top of page

p. 5 of 5

DRIVE-IN 7: Den of Iniquity

          Towns and villages nicely lined up,  always the same order.  My dad was an accountant.  We were each the black sheep of the family.


          His den was basically off-limits,  the door open a scant couple inches,  except on weekends we were given two minutes to peer at dock plans and suchlike,  also allowed after toothbrushing on school-nights.  Basically dad vanished,  we missed our father when he was in his mysterious den, deep in the alchemy of government tax-system overhaul,  his office was full of mystery and no place for kids.  He had an exotic pipestand,  and I would steal in afternoons after school to get white, bendy pipe cleaners for school projects,  or,  when saying good night,  we’d trace our fingers over the strange raised letters of his camel pipestand,  gleaming gold.

          “Brooklin!,”  he would sneeze from his den.

          Rarely did his pipe smoke pervade the rest of the house,  though on occasion wafts would filter down through the vents to the kitchen below, or,  if the cross-breeze reversed before a summer storm,  we’d smell his pipe during sunday nap time,  our bedroom doors open slightly ajar as the rain tap-tapped and thunder crescendoed and subsided,  but never in the basement rec room,  or mom’s sewing room in behind beside where we watched Rocket Robin Hood and Hercules cartoons.

          “North Bay!!

          The smoke stayed in dad’s den for the most part as he spoke audibly into his new pocket tape recorder,  smoke-infused dock plans or the rolls of parchment paper 1/16th-scale schematics for the kayak he built in the garage,  a secret we had to keep when my big sister was still fifteen,  we’d clamber into his den and peer over his argyle elbows and smell the pipe tobacco layered in with his build designs. When he got that mini Get Smart recording device,  it was his voice that pervaded the house,  not the smoke,  sometimes we'd have to groaning get up from the long red pull-out sofa two floors down in the rec room and turn up the volume dial for Laugh-In or Gilligan’s Island re-runs, whichever channel had the best reception on our black and white television set,  play with the rabbits ears, The Amazing World of Kreskin some special Sundays standing clear until the image and sound too were just so,  the timbre and frequency of his voice intoning down through the joists and floorboards,  his voice had some sympathetic vibration with the intervening joists muffled and mesmerizing from far above,  recording memos for his secretary to transcribe back at his office in his downtown Ottawa skyscraper the next day.  We missed our father,  travelling magically together with him,  defying basic laws of physics,  bending space-time whatever the season,  place-name sneezes allowed us the freedom to fly,  to criss-cross distant countryside,  field and fallow far below

          We rarely heard Agincourt and whatever number five sneeze might have been

          At first they were funny,  all dad’s sneezed place names,  even as we got older we’d laugh,  even when sneezing the names of Ontario towns and provincial parks he’d canoed when he’d had a beard wasn’t even cool anymore,  especially when company happened to be over,  we’d all wait expectantly and we’d wonder what placenames he’d get to like skipping stones,  the places he’d travelled.  We shouted the names in joy on weekends,  walking in the Gatineau after Sunday School at Rideau Park,  or,  like at the cottage that time,  rain moving in and chores to do or early nap time,  muttering the towns and villages of his youth under our breath

          The grainy b&w UFO images more intriguing than the full-colour illustrations in our Sunday School class

          If we worship cars,  the adulation of television and,  say,  these new movies theaters away from the downtown,  that is all of another order.  Basically we weren't allowed to go

          Anything but a den of iniquity where my dad disappeared and smoked his pipe.  We could go visit,  but only two minutes,  usually to say good night in our pjs I might have had my blanket still the soft fabric was safety and carried me from city to city,  that trip when I was two from Toronto to Ottawa I paced the aisles,  a newfound freedom,  Winnipeg I ditched the security blanket we went for Christmas and the moon walk, the train my new security blanket,  smell of hoarfrost and oil between cars careening my new security blanket. 

          A flying carpet,  boreal forest sweeping past,  snow bedecked below speeding and triumphant day and night.

          I am the sternsman in the Chasse-galerie flying to Winnipeg to see the moonwalk on TV. 

          Later on still I learn that the Martian scientists care

          My dad would vanish for hours on end,  evenings at a time,  smoking a tamped pipe hovering held aloft, the clearing of his throat, the tapping of ashes.  We could say good night,  but only for two minutes,  the time it took for a Batman and Robin commercial break.

          I missed my dad.  Somehow this was part of the infection.  

          My dad could time travel, travel to different spots from his youth.  If he sneezed enough, province-borders dissolved in placenames – one’s life flashing in a series of sneezes,  like skipping stones,  usually three though sometimes even five or six spots,  deep in the cistern of his memory welling,  defying the usual constraints of time,  space,  geography with each sneeze-name i’d travel along,  snug on my rug I missed my father travelling hither and yon,  the tactile raised pipe-holder hieroglyphs smooth and cool under my fingertips,  mysterious.


