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Friday, June 24, 2011

Edward Baldstreet

This is the story of a storyteller; the late, great Edward Baldstreet.
As a child, he was known as a shirker and a rogue. Somehow he always squirmed his way out of work. There were days he would go down to the local tavern to pick the drunk men's pockets. But usually he'd go down to the stream deep in the woods behind his house where nobody could ever find him.
Down there in the woods, in his own secret spot by a bend in the stream, he would sit, watch, and listen to the water go burbling by. Here he would dream. Dream about faraway places, and daring heroes performing spectacular deeds. Sometimes he'd imagine himself as one of the heroes, riding out on his snow-white charger to rescue a castle or a fair maiden from some evil force. Other times he would be a tragic figure betrayed by a close confidante and killed by a bitter enemy. Mostly he dreamt of heroes long-gone doing deeds long since forgotten.
Unfortunately as he got older he discovered the pleasures of alcohol and soon his secret place down by the bend in the stream, deep in the woods behind his house was forgotten.
But the stories weren't and with the lubrication of alcohol he became one of the greatest storytellers. He could dream up a story in seconds as long as the promise of a free drink was involved, and he tell that tale as if it were a sacred myth centuries old. Over the years he amassed a stupendous arsenal with which he dazzled, entertained, and stunned his audiences.
He lived out his days at the tavern where as a child he had robbed drunken men of their money. He survived on his tales of places he'd never been, people he'd never met, and deeds he'd never seen done.
But one day the tales ran out, the heroes disappeared, their deeds vanishing like mist. Edward Baldstreet passed on with only his fellow drunks at the tavern and the young men who knocked off early from work to ply the drunken old man with drinks to hear one of his amazing tales to mourn his death.
Some say if you visit that tavern in the mid afternoon you might see an overweight old man sitting by himself in the shadows, at a table in the corner waiting for someone to buy him a drink. Others say if you walk along the edge of the woods you will come to a ruined house with a stream running deep in the forest behind it. If you look you might find the flowing water and a small hidden bend where you can hear the stream burbling by, telling stories of where it has been and what it has seen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

After

I get the feeling I might be too cynical. There are times in the cool darkness, when the lights are off and my eyes are closed and I’m listening to the far off sounds of the universe in motion, and people’s thoughts, that I hate everyone and everything God ever made. Even myself. This just makes me normal. At least I’m feeling something. I’m not like those crazy locked up hardcases, so numb they don’t even feel their own bodies anymore. We all need to be better than somebody. Whatever.

I’m in this zone, feeling sound as it vibrates on my ear drums and the door opens. I crack an eye like an alligator.

“Sleeping?”

“Yeah Murphy.”

“Another headache?” Murphy knows me from a long time back. He doesn’t care, like me, and we have a connection, some brotherhood based on common pain and emptiness. We both have spiritual toothaches. I guess we’re each others’ spiritual dentists.

“Yeah.” I can smell him. Cigarettes. He’s the only guy I know who still smokes. I used to. Now when I need a fix I stand downwind from him. Filter-free at no cost. He’s full of questions today. Something is wrong.

“Take a pill?”

“I took several.” I don’t ask him what’s going on. I don’t want to know. I think about the sound of electronic feedback and avoid reading his mind.

The silence in the room bleeds into my open eye and pries open the other one. Two grey men in a grey room.

“I was worried about you.”

“You should be. I’m still not right, but I’m better.”

“Understand, we were only trying to help you.”

“I know. I was far gone when you found me. Thanks.” This again. Okay, I went mad, but long before we ever met. “I’m feeling now. Things are better.”

“It’s not what you think it is.”

What!? I don’t show a reaction, although Murphy knows he’s surprised me. This is new.

“Johnson’s back in the city. He’s got the same thing you had.”

“Alcoholism?” Glib response, defenses up, fits my pattern, this seems to be me.

“A symptom, but something is feeding on him.”

