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