Archive for the ‘original writing’ Category


original writing: wine reviewing for the rest of us

April 11, 2013

You know these fancy ass people who pick wines because of the, what, like grapes? And regions? And whatever the hell appellations and varietals are? Poncy snobs. Insufferable.

I employ the same rule for choosing wine and race horses: Get the pretty one. I learned that from my step mom Dale. We don’t always win, but damn we keep good company. In a pinch, it’s also permissible to order whatever the very lovely bartender recommends.

But back to my point, and I do have one. I got so tired of reading these ridiculously otherworldly fancy wine reviews that I decided – well I along with Ellen, my California coast travelling companion last fall – we decided to come up with our own rating system. Now, it would have been splendid had we actually taken note of the actual wine we were actually drinking and apply the reviews, but we got a little tipsy and forgot. So I have randomly assigned wines and wine groups, just to illustrate. And so…

Denise and Ellen’s Wine Ratings Guide™ (aka wine reviewing for the rest of us)

5/5: So, if you poured, for example, any wine with the word “ripasso” on the label…

E&I might give it 5 stars out of 5 and saucily address such a bold wine this way:

Settle down there dude. We heard you the first two times. Full fruit on the tip of the tongue. Weight of a thousand butterflies carrying a mordant level of bad cholesterol.

4/5: If you were brave enough to decant a depanneur merlot…

E&I, knowing that you are savvy enough to appreciate that cheap doesn’t have to mean crappy, would pat you on the back, give your dep plong 4 stars out of 5, and elucidate thusly:

Salty bacon on the aggravating tear on the roof of your mouth; stings a little at first, but pleasantly, numbingly astringent. Finish of dark chocolate, with a whiff of slightly hummy canned pineapple.

3/5: And what about those trailer trash nights when only Gimli Goose or some other plonk is what you want?

E&I would chuckle and give you 3 stars out of 5, for chutzpah, and opine:

Opens with a bouquet of Doctor Pepper drizzled over burnt toast, settling on the tonsils like molasses left too long at the back of the fridge. No real finish. It just kind of walks away and stops acknowledging your texts. Like a guy named Steve.

2/5: But then there are those moments when you’re just trying too damn hard, like with a San Bernadino riesling…

E&I would be a little embarrassed for you, dole out 2 stars out of 5, and mutter:

Peanut butter and apricot jam on the nose, with no Kleenex handy. And even if there were, the tissue would disintegrate and leave tiny strips of jammy tissue hanging off your nose, which the condescending wine bar waiter would point out while calling you “ma’am”.

1/5: And if you dared to swill some chardonnay? ANY chardonnay?

E&I would cleanse our palates with tap water and flick you 1 star out of 5, sadly declaring:

Cheap gum on the nose, with tinny finish, and the longevity (and aftertaste) of a fish fly in early June.

This has been a Rut Dug Inc. Production ™


original writing: the year of living widowishly, an imperfect work in progress

February 11, 2013

As some of you might know, I am currently on a sabbatical. I was calling it a “writing leave of absence”, but too many people gave me the pained face that said, “Oh. So you’re finally having a nervous breakdown”, that I started using the $10-word sabbatical. Although I should have used instead The Five Weeks in Which My Oven Finally Gets Cleaned. But I’m digressing. About digressing. So where was I?

One of the reasons I started 11th Ave., the blog of which this post is a part, was to give myself a deadline, a monthly reminder to write. Which addresses my particular strain of procrastination: “Yeah, I’ve been writing, but it’s not ready to show people yet.” So I called bullshit on myself. Just tell the damn story. If it’s imperfect, well look at it as a sacrificial humbling, an offering to God or the gods. Or to my immensely more perfect circle of friends who have read and listened to me read numerous versions of the following, which I performed in spring of 2012 at a Montreal literary event (currently in what I hope is merely a hiatus) called Poetry Plus, when I also read Elizabeth Rising and Matrilinium, those being wee bits about my mother and maternal forebears, respectively.

