Saturday, August 18, 2012


On a furlough from work, I travel home with my family to visit my family. It is mid-August and hot, so we go to the shore, to the beach at French River, where as a child I went with my mother (who is working today, and so cannot join us) and brother (who is moving a shed from one field to another). I am not fond of beaches, especially not in summer. I am no swimmer and prefer cool shade to unbroken exposure. But my wife loves the ocean, as does our boy, so if I am here with no enthusiasm, neither am I reluctant.

The water is all crested combers and tumult, but we find a calmer spot where a shoal extends far into the surf even though the tide's halfway out. My wife and boy make for the waterline; I stay behind. They wade in. I catch snatches of Kaleb's laughter as the small waves nearly knock him down. I catch myself framing the moment as a future memory, possibly a poem. I catch myself editing out my nephew—my brother's step-son, actually, whose childhood is unrolling on the same plot of land as mine and my brother's—because, charming boy that he is and worshipped by my son as elder cousins are, he would be an extraneous actor in the dramatis personae of this poem. I catch myself making a mental note to re-read Don Coles' “My Son at the Seashore, Age Two,” in case my incipient poem might be too similar to his, or in case a sly allusion to it should prove a propos. Any poem with such a cast and backdrop, after all, cannot but be bound up in memory, time and oblivion.

The whole recursive rumination ends sharply when I see my wife has been waving me to join them. I've brought no swimwear, but the sea is so shallow and the air so hot it doesn't matter. The water is warm but cooling. It laps the hem of my knee-length shorts and wicks upward. I am glad to be here instead of cooking on the griddle-hot sand. Pleasure craft, tour boats and trawlers jounce by, just off the shoal, which is marked by buoys, though the sharp line between the reddish sand bar and the cobalt deep water would be guide enough to keep a boat from grounding.

Rachel has me mind the boys while she takes a swim. She wades out further on the shoal, then starts swimming in the same direction. I holler three times before she hears me and stands up, puzzled. I wave her over and she comes. Walk out, swim in, I say. There's an undertow. It's been the death of better swimmers than you. Stay where your feet can touch bottom.

Even as I hollered at my wife, I caught myself framing another future memory: The Day Rachel Drowned. There is no lifeguard at French River and few bystanders near enough to help had the undertow sucked her under and out.


Back on the beach, I talk with a man from Quebec City whose schnauzers Kaleb wants to meet. We speak in French and he mistakes me for a francophone, which happens often in such encounters. Not, I expect, because my French is so good, but more likely because my haphazard melange of chiac, joual and français-comme-il-faut marks me as a dialect speaker foreign wherever he goes. The man is surprised to learn that I'm from here. He's been coming to the Island, to this beach, for thirty years. I first visited French River around the same time, I tell him, when I was the boy's age. We talk about how the shoreline has morphed. Storm surges. Sandstone. Warming. Erosion. The grottoes further down the beach, he says, are gone.

That was where we used to go. Sheltered, shady at the right time of day, safely away from the undertow.


That night, Rachel observes that I have written three love poems to her and that all three are set in places other than our home. And all on shorelines, I point out. Resolute Bay. North Cape. Vík. Walk out. Swim in. Repeat.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dear Peter

A'right, so I haven't been using this space for non-literary content much of late, but I wanted to put this up somewhere other than Facebook. I really can't express how much contempt I have for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, but I gave it a shot this evening, when I sent him this email:

Dear Mr. MacKay: 

You helicopter-hopping turncoat hypocrite. Shall I add nitwit to the list, sir? I just now heard you say on CBC radio that you are concerned about service reductions to Via Rail's operations in the Maritimes. You went on to say that service might be restored if people were willing to use the train more. Perhaps you are aware that the service cuts are a direct response to decreased funding for Via legislated by the government. Perhaps you are aware that the government is formed by the party you belong to. Perhaps you are aware that party only exists because of your willingness to sell out the values of the party to which you used to belong. Perhaps you are aware that your party's majority in parliament is not reflective of majority support, but a byproduct of a broken electoral system, Machiavellian strategising and apathy?

You are probably not aware that Via has not touched service on much less frequented routes, such as the trains to Churchill and Senneterre. You are probably also not aware that declines in ridership--which have been much exaggerated, given that ridership actually rose last year on The Ocean--are THE DIRECT CONSEQUENCE of large and small service reductions that have been ongoing for years--including recent refusals by Via to increase the size of The Ocean's consist, despite being consistently sold out. Ridership declines are also the indirect consequence of Canada's strong dollar, which has led to a drastic decrease in visits by American tourists--which is the direct consequence of your Party's love affair with the Alberta tar sands and the "Dutch disease" that love affair has caused. So don't blame Maritimers or "local policies" for this, you ass. Do something about it.


Zachariah Wells

Friday, August 3, 2012

Some love for the Snowman

Very pleased and proud to learn that the Canadian Authors' Association has given Goran Simic their poetry prize for Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman, a book I had the honour to edit. I think this is the first official  award Goran has received in Canada, though of course it was around five years ago that I had the pleasure of presenting Goran a somewhat more ... ad hoc prize when From Sarajevo, With Sorrow was disqualified for the Governor General's Award--so this is a particularly sweet turn of events, from my perspective.