i never saw my grandpa pray 
but once he’d brought his family 
to live near the lake 
he would rise early 
cross the street shirtless 
big tanned belly over 
swim shorts brown Hawaiian 
slides tan lines on long feet 
toss a towel on the sand 
throw great body 
in with noise and celebration
that water his daily 
he would swim way out
churn a steady crawl 
like a paddle wheeler drawing a line 
up the middle of the okanagan 

my grandmother 
on a cranky beach chair
leather skin golden glistening Hawaiian 
Tropic tanning oil smelling of coconuts 
before I knew what coconuts smelled like 
her tiny feet bathed in crystal water 
mother of pearl toenails
mixed with pebbles 
precious stones 
on her hands 

she showed me
my favourite stroke
ladylike: pick an apple
put it in the basket. pick 
an apple, put it in the basket
this way you keep your hair dry
I never saw her swim underwater
not once

how to pray on a rosary 
how to roll out dough 
fill ice cream buckets 
up with christmas cookies 
a tough 
little bottle 
of nail polish 
between ticklish palms
after they got engaged 
my grandpa went 
to my grandma’s house 
and decked her father 
in the face 
her father 
who in a rage once 
tried to burn them all down 
in the house he’d built with his hands 
in my favourite photos of him my grandfather holds 
steering wheels 
kids: black and white and colour 

in my favourite photos of her she is 
laughing while making food in the kitchen 
she is posing on the hood of a car 
the day before her wedding 
good legs 
bare feet 
hair done, up in a ‘kerchief 
i know him best
when i throw myself under
forgiving water

my hands are hers 
when they are most useful 
put to work, painful  
able to give
witch pill tree
Warm evenings 
I would help her harvest what she’d grown 
while clouds gathered, every night a deluge 

till the pods popped open, gave up 
hard pellets of crunchy sweet too-raw
frog green peas. My knees in the soil. 

I would go to the witch
pill tree. She called me, shaggy in her corner. 
Her poison berries jumped from the branches 
under my hands. Yielded to my witch 
fingers. Pap-pap, scattered on the pavement
dirt-slicked from spring thaw, popping 
under my witch shoes. Cloud
on the house raining down into 
the gutters, down the drainpipe 

seeped into the ground where she grew 
our food. Pock-marked the cherries, peaches 
bruised, not pretty now, only good for canning.
bodies of water

tired of being teased, I taught myself to swim by throwing myself 
off the pier and dogpaddling to shore. I don’t know where you were.

the boiling water in the bathtub. the rape. horses, police, the Nazi
foster father. upon gathering all the facts, I’ve built a story of you. 

you said 

I don’t like you. too unreal to be real. I was immersed in you. it came 
down like bad water from a tap. hard. you couldn’t turn it off in time.

I tried to scrub you off in every lake that I saw. drawn to clean water 
I needed to be cooled, frozen, submerged in something colder 

than you. were.
they nailed her 
fur coat to the packinghouse wall

my grandma 
was the only one who talked 
to the new girl with aspirations 
you sit here next to me
they put her on the sorting 
line, where she stayed for forty years
are the number of angels
who follow you
and help you through your life
in direct relation
to the number of people
who you’ve made to love you?


i’m an apple bobbing in northern water
cloud jesus hanging on sistine sky 
my catholic girlfriend
says: he’s checking up on you
Helen also would have said it was him
or an angel

clasped and believing 
hands knotted from grasping 
a million cold spheres 
jewels she held and let go

tightly, lovingly


years later

I’m in my car yelling
at a guy in his twenties, who is 
laughing at me

do you miss life?
have my dreams floated through you
have they caught in your hair? 

yeah, i still cut myself sometimes
but that’s normal now

the more i pick at the scabs of my family
the more rancid fluid is freed 

i’m a lance relieving pressure
on a blister ready to burst 

bit by bit

prick, prick, prick
BULL RUSH (for Shauna)
In the back door like wild 
dogs, we proudly dragged 
them from the sanctuary 
where we pulled them 
from a bog. 

The only time she yelled 
at us—bull rushes in 
her kitchen! 

White tufts like her hair 
after a friday ‘do, like 
a bird after a cat kill 
sticking in the mat
landing on her floured
board, flying through 
the window. 

We retreated to the yard 
the beach & sanctuary
climbed back up the willow 
tree. Smoked cigarettes.


i drive past my grandpa’s ashes 
three times a day at least
when i visit my cousin
at the lake country trailer park

and to secret beaches
and orchards that slope away
in straight-drawn lines 

furrows dragged up and down  
that annual burst blood red 
the valley heavy with sweet 
fruit ready for harvest

and horses circled round 
with white fences
and night drives all windows down
hair full of warm
lifted and whipping 
empty back roads
dark fields full of
hopping rides on hot drafts 
heading for heaven  
and soft night smells of 

warmed on the stove with ice cream 
melting into the syrup 
a kitchen with clean counters ticking clock
down the hall, he sleeps on his side
on top of a made bed 
in khaki shorts, back from the beach
tanned bare torso
shoulder and hip 
point like a mountain range

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