Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Beauty of His Feet on Christmas Morning

                                                  (for Janos)

Outside the covers, beneath my lips.

Paper and bows from last night’s unwrapping

crushed into balls

on the carpet downstairs.

Stockings now emptied. 

Board games await the afternoon.

The coffee’s unmade, and his son sleeps

in his jeans. Rabbit tracks pock the snow

between townhouses. Spruce stand there

like shepherds, like the souls

of our beloved dead.

Possibly I have died, too. Another spent candle

among the ceramic nativity scene,

the donkey and cow

each missing their right ear.

The world glows. Daylight on his feet,

the gospel of snow. A rain of crumbs

where we sat late into the night, laughing

and eating Hungarian biscuits.

The poinsettia’s leaves. The silent guitar.

The delicate sculpture of his arch.

Amid the chaos and flurries—

holiness and champagne. These bared,

innocent flares. No one beating

at my doors. Only these

two stark winter birds. I begin again

at his shoreline.

-Shelley A. Leedahl


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New book contract signed today!

These are days of yellow roses and champagne ...          
Signature Editions (Winnipeg) is bringing out my collection of essays, I Wasn't Always Like This, in Fall 2014. Many of these personal essays have appeared in journals, magazines, and in anthologies, and some have been recognized with awards from the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. 

Now the work of choosing what stays, what goes, and what remains to be written. The final essay is in progress. It will be called "Egészségedre" - the Hungarian way to say "To your health." 

Colour me grateful.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Huatulco, Mexico.

From the air, the jungle surrounding Huatulco resembled broccoli. Dense, dark green. I could smell it before the Sunwing jet door opened like a jaw, and we Albertans walked toward the palapa-roofed airport arrivals building. We had our passports stamped, our luggage dog-sniffed, and were free.
Late afternoon. My good friend Flo had arrived an hour earlier, via Vancouver, and she was waiting for me. My first ever girls'-only trip; now I understand the appeal.
A regular-sized van waited to shuttle us to our 60-room hotel, the VillaBlanca, 4 kilometres from where 99% of the other tourists were headed: the all-inclusives. There was a little delay, as I've come to expect in Mexico. Good. Time enough to peel off my clinging pants and sweater, and slip into the linen shorts and light top I had at-the-ready.  
We settled into the van and not three minutes passed before someone said "Saskatchewan," and I realized that Rhonda, the daughter of my former neighbour Ruth (in Middle Lake), and her husband Greg were among the small group. Rhonda and Greg had rented my house for a few days over the Christmas holidays in 2011. (I would also soon meet folks from Eston, SK, who knew my sister Crystal and her family.) 
I am too tired to write more now. Will pick this up again later in the week. For now, here's a short video.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Musical fun on a November day.

Trio: Megan on cello, Anna on guitar, Shelley on piano.
Playing Bach ... and Elvis.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Daylight Savings

An extra hour of sleep is snow-ushered in
as if time and the elements colluded.
And yesterday the city’s good citizens
were raking last leaves, tarping
patio furniture. Even us. The garden draped
in crackling blue plastic
weighted with old-fashioned bricks.

                           One day into winter
and we’re surfing foreclosures
on Vancouver Island. My bed calls,
the window draws my heavy eyes
to the white sky and raspberry canes
bent under the fresh weight of snow.

Winter wipes away.
It calls for snowy owls.

And Qualicum Beach: oldest mean population
In Canada. Will I surrender? 

The neighbours did not get their trampoline
packed up. Nail-sized icicles decorate
the eaves of the dilapidated garage.

A woman in the alley sweeps heaps of snow
off her compact white car
and it stops resembling a sleeping polar bear.
The skeletal plum trees’ throw graphic shadows
against the cedar fence. The light sharpens
and before my gaze the snow-garden softens:
cat’s paw-prints across the deck
become pocks, become larger nothings.
Winter advocates slowness. It compels us
to sincerely see.

Qualicum: republic of retirees.
Difficult to fathom green winters.
Nights without a furnace’s calming push
of heat.

An extra hour to these new days.
I allocate mine to snow.

-Shelley A. Leedahl

Friday, October 18, 2013

Book Spine Poems

The Regina Public Library 
is sponsoring a book spine poetry photo challenge. 
What a terrific idea! 
I looked around my office this morning, came up with 
six piles of books, six photos, six poems.
So much fun, I had to force myself to stop.

