On the berries, finger prints of the seal fisher
Jam in the crock; amber, sun-imbued,
testament to life exultant;
sacrament of the breakfast table.
Bakeapples from Labrador, bought at dockside.
Tartness fused with comfort in the boiling jam pot;
jars tossed by the rough seas,
secreted in the hold between supple seal skins,
ruddy salmon, silver ovals of cod.
who sought, in the polar desert’s stark, vast expanse,
tiny droplets of gold; blackberry cousin, cold-gilded.
Serenaded by Northern Lights;
nurtured by polar wind; at peace with long winters.
Quiet witness, life can abound in the harshest of homes.
Filled with artic sunshine,
the substance of remembered flowers,
sweetness from the polar tundra.
Dollop of jam on homemade bread:
a taste of everything lost;
the honeyed poignancy of everything found.
© Tina Blondino
Copyin’ the Pans
The bell! I race with the boys, from schoolhouse to ocean’s edge.
Bet you can’t follow!
Now that I’m eight, I’m just old enough
to be part of this dangerous game;
to jump from pan to pan of ice.
Last year I watched the boys jump, push, wobble on the ice.
Now I cross my fingers.
Can I keep up?
Spring breezes have transformed the solid ice.
What had been frozen enough to drive wagons across is now
islands and continents, breaking up, jostling together.
The frigid ocean lurks beneath,
his dark undulation hidden
as he flexes his power to dominate.
Large pans of salt-water ice smash together with
devious twins of slob: fragments of ice compressed
by the heaving sea – like flies in treacle.
Jack, the strongest of our boys, races off the shore, jumps on a pan.
It sinks under his weight, his sealskin boots dip in the ocean.
Then he jumps to another rocking clumper; the rest of us follow,
me, hesitant, the tail’s end. I see Jack
dodge the spaces deep with crushed ice and snow slush;
it looks like ghost’s porridge.
Carefully I follow the moves of Pete in front.
I can’t embarrass myself by not keeping up.
I jump, shout, dare the ocean.
We are young gods; we are conquerors!
Then – ocean is around me, bottomless, everywhere.
I had known the ice was solid – but it isn’t.
My feet sink.
I feel the frigid water on my ankles, filling my boots.
My legs flail in the water, then, waist-deep I touch firm ice.
With a jump I make it to a solid pan.
Shaking, I pause for breath, kneel at the edge.
I almost – I could have – .
I had been so sure – .
I look into the eyes of the ocean.
He looks at me, ensnares me.
In his eyes, eternity.
My life till now has been a question,
and this is the answer.
Born in Newfoundland
Tales of Newfoundland leaked from you,
hummed as you solaced your little one,
after stubbed toe, broken cookie.
You declaimed it in poems, baritoned it in sea chanties,
(creak of lines, swoosh of winds and gales),
whispered it in the tender glaze of love’s naked warmth.
You regaled us on long road trips,
over meals, after tears.
Arthur, wooing Mildred, hikes through the blizzard,
follows the rail tracks,
arrives; flowers bloom ice.
Brigantine Hunter, on the way to the Labrador,
spies, on the ice floes,
sailors, shipwrecked, frozen solid.
We sit before the hearth; in the hush you
quote Luke, fisherman at the docks of Brigus.
“You must learn poems when you’re young;
how else could you survive
cold winds, rough seas for days?”
Captain Bob Bartlett
Stocky, square-jawed, walked slightly bent forward
as if he leaned into a gale –
Voice high, shrill, pitched to penetrate
roar of winds, heavy seas.
Captain Bob Bartlett, Artic explorer,
led Peary to the North Pole;
who Peary make wait miles behind
so he’d claim its discovery.
Everyone here in Brigus knew the true hero.
He’d stride up and down the harbor,
check the fleet, talk with seamen.
When we met he’d stop, say,
“Good day, Master Reginald,”
and shake my hand.
We were friends.
I knew the family story;
one mausey winter day, when I was a toddler,
Cap’n Bob came to the door.
He held me, in my heavy knit snowsuit
sopping wet from head to toe.
I’d been looking at ships; fallen into the harbor.
Mother, in fright, reached out.
“Don’t worry, Mildred,” the captain declared.
“He’ll never get sick from salt water.”
When I was older he’d ask me to tea;
I’d see his medals, awards on the bookcase.
When I asked, he’d say
they’re flotsam from forty odd trips to the Artic.
