Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Insomniac Haiku

Sleep is elusive
gerbils run inside my head
rattling their wire cage


(Because I have to see the humour in it somewhere, or it would surely drive me mad...)

Monday, March 30, 2009

False hope and real


The cats and I, we watch
the redpolls through the window
and our jaws clack
with delight as they fluff
their feathers plump
as grouse and gorge themselves
with seeds.

The redpolls, they eye the cats
and I through the window
chuckling at our captivity
and their song rises
low to high
as they stretch grey wings
taut, lifting bindi brows
and speckled breasts
into the infinite sky.

Rachel Westfall
March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

why I am late

on my way to school, the sky
broke open
dropping shards of colour
dangerously like
shattered glass

I ran to take cover
inside
the school
but there were thousands
of confused earthworms, lost
in the refraction in the middle
of the sidewalk
each one
needing
to be gently coaxed
back onto the
safe soft earth

Rachel Westfall
April 18, 2008

Brought forward. Thanks, Vevay, for reminding me.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lump sum payment

So she sat on the curb with the babe in her arms, not sure what to do next. She had the pram on one side and a shiny-white stack of diapers on the other, disposable, enough for maybe two, three days. At least the kid was sleeping now, finally silent, face of an angel, not that puckered-up, screaming-red, snot-covered thing she was holding when the landlord banged on the door.

She took a last drag on her cigarette then stubbed it out on the concrete, sizzling. A few ants shifted their path to avoid the smoke and that was all.

Damn that Dwayne anyway, shifty bastard, saying she could stay here and he’d pay the rent and take care of her while he went about his business, then he had to go get himself thrown in the can.

Next time she hooked up with a man she’d be asking for a lump sum payment, all of it up front, that was all. You just couldn’t count on these guys for more than the occasional pizza congealing in its cardboard box, or if they were feeling flush, a six-pack that they’d drink all of anyway, feet still in their dirty shoes criss-crossed on top of her magazines, her coffee table.

She coughed, tasting nicotine phlegm and shifted the dead-weight of the babe up onto her shoulder, shoving the diapers by the handful into the front of the stroller. She'd have to come back for her other junk later, if she could track down a friend with a car. These flip-flops weren’t going to get her feet very far, but at least they'd get her downtown. There she could look for a girlfriend to shack up with for a night or two, someone to talk with over thick black coffee and smokes long into the evening.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Mother Magazine

My poem Outside In has been published in the March/April issue of The Mother Magazine. I cannot think of a better home for this poem. It is ethical, enlightened, earthy, and full of glorious ideas, writing and images; I feel honoured to have my work included there.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dubious fealty

Thanks Christopher, again, for the inspiration. Yes, yes I know. It's not your cat. Not one of mine, either. I don't let them kill birds anymore; they have their own bird-proof yard to lurk in.

Dubious fealty

You think it’s just the tins of fish
I stick around for, that any lap will do.
A cat’s loyalty goes as far
as her stomach, you say, scratching me
behind the ears
before you toss me out the door
to sit on the neighbour’s fence, or under
a low bush napping until
the hummingbirds come round,
those little jewelled snacks.
I’m the first to admit
I wouldn’t pass by an offer
of cream and kibble, but you see
old man, just because I take it
wherever I can get it
doesn’t make it love.

Rachel Westfall
March 25, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One left standing

I wrote this poem while thinking about some neighbours I used to have, two middle-aged women from Croatia. One of the women had recently suffered a stroke, and the other, her sister, was afflicted with a badly twisted leg. They both smoked like chimneys, and they looked much older than they were-- ancient, really. One day, one of the women told me the story of how all the men in her home town had been taken and shot; her husband, her son, everyone. The story has haunted me ever since. I don't think this poem is done, or that I'm done honouring them and what they lived through. But it's a first attempt at processing something really difficult.

One left standing

Oh how this wind does cut me
to the bone, stripping the moisture
cruelly from my eyes, as I'm left standing
on this barren ridge, remembering
the home we used to have.

If I can squint enough
to see the hills, those cold, blue shapes
along the horizon, I’m staring into lands
we used to farm, turning the soil
by hand, that deep rich loam.

I remember the warm earth
of your eyes, and all those times that we
worked side by side; the callus of
your hands, thickened by toil, the richness
of the song you rumbled then.

Oh, when they came and tore you
from my life, and made you lie face-down
upon the ground, the sound of shots
ran wicked through my head;
I would erase that day, if I could now.

