Chris Pannell has two poetry books in print: Under Old Stars and Sorry I Spent Your Poem, published by Seraphim Editions and Watershed Books, respectively. He won the HARAC poetry book award for his collection Three Poetry Broadsheets in 1997. He ran the New Writing Workshop at Hamilton Artists Inc. from 1994 to 2006. He serves on the board of Hamilton Artists Inc., the organizing committee for the Hamilton reading series Lit Live, and the board of the annual gritLiT Literary Festival. His most recent poetry manuscript is entitled Driven.
FOUR VIGNETTES FROM DEVONSHIRE
I’m eighty-two now. It’s a badge of honour.
Aunt Doris parts her
regency-style striped curtains,
with urns, crests of ferns,
to show me the Devon hills,
but when I turn from the glass, the room is full of
lace sheers, crucifixes, medieval Christs.
I see the hairdresser every week
Jane’s done it for donkey’s years
I can’t raise my hands to set it in curlers
My hair’s almost all white and limp, you see.
Her tremulous voice belies her steel spine,
because I’m here, she sips her wine,
to keep me, the visitor from Canada, from running off
on my own, these evenings, though I have nowhere
She’s learning again to socialise,
to turn the TV off, or at least to not doze off
during The Weakest Link.
When I’m gone she’ll keep the half-bottle another week,
out of curiosity perhaps, the idea of drinking by herself,
too much like being sinful in this narrow flat.
She continues with the quiz shows, soaps,
and snooker championships —
Christopher is repeating
himself. Does he think I’m deaf?
He’s always turning down the TV volume.
She wakes, startled.
He’s still here. He’s saying something about
his broken camera, about buying another
with which to take my picture.
His accent twangs like a guitar, like it was 1958
and he had just been born. Then my brother John went
away to Canada.
Doris gives me a wink and a furtive smile,
then rails at the television commentator for jinxing
her favourite player —
Oh Gerry, last year’s champion has a particularly difficult
approach to the yellow ball.
I don’t think he’ll be able to sink it with this shot.
she calls this
“Putting the mockers on him.”
Daily worries soon intrude.
The new toaster tends to burn bread on one side
no matter how low the setting.
If I show Christopher’s new book of poems to Father Pat
what will he think? Even Christopher has said it contains
some bad words. And will Christopher be all right in church,
does he take communion in Canada, I wonder? I dare not ask.
Will it rain tomorrow? I should have reserved a car for him to rent.
We could have driven everywhere, no matter the weather.
Is he enjoying himself?
A plane tree blooms on the boulevard
and at night, the sky seems grey and
leaves of ruddy-red
hang like a thousand smudges
under street lamps,
to light the avenue of a stranger’s dream.
I go to Mass, in the role of an atheist singing
his gratitude to God, with
this community of the pretty comfortable,
the rarely tempted, the fully diversified.
Outside, Doris introduces me
to Father Pat and when I speak of poetry
his eyes light up; he asks Doris to bring my book next time.
I know she won’t; she’ll say I forgot to give her a copy.
She’ll hide the books I leave behind, when he visits her.
He blesses me.
After the Second World War,
my mother’s and father’s families dispersed
and uncles and aunts vanished into the world —
before I had a chance to meet them, they had turned
to settlement, the habits of new lands.
Birthday cards ceased and Season’s Greetings came
late or not at all. Doris sent cards for years without reply.
At five to nine, back in my guest flat, loneliness shows me
the ticking clock, a spider in the window.
I want to accompany this postcard,
be there when you open your mailbox,
to have you find me inside. Or at least this five-star photograph
of what Devon would look like if it was not October
and raining every day.
Dark pools under parked cars,
the oil of this age,
everything resting on a rusted