Canada Speaks: December: David Bateman

Mother as Muse

by David Bateman

Dear Gabriola Island Residents,

When Hilary Peach first invited me to the Gabriola Poetry Festival in 2007 I had only been acquainted with Vancouver Island and Bowen Island. Both of my trips to those places were with my mother. She passed away in 1998 and the memories of traveling with her are a constant source of joy and comfort for me. I re-visit her spirit and her beauty each time I think of places we went together, or when I see a snapshot of her sitting in a café in some unspecified locale, or in a photo of her head framed in the distance by the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower - or a mirror and a cocktail glass on the bar of some boozy pit stop. She has always given me a kind of nostalgia for the present through the ways in which she would perceive things through her very special gaze. My memories of her allow me to feel a great and comforting longing to inhabit the past in my work - to recuperate regret and to bring past joys into the present of my everyday life. Despite a valiant attempt to call my first poetry book ‘Storey-and-a-half’ she somehow made her way onto the cover of my first collection and became the central narrative figure within the title poem. People say I look like her even though I’m, for the most part, bald. She had a remarkable head of hair.

We made our way through so many fabulous tourist traps together with as much grace and as much joy as we could muster. It wasn’t always easy but it was always fabulous. In the face of my fourth visit to Graceland, with a stopover in Dollywood, and a blinding snowstorm as we drove through the Smokey Mountains, that was no easy task. When we visited Disney World I will never forget hearing her say, at the checkout for the gift shop at the Elvis museum in a strip mall in Orlando Florida, as I was making my purchase of Love Me Tender conditioner & shampoo, mother said shyly, with gentle compassion, “Poor Elvis, I wonder what was bothering him?” She also wondered why his house was so small as we toured the mansion. When we traveled to Paris she kept asking me if we were in Vancouver When I reminded her, in a Parisian café, that our trip to Vancouver had been a few months earlier, she said, “Hmm, I thought the people here in Paris would be dressed better.”  The summer before Paris, when I took her to Ottawa’s Gallery 101 for one of my performances, the curator did her very best to keep mother awake as I roller skated across the gallery with a GI Joe doll sewn into the back of my pantyhose. Perhaps she was better off sleeping.

She had a wonderful dry sense of humour and at fifty-three years old I cannot stop myself form writing travel poems about her. So when I started my piece for Canada Speaks I began with the idea that this would be a travel moment without maternal presence. Despite my great love for her I did not want my poetry to become an endless homage to her memory. But halfway through she made her way into the narrative to make a brief but profound appearance.

 

was it you, in those final weeks, driving with me through the Smokey Mountains

or was it my mother? - of course it was my mother

but I could not stop thinking of you as I watched her, peering upwards

out of car windows as I steered diligently south then east then north again

these maternal endowments

these oval treks of dedicated road trip passion

 

While writing the second half of the piece my strongest regret was that she didn’t live long enough to travel to Gabriola with me, to see the remarkable Malaspina Galleries, to meet Hilary and hear her beautiful voice sing out such graceful, powerful, and engaging poetry, to meet the wonderful people of Gabriola - to see Baby Dee’s divine concert. She would have enjoyed it all thoroughly, would have drank Mount Gay Rum with Dee and me in the morning, and would have come up with something fabulous and idiosyncratic to say about your wonderful island.

Since her passing I have visited many new places, from the Netherlands to Cyprus and Turkey, to Egypt and Taiwan, and I often take some of her ashes with me to sprinkle on the land I might have shared with her. When I took her to Sunshine Village and tried to share her spirit with the mountain wind, she flew in my face and spent dust on my ski jacket. She is still a remarkable force that I constantly invent and re-invent in my work.

 I don’t know if my poetry matches my mothers - or my father’s - wit or candor, but it is always a guiding force in whatever I write, with or without them as part of the narrative. Their sharp, at times hilarious bitterness and their quirky, loving ways of spreading joy has been bred into my bones and I try to use it in uplifting and affirming ways.

The final section of my piece for Canada Speaks punctuates and weaves an overall motif where regret and joy mix simultaneously through forms of mutual and unrequited romantic love, and brings me, in the concluding lines, to what I consider one of my favorite spots on earth - the quiet, at times bold and raucous - (I mean the Surf Club late night bar bashes) - and the sheer physical beauty of your amazing spot on earth.

 

alas, the global eccentricities of all these reincarnated travel packages

the vacant desperate runs through pyramids in pitch dark claustrophobic tunnels

just to see a dusty empty room where all those trinkets had been meant to stay

before Egyptians lost their marbles

 

but we steal love, don’t we, we steal away in corners

Holocaust memorials, desert buslines

candid Cairo moments

trying to take snapshots

of the most recent Omar Sharif look-alike

to shun our optic shuttered voyeuristic

Hollywood inflected nerves.

 

            . . . traveling alone, to Egypt, ending in poeticas

fathomed stone-faced galleries

through some luminescent

‘Gay’ briolic dream

 

On my most recent visit to your island I was delighted to stand corrected when someone told me that Gabriola is pronounced with a long, not a short ‘a’ - thus ‘gay’ briola. My queer soul was thrilled. And by the way, given my penchant for fabulous travel, I plan to perform my Canada Speaks piece as the Queen of the Nile.

I am so grateful and honoured to be a part of this project, a project that I feel is infused with the spirit of Gabriola, as well as the hard work and spiritual/aesthetic commitment that Hilary Peach has embarked upon for all of us who love to be poets and who love poetry of every kind.

I thank you, my mother thanks you, my father thanks you . . .

Sincerely,

David Bateman

 

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