Instead, I walk this ridge
and think of you, and all the men
once stolen, that cold day; we all
are women, now, our family, but you
walk with us, shadows evermore.


Rachel Westfall
March 25, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Meeting hall

This is a poem I didn't want to put up here without an explanation because of the ugliness in it. I was reading this post at Christopher's place yesterday, and next thing I knew I had the poem below written down. This isn't about me or any kind of lived experience of mine, not directly. The I in the room is probably a young male, a bit too cocky, pretty rough around the edges, and most likely he's been told he has to come here, AA or some other peer support group to help him tone it down a bit. Most likely a judge (formal or otherwise) told him he had to come here. It's one of those poems that sort of wrote itself, like someone was whispering in my ear telling me what to write.

Like Miranda, I think this fella is a part of me, though hopefully I've outgrown him by now.

Meeting hall

I’m here in the room
but you can see it in the stiffness
in the back of my head
if you’re smart enough,
there’s places I’d rather be.
Why do you keep looking at me
that way, like jesus
made you holy, and I’m just
the source of the stink
coming from the back hallway?
Once I’ve washed your shit off me,
there’ll be no trouble.

Rachel Westfall
March 23, 2009

Miranda

Miranda wanted some attention today, so I brought her forward.


She liked to have it both ways
solitary by day, free-roaming at night.

But sometimes the night
spilled into her high-buttoned days, a dark blot

spreading slowly but unmistakeably
across the page like menstrual blood

flowering across a surprised pair
of cotton panties. Those times

she remembered, with the sharpness of
a gulp of winter air, where she had come from

knowing the seductive way lived history
creeps back into today, unbidden.


Rachel Westfall
September 22, 2008

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My 25

The latest virus going through the blogs is a challenge to name 25 writers who have influenced you. Karen has passed it along to me... and I knew this wouldn't be an easy challenge. Aaaah.... choo!!

Ursula LeGuin
Erica Jong
Anne-Marie MacDonald
Isabel Allende
Janice Kulyk Keefer
Al Purdy
Joy Harjo
Starhawk
Carolyn Hillyer
Dennis Lee
Dr. Seuss
Sheri S. Tepper
Vikram Seth
Robertson Davies
Toni Morrison
George Orwell
Christopher Paolini
Michael Bond
J.K Rowling
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Michel Faber
Lloyd Alexander
Tom Robbins
Kurt Vonnegut
Maurice Sendak

Yes, you can see that I am easily influenced by whatever I read, whether to myself or to my children. Ahem. I've tried to remember some authors I enjoyed, sought out, or was thoroughly enchanted by over the years, and I'm sure this list is nowhere near complete. Now it's my duty to sneeze upon tag three people who hopefully haven't already been tagged...
Kat
Erin
Faith
Who are 25 of your most influential authors?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Scarf

A cherished, long-distance friend knitted this glorious, soft, colourful scarf for me and sent it in the mail. My daughter was delighted to model it. Handmade things are one of my very favourite forms of magic. They have the power to seal the bond of friendship, and to remind us that someone loves and cares for us enough to spend so many hours making a thing of beauty with us in mind. Thank you, K! I love you, too.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wild one

Did you notice
the moment when I crossed over into you
leaving my feral scent?

However long
you bathe and scrub and bleed into the ground
I will always find you now.


Rachel Westfall

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Comedic Interlude

For Lirio, with thanks for making me smile!

"Home Hardware" redefined...


One day when I was shopping
a bargain I did spy
for when it comes to hardware
there's more than meets the eye.

I thought my tools were adequate
for every household task.
Who would want a larger one,
and for what? I had to ask.

But when it comes to shopping deals
what girl can pass them by?
So I bought myself a huge new tool
which I'm afraid to try!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Harbinger

her chest fell, dry as a crumpled leaf
breath well-spent on the dance of life
a treasure trove of nights and days
turned over and over, these bedridden hours
each polished smooth and worn as river stone

she lay alone, but for the quilt
her mama had stitched by hand for her
some eighty years before, she but a slip,
an ethereal child, her mother lovely as a song
of desire, plump heat and laughter

embroidered there upon that throw
was a creature ripe with fantasy, a feathered one
with heart of flame, a charm created
thread by thread to weave a spell in which
a mother willed her youngling’s spirit free

find what you love, my love, she said
and pursue it with abandon
don’t chain yourself to heartless man
or waste your years with pointless drudgery
your soul’s divine, it deserves so much more


