Watermelon Summer

Watermelon Summer

‘Going to be one hot summer for sure,’ said Uncle Willie
who had set his heart on growing watermelons
in a cindery patch at the very end of his Garden.

‘No one is going to look there for them.’ He told no one
but us, planted them at night. Joyce and I
biked sweatily out to our first job, tenderly

moved translucent baby cabbages, made little hats
for them, carried water endlessly and longed 
for the promised crisp bite, the crisp juices

reviving, ‘turning us into real people’, he said.
We were just at that turning point, thirteen years old;
we dreamed of the watermelon promise.

He said they were ‘coming along nicely’, green
taut, bulging over the hillside, as yet
undiscovered by the boys. September came.

The boys came. One Saturday morning we saw
yellowing leaves only and every watermelon gone.
Yet the anticipation of the melon miracle

seemed to have turned us, Joyce and I, into ‘real people’.
And we pondered this, purposely noisy with our milkshakes,
solacing ourselves with second best.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1989

“Watermelon Summer” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

Long after the Watermelon Summer, Colleen and Joyce remained friends and Joyce grew up to be a talented artist. She once made a “bon voyage” cake (complete with arc de triomphe!) when Colleen left to teach in France.

Colleen Thibaudeau and Joyce Draper Coles, St. Thomas, Ontario, October 1950.
Joyce’s 1946 exhibition at Central Tech in Toronto

1946 painting by Joyce Draper Coles (1925-2020) of her Toronto neighbourhood

Poem: “The Boy Actors”

The Boy Actors

She held her part,
(Though knew the lines by heart)
But the others hovering in the wings
Obscured sure things.

She let a page fall (no hurt)
To pleach her skirt.
Truly the part made her head whirl
To act-a-girl act-a-boy act-a-girl.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1945

“The Boy Actors”, written during Thibaudeau’s university days, appeared in Alphabet, Issue 1, 1960 under the pseudonym M. Morris.

1957, Winnipeg, Manitoba: Colleen Thibaudeau with her husband James Reaney.

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “Sea Gone Girl”

Sea Gone Girl

The sea gone girl is all at sea
Stockings rolled below the knee,
Careless slung the dishtowel hung
Cat got its parting scatscatscat,–
For her the very breeze of a Marine
Was signal for abandoning.

The screendoor bangs, the little street
Is window-wide a-buzz with her retreat:
She makes it to the sad hotel
Is keel-hauled by the firebell pull
In lobby; then she rises to the tropic
Islands rolling home in beer and frolic.

Others have that bleached hair, part ‘done’
Part rendered just uncombable by wind & sun,
Others wear fishnet gowns in this and other towns,
Have nails like Turner sunsets going down,
Knuckles that are wrinkled as a fishwife’s bum,
Have voices stored in shells that make a deepsea hum.

But who else has three captive princesses
Mild-mannered, magical, wearing middy dresses?
The six-year-old has her bath drawn ready,
The seven-year-old holds the coffee-pot steady,
& the eight-year-old draws the net of her nightdress over her head
And casts the sea gone mother into bed.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1957

“Sea Gone Girl” can be found in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

((( o ))) Listen to Peggy Roffey read the poem here.

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “Notes on a Day”


In this poem, Colleen Thibaudeau recalls a temporary job she had at the University of Toronto library in 1948 and an early encounter with the poet Margaret Avison (1918-2007), who worked at the order desk.

Notes on a Day

Came back from searching dental periodicals
in the Russian translated into German stacks,
Office was feathered over with soft acquisitions
and Our Boss was pondering the Great Seal prior
to attack on new Books. I asked for a change of task.
‘Four o’clock. Not a good time to start fresh.
Try Boston. Try the French …’
Suddenly Margaret, at her desk, looking no different
said, ‘Tether: end of.’ No word more,
passed solitary angel out the gothic door.

Well, yes: Go up: go down. Try Boston. Work to rule.
Came back from searching dental periodicals
in the Russian translated into German stacks.
Our Boss cooed ‘Migraine weather’
put away till tomorrow the Great Seal.
Going home I passed through Chinatown
and bought one of those pink folded-up flowers
that once in water pulses like a throat,
then skipped to ailing Maggie’s doorstep, Whistled
something delightful to the tune of:
‘And particularly delightful is the story of the little old
man who rode all over Moscow free because 
no one could change his hundred rouble note.’

