Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Weight of Trees

A note to begin
This is the final poem in The Starbucks Poetry Project blog. I have been writing twice a week for 6 months and have loved the challenge, the discipline, and the resulting work. I’ve also loved hearing from readers; it’s a great privilege to know my art has had an impact. I’m hoping to extend my reach by getting this collection into print… and into a coffee shop near you. Stay tuned, and thanks so much for sharing this space with me.

Overheard: Discussion between two people in their 20s who used to date:
Her: Is she your girlfriend?
Him: Um, I guess. I mean she lives in a different country, but yes.

Where it took me: I used a writing exercise that asks the writer to juxtapose two very different objects. There are lots of ways to find your objects, but I took ‘long-distance relationship’ from the overheard line and, after a long walk in my neighbourhood, the recent ice storm in Toronto as the other object. I used one of my favourite techniques, the scramble, to write the story before pairing all the first lines, second lines, and third lines. As I had hoped, breaking apart the lines this way forced the similarities between the ice storm and relationships to the fore in a very satisfying way.

The poem

The Weight of Trees

I walk the valley
in search of destruction:
branches in pieces,
power lines sailor-knotted.
Cub-scout badges
against the storm.

Eight days now.
Neatly trimmed and bundled,
life by the curb, changed completely.
I thought I wanted
the weight of trees.

White towels whip from sagging wires:
caution, or surrender.
I resist the pull.
A train wreck, but I’m struck.
How we remain connected.
How intricately we are strung.

Friday, 27 December 2013

What I Can Give

Overheard: Two men in their 60s, with eastern European accents, trying to keep their voices very low.
Man #1: So, he sees her two or three times a week.
Man #2, nodding: That’s the best way.

Where it took me: There is a bit more to this scenario, a few hand gestures and a description of what said couple is not doing. It was funny, yes, but it made me think of what other perspective there could be for the type of relationship described. Unless they tell us, we don’t know the reality of other people’s lives.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

This Is a Terrible Date

Overheard: This entire conversation below, as described by my friend ARi Lyon in hilarious detail on Facebook. I couldn’t resist the spoken language, the body language, the awkwardness, and the way both gamely try to turn this around if they can. No matter where we are in life, I think we can all empathize with either party in this conversation.

Where it took me: ARi’s updates were perfect as a found poem, so aside from a very few edits, I accepted this gift as I found it.

The poem

This Is a Terrible Date

She is noticeably bored.
He is noticeably boring.
He tells her
his friend Kyle takes a long time to respond to his texts.
And snap chat. Also, he hates snap chat.
Aw, she says, I kinda like it.
Oh me too! Just … y'know …

She looks around awkwardly. Stretches.
He texts. Probably Kyle.
Who may or may not respond swiftly.
She manages a few words about her family.
Holiday plans. He turns
the conversation back to himself.
He’s talking about Kyle again.

Tries to show her a picture
of something Kyle did.
She gives a brief glance. Looks away.
Sam, now. Brent.
People file in and it’s hard to hear.
They both get quiet. Melancholy.
Both begin to text.

They try again.
I can't re-watch movies or re-read books, he says.
She says she can.
He tells her about a book he's re-read a lot of times.
Can’t decide whether he wants to bore her
or make her like him.
He goes for both, tells her he’s writing a paper
about body image. How the covers
of men's and women's health magazines make people feel.
That’s fascinating, she says.
She may be lying.
He moves on to 3-D printers.
Does not ask her a single question.
She folds her arms, gives up talking.
Spins her leopard-encased phone.
This catches his attention;
they both watch it circle the table.
You can print a gun with a 3-D printer, he says,
years late on the story.

She rests her head.

Friday, 20 December 2013


Overheard: Teenage girls over coffee planning their weekend of partying (already bought their Red Bull for their vodka).
Girl 1: My parents are SO brutal. I am so getting emancipated when I am 18 and buying a condo downtown.
Girl 2: OMG! The condos downtown are so nice!

Where it took me: Teenagers. You want to smack them and be them at the same time. How painfully I remember those years. And yet… really, girls? I used this overheard line along with one of my favourite writing methods: the letter. I write a lot of letters, including longhand ones that I send via snail mail to my friends who live far away. But some letters are not meant to be sent; just to be written, just so I can find a voice.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013


Overheard: Expensive beer and Steve Stamkos.

Where it took me: The people beside me at Starbucks were going through all the details of their upcoming holiday plans, and debating whether to spend their money on hockey tickets (whose shorthand was ‘expensive beer and Steve Stamkos’); or a few nights at a hotel. A few days later, at a workshop, I was given a prompt to list all the sights, sounds, and smells I could think of related to a holiday that I celebrate; and then to write about holiday disappointment, incorporating everything on the list. The result is this entirely fictional poem; being Jewish, I don’t have Christmas holiday memories; and I have no reason to believe something awful happened to that guy beside me. But I do know that expectations veer wildly from reality, sometimes in the worst possible ways.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Coffee Talk

Overheard: That’s her. She’s here every day eavesdropping on people’s conversations.

Where it took me: I continue to be fascinated by the blurred line between public and private. If you choose a public place for a private conversation, you may be compromising your right to privacy. If you don’t want others to hear, don’t speak loudly enough for them to be part of the conversation.

The poem

Coffee Talk

At first, nothing but
bean-grind and steam-wheeze,
sneaker-squeaks, heel-taps.
Bells over the opening door.
Horns and the Doppler effect
of traffic passing.
Just below 70 decibels,
the ear attunes.

It’s mostly murmur and mumble —
I realized the problem …
everyone deserves a chance …
so you broke up …
just go with it …
we call it football … —
until your raised voice forgets
its public place,
releases secrets from stage-whispers.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Dad Words

Overheard: This is a 3-minute warning. We’re going to start in 3 to 4 minutes. So get a drink, go pee, whatever you need to do.

Where it took me: OK, fair enough, I did not overhear this at Starbucks. These were the first words of the MC at a literary reading I was at earlier this week. To me, this sounded like a dad talking to kids. He wasn’t at all being condescending even though he was talking to a room of adults in a bar; I was just struck by the way our discourse changes as the circumstances of our life change.

Friday, 6 December 2013

And You're Still Married

Overheard: And you’re still married. (Group of 40ish guys at a table, all in suits and ties, all wearing wedding bands.)

Where it took me: This was half a question, half a statement; probably in response to something silly that one guy did; one of those things we do that we wish we hadn’t, but nothing that rips out the roots of a strong relationship. Adrienne Rich wrote: “An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other … It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.” I can’t get her words out of my head.