In the Old House

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An earlier version of this poem was the very first piece I had published, in The Claremont Review back in 1996. I am posting it here because it seems to fit in with what Paul Pearson is doing over on his new blog Objectifyse. I especially like the series of photos of the apple trees. He wrote about a horse too (scroll down the page to read his poem “Small Plastic Horse”).

Horse

In the Old House

I remember

sitting on the bench near the door
listening to words
muttered under your breath
don’t smell Grandma’s baking
in the kitchen
until the plate of cookies
enters the room

wood whittling magic
I am fascinated by blocks of wood
and knives and chips
falling to the floor in a pile
that scatters when you get up
go to the kitchen for cigarettes

kicking against the bench
where shoes are hidden
behind the little door on the side
(once I took out all the shoes, crawled in,
wondered how you knew)
you growl that there is too much noise
ruining the magic
stop

I remember
holding what you had carved for me
amazed I gazed from horse
to wood-chips and wondered how
you made something more
by taking so much away

The card from the recipe box for my favourite meal

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garden at the farm

a garden with rich soil
seeds for carrots, lettuce, cucumber, onion, dill, peas
the last of the previous year’s potatoes for seed
tomato seedlings, purchased from a neighbour
a milk cow
a steer
a well tended raspberry patch
from the pantry: salt and pepper, barbeque sauce, vinegar, sugar
3-4 children to help with the weeding (optional)

In May, plant carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, dill and peas. Tie baler twine to stakes to guide the rows straight. Cut up the old potatoes, and plant the pieces with the eyes facing up so they will grow. Watch the sky every morning and hope for rain and sunshine in the proper proportions. Weed as necessary. Hill the potatoes and build the pea fence using the old chicken wire behind the red shed.

Butcher the steer.

Feed the milk cow. Milk her once she has calved, and dunk the calf’s nose into a pail of milk until she learns to drink. Pasture the cow on a field without weeds, or the milk will reek.

In July, prepare the meal. You will know it is time when you dig under a potato plant and find a handful of new potatoes, the size of small stones, with thin, transparent skin.

Pick and shell the peas. Pull carrots, a few onions. Pick a handful of dill leaves, enough lettuce for salad, tomatoes and cucumbers. Wash all the vegetables. Examine each lettuce leaf carefully, lest a slug crawls up the salad spoon while you are eating.

Make a salad with the lettuce, cucumber, green onions, tomatoes. Mix the salad dressing: whisk together a quarter cup of cream, a teaspoon of vinegar, salt, pepper, dill, and sugar. Cut the carrots and cucumbers into sticks.

Cook the peas and stir in a spoonful of homemade butter before serving. Boil the potatoes with a pinch of salt. Smother in sauce made from thickened cream and dill. Barbeque the steaks over charcoal briquettes.

Serve outside at the picnic table under the maple trees. Feed bits of steak to the dog, even though her manners are terrible. Relish the evening sun, the breeze that keeps the mosquitoes away, the respite from work.

For dessert, pour fresh cream over raspberries picked that day.

Savour this food and all these moments, knowing that food does not taste like this in the city, where no one remembers how the meal came to be on their plate.

Photo: Mom’s garden at the farm this year. Although it is smaller than when we were growing up, it is still large by city standards.

Pottery Class

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Last week, as I was sorting through a box of bisque-fired pottery and deciding which pieces to glaze for the next wood firing, I broke a pot. Of course it was a bowl I was quite pleased with – I never break the failed experiments. I sat there, holding the pot and the shard I had carelessly snapped off, and I remembered some advice from my first pottery teacher during my first pottery lesson, more than ten years ago.

My thanks to editor Anne Burke who published this poem in Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature in 2008.

 

Pottery Class

the instructor says
don’t get too attached
and as weeks pass
I learn

how wet clay collapses
under unsure hands

how clay not properly prepared
cracks in the heat
of the kiln

how glaze applied
too thickly
runs
fuses to the kiln shelf

but I discover
the joy
of going home
with dirt under my fingernails
and smudges on my face

that to centre the clay
on the wheel
I must first
centre myself

weeks later
I hold the crooked bowl
from that first night
and allow myself
the satisfaction
knowing
even now
that it could fall

and I would have
to let it go

Driving North on Highway 43

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Somehow it is Thursday, and I haven’t posted anything here yet this week. I am starting to wonder if my goal of two posts a week is too ambitious, but rather than give up, I am allowing myself to bend the rules a bit and offer the occasional #throwbackthursday post.

This weekend I will be driving to Grande Prairie to visit friends. When I moved to Grande Prairie in May 2001, to start my first professional job as the Children’s Librarian at Grande Prairie Public Library, I had no idea how significant highway 43 – the highway south from Grande Prairie that led to the two places I called home at that time: my parent’s farm in Barrhead and Edmonton where most of my friends lived – would become to me over the next few years.

An excerpt of this poem was published in 2007 by the Calgary Herald in their Discovering Alberta series.

 

Driving North on Highway 43

 

1. the first time, from Barrhead

I moved to Grande Prairie
and suddenly, home an
hour north of Edmonton
became south, and this highway
the umbilical cord
straining to pull me back
to the land that birthed me

 

2. and many times after that

I find myself on this road
driving south to north and north to south

to pass the time I count the creeks
that weave their way through trees
under the highway before disappearing
into the bush again and I wonder
who gave my favourite,
the tiny Chickadee, its name

eventually this highway and I
become uneasy friends
as I learn to forgive the slights of
oil patch trucks racing to work
and the sight of road-kill
decomposing on the shoulder

instead I look for beauty:
the valley at Bezanson
glorious in autumn
before the big wind
sweeps away the splendour;
a great horned owl perched on a sign
Fox Creek 46 km;
brush piles burning at dusk

mostly I drive straight through
but once I stopped at Kleskun Hills
climbed to the plateau
spent an hour lying in tall grass
watching sky change pretending
not to notice those first drops

 

3. close call

driving through Sturgeon Lake Reserve
in a blizzard blinded by whiteout

just over a rise snow shifts
reveals an oncoming semi
passing another semi
despite double solid lines
hidden under the snow

so I drive on the wide shoulder
knuckles white
the trucks roar past

as I pull back into my lane
the shape of a man appears

a dark shadow in the beam of the headlights
walking through the blizzard
just before the sign
to watch for pedestrians

 

4. seasons

driving north on highway 43
I witness the seasons
each with its own particular colour:
the new green of spring,
summer’s azure sky,
burnt umber, ice white

with each I become more
part of this northern place until home
is at both ends of the highway