Tuesday 29 December 2015

One Afternoon in the Grocery Store

I'm one who eschews the triangular barriers meant to separate my sector of the conveyor belt from yours. As a result, my 30-pack of toilet paper rang through on your tab. "No, no, that's mine," I called, and the correction was made. 
"I thought I didn't recognize that item," you said. "It's toilet paper," I cried. End of episode one.

By the time you showed up again, behind me in the line now, I'd claimed to the cashier, a spike-haired woman named Bonnie, that "I like to buy my vegetables without the bag." I gestured to splashes of water they created on the belt. "Makes me feel more European," I said, a joke.
"Um, what?" Bonnie said. End of episode two, your role confined to silent witness.

Then she rang through your cucumbers on my tab. You and I reacted at the same time. "He's like me," I said to Bonnie. "Doesn't use the barriers." 
Bonnie looked sour. "Do you collect stamps" she asked finally, hoping episode three was almost over. It was. I walked off with a plastic bag of parsley, coriander-cilantro (a combo new to me, as I'd said to Bonnie, episode 1-b), green onion and red pepper, and another bag of corn and butter, and the toilet paper. 

Thirty-three bucks even.

Saturday 26 December 2015

Christmas Shuffle #3

Having received a new pair of slippers for Christmas from my daughters, I put on these old ones one more time for their farewell photo op:

I'd had them repaired several times. Even tried to stitch them myself when I found Doris McCarthy's sewing supplies during my recent residency in Toronto. (But the repairs didn't take.) They were dad's slippers, too small for me when I took them over in '92 after he died. But the leather was so good that it adjusted to my feet and kept them warm and dry for most of the years and most of the miles, here and abroad, since.
Other things: The other day I drove my son Tom and his girlfriend Amy, who will soon set up house together in Vancouver, to Amy's place in Edmonton. Tom picked up some stuff he'd stored at my place and his mother's place. And a few extras, like two giant cushions I'd bought when I moved into the Frontenac five years ago. He left his boyhood archive--a trunk's worth of school projects, jerseys, toys, and I forget what-all else.
Although I know things don't much matter, I know that they do, if we want. 
Today I'm working on draft 16 of Occasional Cities, a manuscript of poems. I'll keep the hard copy of draft 15 and ship it over to U of R Archives eventually. 
Dad's slippers I think I'll chuck.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Christmas Shuffle #2

I took a walk through downtown the other day. It would be the last solitary moments of the day.

Most days I have many solitary moments. That's the way it goes in this life of mine. I'm used to it. It may also be true that that's the way it has to be for what I do.

As if to serve as counterweight for my chronic solitude, I've always loved peaks of relatively intense socializing.

This day I was off to meet my son for a beer. We had an hour before he'd drive me to Bushwakker where I'd set up a rendezvous with the writers for 5:00. He was off to a show. We'd meet again in a few hours.

I don't want to tell about the rest. It was all great fun but I drank too much beer and did not eat. My friends had to look after me. When I did meet Tom later, he didn't stay and I didn't remember it.

"It's all good," as one angel/friend told me a day later. And as I indicated above, I accept the rhythm of peak experiences and the depths they imply. But man, I've been feeling ashamed. And grateful for my loved ones.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Christmas Shuffle #11