No apologies for the weather
beneath that starry place
closer to the sun.
Who has seen the wind
where the wild things are
inventing the hawk.
Your last day on earth
everything arrives at the light:
the touchstone,
birthday letters,
clay birds
beyond my keeping.
The small words in my body
could be the gates of the sun,
proof of a tongue,
earth after rain,

-Shelley A. Leedahl

The day is a cold grey stone
under her skin.
That night we were ravenous
in the vision of birds
in a city you will never visit.
Two citizens
accordion breathing and dancing,
becoming light.
Coming home from home
west by northwest.
Waking in Eden.

-Shelley A. Leedahl

Listen, Honey,
tell me everything:

     a few words for January,
     what is already known,
     country roads, great Canadian murder
     and mystery stories,
     orchestra of the lost steps,
     the house of the easily amused.

How did you get this number
in a sunburned country?
Riding planet Earth?
Talking down the northern lights?

Listen, Honey,
you haven’t changed a bit.

-Shelley A. Leedahl

a dangerous friend,
the angel on the roof.

What was mine:
the sweet edge,
a new path to the waterfall.

The other sea. Lost gospels—
various miracles—
The bare plum of winter rain.

The laws of ice—
                                    hard light

-Shelley A. Leedahl

Let me be the one
clinging to the myth
in the misleading absence of light.
The roaring girl
getting to know you
where the rain ends.
What can’t be changed shouldn’t be mourned:
          blood of angels,
          the dogs of babel,
          19 knives,
          a haunting sun.

Listen, Honey,
let’s not let a little thing
like the end of the world
come between us.

-Shelley A. Leedahl

Origami dove
through black spruce
the colour of bones,
a grain of rice.
The blue field.

Restless white fields.
The height in between
yellowgrass, red clay


The old familiar

The day is a cold grey stone,
the yellow heart
Black zodiac.

What is this thing called love?

-Shelley A. Leedahl

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Fair To Say I'm Not Always Cheerful.

And occasionally I'm downright gloomy. This week it may be a kind of flu. Exhaustion? No, I haven't deserved that (though I did work several bags of peat moss and manure into the garden on the weekend, and I did plant two new trees). It could just be the ups and downs of life. It probably is the ups and downs of life. Into the valley, and out the other side.

My partner, Greg, is a glass-half-full type. For the most part, he's all sunshine. Example: when we're running up a steep hill (and I'm breathing what feels like my last), he'll say something koan-like, ie: hills are flat. Lately his motto has been: You can only do what you can do

He also sleeps brilliantly. And knows how to relax. (Just saying.)

This afternoon I felt good for nothing except staring at the shifting shapes of clouds, but this morning I had more energy during my 10K run than I've had in weeks.

I forced myself to my desk, and wrote the following.

Some of it is true.


Rare to feel old as this. Twice my age,
at least. Limbs heavy as elk
sprawled near the Bow River
in Banff. That was years ago now. Or January.
My blood’s soundlessly coagulating.
I record the soundlessness with my smart-phone
to fool me to sleep because nights alternate
between witches and wolves.
And where my bones meet
at my sternum, the potato-sized stone
that does not melt with wishing
or the heat of my palm.

A vessel of I shoulds.
Bake bread for the neighbour who is kinder
than he was. Mend the red shirt
with whatever thread I can find.
The downstairs tenant never leaves the house
and I swallow his stones, too.
Why don’t I set a bowl of tomatoes
outside his door? Spread on tea towels
in my kitchen—they’re green. 
Frost coats the night-garden like aphids.

                             I still run. This morning
I tore into the river valley
and out, hoping someone would cross me.
A man on a bike is assaulting women
in this city. I can no longer
even be afraid. First morning in leggings
instead of shorts, and I ran like a girl
with no concept of time
until I needed to release my finicky bowels
in the woods below Jasper Avenue
where the homeless live. I squatted
beside a shopping cart left sideways
in the weeds. I didn’t see
the grey-bearded man with his blanket
and bed of cardboard
until I was already wiping with leaves.
Eyes like oil slicks. Hands frayed
and twitchy. I wanted him
to say something
or slam his mouth on mine and make me
taste the dull tin of blood.

Watch said twenty minutes until home
and I fingered my keys.
The sky was smoke-blue, broiling.
Traffic on Jasper like bees.

 -Shelley A. Leedahl

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Peck of Poems (5 new, 2 fairly new).

Two poems from Wretched Beast (BuschekBooks, 2011).

