“All My Falling Women” by P.W. Bridgman

ALL MY FALLING WOMEN*

(For my mother, and for John Swanson)


I. How to descend narrow stairs

You prepare by
angling the body—
and thus the feet—
to the right. Then…

You find a hand grip,
somewhere.

You move
cautiously.

You place your feet on the stair treads
with the toes pointing
right.

You do not allow
your purchase to lessen
by permitting the toes (or more)
to point forward, projecting out
over the edge of a narrow
stair.

You descend slowly
(but not too slowly), and
confidently.


II. To me it all seemed a bit much, then

As a seven-year-old, I thought my mother’s
cautious way of descending the stairs
in our little house
did seem a bit
much.


III. The birth of mio incubo ricorrente

As a nine-year-old
I once saw a friend’s mother fall.
She was rushing about, frantically—tidying
newspapers and toys before Melvin’s seething,
always-angry dad got home from
work.

She caught her toe on the edge of the carpet
and fell down
hard.

Though I couldn’t really
understand why, on my way home I
cried.

This became my recurring
night terror, mio
incubo ricorrente.

Women
falling.

My mother
falling.

My mother’s precautions,
I then realized,
weren’t a bit much
at all.


IV. Strangers are not strangers (not really)

As a thirty-five-year-old
I once noticed an older woman
walking on a sidewalk. She was
wearing a red scarf. I saw her
while I was driving home from
work.

She was making her way along
the north side of West 12th Avenue,
passing a park, a few blocks west of
Arbutus.

This woman was
unknown to me—a
stranger.

I saw her catch her toe on something
and fall down
hard.

I stopped the car and
ran to
help.

I tried to calm her,
to stop the blood flowing
from her face and scalp
with a sleeve torn from my
shirt.

I asked a pedestrian
to run to a nearby house
and get someone to
please call an
ambulance.

“She’ll be fine,”
the paramedic told me later
as I cradled her head.
“You can go
now.”

Once I was back in my car, I
cried.


V. Cautious ways are rewarded

My mother never had a serious
fall.

Not, at least, until 1998 when—
at the appointed age for all the matriarchs
in her family dating back generations (75)—
she fell from this earth,
straight up:

more sensed than seen,
swept up through the window,
out and skyward into an
inky darkness worthy of
Chagall.


VI. Il mio incubo riemerge nell’esperienza vissuta

Today I am sixty-
seven.

While L and I were out
walking together this afternoon,
she caught the toe of her shoe on
something.

(Was it the edge of a sidewalk panel
forced up by tree roots? I don’t
know.)

She fell down
hard.

I didn’t see it
coming.

And I couldn’t stop it
happening.

It was a “lucky fall”—
no broken bones, no sprains—
but there were scrapes
and shock. Broken glasses.
And she felt nausea and
faintness.

“Still,” she said, “I am
very lucky. I’ll be
fine.”

“Yes,” I
agreed.

And yet.

Back home—after
cleaning up the scrapes
with alcohol swabs
and placing bandages
carefully on knee and wrist—
once I was alone
in the bathroom, I
cried.


VII. L’incubo si ripete ancora e ancora

The bad dream,
the recurring night terror,
l’incubo, is never far
away.

In it, the women I love,
and some I don’t know
(strangers who aren’t strangers)

keep

falling

and

falling.


VIII. I am a bit much myself

My grandson (“Mr. O”) watches me closely
as, carefully but confidently,
I descend the narrow stairs
from my study (where many boring
books without pictures live, he knows,
but also, the
computer).

I’m sure that this little performance
by his Nonno seems, to him,
a bit
much.

“It’s okay, Mr. O,”
I tell him. “You can go on
ahead. But, be
careful.”


IX. An unspoken lesson learned

And so it
goes.

(And so, indeed, it has gone
since I was
nine.)

I learned by my mother’s example
and I learned
well.

I prepare for every descent
(except the big one into oblivion)
by angling my body—
and thus my feet—
to the right.
(The opposite of my
politics!)

I find a grip,
somewhere.

I move
cautiously.

I place my feet on the stair treads
with my toes pointing
right.

I do not allow
my purchase on them to lessen
by permitting my toes (or more)
to project forward, out over
the edge of a
stair.

I descend slowly, but not too slowly, and
confidently. (Success is not
guaranteed, but risk is
lessened.)

And yet, when it comes
to the big question of falling,
I am far from out of the
woods.


