Brian Bilston got famous through writing cleverly rhyming, socially relevant and witty poems on Twitter. Then he published his first collection, You Took the Last Bus Home. Bilston writes poetry…just ‘cause. (He has a day job.) He just does. Sometimes they rhyme, sometimes they don’t. Other times they are long, sometimes a mere few words. Poetry, he feels, is still the medium that connects the poet with other people, and vice versa.
I also write poetry, sometimes serious stuff, which I fiddle with for days. Other times just doggerel – I think that’s what people would call it. I used to be embarrassed by my attempts, but having rediscovered the joys of writing poetry through Bilston’s work, I am now officially unashamed. I used to scribble them all over the place, Facebook, iPad Notes, etc. So I’m gathering them here. They are the random thoughts of me, a Middle-aged Bear of Little Brain. I’ll add them to this page as I write them.
These verses were written in a flurry of relief for having finished the arduous process of citizenship. When I handed back my Permanent Resident card and got the fancy citizenship certificate instead, I wonder – how is it different now? What is new about being Canadian? I call it an ode-let, because it might be an ode, a lyric poem, but it isn’t grand. Was darn difficult to work in the French, but I had to, Canada being mostly bilingual.The rhyme scheme is ABCB DDEEB/FGHG IIJJG/HIJI KKLLI/ and so on. Note the repetition of the end rhymes in lines 2, 4 and 9 of each verse. When I wrote it, I was actually singing “A Bicycle Made for Two” (a.k.a. “Daisy, Daisy”) to myself, and, at a pinch, you could do that too…
WELCOME TO CANADA
Today (hooray!) is the day
That I became a Canuck
I’ve learned that here
A loonie’s also a buck
And a beanie is a toque
And for ‘out’ some folks say ‘oot’
Just please don’t be aggro
Let it run off your back, bro
Like a Canada goose, sorry, duck.
The Great White North’s not
Known for its great cuisine
But you can learn to
eat a thing called poutine.
If salmon does not fill you
And moose paté might kill you
Just stand in line,
You will be just fine
With doughnuts and weak caffeine.
You might notice the
Occasional “eh” or “hey”
But that’s not what most
People around here say.
More likely it is “Sorry!”
And also “Please don’t worry!”
‘Cause no-one freaks
Out in the streets
It’s just not the Canadian way.
They’re nuts about ice hockey
And crazy about craft beer
They sure do love their skiing
And hunting bears and deer.
But where you must toe the line
Is be sure that you’re on time
With every cent
That you have spent
In your tax filings every year.
Around here they sometimes call me
The French-sounding “Magdalen”
But think that Bijman is
A surname that’s from Iran
Regardless of my genome,
When they say “Welcome home!”
My heart pumps chocolate crème
Which is extrêmement bien!
I’m officially Canadienne!
(Ode-let by me)
Here is my attempt to write a poem in English with a few Afrikaans words and phrases thrown in. This is because my Grandmother, whom the poem is about and whom I definitely resemble, would never ever have spoken to me, her “Little Martha”, in English, and I had to keep her words like I remember them. The poem is in rhyming couplets, AA, BB, CC, etc., including the lines ending in Afrikaans words. In this one, I think – for once in my life – I got some lines just right. Every time I read them, I get the same sad feeling of lives and places disappearing:
“And see in her face, so like my own,
the sober stare, the heavy bone,
the bloodline that forever ties us
with looks and places, times and vistas.”
Grandma in the photo
Walking down the cool gloom of the stoep
with cracked cement underfoot,
into the small kitchen outside,
I see bars of sunlight streaming wide
with dancing flour motes, from the hands
of my Grandma, who’s filling pans
of petrol cans, cut down half-size,
with creamy bread dough on the rise,
for the mud brick oven up the hill.
She glances at me, kneading still,
says Gee dan vir Ouma die skottel, Marthatjie.
And then, as often in dreams of things that we
lose, miss, rediscover and collect,
for scarcity in retrospect,
I reach again to the oilcloth-covered table
and pick up the old flowered basin of enamel,
and see in her face, so like my own,
the sober stare, the heavy bone,
the bloodline that forever ties us
with looks and places, times and vistas.
Translation: “Gee dan vir Ouma die skottel, Marthatjie” – “Please give Grandma the basin, Little Martha”
“Stoep” – porch
The best time of my day
Is when you come through the door,
Put your shoes in the dryer ,
Your wet umbrella on the floor.
And I get off the sofa,
and put down my book
And you ask me, as always,
“Have you made me some soup?”
Though I cannot buy you fancy stuff
There’s still some things I can do:
I can kiss you in the doorway
And make some soup for you.
Poem by me, just ‘cause.❤️
Here the idea was to match the few words with the empty feeling inside me. Every three lines have 5, 2 and 2 syllables.
No longer needed,
Do I –
In the spaces left,
Time is –
Phone is muted now,
The other day I tried to sit
with crossed legs on the floor,
as I done since I was small,
a kid of three or four.
Now 50+, my knees won’t bend
and every muscle creaks.
Once I’m down I can’t get up
and could be stuck for weeks.