We’re thinking of our scars. We’ve all walked through hell, but for some reason Murphy made it through. And back. Without falling apart, without the mad fractures Johnson and I suffered. Sometimes I think he’s part demon and he enjoys this mess. I know he and Johnson are closer than I am, twin minds, but Johnson and I…we broke down.

“You seen it?” I ask a real question.

“It was at his place, yeah.”

I don’t want to see anything ever again, Johnson or those things. I escaped. Murphy left me there. I saved myself in the end.

“I don’t want to see him.”

“He doesn’t want to see you. Just think about it okay?”

I don’t care, I can’t care. It’s a trick. “I’ll think about it.” I say. There’s no option, he’ll just keep coming back if I say anything else. I wouldn’t trust me either. Damn us both.

Murphy sighs and stands up. He opens the window blind, lets the light in, shines it on my empty room. Before the door clicks shut he shouts “I’ll call later! Take care of yourself buddy!”

He’s gone, and left the sun behind.

I believe in monsters.

RACE

“I warn you,” the brown girl with the black braid said quietly, “I cheat.” Her deep black eyes locked the stringy, sun-burnt boy in place.  She punched him in the arm with the smiling, honest, and arrogant confidence of a feral, chthonic thirteen year old girl.
His young, white, male ego, the immature misogyny of insecure boys for all females, and the desperate prejudices some of the poor hold as shields against the marginalized - in short his need to be better than somebody, anybody else - stopped him from rubbing his shoulder. The strength in the punch stopped him from hitting her back. Instead, he tucked his chin and tried to match her impenetrably deep stare with his own striking green glare. "I can beat you."
She squinted, for a long slow moment, measuring him like a used suit.
“Get on your bike then.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WUS-KWI

I think this is still a work a in progress. It began as a stream of consciousness exercise. This is only the 2nd or 3rd edit.

WUS-KWI Is the name of the place where the white birch tree stands on the beach and welcomes you back every summer.
It marks an invisible gateway to the sand, and the water, and the sun. Only the pure and true heart passes.
You haven’t been forgiven because there is nothing to forgive. The sin-tank is empty but

There must be callouses on your hands from climbing trees and hanging a hundred feet in the air with just one arm, and on your feet and toes from rocky paths and splintery docks.
Your skin must be browned and your hair must be bleached with the sun.
You must smell like the water and move lighter than a breeze. Yours is the surest step.
You must be scraped and bruised and itchy and healing and whole.
You must be laughing.
You must jump carelessly and often into and over anything.
The sand is cool on your toes in the morning and burns before noon.
The water refreshes.
The lawn? is crickets and grasshoppers and your grandmother’s favourite flowers.
Every day tastes like butterscotch candies or scotch mints from your grandfather.
You won’t be done swimming, sunning, sanding until the summer ends, and it never will, but it always does.
The rain keeps you inside sometimes because sometimes you stay inside and these days coincide not because…
When they fall the rain drops are large and splat and warm and splat and you can shower in them.
And then the lake is warm on top and cold on the bottom but you don’t know this until you’re old enough to swim on your own and dive and hold your breath and even if the water gets in your nose and burns behind your eyes you still open your eyes and swim as hard you can to the bottom to get a handful of cold, cold mud and carry it like a trophy from the cold, cold depth to the warmest top two feet of water, when you realize you are shivering and then above the surface and…
You let the water drain from inside your nose because everybody is a fish now and nobody minds and you hold the pitiful small handful of mud to the sky to show that you can finally do it too and you see it is blacker and finer by far than any other mud you have ever seen and you drop it back into the lake. It filters back into the water. You wash your hand, blow your nose and swim in the warmest top two foot layer of water back to shore.
If you were your mom/dad you would swim back to shore underwater kicking with both feet like a strong strong dolphin or a shark or a musky or a pike, and grab one of the kids in the shallows like they were an unsuspecting baby duck. Then you would throw them into the air and let the water swallow them. After that any kid is your kid and they all laugh for you to throw them until your arms hang limp and they chase you from the water. Shivering blue lips cry for more and you run to your towel and your own patch of sun.

