we all have old scars
and sometimes in winter
I can still see what was
(let’s call them white bracelets
just as my grandmother used to say
when we fell down steep stairways,
stop crying or you’ll miss hearing
the stairs—they’re still dancing)
what was once white bracelets
what before that showed pink
what before that was raw & festering
what before that was agony
down to the bones
what before that was
almost blacked out
& being dragged by the tractor
in the barbed wire
what before that was
surprise & yelling:
can’t you STOP STOP
what before that was
lying in the grass
reading a blue letter
looking up into sun & clouds
that were riffed
and quiet like white bracelets.
“Thibaudeau may be diffident about her process, but her leaping poems stretch wide from the domestic to the mythic and do so as naturally as if they had not actually been written but somehow just occurred. And I have never had the pleasure of editing any writer whose work called for less alteration.” (page 29)
Lights from the Highway sparser, softer now
and the Gorst lights gone and their house gone
just lost rib to new life in dark seas,
just dark seven sleepers gone seasabout the foot of our hill,
just the foot of the hill and a great cave opening up.
Lights from the glass cupboard !spark! the house dark;
And it’s up to the glass cupboard now! It looms
at James’ headheight, three paces from the kitchen sink,
one from table, length approximately my armspan, crafted
by an Albertan who loved the bush, the hills.
The Bay Highway kindles to blue Italian grotto glasses;
and green glasses, safe-and-wide as Sweden; and cheap
little ruby liqueurs sing; and cocktail Libbys supermart
violent and fresh from fists that swung axes, pounded down a territory
and rolled Malcolm Lowry into the soundmad surf dazzling no warning…
By an Albertan who loved the bush, the hills,
who made this cupboard ark that tends the tides
of dream. They light, they guard the house,
glow like an icon of Mike Todd, thirty-odd glasses,
touched off by random headlights moving toward the Bay.
Colleen Thibaudeau was a graduate student of Marshall McLuhan‘s at the University of Toronto in 1948-1949. Colleen remembers Professor McLuhan in this excerpt from an article by journalist James Stewart Reaney:
“I remember him from ’48, ’49 when I was in his M.A. class. Although ’49 wasn’t over yet, he bravely suggested the topic to me: Canadian poetry of 1949,” mom says. Later McLuhan would become famous for saying such things as: “Tomorrow is our permanent address.”
Back in 1948-1949, he was already using a similar approach. Mom calls it: “Writing about it before it’s taken place – almost.”
The thesis flourished as mom encountered such Canadian poets and creators as A.M. Klein, P.K. Page and Earle Birney. With his Cambridge ties, McLuhan also helped by introducing my mom to British critics like Queenie Leavis.
“When you get into the world of the ’49ers,’ you’ve left behind the pastoral world of earlier Canadian poetry, not entirely, but it’s going,” mom says.
“Jeez, you got good leaves.” says Beatie.
Leaves are her luxury; no trees, no leaves on the cinderhill
where she lives by the dump.
Mother Madam Witch
wind lashes trees for her
we all fall down
Without asking she grabs the rake; she eyes
our corner lot. Beatie is by far the best raker, maker;
her house begins to grow, a rich emerald carpets
every room. “Thirteen rooms maybe,” she says tersely,
“anyways a room for each of you.” Palaces
are what Beatie makes, raking.
And I can still see, squinting through a chink of time,
Beatie’s hands, short-fingered,
(chipped, the polish on her nails, but she’s “allowed”),
her short, strong hands lengthening fiercely into our rake,
small lady of the strangely long arm, she manoeuvers
right round the corner onto East.
“I sure like your leaves,” says Beatie.
Grade Seven will be her last year at school.
She flies around, adjusting the wind-bruised walls;
her red sweater is nubby and too small,
her skirt hitches up, her legs are chapped,
her pushes are energetic:
“In there. In. And don’t come out till I say so.”
We fall separately onto our too-short leaf beds,
try not to annoy Beatie, amazed and proud
she likes our leaves.
What did we dream of there on Beatie’s palace beds?
Infinite luxury, oriental harems… Abruptly,
“All right, you can come out now.”
“What’s for supper?” one of us asks audaciously.
“Macaroni with catsup,” says Beatie positively, “and don’t ask
for seconds, because you’ll get none.”
We look with respect at Beatie, who hands out leafplates
in the big kitchen room. Even the kids taller than Beatie
look with respect and envy at the short, leaf-stained fingers
and the ruby glass ring – (she has privately ‘promised’
it to each of us ‘if we are good’):
Beatie doesn’t shift her ring around, finger to finger,
about thirteen, she is already married to life.
We got called in to supper
to do homework
to get our hair washed.
Beatie didn’t go home till it got good and dark.
Beatie didn’t have to.
She raked by streetlight with a harp sound attached to the long arm,
We missed it when it stopped,
for it had gotten into our blood, the idea of Beatie raking, making.
From the window (a last look before the wind scatters),
there is Beatie’s palace glowing gold and green.
Mother Madam Witch
wind lashes trees for her
we all fall down
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1984
( ( ( o ) ) ) Listen to Jean McKay read “Beatie’s Palaces” here.
Inwhich I Put On My Mother’s Old Thé Dansant Dress
“Yes,” said Janos, “you can put on a costume!”
So I go for a favourite, my mother’s old thé dansant dress
(black georgette and hand-made lace). When I was a child
I looked through snowy windows, seeing her leave
for “Tea For Two.” Leaves whirled, the hem dragged
in the mud when granddaughters sortied out for Hallowe’en;
and then I rescued, laundered, aired, and pressed
(black georgette and hand-made lace). Now it’s a humid Sunday
in the scorching summer of ’88. Jamie retreats to the doorway.