The child that skipped, the girl who danced,
they have all changed into
this wrinkled hag, who luckily,
still looks OK to you.
Middle-aged me has said goodbye
to the constraints of youth.
I’m old enough to misbehave
and really act uncouth!
This was my fan mail to Berke Breathed, the author of the Bloom County comic strips. I am such a devotee! B.t.w. “Milquetoast” is a cockroach who wears a top-hat and whispers his requests for food into people’s ears as they sleep.
In far way South Africa
When I was young and jaunty,
I was one of the very few
Who knew what was “Bloom County”.
I loved my friends “Opus” and “Steve”
Even “Milquetoast”, the night whisperer
(It never felt quite right after that
To be a cockroach squisherer.)
The wit, and charm and oddity
Made every strip quite magical.
A fan for life, I loved your books
A long way back, and always will.
TRIED TO CLIMB A TREE
So I tried to climb a tree.
The tree was kind of low.
I tried to see if I still could.
The answer (duh!) was no.
At least I faced that pine
at the ripe old age of fifty,
and getting down with limbs intact
Was really kinda nifty.
I suspect I had a song’s refrain in my head when I wrote this – “Hit the Road Jack”?
For hours I’ve shovelled
My back is buggered
My arms are horribly sore
Though I looked unruffled
I sure as hell suffered
And I ain’t shovelling snow no more!
I’ll look from a distance
But not offer assistance
To whoever takes on the chore
Snow is the pits
When it’s up to your hips
So I ain’t shovelling snow no more!
This is a complicated rhyme scheme – heaven knows why I even started it. Basically it is AAAB and the final line in every verse rhymes with B, except for the last couplet. Of course, the thing about the Canadian pronunciation of “out” like “oot” and “about” like “aboot” is a bit of a dig by yours truly – no-one I know ever says that. It’s a Canadian archetype that doesn’t exist. Nor do they use “hey” or “eh” a lot – some of them do use “right” as an interjection quite frequently. But that might be like the proliferation of “like”.
Many things are meant to cut;
They shave your face (sometimes your butt).
But when they slash across your gut,
it’s time to up the antes.
When your panties won’t stay put
because your fat rolls jut right “oot”,
Canucks would say it’s just “aboot”
time to ditch the scanties.
The thing to do is size to fit,
and let the glamour take a hit.
Choose legroom over elastic
and wear big granny panties.
It’s such a pleasure, if you please,
to be free of the squeeze.
I wake up every morning to see the chair with the seat embroidered by the person who would have been my sister-in-law, had she lived. The chair was inherited from the person who would have been my mother-in-law, had she lived. So, this is for Pat Kavanagh, and Olive O’Brien. The rhyme scheme is the most difficult ever – all the end word rhyme with “white”, except for the final lines of each verse that rhyme with each other – “chair” and “declare”. This AAAA scheme is a monorhyme, common in Latin and Arabic. Leonard Cohen was a genius at this rhyme scheme. I thought the austerity and formalism of the rhyme schemes suited the formal, sad emotion I feel when I look at that chair.
Waking up in sheets all white,
I see winter, cold and bright,
reaching in from what was night,
and branches black against the light.
There sits the empty chair.
Morning segues into sight,
and the dawning, azulite,
slips inside, a silvery sprite.
And, gently, memories take flight:
There still sits the empty chair
And this our absent loves declare.
Note: “Azulite” is a mineral consisting of translucent pale blue smithsonite – looks like moonstone.
“Braai” is the South African word for “barbecue”. South Africans love a braai – it’s a meal as well as a ritual. But someone has to deal with the leftovers, and leftovers are particularly gruesome if they are of a barbecued duck.
THE DREADED GOOSE
It’s nice to braai at New Year’s time
And have some goose and drink some wine
And all the leftovers are fine
To make into a stew.
But someone has to make the soup
From goosey flesh and boney goop
So over the hot pot I will stoop
Be glad it isn’t you.
There’s nothing quite as vomitous
As making soup of a goose carcass!
WINTER COMFORTS ❤️
It’s cold outside, the nights are long,
You have to wait ’til eight for dawn.
By half past four it’s dark again,
You fall asleep before it’s ten.
The best thing in this frozen muddle
Is having someone warm to cuddle.
In view of that, please let me know;
Can I pay you in kisses for shovelling snow?
For some reason, this simple little poem was a hit with a bunch of women friends on Facebook. I think they recognized the emotion.
I miss my man
He’s flown away
He was right here
The other day
And now he’s far
Across the sea
I wish that he’d
Come home to me.
The house is tidy as a pin
I miss the mess he brings with him.
A long time ago, no-one knows when, someone, no-one knows who (but it wasn’t Ogden Nash), wrote a little rhyme which is now a classic meme. It goes like this: “The spring is sprung, the grass is riz./I wonder where the boidie is./They say the boidie’s on the wing./But that’s absoid. The wing is on the boid.” So this is my variation. “Ris’” would be “risen”.
SPRING IN VANCOUVER
Spring has sprung,
the grass is ris’.
I wonder where
my vaccuum cleaner is.
Coats are coming off,
the trees are all green.
Aren’t those the palest
legs you’ve ever seen?