Archive for the ‘Samples of My Writing’ Category

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.

Here’s a poem from my new book Time Lapse to remember my father on Father’s Day 2014. He has been gone now 19 years. He died on the morning of July 16, 1995 at the Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg from complications of pneumonia as my mother would also some 17 years later – in the same hospital on the same floor.  Here is a picture of the four of us taken before my sister was born. My brother and I were dressed alike even though we were 22 months apart.

Lifespan
(for Austen E. Hilles August 27, 1920 – July 16, 1995)

Yesterday a butterfly died on our deck
I watched its final twitches before wings lay flat
only then did it become familiar

I thought of my father fifteen years earlier
going still in his hospital bed
no one there to notice he’d stopped breathing

In the morning a slight wind scattered the butterfly’s
torn parts on the deck and I took comfort
in that rugged chain of command
each flaw shapes a powerful join

The anniversary of my father’s death
each life a trajectory under regulated sky
the moving parts made from something that was once a tree
before that a rock
or bits of soil and before that
a positive charge

Without that butterfly
I wouldn’t have remembered as clearly
that first moment when my father wasn’t in the world anymore

Three poems in memory of my mother Hazel Hilles who died two years ago today: Jan 20, 2012. 

It is hard to believe a full two years have passed. Mom we miss you even more now.

My mother beside Dad's Car Winnipeg 1950 Cropped Four of us in River Hills 1957Hazel at Home Longbow Lake 1976Mom in Winnipeg Sept 21, 2011

These poems are from a manuscript in progress tentatively called Woven.

A Better Vessel

On a day in July 1965
Heavy rain brought relief
From porous heat
I stood with my mother
On the beach at Longbow Lake
Two dogs chased
One another along sand
Tails wagging

Time leaves no wake
Years finely bound by love
And planetary sway
We don’t witness
Nor name
I wish every bent corner
Could be smoothed down

That day in 1965
My mother waded into the lake
And kept going
Until only her head remained out of water
I wanted to shout for her to come back
But didn’t
She was at some personal tipping point
I would learn about later

I stood with my hands at my side
The flattening rain
Fixed me there
I imagined her mind
Empty of colliding thoughts
But rarely was

When she finally stepped on land
Water drained off her
Lovely she said
And tip-toed into
Tall grass

That day comes back to me
When she is 85
And I visit her in the nursing home
Her pulse faint
Skin translucent and nearly spoiled
Eyes moist but alert
She communicates with the tug of a hand
Or quick exhale
She recognizes me
Weakly says my name
One of the few she holds onto
I listen for every
Stray word

Buffer
 
Spring peas spooned
Onto white mushrooms
Next to pickerel

I want to pretend
That terrible night didn’t happen
My mother gone
And nothing light aims
Through cracked glass
Will bring her back
I never got to ask her
Nor that
Nor did she say for certain

Summer evenings
We sat against
The side of the house
She told stories
Stars too plentiful
To be a cosmic whim
Love a shivering
Our bodies nursed to
Stubborn light
On those evenings
Her shadow stretched clear to the highway
While mine barely crossed the yard

I usually went in first and
She stayed to listen
To pleading frogs
I’d read in my room
As she finished in the kitchen
I never went to help
Heard only
The splash of hands
In dishwater
That’s the buffer

When she was finished
She went to bed
I’d wander the house later
The night so quiet
All I heard was breathing

On the day she died
I mistook the sound of the ventilator
For her voice
Thought she heard me on the phone
Until my sister said
She’s gone

East Highway – Kenora

Highway 17 east
Lakes campgrounds resorts
Home to those
Who considered Kenora
Angular and crowded

Summer nights brought
A dirge of frogs behind our house
My mother pulled the curtains
Turned up the radio

A canoe skimmed the bay
Practiced strokes of a paddle
Barely echoed on glassy water