This here, below, is the beginning, or ending, or entirety of a monologue or one-woman play. I suppose. It was written to be spoken aloud, an urge I had been unaware of possessing previously. And since I had never written a monologue, I was, shall we say, unfettered by what I should do and what a theatre type might here spot as wrong or lacking or outrageously disrespectful to the tradition to which I was introduced by the great Spalding Grey (Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box). But in the spirit of Just Tell the Damn Story, and maybe of creating momentum that might get me to do something constructive with the hundreds of pages of notes and half-thoughts and story and play and movie ideas I have jotted in and on my phone, ipad, shopping lists, drug store receipts and even the palm of my hand over the past few weeks, I give you … an imperfect work in progress. Comments are welcome, but not necessary, either in comments option or via email.

“I’m here. It’s okay. Sh-sh-sh.”

I suppose that as a child, I’d heard these words or words like them a hundred, a thousand times. As a young babysitter I’d spoken them to a five-year-old clinging to me in terror during a thunder storm. As a grownup, i used them with the cat who knew that nothing good could ever come from going in the car and later with nieces and nephews hysterical with fear or pain or unknowable outrages.

And it works. “I’m here. It’s okay. Sh-sh-sh” is all that anyone’d need in a terrible moment, repeated and repeated, preferably in a whispery voice, by someone holding your hand, or holding you outright, maybe with a slight rocking motion.

“I’m here. It’s okay. Sh-sh-sh.”

I heard those specific words two years ago in Winnipeg, in the Riverview palliative care centre, 13 days before my mother died of lung cancer. In that moment, the previous three weeks of bedside stoicism cracked apart and and fell away after an attempt to care for her myself, in her own apartment. Feeling a failure in every way, I was also sobbing with the realization that she really would die, and soon. Seeing me cry, my mother snapped upright in her bed and pulled me close with strength she had not shown in months and held my head to her bony chest, and said:

“I’m here. It’s okay. Sh-sh-sh.”

Two days before mum died, there were other words.

“Watch for the signs,” said Helen, her nurse and a good friend to us both in those last weeks. Signs? I must have smiled a very unconvincing smile.

“I know how it sounds,” Helen said, “and you’ll either see them or you won’t, but be open to it. After my dad died, it was pennies. He had a stash of pennies that took us days to roll up and cash in. And for months after that, I found pennies everywhere.”

I smiled some more at Helen’s wish for me to find comfort.

Mum died on the Monday. The first non-caretaker thing I’d done in weeks was go to the 7-Eleven for a slurpee. In the parking lot, a metal glint caught my eye. Not a penny but a handsome brass button embossed with RCAF. My mother, a lifelong seamstress, collected buttons and was never far in her voracious reading from World War II.

A sign?

An invocation of “I’m here. It’s okay. Sh-sh-sh”?


In late March last year, I was awoken early one morning by the droning of what I thought was a lawn mower. Only it kept stopping and starting. Very annoying. Happened three, four mornings in a row before I spotted not a lawn mower but a giant bee apparently burrowing noisily into a sealed corner of the bedroom window. With a sheet of paper and a water glass, I scooped up and liberated the poor disoriented bee out the window and went back to sleep… For about 20 minutes. And then the bee returned and after a few moments of buzzing, walked up the wall and behind our armoire. Huh.

Buzz, because we had to name him, visited nearly daily for three weeks, including one afternoon when my boyfriend called me at work to say that Buzz had gotten caught in the layers of my mother’s last, unfinished quilt, which was in a bag beside the window. “Here,” Shaun had said, holding the phone to the quilt, where I could hear furious droning. Shaun, afraid of being stung, let Buzz alone and he eventually freed himself. And continued to visit.

We grew quite fond of Buzz. When he disappeared during a few days of high wind, we feared he was gone for good. Until the Friday morning when he set down on the chair by the window, on another blanket my mother had given me for Christmas, and died.

I was so moved by Buzz, I wrote about him, in The Ballad of Buzz. “I half want to believe,” I wrote, “as a couple of friends have suggested, that Buzz was a messenger from Betty (my mother). That everything’s okay. That people – and bees – die and yet somehow it’ll all be alright.”

“I’m here. It’s okay. Sh-sh-sh.”

I finished that essay on Saturday afternoon, June 11, 2011. I had a shower, drove with Shaun to have dinner with friends, and by 11 p.m. a very beautiful doctor with a pony tail was telling me, “I’m afraid it’s not good news.” Shaun died about 20 moments later. The cause was sudden heart attack, several in fact.

I remember everything. All of it, though most of it is still wrapped in fog.