Three would-be nurses, studying for finals, take seating for ten in Naked Bean, a coffee shop. Their voices and laughs use up another half a room. That leaves a couple of square feet against the south wall for me, trying to be yours, and truly. The study session breaks down frequently into chatter that admits every single word of their lives. 
Just when I got used to it, it ended. Two left--even they tired, I think, of the third (now slumped in her seat)--with a "Thanks for helping me out with my questions."
So I didn't have to complain to the three of them about dominating the coffee shop. At the gym earlier I didn't have to complain to a guy about not wiping down the machines when he's done.
That kind of thing is why, as I compose my hobo's fantasy-style address to be delivered on my official unveiling as Poet Laureate at Government House on January 6, I include among the fantasies the certainty that I will not turn into a miserable old bugger sooner or later. 
It feels an odd December, this one. Lucy and Tom won't be home at Christmas (though after and before, respectively). I am not coming out of a teaching semester. And I've been plenty buffed lately about the Hicks competition and the Poet Laureate announcement and the launch of my history of Globe Theatre (available here). Believe it or not, I'm about to ask not to be congratulated on anything for a while (and oh yes, I'm thrilled to be part of Talking Fresh in March).
About an hour after my latte with the nurses, I enjoyed an espresso, courtesy Marlo and Chad of Mata Gallery, where I bought a--well, I cannot say at this time.
And I'm lugging poems around wherever I go, trying to keep the good times rolling with the summer/Toronto work. Playing my Christmas shuffle all the while.

Sunday 6 December 2015

Pool After It's Over, or, Geese Again

The day was run by Canada geese, like other days the last ninety or so. The geese stood around on a lip of ice and took off low or swam, practising always.

I waited for glide, thought it might teach me how to sink when it's time to land, how to sound

(which was: like a grateful dog on a park bench calling),
how to take water, when to know.

They flew their own shadows in drifts of twos and threes.

Their signals ran tighter than ever, any move tied to others, no call alone.

None of these words have meaning for geese but utter calm.

Monday 30 November 2015

One Noon Hour in Victoria Park

When in doubt, walk. When walking, take pictures.

Late November, as decent a day as we'll get this time of year. But cold.

Northwest across Victoria Park, a modest objective in this world.

Soon we'll stay indoors, crossing streets downtown in pedways. Winter will roar so loud we'll be nothing but peeks from parkas if we're anything at all.

For now, the sun could claim full glory. We'd keep clothing off if we could.

The soldier saves heat.

We walk in straight lines.

The next four months will be worse, one more after that about the same.

That means only half the time here can we ease into motion without blowing on our hands.

"Wait for the sun again," some song will say, as if the sun's not already here.

No matter where we look.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

The Pond that is Lake Wascana

It will freeze your hands in November. Geese know it's cold but don't care. This is when they know they're smarter than trees which stand there pleading.  

The flockherd drifts in diagrams of a thousand, heads and bodies visible in the crossing to Willow Island. Patches of goosing are absorbed.

Throw in the ducks and west wind and a distant sun--you've got yesterday. In a running shirt, wool sweater, high-tech jacket and gloves, I still wished I was home washing dishes. Can longjohns be far behind? I tell you, I wished my behind had another layer out there on the trail. 

With passers-by I exchanged greetings that said Yup, buckle up for winter. It hurt to write a word. Turning a page was like raising a sail in a storm. Yet there was sunlight, as much as could be, bright as reflection, if cold. Blowing on the hands brought relief, as did a spell on an east-side lagoon which the wind hadn't found.

It's goose who says these things.

Sunday 8 November 2015


I'm pretty good at leaving a place when the moment of departure has arrived. I'll be all business when I pull away from Fool's Paradise tomorrow morning. I doubt if I'll even glance over at Angel, who'll be napping anyway.
It's the day before that's tough--that sense that I will never pass this way again, a vital period of my life has passed, I'm losing something forever, and so on. Sappy, I know. 
The fine weather has been holding on beautifully here and for the four-day run back to Sask ahead.

I completed only a translation and a half of the Marceneiro fado but will continue at home. My dog writing, called Half-way from Doug to Dug, totals about 70 pages--80% of that from the drive to Toronto and work here, five drafts worth--and I did produce three YouTube videos (see links from this blog) and numerous blog entries and photographs. Also helped take care of the final proofs for A Round for Fifty Years: A History of Regina's Globe Theatre which is coming out from Coteau next month.
None of that much matters, really. It's the ongoing contemplation that feels more powerful, the having of time, as it were.
I'll miss this view from where I'm sitting right now.

