Friday, October 30, 2009

Hand-me-downs

Each spring and fall, I would stand soundly complaining in my underwear in the drafty spare bedroom, while my mother pulled neatly folded clothing from overstuffed green garbage bags and made me model each item.

My parents are both the youngest children of big families; that guaranties hand-me-downs aplenty, even for their children.

Mom had always wanted little girls, sweet feminine things with long hair to braid. She rummaged through the bags, pushing dresses, skirts, bows, lace and pink. Naturally, I abhorred all these things.

The clothes from our family friend, Amanda, were brand label trendy things with white lace hems and floral print patterns. I preferred clothes from my cousin Mary, who subscribed to my six-year-old fashion philosophy that wearing mostly matching sweatshirt and pant sets featuring cartoon characters was cool. Mary was my childhood idol anyway, so I wore her clothes like a lock of hair at my neck.

Mom would try to trick me by mixing up the bags, but I could recognize my cousin by smell. Such is pure, childish devotion.







        What kind of clothing did you like/have to wear as a kid?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pretty things

Queen Street is a good choice
if you want to see pretty things

a stranger in a long woolen scarf
steps off the curb as the light changes
effortless high heel tightrope walk
hair like clear pouring water
peacock lashes and honey eyes
          I stare at beautiful women
          even more than beautiful men

nameless face, I want to watch you
you wrest me back from time imagined
and make the present
               this one single moment
fleeting and exquisite

I wonder vainly if people ever look at me
that way




Photo by BS Thurner Hof



        What are we so captivated by pretty things?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween memoir


  1. Age five

    I wanted to be Raphael
    (the ninja turtle, not the painter)
    so Mom helped me select green clothes,
    cut eyeholes into a red strip of cloth,
    sewed a round, green pillow for a shell.

    My three-year-old sister wore it the next year,
    the shell nearly as wide as she was tall.
    She looked more turtle than ninja.


  2. Age ten

    Two weeks before Halloween,
    my mom bought little chocolate bars
    to give to trick-or-treaters.
    They were gone three days later, of course.

    Every year after, she bought lollipops
    or candy corn or neapolitan liquorice
    or some other undesirable sugary thing
    that couldn't tempt the weak willed.


  3. Age nineteen

    And so came the age at which Halloween
    required you to buy fake eyelashes
    and wax and shave and pluck elsewhere.

    I went to a university club in Hamilton
    dressed as Sally Bowles from Cabaret.
    Not a single person recognized my costume,
    but it sure did get a lot of compliments.


  4. Age twenty-three

    I shell out for a glow-in-the-dark skeleton,
    a large pumpkin, $40 worth of makeup, fangs
    and black dye to make me Nosferatu/Dracula;
    Somebody's gotta show these Twilight pussies
    what a vampire's supposed to look like.
    Youth of today, put the sparkles away!

    Carving knives in one hand, Jäger in the other,
    we carve intricate pumpkins at my kitchen table.
    Cell phone camera shots document our work
    before the ants can chew away the details.




Almost forgot to mention: My poem "Paper mate" has been accepted for publication in Issue 32.4 of Room Magazine. Yes indeed, I am feeling pretty awesome today.




Pumpkin carving credits: (starting from the leftmost, moving clockwise) Shayla and Andrew, Katie, Mary, Jon and Floris, and Matt.



        What's your favourite or most vivid Halloween memory?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Carnival

Daylight dulls all magic; the carnival sleeps
like a basking cat and wakes at night.
The sun sinks behind smooth plastic ponies
and the rainbow lights on the carousel
make a sky of candy apple stars.

The crisp evening air is stronger:
roller coaster screams ride farther on it,
popcorn smells more familiar in it.
It nibbles cheeks, tosses hair and squeezes
couples closer in their seats.

At midnight, the rides stiffen
like dead flowers, huge skeletal beasts
and dizziness is replaced with loneliness.
We sigh and turn for home, our hearts
empty as the Ferris wheel.


This was written in response to a poetry prompt from Read Write Poem.



Fair Fireworks, by auburnnewyork



        How do you feel at the end of a fair or carnival, when it's time to go home?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday hangover

Katie fills my house with takeout burger smell
greasy ground beef pickles cold fries Styrofoam
three girls sit with heads hanging low
like ripe, heavy fruit on lazy vines

no clever conversation can be born
of brains still learning to brood
on fewer cells than yesterday, so we sketch
on the back of a grocery list: primitive cartoons
of people we know with notoriously bad hair
and laugh til we cry vodka tears







        Is it possible to have meaningful or memorable moments with friends that don't include any form of constructive communication?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pictures in a stucco wall

A child's rain hat, sailing along the gutter river.
Carbonated explosion from a jostled pop can.
Scarf tail blown upward in a sudden winter wind.
Breasts, much bigger than mine.
An empty wine glass, tipping from a table's edge.
Tea kettle, waiting. Patiently. Stubbornly.
A sleeping bat, blanketed snug in his own wings.
Sharp cardboard wings on an angry butterfly.
Housecat making a familiar leap, eyes closed in knowing.