I remember phone calls to normally gruff men keening like terrified children and decisions and arrangements and flights to and from Winnipeg for the funeral and panic, panic and then resignation that this was the one thing I would never be able to write about. Oh I could journal about it, and have filled a crate with journals so far, but the thought of really writing about it? It wasn’t even a question of bitterness, at the impossibility of finding meaning in the death of a 43-year-old. That meaning was and remains clear to me. He lived a big happy life as a wire photographer for Reuters that took him all over the world, a life with a girlfriend and a family and friends he adored and who adored him. Too short, certainly, but he lived the hell out of that life. Point final, as French speakers say. My problem with writing was in the vastness of it, our life. It would be like trying to see the whole sky at once. Impossible. No beginning and – despite his corporeal absence – no end. Impossible.


As Shaun and I had planned, I flew to Winnipeg to spend a week of vacation with his family, driving straight from the airport to Matlock, where we each had grown up, spending our summers about two inches apart on the map of Lake Winnipeg. Right after dinner, I walked down the driveway to the gravel road to watch Matthew and Abby, Shaun’s niece and nephew, ride their bikes.

“Want to know what we call you when you’re not here?” Matthew asked, standing astride his bike and looking up at me.

“Sure,” I said.

Hesitation. “Never mind,” he said, shaking his head.

Abby, age 5 to his 7 and all id, announced it: “We call you a hobo.”

I was staggered, but I didn’t want to upset them.

“What does that mean?” I asked, in what I hoped was a measured tone.

“Well,” said Abby, “a hobo is someone with no home and with nothing.”

“I know what a hobo is, but why are you calling ME a hobo?”

This time Matthew found his voice. “Because you have no home.”

And then they were off. And I was reeling. But also thrilled.

Of course I WAS a hobo. My home, my life as I knew it were gone, all demanding to be remade, reconfigured, reclaimed.

And this, THIS I couldn’t NOT write about.

A sign.

“I’m here. It’s okay. Sh-sh-sh.”

Or so I thought.

“Matthew read your hobo story,” his mother, Jennifer Facebooked to me after the essay I eventually wrote was published in The Gazette. “Then he said to me, ‘Oh, we called everybody a hobo. I didn’t mean anything by it.’ ”


There is a fairly predictable path in grieving. The numbness lifts. Energy, concentration span, appetite all return. The panic eases. But none of the progress is linear. Some call it a roller coaster. Some a loop. I look at it as an archeological dig. It’s the same territory, but you’re not able to go very deep in any one pass. You have to cover the same ground over and over, sometimes with a mallet and sometimes with a whiskery brush, and each time something new is revealed.

At work, at The Gazette, I’d seen this new intern a dozen times. Lovely girl. Dancer. Poised. Hard working. On this one day, she wore her hair in a pony tail. Something about it demanded a second look and I was suddenly jerked back to June 11 in the Royal Vic emergency waiting room. And I remembered, I FELT the bounce in my heart at the smile on the pony-tailed doctor. I remembered thinking two things:

She’s so beautiful and …

It’s all going to be okay!

I don’t know how they came to be connected, but it just seemed no bad news could come from such a beautiful, kind face. And then she said, “I’m afraid it’s not good news.”

In that moment on June 11, 2011, I made the decision (DNR), I called his parents, I signed the organ donation forms, I collected his watch, rings and bracelets, his phone, his wallet and his glasses. And I declined the nurses’ repeated offers to call someone to be with me. I walked the five blocks home and did a load of laundry. I drove to the bank, Crescent St. revellers scrambling for last call, and drove home. I called Shaun’s best friend at 6 a.m. and we began making phone calls. I did all that. It had to be done.

But in the newsroom, watching the poised young woman and her pony tale walk away, I was slipping under the freight train of what I didn’t do — the nonono this can’t be happening. No you’re too beautiful to give me bad news and my life is too precious to be broken this way. My love, my Shaun is too gorgeouslovelysexysmartkindlovingperfectperfectperfectstrongstubbornperfectperfect to ever let go of me. Isn’t he? Isn’t he? ISN’T he?

