Our Writings: Two Poems in Quebec City

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to be a panelist at a writers’ event in Quebec City, called Our Writings at the Morrin Centre. It showcased English language writers from Quebec as well as those who’ve been influenced by it. I fall into both categories.

As part of the Our Writings panel at the Morrin Centre in Quebec City.

It was an honour to be among such outstanding and award-winning writers like George Elliott Clarke and H. Nigel Thomas and I tried as hard as I could to hold my own. I spoke about discovering Quebec City as a newcomer and an anglophone. I spoke about how this little “Winter Wonderland” could serve as a refuge for new writers, especially in the cold winter months because “you need to be cold to be creative” (Neil Bissoondath agreed with me for the record).

I learned a lot, but one thing struck me from that afternoon that I keep playing over in my mind. Novelist Bernadette Griffins, who was born in Quebec City said this city is like the ground floor in the skyscraper that is her life, and she can always go back there and touch it.

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My first book, The Year I Turned 25, takes place mostly in Saskatchewan where I was born.

I felt awkward then. Was Regina my ground floor? And was I as connected to it as she’d been to her childhood? I didn’t think so. In fact, quite the opposite, I’d been spending the better part of my adult life trying to forget about my childhood, the nerd I was, the outsider, the chronic daydreamer – always in my head, and in my own thoughts. Hence the “refuge” comment, I guess.

Was I just hanging out in Quebec City?

I decided to go back to that place, the ground floor of my life. I have for a long time been aware of a small notebook I always keep in the back of my closet, where I wrote poems sometime before I graduated high school, before sticking it away, never to look at again. The heart of my adolescence was there in that black cahier with a large note taped to it: “Book of Poetry: Don’t read.” I meant never, ever, even when I died. And I made sure all of my family was aware that any journal, diary or piece of scrap paper was to be immediately burned upon learning of my death. There is just too much intimacy in poetry.

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From left to right: George Elliott Clarke, Bernadette Griffin, Patrick Donovan, H. Nigel Thomas, Neil Bissoondath, Raquel Fletcher at Our Writings panels on November 18, 2017.

But in the days that followed that panel, I found a new mission for that little black books for forbidden poems. I wanted to see if I could find pieces from my life then that I could relate to in anyway in my new life in Quebec City – lines, or parts of lines, rhymes, or concepts that matched – something from my ground floor I could take with me to the sky.

I made a list of those pieces that stood out to me and then I wrote a new poem about moving to Quebec City. Here are the two poems:

Two years in Quebec City

It’s the thunder without lightning again,

You think you know a stranger from a friend

Your rope’s at its end

Five o’clock in the morning

Driving close, but not to where you are

The lines in the pavement are breaking apart

I ache to know where you are

But I think it’s time to move on

Before we are alive, are we dead?

This is not the man you’ve become…

This is the man pretending not to be the man that you are

I’m scared of them,

And they can’t see

I know I don’t belong

They look right through me

They’re not the same as me

Let me strip you of your masks and faces

Let me peer into the bareness of your soul

It was a series of 15-minute conversations

I grow

You go

And every so often, I get nostalgic

And I miss you

I do not own my own thoughts

Instead they become someone’s ammunition

Now I’m ashamed, now I can’t speak

I want to cry, I want to lie about it.

Maybe I am a one-man army

I don’t know all their secrets

There’s always something someone’s hiding

Forgive me for not understanding

We haven’t known each other that long

But 15 minutes can be a long time

And the pinks and purples dance in bright pantomime

I absorbed you

When I should have blocked you out.

You call me hyper-sensitive

Long days turn into long weeks

How do I meld together all that I am?

And forgive myself for all the masks that I’ve worn?


Two years in Quebec City


It’s the thunder without lightning again,

You think you know a stranger from a friend

Long days, long weeks – your rope’s at its end

The woman you’ve become is a woman

pretending not to be the woman you are


It’s five o’clock on the way to the airport

An ache in your chest internally screams to abort

At the same time you dream of a mission of this sort

The lines in the pavement are breaking apart

as you drive away, a one-man army.


It’s the stripping of your masks and faces

You don’t belong in either of these places

Or under all these secrets that fill these spaces

How do you meld together all that you are?

And forgive yourself for all the masks that you’ve worn?


It’s 15 minutes, but it can be a long time

when pinks and purples dance in bright pantomime

The colours match your new frame of mind

Before we are alive, are we dead?

What if we have no beginning at all?