There is no time for disappointment.

And one day…Your little/big one comes dripping from the water and s/he warms on the big sun-warmed rock that you warmed on, a century before, that your mom/dad warmed on, a thousand years before, and your daughter/son warms on now, that their daughter/son will warm on ten years from now. Etc.
And they smile and sparkle with water jewels and you cry a little bit because they don’t yet know about Wus-kwi and the lifetime you gave to be here and if they knew, really, really knew, it would mean they were older and you were older and that somehow you had missed them getting older.
It doesn’t bother you to be closer to death
But every second of life your little/big one daughter/son is closer too
And the joy is sorrow so you take the sun fully in your eyes and don’t blink until no-one can tell the difference between the tears. The water sparkles.

You look and smile and ever wonder why your mom/dad…?

Then you spend your life in/on the water. Time the waves, know the sound of every boat, love the smell of gasoline, and wood-smoke. You know the difference in the smell of algae on a metal boat in the water, from algae on wood in water, from algae on rocks in water. You know the quickest way to remove leeches, can pick up crayfish safely and unsafely.

Eventually summer follows you through the invisible gate past the tree because…

You head up to the cottage, up the long wooden walkway your daddy and granddaddy and sister rebuilt when she could just hold a hammer and you could finally begin to be trusted to stand on your own. The steps were so big and you needed someone with a big hand and Big Voice Above You. Now the steps are one at a time because you are longer and stronger (and the favourite, but you don’t think so, but you know so).

You sleep in the boathouse and everything is warm and pine. It’s always pine but July-August warm is never cold. June warm is cold at night. August-September warm gets colder everyday until you leave and summer hibernates in your room until you come back and unlock it for everybody and run past the tree, Wus-Kwi, so it can follow you back.

Spiders. Spiders. Spiders.

One day you betrayed them and killed them on their farms on the window panes where they grew moths to eat and trade. One spider on each window pane 8 panes on two windows. They thought the agreement you made -they stop the bugs you don’t kill them- was forever but because summer ends (but not really) so did this
and now giant spiders are everywhere and you’re not afraid of them, but sad because you were wrong.
That summer of the spider treaty has never, will never end, because that was summer and it never does. Maybe you thought it was a different summer so you used chemicals and rags and wiped out only a few and betrayed so many. That was experience because…
If nobody is around the spiders will grow bigger than your hand, and you haven’t been around. Maybe they just miss you like everybody/thing else?
You miss them and they are empty and you don’t miss them and you are empty and they are you and you are empty.

Feed the ducks.

Ducks will eat spiders…and crayfish, and minnows and bread until they explode with poop. But they are not fish.

So the day you arrived, You had been there before, but this was the first time you saw the sign on the boathouse that said Wus-Kwi, and you asked what does that mean, and a big voice above you said White Birch, and you believed it because it came from a Big Voice Above You. That was where most big voices came from and so far you believed in them. You don’t know if that’s what it means but the first trees the big voices with the tall legs show you are all the white birch trees. Later on you know the birch trees don’t go all they way back to the middle of the island because that’s mostly balsam and swampy. There are many, many pine trees, and the first oak tree you ever realize is an oak tree.
There are rooms in the boathouse, one is yours, and the other is your dad’s but he snores and it’s too scary at night and the spiders don’t know you yet, so the Big Voices with Tall Legs make your sister’s room under the cottage into two rooms with a curtain one year. But the alligator scares you, (your grandfather shot an alligator(you think)) and the skin on the wall goes but it keeps the sleep it took away from you with it. You get another room underneath the cottage on the other side. You can bang on the wall and bother your sister. Your grandmother sleeps above you she can thump on her floor and wake you up in the morning.
Someday dad’s room in the boathouse is yours, after Grandaddy dies and you inherit summer (because your sister inherits it from him but she gives it to you) and Dad inherits Granddad’s room.
but not today and not forever
but when you are there and while you are there, you keep summer.