she arched her head towards the sun
and saw it pale as dawn, the gaze of winter
stretching through a window streaked
with the tresses of the aching wind
a gash upon its narrow, dust-worn face

for on the sill sat a mourning bird
with tourmaline eyes and wings of fire,
a breast so deep and dark it rang
of the depths of the darkmoon sky,
claws elegantly shod in golden filigree

the beast took flight as her soul did rise
into the waking sky, shedding its torrent
of memory, scattering now across the land
the shore, the sea, the rolling hills
a fleeting storm, glittering in its glory

find what you love, my love, she heard
and pursue it with abandon
don’t chain yourself to a heartless man
or waste your years with pointless drudgery
your soul’s divine, it deserves so much more

Rachel Westfall
March 17, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cowgirl

As a child, I dreamed of living with animals: goats, chickens, cattle. My father grew up on a dairy farm, so maybe I had it in my blood somehow, though I have never lived on a farm. In my dream farm, all the animals were safe, respected and cared for throughout their natural lives. The harsh brutality of the farming life alarmed me each time I encountered it. Once, I tried to rescue a baby goat who was going to be slaughtered for meat, but my parents wouldn't let me keep him (we lived in town). My dad told me he would grow up to be a big, stinky, rough-horned billy-goat. I cried and cried! And there were others: rabbits, geese, chickens. What an array of rescues I would have had, if I'd been allowed! Maybe that's why I have so many animals living in my home now, though they are all ones that are permitted within city limits (still no goats, sadly).

I saw this image on Every Photo Tells a Story, an image-prompt blog for poets. It brought back some of these memories for me, and it also inspired this poem. This topic also reminded me of Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, which truly seems to be my kind of farm. Peaceful Prairie also has a blog, here; the writing is absolutely gorgeous and heart-moving.

Cowgirl

Chocolate eyes tracked her movement
as she hauled wood, then sloshed water
an icy torrent torn from the stream
swollen now with runoff
tin buckets tipped, one by one
into the enormous white-legged troughs
in which girls like her once soaked
their skin to ruddy and scrubbed
with lye soap and sage.

The soft-eared ones trailed along behind,
steady, pausing from time to time
to nibble on a dandelion or tuft of fresh grass.
Their mouths turned, circular
as those great flat teeth worked
the tender spring greens to pulp
readily as the paired stone discs
crush grain to powder in the flourmill.

They were family, she and the hooved ones:
all girls, safe here, the one place in the world
where they were all just people.
So she dropped her buckets in the grass
and sat on a sunny hillock to drink
in the morning, watching the sluggish bees
bumble their low drone
among the first blossoms, the soft breath
of her snuffling companions tumbling
into the quick-nibbled shoots around her.


Rachel Westfall
March 16, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

For the love of sleep

The best moments are born when we sleep entwined, safely cocooned, our dreams woven together in a delightful tangle.

For the love of sleep

The lovers two, they had it all wrong,
dancing close 'til the shadows brushed
their sweet delights in the hayloft, in the eiderdown,
in the soft green moss beneath the apple trees,
a little sister tittering from behind a rock
as they loved deep and low until the witching hour
when the clock boomed loud and the field mice
nibbled their toes, sending them scattering home.

They had it all wrong, those lovers two;
had they come together as the birds fell silent,
at that moment when twilight sits heavy as a blanket
damp with dew, pressing their eyelids low,
they would have found the bliss they sought
drawing salted hot skin fresh into their dreams,
while her hair draped long made a living pillow
bright with the wild, sweet scent of rosemary.

Rachel Westfall
March 12, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Landscaping

Our home sits on the bones of the trees.
Behind, a few still stand
in memory of the fallen ones,
and for these brave few, we moved here.

Each year, they cast upon the lawn
remembrance wreaths of poplar, sticky
bud-cases and seeds like snow. Each year,
the rotary mower cleaves the tender seedlings
who dared to hope to reclaim the yard
in one last desperate attempt at reforestation.

Beyond this small and delicate row
stood a nest of woods, keen and ripe
infested with squirrels, mosquitoes,
songbirds and other joyful squatters.
That first summer that we lived here
a developer came and tore those woods apart,
site cleanup
scraped down to the raw clay-earth,
then spent two years pouring concrete.

All would be eternally urban and grey,
but the City required some saplings;
so just days before the first frost of autumn
the builders brought in a tender sample
of deciduous Europeans, pale and thin,
hardly dressed for the oncoming blast of winter.

