Sunday, August 31, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 64 - The Meaning

The Meaning

The words that make me think of you are these
Soldier – for you had my back and I, yours
Department – with Cedric’s West Indian ease
For retail was our battleground, our shore

Kids – our tiny clientele… and parents
Lollipop – abandoned doll from glorious Oz
Thumbs in suspenders, kick, ‘We represent’
Leaving us bent and gasping with guffaws

‘Yarp’ – the Hot Fuzz joke is our souls bared
A laugh – it’s not a word. A laugh’s a sound
But laughter weaves through every hour we’ve shared
And every hour we’ve shared is treasure found

The words we say, the meaning of a phrase
Like ‘love’ that we write on a birthday card
The words for you embody all our days
The yarpy days and those that felt so hard

You’ve walked 500 miles for me and more
You’ve comforted and healed. You lift me up
I’ve hugged you tight when you shook to the core
Because we laughed soon after at the ‘Yarp.’

Copyright - 2008 - Julia Smith

In the photo: me, my friend Lisa and my husband Brad

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 62 - I Can’t Be Your Captive If I Give Myself To You

Here is a second backstory poem about my latest character, Scorpius. I've been writing about him all weekend, so I did up a poem that delves deeper into his psyche. Scorpius is Chamberlain of the Keep for Lady Elysande, in a fantasy world that combines medieval society with technology. You can read the previous backstory poem and catch up on excerpt 1 and excerpt 2. I've modelled Scorpius after English actor Richard Armitage.

I Can’t Be Your Captive If I Give Myself To You

My tunic covers scars upon both wrists
Their silent witness to the blows I bore
I pulled and writhed but he would not desist
Until I would have crumpled to the floor

The manacles prevented my escape
They also meant I somehow kept my feet
The manacles preserved my pride from japes
Which never pulled the screams as when he beat

My tunic covers scars that she’s now seen
My lady with her cuffs chained to her bed
Her fingers lock me into place, between
Two posts, my clothing gone – those words I said

I hand myself to her, to be her slave
Surrender is my only hope...or grave...

Copyright - Julia Smith – Aug. 17, 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 59 - How Can I Ache For What I Never Had

I've done a backstory poem for my new character, Scorpius. It helps to get a handle on his inner dialogue.

Scorpius is Chamberlain of the Keep for Lady Elysande. The story takes place in a medieval-flavored slave-owning high-tech society.

How Can I Ache For What I Never Had

My bed belongs to my mistress, blanket and all
My keys are to her Keep, safeguarded stone
My ankles drag with phantom shackles
I hear them still, each moment I’m alone

My lineage is suspect, thus my role
My father may have strode before me
As I bowed before my lady’s guests
Wondering every time, could this man be…

My mother may have cried and fought
She may have hoped and schemed
I’ll never know, and never cease from wondering
Am I the man that either of them dreamed?

My tunic is the finest she can buy
My face and form are pleasing, for she smiles
My lips have brushed my lady’s hand, and yet
I long to kiss her foot, to lay in homage on those polished tiles

- Copyright - Julia Smith - July 27, 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 54 - Bluebird

After receiving longed-for news that I am no longer Pinnochio, but a real live boy at my job, I went joyously to see the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty, broadcast in HD from Covent Garden and shown at a cinema theatre in Halifax on Saturday. Not only is Sleeping Beauty one of my favorite ballet scores (the soul-touching Tchaikovsky), but it showcases one of my favorite pas de deux - the Bluebird pas de deux.

I love this piece of dance so much, I set out to make a short film focusing on the choreography's attempt to replicate flight. I was even shortlisted by the Canada Council for the project, but alas, did not get the grant. Someday.

The dancer who agreed to be in the film if it got the green light was Johan Persson, at left. He danced for the National Ballet of Canada when I worked at the theatre as an usher. He was the best Bluebird I've ever seen. His powerful masculinity inhabited his performance like a shapeshifter. He was shivery-awesome to behold.