Back in the newsroom, where only a heartbeat or two had passed since the pony tail had jerked me back in time, someone was passing around pieces of cake for someone’s birthday and some headline wasn’t working and there was a question about an attribution in a story and … I put my head down and walked through them all to the bathroom, not breathing so I wouldn’t sob. And once I barred the cubicle door, I screamed – but made no noise because I couldn’t bear to be consoled, couldn’t bear the beautiful kindness that is powerless to make this better. I screamed and I screamed until I had snot running down my face and was crying so hard I could barely breathe … and then, as quickly as it came, I could feel it ebbing, my breathing slowing, my tears hovering but not spilling over the edge of my eyelids …

And then the toilet next to me flushed. And across from me, a stream of pee. Another flush.. And then I was laughing, and I didn’t care if anyone heard me.

A sign.

“I’m here. It’s okay. Sh-sh-sh.”


There is one thing that I did not read in any of the grieving books or hear in the grieving group I attended. Nor did I get any nods of recognition from the other widows I knew or came to know.

It was the crushes. So many crushes. The Starbucks barrista. The old friend. The new friend. The man at the conference. At a wedding in Los Angeles. At PA Supermarche on Fort St.

I know how it sounds. Inappropriate, mere weeks after burying her boyfriend of 17 years, to be swooning over him and him and him. I am also aware of the vulgar caricatures. Of the merry widow, of the mourner so out of him or herself, they flirt or worse, and embarrass themselves.

I am aware, too, that those I confided in saw these … crushes as vigorous distractions, probably a little sad, something in me to be tolerated. But watched.

But it didn’t feel that way. I felt like a warrior queen whose beloved king had died beside her in battle, urging her on. I had battles to keep fighting, life to keep living for both of us.

Standing at Peel and Ste. Catherine in the lunchtime crush of August heat and office workers and tourists, I felt like a ghost who could know and possess the life of any stranger she touched. “Are you my new husband?” “Are you?” “Are you my new future?” Are you? You? YOU?

While I didn’t go on any dates or otherwise act on any of these infatuations, it was months before the fever of them broke and during that time, this urge to hook up, to fall in love, to find my new life, my man, my new path… this urge never waned.

And few men escaped my virile imagination. Not even Brad Pitt, which is how I found myself in a movie theatre, at a screening of Moneyball. This was kind of a joke between me and Shaun. He would tolerate my crush on Brad Pitt, but I couldn’t go see a Brad Pitt movie without him. However, there I was.

The popcorn bag caught my attention first. Row behind me, about four seats to my left. I considered turning to offer a hairy eyeball, but decided to rise above it for Brad’s sake. And then … Brad made me laugh. Or his co-star Jonah Hill. But anyway, I laughed. And so did Mr. Popcorn Bag. And no one else. Jolted by this intimacy, I felt a pang of longing for Shaun and our shared and off-tempo sense of humour. For the fact of never again sharing … But no. I shook it off. This was my afternoon with Brad Pitt. Still, I was as desperate to turn around and see this unknown secret sharer as I was to leave the illusion to flourish. We shared a couple more laughs, me and Mr. Popcorn Bag. It was quite thrilling.

Until the lights came up and and something about the muscle memory of reaching for my coat and the need to find a restroom caught me in a sob. Once again, head down, I just made it to the bathroom stall and turned the lock before the tears came.

Of course that was not Shaun back there in the row behind me, laughing at all our usual spots. Of course not. And off course he was NOT standing in the lobby of the Forum movie theatre, waiting for me to go get noodles at the Asian place. Of course not.

And there is no stranger in the lobby, still holding a popcorn bag, waiting for me to stop crying and writing all of this in the bathroom stall, on the iPhone that Shaun bought me.

And he’s not going to introduce himself when I come out of the ladies’ room as a future husband sent by Shaun to watch over me at the Brad Pitt movie and laugh in all the right places.

And of course he won’t lean in and say:

“I’m here. It’s okay. Sh-sh-sh.”

Of course not.


original writing: running in the middle

September 11, 2012

Been doing a lot of hiking in the past year, the height of which was a week-long string of seven day hikes in the Chic Choc mountains of the Gaspesie, some nine hours east of Montreal. I went in thinking I’d be thrilled to show up and limp through say three or four hikes, sitting out the others with reading and writing at the campground that was our base camp for the whole week. But I sat out only one day, enough to fortify a gammy ankle. By the end of the week, I had finally figured out what to do with the hiking poles. By the last group outting, I ran with the fast crowd and — gloriously — kept up, despite a style that I will describe as tiny Frankenstein lurching down a forest trail carrying barely controlled spears. The success was in large part to my training, three four times a week on Mont Royal where, to my further surprise, I have begun running. The two experiences have me thinking a lot about the relationship between the earth of these well-trodden trails and the bodies that pound, leap, shuffle and glide over them. At a writing retreat last weekend I started working on some eventual something. Here, for your perusal and maybe glint of pleasure, is where it starts.

