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.

Here is a poem to celebrate the new year. This is from my new book Time Lapse to be published in 2012 by Black Moss Press.

Bob Chelmick does a reading of this poem here:


Little Time

Time is a school of fish
fighting for bits of rice tossed into the moat
or a smile on the moon over the city at dusk
a hand with spread fingers
as a young woman leans against ancient doors of Thapae Gate

Little time is the glass globe that contains us
it is possible to believe in ghosts here
to see them in houses or at the front door
like children their noises carry
someone wakens in a dark room
sees the outline of a dead father

We slip in and out of dreams
bite into fresh pineapple
with each swallow find a shredded love

Buddha lifts his hand in the dark
everything continues to go wrong