Sunday, January 10, 2016

Chanson Pour Les Voyageurs

They slumped dead in their soup, those Canadian Frenchmen,
Their hearts stopped like cheap clocks
by the winter
or the wet
or the notions some men get...

Down from them came my grandfather, the one I never knew--
The thing to do, it seemed to him,
was to take a Native wife--
The one who bore him twins, then
went mad,
went dodgy, foggy,
like summer grain gone bad.

The institution did what they could for her, the rest of her life--
The alcohol did what it could to him, with no wife and two boys
dark of hair
dark of eye
until the day he died.

And so now, here I am, a seed blown down from northern winds,
An island of French Canada and New York state,
in love,
as my grandfather was,
with the midnight moon.

There are no islands where you are from, and so mine has come to you.
What I really long to do is to stripe
color across your cheeks,
your shoulders, your thighs--
to paint a hand print on your pony
and a circle around her eye.

Pretend I am prairie, though I am snow and river ice.
Lay yourself soft across me and I will gather you like a willow,
murmuring something you can't quite catch
in French,
which means:
God is a madwoman after all, but as sweet as nickel candy--
as dark as owl's eyes,
and as beautiful as your hair.

For the Sunday Mini-Challenge at the Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, this time hosted by Brendan, who requests that we write about islands. The word "island" is supposed to be in the title, and it was in my working title, but I changed it when I was finished. I hope this does not disqualify me. 

Process notes: Much of the story in this poem is from my actual family history. However, the French-Canadian men with the inherited cardiac condition were on my mother's side. My father's mother divorced his father when he was five years old, in 1917, quite the scandal in those days. He really did marry a Native woman who bore him twin sons, but something happened to her after that and she was never right again. She lived out her days in an asylum. My grandfather became a heavy drinker, a gene that I inherited, though I have been able to be sober now for thirty years. My father told me that, when he went back to upstate New York for his father's funeral, everyone knew right away who he was, because the family resemblance was so strong. He also said that all the men asked after his mother--my grandmother--who was, it seems, the local beauty. She died when I was two, so unfortunately, I don't remember her. 

Voici! Mon livre.


brudberg said...

What a family history to dig stories from.. a great grandfather I never met died in an asylum too... but the reason was his syphilis... something my grandmother always thought would be inherited as sins to her... I really like the idea of an island that we bring... for whatever reason it rings true.

Sioux said...

Holy crap! You actually cross things out? I thought everything came out of your mind and onto the page like perfectly-formed pearls. ;)

One, this is a lush love poem, one that every woman would love to have written about them.'

Two, I am gonna say it again. Congratulations on being thirty years sober. That is something to be quite proud of.

Three, I love the rhyme, the near-rhyme and the internal rhyme. It never sounds forced, which is yet another reason why I am trying to create some plot to hobble your pen... so that perhaps you would write on the same level as the rest of us... for at least a while, until like Harrison Bergeron (spelling) you would find a way to rise up in spite of the deliberate handicapping.

There are too many lines to note. The whole f***ing this is gorgeous.

hedgewitch said...

No one writes love poems like you Shay, as I've said so many times before--yet every time I read one, that is my first response. Here history meets mystery and gives birth to the darkest hair, the most compelling stare of dark eyes. It's enough to drive anyone mad, that cold snow and that endless prairie. Your use of the island motif is purely sensuous and also true of the islands we all are, despite Donne's allegations to the contrary...sense of place, sense of self, and something much more timeless are all at work here to create an island of magic in a prosaic and difficult world. Love seeing your writing and so glad the journal fits so well.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

" love with the midnight moon.".......incredible family history, my friend. I LOVE that photo of your notebook, seeing your poem being born. I used to like writing by hand but now I dont have time, LOL. Love "Pretend I am prairie, though I am snow and river ice." "God is a madwoman"......"dark as owl's eyes, and beautiful as your hair." Wow. A fabulous poem. Your family history would make a terrific novel, one of those generational ones.

angieinspired said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
angieinspired said...

Shay, you certainly have a riveting tale to retell here. Laying out the history, and then spoon feeding us our bite-sized lessons in the end was just right. God in you. "There are no islands". I really enjoyed this.

Mama Zen said...

My sweet God, this is gorgeous! I love it.

Shawna said...

I second Mama Zen. It gave me chills from head to toe and nearly made me cry. I think every woman on the planet wishes someone would write her a poem like that! This is certainly one of my favorites.

Outlawyer said...

This is just lovely, Shay, and one of my favoties of yours too--it is so well done--beautiful cadences, romantic, nostalgic, mournful, tuneful--really lovely, thanks. k.

Gillena Cox said...

quite a saga you have served up! Sumptous

A good Sunday to you

much love...

Gail said...

I love how you told your history and the journey to now. Beautiful.

Cloudia said...

You do them honor. Every day. Namaste

Brendan MacOdrum said...

What is the mystery of our history, and what does survive? That is in itself an immrama, a voyage through every strange door within. And there is voyage to every way-station of love in our swim from I to Thou. How much do we discover in another that teaches what we cannot know on our own? It would make madwoman or a drunkard of anyone, for sure, refining that water's fire ... The moon is now thought to have formed when Island Earth and Island Some Other Planet had a night together, each gave a bit of each other to form the symbol of yearning and remembrance ... maybe that's the island sooth of every earthy encounter we have with love. And thanks for the peek at the journal, that's something we should all do sometime, create a gallery of our workspaces.

Kerry O'Connor said...

The poem is a thing of extreme beauty and the background story adds to the sense of oral tradition and story-telling. I so enjoyed this, Shay.

N.s.k. warnakulasooriya said...

dear friend
pls accept my Praise
good luck

Sara McNulty said...

I felt like I was sitting across from you with a campfire blazing, and tales told, except so much of your story is stunningly real. Wonderful poem!

Marian said...

This is really striking, Shay... madwoman after all. Love it.

grapeling said...

second Hedge and MZ. marvelous ~