Walt Whitman's Cardboard Butterfly



        Ever look for "pictures" in stucco walls, wooden tables, tree bark, clouds?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Confounded


  1. Those who can't teach, do

    If you don't enjoy riddles, you probably won't like poetry.

    Some poems are guitars, chords nested deep and sparse within the strings and no matter how many times your dad tries to explain it to you the notes just seem to pop up here and there, just willy-nilly wherever they like.

    Insight like Kingston Road: you're never quite sure where you're going to come across it.

    I write poetry like I play music, just sounding out the notes and practicing over and over, building up muscle memory. I don't know what I'm playing, but people tell me it sounds pretty.


  2. Andrew writes me a poem

    Roses are red
    Violets are blue
    Something something
    Something poo


  3. A six year old reads Tolstoy

    I may never be the person who can
    look at one shade of paint on a canvas
    (left untitled, the height of laziness!)
    or poems in thin, glossy books that read:
    sky telephone lace purple miracle
    and claim to feel something.

    I cry to the poem, "I don't understand you!"
    and the poem answers, "Then hear me.

    That is how it begins."




Black Square by Kazimir Malevich



        How do you feel about abstract poetry and art? What criteria, if any, does something need to meet in order to be called poetry or art?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Caring for houseplants

Eating leftover spaghetti
at our cluttered kitchen table
I put my hand on your knee
feeling the stitch where I sewed up
the tiny rip in your pajama pants
and ask, "Has anyone really close to you
ever died?"

"Me neither," I say.

We are potted plants
cultivated far from the storm;
our roots grow deep,
our stems frail.







        Do you feel you've lived a sheltered life? In what way?

Monday, October 19, 2009

the shredder

                                         r
                            r        r
                               r  r
                          r    rr r r   r   r
                           rr r r  rr r r           r
the merrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr r r r r  r r  r
ciless whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrr rr rr rrr  r    r
of the shrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rr r r r r  r
edderrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrrrr r rrr r  r r
makes the worrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrrr rr rr r r rr     r
k hourrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rr rrr rr rr  r
s everrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rr rr r  r r  r           r
morrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rr  r rr r  r
e sourrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr r  r r r r r r r rr     r
                           rr  rr r r r r  r
                         r    r  rrr rr  r  r
                              r r  rr r
                             r   r  r  r     r
                                  r  r
                                r         r







        What about your workplace drives you crazy? How do you deal?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dear Poet

We receive calls while you would like the opportunity to. We are not accepting. We have the latest submission thinking of us.

We cannot accept your interest in our magazine. We cannot accept the opportunity to strongly encourage you, the opportunity to "Nourish, satisfy". We are unable to comment on the following work: your future.

Your collection of poems does not meet our needs. Unfortunately, we were given a small percentage of them. Read your manuscript: it does not meet our needs, placing your work elsewhere. Work elsewhere. After careful consideration we find that your creative endeavours work elsewhere. We thank you, however, for careful consideration.

Your collection of poems makes it impossible. Feel free to publish time. If you have any further questions, read your manuscript.

Time constraints strongly encourage you. The latest submissions, they were given time. Consider us again. Submit your work, your collection of poems, consider your work. Make it impossible.

I'm afraid. Please, the best: excellent manuscripts, our future, our magazine. We can only publish our future at this time.

Thank you for time, calls. Thank you for allowing our future. We invite you to comment on publication.

Sorry!
Managing Editor


What you just read was a "cut-up" poem, made from five photocopied rejection letters from five Canadian literary magazines (part of a weekly poetry exercise from Read Write Poem). I cut up the letters into phrases or words, as seen in the image below, and fished them randomly out of a jar. I did that five times, then comprised the above poem using my favourite "sentences" or ideas -- obviously, the finished product has been tweaked a bit, but not nearly as much as you might think! Certain lines are too brilliant not to be random (ie. "We have the latest submission thinking of us" and "Feel free to publish time.").

While I have absolutely no hard feeling toward the literary magazines for rejecting my work, this certainly was a satisfying project! I highly recommend it for expired love letters and high school report cards.





        What do you think about this method of poetry? Does pulling lines out of a jar remove too much creative control from the poet, or can we use randomness to express ourselves?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bloor line West, October

This poem has been taken down for submission to a publication. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Changing climate

Do you remember the summer when we drew
sidewalk chalk murals at City Hall
        (a burning globe, a polar bear)
and got chased away by security guards?

That was the year I cut all my hair off
and went to demonstrations every Tuesday morning,
bristol board protests signs reflected
in the windows of OPG. My fingers were always black
from scrawling thick sharpie graffiti messages
        Keep Bangladesh above sea level
        -- stop climate change NOW!

in downtown bathroom stalls. When I marched
right up to the black government vans, stared into
drivers' eyes through sunglasses and tinted windows
and scolded them for idling while the crowd
cheered me on from behind, I had never felt so brave.
Later, when I read all the facts, statistics, news articles,
                   started breathing it in instead of out
I had never felt so alone.

The demonstrations carry on without me;
I push the pedals of my bicycle,
seal my fears up in envelopes
and mail them to politicians
and hope.



This post is in honour of Blog Action Day 2009.




