the escarpment (my Sarawak)

the escarpment wrapped
my great-aunt’s house in Owen Sound
curled around that small city
like a gentle rock arm
in a loose, casual embrace–
nothing too tight
or showing much emotion in the north

we climbed that rock every summer
hunting snails and caterpillars;
prey suitable for children
to display in glass jars
the way our fathers
nailed deer heads and antlers
over our fireplaces,
but our prizes still living

inside, my mother memorized
faces yellowing in photo albums;
uncles killed and in which war, I or II,
stiff from long posing in uniform
or perhaps with the knowledge
of where they were going
freezing smiles from their faces

and the aunts, hair high
and pulled back from foreheads
so tight their round eyes slanted,
their seamed stockings straight
and starched blouses impossibly correct

was nothing spontaneous, then?
I assume that it was,
but for photographs
and the price of film
there was no playing
on the floor with children,
a casual smile,
a reckless pose

but through those pictures, my aunt
wove a story of smiles and loss
babies born and buried
at 2 months, 22 months, 22 years
from illness or war–
one we have immunizations for now
while the other still devours young
and old both in too many countries

there, in that parlor tinted sepia
matching the photo albums
I sat with my uncle
who never married
and watched the dust motes catch light.
I ignored his raised right eyebrow
that adults read as distance
or sarcasm, and held his hand
with the veins raised on the back
like geologic formations under skin
and listened to his quieter voice

I learned his stories,
which were less of birth and death
and more of the in-between magic;
the miracle of coming home from war,
how his first car bounced sunlight from the hood
and did not have windshield wipers
and was useless in the storm
that dropped snow to the tops of telephone poles
in the 20s.

everything from that house
is tinted in these memories,
like old doilies soaked in coffee or tea
until the dye matches the stain–
ecru, my mother called it

I call it fading.

About Susan L Daniels

I am a firm believer that politics are personal, that faith is expressed through action, and that life is something that must be loved and lived authentically--or why bother with any of it?
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19 Responses to the escarpment (my Sarawak)

  1. Susan says:

    Thank you for this poem in Sepia! I love its outside and inside and photos and old camera film and un-married Uncle’s sun glow w/out windshield wipers. It is a sad walk through, partly, I think, because you see it as fading. But because of this poem, this will not fade at all.

  2. Jason Knight says:

    You captured how the escarpment surrounds Owen Sound perfectly and beautifully! Wonderful!

  3. Jeremy Nathan Marks says:

    There is a lot of texture here and I especially like how you reflect on the cost of film and what it meant for taking pictures.

    And of course, I appreciate the picture you paint of the escarpment. I lived right under it when I was living in Hamilton and I have hiked it and explored it and know what it looks like at Owen Sound. You evoke its presence like someone who does know it.

    I also appreciate how many layers of action and activity are here, everything from exploration, the memories of the departed and of the departed and, of course, your memories.

    • That house and the people in it were, although part of my childhood, representatives from another time and another way of thinking. I loved my great aunt and uncle (brother and sister, and so different), and their house with a “parlor” instead of a living room–and the house was right across the street from that encircling escarpment, which we loved to climb. Going to visit them was like stepping into something completely other, yet welcoming. Glad you enjoyed returning there with me through this poem 🙂

      • Jeremy Nathan Marks says:

        I really enjoyed it. And living in Ontario I do know about parlors. 🙂

        Owen Sound is in such a beautiful spot. And what you describe reminds me of something I think of as “Old Ontario.” There are certain towns and certain houses that refer back to a different era and when I am in them I think of “Old Ontario” with its parlors.

  4. nelle says:

    A substantive walk back… nice sharing, and thank you.

  5. Rhonda says:

    Gorgeous and so poignant. Loved it SFAM. And your love for them shines in this.

  6. unfetteredbs says:

    what a photograph “snapped” with memories you have created for us! Geeze woman– do you think in verse all day? Phenomenal stuff

  7. Thanks, Audra. Today was a little rare, and I am hoping that right now I am NOT thinking in poetry, as these lumps, bumps, and cell counts to not translate to pretty reading.

  8. Deborah Avila says:

    Applause! I loved this!

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