And by the way, you dedicated readers of this blog--a sweet morning to you, uncle Frank and aunt Mahovlich--will want to know how my boots made out. We last saw them here.
In preparing an update, I had a moment with Facebook. After a few hours of uploading my boot story set to "O Pagem" by Alfredo Marceneiro, I got a message from FB saying first "your video is ready for posting," then one a few seconds later saying, in effect, "we can't publish your video until you confirm you have the rights to the material." FB  was right on this one. I had to re-do the thing with some public domain music. 
See the link to see the boot story. 
Over and out from Fool's Paradise. 

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Remarks for Tonight's Reading

In introducing my Hillsdale Book, I'll speak of "characters" and "place," and "language" with which they interact--which creates them, in fact.
Of course, all of these terms are subject to complication. The place, an urban suburb, figures in narratives of geology (land as covered with two miles of ice, then a post-glacial lake), history (land as buffalo habitat and corresponding First Nations), sociology (land as urban planning, the post-war western suburb). The characters carry their inner landscapes--their arrays of experience, anxiety, desire, dreams, etc. Any act of language attempting to represent such processes must be multiple--polyphonic, open-formed, narrative or lyric or documentary, textual or visual. And it must play, or the place and characters will sink into their own essences. It must be as light on its feet as possible, trusting that any truth of any matter will be assembled as/from the language moves.
So one character, a boy moving to the brand new suburb with his parents, will speak his perspective. A traveller, visiting every street in Hillsdale as he might the countries of western Europe, responds to his own past and to contemporary perceptions. A woman named Flo speaks from her experience of moving to Hillsdale when it was new and living there still. Subject, all of this, to fooling around.
The elephant in this room is the passage of time, which the boy, the traveller, Flo and the others implicitly express, as life does, needless to say. 
All of that's a little long. And I will have had a beer or two with Dan ahead of time. So I'll probably just say "This thing called "Hillsdale"--no relation to my own name, by the way--is made from characters, place, language. You can put your own Hillsdale together right here, tonight from the bits I'm about to read you."
And away we go.
After that: some pieces of dog (a character) on the Scarborough bluffs . . .

Saturday 31 October 2015

Dressing Up as a Goose

It's taking a while to come together . . . a pair of spatulas sprayed black for my feet (but how to attach them?), some grey and brown blanket scraps for my back, a white-tipped paper fan fixed to my rear end. I've trimmed a yogurt container to fit as the white chinstrap.
I don't know what to do about the neck. The neck has to be convincing when I board that streetcar (which is what people like to do in their costumes, judging by the trip up Bathurst on 511 last night). I can sell "goose" with the right neck, but if I don't get it right I'll look like a mere grouse or mud dove. As of 11.10 am, I'm tinkering with flex tubing, chimney fragments, and that vacuum hose from the Kenmore 835. I've rigged up a toy alligator for the bill--that was easy.
For the sonic component of my costume, one of those squeeze horns maybe. I might sample some avant-garde tenor sax. 
Then there's the question of where on the goose/ghoul/ghost continuum I should settle. Should I run at people with my red tongue (a broken knife handle) bared? Should I stand still? Stick my bill under my feathers?
I don't want to spend all day on this, however. Maybe I'll settle for acting like a goose, starting from the inside somehow. Perhaps tell stories of where I go at night, where I come from, why I need your apple when I could easily find my own, how I know when to take off, and the like.
I suppose I should build some turds into my presentation, but come on now.
Ok, 12:08, I'm done:

And the rear view:

What do you think?

Wednesday 28 October 2015

More About Angel

Water off a duck's back, we say, finding duck's more mouth-friendly than geese's, I suppose. But have a look, in this rainstorm said to be with us all day, at the perfect balls of water sliding from Angel's back.

