Transcript: Gary Geddes on British Columbia | Apr 14, 2001

A slate with two Doric columns reads "Gary Geddes. 'Sailing home: A journey through time, places and memory.'"

[applause]

Gary Geddes stands behind a wooden lectern on a dimly lit stage. A banner on the lectern reads "Harbourfront Reading Series. Harbourfront Centre."
Gary is in his late sixties, with short white hair and a goatee. He's wearing glasses and a striped red sweater.

He says I HAD THE GROWING FEELING
OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS
THAT I SHOULD GO BACK AND
RECHECK MY ROOTS AND MY
ANCESTRAL SLUMS IN
BRITISH COLUMBIA.
FIND OUT WHERE THE RELATIVES
WERE, AND WHAT THEY
REMEMBERED OF MY MOTHER,
LONG DEAD, AND MY FATHER
RECENTLY PASSED AWAY.
AND ALSO A NUMBER OF
RELATIVES I HADN'T SEEN
FOR MANY YEARS.
YOU CAN TELL A LITTLE
BIT ABOUT SCOTS.
WHEN A SCOT TELLS YOU
THEY'RE GOING TO INTERVIEW
THEIR RELATIVES, YOU KNOW
THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG
WITH FAMILY RELATIONS.
SO FOR ME, THE TRIP BACK
WEST INCLUDED A LONG
AMBITION TO EXPLORE AND
REDISCOVER SOME AREAS OF
THE WEST COAST WHERE I
HAD HAD PRETTY IMPORTANT
EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCES
AS A CHILD.
I'D FISHED COMMERCIALLY WITH
MY FATHER IN RIVERS INLET,
GILLNETTING.
I HAD DRIVEN WATER TAXI FROM
TEXADA TO THE POWELL RIVER.
I HAD LOST MY MOTHER AT
AN EARLY AGE AND HAD A
GRANDFATHER WHO FELL OFF HIS
BOAT AT POINT ATKINSON AND
WAS DROWNED AND HIS
BODY NEVER RECOVERED.
I HAD A FATHER, ALSO, WHO
WAS A DEEP SEA DIVER WHO
WAS THERE WHEN THE RESCUE
EFFORTS AT THE COLLAPSE OF
THE SECOND NARROWS BRIDGE,
HE WAS CALLED OUT TO HELP
WITH THE RESCUE EFFORTS.
ALAS, TOO LITTLE
COULD BE DONE.
SO I HAVE A REALLY WATERY
PAST IN BRITISH COLUMBIA,
AND I'VE BEEN YEARNING TO
EXPLORE IT, AND I HAD THE
OPPORTUNITY, THANKS TO
SOMEONE AT HARPER COLLINS
WHO HAD FAITH THAT I MIGHT
BE ABLE TO PULL TOGETHER
A COMBINATION BOOK OF
MEMOIR AND TRAVEL.
THIS WAS A BIT OF A
PSYCHOLOGICAL PLOY ON MY
PART BECAUSE I WAS AFRAID
TO DO ANYTHING LIKE A
FULL AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
I HAD NO CONFIDENCE THAT MY
LIFE WAS THAT INTERESTING.
I HAD A FEW ASHES TO CHUCK
AROUND LIKE THE MAN WHO
WROTE
ANGELA'S ASHES,
FRANK MCCOURT, BUT I DIDN'T
HAVE THAT KIND OF IRISH
CONFIDENCE AND GIFT OF THE GAB.
SO FOR ME, THE COMBINATION
OF A TRAVEL BOOK OF SAILING
UP THE COAST INTO MY OWN
PAST, AND MEMOIR, WAS A
WONDERFUL POSSIBILITY.
SO I WANT TO READ YOU FIRST A
LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE MEMOIRS.
I HAD A SENSE, AS I WAS
SAILING UP THE COAST, THAT I
HAD ALL THESE GHOSTLY
RELATIVES IN THE WATER
BESIDE ME, LIKE OUTRIGGERS,
GHOSTLY OUTRIGGERS
FOLLOWING ME
UP THE COAST.