          A vector field of placenames,  villages,  parks he’d canoed in with a beard,  telling jokes and singing songs with university friends: I learned this too.


          I realize acrid smoke I associate with an intractable work ethic. 


          That Buckminster Fuller gravesite is in the selfsame Mount Auburn Cemetery.

          North Bay.

          A 45th reunion under the boathouse willow looms large on the horizon,  an oar’s-length from a bank of the Charles,  wending closer still the source,  the mouth,  unblinking eye scanning ever-northward ponderous,  unblinking,  steadfast  and unerring in an unspoken yearning.

          These things,  too,  I learn: that the sunken island floating in dreams i learn to breathe slowly,  very slow,  careful lest the water allows in the shape and contour of the Superstition Mountains,  a ubiquitous,  mysterious New Mexico skyline shimmering in shafts of green light i fly unfettered in dream,  flying,  all from above,  a Castaneda eagle soaring riding desert updrafts sheer toward the sun.

DRIVE-IN 8: The Cistern


          The water below its own contained universe,  mysterious and without end i seem a speck in relation,  a mote only,  suspended,  shimmering and twice as far below as I was crouched down,  peering in above.

          In the early stages of what would be confirmed Alzheimer’s, and not to be outdone by my father (who had put his life in a binder a couple years earlier),  my mom started in on a book: Lois Looks Back.  I never thought it would come down to this.

          my cheek resting against the cold glass of the rear right passenger side window,  it was winter we were returning from friends in the country,  the Bunkers.  They had a dog called Archie.


          it was winter,  probably just starting into the Christmas holidays,  or actually in that odd, thinly-veiled week betwixt and between Christmas and New Year’s where everyone didn't know what to do with themselves,  done with the boxing.  A wondrous, disturbing gap in homework. Shirking all responsibility comes at a price.

          It was winter for sure,  the glass cold against my cheek,  glancing I saw the shadowy outline of the country graveyard,  the long dim narrow road painted soft red with our solitary tailights vanishing,  slipping through the winter landscape headed home,  when,  peering upward,  I was suddenly looking down at the stars,  fir trees still sliding by a blur and with a thud suddenly realized:  if the universe is forever,  what lies beyond the edge of the stars.  It wasn't words exactly,  like the mantra that time at maple-sugar run-off when I got sent to the back of the line,  trudging through the snow,  put in my place.  This was liberating:  a knowing,  the shimmering stunning knowing that we can't ever know.

          My older brother and sister run from the sunroom,  back to their game of crokinole,  discs in mid-play,  interrupted on the quilted card table,  the click and flick of laughter resume,  shiny round discs gliding along invisible vector lines,  a drop in the centre hole a portal to mirth i remain crouched over the abyss,  the grey smell of ancient air and spiders.  I enter the woods and the wind drops,  simply falls away and I'm suspended,  floating.  Chanctonbury Ring freaked me out that time I rode my bike south to Brighton,  standing within this mysterious spot that I couldn't find,  a copse of trees atop a long slow hill,  my bike slowing,  fields around me like ocean in the wind;  it’s a few weeks later,  back in London that I learn about the history in that spot,  the reports of spontaneous levitation,  pacts with the Devil and UFO sightings:  a deep ancient history chases me northward,  high on my bike along the gravel single track,  not a car in sight.  Utterly alone I have to pee so badly.  Nothing comes,  haunted by the woods.  I catch the train with the last of my quid after sleeping on a bench in Brighton the night before,  awakened by security pre-dawn,  the sound of the time-worn rock beach,  a sucking, stirring sound,  I can't make out what the guard is saying,  the urinal at Heaven a cascade of water drowned out by techno every time someone opened the door,  the copse of trees' murmuring in my ears infects me,  headlong to Putney Common,  high,  safe on the train I drop the last of my quid and hightail it for Camden.  I visit CERN on the outskirts of Geneva,  across the lake through easy traffic,  I get a waft of tight security and the God Particle.  I buy a mug.  Like the cistern at my grandparents,  an abyss of the unknown:  the face of the unknowable,  a sense of impending doom almost scripted.  An infectious sense of foreboding.  Prometheus playing with matches.  Icarus running with scissors.  Vertiginous heights,  the known world forgotten,  far below.  A bug for the new millennium,  tinged with a Y2K austerity designed to keep the masses in check,  subservient to science.

          Sensory deprivation,  like fasting and mushrooms,  a gateway.  The idea possessed me:  to drop the mask of self,  suspended in a saline netherworld,  ayahuascan primal yearning,  I scrounge the eighty bucks and descend awkwardly,  alone,  this cosmic region where all worries would be shed like an old skin,  a snake shedding its skin,  pupae for the soul,  a metamorphosis,  swimming endlessly,  heavy seas,  karmic storms,  the original ocean of ignorance,  but nothing really changed.  I itch for days from the salt.

eleventh moon
go back
go forward


1     2     3     4     5

bottom of page