Let us consider further goose words which, in Doris McCarthy's old Webster's, follow all the good words (offering a chance to play--as in goose-tempered, Goose Samaritan, and that hit tv series The Goose Wife--but not right now).
My question is, what in Angel's behaviour or nature deserves these words:
Goose egg. I can't speak to this one in late October.
Goose as verb. This is common, the sudden chase to the backside. Angel is prone to spells of it. But at other times, such as right now with the rain pouring down, his range of behaviours seems to narrow. No goosing.
Silly goose. A value judgement! Angel and company squawk and fuss at times, but who doesn't. 
Goose-neck. A glorious yes to this one. This morning, before the really heavy rains came, Angel at the edge of the pond used his neck as a ladle to throw water over his back for a morning wash, just benefit #55 of this fabulous body part. (Perhaps, dear reader, you'd like to view my video . . .). If there is one legendary goose-- king/queen of all geese, that no one has seen but that everyone fears or suspects is out there, perhaps residing in its watery lair in the greatest of the great lakes--by the neck will the legend endure.
Goosebumps. For sure.
Gooseherd. One who tends geese. This is a new new one on me, but I'll take it. I've had no choice but to watch them. Certainly I've heard them.
Goose step. If we're talking Nazi march, that looks nothing like anything a goose does, except maybe the crudest possible waddle. If this expression derives somehow from uniformity of group behaviour, it would be the way Angel and his family pod of seven or eight circulate casually together about the yard. They'll all be eating apples, they'll all be preening at the edge of the pond, they'll all be ripping at the grass, and so on. They straggle in unison.
Goosey. Foolish or stupid, according to DM's Webster's. Easily upset by a prod to the backside. This is common, as mentioned. But what goes with the quick upset is the quick recovery. Two seconds after the goosing, both gooser and goosee resume whatever they were doing as if the thing had never happened. Sometimes, however, one or both will have to take flight, or the gooser will do it a second time.
At this point, Doris McCarthy's Webster's moves on to gopher . . .

Tuesday 27 October 2015

In Praise of In the Skin of a Lion

If I was going to paint a house with my favourite colours, I'd need a wall for Michael Ondaatje's fab novel which I read dozens of times during my (unfinished) grad studies.

If you're read it, you'll remember scenes set here, the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant in east Toronto.

Digression #1: Doris McCarthy's father--he's the one with whom Doris, when still a girl, walked the shore of lake Ontario beneath the Scarborough bluffs and said Some day I'll build a house up there (the house I'm working in these last few weeks)--her father, as I was saying, was a civil engineer who worked in Harris' department. 

Digression #2: Ondaatje's novel teaches us how to read and write a novel like that. The narrator of Skin tells us Trust me. There is order here--very faint, very human (I paraphrase). This idea has always felt important.

Monday 26 October 2015

A Translation of Fado by Alredo Mareneiro

The day I arrived at an apartment I'd booked for my last month in Lisbon last year, the landlord pointed out a cd by Alfredo Marceneiro, one of the great Portuguese fadistas, or fado singers. This is the real fado, the landlord was saying, not the tourist stuff. Over the next month I wore out the cd. Here was music that delivered that sense of longing I loved about Portugal.

Lately I've been working on translations of fado lyrics. First, O Pagem.

When I say translation, I mean free translation, a blend derived from the sounds and rhythms of the piece, a few words of Portuguese in English, and a strand or two of imagination. In this case, I've played it straight, remaining true to the heart of fado (as I understand it) while shifting the setting from Lisbon harbour to the Scarborough bluffs.

Here it is, a piece I call "The Danger":

In the story to remember
Lovers whisper at the shore
Tender words they give each other
In the summer light so warm

Leaning in to every beauty
As if nothing wears away
For a thousand years believing
All that they love will never fail

Thus the making of this story
The unmaking of this scene
So gently do their bodies
Surrender to their dream

They’re immune to any warning 
They see nothing in their way
Down the trail they coax each other, every step another
To their final private room 


If you see two lovers tell them
Of a danger sweet and true, so sweet and true
Always an end

Nothing else for time to do.  