SO I NEVER FELT, EVEN WHEN
THERE WERE NO LIVING HUMAN
BEINGS WITHIN MILES AND MILES,
THAT I WAS ENTIRELY ALONE.
AND ONE MOMENT I HAD A
DISTINCTLY CLOSE SENSE OF
MY FATHER, WHO HAD DIED.
AND I WANT TO START BY
READING A LITTLE PIECE
ABOUT THAT.
MY FATHER HAD BEEN SOMETHING
OF A MEDICAL MIRACLE.
HE'D SMOKED FOR 30 YEARS,
WAS A LIFELONG HEAVY
DRINKER AND HAD NOT
EXACTLY BEEN DIET CONSCIOUS,
HAVING A TYPICAL SCOTTISH
AVERSION TO VEGETABLES.
IN HIS SIXTIES, HE HAD TRIPLE
BYPASS SURGERY, BOUNCED
BACK, THOUGH HIS LUNGS
WERE WEAK, AND HE SUFFERED
INCREASINGLY
FROM EMPHYSEMA.
BETWEEN HIS OXYGEN HITS,
PUFFERS AND NITRO PILLS,
HE MANAGED A SURPRISING AMOUNT
OF ACTIVITY, INCLUDING
SEVERAL TRIPS TO WINNIPEG,
AND VISITS TO HIS HUTTERITE
FRIENDS IN ALBERTA.
THOUGH HE ALWAYS
COMPLAINED ABOUT QUEBECERS,
HIS FAVOURITE TRIP OF ALL HAD
BEEN A VISIT TO QUEBEC CITY.
THE ONLY BAD MOMENT HAD BEEN
MY RUNNING A YELLOW LIGHT
IN MONTREAL, WHERE I JUST
MISSED BEING SIDESWIPED BY
A PICK-UP TRUCK.
THAT LITTLE MISADVENTURE
NECESSITATED THREE NITRO
PILLS, AND LEFT HIM FEELING
MORE VULNERABLE THAN USUAL.
WHEN I ARRIVED IN PRINCE
RUPERT A FEW DAYS BEFORE
CHRISTMAS IN 1995, MY FATHER
WAS NO LONGER IN CONTROL
OF HIMSELF.
HIS BATTERY-OPERATED CART,
A FINAL OFFERING FROM THE
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS'
AFFAIRS, STOOD UNUSED BELOW
THE BACK PORCH.
A HOSPITAL BED HAD BEEN
SUPPLIED FOR HIS COMFORT,
BUT ALSO FOR MARGE'S SAKE,
SO SHE COULD MORE EASILY
CARE FOR HIM, CRANKING
HIM UP TO A HALF-SITTING
POSITION AND CHANGING
HIS SOILED LINEN.
HE WAS NO LONGER EATING, AND
COULD SCARCELY SPEAK, BUT
HIS HAND WOULD SOMETIMES
SEEK OUT THE METAL FRAME OF
THE BED, BELOW THE
MATTRESS, AND FLUTTER THERE
WEAKLY, UNTIL THE DOG WOULD
NOTICE, AND LICK IT OR
STAND CLOSE ENOUGH TO FEEL
THE NUDGE OF A FINGER.
I TOOK SHIFTS TO
SPELL MARGE OFF.
I WOULD OFTEN HOLD HIS HAND
AND SING TO HIM SONGS I
KNEW HE'D RECOGNIZE, LIKE
DANNY BOY
AND
LOCH LOMOND.
IN THOSE MOMENTS THERE'D
BE A SLIGHT FLICKER OF
MOVEMENT AROUND THE MOUTH
AND EYES, AS HE TRIED TO
COMMUNICATE HIS
AWARENESS OF MY PRESENCE.
I FELT WRETCHED FOR
BETRAYING MY FATHER,
ADVERTISING HIS FAILINGS IN
MY POETRY, WHICH I COULD
ALREADY SEE WAS A WAY OF
DEFLECTING ATTENTION AWAY
FROM MY OWN WEAKNESSES.
AS ONE OF MY FRIENDS
REMARKED, YOU ARE YOUR
FATHER'S SON.
ALTHOUGH MY FATHER HAD NEVER
SEEN THE POEMS IN QUESTION,
I TOLD HIM I LOVED HIM, AND
QUIETLY ASKED HIS FORGIVENESS.
