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Mirrors Reflecting Faces : inspiration


Welcome back to the Darkroom Memoirs.

I wrote a commemorative poem in elementary school for a Remembrance Day assembly back in - I don't know -1988? '89? that brought about a moment between my father and me that has stuck with me.

The poem included a line that ended with the word "places". The whole thing was a grade-school homage to John McCray's 1915 poem In Flanders Fields and McCray's iconography featured heavily.

At the time, my mother worked with children as the principal supervisor at a large daycare center in Toronto. She managed people who read to children for a living [among other things] and she had a collection of Leonard Cohen's poetry that she told me I wasn't ready for, yet. Who better to rhyme something compelling with the word "places" at the end of my next, metered, line?

I walked past Dad and put my work on the table beside Mom. "Can you help me?" I asked.

Her answer was something like, "Of course, Sweetie. What's the problem?"

We went over my poem and discussed its metaphors and spelling errors and then, when we arrived at the mystifying stanza near the bottom of the page, we paused. "Places" had already appeared in other parts of the poem. It had already been rhymed with other words and all of the good ones were taken.

chases

graces

laces

paces

races

traces

I had not learned about bad echos in writing yet, but I got the idea. I needed a new word! Not one that already appeared in the poem. That would be a creative disaster.

My Dad had been milling about the kitchen; making coffee or resetting a clock or some fucking thing, and his face suddenly appeared over my Mom's shoulder.

"We've got this, Dad. Thanks."

He shrugged. "Doesn't sound like it," he said. He read the line aloud, "Between the rows that mark their places..."

He looked up to the top of the wall. Thousand yard stare. Sipped his coffee.

"hallowed mirrors

reflecting faces"

"Jesus, Mike," Mom said. "It has to sound like it came from a ten-year-old." And she laughed.

I don't think my Dad's words made the final cut, but I'll never forget how he surprised me that day. What was the scientist carpenter keeping from us? The pragmatic and analytical. It had not occurred to me that this was the same guy who labored for hours with his Olympus SLR and cable trigger to photograph immaculate compositions of urban grasses moving in the breeze, back-dropped by apricot sunsets and gossamer clouds years ago. It was a revelation of past lives with alternate outcomes. A man did not have to choose between introspection and extrospection to inform him; he could be guided by both.

Thank you for that lesson, Dad.

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