Sunday 25 October 2015

Fox and Geese

Not for nothing did we play Fox and Geese as kids. As many games do, it bore the coding of ancient, even primal, dynamics of what wild is. 
Today when the fox appears in its circuit from the ravine along the blufftops, the goose hits the pond with a clatter and splash, a clash, having long ago, that's long ago, figured water as safety from land-bound predators.
Today--or maybe at this time of year when a geese is, as I have been saying, as big as a Kenmore 835--the fox isn't interested, engaging instead in scratching his chin, rolling in the grass, taking the sun. But for a moment there, the goose was stuck with that fear/flight impulse, a permanent imprint on goosehood.
My own impulse, the least interesting one in play here, is to take a picture, as if I'm so far out of the natural world I must run to sample any evidence of its existence.

Soon everyone settled. I sat out where the fox had been.

But I wouldn't hurt a fly.

Friday 23 October 2015

More About Angel

You dedicated readers of this blog--a bright blue good morning to you, Uncle Pete and Aunt Moss--have asked for more about Angel, the Spanish Canada Goose who lives, as I do, at Fool's Paradise in Toronto. 
At first, we were all minding our business. I gave myself an update on part of the bluff.

Angel took the sun but left plenty for the rest of us. (Angel, by the way, could see his breath earlier this morning. He showed also that he can use the tips of his webbed foot to scratch his chin exactly as, and just as fast, a dog can.)

Then things got hairy, feathery, for Angel and his mates. Bad enough that I strolled through, but they're used to that.

A more profound danger came onto the scene.

The hawk (sorry, I'm guessing) is barely evident in the photo above, but all too clear to the geese, though in this case they seem pretty mellow about it. Other times, as I've already noted, Angel and company scatter when a winged predator swings overhead. Not scatter, quite. More an instant and severe rush for cover--the pond will do. This morning, a greater menace was at hand.

But even this fellow--whom I'm calling, after Dan Tysdal's new book, Faux--seemed in a mellow mood.

Angel and company, however, reacted in a way I'd not seen before. 

Faux is just off camera to the right. I'm not sure if he'd go after a full-grown goose even if he wasn't satisfied with just sun for the moment. But that many geese so close together, and just standing there--I'm guessing all they could do was band together in case of attack.

Faux took off. Angel is preening. I'm about to do the same.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Script for Instructional Video on How to Simulate a Goose Neck in Motion

Everybody loves the goose neck. Don’t we all wish we had one? Don’t our own necks come a poor second to that of Branta Canadensis, the Canada goose?

My name is Gerry Hill. Welcome to my instructional video on how to simulate a goose neck in motion. This you can do in your own kitchen using only everyday tools and appliances.

Lately, sharing a yard with an average of 35 Canada geese every day for two months as the Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence here in Toronto, I’ve observed the goose neck in motion as often as I’ve wanted to. More often, if you want to know the truth.

And you do want to know the truth, so here we go.

First, what do I mean by “goose neck in motion.” I’m referring to the action of the goose neck as the creature walks, or waddles (to borrow a word from duck studies) with its head upright. Because of the wide range of goose neck behaviour, I must be specific on this point: what you’re about to learn is how to simulate the goose neck in motion with the head upright and coming straight at you.

Let’s assemble our supplies, all readily available in or near your kitchen. We’ll need a spatula or wooden spoon, a one-litre plastic container that passes for a milk bottle in Ontario, a tea towel, a bathroom towel—not a hand towel or a bath towel but the one in between (colour doesn’t matter—I’ve chosen the musky mustard). A can of beans—Heinz beans with tomato sauce will work (and you can reward yourself with supper afterwards). Finally, we’ll need a vacuum cleaner of the canister type—a Kenmore 835 in this case.

Now, most instructional videos teach you how. I’m going to start with how not. For how not to simulate a goose neck in motion, we’ll use the canister-model vacuum cleaner which was, as we know, the prototype for the body of the goose.