I LEFT PRINCE RUPERT ON THE
AFTERNOON OF DECEMBER 24,
SO I COULD SPEND CHRISTMAS
EVE WITH MY FAMILY.
BUT THE NEWS OF HIS DEATH
REACHED VICTORIA BEFORE I DID.
I FLEW NORTH AGAIN, A FEW
DAYS LATER, FOR THE FUNERAL.
MY COUSIN, ED BATES, WHOM I
HAD NOT SEEN FOR 25 YEARS
WAS ON THE SAME PLANE
AND HAD ARRANGED
TO SIT NEXT TO ME.
ED WAS A TWIN.
I KNEW HIM, AS IT
WERE, IN TANDEM.
BUT HE HAD FALLEN OUT WITH HIS
BROTHER AND WOMB MATE, ARTHUR.
HE WAS COMING TO RUPERT
FOR MARGE'S SAKE, HE SAID,
WANTING HER TO
KNOW THAT UNCLE LAURIE
HAD BEEN GOOD
TO HIM AS A KID.
I MANAGED TO OFFEND THE
UNDERTAKER BY REFUSING
TO VIEW MY FATHER'S BODY, HIS
LATEST SEPULCHRAL MASTERPIECE.
I HAD NO INTEREST IN
EXAMINING THE ARTIFICE, THE
COSMETICS, EYELIDS SEWN
SHUT, SUNKEN CHEEKS PUFFED
UP WITH FLUID.
I PREFERRED TO REMEMBER THE
TERRIBLE BUT COMPELLING
BEAUTY OF MY FATHER AT
THE THRESHOLD OF DEATH.
HIS DEHYDRATED BODY LIKE AN
AUTUMN LEAF PARCHED AND
POISED ON THE BRANCH.
ITS BRITTLE STEM A GRIM
REMINDER OF THE ORIGINAL
UMBILICUS WE MUST ALL SHED.
I'D BEEN DENIED ACCESS TO
MY MOTHER'S FUNERAL FIVE
DECADES EARLIER BECAUSE
RELATIVES FELT IT WOULD
BE TOO UPSETTING
FOR A YOUNG BOY.
SOME OF THAT DELAYED AND
UNRESOLVED GRIEF WAS WITH ME
THAT AFTERNOON IN PRINCE
RUPERT AS WE FOLLOWED THE
HEARSE UPHILL TO THE
CEMETERY IN THE POURING RAIN.
THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF DESIRE.
YOU TRY TO LIVE IN THE
PRESENT WITH ITS DISTRACTIONS,
ITS SUBSTITUTES
FOR A LOST UNITY.
BUT THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A
WORD, A FACE, A SNATCH OF
MUSIC TO BREAK OPEN YOUR HEART
AND LET THE PAST FLOOD IN.
PRINCE RUPERT WILL ALWAYS
MAKE ME THINK OF RAIN, THE
KIND THAT FELL ON MARGE, MY
TENDER AND LONG-SUFFERING
STEPMOTHER, WHERE SHE STOOD
OFF TO ONE SIDE STRUGGLING
WITH AN INTERNAL DELUGE OF
JOYS, HUMILIATIONS, GRIEFS.
RAIN THAT PELTED DOWN ON THE
RUINS OF MY FATHER LODGED
IN THAT MOST
INTIMATE OF SPACES.
ON MY INJURED BROTHER LLOYD,
ON MY DOUBLY DISPLACED
COUSIN ED, EVEN ON THE
DISGRUNTLED UNDERTAKER WHO
FANCIED HIMSELF VAN GOGH.
AND RAIN, CLEANSING RAIN,
PERHAPS EVEN HEALING RAIN,
THAT SOAKED ME AS I
STAGGERED UNDER THE
KNOWLEDGE OF MY ALTERED
PLACE IN LINE, AND UNDER
THE SURPRISING WEIGHT
OF MY FATHER IN HIS BOX.
MY FEET SETTLING INTO THE
BOGGY SOIL OF THE NORTH COAST.
SOIL LEFT BEHIND 14,000
YEARS EARLIER BY A
DEPARTING GLACIER.