He's now retired from dance and is a photographer specializing in theatre photography, as well as portraits. He's definitely spoiled me as far as Bluebird performances go. The Bluebird pas de deux takes place near the end of the ballet, so part of me is waiting and waiting for it to start, even though I'm reveling in the rest of the ballet.

Imagine my dismay when the Bluebird started and the guy absolutely sucked. She was great - he sucked. I won't even tell you who it is. If I can't say anything nice, I won't say anything at all.

*crickets chirping*

If you want to see what the Bluebird should look like, check out this wonderful performance I found on YouTube by Vitali Tsvetkov from the Mariinsky Ballet Theatre.

The Bluebird Pas de deux begins at the 2:40 mark. His solo variation begins at the 6:10 mark.


Don’t wish it all away, I always think.
The overture begins. The ballet starts.
Anticipation drags me to the brink -
The tale unfolds, each luscious scene departs.
And then the prince and princess are to wed.
I long to see one very special guest,
And when that music sweetly fills my head,
The pas de deux begins that I love best.
So masterfully he steps upon the stage,
No longer man, but fiercely vibrant beast.
More than any war with earth-bound waged,
These variations let us mortals feast
Upon the victory this dancer scores.
The man who dances Bluebird truly soars.

- Copyright - Julia Smith - June 22, 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 45 - Discovered Too Late

Here's a backstory poem for the husband of last week's poem narrator, and the step father of this narrator. Luther is a fur trapper in the northern New Brunswick woods. It's the 1830's, and he lives an isolated life in their cabin, especially when winter sets in and they are unable to leave for weeks at a time.

Discovered Too Late

I vowed to be the hero of her life
The morning that I saw her with her son
Tears rose inside as she became my wife
No longer widow - bride again, fears done
I showed the little fella how to hunt
We waited till he was asleep to lay
Together. Or I took her, to be blunt
The months passed, still not in the family way
I thought he’d be a brother to my own
The years passed, for the two of them and me
How easy it would be if he were known
The ghostly man between us she could see
Much easier to swing and hear the thwack
Each time I eased my hatred cross his back

- Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Painting - At River's Edge by Russ Docken

Monday, April 7, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 44 - The Supplicant

Since I've currently got my mind wrapped around the story for the screenplay I'm working on, here's another backstory poem. This time we meet Kate, the mother of last week's poetry narrator.

It's the 1830's in northern New Brunswick. Kate was widowed at 23 when her husband, a stevedore, was crushed beneath a crate of textiles being offloaded from a merchant ship. She had a five-year-old son, so she remarried to ensure a home, food and clothing for him. She had no idea the man who took her for a wife could be so hard on her son.

In the twelve years they've been married, she has never grown heavy with child. Each year with no offspring of his own, her new husband is more and more cruel to her son. She spends all her energy stepping between the two of them before violence erupts, but she's not always successful.

The Supplicant

I call on Mother Mary
I call on her grace
She cried, did she not
As she gazed on His face?

I call the Holy Spirit
I call for Your strength
In the silence between blows
He hands out at length

I call on my son
I call him - beware
His mood's dark today
The fury gleams there

I call on my knees
I call with head bowed
In the distance I hear it
My son cries aloud

I call to be spared
I call without hope
Wish my rosary was not
Beads but a rope

Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 43 - That Dream Again

This is a brand new poem, a backstory poem for one of my fictional characters. Arlen is a 17-year-old boy who lives in a cabin in the woods with his mother and step-father. It's the 1830's, and Arlen works the traplines with his step-father.

The relationship between Arlen and the step-father is strained at best. They are rivals for his mother's affections, and the step-father is a hard man. This story is from a screenplay titled The Penitent and the dream opens the film.

That Dream Again

In dreams I turn
Snapped twig reveals
Two eyes watching
Forest shadow moves
Breath seizes throat
Neck beads sweat

No time to reach
Musket hangs useless
Cool autumn air
Lacework gold above
Crunching leaves below
Bear surges forth

Your shot rings out
Heart nearly fails
Bear drops, tongue
Lolls from snout
You stride up
Lower musket

In dreams I turn
Your gaze moves
Up from kill
No time to run
Musket recoils
I jerk awake

In dreams I turn
I start awake
I clutch chest
No wound gapes
But sweat beads
On bowed neck

Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 42 - Where I'm From

I found this wonderful poetry template at Candid Karina's and couldn't wait to do one of my own. Here is Karina's beautiful version. I played with the form slightly but followed the content of the template.