X. All my falling women

Still, I must not let myself forget that
when I awaken in a clammy sweat
(as I did this morning), I more
and more quickly remember now that it was a dream,
that no one has really fallen—and that, well,
once my pounding heart has again regained its grip,
this latest night terror, too, will
lift.

And once it has lifted, I will lean over
(as I always do) and kiss L’s sleeping
forehead.

I will say a prayer for my
mother.

I will say a prayer for L,
and for Melvin’s mom whose toe
caught the edge of the carpet,
and for that woman
who tripped on the sidewalk
on West 12th Avenue,
not far past Arbutus,
and for all the other nameless and
numberless women who, in my sleep,
I am powerless to
protect.

And if—
as one of us heads down our narrow stairs
tomorrow to make the morning espresso—
there is momentary inattention, a misstep,
I know that my mother’s example
(her almost hand) will guide us:
Angle right, feet right. No guarantees,
but…

Her almost hand—beckoning, guiding—
will steady our every descending footfall.

But not, alas, the dreamsteps of all my falling
dreamwomen.

Not even her
own.


*Some text fragments in this poem have been borrowed from John Swanson’s collection of poetry and photography an almost hand, beckoning (San Francisco: Blurb Books, 2019).


P.W. BRIDGMAN’s most recent book—a selection of poems entitled A Lamb—was published by Ekstasis Editions in 2018. His poetry and fiction have appeared in, among other publications, Antigonish ReviewGrainMoth Magazine, Glasgow Review of Books, Honest Ulsterman, Galway ReviewLitro UK, Litro NY and The High Window.
Learn more at www.pwbridgman.ca.

Poems by Victoria LeBlanc

Migrant

Swallow’s wing    dismembered   
mud-slick among the rushes

I pick you up

limp rag of feathers    blue-black flattened vanes
bound to broken forelimbs   

            arm    fused wrist    hand    three fingers

hollow origami bones   

weight    one ounce

you    passerine    long distant migrant
hugging the coast to South America

                                    back in May   

I bury your wing in the dark cello nest of earth

mute
mutable. 



Afternoon in winter

Raw umber    no other colour

you lay it on the white paper
with a fine brush
and it streams down slowly   
slowly
staining the white

the white is of snow
that day by the river   
the umber is of reeds locked in ice          
no stirring    
no wind even

            you must capture this

how you felt    standing by the river
in the winter 
how you crouched among the stalks
unseen
how the reeds towered   
how their frayed dried heads bowed   
and bent in the cold   
and how the sky was grey 
and how     
in the white snow under the reeds
you lay your body down
as on a bed    
as in
a shelter      

and cried for beauty
and death.


VICTORIA LEBLANC is a writer, artist, and curator. Contributor to over 40 publications on Canadian artists.  In 2019, she published her first collection of poetry, Hold.  Forthcoming: Mudlark.As a visual artist, she has participated in solo and group exhibitions across Canada.  Former Director of the Visual Arts Centre and McClure Gallery (1996-2017). Curator of City of Westmount Gallery since 1998.

Poems by Cole Hartin

WAFFLES

 

I woke early in the fog
to take out the garbage at the church.

My sons sprung up with me
while it was still dark.

I grimaced and made coffee.

The aroma of toasted waffles,
the cheap kind, made with buttermilk,
mingled with the cloying scent of children’s vitamins
as I opened their lid.

Before morning prayer,
I fill empty stomachs
and do my best to make banter, crusty.

The morning is cool and dark
with light diffused, deadened by cloud.
I’m in the chapel now,
readying myself to pray.

I love this aloneness.
The quiet before the day.
I think about God and life
and worry about my failures.

It’s so easy for me to deceive myself.

 


 

TO LIVE IN PEACE

 

I hiss fry eggs in my heavy cast iron.
Not hungry, I eat,
though my bowels feel blown up like balloons.
I always feel them inside of me,
pressing, reminding me of the ugliness and filth of excrement.

Looking in the mirror is a relief,
while I brush my teeth.
I’m tired, haggard, even,
but my face is still mine, still human,
still placid, despite the pit-of-stomach dread.

I’ve long abandoned the hope prayer in these situations
Like beads rubbing a groove in my brain,
my prayers never get below the surface.
I say them faithfully.

Each day I force myself out of the door,
like a diver off of the edge of a cliff.
I know nothing of the bottom,
only the terror of the fall.