IT WAS QUITE AN
EXCITING TRIP FOR ME.
I WAS SCARED OUT OF MY
WITS HALF OF THE TIME.
WHEN I WASN'T SCARED, I WAS
JUST TOTALLY OVERWHELMED BY
THE BEAUTY OF THE PLACE
WHICH I HADN'T FORGOTTEN,
BUT WHICH I HAD NO
RESISTANCE TO WHEN I CAME
BACK AGAIN AFTER
ALL THOSE YEARS.
AND I HAD A SENSE OF MYSELF
DRIFTING BACKWARDS IN TIME,
SO I WAS ALWAYS TRIPPING OR
DOING RIFFS, MEMORY RIFFS.
AND AS I USED TO TELL MY
STUDENTS, IN LITERATURE, AN
ASIDE IS NEVER AN AFFRONT.
SO THIS BOOK IS
FULL OF ASIDES.
IT'S LIKE BEATING
AGAINST THE WIND.
WHEN THE WIND'S DEAD AHEAD
OF YOU, YOU CAN'T GO
STRAIGHT INTO IT, YOU HAVE
TO TACK BACK AND FORTH.
SO I KEPT TACKING BACK AND
FORTH BETWEEN THE LANDSCAPE
AND MEMORY AND HISTORY AND
CERTAIN FAMILY STORIES.
AND THIS IS JUST A LITTLE
PIECE TO GIVE YOU SOME IDEA
OF ME AS THE
UNEASY AMPHIBIAN.
AS I SET OUT ACROSS BLACK
FISH SOUND, I SPOTTED FOUR
PORPOISES 50 YARDS TO
STARBOARD, SURFACING WITH
THEIR FAMILIAR
ROLLING MOTION.
IF I'D SHUT THE ENGINE OFF
OR BEEN UNDER SAIL, I'D
HAVE PICKED UP THEIR
NOTICEABLE HUFFING NOISES
AS THEY CAME UP FOR AIR.
THE BLACK STREAMLINED BODIES
AND SMALL RECTANGULAR
DORSAL FINS GLINTING FOR
A MOMENT IN SUNLIGHT.
THEY'RE SUCH
GRACEFUL CREATURES.
ONE OF THE FASTER MAMMALS IN
THE SEA, SOMEWHERE BEHIND
DOLPHINS IN TERMS OF SPEED
AND COST EFFICIENCY IN WATER.
UNLIKE DOLPHINS WHO ARE
PROFESSIONAL SHOW-OFFS AND
HITCHHIKERS, SURFING THE BOW
WAVES OF WHALES AND BOATS.
NOT JUST FOR FUN BUT AS A
MEANS OF EXPENDING LESS
ENERGY, GETTING
A CHEAP RIDE.
HARBOUR PORPOISES ARE LESS
SOCIABLE, AND CERTAINLY LESS
THEATRICAL, AVOIDING
BOATS WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
SINCE THEY HAD READAPTED
FROM LAND TO SEA, THEIRS
WAS A GREAT SUCCESS STORY.
I'D BEEN THINKING ABOUT MY
OWN ADAPTABILITY, NOT ONLY
TO THE SEA, BUT ALSO
TO THE NEW LIFE AND THE
DISLOCATIONS FACING ME...
AGING, EARLY RETIREMENT,
DIVORCE, MOVING
BACK TO THE COAST.
LIVING ALONE, LIKE LIVING ON
THE WATER, REQUIRES ADJUSTMENTS.
THE FIRST OF WHICH YOU HAVE
NO ONE ELSE TO BLAME FOR
YOUR MOODS OR PROBLEMS.
A MISSING SOCK, OR A
MISSED OPPORTUNITY.
A BURNT LASAGNA, AN EMPTY
GAS TANK, OR AN EMPTY BED.
YOU HAVE TO MAKE
YOUR OWN DECISIONS.
ORGANIZE YOUR SOCIAL LIFE
RATHER THAN COASTING ALONG
ON SOMEONE ELSE'S
ENERGY AND INITIATIVE.
