Archive for the ‘Poems’ Category

Meditation on This Stage of Life

May 7, 2012

I am old now.
I like it.
I don’t mind the memory gaps:
they diminish the importance of self
and dim the rush of time.
What I don’t like is
losing words and phrases
as if in preparation for something
I don’t remember agreeing to.

Floors become treacherous,
stairs fearsome,
doors get in the way and
things rebel and will not be picked up.
Can’t say I enjoy being clumsy again,
stumbling through these last years
like some daft teenager.

We play children’s games now,
being too tired for work.
Sometimes I wonder about that.
Mostly I just play games
and find that the eternal human quest for meaning
is well served by softball.

Diminishing expectations
have their virtues.
I can stop running now;
there is nowhere to go.
I can stop working;
I’ve done my share
with fifty years of hard labour,
having seen it is the community
not this or any individual
that makes the world a good place.

Sometimes I look at pictures
of people now dead.
I talk to them, sometimes.
High tolerance for pain now.
Hardly any surprises any more,
although there are some
about the many ways god finds
to torment suffering humanity.

Anger diffused now
into bemusement or mild indignation.
Bitterness sinks down
below memory of joy
and satisfying work
like weeds disappearing
in the compost.

I am blissed now
by sunsets and snow,
the miracle of plants,
all the people I know
and their grandchildren.

I am old now:
everything important happened
a long time ago.

And as my body slowly dries out
and senses fade,
views and sounds disappear
into dim half known shadows.
The assistance of mechanical aids
is invaluable
although limited in scope and imagination.
And every day and every day
I lose a little and then
a little more
along with the friends
once vital and supple and round
and filled with blood,
now creaking along slower than me
or rotting in graves
where all mortals end one day
no matter how beautiful and graceful
were our lives.

Still the grass is green
and the flowers sweet;
and there is time to contemplate
that which passed in a blur
so long ago.

I am old now.
I like it.

Helen Potrebenko
January, 2011

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Another Silly Typing Error

October 19, 2010

The nature of typing is such that
there are none but silly errors to make:
renowned only for pettiness and an appearance of stupidity.
I don’t want to make silly little errors;
I want to make big important errors.
I want to make at least one error
which fills my supervisor with such horror
she blanches and almost faints
and then runs to the manager’s office.
The manager turns pale and stares out the window
then resolutely picks up the phone
to page the big boss at his golf game.
Then the big boss cones running into the office
and the manager closes his door
and hours go by.
The other women don’t talk,
or talk only in whispers,
pale as ghosts but relieved it isn’t them.
An emergency stockholders’ meeting has to be called
about which we hear only rumours.
I am offered a choice of either
fourteen years severance pay or early retirement,
to make sure I don’t accidentally
get a job with a subsidiary, allied company, or supplier.
A question is asked in Parliament
to which the Prime Minister replies by assuring the House
most typists only make silly typing errors
which only rarely affect the balance of trade.
The only time I get to talk about it
is when I am interviewed (anonymously) for an article
about the effect of typing errors on- the economy.

October, 1986

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com

Would You Mind Typing This For Me?

May 7, 2010

(first printed in Walking Slow, Lazara Press, 1985)

Of course, I wouldn’t mind.
I am a typist;
I am paid to type.
I will not, therefore, fix your bicycle,
reupholster your couch,
wash your windows,
serve you tea,
drive you to the airport,
or prune your apple trees.
But I shall certainly type this for you.

May, 1981

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com

To Reach the Unreachable Star

May 7, 2010

(first printed in Walking Slow, Lazara Press, 1985)

God, she says, this is Linda.
It’s Friday afternoon down here;
I’m trying to type a perfect report.
It doesn’t matter really
except to me
and maybe to you
if you’re not too busy watching sparrows fall.
So tell me, God,
how you’re supposed to take it
when you set yourself a certain goal
and blow it?
This report was to have been free of errors –
why does it have two errors?
Am I being punished?
Or is it that I have, perhaps,
overreached myself –
aimed too high?
Maybe only some of us are fated to dine with the gods;
the rest of us must settle for
fixing typing errors.

June, 1983

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com

On Getting Fired

May 7, 2010

(first printed in Riding Home, Talon Books, 1995)

I can’t remember their names any more;
I can’t remember their names any more;
they came and they went, never asking what for,
and got eaten by the people eating machine,
while money runs like blood to secret coffers.

In the belly of the beast,
you can hear young women laughing,
laughing, laughing….
In the belly of the beast,
you will never hear them cry.

I like me, I’m strong; I can live here all right.
I’ve worked here two years, a week, and a day.
It keeps me off welfare and food lineups,
while money runs like blood to secret coffers.