A White-tailed Deer Stood Statuesque in the Curve
of the Winding Lane

The last thing your lips touched:
my skin
          and a coffee mug, Stephen's
blue-green pottery
I purchased in trade, and oh,
               I am not sentimental
but admit, I paused before washing it.

all afternoon through these icing-white rooms
in my Wal-Mart dressing gown
and sweatsocks.

See what you've got yourself into?   

                Just me
and the leonine contour of my dog
beneath a commotion of bedclothes. This morning
we lurched across the field
I'm considering now. Snow-waves.
                          Aubergine light.

What a short poem you and I made
                    of yesterday's hike:
  … the dog stitching the woods together,
something about delicate animal tracks
stamped into the tinted snow. 

I am all basic nouns and drifts
                     in the shapes of beasts.

     Last night, a small party with writers
and trivia games. No one knew much
about the Blue Jays
or 1970s Nobel prize winners.

Each time I looked
         you were brewing coffee
and your eyes appeared sad.
                   And how still
the ribs of this house today, relearning
the meteorology of absence
at the water-stained table
         and in my hand-me-down bed
(where you've cracked your shins
                  and so often slept poorly).
Now here's a surprise:
               I have eaten the leftovers
from the gathering. Yes, even the chocolate,
and I am sick but not sorry.
                  When will I see you again?

I discovered your grey socks
and one pair of jockey underwear
entwined with a towel
in my dryer.

Tell me you need them.
Insist they are irreplaceable.

My hands back in dishwater;
                     this is the way
to get on with it.

Does a coffee mug have a memory?
Is the blue cobalt or smoke? 

Hours from here, you are.

-Shelley A. Leedahl


While Recovering From Breast Reduction Surgery, 
I Discover The Poetry Of Charles Wright

Bleached light and the elocution of southern birds.

                   I knew a storybook garden once.
Rock-walled, on the far side palominos
whinnied some ancient complaint
about apples. The greenhouse grapes had gone wild
as fourteen-year-old girls left alone
overnight, and lightly I stepped
        between bruised and fallen plums.

          Well, that was Scotland, and oh,
this is not. The hound dog's movie-starring
on the bed beside me, wearing his mournful eyes.
                      No one walks him
and he implores all to believe he is dying,
the way he sighs through his nose and entertains himself
                with the erratics of magpies
in the French lilac, not knowing I watch
from the metal-reinforced screen door.

            Some days
I find nothing to praise, but the American elm
grandstanding above the neighbour's grey shingles
earns a few songs this morning. Leaves still one colour
away from being named decisively green,
ventricaled limbs bullied by a 40k wind
                           but not giving in.

                         Upside-down hoop-skirt,
swaying, showing off. To be that ostentatious
on an ordinary Saskatchewan mid-morning. Just after April,
and all of the little names sink down.

                  Heat, rest: a surgeon's monosyllabia.
Pills are round white words, palm-tongued.

-Shelley A. Leedahl
Five poems from the manuscript-in-progress, "Go". 


                                     Symphonic rain.

And I am lured in the throat-hold of night
to consider blossoming puddles
between spikes of new onion
                                                and the lupins
that follow my impenitent course, man
to man, inner city to inner city; only these flowers
(pink like nail polish marked down
to a dollar) do not fail me.

                                 The sky over Edmonton:
titanic, used. Tissued in clouds
like popped off dolls’ heads. It defers
to the wheedling wind
                                                 and sirens
needle the suede of hours
into the shape of a lunging dog.

(I startle a prostitute at her trade
in the space behind my garage
when I set out the reeking trash; no lullaby,
but the truth is—
rain or not—some of us never sleep.)

Ear to the pane. Ear to the past. One tires
of her chapters: windows and rain songs
and clouds of restiveness
through the solstice of years.
                                                    One becomes old
recalling rain, the children steeping in it—
barefoot, laughing—beneath the dripping elms
of another city: a drama
set hard as initials in cement
that refuse to wash away.

And you, latest dreamer —
                                  naked and blissful
among feather-down pillows
plump as loaves
from the Portugese bakery —
will not miss me
in this sock-and-gown creeping
across my garden of shadows.

Come, morning. Sooner is better.
And let us civilians splash to the library
beneath bold umbrellas, whale-skinned
in slickers and gum boots
                       like actors in a maritime movie,
and sit close to windows in coffee shops
admiring transients with wet smiles
for no one. 

