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 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.

Alas My Own Thighs

She filled her bowl with borscht
for the second time,
added sour cream,
and pondered the heat in her years-old body.
The problem was space,
having had to do with space all of her life,
None of it hers.
Orange fruit in a black bowl
is one thing,
aging female bodies, another.
No single way.
No knife.

Going on sentimental forays at 4 a.m.
demons catching a ride
is no way to find it.
She wouldn’t mind being six again,
not sixteen or even thirty-six,
when she was still fulfilling the dreams of others,
her own dreams featuring buses
lost in public places.
She forges ahead, fictions revised,
and with gender intact
as her mother would have wanted.
— Joyce Luna
Yes, my fascination with the language of poetry continues unabated. This guest post is from Joyce Luna—artist, musician, and poetic wanderer. She currently lives in Victoria Canada with her dog Mickey. She’s also my mom.

Sleepless in San Sebastián

What torture lurks within a single thought…”

I could have stopped reading then, so emotionally charged was the first line of Amy Lowell’s poem, ‘A Fixed Idea’. With those seven words I felt exposed, and had to read on; I had to discover where her torment lay, what lay heavy upon her life.

When my own body stills at the end of a day, my mind does the opposite, refusing to give in to the night and its requisite expectation of sleep. Has it always been this way? I remember being very young and afraid of the dark for a time, a nightlight in the corner of my bedroom glowing like a monster with one eye. Then later, much later, a year of insomnia took root from a cloven heart; I would lie awake and look out my apartment window, at all the other darkened or empty apartment windows, and whisper to myself, “There is no one out there for me”.

You lie upon my heart as on a nest,
Folded in peace, for you can never know
How crushed I am with having you at rest
Heavy upon my life…”

Years later, it was the thought of death that kept me from sleep. My own death of course, because it seemed the most pressing. My doctors told me I wasn’t going to die, but my mind chose an alternate reality, convincing me I surely would, because others had. To combat my own internal Godzilla vs Mothra, I’d imagine a ball of light entering the top of my head and moving through my body, banishing sinister cells through the sheer power of its illumination.

You bind my freedom from its rightful quest.
In mercy, lift your drooping wings and go.”

And now? What are my tortured thoughts when my lover sleeps but my mind does not? The world is a bountiful place, the world is a bountiful place, the world is a bountiful place. Should I wake him? Would he calm me with his voice and his touch? A red painting, a green towel, a pair of shoes, a lone streetlamp. The methodical identification of objects is meant to make the dissonance cognitive, but instead it simply leaves me glancing at the clock. The clock. The clock. Is anyone else in this dark night awake?

Inspired by the poem A Fixed Idea by Amy Lowell

Sin Nombre

I stopped to take his picture but I didn’t stop to ask
Cuál es su nombre?
Or to ask him what he was reading so intently
his finger still marking a passage of time

Leather and tweed
in La Lagunilla, the little lake,
a place my friend Richard calls ‘the Flea’
where lives are laid out for the next highest bidder

And then this man with his piercing blue eyes
like mine, his mother’s hands
like mine, his face carved
like the madera of the instruments he sells

Puedo sacar su photo?
I asked?

But I didn’t stop to ask his name.

Flea hero