Where I'm From

I am from ballerina jewelry box
from Capital Records 45's and Grandpa's fiddle
his stomping foot a-dideley-dideley-dideley-dye.

I am from the packed-up house
the rumbling seat in the truck with Daddy
his hands on the steering wheel tapping to Maggie May's mandolins.

I am from the piles of crisp leaves he raked to the steps
so I could jump and land and laugh
the granite bedrock edging the sea where we climbed and ran
the silent snowfall and the tug-swoosh of the sled
over the buried street.

I am from crouch, focus and shutter click
from fingers pressing piano keys
from Great-Grandpa Meuse's old photo postcards from out west
Grandma Doucet's bread rising under the tea towels
Mom picking up smoothed rocks from the beach to turn over in her hands.

I am from the stubborn Acadians and the teasing Mi'kmaq.

From Come tell Mommy what's the matter
and Hello, Sweet Pie.

I am from shh so quiet in my ear
I had to be quiet to hear it
standing still in the aisle of the packed church.
I'm from piling into the car and Dad driving
to the woods, to the beach, to the ocean.
I'm from entering these wonders of Creation like cathedrals
hearing prayer in the waves and on the wind.

I'm from the marshes of Poitou
from a morning twelve generations back
sailing from France with hope, with skill
unwavering and unstoppable.
I'm from river trout sizzling in the cast iron fry pan
from baked beans simmered for hours
blending the tartness and the sweet.

From the wolves howling
in the frozen moonlit night
chasing Grandpa's horses as they
pulled the sleigh through the dark spruce
towards home.

From the despair of my uncle lost
in the snow-laden woods with a friend
logging road to follow at dawn
hut where a man fed them peanut butter sandwiches
the look on my grandfather's face
when he saw his son alive
friend's dad clipped his boy in the head
my grandfather pulled his boy into his arms.

From the wind that came up
while my sister canoed with Dad
his calm instructions to paddle hard
her sense of danger helping her girlish arms
to dig into the choppy water with the oar
her adult body climbing onto the hospital bed
Dad struggled to let go of his last breath
her hands cupped his face
you don't have to paddle anymore
you can see the shore
go to the shore Dad.

I am from the mirror carving of The Bluenose
Dad knew I would want
his landscape shots I used to skip past
and now linger over.
Our Family Tree which my grandfather bought
but never filled in, now mine
the generations recorded by my hand.
The perfect photo deliberated, showing
the essence of me
my parents, my grandparents
my husband
his parents, his grandparents.
And the collage beside each face
showing the passions that drove us through our days.

Copyright - 2008 - Julia Smith

Monday, March 17, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 41 - To Comfort You, Shelley

I wrote this poem for my friend Shelley when her mom passed away. We were in our mid-20's and not really prepared to lose a parent. I realize one is never really prepared - my uncle can't believe his 93-year-old mother is actually gone. But Shelley's loss was the first time I came face-to-face with the chill of that reality.

Now, of course, my own words reach out to me from across that 20-year divide.

To Comfort You, Shelley

The tide moves up
To hide the gash
Along the shore

Hole ripped from your life
Waves attempt to wash it clean

Sand resettles
Hole is not so deep

When the tide moves out
The wound can still be seen

Sun bakes the salt
So it shines in the sand
These moments glisten like diamonds

When the whispery foam
Seeps in once more
You know

Though the wind has lifted her soul beyond reach
She'll return
In the way that you'll cradle your child
The songs you'll sing to her
A look in your eyes
A phrase
A gesture

She will be there
In generations you won't even know
Just as you are a part
Of those women you've never met

How fitting
That on Mother's Day
She gave herself the gift of peace
And gave you an anniversary
That will celebrate the woman she was

