Here is a new poem from Line due out from Black Moss Press  in March of 2018:

 

Sketchy

 

Time zigzagged for my mother

Like jazz on a sax

She was born poor

Had six sisters and three brothers

Her family eked by

Her father a religious man

Thought God pugnacious

And taciturn

A torturer at times

A dangler of easy promises

Her mother

Played Mozart on the piano

Tiptoed about the house

In the middle of the night

Sat sometimes for hours

At the piano without playing a note

 

My mother ran away to the city

Wrote a few letters home that’s all

Fell in love

Married my father

Love never the making

But what the heart lets

Stay buried

She played the piano too

And prayed for hours

An amalgam of the house

Where she grew up

Where music had to fight noise

And then a sister would

Throw open the door

Let in the wind and snow

Rush in

Her father standing

In the doorway

Coat pulled tight about him

On his way to feed the pigs

 

All her sisters left home

Because of love

Their beliefs a product

Of radios and chewing gum

My mother took her time getting to me

And later my brother and sister

Her body resisting

All of us sketchy

Time a kernel

From which life grows

Even those deeds

The good hold fast

I said goodbye to her

A final time on the phone

And then looked for the moon

In the half doused sky

But saw only blinking lights

In the street below

The present pressed

Too firmly into place.

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Here is a prose piece from Calling the Wild, published by Black Moss Press.

This is for the memory of my brother, Brian Austin Hilles, who would have turned 64 today, Sept 9, 2017

Calling The Wild Cover

Ghost Lake

 

Ghost Lake was a mythical lake that only a few people, including my father, claimed to have seen. When my father was twelve or thirteen, Royal took him to see it. Local legend was that only good people could see the lake and that a bad person would walk right into it and be halfway across before they realized it was there. Most of them drowned.

According to my father, Ghost Lake was five miles north of Royal’s farm and was only about a 1/4 mile across, but so deep it didn’t have a bottom. Toss a stone in it and the stone would fall forever. The lake was so plentiful with pickerel and lake trout that fishing was as easy as dipping in a hand. The water was so clear he watched large schools of pickerel dodging each other only inches below the surface.

When my brother and I were teenagers, we spent a summer in search of Ghost Lake. Nearly every morning, we’d pack a lunch and walk due north as my father instructed. No matter what route we took, in no time we’d reach water. We swam in a dozen different lakes over that summer. But none of them had the mystically clear water of Ghost Lake. These were lakes full of tadpoles and bottomed by leeches. Any fish in those waters was bound to be God-awful ugly bottom feeders. Catfish or suckers

When we’d had enough of swimming, we’d circle the lake in search of berry patches. Wild strawberries and raspberries in early July, blueberries later. We’d eat our fill before returning home with hands dyed red or stained purple.

It was while we were picking blueberries one afternoon in early August that I thought I saw water shimmering between the trees. When I went to investigate, I saw another lake through the spruce boughs, a little more north of where we’d normally stopped. I left the blueberries to my brother and set off to explore on my own.

At the first, I lost sight of the lake, but I climbed a nearby poplar and it came back into view. This time I fixed on its location and continued in that direction. From the tree, it appeared not to be far, but I as I walked, it didn’t get any closer, and I wondered if it was a bigger lake than I first thought.

Finally, after I’d been walking for about half an hour, I reached it. The lake was the right size to be Ghost Lake, but its water was filthy brown. I knelt down to test the water and it was icy cold.

Just then, I heard a scream and turned in time to see my brother charging straight at me. He must have been tracking me the whole time. He pushed me into the water, clothes and all. I screamed and grabbed at the bank but couldn’t pull myself out. Asshole. I shouted at him and called him other names too as he stood smiling down at me. That is when I felt them. Little nudges at first against my leg and then they become more urgent, and when I felt around I realized that hundreds of fish surrounded me.

Help! I yelled at my brother who must have seen the terror in my eyes because he dropped to his knees and quickly pulled me out.

Jesus, what did you do that for? I swatted at him but he was too busy looking in the water to notice.

Look, he said, fascination in his voice.

I joined him at the bank and the water was roiling from the tails of huge silver fish. My brother reached in, pulled one out, and tossed it on the bank. It must have weight five pounds.

The fish lay gasping on the ground. It had an ugly head with large deformed eyes. Maybe the lack of light caused the eyes to mutate. I kicked it further up the bank over earth, which smelled strongly of dead fish. Half decayed or stripped carcasses were scattered everywhere. Bears had feasted here recently. The thought of that made we want to head home, but when I turned back to the lake my brother had stripped and jumped into the water and was trashing around to keep the fish away. His feet struck something on the bottom and he gave out a yell. He struggled for a moment and then hoisted out a rusted bumper. He searched around some more in the water for car parts and ended up throwing another fish up onto the bank before getting out.

