My grandmother at forty woke up before dawn
to dress, put on make-up, and curl her hair.
She was divorced, a mother of five, and a waitress
at the Best Western hotel in Niagara Falls.
The job started at eight o’clock but, always,
she left her apartment on Main Street early. Turned
the key in the lock. The click in the lock
told her she had the freedom to claim the open,
silent walk. She was a waitress at the Best
Western hotel in Niagara Falls. The boss was waiting
at the job, but the shift started at eight o’clock,
and just after dawn my grandmother still found worlds
of time. Worlds enough to breathe the air and know
she was alive. In 1980, in Niagara Falls,
the air smelled of water and smoke and big car
engines. Morning leavings of tourist bacchanals
performed all night before. But she didn’t care
for any of that. She was a waitress at the Best
Western hotel, and when she walked down
the Fallsview Boulevard hill she knew—she was alive.
These days my grandmother’s legs are frail
as the stilts of dying birds, but four decades back
they were still strong enough to work all day—
work and wake again before the dawn, wake
to descend the last stretch of hill. Watch
the rising sun turn Niagara’s jagged trench
and torrent liquid gold. Now at eighty years,
my grandmother trains my gaze with misty eyes
and lifts a brittle claw. When I was forty,
she confides, I was a waitress at the Best Western
hotel. Every morning before work, I’d walk down
to Niagara Falls. Watched the water. Knew
I was alive. A smile snakes across her skull. You know,
I thought I was so old. My God, she whispers,
I’d give anything now to be forty. Walk
down the hill to the water. Alive.
Source: FJ Doucet, 2021
FJ Doucet’s work has been published in grey borders magazine, The Banister, Hamilton Arts and Letters, Red Bird Chapbook website, Ascent Aspirations, and The Lyric. She is the newest president of the Brooklin Poetry Society. Doucet was born and mostly raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and though she has since lived on three continents, Niagara continues to haunt her.