The Pen

Broker’s Pick
Carl Leggo


Photo Credit: Paul Sullivan/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

(for Rick)

years ago when my first book of poems
Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill
was published, my brother sent me
a silver Cross pen with my name engraved

my brother sometimes complained
I made money by writing poetry about
his mishaps and calamities (I always
explained, poets don’t make any money)

a year ago I lost the pen, and while I lose
a lot of pens, I was especially sad to lose
the pen my brother had given me, a gesture
he was glad I wrote stories, even his

on the eve of my birthday I was culling
clothes in my closet (a seasonal purging
to sustain balance amidst busy clutter)
with hope that the thrift store had room

I found the pen in the pocket of a winter jacket,
and remembered how my brother always
phoned me on my birthday with the boast,
I’m now two years younger than you, at least

for a week, since he was born one year
and one week after me, always my best friend
growing up on Lynch’s Lane, and for all our
differences, he was the brother I always needed

since he died last August, he will always be much
younger now, and finding the lost pen I knew
how a lovely mystery holds us fast, even in loss,
when my brother whispered, write more poems

pencil

Carl Leggo is a poet and professor at the University of British Columbia. His books include: Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill; View from My Mother’s House; Come-By-Chance; Lifewriting as Literary Métissage and an Ethos for Our Times (co-authored with Erika Hasebe-Ludt and Cynthia Chambers); Creative Expression, Creative Education (co-edited with Robert Kelly); Sailing in a Concrete Boat; Arresting Hope: Prisons That Heal (co-edited with Ruth Martin, Mo Korchinski, and Lynn Fels); Arts-based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Teaching: Honoring Presence (co-edited with Susan Walsh and Barbara Bickel); Hearing Echoes (co-authored with Renee Norman); and Poetic inquiry: Enchantment of Place (co-edited with Pauline Sameshima, Alexandra Fidyk, and Kedrick James). Email: carl.leggo[at]ubc.ca

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Sanctuary

Poetry
Carl Leggo


Photo Credit: Steve Baty/Flickr (CC-by)

most of my adult life I have spent Sundays
in church, but cancer has consumed my spirit,
so I now spend Sundays at the Sanctuary,
a coffee shop a few minutes up the road

Tim built the coffee shop, especially for cyclists,
where Coffee Cycle Culture is the slogan and highlights
of Tour de France races are presented on a big screen
hung over the coffee bar, a gathering place

for cycling groups from all over the Lower Mainland
who arrive in happy numbers in spandex and cleated
shoes with expensive bicycles and camaraderie
to drink coffee and eat raspberry and lemon scones

Tim remembers people’s names, asks about their stories,
he knows I am now often in the BC Cancer Agency
and he is always glad to see me, glad to hear treatments
are working, I might actually have some future left

perhaps I will ride a bicycle again, one day, as I often did
in Corner Brook, and one Christmas bought a Raleigh
ten-speed and had it shipped by train across Newfoundland,
with anticipation of riding it in the spring after a long winter

I look forward to returning to church on Sunday mornings
but for now I will sip coffee at the Sanctuary where
I can relax in the predictable pleasures of cycles of stories
that continue week after week, a simple air of repetition

pencil

Carl Leggo is a poet and professor at the University of British Columbia. His books include: Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill; View from My Mother’s House; Come-By-Chance; Lifewriting as Literary Métissage and an Ethos for Our Times (co-authored with Erika Hasebe-Ludt and Cynthia Chambers); Creative Expression, Creative Education (co-edited with Robert Kelly); Sailing in a Concrete Boat; Arresting Hope: Prisons That Heal (co-edited with Ruth Martin, Mo Korchinski, and Lynn Fels); Arts-based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Teaching: Honoring Presence (co-edited with Susan Walsh and Barbara Bickel); Hearing Echoes (co-authored with Renee Norman); and Poetic inquiry: Enchantment of Place (co-edited with Pauline Sameshima, Alexandra Fidyk, and Kedrick James). Email: carl.leggo[at]ubc.ca

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Exclamation!

Poetry
Carl Leggo


Faculty Senate Meeting
Photo Credit: Michael Oh

what is the point?

what is the point
in exclamation?

what is the exclamation
in the point?

are we afraid
of the exclamation point?

afraid of the point in the heart
or learning there is no point?

 

like we are afraid of clichés of the heart
afraid of the heart?
prefer the illusion of sangfroid
where cold blood pumps slowly

I am dying
in meetings

we meet to
discuss the budget
review the department
review the faculty
review the department chair
review the faculty dean
& one another

we spend so much time reviewing
we are always looking backwards
with necks like pretzels

we meet to plan
programs and policies
procedures and processes
productivity and promotion

the academy is a speed dating service
where there is no romance, no seduction,
just reduction and a stupefying trance

we need textual intercourse full of pleasure,
instead of this coitus interruptus that leaves us
desiccated, depleted, dry like a dean’s dirge
about branding, and random, never randy,
encounters with potential wealthy benefactors

we need to claim more, declaim more
exclaim more, proclaim more

we need to reclaim
the bold voices of poetry

our poetry needs to startle
our poetry needs to howl

pencil

Carl Leggo is a poet and professor at the University of British Columbia. His books include: Come-By-Chance; Lifewriting as Literary Métissage and an Ethos for Our Times (co-authored with Erika Hasebe-Ludt and Cynthia Chambers); Being with A/r/tography (co-edited with Stephanie Springgay, Rita L. Irwin, and Peter Gouzouasis); Creative Expression, Creative Education (co-edited with Robert Kelly); and Poetic Inquiry: Vibrant Voices in the Social Sciences (co-edited with Monica Prendergast and Pauline Sameshima). Email: carl.leggo[at]ubc.ca