Once upon a time summer is your sister’s.

Because she is granddad’s favourite and she dances for him, and you do not do such things but he gives you both candy, but her first,
But. Granny likes you better so you get more bacon and served food before some other people. And when she is old and forgets everybody/thing else she never forgets you

Memory

And you don’t remember people or events for longer than a day,week,month,year so when you ask your sister Do you remember when? she is the first and for a long long time only one who knows you don’t remember like everybody else does but you memorize like nobody else can.

One day she says don’t cheat again or none of us will play with you. Already you can beat all of them but cheating is more fun at cards and games with money. But she has said so and then she will do so, so you try and try and try, and eventually you don’t cheat anymore pretty quickly. Everybody is smart and everybody is healthy and everybody is safe and you are arrogant but still slower (sometimes) but meaner (always) so nobody minds. But eventually you catch up, but you are not smart in the strangest ways. Like remembering and maybe holding your breath. And weaker but if you are weak and stronger than us, than we must be very weak. We think you are strong.

You sit still and figure it all out somedays after breakfast if no-one is around.
You sleep.
Then one day you feed the ducks and you know one picture is taken when you are pointing at them and sitting on the edge of the dock and luring them up the beach. That is the second picture
and the first picture, the one you didn’t know about, shows a shadow of the beast in the boathouse behind you.
Your granny knew about the beast and she was so tickled she could get a picture of the ducks, the boathouse, the beast, and you, without you making a face at the camera.
When you saw the pictures in an album you thought you didn’t know the beast was there too but...it is making a face.
It was tickled my granny could take a picture of me too. It still lives there.

You wake up one day past the gateway
and everyday after you sleep and wake there.
If you are you
you brought summer with you and it stays there forever too.
Every day you are fed and everyday you are loved and every day you wear exactly as much as you want to wear if the minimum is shorts and you are over the age of dressing yourself.

One time summer was sweaters, and one time it was bathing suits, and it always turned into…

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview With Thomas

He has seen boom times, bust, and boom again in his home city of Calgary, Alberta. Now he makes his living between Toronto and Winnipeg. Facility planning, strategic project planning and an architecture thesis once filled his time but these days Thomas is fully occupied with the upcoming marriage to his long-time partner Jim. Normally a very private person, Thomas is all smiles as he speaks openly about gay marriage, his life with Jim, and his close ties to Calgary and his father.

Preparations are in the final stages and anxiety is high but the private and sometimes reserved Thomas laughs off the stress, “When I proposed I knew it was the next step but it seemed like setting a date far away you’d have lots of time to adjust to it. Now it’s less than a week away and I chuckle at how quickly time ha flown.” Power tools and sawdust fill the garage and a new gazebo stands waiting in the backyard. A close friend has been enlisted to conduct the ceremony. “If we could get married in a Catholic church with all the pomp and circumstance”, says Thomas, “I think Jim would love it because that’s what everyone grows up with in their experience, but that’s not possible.” So they’ve designed their own personally meaningful ceremony and this Saturday, Thomas and Jim will say their vows.

Without support from Jim’s religious tradition, Thomas feels no need to force a conversion to the United Church that does provide ceremonies for same-sex couples. He does feel that gay marriage is a “living issue” in modern day faiths and doctrines. He believes Churches will find their own stances but if any Church or religion is to perform a service to the public this issue must be addressed. He admires the relationship that exists between Churches and education that results in better funding and more community support for private schools but, “…community support doesn’t give Churches the right to persecute or ostracize anyone who is gay.” Ultimately the rule of law must be obeyed although Thomas would feel bad about being excluded from attending Church or the sacrament.