Running in the Middle


















Again again

For one year my unmade decision has been to move and keep moving. And since childhood, all movement has always accelerated to speed, to the front, to win

The bite in the lung

The air curling in on my wake

The blur of the earth

The ground pushed behind me, behind me, behind me

But my knees make new noises and my hips clench like fists

So like a thumb boring into a shoulder knot, I am pressing a new momentum onto myself.

Running, but just barely.

And the surprise? Instead of suffocating as I fall in, behind, surrounded, I find myself feeling part of the larger animal of the pack.

The calf muscle in front of me a metronome

The lot of us, known to each other or not, rounding the same turns, claiming the same earth, pushing it back for the next to claim, release

Silent except for ragged breath. Still and quiet and moving, safe in the middle of the pack.


















Again again



original writing: Matrilinium

July 11, 2012

I started this bit in 2000 when I realized that after grilling my grandmother, Jean the Difficult, for years and getting only snippets of stories, however intriguing, that I’d have to make up the rest. Other bits I knew first hand.

But something was missing and I couldn’t fix it, so I tossed it in a box. Then, on a recent beachcombing vacation in Ogunquit, Maine, I was crashing through the thigh-high surf and suddenly, after years of not thinking about it, I not only recalled this poem, but the closing bit came to me. Not perfect, not finished, but closer. This one’s for you, Grama. And for baby Violet.


I come from Scotland in the pocket of a con man on the run from a problem more serious than the ones that came before, when we dropped Blue and became Gorman at Halifax’s Pier 21.

I come from the soot-and-grease-smudged apron of his wife, a hard-working Québécois who fed and clothed their five sons in her family’s lumber business.

I come from the stinky wool of the scarves, toques and mittens of those sons, who carried their mother’s body three days in the searing January Quebec cold to the closest Catholic graveyard.

I come from the large black metal lunch pail of the son of one of those brothers, a tall shy factory worker in Winnipeg who silently and smilingly bore the pain of a broken finger when his second daughter, the quiet one, the favorite one, hurled herself at him with such abandon on an otherwise ordinary day. He never knew why.

I come from under the expertly placed hat of Ma Tante Delphine, a maiden aunt in Montreal so bereft when World War II ended and she had to return my infant uncle Frederic to my grandmother that she took out back the high chair she’d bought just for Frederic and with a neighbour’s axe she swung with the woodsman’s skill that was in her blood and chopped it to matchsticks.

I come from my grandmother’s box of fabric that clothed me in white satin and eyelet cotton, through the rites of baptism, communion, confirmation. From the robin’s egg blue broadcloth with matching nightgown trim that saw me and my doll through nights too loud to sleep.

I come from the bottom of a plastic tumbler stained red by cheap wine, hidden behind the sewing machine, where my grandfather would never have thought to look, would not have had to.

I come from the secret compartment in the family crucifix, beside the holy water, where I hid my mother’s extra sleeping pills, but not enough of them.

I come from the index card she left behind in the divorce, where the secret ingredient in the family recipe for orange cake was left off, because “if your father knew it had sour milk in it, he’d never have tried it in the first place.”

But now.


I come from what ee cummings named, from the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart and i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

And I come from right now,

I come from you,

From the place behind your eyes as you read this.

Where you carry my heart in your heart

That’s where I come from.



Denise Duguay

Circa 2000


original writing: the hand of somebody

June 12, 2012

Been dreading this day. This anniversary of the day Shaun Best died. This terrible remembering. And I figured I’d be sad. I’d be coming apart at the seams.

And I was not alone in that fear. Not a week ago, a friend with a huge heart and a rock throughout this past year, looked at me over cake and coffee and said: “I’m worried about you. You haven’t had your … you know. You have broken down yet.”

