten
                          and we had never met
                          I learned your face
                          from a composition of tiny grey dots
                          precocious child reading the paper from front to back
                              – they thought I only read the comics, I suppose

                          They searched for you in woods and fields
                          I searched for you in newsprint and ink
                          day after day
                              – but we never found you
                          only a single blue running shoe by the side of the road

                          I thought of you as I walked down the street
                          looking over my shoulder for dark blue station wagons
                          I thought of you as I jumped rope at recess and 
                          as I ate my tuna casserole at supper-time and
                          as I laying waiting for sleep in the safety of clean cotton sheets

                          We hadn’t known before
                          what there was to fear in the world
                          but you had learned that now
                          No one spoke and I could not ask
                          I knew only that it was something
                          too terrible for the papers to name
                          And then I realized
                              – they were no longer looking for you
                          only a body they expected to find in the ground

                          You are still ten and I am not
                          I imagine the man you would have married
                          I see echoes of the children you never had
                          in the faces of my own
                          I look for you still in faces our age
                          on the street, in the grocery store
                          But your bones are still there
                          in the place we never found
                          in the cold dark soil that has cradled you for all these years
                          covered with a blanket of brown leaves


April 1967 was first published in The Dalhousie Review,
Spring/Summer 2012.

Walk Me to the Door

                                            Walk me to the door
                                            and stand with me a moment;
                                            we will pause
                                            and talk of incidental things
                                            warm light streaming past us
                                            into the dark.

                                            Lingering on the step
                                            we will hold between us
                                            this connected hour
                                            and our reluctance
                                            to part.

                                           I will turn away into the night
                                           and you will close the door.


                                           Walk Me to the Door was first published in Main Street, 
                                           Volume Five, 2002.