You were fourteen, the summer of '61,
in Stratford Ontario, just a leggy Arian dreamer
little sister, reading your poems at the Black Swan;
a smoking , toking, cappuchino-sipping Capulet,
while at the Dairy Queen I made Dilly Bars
with perfect curliqued belly buttons (outies,you called them)
chocolate coated in uniformity, then tucked into designer ™w®appers.
You were a black swan, for God's sake
with emerald eyes masked in kohl, inscrutable smile,
an irridescent hank of expresso-colored hair
like a sheet of satin streaming down your back.
We were flowers, -plucked from Mother's
funeral wreathes, re-arranged and estranged ,
both seeking the simple solace of souls,
gliding like orphaned cygnets on the Avon,
but in different directions.
I bore the gold crucifix from her coffin ,and you
wore her perfume,- "Tabu"
I left for college,promising to return and "help" you,
how you laughed at that altruistic concept; meanwhile you
called yourself Dove, snuck out late at night, indulged all appetite
and instinct as if there would be no tomorrow.
The Sisters of St.Joseph prayed for you,- the black sheep,
as you scattered summer flowers like lovely mad Ophelia.
You, furtive Bohemian runaway, surfaced
in Hamilton, Valentine's Day, 1963.
You delighted in aliases and costumes, ever afraid of detection and
certain extradition back to Bland conformity, and so you were
Betty Pringle, Jenny Dove, Katy Kumquat,-whatever,
you were 16, reciting your poems at The Purple Onion,
and so utterly God-damned beautiful,
a statuesque candle,your face aglow with soulful radiance
your black shift shimmering , words flowing like molten wax
carving light and shadow from the darkness-
with your heart.
I worried about you, said you were going to Hell, but
you laughed and said you'd just been there and that it wasn't all that bad.
You tossed me a pomegranate-
It went right over my head.
Summer of '64
I found you in Yorkville,
writing poems in The Lothian Mews.
I remember your poems-
No! I only wish that-
I really remembered your poems.
They made sense then ,
in an imperfect world, they were perfection.
You lived in a brownstone walk-up
redolent with patchouli and sandalwood
with that artist boy, where terra cotta pots
of pot basked on sagging windowsills.
We gnoshed on foods strange to my vanilla palette,
Spanakopita, couscous, artichokes , guavas and oysters,
fat black olives and kosher pickles fished from barrels at the market.
In the Beaujolais afternoons splashed with childhood's stains,
the sins of our parents spillled all over the carpet
revisited over turkish coffee,
black hash, and blue tears.
You unbound my hair, brushed it loose and lined my eyes with kohl;
we sat gazing into one another's reflection and my ice-cream world melted away
with the warm salve of your familiar, forgotten, touch.
We went to the Royal Alex, The Threepenny Opera,– we
played dress-up as little girls do, costumed as Macheath's ladies,
Low-Dive Jenny and Polly Peachum
sultry and sexy, under swish of second-hand silk,
sequined black décolleté, clutching beaded evening bags
oblivious to anything but our youth, freedom, and the power of love;
like resplendent cowries in satin pools of nightsky's lazuli shores,
crystal spindrift settling in our wake.
You drove me to the train station,
I had a one-way ticket to Golden B.C., the Rockies
a teaching position, a man with a silver voice and a golden ring.
no-return from my Great Canadian Dream
You packed a hamper, grapes, figs, cheese, bagels,
a Beaujolais (Bouchard Ainé et Fils 1961)
and odd, -a piece of a broken rosary,
ruby-red beads that you said looked like
pomegranate seeds dangling from a tarnished silver crucifix....
[ Our Father, three Hail Mary's and a Glory Be.]
You said I was going to hell, and I would need it.
I laughed, and in that moment on the platform
I felt the steel embrace of ascendant wings
as a feathered finger tip wiped a tear from my cheek.
we kissed, waved , and
I never saw you again.
December 1977, Our father finally found you–
Lady Jane Doe, three month resident at the Toronto morgue.
Anonymity and silence preserved forever by your own device
No possessions, photos, journals, no poems,- left to speak to me,
to answer poignant questions, to fill in dull grey blanks,
to complain, to rebuke,–to scream or whimper of dying alone
your last thoughts and words writ on midnight mists,
your whole life erased, evaporated like morning's dewy tears.
You are a black swan gliding regal through the obsidian night.
They mailed me your empty shoulder-bag,
a broken turquoise set in cheap silver,-
a small laquered stash box cradling a section of an old rosary.
[10 ruby-red Hail Mary's , blue quartz Our Father,– no Glory Be ]
Now nothing remains of you but memory's soft haze
like wispy tendrils of sweetgrass smoke, curling skyward
circling saffron dreams of bygone years.
that, and the immutable pain of unanswered prayers.
We couldn't know that decades are but copper coins
in a three penny opera.
if only sister,
if only we could reckon with that savior on horseback.
Sally Bland ©
February 21, 2005