 


COLE HARTIN is an Anglican priest serving in Saint John, NB, where he lives with his wife, their sons, and a sad cat. He has a Ph.D. in theological studies.

Copyright © 2020 by Cole Hartin. All rights reserved.

Poems by Chris Pollard

CIRCUS

between
the circus I want to be
and the circus I am
is the circus
that came to town
one summer
and refused to leave
no matter how nicely
we asked.

 


 

SKINNY JEANS

from space
no one can tell the difference
between the cool kids
doing the cool things
cool kids do
and the uncool kids
doing the cool things
they saw the cool kids doing
believing it must make them cool too.

 


CHRIS POLLARD lives in Ottawa, works in a grocery store and is at an age where he can now safely say he has been writing for decades and the math will bear him out.

Copyright © 2020 by Chris Pollard. All rights reserved.

Poems by Louise Carson

THE LABYRINTH

Unlike some, this one is low.
I walk on grass paths separated by inlaid brick.
I could cheat and step right to the centre
where a birdbath reflects the changeable sky:
cloudy, sunny.

But I don’t, and wind my way,
questing with a half-smile.
When I arrive, what then?
Nothing – the birdbath –
so I unwind the way I came.

 

 


 

TWO WORDS

so far
i am
a struggling
illiterate

ignore
word’s red warning
underscore
another teacher

am more frustrated
when word
ignores me

it likes capitals
to begin
each
line

gertrude,
word,
word,
stein

 


LOUISE CARSON has published nine books including mysteries, historical fiction and poetry. Her collection A Clearing was published by Signature Editions in 2015. One of her books In Which, Broken Rules Press, was shortlisted for a 2019 Quebec Writers’ Federation award. She has recently had work in Grain, Event and Queen’s Quarterly and online with Montreal Serai and carte blanche. Her next collection Dog Poems will appear in 2020 from Aeolus House. Though born in Montreal, she has lived beyond the West Island for most of her life.

Copyright © 2020 by Louise Carson. All rights reserved.

Poems by Pam Seaton-McLean

FORGETTING

November days of
low light and flattened sky
thick with heavy cloud
reduce to neutral tones of
white, grey, and beige
both the land and the air.

Stubble fields, tangled branches
and grey light close in,
proclaiming their permanence.
With little to see, we walk on
head down, disbelieving
the fact we know…

That climbing through cloud
from stratus to cirrus
to a breach of the final bank,
we arrive in a parallel world
where the sun blazes
and the sky is blue.

 


 

THE ICE WALKER

Like the walker on a winter creek
who hears a hollow crack,
the bearer of a shattered heart
knows the risk in stepping back.

A bigger chasm might open wide
sucking down to blackest cold
with memories of rights and wrongs
those tedious arguments of old.

To step ahead spells danger too
as the splinters travel out
threatening a deeper plunge to
depths mired in muddy doubt.

When groaning shakes the river ice
and any action exacts a cost
the safe way is to stay unmoving,
suspended midst the breathless frost.

 


PAMELA SEATON MCLEAN lives in Bright’s Grove, Ontario with her husband and cat. The insights delivered by observing nature inspire her writing.

Copyright © 2020 by Pamela Seaton McLean. All rights reserved.

Poems by John Drudge

Alfama Summer

The sun reflects
Off the blue tiled wall
Of the house
On the steep
Spiraled street
That twists its way
To the point
Where we sat
And looked beyond
The river
Over the terracotta
Rooftops
Of the old section
Of the city
With our dreams
Stretching out
And trailing off
Toward the clouds
Above the distant hills
Of our burning

 

Boulevards

When quiet
Slows the night
And anticipation
Quickens the pace
Of echoing steps
Through heavy-eyed
Boulevards
Down to the wintry river
To wait for the memory
Of you
In the place
Where we once were

 

Summer Rain

In warm soft places
Summer sun
And verdant spaces
Every time it rained
It was a big
Sudden rain
Resolving into
Glints off sea glass

 


JOHN DRUDGE is from Caledon, Ontario, Canada. He is a social worker working in the field of disability management and holds degrees in social work, rehabilitation services, and psychology. John is the author of one book of poetry (published in 2019) and has appeared in the Arlington Literary Journal, The Rye Whiskey Review, Poetica Review,  Literary Yard, Drinkers Only, The Alien Buddha Press, Montreal Writes, Mad Swirl, Avocet, Sparks of Caliope, Harbinger Asylum, and the Adelaide Literary Magazine.  John is a Pushcart Prize nominee and his Book “March” is available in Independent Book Stores across Canada and on Amazon.com.