The tide of time
Will carry the tears out to sea
And leave behind
The wind-fresh memories
Of her strength
Her smile
Her wit
Her beauty
And the generosity that you share

Look for her
In the raindrops
That dance upon the sea
She will be where you least expect her
And know that her love for you
Did not leave with her
But is hiding in the air that you breathe

Copyright - Julia Smith - 1988


Photo by Maureen Kemp

Monday, March 10, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 40 - When I Remember My Dad

Last year at this time, my family and I were spending as much time as possible with my dad, Norman Phillips. He was in his last few weeks of life, passing away on March 24th from kidney cancer.

Of course, he's on my mind a lot. I'd like to share this poem which I wrote 20 years ago when I had moved to Toronto, spreading my wings and finding out who I was as a newly-fledged adult. I gave it to him for Father's Day, 1988. He carried this poem around with him for years, and showed it to all of his friends. More than once, I'm sure.

When I Remember My Dad

I remember
At the silliest times

Struggling with a jar of applesauce
I remember the annoyance
When I brought you a
Similar stubborn jar
You coached me to
Open myself
Rather than prove your brawn
"What if I wasn't here?"
You'd ask
"I'd eat something else instead - "

Yet the baby patiently waiting
For her lunch
Leaves me without glib options
I strain
Burst blood vessels
Run it under hot water
Tap it with a knife
Until the lid pops
And I feel your hand on my shoulder

The panic I felt
When I looked behind me
Expecting to see you running
With one hand on the back of my bike
Instead you were half a block away
Waving and laughing
I hopped off
And stopped
Enraged that you should trick me
It wasn't until you caught up
That I realized
I no longer needed training wheels
I was free to pedal the streets
On my own

How well you were cast
As Mom's foil
Christmas morning and Easter
You were up with us before dawn
You let us roam ahead on the rocks
The menacing sea below
I felt your trust
Heard you quiet Mom's fears
And felt your gaze keeping tabs
Through the boulders between us

I listened and watched
You taught me to
Pitch a tent
Snorkle in the sea
Change a tire
Mow the lawn
Pack a truck
Wishing I was your son
For your sake

By showing me
How to dismantle a bedframe
You freed me from the yoke
Of depending on men
Leaving me the time
To be myself
The race to find my protector
Cancelled on account of independence

When you taught me to drive
You kept your hands off the dashboard
I assumed your air of confidence
Your hand on the emergency brake
A secret safety net
You gave me room
To make mistakes
Your blood pressure remained stable
Even when I stalled in third gear
At a lunchtime rush hour intersection

How hard it must have been
To put the transmission in drive
Press the gas
One last wave out the window
Leaving me to make my way
So far from you
When I've known all along
How you wanted to cradle me
Safe against your shoulder
How that hand
Must have bled
As you pulled it back through the window

Copyright - Julia Smith - 1988

Monday, March 3, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 39 - Expectation

This is another backstory poem, this time for Jocelyne, the young Dowager Countess of Moncrieffe. I posted an excerpt a few Poetry Mondays ago introducing her and the Scottish gamekeeper.


My father gazed down at his first born
Hopeful still for sons, enamoured of me
My mother and I welcomed sisters
Giggling together at pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake
But no son arrived - no heir, no legacy

My father ran his father's linen mills
Who then to school, to pass the reins?
My mother tutored us in grace and wit
While father hoped for sons-in-law
And the beaux arrived - an heir yet for legacy

My father never looked for landed sons
Yet they courted us the moment we debuted
My mother cried with joy the night I shared my news
Though "I do" made me a countess, she mere 'Mrs.'
But no child arrived - no heir, no legacy

My father vowed that grandchildren might show
The hunger for his mills, and well they might
My mother travelled to my sisters' childbeds
The years went by. No Mother's trip for me
No child arrived - no heir, no legacy

My husband, earl and lord, a solid man
Companion through my days, a kiss at night
And I wandering asleep - searching - someone
Until God called him home and wrenched from me
For no son could grieve - no heir, no legacy

Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 37 - Gold That Burns

At the request of Susan, here is a bit of backstory for Guthrie Carmichael, the Scottish gamekeeper from my excerpt posted last week.