My brother wrapped up the larger of the two fish and put in his pack and then we left for home. When my father saw the fish he said it was some strange kind of trout he’d never seen before. We called them Ghost fish because of the way their colours camouflaged them and made them hard to see in the water.

My brother and I were curious about the bumper of the car. How did that get in there? My brother asked.

At first, my father didn’t believe us and thought we were making it up.

Maybe there was a road there a long time ago, before the war, and it has since grown over. My father finally said. There used to be all kinds of roads out here before the highway.

I wondered how many other cars were rusting away on the bottom of that lake. I wondered too if they had something do with the fish being so deformed. My brother and I decided to call it Rusty Lake although years later I learned its proper name was Puma Lake.

My brother and I never did find Ghost Lake and by the end of summer, I started to wonder if Ghost Lake wasn’t just another of my father’s drunken stories that he kept telling because he wanted them to be true and if he told them often enough they might be.

An older poem from Nothing Vanishes. To remember my father who died 22 years ago today on July 16, 1995. He died the year before this book came out although most of the poems in it including this one were written before he died.

 

Last Words To A Father

There can be none, only a short wave or certain smile that comes again when you are asleep or talking to your daughter, her head tossed a particular way. On some Saturday or Sunday you will call home and there will be no answer only a long ringing in your ear, and as you put down the receiver the words will form again at the back of your mind, and you will think of a particular color or taste, and you will open your mouth as if to speak but you will step forward instead and look into your hands as if they held something beautiful, and as you do you will begin to cry, and from across the room a thin pale smoke will drift as if your father has just finished smoking one of his strong cigarettes. You will stare at the empty chair. The house quiet on a quiet street. Off in the distance a dog will bark at someone. The world will become so faint that you will begin to see behind it the face of your father and his eyes. How did they get there?

Here is a new poem from my book Line (coming 2017) to remember my father who died 21 years ago today.

Dad by Rock 1940sMy Dad on Smith Farm 1940sPicture 001

Perch

This precarious perch
our one go
the row of lights
blinding at times
but around them only dark
a hedgerow of rhododendrons
spiked intent
behind the facade
a child plays with spark plugs
the timing of my father’s engine
the grin godly
mischief how it all leaps ahead
the timing belt on his truck
could snap sends stars
scattering into the night
no one draws near
all wrongs not righted
but propped up somehow
every creature
complete with some sort of spine
or other mechanism
for explaining
that the perch is gained
but once and not for that long
the moving parts always different
if my father looks now to one side
as a bear or beaver
hurries in the underbrush
down the way a creek swells its banks
the birch and poplars around
greedy for all that water
roots pushed so deep
they hit rock and progress sideways

my father parks
on the other side of the creek
carries a 30/30 rifle on his shoulder
finds a rock to settle
disturbs the moss and sits
waits for a deer
there are few noises
now and then
the huff of wind
leaves flutter
or to his right a bird of some sort
calls once
a squirrel chatters
then bounds between trees
all this movement
how it all keeps
spinning out of control
if not brought here
then how
does it come to be?
all of it a lurch of some sort
explained only in some
unravelling prayer
it is autumn
my father the deer hunter
wears running shoes
red checkered hat
pushed back exposing forehead
glasses scratched
teeth mostly gone
he holds the rife a steady aim
he was once stars
and will be stars again
and is stars now
but that day he
is all of us
ashamed holding fast
telling the truth
in his head
he craves a cigarette
but stays focused
hears the deer
to his right
advancing toward the creek
for water
each animal
needing precisely what
the earth serves up
even my father here
moments from killing the deer
sees how everything he needs
has been provided
all of it working fine
before laws
before the amassing of wealth
before that nimble thing
called history
that prepared argument
even a god would shun
if one were asserted into place
the precarious perch
even my father
then only a decade or so
from being dead too
he has known this bush
since a boy and now
hunts it as an old man
the deer too has a journey
that took it to this
very creek
its head a truthful place too
even if my father has no sense
of what its thoughts might be
later after my father
pulls the trigger
and approaches the still warm body
it is all familiar to him
as he cuts into flesh
hands bloodied
he learned this chore
years ago
the meat inside
only a ghost of something older
the wind at his back
another of those negotiations
he knows
later he washes his hands in the creek
carries the carcass to his stone boat
drags it back to his truck
parked between spruces
lifts one end of the deer
onto the tailgate
then the other
pushes across that metal scrape