WHEN THE PORPOISES WHO'D
GROWN LEGS AND LUNGS IN
ORDER TO SURVIVE OUTSIDE
WATER RETURNED TO THE SEA,
THEIR VESTIGIAL LIMBS,
GHOSTS WITHIN THE BODY,
PERSISTED AS SKELETAL
REMINDERS OF ANOTHER WAY OF
LIFE, ANOTHER
MODE OF COPING.
I'D SPENT SO MUCH TIME IN
THE CARE OF WOMEN, FROM THE
INLAND WATERS OF THE WOMB,
TO THE SEA OF MATRIMONY.
IT WAS GOING TO TAKE ME A
WHILE TO DEVELOP LAND LEGS.
TO LEARN SKILLS NEEDED
TO SURVIVE ON MY OWN.
MEANWHILE, I FLOUNDERED,
I HYPER-VENTILATED, I LAY
GASPING AND SELF-PITYING ON
THE SHALE, THINKING OF THE
MILLENNIA THAT WOULD HAVE TO
PASS BEFORE I COULD STAND
UPRIGHT ON MY OWN AND WALK.
LEST YOU GET THE IMPRESSION
THAT I THOUGHT I WAS DOING
ANYTHING SPECIAL BY TAKING
THIS TRIP, I HAD TO REMIND
MYSELF, AND REMIND YOU THAT
EVERYONE, AND HIS OR HER
DOG HAS SAILED UP
THE WEST COAST.
IN BATHTUBS, WRECKS, KAYAKS.
EVERY TIME I ROUNDED A
POINT THERE WERE FIVE
OCTOGENARIANS IN KAYAKS.
STILL, I WAS ABLE TO PRETEND
AT TIMES THAT I WAS DOING
SOMETHING SPECIAL.
AND THIS IS ONE OF THOSE
MOMENTS IN WHICH ANY EPIC
FANTASIES OR ODYSSEYIAN
ILLUSIONS WERE QUITE QUICKLY
SHOT DOWN.
AND THIS IS PROBABLY THE
LAST PIECE I'LL READ,
DEPENDING ON HOW WE'RE
DOING FOR TIME.
I WAS JUST COMING DOWN TO
HORNBY ISLAND, AT THE END OF
MY TRIP, MOST DESPERATE TO
HAVE A REAL MEAL WITH SOME
FRIENDS ON HORNBY, KEITH
AND JOANNE HARRISON.
MY TOLERANCE OF TOFU, WHICH
WAS ABOUT THE ONLY THING I
COULD KEEP FROM GOING MOULDY
AND DEAD IN MY ICEBOX WAS
AT A LOW EBB, SO I WAS
REALLY KEEN ON THIS TRIP,
THIS VISIT.
I CONSIDERED CALLING KEITH
ON THE CELLPHONE TO MEET ME
AT THE DOCK IN FORD COVE,
AT THE SOUTH END OF HORNBY,
AS IT OCCURRED TO ME I
MIGHT NEED HELP DOCKING.
ALSO, I THOUGHT IT WOULD
BE FUN TO SHOW OFF MY
NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS.
THINKING BETTER OF IT AND
NOT WANTING TO KEEP HIM
WAITING, I PROCEEDED DOWN
LAMBERT CHANNEL WHERE A
SMALL FERRY WAS CROSSING
FROM DENMAN TO HORNBY, FULL
OF TOURISTS AND
SUMMER RESIDENTS.
ALTHOUGH FORD COVE HAS A
GOVERNMENT WHARF AND IS
MENTIONED IN THE CRUISING
GUIDES, IT IS NOT MARKED OR
NAMED ON OFFICIAL CHARTS.
AN OVERSIGHT OR A DELIBERATE
PLOY TO DISCOURAGE THE HORDE
OF BOATERS WHO PLY THE
COAST EVERY SUMMER.
IT OBVIOUSLY HADN'T WORKED
AS THE MARINA WAS PACKED.
GIVING THE REEF A WIDE
BERTH, I CREPT INTO THE
COVE AND MANEUVERED SO I
COULD RAFT ALONG A BRIGHT
RED SLOOP.
AS I APPROACHED, A
MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN STARTED
JUMPING UP AND DOWN IN THE
COCKPIT WARNING ME OFF.