We’d sit by the fire; he’d tell me his tales.
He’d begin, “It was in the middle of the Arctic winter night
when the Karluk went down.
We hadn’t seen the sun for more than two months.”
On that trip he’d rescued twenty-two men, one woman, two children
and a black and white cat.
I’d shiver; picture myself help him build igloos on ice.
Or he’d tell me “I’ve been shipwrecked twelve times.”
And “Four times my own ship sank and I saw it
crush to kindling on the rocks.”
In my mind I was there, watched with him.
He’d say people would ask him how it feels to face death.
His answer, “It depends.
If it’s by gun, short and sweet, it’s fine.
But if you cling, half frozen, to the rigging of a sinking ship
hours on hours, no way to know if it’s your last –
that’s another sort of shiver all together.”
He showed me his feet – eight toes lost to frostbite.
One special day he came to our house;
he was going to skipper a sail ‘round the world,
in his two masted schooner, the Morrissey.
This trip was with New York gentlemen
who would pay to be sailors in such an adventure.
Cap’n Bob asked, “Would you like to be my cabin boy?
You’d have your own uniform, your own small berth.”
I was so excited I could barely stand still.
It was Treasure Island, Robinson Caruso
Captain Courageous, come alive – starring me!
I felt my feet leap as if fighting off pirates;
could imagine their envy when I told my friends.
Dad’s eyes were bright; he wanted it for me,
but Mom was cold, firm.
She said no.
Dad pleaded it was a once in a lifetime adventure.
Cap’n Bob promised I would be safe.
Mom still said no, and I didn’t go.
I never forgave her.
The voyage was for only three years,
and I was already nine years old.
© Tina Blondino
Grandma’s Front Parlor
When I peek in, it is twilight there;
Maroon velvet drapes almost closed;
just enough stray strangled sunlight to see.
wax roses, spirea crouch under their dome.
musty miasma of old funeral flowers.
China dogs glare from the mantle;
An austere and fossilized room.
But three times a year that room came alive.
First, a boy came ahead to rent Grandma’s parlor.
Then he came – the dentist sailed into harbor.
He let me help carry his bags;
move Grandfather’s great oak chair
to center the room; now his dental throne.
Put dining room chairs in a row for the waiting.
I watched him assemble his foot-powered drill;
put out all sizes of pliers, vials and powders .
Place on the table his bottle of rum.
Grandma let me sit in the corner to watch.
By the door, a jug, slivers of ice to hold against jaws.
The chairs filled with folks from the village.
Men and women sit, cheek by jowl,
hold their heads, wait their turn.
I knew them all, called them “aunt” and “uncle”;
Could find the cookie jar in each of their homes.
The dentist calls the first to his chair,
Asks the problem, looks at the tooth.
Then, as he hands over the bottle of rum,
his foot starts to pump;
drill began to spin.
Eyes of the waiting ones widened;
no privacy here. All saw who cried,
who made no sound. who’d been held down.
We all hold our breaths while the tooth is addressed;
give deep sighs when the surgery over,
watch the patient celebrate with a big pull of rum.
I think often of those days.
Never did I need to be told
to remember to brush my teeth.
© Tina Blondino
To Rove the Open Seas
Once, when I was sick,
Dad went to the docks,
bought a rare gift from the tropics – a banana.
Paid five dollars for it.
It’s skin was yellow, shiny, slick when I touched it.
Peeled, its flesh was soft and sweet.
It smelled of far away.
Now I wander the docks, all nations surround me.
I look at the masts, ships chock a block in our harbor,
Union Jack, Red Duster, il Tricolore, Old Glory.
Cacophony of flags; jumbled accents;
bizarre music from the decks, exotic scents.
I imagine the waters where these hulls have sailed.
My mind explodes – possibilities, exploits, voyages, escapades.
From here I could sail to Barcelona, meet Spaniards,
to Hong Kong , see china be made.
Bring from Barbados molasses for my gingerbread.
Impatient in my bed in my boring room, I decide.
I will say yes to high adventure.
and stow away. I will see great sights;
bananas on their trees, whales in the ocean.
I’ll swim in warm water.
Dad will clap me on the shoulder, smile with pride
when I sail home in triumph.
Can’t pack much; brown boots with the new laces,
red flannel nightgown, slicker, color of my banana,
my red truck from Dad,
stuffed bear Mommy made me,
two pair of underwear, hardtack;
that ought to do it.