How would they do, how would they fare?
I hoped they could persist and send
their soft green shoots, sweet signs of hope
towards the sun in springtime.
But stepping out the door this day,
I encountered a terrible sight:
these newcomers, tall sticks in the snow,
sat smashed atop a crumpled white rise
created by a snowplough
having served their purpose, their obligation
to permit the City inspectors to tick the box,

Landscaping

Our home sits on the bones of the trees.
Behind, a few still stand
in memory of the fallen ones.
Each year, they cast upon the lawn
remembrance wreaths of poplar, sticky
bud-cases and seeds like snow.

Rachel Westfall
March 11, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lament of the redneck dog

For years I sat, watching the rusty trucks go by
Woof-woofing at the clopping horses
Wagg-wagging, So happy to see you!
Growling at those strangers, one every other day
And when you let me off that chain,
Scrap-scrap-scrapping
with the neighbour dog, that insolent mutt
or chasing the cows, until they chased me back
with their angry moos and piercing hooves.
Then I scurried under the porch and stayed there
until you came home and lovingly, sweetly
coaxed me out.

But now, oh now, oh how
you want to make of me a city dog
a posh dog, a preening dog of pure-blood;
of distinction, poise and confidence.
One who can watch cats prance by with disdain,
not even dreaming of making them scatter
and leap yowling into a tree.
One who would never lunge at a chattering squirrel
or get bloodied in a brawl.
One who knows the meaning of Dog Parks,
doo-doo bags and civilized Sunday strolls,
dog salons, grooming clippers and clothes.

Clothes? Yes, clothes, clothes for dogs
though they hardly make them in my size.

Oh still, I dream of Woof-woof-woofing
at the horses, and you must notice how
my feet twitch and my mouth moves just a little,
but I want you to be pleased with me,
so I keep my dreams inside.
And still, I am so happy to see you!
I Wagg-wagg in a domestic way, trying
not to knock you down or send things flying.
I try to remember what it is you want of me,
what makes your voice soft and complimentary.
I try to be what you need of me,
and yet, in the end, I am still just me,
once and always a redneck dog.

Rachel Westfall
March 10, 2009


A sister poem: Ode to a skanky mutt

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Too helpful

Here's a little poem I left on Christopher's blog a couple of days ago. I love the way he leaves poems in people's comments. It's a bit like an easter egg hunt; you just never know when you're going to come across one of Christopher's treasures. Now I just gave away the game and told you where I hid my poem. Plus I'm reposting it here. I'm not so good at this game, am I? :) That suits the title of this poem just perfectly, I think.

Too helpful

I want to straighten you out.
I can’t resist making my point
over and over; No, No!
You are going about it
All Wrong.

I want to shut myself up.
Nothing delights me
more than your ass-backwards,
upside-down self.
If I fix you, maybe
I’ll forget how to love you
at all.

Rachel Westfall
March 9, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Failure

I wanted to carry you to the softest place,
lilting but my words came out heavy,
awkward, pounding like iron.

And so I gathered them up
into a rusted tin and buried them
in the yard between the apple trees,
where the wind and rain would
patiently caress them
into fine red dust.

The songbirds wrote me up
for disturbing the peace, incensed
at the grating sound my shovel made
as it excavated earth and pebbles.
Chickweed sap ran down its blade
weeping, everything crushed.


Rachel Westfall
March 7, 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Contaminated Area

In this contaminated area, even here
We find shelter

Secret places torn from the fabric of snow
All painted in the colours of the rainbow

A child's delight


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Your ol' lady

So there I was, standing there
with a babe strung over
my left arm and another in the oven
when you said you were going
on the road again. How long? Is all
I could manage to shove past
the stupid lump I could feel swelling
in the front of my throat. Three weeks,
maybe a month, no more than
a month and a half anyway,
you mumbled something like that
not meeting my eye. You turned on
the TV, conversation over so I made dinner,
sweet potatoes crackling in the pan,
rice, stewed beans. You ate
sitting in the Lazy Boy, eyes
never leaving the screen
like this was an ordinary day,
like the smoke in the kitchen
was some sort of incense
making everything holy,
like the bottom of that fry-pan
didn’t have your name on it now.


Rachel Westfall
March 7, 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

Regrettably yours

She remembered
the curve of his back
as he split wood, each sharp smack
breaking right through,
severed trunks surprised
into bite-sized pieces.