-Shelley A. Leedahl     

*"Deluge" was shortlisted for Arc's "Poem of the Year" Contest, 2013

Can’t Write Today

Because I’m not in a Mexican hammock slung between the corner-post
of a fence I helped build and a spruce tree pocked with brown birds.
Because I am no longer thoroughly alone.
Because of last night’s thunder, sky flashing in sheets and a tap-steady rain between the bedroom and bathroom walls.
Because my back itches.
Because of an unfulfilled promise of tennis.
Because of the warrior cockroach who surprised us in the stairwell of the Lisbon apartment.
Because of his photogenicity.
Because of contemporary art.
Because I’m fifty and will never fit in at art school.
Because of your hideous toenails.
Because of the dropped ring gypsy scams near the Musee d’Orsay.
Because we learned to scream Nyet!
Because there may always be tornadoes.
Because my children don’t know me.
Because of mean bus drivers.
Because of Vasco da Gama.
Because of blind beggars with dogs on the Charles Bridge.
Because of the Eiffel Tower as golden torch when viewed at night from a boat after a Fat Bikes cycling tour.
Because of the Brazilian who blamed me for her crash.
Because of the sound my feet made on the hardwood floors in the Egon Schiele Gallery in Cesky Krumlov.
Because my little brother is memory now.
Because of BB King. 
Because we were told It is not possible! by an employee at a sex club in Prague.
Because we met Rick Steves in the I.P. Pavlova metro station and his grandparents homesteaded in Edmonton.
Because of grapes and Alsatian towns.
Because of a thirty kilometre hike to Cabo de San Vicente with a sixty-two-year-old Dane named Sigrun.
Because I called her Sigrid until I knew better.
Because of swans and covered bridges in Lucerne.
Because of funiculars and the palace Michael Jackson wished to buy.
Because of cheese and sausages in a Freiburg market.
Because we spent nothing.
Because James Gandolfini died too.
Because aphids covered the lupins like snow.
Because I don’t speak to anyone.
Because of flipflops up to and all the way through Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle.
Because of the bitchy Tourist Information woman in Belfort.
Because three times you couldn’t remember your VISA password at a cash register and lost the privilege of charging.
Because of the near-arrest in Estoril and the way sirens sound like WW2 from the back seat perspective of a cop car speeding toward Lisbon.
Because of those hard plastic seats.
Because you wouldn’t tell me why.
Because I needed to laugh and you snapped at me for covert photography.
Because of a dozen postcards I never sent.
Because there has been too much running to nowhere in the highest heat.
Because of the legend of The Cock of Barcelos.
Because of peacocks and five chicks at home in an artfully-designed B & B.
Because of being too tired to go the bullfight.
Because of Strasbourg.
Because I came in a whirlpool at Baden-Baden.
Because of Prague’s cheap beer.
Because of the porcelain skin of the woman from Macau who sat next to me on the Tap Portugal flight.
Because she now lives in England and oversees a plastics factory.
Because I still can’t speak French.
Because L’addition is cool to say in a restaurant.
Because the door opened a little.
Because of striking Swiss Air workers at the Mulhouse-Basel-Freiburg airport and their deafening party\riot\parade.
Because of this Humboldt Motors Body Shop pen.
Because of jet lag.
Because Bob Flanagan beat me to it.
Because of Monday.
Because of radio commercials.
Because a woman with hands protruding from her shoulders handled cigarettes with finesse.
Because of Portugese oysters that travel to France before returning to Portugal to be sold at ten times the price.
Because of a haunted ruin shot in sepia.
Because of baggage tags.
Because of reading glasses needed for maps.
Because my booking reference number is FG6LLD.
Because of pasteis de nata.
Because the mountain\cliff\tree\wave\boulder\village is there.
Because there’s another side.

-Shelley A. Leedahl
 .York loft and am one of those

We are completely void of wine.
Always like that night’s I want to pretend
I live in a New York loft and am one of those
tall, lithe woman who is perpetually 32
and paints abstracts in happy colours, paints
her lovers’ bodies in abstract colours
and is mostly always happy
when she stands before her floor-to-ceiling windows
in a white linen shirt—unbuttoned—
and panties, bare feet.
The best thing about today should not have been
the fact that when I stepped from my car
I spotted nine pennies in the mud
and I brought them in to one-day polish,
one-day tell a grandchild about these little coppers
that feel good in the palm
or elsewhere, skin-wise.

Penny for your thoughts?
Where will all the old expressions go
now the penny’s obsolete?

On the flip side, my bank account
will soon be fatter. I am frightened of the sum
in the way one might wince near lashing animals
in zoo cages. Money is fire: I am convinced
I should not touch it.

