from Hand Luggage. Three excerpts from a memoir-in-verse
Calgary. The twenties. Cold, and the sweet
melt of chinooks. A musical weather.
World rippling and running. World
watery with flutes. And woodwinds.
The wonder of water in that icy world.
The magic of melt. And the grief of it. Tears—
heart’s hurt? heart’s help?
This was the wilderness: western Canada.
Tomahawk country—teepees, coyotes,
cayuses and lariats. The land that Ontario
looked down its nose at. Nevertheless
we thought it civilized. Civilized? Semi.
Remittance men, ranchers—friends of my family—
public school failures, penniless outcasts,
bigoted bachelors with British accents.
But in my classroom, Canadian voices—
hard r’s and flat a’s, a prairie language
—were teaching me tolerance, telling me something.
This vocal chasm divided my childhood.
Talking across it, a tightrope talker
corrected at home, corrected in classrooms:
wawteh, wadder—the wryness of words!