Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 3
Two aunts, he had; the first detested liquor,
Gave talks, in fact, to Women’s Institutes
(Abetted by her spouse, the local vicar)
Denouncing those who drank as sinful brutes.
The second was a dipso, went the rumour
(His mother’s sister, she, who’d married ‘down’,
Was spoken of as little as a tumour
And lived on the disheveled side of town).
He met with her, by chance, when he was twenty,
On furlough from his sober-sided kin
And finding her as many-hued as kente
Was flummoxed that the Lord should suffer sin
To gaud itself in colours buckeye bright
While piety outdulled a cabbage white.
[Kente is Ghanaian cloth. A buckeye is a colourful butterfly.
A cabbage white is another name for a cabbage butterfly]
For years they’d run a pub; well, Stan had bounced,
Collected empties, scrubbed the carpet stains,
Put simply been the brawn to Hilda’s brains
'Till, “time to hang the gloves up,” she’d announced.
Now, feeding me (her nephew) in a flat
As drab as it was small, she tossed her head
At him I caught a glimpse of on a bed,
His mouth a cave, his muscles run to fat.
“He’s just back from the hospital,” she said;
“Gets dizzy, so he claims; though how you tell
When somebody who’s brain-dead has a spell
I don’t know. Had an x-ray of his head.
I told him, ‘it’s a waste of effort, Stan:
You know there’s nothing there for them to scan.’”
I’d known him in the seventies, when he
Was fresh from England, newly come of age
And cheeky as a prison escapee.
Giddy with liberation from his cage,
He’d skinny-dipped in someone’s private pool,
Chucked empties from his window at a car
Left on the street at midnight, fought a duel
With beer spray in some ill-reputed bar.
On Bay Street I ran into him last week.
“Those were the days,” I opened with, but please,
His look implored, of such things do not speak!
I bore it home, perused it at my ease,
Concluded that the reason it was glum
Was not what he had been but what become.
[Bay Street is the heart of Toronto’s financial district.]
© Peter Austin