Copyright © 2019 by John Drudge. All rights reserved.

 

Poems by Sophia Magliocca

“Somebody Else” by The 1975: Up Next

Midnight city, chocolate lit, hopeless romantic,
Borderline July, the sound of night mistakes.
Settle down. We met alone, Paris. He’s American.
Sucked the blood out my gums for dinner.
Electric feel. Chlorine. I came out for a good cry.
Cradled his tongue behind my ear for sex. He said
Give yourself a try Cinnamon Girl. Sit next to me.
Kept rubbing me down with that metal handle.
Destroying my bed peace with good morning.
Before he left, took the neighbourhood robbers
For a run around my Daddy issues.
Pumped up strangers slow dance, don’t worry.
He’s danger. He’s reckless. He’s restless.
Sincerity is scary but he felt like home.

 

1999-2017

Forgive my bedside manners, for I am not preconditioned
To twirling and swirling my hips around in modest pirouettes.
You say I’m pink and pleasant. A pretty toy bent for your pleasure.
My perception polluted by your poor penetration.
The pinky promise of swelling around your veiny pulse.
The pattern stained to some pillowcase by your lips on my labia,
Is reflective, sponged up of plain filth, unfit to wash away.
Come a little closer; I’ll let you mess around my circus.  

Chest whipping breaths cut short spelling your name with my spit,
Interrupted by the foamy burst spilling down the mushy part
Of my thigh: a washcloth, another dirty rag.
Pardon me while I press myself.
Please, if you care to intervene,
Rave my afterglow and ruin me once more.

 


SOPHIA MAGLIOCCA was born and raised in Montreal. She is an English Literature and Creative Writing Honours student at Concordia University. She has had her poem “Petals” published in the 2016/17 edition of the Dawson English Journal. After earning her Bachelor’s degree, Sophia plans on attending graduate school to earn her MA in Creative Writing.

Copyright © 2019 by Sophia Magliocca. All rights reserved.

 

Poems by Valeria Timbalari

So Dark The Con of Man

I can nearly speak five languages
And what good does that do for me?
If My heart knows one tongue only
And it is that
of yearning.
But it would be inhumane
to blame it for such a helpless thing
because I am the one
who it’s learned it from
And it hasn’t talked about
anything else
ever since.
Imitation Game

The cry of seagulls
imitate those of orphans;
Man’s fate
imitates the absurdity
of a mathematical joke;
A woman counting her money
On the edge of the bed
with one of God’s men besides her
Imitates a child
learning how to count to ten
on his frail fingers;
Life imitates death
far more than death imitates
Life;
An old man
ripping out his last good bone
to feed a stray dog
imitates motherhood;
A heart that has been left
untouched and unspoken to
imitates hunger;
And my oldest of aches,
I couldn’t tell you
what repulsive thing it imitates
for we still haven’t crossed paths
just yet.

 


VALERIA TIMBALARI is a sixteen-year-old Moldavian poet. She documents Life through her somber pieces. The good, the bad, the ugly, and everything else that comes along. Moderately inspired by metaphysics, religion and the Beat Generation, she hopes to become a notorious writer some good day.

Copyright © 2019 by Valeria Timbalari. All rights reserved.

 

Poems by John Wiley

Devil’s Bargain

Devil’s bargains
are the only ones I know,
so put it to me.
Bad terms suit me –
I’m a bad bargainer.
You don’t know how bad.
You’ve been forcing hands a long time,
but you don’t have to force mine.
No need for the trapdoor
you’ve invited me to stand on.

Thank you for having me
to your office, but…
somehow we’ve ended up in mine.
Now you’re standing on the trap,
and underneath the trap’s
the Devil’s Bargain Basement.
Will I take your devil’s bargain, sir?
Of course –
I’m the Devil’s Bargainer.

 


Fictional Ghosts

Fictional ghosts
always want something.
Real ghosts don’t want anything you have.
They don’t want anything anyone has.
They don’t even know you’re there –
why would they?

You might as well be the ghost.
Because they don’t have anything for you either.

 


JOHN WILEY was a ballet dancer and began writing poetry when his knees gave out for good.  He lives in California and works in his wife’s audiology practice.  His work has appeared in Terror House Magazine, Detritus, and Outsider Poetry, among others.

Copyright © 2019 by John Wiley. All rights reserved.