Let’s pretend, then, that the canister is the goose’s body and the hose its neck (I have removed the nozzle for clarity of demonstration). My hand will serve as the head. Watch now as the goose approaches—notice the dynamics in the neck.

You didn’t observe any dynamics, did you. Just the most elemental pull-and-follow. Nothing like what we might see in my yard here in Scarborough.

A more refined approach will take us nearer the real thing. Insert your can of beans into the milk container, using the tea towel to secure the package. Next, fold your towel in half lengthwise and hold it at the ends with the fold at the bottom. Fit the handle of the milk container into the fold.

Here is your goose. The milk container represents the base of the neck—the breastbone area. The towel, of course, is the neck itself, here elongated for purposes of our demonstration. My top hand will represent the head, while my lower hand, hidden from view with the spatula, will provide torque on the neck. My body will stand in for the goose’s body, which I will propel slowly, in a waddling fashion, toward the camera.

What you will see is how the head remains still as the neck absorbs the waddle.


There you have it. The goose neck in motion.

Until next time, so long from Fool's Paradise.

Postscript: Please honk if you'd like me to post the video.

Monday 19 October 2015

And He Had To

Dedicated followers of my writing practice--a chilly good morning to you, Uncle Misty and Aunt Blue--already know that I'm willing to give events in my own life to a character who freely distorts, supplements, magnifies--in short, takes the credit and blame for whatever the event might mean, thereby relieving me from the necessity of doing so.
This morning, for instance, it's a man named dog (lower case) who remembers a time--it seems unbelievable now--when our mothers leaned out the front or back door of our houses and sang out DAW-og. Come in for SUP-per.
And dog would straggle home, maybe waiting for the second call but not, if he knew what's good for him, the third.
What dog would like to express about such times is the allure of the borderland, the potential of darkness, past the normal indoor routine of the home. It's pretty innocent, mostly--game of football on someone's lawn, game of Freedom in the park. But if he's lucky, Gloria or Diane will show up, which is where the thrill and the terror come in, or come out . . .
I suppose that here at Fool's Paradise, where if he's not careful he could take a wrong step on one of his little explorations through the trees that separate the lawn from the steep ravine slope--not to mention the ever-present (but in geological time, what could "present" possibly mean?) bluff face--I suppose that dog could be hanging out here at the edge of things--he's not sure why, he's just drawn here--when he hears his mother call. 
DAW-og. Time for SUP-per. RIGHT NOW!

Saturday 17 October 2015

The Time It Takes to Drink a Cup of Tea: More About Angel

Angel (that's An-HELL) stands on one leg. As I've noted before, he can practice virtually his entire behavioural repertoire on one leg as well as he can on two.

Along comes his pal, Cliff, and a feeding circuit ensues, casual nibbling. Both Angel and Cliff suffer a brief goosing from Elaine and carry on nibbling (more a series of quick grab-and-nips). Angel, as it happens, is exactly the shape and weight of a second-hand vacuum cleaner, a Bissell, I bought in Calgary years ago.

(That spur at the back of his foot, by the way, is where the attachment hooks into the body of the Bissell.)
He's feeding in the shade now, though his notice of things like shade, rain, or wind operates so deeply it has no effect on surface behaviours. No Gee, it would be great to stay in bed today or Better bundle up. Just carry on. Oops, another goose--I didn't catch the name, Julian was it?--passes a bit too close. A half-goosing is enough to run him off. Angel resumes feeding.

I've seen Angel take a few steps and stand by himself facing the lake. Or maybe it's me I've seen do that, as if sizing up the time ahead. But now Angel steps to the edge of the pond and extends his neck to drink. He lifts his head all the way up to tip the water down.

I don't know what Angel has for ears but he seems aware of sirens coming from across the ravine. And of course when I say hello, he nods, like the good neighbour he is.