And I said to her as I say to you, that I have. I have. In private mostly. On the walk home from the Royal Victoria emergency department last June 11, wearing a broken flipflop that it did not occur to me to take off. I broke down nine days later, upon exiting the hall where we held the Winnipeg memorial, under the gaze of my niece Sydney who exploded in worried tears that were soothed by the holy-shit-I-couldn’t-have-planned-this-better moment that followed in the church bathroom, where somehow many of Shaun and my former Winnipeg Sun coworkers converged and pulled Syd and I back together.

I have broken down in journals, a crate full of journals (from which the world is spared). I have broken down in more formal writing (from which the world will not, it appears, be spared). In the supermarket checkout line. In the west bathroom at The Gazette building at Peel and Ste. Catherine. In movie theatre, in all the movie theatres. On the phone, often late at night. On Mount Royal, always Mount Royal. This past weekend, on the beach at Ogunquit, Maine.

I have broken down at a friend’s wedding, at another friend’s 50th birthday gathering, at Christmas, at Easter, at sunset, at sunrise (okay that last one’s a lie; i’m never up early enough for sunrise). I’ve broken down at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve broken down and broken down and broken down.

But goddamn it if it Shaun Best isn’t always there to build me back up, make me laugh. Shaun Best or something.

Like the morning of June 12, 2011, after I had slept only a few minutes and dragged myself into the bathroom to shower before picking up his parents at the airport. I looked at the mirror and saw not just the ragged eyes of a shocked-out widow, but a gigantic, red mound of a mosquito bite in the centre of my forehead. Inspite of myself, I squeaked out a laugh. Who could possibly take me and my grief seriously with this bull’s eye on my forehead? I smiled as I reached for the first aid tin, and then began full out laughing. The tin was crammed with pins, the kind of special-event pins that Shaun brought home from sporting events by the handful and hid around the apartment to vex me. These were from curling, a couple of months back.

There was my recent trip to New York, part of my keep-busy-before-the-anniversary campaign of travel and visiting. New York was special because the last time we’d been there together had been to see my brother Richard perform from his brand new and excellent album. Shaun had met Richard before only at my father’s and then my mother’s funeral. I fretted for naught. New York was a great couple of days. Shaun took brilliant photos of Richard on stage. We hung out. All good. But one detail had disappeared and it was driving me crazy. While Richard rehearsed, Shaun and I had wandered around lower Manhattan, and he spotted a joint that had been named by Esquire magazine one of the best bars in the U.S. We went in, had great bowls of soup and chili and a couple of pints and it was dark-wood, grotty-floor, nice-but-not-too-nice-bartender, sports-on-the-TV heaven. There on my own a few weeks ago, I had worked myself into a lather over not being able to name and revisit the spot. But then, I decided to just let it go and just wander. It was the first time of dozens of times I’d been to New York that I was setting out without a map in my bag. Somehow, thought, I felt I couldn’t get lost. So I wandered and turned on whims and just as daylight was slanting through the westside and the neon signs were sputtering to life, there it was. Old Town Bar. I looked in the window to make sure. Exact right spot. Didn’t go in. Didn’t need to. The rest of my walkabout was filled with oh yeah we were there. And there. And there too. Walking with a ghost. A happy ghost.

There were other moments before and after and I hope there will be many more, but I’ll leave you with this one because it is especially Shaun.

Walking to the Ogunguit public beach this June 11, 2012 morning, I spied tourist crap in the shop windows on Main Street and thought, I guess I should buy some souvenirs for the nieces and nephews, as we had done together in past. But, to the beach. And so I went. And on the beach, I walked for a couple of hours, as far north as the beach would go, under light cloud that parted for moments here and there. And on the way back, I spotted three black rectangular stones. Perfect skippers if, and that’s always the worry, IF they are thin enough, or so Uncle Shaun had advised Matthew and Abby back at Matlock on Lake Winnipeg during our August visits. All three of these Atlantic blacks were wafer thin. Bending over to rinse off the sand to take them home, souvenirs, I had a thought. Famously … let’s say frugal, I think those rocks were the hand of Shaun Best. And right there, that sound you don’t hear, is the happy sound of Shaun Best’s wallet not opening. That, THAT is Shaun Best.

But is that really, REALLY Shaun Best? Because he didn’t believe in an afterlife. “Nothing. That’s it. Over,” he answered when I asked him, shortly after my mom died in 2010 and such things were on my mind.