Thomas met Jim at an Eaton’s Building fundraiser held through the Historical Society and by week’s end, after two dates, interest in a larger relationship was definitely there. Thomas says, “I felt like I was being seduced.” Although Jim took the lead early in the relationship Thomas responds, “I wasn’t exactly passive or innocent in the matter.” Thomas chuckles and explains despite the fact Jim showed an early commitment it was Thomas who finally proposed three years later. “When I felt that there was no doubt in my mind that this was the person that I really wanted to spend the rest of my life with I felt I needed to then put all my chips on the table.”

However, when he met his future spouse same-sex marriage, while legal in Manitoba, was not recognized in Alberta where Thomas and his father hail from and a province where Thomas still feels at home. Therefore the soft-spoken Thomas had not always seen marriage as an option. “It wasn’t legal in my home province so it wasn’t something I ever really considered part of my future.” It was only after gay marriage was resolved nationally and made possible in Alberta that Thomas felt marriage could be a part of his life.

He relates, “I was in Toronto when it became official. There were media standing on the corner of the gay village looking for some kind of excitement or hype about this initiative being passed and there was none in Toronto. But Toronto has been very gay-positive and I thought you’re standing in the wrong place. You need to be standing on a street in Calgary, or on a street in Edmonton, or Lethbridge, or Red Deer, or someplace else where it wasn’t considered acceptable and there you’ll see the excitement and the commentary. In urban areas that had already moved on it was considered that it would have to go national.” Despite Alberta’s conservative stance on this issue it is the spirit of independence that Thomas most admires about his home province.

The “politics of the time” was a factor in Thomas’ proposal but not his only consideration. His father and the people he grew up with in Alberta didn’t share the national shift in attitude. Thomas and his father share a close bond born of tragedy. His mother died while he was a young boy and his single parent father raised him. Thomas reflects, “About the time that I was ready, it was after a time that Jim had met my family, that my father got to know him and accepted the idea of me living with someone.” His concern goes deeper, “I wanted to give my father enough time to get used to the idea before I made a wider declaration of my relationship.” Some time and many heart to heart conversations later Thomas’ father has given his full support to his youngest son. His father helped Thomas see what a large responsibility children so on this issue Thomas and Jim will take their time, and live their life together one life-changing event at time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Alligator Stew

Aardvarks,
Are part aard and half vark,
Aards play in yards while Varks play in parks,
And they both love to ride in shopping carts.

How do you eat Alligator stew?
Ask an Alligator to make it for you.
Say please when you do,
And supply your own spoon.

Bonobo’s noses,
Are for sniffing at roses,
Wrinkling at toeses,
But not for drinking from garden hoses.

Crocodile, crocodile, why do you smile?
I’ve just met a friend I haven’t seen for a while,
I’ll invite her to brunch, or take her to lunch
Or maybe I’ll have her for dinner.

The least obvious difference you'll see,
Between a Dolphin and a tortoise according to me,
Is that a tortoise moves quickly by accident,
While a Dolphin, moves quickly on porpoise.

When Elephants dance in tight stretchy pants,
Think safety and be sure they are avoided.
Keep your distance as they bend and jump and prance,
At any moment those pants might be exploded.

Flamingos are absurdly curious birds, one has heard,
So it makes one wonder to think,
Has any Flamingo ever asked of their fellows or themselves why,
Everybody is dressed in pink?

The thing to remember about riding a Hippopotamos,
Is the top side is safer,
Than the bottom is.
But not much.

You there! Alert the zoos!
Their Kangaroos have been let loose!
They're bouncing on the promenade,
Spilling all the lemonade!

Orangutans enjoy orange tang and boomerangs,
Hat stands, pots and pans, and fresh bananangs.

Be forewarned,
Never, ever, ever, ever play ring-toss,
With a Rhinoceros!
It will cheat and move it's horn.
Then never let you argue.

Zebra, a zebra, a zebra, a zebra,
A zebra, a zebra, a zebra.
A zebra has stripes of black and white
And I think this is quite all right.
But maybe, what if, those stripes were white and black,
What would I think of that?