We miss you!

Today would have been my mother’s 87th birthday. It is will great sadness that I mark her birthday without her being here to connect to. The poems below and write up help some with the pain.

Hazel Hilles Memorial Short Fiction Prize

Here is more about my mother:

My mother was born Hazel Holmes in Dryden Ontario and grew up with six sisters (Helen, Mary, Lena, Geraldine, Vera and Orchid) and three brothers (Jerry, John and Wendell). Her father Gerry Wendell Holmes wrote poetry as did she. Her mother Lena Holmes (Webster) played piano and taught piano lessons. My mother left Dryden after grade nine when she was about 16 and worked first in Winnipeg as a domestic and then later as a chambermaid at Redden’s Camp on Longbow Lake and Barney’s Ball Lake Lodge on Ball Lake.

She met my father Austen Hilles (Micky) through Mary Redden when she worked at Redden’s Camp cleaning cabins. My parents were married on Nov 3, 1950 and lived first in Kenora and later at Longbow Lake. I was born the following November. My brother Brian was born in September 1953 and my sister Cathi in March 1958. My mother loved all her children deeply and lived for them. When my father retired they moved from Longbow Lake to Winnipeg in 1986. When my father died in 1995 she moved into her first apartment and lived there until she had to go into a more extended care facilities in 2005.

She was a very warm and loving person right to the day she died and always made her children feel special and loved. No matter how frail she became she never forgot her children and lit up any time we visited. When my brother died in 2008 she said, “We must go on.” And in that spirit we will go on Mom. Still my sister and I will miss her most deeply but we have our families to help us through it. I have  Pearl and my children Breanne (her husband Kyle), Austin and Amanda (her husband Steven) and our grandchildren. Pearl has helped me through all of these rough days so far. My sister has Robert and her two sons Camille and Ben. My brother’s son Michael and his family in Calgary and my brother’s widow Pam and granddaughter Keanna will also miss her.

Without her influence I would never have started writing and from an early age she instilled in me a love of poetry and music. She wrote many poems and songs and I wish I had a record of them now, but most disappeared either in the fire of 1964 (when our house burned down) or the many moves after that. The one song of hers I remember her writing and playing on the piano when I was a boy was called “I Gave You My Heart.” She has appeared in many of my poems over the years. Below you will find two of them. One reflects on the recent past, and the other focuses on my memories of her from my childhood.

Mom succumbed to pneumonia on the afternoon of January 20th, 2012 in room 525 of the Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg. My father also succumbed to pneumonia in the morning of July 16, 1995 in room 516 of the Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg. Poetry even in that small final coincidence.

Goodbye Mom. We will always love you!

Bob Chelmick reading On Credit for her:


On Credit

Each season is a form of temper
And living creatures all
Emerge from the same swamp
We are the most bug-like
As we lay out gardens
Line up plants
Along the perimeter of a fence
If we were cold blooded we’d
Swim in icy water until our hearts stopped.

In Winnipeg the Red River nearly spills its banks
I hold my mother’s hand
As we listen to a band playing
Love Me Tender
And remember the Elvis movie she took me to
As a boy of five
And I know the whole truth is out there somewhere
And that she and I are mixed in with it

Later she lies bundled in bed for the night
The broadest smile on her face
Each day is what she wakes to
Nothing more than breath
And moistened eyes
She blows air at me
And I know she is trying to communicate
I hear sirens out her window
Proof the outside world still exists.

There are atoms that pulse so
Regularly they do not lose a second in 37 million years.
The universe is a spring that
Winds up and then down again
And has been doing so forever
When I look
Into her fading eyes
I see back to a cloudy moment
Before I was born.

After I kiss her good night
I stand at the door to her room
Until she closes her eyes
Her mouth a happy grin
I want to hold onto this moment
Want it to go on for a very long time
But as I turn to leave it has already passed.
I walk a few steps up the hall to the elevator
But come back for one more look.
Her eyes remain closed and if she senses me
She makes no sign of it.
I am struck by how peaceful she is
And separate from me
As if I have paused at a stranger’s room
I think of melting snow in April
How spring pushes forward
With force at this latitude.

When I return to the street
The parking lot has filled with large puddles
From the rapid melt
Spring is the season of most flux
Change more sped up
As the earth works quickly
Through rain and sun
As purposeful as anything
God has done on our behalf.

And as I get in my sister’s car
My mother is sound asleep
This day for her already over
Although it is barely 8 PM
That’s just how it is after a certain age
We’re but spread apart fingers
And a light puff of air
That can be quickly stopped.

