Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Canada Day Poem

The newest Signal Edition, fresh as of last month, is Christopher Wiseman's 36 Cornelian Avenue, a collection of poems that revisits -- to powerful effect -- Wiseman's wartime childhood in Scarborough, England.

Richard Harrison, who read with Christopher at the launch in Calgary, e-mailed us afterward with these thoughts about the book.

"It's a kind of making peace with wounds and a settling, too, of scores. My own mother was evacuated from London during the Blitz, but she rarely talks about the experience. Reading Chris's book, I get a glimpse of why. It's a fascinating reflection on the nature of the self. My favourite line: "Another train and I'd be someone else." That war threw so much into chaos. I don't think that much -- really -- settled back. We have no idea what we'd have been had it not happened."

The story Wiseman tells gives us a sense of the larger price paid for the national birthday we celebrate today. Here, from 36 Cornelian Avenue, Wiseman takes stock and counts his blessings.


The worldwide roaring after dark
as the heavy loaded bombers climbed
ponderously from all those airfields,
one huge solid noise, an hour
or more, trembling the kitchen plates.

The Wheatcroft siren, shattering night,
its slow start, its pulsing waves sharp
but full, filling all our houses,
all our heads, pulling us, feared
and flushed, from sleep into the shelter.

My young brother's deep coughing.
His own war – pneumonia then croup,
my mother sitting with him all night.
Dr. Roxburgh's car up the road,
buzzing to our door. Her voice.

And wonderful, cheerful, in all of this,
Mrs. Johnson's familiar loud
yodel, heard right down in the woods,
bringing news to her sons, as we played,
that food was on their table, ready.

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