Keeping Score by Jane Urquhart

urquhart keeping

urquhart keeping
The whirlpool downstream of Niagara Falls, where many bodies of people who have gone over the falls are recovered. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

The sunroom
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡in the afternoon
escalates beyond light
becoming a perfect timepiece

as she sits there
keeping score
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡cultivating
a careful record of that
which the river offered
in the summer of ’28

the pen in the inkwell
on the walnut desk
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡lifts
in grandmother’s fingers
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡emptying

indelible tatoos
permanent labels

hair and teeth and weight

the contents of a pocket
the value of a tie-pin

now
‡‡‡‡‡‡as dust motes sail
across her vision she pens
the essence
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡of a definition
the answer to a question

as beside number 116
she writes

body that
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡of a small man

 

Source: Urquhart, Jane. False Shuffles. Victoria: Press Porcépic, 1982. Section entitled The Undertaker’s Bride. 

Click to see more of Urquhart’s The Undertaker’s Bride poems

The Train to South Dakota by Jane Urquhart

urquhart train

urquhart train
Ad for the Great Western & Michigan Central Railroad Line. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

The train
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡to south dakota
and grandmother sits
on red plush seats
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡beside
her eldest son

at home he spends his hours
with his face against
the slippery necks of horses

at home
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡and here
he cannot speak

he cannot speak the landscape
passing by the windows
or nights when view
becomes reflection

and other faces in the glass
mingle
with his own

he cannot say
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡the moon is in the water of
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡the ditch beside the tracks

so all through the journey
grandmother listens
to the abandon of the whistle

and listens day and night
to the wheels
beneath the train

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡which say

someone there will fix him
someone there will fix him

 

Source: Urquhart, Jane. False Shuffles. Victoria: Press Porcépic, 1982. Section entitled The Undertaker’s Bride. 

Click to see more of Urquhart’s The Undertaker’s Bride poems 

Departure by Jane Urquhart

urquhart departure

urquhart departure
Niagara Horseshoe Falls and Table Rock, 1842. Engraved by J. Cousen after a picture by W.H. Bartlett. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

When grandmother
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡fell in love
for the third time
there were months
of perfectly planned
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡coincidences

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡once his cuff link
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡fell into the river

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡once he whistled
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡adeline

and because she could not
disconnect
time and meaning

events evolved to
cold pure words

written on a photograph
in black and white

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡of grandmother’s third love
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡standing near
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡what’s left of
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡table rock

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡looking past
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡the fog of the falls
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡to the american side

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡thinking of departure

 

Source: Urquhart, Jane. False Shuffles. Victoria: Press Porcépic, 1982. Section entitled The Undertaker’s Bride. 

Click to see more of Urquhart’s The Undertaker’s Bride poems 

The Limit of Suspension by Jane Urquhart

urquhart limit   

urquhart limit
Upper Steel Arch Suspension Bridge. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

On three small scraps of paper
grandmother writes

‡‡‡‡‡‡how the suspension bridge
‡‡‡‡‡‡fell down

‡‡‡‡‡‡how the cotton wool
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡crash
‡‡‡‡‡‡pulled her from
‡‡‡‡‡‡starched sheets to the
‡‡‡‡‡‡lung-stopping chill
‡‡‡‡‡‡of the january night

‡‡‡‡‡‡how her shoes squeaked
‡‡‡‡‡‡in the snow

and looking at the
suspension bridge
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡lying
broken-backed against the ice
like an injured dragon
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡grandmother

must have wondered at
each of her magic crossings

but writes here
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡only
the suspension bridge
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡fell down

and it did make a noise

Source: Urquhart, Jane. False Shuffles. Victoria: Press Porcépic, 1982. Section entitled The Undertaker’s Bride. 

Click to see more of Urquhart’s The Undertaker’s Bride poems 

The Suspension Bridge collapsed during a storm on the night of January 19, 1889

Grandmother Crosses by Jane Urquhart

urquhart grandmother
Cleaning the deck of the Upper Suspension Bridge. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

urquhart grandmother
Grandmother crosses
the suspension bridge

she is seven years old
in the process
of eliminating
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡errands

she watches amazed
as the loaf of bread
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡she has carried
from the american side
slips from her hands

somersaults gently
to the rapids below

light
‡‡‡‡‡as an angel’s gold brick

eighty years later
the streetcars passing
on mainstreet
will bring to her mind
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡this bump of

rubber wheels
on wooden planks

as she rides her tricycle

thinking of home

Source: Urquhart, Jane. False Shuffles. Victoria: Press Porcépic, 1982. Section entitled The Undertaker’s Bride. 

Click to see more of Urquhart’s The Undertaker’s Bride poems