verse by other means



 Geoff Cook


Burnt Shingles: Stanley, Nova Scotia
(for A. N.)

My last time down the low road beyond Truro
on the way to Windsor, I’d passed the burnt-out
shell of your childhood home: its charred boards
sprawled like gawky hawthorn in a ditch,
and painted cedar shingles looked cheaper scorched.
A classic one-and-a-half with its roof burnt off:
wreckage as common here as tourist kitsch.

This time, one year later, I’m with a friend
who’d come east once but failed to find your home
and come to look again full of his pilgrim’s hope,
but now even less than I’d last seen remained:
in a half-cleared field among the scrubby spruce
and dusty popples along a potted road,
the fire-gutted house had been bulldozed.

A litter of witless sticks with nothing left to truss,
the skeletal fingers of splintered joists,
broken studs and blackened rafters thrust
poor accusations at the sky’s blank slate
from the rubble of shattered glass and tattered scraps
of tarpaper, like blotted and discarded drafts
torn from all those fractured tablets, scads
of cedar shingles, fired like Raku glaze
with the crazing of their singed and flaking paint –
some institutional, turquoise-green.

The place would be ploughed under within days.

We bent in the trash of your house scavenging
half a dozen shingles while the wind complained.


—This poem appeared in Fiddlehead, Spring 2011, #247. It is an homage to Aldan Nowland, first Canadian poet to make an impression on me. He still does, if only because, in retrospect, one can see he did not try to make of himself something he was not: hip or 'liberated', as apparently so many versifiers of the time were, and still are. That old Calvinist broomstick was lodged firmly you know here, and it hurt, and he said as much.