DIRECTING ME TO THE OTHER
SIDE OF THE FLOAT, WHICH I
HAD BEEN TRYING TO AVOID
BECAUSE OF A LIGHT
SOUTHEASTERLY
IN THE MAKING.
MY ONLY CHANCE WAS RAFTING
ALONGSIDE A NON-DESCRIPT
FIBERGLASS SLOOP.
SO SHORT AND BEAMY IT
OFFERED ONLY THE SMALLEST
ARC OF CONTACT FOR FENDERS.
MY ERSTWHILE TRAFFIC
DIRECTOR WAS ON HAND TO
GRAB THE BOW AS I STEPPED
ABOARD THE SLOOP, STERN
LINE IN HAND.
UNLIKE GROAS WITH HER IMMOVEABLE
SEVEN AND A HALF TONS, THE
RECEIVING BOAT WAS LIGHT
WITH A ROUNDED DECK,
AND TIPPED UNDER MY WEIGHT,
THROWING ME OFF BALANCING
AND CAUSING MY
FOOT TO SURRENDER ITS
INADEQUATE PURCHASE.
SO IT WAS THE CONQUERING
HERO, HAVING BRAVED THE
DEMONS OF THE COAST, FOG,
TEMPEST, WHIRLPOOLS,
RAPIDS, GRIZZLIES, SIRENS,
AND A HUNDRED THOUSAND
DEADLY ASTERISKS.
AND HAVING SURVIVED SURPRISE
ENCOUNTERS WITH BOTH
DENIZENS OF THE DEEP AND
TWO-LEGGED CREATURES OF THE
SHORE, FOUND HIMSELF
DESCENDING INCH BY INCH
INTO THE SALT CHUCK AT THE
VERY APEX OF HIS GLORY.
I HAD TIME TO OBSERVE,
BEFORE MY FEET ENTERED THE
WATER, THE SLOVENLY
CONDITION OF THE VESSEL
RESPONSIBLE FOR
MY IGNOMINY.
ITS UGLY CONTOURS, SLACK
LIFELINES, UNWASHED CABIN.
EVEN ITS BADLY MARKED
AND WEED-ENCRUSTED HULL.
BEFORE GRAVITY HAD ITS WAY
WITH ME AND WATER LAPPED MY
BELLY BUTTON, I NOTICED THE
BEMUSED EXPRESSION OF A
NEARBY BOATER, WHO WAS
HOLDING A PAINT BRUSH THAT
INSCRIBED A RIGHT RED
ARC IN THE AIR, AS IF TO
UNDERLINE MY FOLLY.
ALTHOUGH THE INFORMATION WAS
TOTALLY USELESS TO ME IN MY
DETERIORATING SITUATION, I
NOW BECAME CLEAR THAT I HAD
BEEN SHUNTING AROUND TO THE
SIDE OF THE FLOAT TO AVOID THE
RED SLOOP, WHICH WAS RECEIVING
A FRESH COAT OF PAINT.
IT ALSO OCCURRED TO
ME IN THE MIDST OF THIS
DESCENT, THIS FALL FROM GRACE,
THAT MY WALLET, THANKS TO THE
VARIOUS TRANSACTIONS I'D
CONDUCTED IN CAMPBELL RIVER,
WAS NO LONGER SAFELY STOWED IN
THE CHART TABLE, BUT WAS IN
MY BACK POCKET, AND THAT IT
WAS ALREADY SEVERAL INCHES
UNDER WATER.
THIS CRASS MATERIAL
CONSIDERATION, STRONGER THAN
MERE VANITY, BROUGHT ME
QUICKLY TO MY SENSES, AND I
HAULED MYSELF ALONG THE
LIFELINES AND ONTO THE FLOAT
SOAKED TO THE NIPPLES.
NOW, I'D LIKE TO JUST
END WITH ONE POEM.
I DID A READING IN MONTREAL
AT MCGILL YESTERDAY, AND I
SWEATED AWAY FOR 40 MINUTES
READING FROM THE BOOK.
AND THIS PERSON IN THE FRONT
ROW SAID, WHAT, NO POEM?
I CAME TO HEAR A POEM.