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1978

More about Colleen Thibaudeau’s friendship wth Margaret Avison

An admirer of Avison and her poetry, Thibaudeau began work on her MA thesis on “Recent Canadian Poetry” later that fall. They became further acquainted when Northrop Frye took them out to lunch, and as he notes in his diary, “… I think Margaret & she really took to each other.” [See The Diaries of Northrop Frye 1942-1955, Volume 8, 1949 Mar. 28; this is the lunch Thibaudeau describes in the Biographical Sketch from 1979.]

See also the special issue of Canadian Poetry, Nos. 80-81 for the centenary of Margaret Avison’s birth, where Stan Dragland recalls Margaret and Colleen meeting again in 1973 and Margaret saying ‘I’m going Colleening!’… “Margaret caught [Colleen’s] dynamism in a single word. I’m very glad to have been on the spot to hear that word invented; otherwise, it might never have been spoken. And, speech being so evanescent, it might have been lost… Colleening: The Poetry and Letters of Colleen Thibaudeau is now the title of a play by Adam Corrigan Holowitz, with music by Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead.” (page 43)

For more about the working milieu of the library order desk from the time described in Thibaudeau’s poem, see Margaret Avison’s I Am Here and Not Not-There: An Autobiography (2009), pages 111-114.

“Notes on a Day” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

Margaret Avison in 1973 — Family photo (I Am Here and Not Not-Here: An Autobiography, page 191)

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “from Verlaine’s Impressions”

from Verlaine’s Impressions

Mrs. Trott Mouse
black in the greyed-out time
Mrs. Trott Mouse
greyed-out in the blackness

Bell’s ringing:
go to sleep little prisoners
Bell’s ringing:
just go to sleep

No bad dreams now
Ne pensez qu’à vos amours
No bad dreams now
Des belles toujours

Big clear moonlight
snug snoring
Big clear moonlight
really

A shadow’s passing over
it’s gone black as an oven
A shadow’s passing over
Suddenly it’s morning.

Mrs. Trott Mouse
rose in the blue rays
Mrs. Trott Mouse
get up sleepyheads.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1973

((( o ))) In this audio clip from 1997, Colleen Thibaudeau describes how she created her “transliteration” of Paul Verlaine’s “Impression fausse”:

Paul Verlaine’s “Impression Fausse”, Premier livre de poésie, page 76.

Thank you Peggy Roffey for reuniting the long lost copy of Premier livre de poésie with Colleen’s family and sharing the 1997 interview with Colleen Thibaudeau at “Voicing Colleen”.

Premier livre de poésie, published by Gautier-Languereau, 1970

From the Biographie des poètes, page 89:

VERLAINE (Paul) (1844-1896).
C’est un des premiers grands poètes formés  par l’école symboliste. Son oeuvre sincère, émouvante, est avant tout une musique et correspond bien au but des symbolistes qui était d’évoquer sensations et sentiments.

 

My granddaughters are combing out their long hair

My granddaughters are combing out their long hair

my granddaughters are combing out their long hair sitting at night
on the rocks in Venezuela       they have watched their babes
falling like white birds from the last of the treetop cradles
they have buried them in their hearts where they will never forget
to keep on singing them the old songs

brought down to earth they use twigs, flint scrapers acadian
their laughter underground makes the thyme flower in darkness

my granddaughters are thin as fishbones & hornfooted but they are
always beautiful under the stars: like little asian paperthings
they seem to open outward into their own waterbowl

mornings they waken to Light’s chink ricocheting
off an old Black’s Harbour sardinecan.

Reduce them the last evangelines make them part of the stars.

my granddaughters are coming out by night combing their burr
coloured hair by the rocks and streamtrickle in Venezuela
they are burnt out as falling stars but they laugh
and keep on singing them the old songs.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1977

“My granddaughters are combing out their long hair” is from The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

( ( (o) ) ) Listen to Peggy Roffey read the poem here.

Colleen Thibaudeau in London, Ontario, Summer 1977

Idea for an Elegy: Finished up for the Brinks

Colleen (on the right) with a friend at the Broughdale skating rink, London, Ontario, January 1966.