                             Toronto City Hall, July 2007

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pre-dawn paranoia

I wake with a stomachache
from something I ate in a dream
(poison, maybe) but it's only an ache
as long as I stay conscious and don't slip
back to the hag's cackle of a nightmare
that lures me with soothing
spell syllables.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Andrew has a thing for vacuum cleaners

He likes physics and machines.
As a child, he would ask
to see the household vacuum upon entrance
into the homes of friends and family.
He would flee from his frightened mother
in department stores, only to be found
over in Appliances, bowing to
roaring, sucking beasts
like golden idols.

Now, the proud owner
of a house that comes complete
with cobwebs, cat hair, dust bunnies,
Andrew wields his Dyson like the Sword of Peleus.
Drunk on wine and a HEPA filtration system
he vrooms like a child behind a steering wheel,
laughs with storybook victory, proclaims
to the accursed dust that its days
are numbered

and I, like a good sport, just smile
and point out new enemy territory.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

K&K Specialty Fruit Market

On a cold, grey day
boorish men eat hotdogs in the rain
while a rottweiler puppy squats low on the sidewalk,
wanting to obey without sitting
in a puddle.

One Chinatown fruit stand
is lit up bright like a stage,
apples glowing with calm faces
in the warm, soft light, diffused
by awnings and umbrellas.

Friday, October 9, 2009

twenty-six

        there are more pictures of Andrew eating cupcakes
        than doing anything else
                (except maybe drinking)
for his birthday we pour Betty Crocker cake mix
into little ruffled paper cups
        Andrew holding the bowl
                while I scoop with a kitchen spoon
he'll never change        he's still six years old
        standing in his kitchen wearing
        nothing but underwear and a dopey grin
he doesn't give a damn about anything
        but sprinkles and butter icing


Happy birthday, Pickle! Don't eat too many cupcakes or you won't be able to drink tonight.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Brain food

This poem has been taken down for submission to a publication. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Secret garden


At age 12, I read The Secret Garden
and craved a hidden space of my own.
I spent the heat of that summer
combing pine needles in the forest,
scouting clearings of rock and marsh,
lusting after a corner, quiet
and undiscovered. A neighbour caught me
sneaking onto his property with heavy shovels
(suspicious playthings)
and sent me away.

At age 23, the city is my forest
and I'm still trying to carve my name
into one of its cement trees. I roam
grey office buildings, holding my breath
before I force the door to the rooftop, tense
while wondering if the fire alarm will scream, planning
quick exit strategies. I'm still chasing
dusty corners like forgotten secrets.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

weak girl


I like to think I'm special      different
      that I can look down on those weak girls
            who beg men to lift them up
            who let men break them down
but it's easy to say you love the rain
if you have a warm, dry bed to go to
                        when the thunder starts

weak girl, you let a man's words come out of your mouth
               you let a man paint monsters on your mirror
no, it's different, I'm different
      men paint monsters on my mirror, but the monsters scrape off
            someone comes to scrape them off
                  another man comes to scrape them off
                  and paint flowers instead
                  he always comes
but it's different, I'm different
I like to think I'm special



Inspired by "Chapter 1: Hookups that Fell Down" from Laid. I didn't intend to write any other poems to promote the book, but this chapter actually genuinely affected me.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Girlmath

This poem has been taken down for submission to a publication. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ashley, who is Special, practices aloud on the streetcar

This poem has been taken down for submission to a publication. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Friday, October 2, 2009

the sex

sometimes it's rushed
balled up      squeezed to fit
                                                in the corner of a briefcase
sometimes it's an obligation
      (you're not supposed to say that)
a promise I made to myself
                    and to someone I love
that needs to be kept      a duty, like watering plants
sometimes my mind is just elsewhere
      should I pull chicken out tonight?
      I could make pasta but if I do that I need
      to buy peppers so I guess I'll just cook chicken
      remember to pull out the chicken

and I might as well be
                              a moving fist, a pixelated money shot
but
sometimes it's slow
purposely      drawn out long
                                                simple actions turned foreplay
sometimes it's a relief
      (to let your body take over)
a distraction from all the bullshit
                    that comprises my life
in that one overwhelming moment      I find silence
sometimes my mind becomes part of another person
      I can hear his face, the waves of his nerves
      speaking a language only my instincts know
      link established
      my body mirrors, reconstructs

and even when it's over
                              we remain connected.



This poem is in celebration of Shannon Boodram's groundbreaking book Laid: Young People's Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture, which is officially available in stores as of yesterday. You can pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, Borders Bookstore, Amazon or at Shannon's book release party at the Revival (783 College Street West in Toronto) on October 14th. It's 19+ and doors are open 6-10 p.m. -- hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Writer's block: dead-end beginnings


  1. My little sister
    would always paint her nails
    before church
    so she could amuse herself
    for the hour
    by scratching them clean

  2. On the first of October
    I went to buy a metropass.
    The vendor said, "We're sold out,"
    then let me ride for free.

  3. The groundhog
    has popped his head out
    of the hole in my heart
    and made his prediction for autumn:
    chilly
    and kind.