alan skeoch
July  27, 2022

Note: These are not John Morton’s exact words but they are close.

“Anne! I just got  great idea…FISHY POETRY!”
“John must you always be daft…spouting nonsense.”
“Not so crazy.”
“Out with it then”
“Let’s have Al and Marjorie over for a fish dinner and poetry reading.”
“Do they like fish.”
“I checked…they are omnivorous.”
“John, I think you just want to show off your cooking skills”
“Mussels, salmon, lobster and clams”

“How does poetry fit into this dinner?”
“We will ask them to bring two short poems that they must
read to us after dinner….short poems, really short.”
“Why short?
“Because they also must explain why those two short poems were chosen…
and that will take more time than the readings.”
“What about us? “
“We will do the same.”

Well. the event was a grand success.  John put on an apron and chefs hat…boiled
up the muscles and fried the fish, stuffed the lobster, put one big clam on each plate.
While we all talked with the echoes of our words trailing through the grand old
mansion like house in west Toronto.  The place was vaguely familiar.

“John, my dentist lived near here when I was a kid.  I named him Dr. Murder
which was a very unkind thing to do.  Kids do those things.  His real name
was Dr. Murta and he was a nice old man who even cancelled his appointments
and asked me to show slides of my adventures as a miner in Ireland.  How many
doctors would do that?  I think this was his house back then.”
(truth be told Dr. Murder’s place was two doors north)

Conversation rolled off our tongues like water off a lobsters foot.  Anne  is the
daughter of military parents.   Has seen much of the known world.  John is an
historian who taught st my old high school, Humberside Colleiate.  There
was no place for lulls in the conversation.  We all walked on common ground.
Our grandson, Jack, had just joined the regular army and we were flying 
to Edmonton to celebrate his success as a Private.  Anne understood that
while many Canadians would not.

“Time for poetry!” announced John.  And so the evening changed
direction.  With each poem came a new directions.  Some poems were
serious, some political, some naively charming, some close to doggerel.
All read or spouted from memory.

We were all educated in days when rote memory was common. So some
poems were engraved firmly in the twists and turns of our brains.

Marjorie read and sang and illustrated “The Fox that Went a Hunting”. a child’s storybook semi poem that she loved
reading to our boys when they were small.   Touching.  We both spent some time practising our
poetry selections.   As did John and Anne and  pair of Irish friends whose choices brought my days
miining in Ireland into clear focus   The Irish have never been short of words.

My choice

“If you keep your nose to the grindstone rough
and hold it down there long enough
In time you’ll say there’s no such thing
As babbling brooks and birds that sing.”

Edna Jacques

Why chosen?

My grandmother had serious Parkinson’s disease that made her body shake
but she never felt sorry for herself and remained an optimist in all she ever
did.  When I was a young man I worked in remote places all around the world
and always got letters from Grandma Freeman written with a very shaky hand

 Writing was very difficult for her but she did it all the same.

The Freemans were poor eking out a slim living on a 25 acre stone clad farm.
They kept  a side of beef hanging in the dirt floor cellar which they called the dairy.
I always slathered these slices of cold beef with Worcestershire sauce to kill both
appearance and taste.  Grandma always said “Alan loves Worcestrer sauce”
which was true.  She may have known the real reason.  I loved her and granddad
and made an effort to visit as often as possible even by bicycle or by thumb.
She cut out the poems of Edna Jacques from the Toronto Star and included these
gems in her notes to me in godforsaken places.

My second choice was the old chestnut poem Daffodils by William Wordsworth.
Everyone helped me along because everyone there knew the poem by heart
as we were all of that age when rote memory was common.  My reason for
choosing Daffodils was not what might be expected.  That poem was the only
thing my father remembered from his Grade 8 education.  He only servived
a few months in hight school before he was sent home to get his father.
Dad did not go home.  He continued west to Saskatchewan from Fergus, Ontario
and joined the working class of the 1920’s as a tire builder.  He loved life and
horse racing.  Why was he thrown out of school?   There was a good reason which
I put down to adolescent exuberance which, when I taught high school, was
easy to forgive. I  Never sent a kid home nor did I ever send a student to
the office because he or she told me to Fuck Off.  Instead I thought of Dad.

The reason dad was sent home to get his father??  I will not tell you unless you invite me to a poetry reading as
did Anne and John Morton.   

“I wandered lonely as a cloud
that floats on high over vales and hills

When all at once I saw a crowd

A host of golden daffodils.”
  (Wordsworth 1802)

alan skeoch
July 15, 2022

William Wordsworth, Daffodils 1802

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