Montreal Spring, 1955

Oh, when spring arrived, and high sun ousted winter’s
long blue shadows, how we shed our parkas, mitts, boots,

how rotten black snowbanks fled down city drains,
gutter tributaries to fleuve St-Laurent. Sudden sidewalks,

skipping ropes. Lady, lady, touch the ground, lady, lady
turn around. Feather light, bootless, how we learned to fly,

roller skates keyed on our shoes, bodies buzzing after,
vvvvvv all through supper and into sleep. How backwinds

fueled our bikes to park swings where we sailed over the city,
leaping again and again into wild freefall, skinned knees

our red courage badge. How Eden-new the earth smelled
when we scraped our vacant-lot marble holes,

aggies and catseyes kissing for keepsies. School a navy tunic
shrunk in the wash, parents missing till the streetlights came on.


The type of fishing weir in this poem is now rare on the Bay of Fundy, but years ago such weirs could be found at almost every village along the Fundy shore. A long “leader,” so called because it leads to a circular “pound,” stretches out from the shore into the Bay. Fish swim out with the tide, bump into the leader and follow it down to the pound, where they are trapped, since they don’t swim against tide flow. They are taken out by fisherfolk on foot. An image of a fishing weir of this type can be seen at “Weir” was published in Galleon III: Fiction, Poetry, Book Reviews from Atlantic Canada and Beyond; ed. Lee D. Thompson; December, 2014.


The gulls swoop in, ravenous, mean. We kids scramble
barefoot up giant ladders: skinned-trees-turned-weir-poles,
cross-barred and braced, circling a pond of seawater

left by the outgoing tide. On a crossbar
nine feet above boulders, a boy spins somersaults.
Gulls land and take off, scream insults,

prise out small fish caught in the weir’s net. We mimic
the calls, cursing in gull. Salt stings where my scrapes
ooze red. Wind’s hard knuckles rub my eyes.

Long narrow net stretched between them, two weir men
sweep the pound below, herd mackerel toward
a dip-net wielder. He dumps them sparkling emerald

into burlap bags. Fog sneaks in when the tide turns,
bringing voices from boats waiting to make harbour.
Have one of mine—need a light? Our foghorn sounds,

one short blat every three minutes. Cold, colder. Kids
disappear into fog, up the cliff to supper. I clamber down,
see a flash of silver behind the sweepers. Salmon, I yell.

The men turn as a massive fish leaps high as their heads: Christ!
How’d we miss that monster? Where’d it go? Track it for us,
wouldja, kid?
They look up to me, a girl.

Under the water’s heavy veil, the last fish in the pound
is swift shadow. My left arm lifts, traces its flight, my right a holdfast
gripping the crossbeam pole. Teeth chatter, eye strain. I point.

The sea is swallowing the fishermen’s green rubber legs, knee high,
thigh high. The salmon eludes the sweep net, slips under, skims
over. The men curse, plow back, begin the sweep again.

High in my tower on a salt-grey island, I am queen.
My men go where I point, fetch me treasure. Quicksilver,
the salmon rolls over directly under my perch.

Does it see my shadow waver through water and fog?
Does it know we mean death? My arm falters. I almost fall—
clutch and look down. Where rocks were, ocean gleams.

My mother’s voice: tricked by the tide, undertow, bodies
never found
. Like the salmon, trapped. Where is it?
a fisherman demands, urgent. I am no longer playing.

Clumsy, shivering, I scramble toward safety. Got it! Jesus!
It’s gotta be eighteen pounds.
I freeze, see thrashing silver-blue.
Maybe twenty! Laughter like metal. A grunt

as one of them hefts a boulder, smashes its head.
Thanks, kid. You did good
but I am running,
running barefoot over rocks. Three against one.     Four.

The Snare

This story was written shortly after I moved to Nova Scotia from inner-city Toronto. CBC Radio’s Atlantic Airwaves broadcast my reading of it on March 10, 1984.

Nine o’clock in the morning. Perfect winter. I opened my cross-and-bible door and looked out at it. Sun and moon and one last star shone in the same clear sky. The air was crystal, sharp; the snow blue with cold. The brook across the road spoke with icy clarity: I’d have to dress well for my morning hike to check the snares, or come back numb with pain.

I left a half-hour later, wearing long johns and woollen socks snitched from my husband’s drawer. He wouldn’t miss them; he was thousands of miles away, working in the city we’d left a year ago, a city he hated. Poor devil, I thought, it’s really not fair. There you are, knocking up flats in the film studio’s greasy air, and here am I, stepping out with the elegant spruce, wearing your socks. My chest filled with light, and I stood and laughed aloud at the foot of our hill. A blue jay, cross with fright, screamed weep! weep! and flew ahead of me into the steep wood.

