Q-Tips

Because
the insides of my ears are wet
I put down my chore
and heed the Q-Tips’ call.

I must
swab out my canals
while the wax is soft,
and dry them
so the wind no longer
tingles through
cooling them.
Listen.

Some people, I’ve heard,
see their livingroom askew
and rush to dust and straighten,
vacuum and pick up.

The only whistle I hear
is soft-headed
from hundreds of perfect white soldiers
lying pom to pom
head to toe
like cotton drones
waiting to fly
into my glistening
ears.

Silence


The long cold silent winter
stretches out like a thin blanket
on a loveless bed.
I trust
life is breathing –
a barely beating heart
in hidden leaves and sunken acorns
frigid bulbs.
The silence menaces me.
No birds
no dogs
no screen doors slamming.
No ribald teenage calls
at two in the morning
from the bus stop across the way.
No songs
ringing out on six strings
sung with laughter
and too much red wine.

The sun colours the sky as it rises.
The bleakness blushes
and I am reminded
this too shall pass.
The patience taught by winter
cold but not frozen
nor forgotten.

From Poems from the Chatterbox

California Cold

I flee outdoors
to the sun.
Cold
in California
where the altitude
or latitude
or some other damn thing
like oceanic air
renders caffeine neutral
in my blood.

Chilled
and drunk on words
from my host’s stack of books
unread
or read
in our parallel universae
a year ago
or ten.

He laughs at me
‘cause I am cold
and reminds me
again
You’re from Canada!
as though I could forget.

And I marvel at this
October morning glory
silken
and blooming
a violet trumpet
in the Hallowe’en sun.

A golden copper bug lands
on my fingers and
suddenly
I am warming
to this country.

Memories of a Sister

A Spaniard in the Works
I sold it
not worth much now
on eBay
Sorry
Would you have kept it?

You bought
at the United Cigar Store
a yellow lion coin bank
honeysuckle incense cones
and a tiny carved box
with a hidden panel

I remember your hamster
skinny
in his glass fish bowl
and smelly wood shavings

I remember the banjo
I broke
into a stringless
drum

I remember the scarf
you knitted
on number one needles
so long
it unfurled across the basement floor

I remember the smell of vinyl wallpaper
in your forbidden bedroom
paisley and teal

That’s all

I was your sister
Do you
remember me?

Linked to the Open Link Night at dVerse on July 26, 2011

I declared “I don’t think the universe intended for me to be a retailer.” It was a glib comment. And when I thought about it, possibly untrue. I’ve had the itch to sell stuff since I was a child.
When I was seven or eight I dragged the piano stool out of the house onto the lawn and set up shop. One of the first items sold was my eldest sister’s first edition copy of John Lennon’s A Spaniard in the Works. Boy, was she cross. In my defense, it was the 60s, and no one knew all things Beatle would become collector’s items.
For inventory, a few years later, I made stuff. I created crayon pictures. I don’t know where I learned my technique but I would draw a picture and cover the entire paper in waxy colour. Then I would outline each colour with black. My mom had to buy me whole boxes of black crayons from the art supply store. I wish I had some of those pictures now, particularly one series which was a depiction of the four seasons. Honestly, none of these pictures remain in the family archives because they were hot sellers!
I also scavenged leather scraps from stores on Yonge Street and sewed them into wallets and purses. Rounding out the inventory was a collection of painted beach stones, sometimes “lucky stones” which had holes right through them and could be sold on a leather string.
My first jobs were in stores, a bakery, and a head shop. After university, where I studied English literature and dreamed of becoming a poet like my professors, bp nichol and Michael Ondaatje, I took up retailing. I bought the head shop and turned it into a popular home decor and gift store. It was exciting and I had a tremendous amount to learn about running a business. Buying items for the store fed a shopping and selling addiction beyond compare. It was fun and satisfying, and I rarely thought about poetry. Sometimes I pondered the meaning of my life and decided it was noble to provide aesthetic beauty to my customers’ lives.
When my business failed after 18 years I went to work at the University of Toronto Bookstore as a marketing and merchandising manager. Friends and family thought it was an ideal job for me: I like stores, and I like books! But I didn’t like the job. The universe, however gave me the opportunity to learn about book retailing, and peripherally about publishing. As I scanned publishers catalogues, wrote book reviews, and fingered newly minted volumes of poetry a whiff of a desire rose in my mind. Write, Sandy, it whispered.
So now, a couple of years after leaving the University, I am holding a copy of my own book of poetry. My desire to “sell” Chatterbox is not the same impetus I have to sell dog halters (which I do as a part-time job). It is a desire to share my story. To share my writing. To connect with a readership. It is a different desire than my entrepreneurial streak. And I think the universe meant me to be a writer.

Publishing in Chalk

Sandy Day reads from a book.My children attended a tiny public alternative school in Toronto. Each year all families were encouraged to attend the graduation of the grade 6 class. This whole-school event was a tradition.

I appreciated the inclusive nature of our school’s pedagogy so I went and sat in the hot gymnasium to witness the graduation of eight children I did not know.

As the children read their speeches (which rivaled any Academy Award ceremony) I noticed an absence. What was it?

I recalled my own grade six year, eleven or twelve years old. What would I have said to my school?

Poetry! Poetry was missing! None of the children wrote poems to sum up their school experience, or to convey their gratitude. I was surprised.

The following September I approached Wayne, the school’s beloved Grades 4, 5, and 6 teacher. I asked him about poetry and offered to run a workshop in his class. He readily agreed and I began what became for me a delightful annual endeavour.