Janos, taking the photos, says, “Nearly done now.”
I think, my whole life-span is in this dress.
And, as I strew these words,
rose petals are falling from the matching hat she made.
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1988
( ( ( o ) ) ) Listen to Jean McKay read the poemhere.
On April 21, 2013, Poetry Stratford featured the four poets from the Red Kite Press anthology Four Women: Gloria Alvernaz Mulcahy, Penn Kemp, Marianne Micros, and Colleen Thibaudeau. Gloria, Penn, and Marianne read their own work, and poet Patricia Black read the late Colleen Thibaudeau’s poems. Here is one of Colleen’s “Inwhich” poems from Four Women:
Inwhich I Decide To Look Once More at the Story of Never Meeting Pete & Doris, But Solving the Puzzle of the Valuable Little Stamp My Mother Has Pressed Into My Hand
I am once more in the street and just at that time of day
which the poets of the future will make much of.
The violet hour of the pearly exhaust fumes
(can’t you hear them chanting?) like the inside
of a fresh-water clamshell, the sky (once long-ago
their grandfather showed them where they had been).
Soon the greenish fluorescent lights of the great city
will stratify, very regular (lichen bands), very exact,
the steep, straight-up mountainsides of the great downtown.
Luminous lichen bands. In the darkness they will hear
the small incessant torrents of electricity falling.
Many thanks to the editors of Brick (Issue 89, page 182) for printing this poem by Colleen Thibaudeau.
This Elastic Moment
Yes we are that too: we are everything who feel it.
Everything that has meaning has the same meaning as angels: these
hoverers and whirrers: occupied with us.
Men may be in the parkgrass sleeping: or be he who sits in his
shirtsleeves every blessed Sunday: rasping away at his child who
is catching some sunshine: from the sticky cloud hanging over the
Laura Secord factory: and teetering on the pales of the green
iron fence: higher up than the briary bushes.
I pass and make no sound: but the silver and whirr of my bicycle
going round: but must see them who don’t see: get their fit, man
and child: let this elastic moment stretch out in me: till that
point where they are inside and invisible.
It is not to afterward eat a candy: picket that factory: nor to
go by again and see that rickety child on the fence.
When the band of the moment breaks there will come angelic
Colleen Thibaudeau, 1977
Also in Issue 89 of Brick, Stan Dragland remembers Applegarth Follies, another London, Ontario publisher:
“… Colleen Thibaudeau’s Ten Letters, the first chapbook I published [under the forerunner of Brick Books], was printed offset by Mike Niederman at Applegarth Follies. I had set the text in the Baskerville type donated by James Reaney to The Belial Press at the university after he completed his ten-year run of Alphabet. One of Applegarth’s presses was the old foot-pumped jobber on which Reaney had printed his magazine. There was plenty of literary interconnection in London back then.”
On March 1-9, 2013, Colleening, a play by Adam Corrigan Holowitz celebrating the life and poetry of Colleen Thibaudeau, was presented by the Alvego Root Theatre Company at the Arts Project Theatre in London, Ontario. Colleening features many of Colleen Thibaudeau’s poems, some set to music and sung, as well as excerpts from letters Colleen wrote to friends and family throughout her life.
Patsy Morgan, Chris McAuley, Paul Grambo, and Donna Creighton were the wonderful performers and interpreters of Colleen’s work. Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead composed the music, adding vibrant settings for Colleen’s words.
Here are the poems and letters featured in Act I and Act II of the play, some spoken and some set to music*:
My Grandmother’s Sugar Shell, Ontario Baroque
St. Thomas Watermelon Summer
Children in the Storm
The Obvious Skies The Dieppe Gardens Poems
Sociable People Wondering What I Do
Going to Winnipeg
King’s Park, Manitoba
Letter to Margaret One
What Happened to the N.Y. Sunday Times
Letter to Margaret Two Aristide Bruant au Honey Dew
Letter to Margaret Three
Name Dropping as Skipping Stones
Letter to Margaret Four
Last Night I Dreamed
Lullaby for the Mother Little Anne Running
All My Nephews Have Gone to the Tar Sands
A Page of Rage
Running Down to Barachois
Canada Trust Tower More bird stuff
The Tomato Pickers Observed
The Brown Family
Looking at The Artemesia Book
Miniature Four White Bracelets
Rainy Day in March
The play’s collage of poems, letters, and reminiscences also included extracts from other writing about Colleen Thibaudeau or about her family: Stan Dragland’s “Prologue”, Herman Gooden’s “Colleen and Jamie”, Stewart Thibaudeau’s story “The War”, and other selections from “A Biographical Sketch” from earlier interviews conducted by Stan Dragland, Peggy Dragisic, Don McKay and Jean McKay.
*About the music:
♦ Music for the “Miniature” series poems was composed by Stephen Holowitz and Oliver Whitehead.
♦ Stephen Holowitz composed music for “Childlight Town”, “Watermelon Summer”, “The Dieppe Gardens Poems”, “Sunday Morning”, “Malcolm Working”, “The Cooper”, and “Rainy Day in March”.
♦ Oliver Whitehead composed music for “The Obvious Skies”, “King’s Park Manitoba”, “Aristide Bruant au Honey Dew”, “Lullaby for the Mother”, “Little Anne Running”, and “White Bracelets”.