They came from Toronto, the young hatchet women.
And I thought I was getting hard.
Geez, you know, I thought I was getting hard!
I am but a novice
fit only to crouch at their stone feet,
yearning after their stone heart.

In the belly of the beast,
you can hear young women laughing,
laughing, laughing….
In the belly of the beast,
you will never hear them cry.
No, you’ll never hear them cry.
Nor me either.
You won’t hear me crying.

February, 1988

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com

To Be Unemployed So Early

May 7, 2010

(first printed in Life, Love and Unions, Lazara Press, 1987)

To be unemployed so early in the morning
seemed the most bizarre aspect.
After all, there must be two million of us now;
who was I to think myself different?
Did I think I would just grow arthritic and complacent
while others paid?
But still, so early in the morning?
Before coffee even?
Monday was my coffee day
and there I was, instead of making coffee,
crunching through the snow
headed for the oblivion of poverty,
unpaid mortgage, drunkenness, divorce;
a story so common or so evil
nobody writes about it.
But so early in the morning?
I had left early for the bus that morning
because of the snow,
wearing boots, with my shoes in my bag.
(I never got to change into my shoes.)
In my bag too was a vase of weekend flowers
(three daffodils and a tulip)
for my desk, to cheer me up.
But I had no desk,
and with my shoes still in my bag,
I clutched the vase in confusion,
finally putting it on Linda’s desk.
Then I went out into the snow
to find the rush hour wasn’t over yet.
I walked through the snow
thinking they could have waited until after coffee,
thinking what a freak I was
to never have anticipated
being unemployed
so early in the morning.

February, 1986

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com

The Unknown Child

May 7, 2010

(first printed in Riding Home, Talon Books, 1995)

You have all heard praise of war –
for God and Country we send forth
killing men and killing machines
and afterwards build monuments
to battlefields, to generals,
to the unknown soldier.

Let us now build a monument
to the unknown child;
the one who died of hunger,
of war,
of epidemic disease,
of poverty,
of massacres,
died because it was born to parents
living in Tigre, Nicaragua, Haiti,
Chad, Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan
of some other obscure and war-torn,
poverty-stricken nation.
The wise child knows to be born
to rich white parents;
the unwise choose the Amazon regions,
choose to be Bushmen
or Aborigines.

Let us now praise children
and build for them monuments.
Perhaps while building monuments,
we will remember the natural order –
that the older die before the younger;
that the younger must be nurtured
so they can grow and strengthen
and maybe some of them will know
some day
a way to live
without war and famine.

October, 1988

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com

Every Rich Man

March 8, 2010

Every rich man is sure
somebody is else is getting more.
No matter how much he has,
someone else may be getting some
and he wants that too.
It’s either women or Indians or Asians
or blacks or Jews
or the Anthropophagi
who might be getting something,
the rich man wants.
If the poor are thrown a crumb,
the rich howl with rage.

April, 1990

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com

A New Job

March 8, 2010

Now I’ve got a new job
and a new boyfriend
so I do what I’m told.
I dress carefully,
speak softly,
and I am always polite.
If “pleases” were pavement
women workers would hardtop the world.

August, 1978

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com

THE LAST FEMINIST

August 19, 2009

What do you remember most?
Walking down Georgia.
Not betrayal, not defeat;
walking down Georgia.

What do you miss the most?
Walking down Georgia.
The days before
the ruling class could arrange
for us to see our liberation disappear
with the sisters rushing off
to join the middle class.
Walking down Georgia.

What do you hope for?
Not the goddesses they invented
to preach poverty to the poor,
wealth to the rich.
Walking down Georgia.

What do you fear the most?
Poverty and violence
and no more
walking down Georgia.

What did you think you were doing
walking down Georgia?
We were walking
for abortion;
for the right to control our own bodies.
For equal pay –
we thought women’s work should be paid
the same as men’s work.
For paid work –
we thought if a person did a job,
they should be paid for it.
For the right to organize
into groups of our own choice.
For the right to negotiate
about our own working conditions.
For day care
and all the raggle-taggle of children’s rights.
(Children’s rights are not important –
they’re only a women’s issue.)
Against sexism and racism and exploitation;
against poverty and violence and oppression.
For the right to jobs and promotion and pay
and to love whom we choose
and to live and laugh and raise children.
For safe houses and safe jobs
and streets where you don’t die.
Hey, we dreamed of safe houses
and safe jobs and safe streets,
walking down Georgia.
(Dreams drown in blood.)

What do you dream about now?
Women and children
in our hundreds
in our thousands
walking down Georgia;
chanting and singing down Georgia;
yelling on Georgia;
carrying babies and balloons
and banners,
walking down Georgia.

April, 1990

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com