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 

Between Brothers by Jane Urquhart

urquhart brothers
A fight starts
in a moment

travels all around the
yard

and ruins roses

involves two or three
dogs who
scare the goldfish

deeper in the pond

a fight speaks of
heat or play
or boredom

a fight lasts an
instant or an afternoon

and always finishes
with the loser in the trough
shaking his head like an animal

(the water scatters
through the vision of
his startled sisters
suddenly blooming
at the kitchen window and

grandmother shouting
as she dries the edges of
her hands

all around her apron)

 

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 

War Song by Jane Urquhart

urquhart war  

urquhart war
Knitting Instructions for Dunkirk Service Socks. Photo courtesy The Art of Knitting

Grandmother has the devil
in her
big as a woodchuck

rationing has been
imposed
so she

rushes to
the dominion store
to buy up all the sugar

before the hoarders
get it

and there will be sweet tea
on afternoons
set aside for the knitting
of regulation dunkirk socks

knit one pearl
two
sweet tea and gasoline
for each of three hearses

business continues as usual

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡good teeth
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡blue suspenders
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡regulation dunkirk socks
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡ fingers on left hand
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡missing

 

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 

Undertaker’s Bride by Jane Urquhart

urquhart undertaker

urquhart undertaker
The Morse home and funeral parlour. Photo Morse & Son Funeral Home

Grandmother
was an undertaker’s bride

it couldn’t be helped

the profession ran in
her husband’s family

she was twenty-one
at the turn of the present century
her name was
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡adeline
just like the song

grandmother kept an intricate
account of
death by water

that was her job

sometimes she described
more than sixty floaters a summer
all of them slipped

over the falls
one way or another

she wrote
their remaining physical
characteristics
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡and their
tiny possessions
in a small brown book

it looks as if it couldn’t be
helped

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡it looks as if
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡ ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡somebody
had to write it

 

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