Half-way up our hill I paused for breath, and looked back over my new world. New to me, but not to it, I thought. There was our house, two hundreds of years old, and our barn, the same. The trees were probably, like me, in their thirties, but this hill they stood on, this drumlin, was left behind by some negligent glacier so long ago I couldn’t imagine how many millions of generations of trees had preceded them. I loved it, but I could never believe I owned it. If it would just let us live here, I’d be happy.

The first year had been hard: witness my husband’s reluctant departure for the gelt of the city. Still, that plain old house below held other, more honest, treasure. There were shelves and shelves of jewel-like preserves in that little house. There was a mighty chest full of the frozen fruit of our fields, of fish caught, and fowl slaughtered. “If you eat meat, you should be willing to take responsibility for the killing that entails”…last summer we had made a beginning. Our neighbour had chopped off the heads of our chickens, and I had plucked and cleaned them, pleased with my virtue. I had helped scrape a pig, proudly salted down slabs of fat pink flesh. This winter we had set snares, and already had found, by nature’s bounty, many neat little packages of frozen meat on our wonderful hill.

This was the first time I’d done the round on my own, and I was looking forward to being able to take the path at my own speed. There were secrets to be learned here, in the Morse drip of melting snow, in the hieroglyph of rabbits’ tracks. Today I would learn them. I reached the top of the hill, and, breathless, left the main path to check the first three snares, set in a magic hollow under giant evergreens.

I sensed, rather than heard or saw, a movement, a rustling, just ahead, where the snares should be. A partridge, perhaps, grooming itself in the snow? I slowed my step and peered into the shadowy motion. No, there was a rabbit there, flopping a bit, as if it were caught on something, I thought stupidly.

No. Not on something. In something. Dear Father in Heaven, it’s caught in my snare.

I moved closer to the animal, thinking to free it, gently. The creature saw me, a beast of immense size, a thing made of hideous bulges, that reeked, and made great noise, noise of breath and step and rasping coat, and terror seized it wholly. It thrashed and screamed and tore at its trapped leg with its teeth, and I turned and ran from it, ran in fear from its fear and pain.

What could I do, could I do, could I do, blundered my mind. A stick, I must find a stick to break its back, put it out of its horror and hurt. But deep snow covered the ground, and I had brought no knife or axe…why would I? I had thought rabbits were throttled by the thin brass wire, instantly, painlessly. There would be, perhaps, one second’s surprise, one small reflexive shudder, but then, peace. I must do something fast, fast. It was unthinkable that that creature should suffer pain, and worse, terror, because of my credulous idiocy. I must go back to the house and get something to kill it with. Fast.

I lumbered out of the woods, ran down the hill, past the fields and the barn, as if I ran for my life. Inside, the house was hot, and somehow alien. I saw it as I sometimes did when unexpected company came, saw my mess through another’s eyes. Impossible to find anything in this clutter, impossible. And anyway, what was I looking for? A club. Some kind of club. You clubbed animals to death, I thought, or you chopped off their heads. That was it, a hatchet. Somewhere here there was a hatchet.

I ran frantically through the house, tearing open doors, drawers, hating the overturned piles of clothes, and papers, and boxes of junk that hid no hatchet, no hatchet. I can’t keep looking, I can’t keep waiting, I have to go now, I thought. While I look through this rat’s nest, it suffers. I came across a hammer in one of my drawers, and snatched it up. It would do if it had to.

Up the hill I laboured again, as fast as I could, as fast, and yet with a sense of wading through thick, heavy dark. There was no movement at the top of the hill in the place of the snares and I prayed, oh God, oh God, it’s dead. It’s dead. I went forward to pick it up, when it jerked to hideous life, more frenzied, more frantic, screaming panic and pain. One quick blow and it’s over, I thought. Oh, God, let me hit it to kill.

My arm brought the hammer down with all its force. I hit the rabbit’s head, but the blow didn’t kill. In a black dream of ugliness I raised my arm again and again. I hated the thing that I hurt, hated it more than I can tell, hated it for suffering, not dying, for being mutilated, not destroyed.

At last it lay still. I crouched in the snow, and looked at the work I had done that morning. Small blood flecked my hands, the white forest floor, my hammer. The rabbit’s strange sharp teeth were red with blood, too; leg torn, eye haemorrhaged, skull crushed. I crouched there and cried, harder than I had cried even for my dead father, even for my born daughter. I cried for my hands, clever builders, clumsy, cruel destroyers. I cried for the way I had chosen, and for something lost that I wanted, and would want forever.

Later, I leaned forward to release the rabbit. In brilliant sunshine I knelt by its ruin and set the snare again.