And a poem remembering my mother many years earlier:

All Dolled Up

Time blurs the truth
And lies become clearer.
My mother used to get all dolled up
Before she went into Kenora
That was how she put it.
I need to get dolled up
Now she never wears make-up.
In a photo of her taken when she
Was twenty-one she wears
Lipstick and mascara
In all the others she wears none.

I liked her best without make-up
And when I’d watch her get ready
I never wondered why she wore some
And my father didn’t.
Most of those memories are badly lit.
I can’t make out much of them
No sounds or smells
Not the colours of furniture or clothes
Just a few words here and there
And some song in the background always there
Unforgettable or Moon River
What remains
Are quick hand movements in poor light

On those days my mother wore makeup
My father would drive her into Kenora
In his 1951 Ford half-ton
And she shopped for groceries or clothes for us kids.
My father waited in the truck
His hair a mess his hands dirty
If someone came by that he knew
He’d get out and talk to them
With one foot resting on the front bumper
My mother would return to the truck
Weighed down with her shopping
And my father would hoist each bag
Into the back where my brother and I waited

At home, my mother never took off
Her make-up until she went to bed
The lipstick usually smeared a bit
And the rouge vanished first
And the eye shadow ran
By the end of the day
She looked as if her face
Were slipping away.

Now she sits in her wheel chair and watches TV
Or waits to be wheeled down for a meal
She says words at random
Although in her head
They make perfect sense
We travel time together
Momentary bliss
All we have.

Our memories
Aren’t our lives
But what we’ve dolled up
In front of a mirror
To us they look beautiful
All made up.


A poem to honor what would have been my father’s 93rd birthday.

My Dad on Smith Farm 1940sFour of us in River Hills 1957

From Time Lapse (Black Moss Press 2012). A Kindle version of my book Higher Ground is available at Amazon.

A slightly earlier draft is here:

A Length of Rope

It started to rain
lightly at first
then a downpour
my father put his hand on my shoulder
and said I’m right behind you
it was a good mile from lake to house

I was 12
my father 43
my brother ahead of us
moved branches out of the way

Wet and shivering
we walked through bush thick with mosquitoes
I held onto the same length of rope
my father and brother held
so we would not separate and get lost

My father said
Boys at one point
but nothing else
when the faint light from the house came into view
my brother let go of the rope
charged ahead and
waited shivering on the porch

That was before the house burned and we moved away for good
that night in the rain
holding that length of rope
we were sea creatures suddenly making land
disoriented and unsure of our footing
near the house my father said
Time for a cigarette
but waited until inside

The rain flattened his hair
against his scalp and turned it darker
so he looked years younger
he chucked the rope in a corner of the porch
and said let’s eat boys
holding up a string of pickerel
one fish stronger than the rest flicked its tail

The damp, glistening rope lay bunched in the corner
my mother had convinced him to take it
in case it rained
she came out then with towels
took the fish from my father
the air smelled of wet cotton.

Brian and Cathi Laughing 1img005

A poem to remember my brother Brian Austin Hilles who died 5 years ago today. His laughter gone for good but not forgotten.

The Night Season

whenever I walked abroad in the night season, when
the firmament was clear and cloudless, I abandoned all else without
exception and gave myself up to the beauties of the heavens
. . . .
– Julian, Augustus, Hymn to King Helios

I think of my brother
At the end of his life
The air ahead thick
With squawking birds or
The dull drone of a tired machine
No music or kind words
A drumbeat maybe
Or the static from a radio station
Signed off for the night even the priest
Already having done his needless bit.

Today as I walk
In Chiang Mai a rat
Scurries ahead of me
Escaping the exterminator
Blowing smoke into street drains
The man works with his head down
And either does not see or care
About one that gets away.
We are all safe only for now.

Time’s forward will
Shapes an instant in its bubble.
My brother did not know why
The end came so fast.
When he asked my sister what he’d done
To deserve this pain
Nothing was all she could say
My brother the Good Samaritan
Always lending a hand when needed.

On his final day he did not sleep well
He woke several times
And in the morning had trouble breathing
Pam drove him to the hospital
And he walked in on his own
They led him to a room
With a blue number on it
As if that made a difference.

A poem to remember my brother Brian Hilles who would have been 59 today, Sept 9, 2012. This poem is from my new book, Time Lapse  published 2012 by Black Moss Press.


 (for Brian A. Hilles: September 9, 1953 to August 26, 2008)

At seventeen my brother took the hairpin curve
at the bottom of Trilake Timber Hill going ninety

Then he let his 1957 Buick coast to a stop got out and looked the
way he’d come lit a cigarette reached inside cranked up the radio

He batted the air and took a long drag drummed his knees
then went still the song played through the rhythm and lead
guitars faltering but the base line matched the car’s rough idle

He got in and drove back the way he came and this time between releasing
the gas and hitting the brake he coasted forever

Here’s a poem from my new book Time Lapse to remember my father on what would have been his 92nd  Birthday Today August 27, 2012. Here is a picture of the four of us taken before my sister was born. Notice how my brother and I were dressed alike even though we were 22 months apart.


