The 99 Steps

As published in FreeFall Magazine May 2017

The smell of gasoline
from his Peterborough
a wooden fishing boat
that loomed like
an oceanliner
but wasn’t much bigger
than a canoe, my dad said.
It had its own house
the boathouse
a place we weren’t allowed to go
but did anyway
just so we could taste the air, his air.

12 steps

The smell of leather
from his club chair
worn extra smooth
by flesh and bone
oxblood and oak
and big enough for two
in a wood paneled room
in a house on a lake.

20 steps

A tiny trailer sat
under the aspens
poplars and jack pines
as if it had grown there.
He was gone before I could
remember him
from drink
or despair.

28 steps

I like to think he took me
out in that boat
to tell me stories
about Lake Wabumun
and the Indians who used to live there
before cottages and loosestrife
grew along the shoreline.
Of how those Indians
made black licorice
from old rubber boots
and built the 99 steps
up through the berries
so they could pick their way
to heaven.
I like to think he took me
out in that boat
to the canal off the lake
where the water ebbed warm from
a power plant along the shore.
He’d lower me over the side
so I could swim next to the Handy Boy
weeds threatening
to pull me under but instead
the weeds took the lake
and the lake took him.

53 steps

His name was Harold
but everyone called him Alf.
His family came from Arkansas
a place I’ve never been
and likely never will although
my mother has
just to see if she could find
a trace of him.
His mother was part Indian
Toccoa
high cheekbones and fierce jaw.
I know
I’ve seen the pictures.
He had an immigrants face
heavy browed and full lipped
with skin that lined easily
despite its olive tone.
I know
I’ve seen the pictures
taken before he drove that face
under a semi on just another Christmas Eve.

74 steps

Was it his idea to name me
after a point of land?
Point Alison.
A punctuation
perhaps significant.
He’d head out to the point
when the cabin got too small
preferring the sound
of the Evinrude
to the voice in his head.

84 steps

Alf planted his feet
between the exposed ribs
of the boat,
hand on the throttle
a Spud Menthol neglected
on his lips.
Stands of bullrush
split by the prow
swept endlessly past,
a curtain
closing behind him.
I’ve never been back
and probably never will
but like Arkansas
we both have a trace of him.

99 steps

Los 99 pasos

El olor a gasolina
de su Peterborough,
un bote de madera
emergiendo como
un trasatlántico,
pero no mucho más grande
que una canoa, decía mi padre.
Tenía su propia casa
la casa del bote
lugar al que no se nos permitía ir,
y sin embargo íbamos
para saborear el aire, su aire.

12 pasos

El olor a piel
de su sillón
rojizo y de roble,
liso y desgastado
por los huesos y la piel
con lugar para dos
en un cuarto de madera
en una casa junto a un lago.

20 pasos

Un pequeño camper yacía
bajo los abedules,
álamos y pinos
como si hubiera crecido ahí.
Se fue antes de que pudiera
recordarlo,
por tomar
o por desesperación.

28 pasos

Me gusta pensar que me llevaba
a pasear en su bote
para contarme historias
del lago Wabumun
y de los Indios que ahí vivían,
antes de que en la orilla crecieran
casitas y hierba mala.
De cómo los Indios
hacían regaliz
con botas viejas de caucho,
y erigieron los 99 pasos
por entre las moras
para irlas escogiendo en su
camino al cielo.
Me gusta pensar que me
paseaba en ese bote
en el canal fuera del lago
donde brotaba agua tibia
desde una planta en la orilla.
Me bajaría a un lado
a nadar junto al ‘Handy Boy’
donde las algas amenazaban
con hundirme, pero más bien
las algas tomaron el lago
y el lago lo tomó a él.

53 pasos

Su nombre era Harold
pero lo llamaban Alf.
Su familia vino de Arkansas
lugar al que nunca fui
y tal vez nunca iré, aunque
mi madre fue
sólo para ver si encontraba
un rastro suyo.
Su madre tenía sangre India,
Toccoa,
pómulos altos y quijada pronunciada.
Lo sé,
he visto las fotografías.
Tenía cara de inmigrante
cejas pobladas y labios carnosos
su piel llena de líneas
a pesar de su tono olivo.
Lo sé,
he visto las fotografías
tomadas antes de que se estrellara de cara
bajo un trailer en una tarde más, de Noche Buena.

74 pasos

¿fue idea suya nombrarme
como un punto en la Tierra?
Punta Alison.
Puntuación,
tal vez significativa.
Se dirigiría hasta el punto
donde la cabina se hiciera muy pequeña
prefiriendo el sonido
del Evinrude
al de la voz en su cabeza.

84 pasos

Alf plantó sus pies
entre las costillas expuestas
del bote,
una mano en el acelerador
un Spud mentolado colgando
entre sus labios.
Manojos de junco
divididos por la proa
serpenteaban interminablemente,
una cortina cerrándose tras él.
Nunca he regresado,
y tal vez nunca regrese
pero tal como Arkansas,
ambos guardamos un rastro suyo.

99 pasos

I learned through the process of translating this poem that translation itself,  is an art form. Thank you. To those who contributed their thoughts and especially to a dear friend, mi amiga querida, who spent hours inside my head so that The 99 Steps could come to life in español. Gracias.

A Too Short Story

When we are young, friendships come easily. We collect them like seashells or fallen flowers—precious in the moment yet when the moment is gone, another comes to take it’s place. To love unconditionally and forgive quickly is something we often lose with our childhood; life makes us less trusting and more careful about who we let in. But life can surprise us.

When we moved to another country, another city, another culture, I became like a child again, surrounded by strangers who each carried the possibility of the gift of friendship. Friendships that hung in the balance of both wanting to give, and wanting to receive.

One night I met a woman at a party and we got to talking – about life, love, art. She gave me a seashell and I accepted it like the treasure it was.

She is a ceramicist and invited me to come visit her studio. The air inside was close with dust from the clay and heat from the kiln. She introduced me to all her children—some lay naked and waiting for her painters brush while others stood like soldiers in all their finery.

Her life partner was also an artist so she took me across the road to his workshop. The massive doors opened gently and easily despite their imposing facade, and inside lay a fantasy world. Surrounded by the smell of wood and steel, I made my way gingerly through the found objects that would one day become his works of art. The raw beauty of the space was like nothing I had ever seen, and even though I had yet to meet this man, his energy emanated from every nail, every stone, every tree.

In infinite jest
the sun rose again today
the wind stirred
the water rippled
the shadows danced.

In infinite jest
each breath came
in and out
in and out
as if it were just another day.

In infinite jest
the clouds moved across the sky
a living canvas
its semiotic indicator
a waning moon.

The sky
becomes the sea
the sea becomes
the sky
death becomes life

In infinite jest.

Thank you for your fallen flower George Samuelson.

A Fine Vintage

IMG_8283A metallic twang, like a note struck on a steel guitar, reveals the mineralized soil in which everything grows. Assaulted by notes of spruce, eucalyptus and dogwood, I inhale an aroma, leafy around the edges, evergreen at its core. Undertones of an old cigar box that has been left out in the rain, creep past my heightened olfaction. And yet—the lingering impression on the tongue is angular, optimistic as a freshly laundered white shirt hung to dry in the chinook winds that blow where the Canadian Prairies and the Great Plains meet. At the edges, I can taste winter, and I’m reminded how much I miss this Alberta air.