The effort showed
only in the raised cords on his neck,
the set of his jaw. Garden gloves
he wore, paisley, and a thin coat
though it was cold enough
to ice the whiskers of the cats
and strip the fine hairs indelibly
from the tips of their ears.

He always had a grin
for her, somehow, anyway,
when he spotted her watching
through the kitchen glass. Later
she wondered how
she could have lied to the other kids
and kept a straight face

when they asked her
if he was her real dad, or a fake
like everyone else’s.

If only they had seen through to
the green of his eyes
flecked with brown, the twist
of his smile, lopsided; how
he came in with an armload
of wood, shoelaces untied
old shoes shuffling, right foot
pointed out slightly more
than the left,
they would have known
the truth.


Rachel Westfall
March 5, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

This gift

These thumbs, they live to knead

your aching back, to draw

the muscles in your shoulders round

to smooth the knots and worries,

tension drawn, across that pool

of pain above your heart.


These hands would run like spiders

over silk, slim fingers

run the groove between your ribs;

and when you rise, amazed

oh you will find, the spring of youth

is borne within your stride.


These fingers, how they long to

free your mind of weary thoughts,

the journey to the bridge;

and surely they will ease

the weight of time, this gift of touch

they bring transcends divine.


Rachel Westfall
March 4, 2009


For Christopher, in response to his poem-comment The Shoes You Threw Up There.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Caravan child

Caravan child, the mischief
in your dark eyes flickers
with the sun, with the flames
of the campfire, with flecks
of mica on granite.

Your rainbow attire
is scrubbed clean, well-worn
and carefully patched, never, ever
to be mistaken for neglect,
beloved little one.

So you live by your wits, so? We all
find a way to survive, one way
or another, but do we all
find such joy? Such delight

in the small things,
hopping
slithering
smooth-stoned
sinewy
rough-barked treasures found,
a snail on the wall,
a wooded cave,
fingertips painted with ripe berries,
wild mint and nettles.

Caravan child, in the rose
of your cheeks, the bold sun shines
like petals, and here
in this forest, in this field,
in this mountain stream
you are home.


Rachel Westfall
March 3, 2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Coyote dreams

You left your shirt here last night
rich with sweet, strong nutrients
as a forest glade. Undetected
it sat upon the dresser as we sailed
our ships over a glassy-smooth
sea of sleep.

I left the door unlocked last night
and the coyotes, drawn
by the sweet woodland scent
of your forgotten garment, silently
nosed their way in. First one,
then two, then a dozen came
snuffling into the hall, whiskered
heads swinging from side to side,
soft tails lowered. I woke

and they scattered quick as
prism-light as I gathered the laundry
and loaded the machine,
a precautionary measure. As the load
swirled and hummed, they left my mind

until two scolding ravens alerted me
to the still figure of Coyote
standing grey-headed
at the foot of the hill
near the traffic lights, front feet
up on a snowbank, waiting
for a break in the slush-torn flow
of the traffic.

Her ears stood tall, bristled
angular signs calling
her absent companion. This one,
in this place, is always, always
searching, and I wonder if
she ever finds that which she seeks.

I longed for her to turn her head
my way, acknowledge her visit
down my deep, dark hall
but the soap had washed
your scent away
to neutral.


Rachel Westfall
March 2, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

These shoes

Pay attention to these shoes,
hanging bedraggled
from the power line, day in
and day out since a long-passed
flurry of mischief, a warning to other shoes
not to enter this village, a warning
as stark and brutal
as caged pirates by the shore
or a rook hung by his leg
from a farmer’s tree. These shoes,
like the pirates
before they starved down to raw bone
and gold teeth, these shoes
will tell you their stories,
though their soles
wear thin and their fabric
is mildewed and grey.


Rachel Westfall
February 28, 2009


Thank you Christopher, for the inspiration!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

tough love

Here is the final poem I'm going to bring forward this weekend. This is one of a series I've worked on that emerge from the issue of social exclusion and violence against women and girls, as well as their courage and resilience. If you want to read any more in the series, you can find them under the label see how she runs.

tough love

sometimes when the tension ran
too high and it was like a heat wave needing to
break the angry silence overwhelming she

looked forward to the moment when
he would hit her across the face breaking through
gridlock and her tears would

come then later they would make up
just like the old days fucking hard and holding
onto one another like lost souls her eye

still not finished swelling


Rachel Westfall
April 26, 2008