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Three Poems

Poetry
Carl Leggo


Moccasins

with the honorarium
from my first published poems
I bought a pair of moccasins
in the Fredericton farmer’s market

ordered exactly what I wanted:
soft deerskin leather, ankle high,
a rubber sole for walking,
and beads (men’s moccasins
ordinarily didn’t have beads)

they fit like a word
that gives you goose-bumps

I only wore them when I wrote poems
or thought about writing poems
or felt like a poem

the rubber heel was replaced a few times,
they were sewed a few times,
the leather lace was replaced a few times,
some of the beads fell off

after a decade I only wore them
once or twice a year,
storing the poetry in my blood
like a winter stone in November sun

so she knew what she was doing
when she slashed them
with an X-acto knife
and left them in the closet
where I would find them
after she was gone

 

Scratch in My Throat

four black birds sit in the snow
on the fence that defines my backyard,
rare since it seldom snows in Steveston,
and for a breath I am in Newfoundland

where I lived a long story of winter light
in a sacred, sometimes scary land
where snow insists on staying too long,
and the birds remind me of Wallace Stevens

and I wonder where the other nine black birds
are, I feel so close to a poem, its breath
a scratch in my throat in the tangled
midst of memories, I live with the past

trailing like a train of U-Hauls stuffed
with stories I no longer need, always hard
to clean the closet, especially in winter
when the stories might still be missed

like old sweaters, though this morning
while running on the dike I heard thousands
of snow geese write their way into the dawn
with a raucous eagerness for light

 

Picnics
(November 14, 2003)

like an expiration date on bacon or bread,
I have one more day in the decade of my forties,
and while I confess the fiction of chronology
composed by clocks and calendars, the imposition
of time as linear like a ladder, I can’t dispel
the relentless realization: in a day I will be old

at least much older than I am now, will wake up
on Saturday (for the first time I see weekend
as weakened) and notice how almost everyone
is young, younger than me, how, unless I am
a statistical anomaly, I will not live another
fifty years, perhaps another decade or two or three,
which today with the sun chasing shadows in early
winter light during a long run around the curve
of York Harbour will simply not be enough

I don’t know what eternity holds, what aftertaste
of earth will linger at the back of the heart, but I am
in no hurry to find out, since on this day I am teased
to distraction with the light I see everywhere,
need nothing more than eager licks of the earth

always greedy for more picnics, even as a teen,
I used the resources of high school mathematics
to compute the irrefutable conclusion that eating up
an annual average of fifty picnics, I would still
devour only three and a half thousand in a typical
biblical lifetime, and knew with unassailable certainty,
even then, that wouldn’t be enough, not nearly enough

like Emily Dickinson, I know for sure only,
Too few the mornings be, Too scant the nights,
and I wonder if Emily savoured many picnics,
probably not, since I don’t think she went out
much, or was that Emily Bronte? oh the waste
of getting old! after a lifetime of rehearsing
for Jeopardy (cramming my cheeks with facts
like a neurotic squirrel), everything is now
jumbled up like jambalaya, and all the facts
are so much mouldy manna that will not sustain
me in the long winter without picnics

and writing this poem about growing old and longing
for picnics (even though every sensible husband knows
I should be helping Lana prepare for the birthday party
tomorrow) is a sign I sing to ward off the murky
monsters under my bed, including loss and lumbago,
congestion and indigestion, headaches and heartaches,
violet varicose veins like a map of violent places
I have travelled, grateful and glad Anna sent me
Walter the Farting Dog to remind me I am still loved

pencil

Carl Leggo has published two books of poems, Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill and View from My Mother’s House (Killick Press), and many poems and short stories in literary journals. He is an associate professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia where he teaches courses in writing and narrative inquiry. E-mail: carl.leggo[at]ubc.ca.

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Two Poems

Poetry
Carl Leggo


Seven Sparrows

seven yellow-backed sparrows
light in the lime tips of a spruce
like ceramic miniatures
from Red Rose tea, small
enough to be almost real

they peck at the branches,
a feast of budworms, while
crows watch from telephone lines
and I sit on Nan and Pop’s patio
sipping a rye and Seven

I remember my daughter
carried the spruce home
from S.D. Cook Elementary
on Save the Earth Day,
a seedling in a Dixie cup

Pop planted it in his backyard
because we had none for a year
while on a detour from Alberta
to British Columbia that took
us home to Newfoundland

for years Pop feared he mowed
the spruce with the daisies,
and now it holds sparrows,
the longing of crows,
and memories enough

to keep the heart calling
earth’s rhythms with roots
seeking deep and deeper,
the whole earth sung
in veins of long light

 

Cliff Edges

I went away. Falling water imagined
me in other places I have been,
I wish to be. My moonshone spirit
leaps off cliff edges without even
looking for a river to fall into.

The world is a hot, noisy place
like a pulp and paper mill. Still
the only place I want to be.
I will not write the world
with a refusal to lean on light,

like Caitlin who filled binders
with scraps of disaster and dread,
like a deranged disciple

of Peter Jennings, well-paid
to point out a world of woe,
perhaps no longer recognizes joy,
like the colour-blind, can’t even
comprehend whole bands of possibility.

I will not record the lines only
of shadow’s sadness, leaning on light,
a rumination of rough cut stones,
all always recalled in the blood
with its own circular course.

pencil

Carl Leggo has published two books of poems, Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill and View from My Mother’s House (Killick Press), and many poems and short stories in literary journals. He is an associate professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia where he teaches courses in writing and narrative inquiry. E-mail: carl.leggo[at]ubc.ca.

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