on the drive home
he could check on the dead deer
in his rear view mirror
but doesn’t
his thoughts race
past the point of words
when he signals
for his road
there are no oncoming cars
but waits a moment before turning
as though there were
can’t explain that
now or later
when I ask him about it
all he says
is that it was his last deer
that there wasn’t as much meat
on it as there used to be
that’s his argument with god
I know that even if he doesn’t say
it takes a very long time
to gain what a life holds
and then it is all lost again
the final exhale
erasing it all
then he is still my father
even if all that made him
is mostly shut off

that day though with the last deer
he sits on the tailgate for a few moments
after loading the deer
sniffs the air
catches hints of spruce needles mixed
with the sourness of fallen leaves
he doesn’t reflect on the deer’s life
or his own or what brought them both
here today
mostly his mind empties of thought
the moment not really requiring thought
only the necessities of being
breath, balance, movement, pause
attention or at least attending
eventually he gets in the truck
and drives away
his hands perched on the steering wheel
grip firmly and he aims his truck
down the highway
the dead deer in the back
not the only thing he
is transporting with him

My Dad on Smith Farm 1940sMom and Dad 1957Four of us in River Hills 1957Picture 001

My father, Austin Edwin Hilles (Micky) died 20 year ago today  (July 16, 1995). He was the inspiration for this early poem of mine and the last lines in particular are an homage to him. I have written many poems about him over the years but this poem in particular recognizes what he tried to give me. I wrote this poem 40 years ago now.

The poem, Then, from my very first book, Look the Lovely Animal Speaks, published in 1980 by Turnstone Press. I wrote this poem in late 1975 with a pen and paper. Did not even have a typewriter yet. Seems a long time ago now that I wrote this (I was in Chris Wiseman’s creative writing class at the time – he is a master teacher and poet).

Then

poverty teaches no one
it’s just dark and small
like a revolver.
always ready to be
the final judge.

I remember dirty walls,
macaroni, television, and
dumping the slop pail.
there was no beauty
you just survived
between paydays.

my father
drank every Friday
and Saturday nights
he lived between
the borders of the day shift
and the night shift.
that was the only
structure I knew.

I know now
that he sold
what little of himself
he had so that I could eat.
what kind of change is that?
where one generation sacrifices
itself so that the next one
can walk on its bones
with a new pair of shoes.

Look_The_Lovely_Animal_Speaks

A poem for my son Austin to celebrate his 25th Birthday Today ! From Partake

 

This Glorious and Ruined Self

My son sits at his high school
Graduation dance and leans forward
Eager for what comes next
I want to hold him
Tell him everything will be okay
He doesn’t dance
But sits while friends visit
Later we pose for a photograph
And when I look at it
The privacy of that moment
Eludes the camera.

Later we wait for the C train
And Calgary darkens to
The same burdened traffic
And end of day rush
Of any modern city
He is in flight from me
At an ever greater speed
He fits in his own life best
I don’t know his wishes
Like I once did
And still on days like this
Just being his father is enough.

Each young life starts slow
And then gains momentum
As dreams unearth
The dangerous parts
On the C train I discover
The man he will be
In the quick smile he gives me
Before we get off
I come up short
What I’ve planned to say
No longer rings true

Instead we walk
In the freshly made dark
Overhead a few brighter stars
Penetrate the city’s canopy
And I want to pitch a rock
And knock one from its perch
Make one more wonder between us
Before I let him go.

A poem to remember my father and mark the 19th year since he died on July 16, 1995. This poem is from Time Lapse, Black Moss Press, 2012. Here are two pictures of him. The first is of my father and mother taken in River Hills Manitoba in the summer of 1957. The second picture was taken on the Smith farm outside Kenora around 1939 when my father was still a teenager:

Mom and Dad 1957

 

 

Summer

The final two weeks of my father’s life he spent on the west coast in an early heat wave. The last night back in Calgary, I found him sitting out under the stars enjoying a rare cigarette at three in the morning. That’s the North Star, he said pointing at a particularly bright object. He told me how he used it to find his way home after hunting.

He butted his cigarette on the cement steps of my house and insisted on going up the stairs on his own. I stood below watching each shaky step. He didn’t look back even when he got to the top but kept going to the guest bedroom. When I went up later the door was open a crack and I almost went in but I couldn’t think of what I’d say once there.

He died a week later during morning rush hour, the hospital room already stuffy with summer heat, the city going about its daily business. When I saw him lying on a stretcher in the morgue I couldn’t get used to his deadness and how his body was in this room but he wasn’t. I wanted him to get up and say something but I had to do all the talking.

It is the unyielding of that which is most difficult. The day too hot to be alone in and yet I was.