Fall Haiku

Paddle River

This week marks the official turning of the season, and it seems appropriate to share a few haiku here. My gratitude to editors Patrick Pilarski and Nicole Pakan for previously publishing these haiku over at DailyHaiku in 2007.


green tomatoes
in a bowl
waiting for red


a dog’s joy:
riding in the back
of the pickup


shelling the last peas
autumn chill cuts the air
summer bleeds


ripe tomato, sliced
seeds spill out
taste of summer


walking by the river
poplar leaves fall
perfect little boats


leaves fall in the river
drift by me
spectator to the parade


tree outside the window
touched by Midas


grey sky
red combines crawl
across the field


the eagle rolls over
shows talons
to the attacking hawk


one last tomato
overripe, skin wrinkled


walking home I startle
two not-quite white rabbits

first snow
dusts the sidewalk
footprints give me away


Summer Away

I had three days in London last week, to wander around and remember the six months I spent living and working there in 1998. Here is a poem about that time.

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

Summer Away

After a week in London
I joke that my dream job
is to cut the grass
in Hyde Park, an oasis
in the grey jungle
of soot covered stone buildings,
the labyrinth of streets
that bears no resemblance
to maps in the A to Z.

Christina laughs
as we sit in the sun,
watch workers drive mowers
across the expanse of green,
says, you wouldn’t like it
when it rains.

So I give up the idea,
do what my friends do
and trudge each morning
to work, swallowed
by another dismal building
only to be spit back out
at five o’clock
to walk home through Hyde Park,
fresh clippings in my shoes.

Firing the wood kiln

wood kiln

Twice a year, the pottery studio I work out of rents this wood fire kiln. It’s an incredible opportunity for amateur potters like me to learn about wood firing. These photos are from the June firing. This month, while I am travelling, my newest pieces will be fired without me.

During the rest of the year, I fire my pieces in the studio’s electric kiln. Glazes are a combination of chemicals that when heated during firing turn to glass, the colour of which depends on the recipe of the glaze used. The heat in an electric kiln is always constant, so the colours of the glazes turn out consistent and predictable. If applied correctly, robin’s egg blue is always blue, and autumn leaves is always a deep red-brown.

Firing in a wood kiln adds an element of unpredictability to the process, and with this unpredictability comes opportunity. Instead of rising steadily, the temperature fluctuates as the fire is stoked by hand until it reaches 1200 degrees Celsius. Ash blows around and settles on the pots, producing unique effects that can never be reproduced. Even the weather during the days the kiln is fired can affect the results.

This particular kiln takes about 48 hours to fire. During that time, students, instructors and the kiln owners take shifts to stoke the kiln, adding more wood every five to ten minutes. One of the indicators that more wood is needed is the size of the flame flickering out of this small peak hole:

firing the wood kiln

Once 1200 degrees is reached, the “cones” are checked to see if the kiln is hot enough. The cones are small upright indicators that bend in succession as the kiln heats up. Then the vents are closed so that reduction can occur, a step that is important for some of the glazes.

Finally, we close the kiln and leave for several days to let it cool down. Later, we return to empty it:

emptying the kiln

Here are some of the finished pieces from the June firing:

pots fired in the wood kiln 2

Finally, you can see some of my pots from that firing by clicking here.


It’s been more than ten years since I took my first pottery class and made my first crooked and heavy pots. During that time, I have thought a lot about how the process of creating pottery and the writing process are similar, and I have written about those similarities. There is nothing like a wood-firing in the writing process, though: there is no moment when the writing is so out of the writer’s control that it can come out in completely different than expected. At least, not in my experience. For the writers out there, do you have any thoughts about how writing can be (or is) “wood-fired”?

Thank you for reading. I love it when people stop by to say hi in the comments. All kind and thoughtful comments are welcome.

In the Old House

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”).


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

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

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.