Gold That Burns

At my birth, my father bid his love goodbye
She slipped away, my sister clutching to her breast
Five boys - poor Jean a wee thing and all
No girls to wash and peel and mend
Five boys too young to work. Too young
To stop the men with fists who took him off

I pulled upon her hand yet on we trudged
She knew our father's cough would never heal
The damp, the rot, the gaol's stone walls
Took on the spectre of his hollowed gaze
My sister raised us all with his firm hand
With mother's gentle kiss, and so we thrived

While Jean seemed yet a girl, so slight, so worn
No suitor, only brothers grown and safe, in service all
Though it would hurt her to the quick to know
Her dearest Guthrie poached from the estate
Putting guineas by to sail from these cruel shores
Determined that I be the man my father dare not dream

Risking stone gaol and iron door with every snare
Am I seeking life and fortune with my plan?
Or do I run from father's dying grasp, gaining no ground
Seeing only Jean's trusting gaze each time I
Lift the false shelf to hide the gold that burns

Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Monday, February 4, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 35 - Writers' Lunch

This one is so new it's barely wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Tomorrow is the One Year Blogiversary of A Piece of My Mind. Drop by and celebrate with me!

Writers' Lunch

Real faces
I could touch
If I reached across

Words tumble
Not in my mind
But over the pasta

Morsels nourish
Even on my fork
As heads nod

I carry souls
In my heart
In my mind

Clink and clack
Drown them out
For an afternoon

Hungry muse
Happy with laughter
Plucked like a brass ring

Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 34 - The Look That Passes Between Them

This is a reworked poem from my high school years. The original version is quite long. One might even say overly long. I had a look at it recently and decided a much shorter version could be picked out of it.

The Look That Passes Between Them

Even then
She chipped away
The cornerstones reduced
To so much rubble

He grabbed the hammer
The chisel
Dashed them to the ground
Screamed and spit
Grabbed her by the hair
Dragged her to the door
Kicked to smash it open

She landed upon jagged edges
The stones she'd chipped from the tower
The pain was blinding

She rose to her feet
Her skin raw
Without the shell
He'd pried free
Still buried in a pocket

One day they'll meet again
His blue eyes no longer charged
With desperation
No shutters to keep a breeze
From tussling his hair

In his outstretched hand
A shell
In hers a polished stone

Copyright - Julia Smith - 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 33 - Pedigree

This poem was inspired by the relationship my late father-in-law suffered through with his father. I've been thinking about that a lot since he passed away. I admire him for working through his own pain enough to raise three sons who grew into caring men.


Word-stones bruise. Clammy face, chill with pale fear,
Washes over with hope for escape. Hands
Grab, shove till boy sprawls, choked by dust. By tears.

Leather whistles through loops. Skin prickles. Stands
Over him - snaking back, father's coiled strength -
- washes over with hope for escape. Hands

Grip the straw. Body curls. Jerks. Yet arms' length.
Slash/burns. Grits teeth to bite back howls. He fails.
Over him - snaking back, father's coiled strength -

Granite fury geysers hot. Leather flails.
What trigger for this scalding? ...many names.
Slash/burns. Grits teeth to bite back howls. He fails.

No action, word appeases him, nor tames.
His mother's horror serves a new rebuke.
What trigger for this scalding? ...many names.

A bond that festers, flares as quick as puke.
Word-stones bruise. Clammy face, chill with pale fear -
His mother's horror serves a new rebuke.
Leather whistles through loops. Skin prickles. Stands -

Copyright - Julia Smith - Jan. 2008

Warning: link to clip shows blood and some violence.

Photos are stills from the 2003 Swedish film Evil (Ondskan) by Mikael Håfström, starring Andreas Wilson. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. I've only seen parts of it, but it's on my to-watch list.

Switching gears entirely - just think of all the hotties out there that we don't even know about...