Children pressed faces to frosted glass as a moose
ran alongside the train
later in bright moonlight
a girl galloped a horse parallel to a cedar fence

I was one of the boys on that train, my father said
after drinking half a case of Old Vienna
and rolling a cigarette using Old Chum tobacco
the horse stopped abruptly
the girl sailed head-first and didn’t get up

The train kept going
he said and moistened the sticky rolling paper edge
with a quick lick and sealed it with a pinch of thumb and forefinger
lit the cigarette with a wooden match
struck against his pant leg

Years later I visited him in the hospital in Winnipeg
as he received chemo-therapy
after a while he turned the TV a bit louder
the actors having more to say

I thought of that girl and how I’d never know her fate
when my father fell asleep I went to the window
watched a quarter moon make its nightly progress
the certainty of that not what I needed
I closed the blinds
returned to my chair
sat in the same electronic glow
that outlined my father

The new issue of offSIDE e-magazine is now available from Black Moss Press:


Offside main page:


This issue features a preview of Robert Hilles’ upcoming book time lapse (Black Moss, 2012), as well as interviews with Hilles and Book Thug managing editor / author of Croak (Coach House, 2010) Jenny Sampirisi. January’s issue also collects photography by Emily Carr graduate Rozalind Ewashina, poetry by Vanessa Shields and Braydon Beaulieu and an excerpt of celebrated writer Ava Homa’s forthcoming novel.

A poem for my mother, Hazel Hilles from Nothing Vanishes and Wrapped Within Again 

Higher Ground is also available.

Nothing Vanishes


My mother picks mushrooms
out in the bush, small hands
reaching between the thistles
perfectly, never once getting
nicked. She doesn’t worry about
picking poisonous ones.
She knows what they look like
and avoids them.
Her fingers, smelling musty
from all those mushrooms,
reach up from the earth
to touch me.

Mushrooms line the table
and she cuts through some
and washes others and she
offers me one and I look at it
for awhile and then
put it in my mouth,
never sure if it is poisonous or not.
Her fingers have remained young
despite everything.
As she cleans the dirt from
beneath a nail later,
she sings softly to herself.
I want to join in but don’t,
just listen as the past lingers
outside every window and all
I can taste is mushrooms for hours after.


She boils rice on the wood stove
and fries some of the mushrooms
and tastes one now and then.
She doesn’t care what I’m thinking
or what the fire begs her to do.
She ignores everything but her cooking—
the mushrooms pulled quickly, authoritatively
from the stove.

After supper my mother
puts the rest of the mushrooms
in the fridge hiding them
in various brown paper bags.
Tomorrow after I return to the city
she will continue to eat them,
looking at them on her plate,
gentle reassuring shapes.
For a moment they might look
ruined, all shrivelled there
waiting to be consumed,
becoming once more what the earth
expected. And as she eats them,
somewhere inside her she
loses and finds again her God.
Her soul is something she thinks of
as she looks at her young fingers.
Her son so far away calls to ask
about the mushrooms, but doesn’t,
asking about something else instead.


New mushrooms come up to replace
the ones she picks.
In a few weeks she will go out
to collect them, returning
to familiar rocks and trees.
Sometimes while picking mushrooms
she will kneel to pray,
the bush so quiet her heart
forms a thunder around her.
I can almost hear her prayers
as I imagine her kneeling before
a certain pine tree.
Its not the words I hear
but the murmurs between each word,
long and certain coming from
where I imagine her soul to be.
When she stands again her legs are shaky
and I reach out a hand to steady her
but touch the window of my office
instead. Opening my eyes
the city looks aimless as it
vanishes at the horizon.
The earth beneath her feet
supports her as my outstretched hand can not.


I don’t buy mushrooms in the supermarket
but walk past them and see my mother
turning her nose up at them,
tame and small on the counter.
She is what I will dissolve into.
I am what she has left the world
and my skin no different than hers
washes in the sunlight and does not
shine but reflects a dull image
of something bright.


I do not send her flowers or telegrams
just show up now and then,
expecting to eat mushrooms
and to talk.
When my plate is empty
I will lay down my knife and fork
knowing that when God comes
he can do no damage
or provide any answers,
because the only answers there are
I have already found:
my stomach full, the night
still a few hours off,
and my mother moving about
her small house as if
she were already in heaven.