Idea for an Elegy: Finished up for the Brinks

Behind St. Peters strolls the cinderpath
a hazy day and two nuns pass (I stand by):
One has a face like a freckled egg, Irish, and accented
I would say straight Sandwich or some border town;
the other older sallower Belgian-born from La Salette—
Joyful their four eyes soar and won’t cast down—
‘So many more gulls. So many strange gulls.
So many strange gulls. More since the Seaway …’
when they turn off toward the grotto it is as damp
as if they had dumped the grotto down on the riverbank.

Five o’clock
is calling the lost hours home:
Fly back! calls Middlesex
Right now! calls St. Peter’s
Bell towers take the time from glint of wings
clear up the Thames. My wheels are still silver
on the cinderpath … those gulls are abundant, beady eyes
that have taken in Detroit, insouciance of Montreal;
multitudes of gulls, freckled, fresh-starched,
travel creased or whatever
(So many strange gulls. Up from the Seaway.)
take up a sad calling:
Of Sylvia Plath. O Sylvia Plath.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1967

 

Colleen’s poem appears in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

(((o))) Listen to Peggy Roffey read “Idea for an Elegy” here.

 

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “Letter Eight”

Letter Eight

Place was that piece of ground between house and swing,
yielding to the foot,
covered with reddened strawberry leaves
and that small vine that isn’t wintergreen.

Among the cedars, some of them struggling still like old limbo dancers,

covered with a lighter green lichen,

there on the day that William Faulkner died I came and stood
and even if I had not willed it so, down my head would have gone down,

thinking definitely about something:
God, how I love this little part of ground.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1974

Near Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC February 2017
Near Jericho Beach, February 2017

 

“Letter Eight” is from Colleen Thibaudeau’s elegiac sequence Ten Letters (1975) available from Brick Books. The Ten Letters sequence also appears in The Artemesia Book (1991).

((( ο )))  Listen to Jean McKay read “Letter Eight” here: https://audioboom.com/posts/886698-jean-mckay-reads-letter-eight-by-colleen-thibaudeau-from-the-artemesia-book-poems-selected-and-new

Colleen Thibaudeau, Summer 1977 in London, Ontario
Colleen Thibaudeau, Summer 1977 in London, Ontario

Little Anne Running, Big Anne Shopping & Another Anne’s Mysterious Visiting Birds

Little Anne runs from flower to flower to flower
honey-haired happy every minute every hour.
Big Anne shops successfully and hardly stops.
Another Anne’s house abounds with the evening sounds and even words
of mysterious visiting birds.

*

Little Anne tosses sticks into River Thames
this is one of her camping games.
Big Anne reads on the beach and lets the waves reach her.
Another Anne says, ‘Well Polly how pretty you are.’ And ‘Just
listen to that canary up there.’

*

Little Anne Running, Big Anne shopping and reading on the beach,
Another Anne tending her mysterious visiting birds;
These Annes appear in different strips, unknown each to each,
so make their first acquaintance here in a blur of words.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1984

“Little Anne Running” first appeared in The Martha Landscapes, available from Brick Books. Later the poem was set to music by Oliver Whitehead and featured in Adam Corrigan Holowitz’s play Colleening (2013).

 

Colleen’s granddaughter Edie Reaney Chunn (August 2000) (Photo by Yuki Imamura)

Colleen’s St. Thomas friend June Rose on a visit to London, Ontario (Summer 1974)

June Rose and Colleen Thibaudeau, Port Stanley, Ontario (Summer 1990)

Colleen Thibaudeau’s “There’s a waterfall in Iceland”

Poem

There’s a waterfall in Iceland
That cries by the thousandsful,
even on a postcard, it’s forever saying,
don’t fear again, horseman, ride on,
I’ll do the crying for you.

Mr Kopf burnt off his wintergrass
it was exciting when the wind changed
and he had to phone up his brother-in-law;
for a day or so it showed black
now you can’t see it for the new growth.

Saturday morning riders shyed away
from my pampas grass going up.
We all like fires and we all like waterfalls
and the brown days when the gulls chase unseen
excitement over the fields.

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1969

Postcard of Skógarfoss, a waterfall on the Skógá River in Iceland, sent to Colleen by her friend Karin (Summer 1969)

“Skógarfoss: One of the highest and most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland…”

“There’s a waterfall in Iceland” was first published in Poetry (Chicago) CXV, 3 (Dec. 1969), 169. It also appears in The Artemesia Book (1991), available from Brick Books.

For more about Skógarfoss, see the Katla Geopark page: http://www.katlageopark.com/geosites/skogarfoss/