I showed no foresight re: the lack of wine.
I stand before the pantry, wondering why
we have three roasters,
seven rolls of plastic wrap
and a blood pressure monitor
certainly no one will ever use.

Oh, and I recently turned 50.
It took a lot of wine
and pennies
to get here all the way from 1963,
but paint and New York longing
have little to do with that.

Somewhere not here there’s sophisticated jazz
and small white lights sparking off
and on like sunlight on flint
in a creekbed. Subterfuge. Cities
are best at it, and the woman
at the window is so alone
she smiles.

-Shelley A. Leedahl     

(*note: the final line is not working yet ... open to suggestions)


Smuggler Cove Marine Provincial Park

And so we park and I set my Garmin to ensure we hike at least an hour and she says be careful it’s slippery and I say is that a Douglas fir or a Western Red Cedar and she says oysters and don’t you love the way moss drips like that and I say oh yes I definitely do.

So she tells me she’s been to San Francisco fourteen times and I say I’m losing sleep because my son’s flying out with his girlfriend and what if she hates me and don’t you think if so and so was fitted with a nice pair of Levis he’d be amazingly hot and whoa close one.

And so we squeeze past three hikers and stand on a rock admiring Thormanby Island and she has friends who have a cabin there and you can’t see it but just around the bend there’s a great beach and let’s go into Vancouver for plastic surgery consults and the girlfriend’s from Germany.

So after the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed William Kelly smuggled illegal Chinese immigrants from Vancouver into the US for a buck a head and evaded arrest by hiding in Smuggler Cove and I make a note to Wikipedia that and need a hat soon plus Gay Pride Parade.

And so I slip on a bridge and muddy my gloves but don’t slide off a cliff and she says no more roller derby drama for her and she sure had a terrific meal last night at the organic restaurant and I wrap the jacket around my waist and February in Saskatchewan was never like this arbutus.

So we’re talking 182 hectares and at what point did you know your son was gay and of course I had no issues when my daughter came out and how is your daughter’s pregnancy going and are you buying RRSPs and especially the potatoes plus yellow crocuses and Scarlett if she has a girl.

And so I can’t read the minute directions on the can of bear spray from Source for Sports and do you believe this was fifty dollars and she has pierced three cocks and can’t read it either and wouldn’t it just be our luck to suffer a cougar or bear attack and be doomed by nearsightedness.
So we finish and it’s not even four kilometres so I say what’s down that road and ooh look at those houses on the water and wouldn’t it be fantastic and she has an artist friend who lives nearby and rescues cats and stops to stretch her back maybe $1200.

And so he has a gorgeous mouth and yes to a little lipo beneath the chin and eyelids for sure and she’s meeting her best friend for lunch and I can’t say I’ve got one and we met in a beach bar in Indonesia and hiking on the Sunshine Coast on Mondays always and what kind of duck is that.

So during Prohibition rum-rummers used the cove to store bootleg from stills on Texada Island before heading to the US and isn’t that interesting  but not quite so much as dating a cobbler and don’t spray downwind and a hotel on Market Street and tight ones and Dr. Chang but time’s up.

-Shelley A. Leedahl

                      So dark and ripe they are
halfway to wine. Penultimate night
in this house with the sadness
I’ve nurtured
diseasing the walls. Black mould
and gravity
do their tricks. Re/max sign
on the lawn claims the house is for sale
but means I am for sale.
Who could want this
one who knows only hard work well?

I will not get to see the calla lilies bloom.

Neighbour Eileen knows
I am not eating
because I am consumed
with the garden and undone
by rampant daisies. She sends her granddaughter
with a bowl of lemon potatoes—
from my own garden. They are
slippery with butter and the best thing
I’ve ever eaten
because this near-mother prepared them
for me.

Light—I want to call it Divine—
on the crabapples. Heliopsis
like yellow stars. I will be drunk
tonight. After this watered-down margarita
there is wine from a cardboard box.

Storm approaching like a wolf.
I’ve fastened the windows and wait
for it. Now in the spruce trees,
now rattling the giant sunflowers. 
Behind the raspberries, the old compost heap.
I bashed the hell out of a mouse
with my rake
and knew the blind joy of killing.

A bald eagle plays the sky
as if prairie’s confused with coast. Sign?
Oh, but the light is all
one needs. The world stops
and even poppies hold their breath.

Mint on my hands. Dirt on my teeth.
Now, finally, I understand: everything
is everything.                          

-Shelley A. Leedahl