If it is you, my love, thanks for watching over me, us, from an afterlife you don’t believe in. Also, if it’s not crass to state the obvious, I was right and you were wrong.

But if it’s not Shaun sending the signs, if the iPod is shuffling all on its own to the absolute perfect song as the different stages and months demanded – Springsteen’s You’re Not Here from The Rising last Christmas and just the other day John Mayer’s My Love For You Is Real and (this split me in two) Pete Townsend’s Let My Love Open the Door; if the cheese monger decided all on hiw own to display the gigantic wedge of Drunken Goat in the Chelsea Whole Foods in New York on the only day I’d ever stepped foot inside, completely unaware I had not seen that cheese in a year, when I bought it for what turned out to be the last plate of crackers and cheese I served you; if it’s not your hand in all this, my love, then it’s … it’s everything. Then everything is conspiring to see me, to see us through this.

And while lovely, perhaps even as lovely as the idea of you hovering angel-like over me and us, that would mean that you were right. And that would irk.

So, one for Bella.



original writing: Betty’s purse, for Mother’s Day

May 11, 2012

Like anyone who’s got fingers and a keyboard or a notebook to torture, I’ve written about my mother. First poem I wrote was a saccharine bit of business about motherhood (from which I will spare you), about the storybook glory of motherhood, written full-heartedly by my 11 year old self, only a little aware of the complicated nature of Betty’s relationship to motherhood. The story ends happily, with all peaces made and a truly good death. One of the most satisfying things I’ve ever written was about six months after her death, in an essay for The Gazette, where I do my paid work, for a series called The Things We Carry. What I carried, from Winnipeg to my home in Montreal, was my mother’s purse. Here’s the start of the essay. Click the link below to read the full essay.

“Stay out of mummy’s purse.”

I knew, as I did back when I called her mummy, that I should not be in my mother’s purse. And it didn’t matter that I was putting something in and not fishing for, say, movie-star red lipstick.

That the voice was only in my head did not make it any less arresting.

Click here to read The Unbearable Heaviness of My Mother’s Purse.


original writing: Elizabeth Rising, a work in progress

January 10, 2012

This poem came out all in a rush after spending the day with writers who’ve been shepherded by Lise Weil two or three times a year for the last 12 or so years. It came out pretty much as you see it, with my mother’s life pretty much the framework on which it hangs. I was pleased by the images and some of the closure of the lines, but it’s rough, obvious in spots. More to the point, soon after writing it, I saw it as a template for a larger memoir project, something that will involve my learning more about digital literature and collaborating with a code writer and web designer/animator. But I won’t get to that for a while and I thought I’d share this now. Enjoy and stay tuned.

Elizabeth Rising

Betty Lou is a baby girl with fat black curls,
a stuffed cat in one fist, floppy inch worm in the other,
chubby arms straining the sleeves of her green velvet coat
as she reaches for the bird
in the sky
of her park.
Night falls.

Now the lady of a house, she keeps her own babies at bay
with librium and valium and
vodka in her iced Sanka.
She escapes the husband
in night shifts at the hotel bar
where, out back, in the parking lot,
she slips in beside a customer,
who notices her gray roots
as she bends into him,
her scuffed green-black money belt
thudding against his shin.
Later she lights a bent cigarette,
and rolls down the window
a crack.

Now, she’s a number on a bracelet,
green hospital smock
gaping at the back,
cold against the wall beneath a ceiling
buckled and oozing (but not).
An orderly is tugging at her arm
which is a snake that bites
with the cat-scratch current
of the next shock treatment
and animated bluebirds circle her
frizzled grey hair, like in the cartoons

her children might be watching at home

(but not).

One more vinyl bracelet, one last hospital,
where her silver hair
is combed gently by a stranger
who knows her temperature
and medication schedule
and will wheel the patient
past the waving nurses’ desk
to the gift shop
where the glittering green scarf
brushes the wheelchair like a summons.
“Pay me tomorrow,” the shop volunteer smiles and
swallows. Hard.
Wheeled on to the garden,
Elizabeth struggles to push herself up from the chair,
reaching for the pussy willows
she can no longer name,
But crumples, clutching
the IV pole. The scarf falls like a feather

Elizabeth rises.
The bird
in the sky
of her park.

Denise Duguay May 29, 2011

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