For six or eight weeks I would go into the class and guide these enthusiastic and imaginative kids to use words to paint sound pictures – poetry. Borrowing heavily from Kenneth Koch, a poet I read during my university years, I created a workshop which produced the desired result – confidence in the students’ ability to write.

The most extraordinary part of each class was when a student “finished” a poem, and I asked if they’d like to write it on the blackboard for all to see. At first there was some reluctance but once the thrill of publication coursed through the classroom there was an energy that defied even the dismissal bell.

Children jostled for their spot in the queue. There was only so much blackboard! They transcribed from their notebooks to the board their poem. I prompted them at this level to check spelling and punctuation and line break. I urged them to realize that any glitch could sink a whole poem.

Once the poem was thoroughly proof-read I called the class to attention. The poet became solemn and self-conscious. As the rest of the class read along silently with the blackboard version, the poet read his or her poem aloud. You could’ve heard a paper airplane land.

Always applause. Good, bad, or ugly, the children always applauded the courage and effort of their classmate. Then there were questions and comments. The poet squirmed in the limelight, then rushed to their seat when the fleeting moment of fame had passed.

And the next poet was ready, vibrating with excitement, “Can I read mine next, Sandy? Can I? Can I?”

Publication: the world stops whirling for a moment, and reads.

Chattering

Born with this big bundle
bursting
and chattering
scattering love like dropped petals
from wildflowers
carelessly and carefully.

Look
what I picked
for you, mommy! From my
hot and sweaty hand
she takes them, but
later I find them
withered
on the sand.

But still
I am alive with love.
Its pulsing
sensate
radiance.
Never sure
it’s wanted
wasted
welcome.

She tells me
my love’s too big
to sit on her lap
without
breaking her knees
her arms won’t reach ‘round it.

My love in me is
flowing.
You squeeze my shoulder
and I turn
to see your eyes
so dark
so glowing
your smile
knowing.

I love you
and it settles
smoulders like a smoky fume.
I love you
and it flares
my kindling
charred
and crackling
consumed in moments.

I love you
and I’m lost in it.
Inside me
outside me
flowing like a lifeline.

Hang on.
I pull you out
from drowning.
I warm you up
and set you breathing.

I love you in
I love you out
teeth chattering.

First published June 3, 2011 Dr Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure.

Undertow

photo of watery fishThe tide is turning
and in the draw
the green frothy murk
of the undertow.
I see the flotsam of his needs
scattered,
the sad rotting angels swirling,
the helpmeet dying,
the precious words decaying –
what am I saying?!

It’s pulling –
the setting sun
and dragging love
backwards down.
I’m finding
my warped and silty dreams
not drowned.

This mess
this murkiness
dark becomes clear
I know but I fight, there’s nothing
for me here.

I call the lifeguard
down her ladder climbs
her red and white
help
a clap on my heart
a blow to my head.

The desire
and fervour
washed away far.
The sinking dreams
the dithering star.
And I’m not blaming –
there’s no moon now.
And the water
swirls round
in the undertow.

Originally published in Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure April 2011

An Apology to Poets

Shakespeare portrait
Da Bard

True confession. Yes, I have a degree in English literature. Yes, I’ve read the “Faerie Queen” and “Leaves of Grass”. No, I don’t read poetry.

Why? Like most readers, I don’t get poetry. It’s difficult to read. It takes effort and time. I like to read stuff I quickly understand. Stuff which enters my brain and instantly computes. Granted, I’ve enjoyed poetry, sometimes. Especially when it’s explained to me!

But wait a minute, I write poetry! How is this possible?

I started writing poetry as soon as I learned how to use a pen. Poems just came out of me. How did I know what a poem was? Well, I was read to as a child. Bedtime stories were the poems of A. A. Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson. My mom disapproved of Dr. Suess, but she read me many other books like the long poem, “Madeline”. This doesn’t entirely explain my knack for writing free verse, but it will have to do for now.

So my apologies to all the poets in the world, alive and dead. I do read your stuff from time to time. Especially when you thrust it in front of my nose. And if it’s easy to read; if it flies off the page and into my brain and gives me that “Ahhhh” feeling, which a brilliant combination of words tends to do; I thank you! And I keep on writing in my quest to pass that feeling on to you.

speaking Michelangeloly

I haven’t written many new poems lately; I’m in between inspirations. But I have been revising. I realized today that revision is my favourite part of writing. In fact, before I send a poem out to a potential publisher, I read it over and usually change something. Poems never seem to be finished.

Revision is when I banish extraneous words and move punctuation around. It is also when I replace words I threw in as a place holders. Removed from the urgency of the original inspiration I have time to chisel around the idea I wished to express in hopes that a more accurate word emerges from the stone – speaking Michelangeloly.

The most thumbed, dog-eared book in my possession is my Roget’s Thesaurus; I’ve owned it since my teen years. I love finding a word’s exact right substitute. In my opinion, Microsoft Word’s right click synonym is the best feature since drink holders in cars.

It’s rare I scrap a poem. If I think it is worthy of transcription to the computer (I write in longhand) then it usually withstands my revision process. But if it’s deemed too sappy or personal I have a little file called Really Bad Poems; there are about five or six in there.

I have scores of poems, a plethora, a multitude. I could plaster the Sistine Chapel in my poetry – I promise, I won’t. I’m just saying, if you need to read a poem – I’ve got one. Wait, let me just tweak it one more time, then you can read it.