SO I'M GOING TO
READ YOU ONE POEM.
THIS IS A POEM THAT I WROTE
MANY YEARS AGO ABOUT THE
KILLINGS AT KENT STATE
UNIVERSITY WHEN THE OHIO
NATIONAL GUARD OPENED FIRE
AT THE STUDENTS AND KILLED
FOUR STUDENTS,
WOUNDING MANY OTHERS.
THE PERSON I'M WRITING ABOUT
IS A YOUNG WOMAN NAMED
SANDRA LEE SCHEUER.
AND I FOUND SOME INFORMATION
ABOUT SANDRA LEE IN A BOOK
BY I.F. STONE CALLED
THE
KILLINGS AT KENT STATE.
AND ALL OF MY FRUSTRATIONS
AND ANGER ABOUT THIS EVENT
CAME TOGETHER IN A WAY
THAT ALLOWED ME TO WRITE
A LITTLE ELEGY FOR HER.
YOU MIGHT HAVE MET HER ON
A SATURDAY NIGHT CUTTING
PRECISE CIRCLES CLOCKWISE
AT THE MOON GLOW ROLLER
RINK, OR WALKING WITH QUICK
STEP BETWEEN THE CAMPUS AND
A GREEN TWO STOREY HOUSE,
WHERE THE ROOM WAS ALWAYS
TIDY, THE BED MADE, THE
BOOKS IN CONFRATERNITY
ON THE SHELVES.
SHE DID NOT THROW STONES,
MAJOR IN PHILOSOPHY, OR SET
FIRE TO BUILDINGS.
THOUGH ACQUAINTANCES SAY
SHE HATED WAR, HAD HEARD
OF CAMBODIA.
IN TRUTH, SHE WORE A MODICUM
OF MAKE-UP, A BRASSIERE,
AND COULD, NO DOUBT, MORE
EASILY HAVE MARRIED A
GUARDSMAN, THAN CURSED OR PUT
A FLOWER IN HIS RIFLE BARREL.
WHILE THE ARMORIES BURNED,
SHE STUDIED, BENT LOW OVER
NOTES, SPEECH THERAPY
BOOKS, PAGES OPEN AT
SECTIONS ON IMPAIRMENT,
PHYSIOLOGY.
AND WHILE THEY MILLED AND
SHOUTED ON THE COMMONS, SHE
HELPED A BOY NAMED BILLY
WITH HIS LISP, SAYING,
HISSSSS, BILLY,
LIKE A SNAKE.
THAT'S IT, SSSSSS.
TONGUE WELL UP AND BACK
BEHIND YOUR TEETH.
NOW BUZZ, BILLY, LIKE A BEE.
FEEL THE AIR VIBRATING IN
MY WINDPIPE AS I BREATHE.
AS SHE WALKED IN SUNLIGHT
THROUGH THE PARKING LOT AT
NOON, FEELING THE WORLD A
PASSING, LOVELY PLACE, A
YOUNG GUARDSMAN, WHO HAD
HIS SIGHTS ON HER, WAS
GOING DOWN ON ONE KNEE,
AS IF HE MIGHT PROPOSE.
HIS DECLARATION
UNMISTAKABLE, ARTICULATE,
FLOWERED WITHIN HER, PASSED
THROUGH HER NECK, SEVERED
HER TRACHEA, TAKING
HER BREATH AWAY.
NOW, WHO WILL BURN THE
MIDNIGHT OIL FOR BILLY,
ENSURE THE PERILOUS
FREEDOM OF HIS SPEECH?
AND WHO WILL SEE HER SKATING
AT THE MOON GLOW ROLLER RINK,
THE EIGHT SMALL WOODEN
WHEELS MAKING THEIR
COUNTLESS REVOLUTIONS
ON THE FLOOR?
THANK YOU.

[applause]

Classical music plays as the end credits roll.

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Big Ideas, TVONTARIO, Box 200, Station Q, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. M4T 2T1.

Producer, Wodek Szemberg.

Associate Producer, Mike Miner.

Sound, Herb Langwasser.

Executive Producer, Doug Grant.

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 2001, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Gary Geddes on British Columbia