Next night I take my knapsack,
and the money Grandma gave me.
look in the window;
Dad reads his book; Mom mends my pants.
I’m glad they didn’t hear the door.
It seems darker than usual tonight,
just enough light to see the path.
Though I tip toe, each step seems too loud.
Once I’m away,
I race to the harbor.
Which ship to board?
I’ll need a ship that’s close to sailing;
will need to take cover, find a hidey hole.
My harbor seems a foreign place tonight.
In the dusk all ships blend.
Heady smell; fish, salt water, sea weed.
Forest of masts; haunted dock ways.
Breath jagged, I quickly chose my ship,
jump aboard, huddle on deck, fade into the scuppers.
Then we weigh anchor. We are headed to the open seas!
To the wide world beyond!
When we arrive I’ll pop up
and the sailors will be so surprised.
She heads out of harbor, slowly gaining speed.
I’m on my way! I dance a silent celebration.
Then muted quiet;
strange, unpleasant smells.
As sailors move around the deck I sink into my hole.
It’s colder than I’d thought it’d be;
my hands shake.
I reach into the knapsack for my bear.
As I shiver in my shelter
I think about Mommy;
Before, I’d thought she’d be proud of my adventure
but now I think perhaps she’d miss me.
I already miss her.
Cold spray from the waves chill my back.
Through the mottled clouds, I see stars.
But these are not my usual nightly friends.
I was wrong.
I should not have run away.
I should have stayed home.
How can I get back?
Tears spill on my hand.
Then – a shout, a change in movement;
the ship changes course, heads back into its wake.
Had my wish been strong enough to turn the ship?
Then I see.
The bags on the deck are gone now.
My ship of adventure
is not destined to cross the seas.
It is to go beyond the break line,
do its work,
The ship I’d chosen for my venture
is the village
© Tina Blondino
Will you come to tea?
For the third time she says,
It’s only because you’re a polite boy
that I’m taking you with me.
You know how to act –
polite children only take a sweet
if it’s offered three times.
Then I can take it? I ask.
Yes, Grandma confirms with a smile.
I feel as though I’ve taken a vow.
The hour has rung.
Dressed in my azure velvet suit,
color of surrender,
lace collar crocheted by Grandma,
we go together to tea.
The house is as big as an abbey;
colossal bronze lions on lofty gates;
a drive that flows in wide, graceful curves.
At our knock a maid invites us in.
The hall is huge, and I smell cookies in the air,
I press my hands together to keep them still.
Mrs. Whiteway comes down the curved staircase;
welcomes us, guides us on a tour of her cloistered gardens.
After forever we go to the parlor.
What a tea is waiting!
A huge round tray overflows with
buttery scones; gingerbread, dark, spicy and dense;
jolly almond biscuits; lemon tarts; short bread;
maids of honor filled with raisins, orange peel.
A Victoria Sponge – Her Majesty’s cake –
(even bigger than my birthday cake!)
bursts with jam and cream filling.
Mrs. Whiteway pours tea for Grandma,
then asks which treat I’d like.
I sit tall, take a deep breath.
Are there special words I’m supposed to say?
Then I remember – I just have to refuse.
No, thank you, I say
as I squirm in my chair.
Grandma takes a maid of honor, admires its tenderness.
Mrs. Whiteway eats a shortbread; it crumbles with butter.
Picks up a slice of Victoria Sponge,
holds it towards me, asks if I’d like it.
I pause, take a quick look at Grandma.
Mrs. Whiteway is young;
are her rules just like Grandma’s?
Is she a Newfoundlander or is she from away?
The cake looks wizard, oozing with cream.
No – what Grandma tells me
is always true,
No, thank you, ma’am, I’m fine.
Then I wait.
Grandma has more tea,
so does Mrs. Whiteway. She offers Grandma a lemon tart,
takes one herself.
I can almost taste its scrumptious tang.
Will she ask me again?
Then Mrs. Whiteway stands up, thanks us for coming.
It can’t be!
I look at Grandma, silently pleading;
her eyes are on the maid who brings our cloaks.
I look at the tray, trip, almost fall.
Is it too late to
repent of my no?
Do you remember a time you learned a life lesson?
an adult friend asks an adult me.
While I tell him this story,
my hand takes three toffees from the bowl on the table.
Moderation is for monks.
© Tina Blondino