Club Members Share Their Writing
The Writers’ Circle
This page features recent work by members of the Writers’ Circle.
Members and guests with an interest in writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama are welcome at the Writers’ Circle, which meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 6:00 p.m. At the present time, these meetings take place via Zoom. To be put on the Zoom list, contact Martin Jones.
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THE WIND’S SONG
Have your heard the wind
When it resonates in the crowns
Of a stand of frozen hardwoods,
Sweeping an ice-encrusted snowscape,
As a half-sick sun essays
A silver aura, vaguely to limn
The ragged edges
Of the lowering sky’s
For me, it has a hollow, ambient presence,
Changing in pitch and provenance
As the vagrant prowls
The hills and gullies
That line our ancient river’s course.
I think it is the sound of centuries of hardship;
A lament for those who, fleeing their pasts,
Or imagining their futures,
Invested their labour
Husbanding a wilderness.
Or, the still-yearning cry of those they dispossessed:
Those to whom “toh-ron-toh”, and “kah-nah-dah”
Were intelligible assertions
In a language learned
At their elders’ knees
Beside a cookfire
On an earthen floor
Under a cone of hides.
I’ve always wanted a dog. Living alone as I do, I thought I’d get a nice dog for company. As I said, I’ve always wanted a dog, but there are no dogs allowed in my building.
So, instead of a dog, I got a chicken. It was only 6 days old when I brought her home. She was a real beauty. I discovered a loophole – they don’t say anything in my lease about having a pet chicken.
My thinking was this – I’d have a great companion, and in the bargain score some free eggs.
Turned out she was a rooster.
At the crack of dawn he’d cockle-doodle-doo like crazy. It was really loud. The neighbours on my floor bitched like hell, but I couldn’t shut him up. I covered all the windows, but it didn’t work. Somehow he always knew when it was 5 am. I tried keeping him up until late at night, hoping he’d sleep in, but that didn’t help either.
Finally I had a vet remove his you-know-whats. Put it this way – it took the “cock” out of his cockle-doodle-doo, if you know what I mean. It was now more of a cockle-doodle-DON’T
He was pretty messy too. I tried to paper-train him, but it was a waste of time and paper. I eventually had to put baby diapers on him with duct tape.
And at first I didn’t know what to feed him. The pet store sold me some parrot seed. He does peck at it. In fact, I think the little pecker actually LIKES the parrot seed. Now I’ve probably got the only pet chicken in the world who squawks, “Polly wants a cracker.”
I’d go to the park and try to train my chicken to “sit” on command, but he’d just stare at me. In fact, he’d never leave my side. I tried to teach him to “come” on command, but he’d never go away. It’s pretty hard to teach a pet to “come” to you when he won’t leave you. Going away is sort of a pre-requisite for coming back. He was, as you could imagine, very good at the “stay” command.
I made a leash for him and took him for walks in the park. He attracted quite a bit of attention. If you think having a dog is a good conversation starter, get yourself a pet chicken.
But the poor thing didn’t really know he was a chicken. He never saw another chicken – all he saw were dogs – so naturally he thought he was a dog. He’d sniff the hindquarters of all the dogs – the only chicken I ever saw who would do that. And he started to lift his leg when he went to pee. It was quite a sight.
The other dogs didn’t know what to make of him. One Yorkshire terrier who was either nearsighted (or very horny) tried to mate with him. I think my chicken liked it – he slept like a baby that night.
The chicken didn’t like it when I tried to get him into the bathtub to wash him. I bought him a rubber duckie, but somehow he knew it wasn’t a chicken and would have no part in it.
To try to get him something else I could use to lure him into the tub, I went to a gag and novelty store and bought my chicken one of those rubber chickens. But the rubber chicken just made him laugh. I took it back to the novelty store to ask for my money back, but the clerk there told me that rubber chickens are supposed to make you laugh.
One good thing, though, about my pet chicken. He was great in the elevator when I took him down for his walks. He’d just stand there in the elevator, like a dummy, just like everybody else, silently looking up at the flashing floor numbers.
My chicken loved to watch TV. He’d flap his wings furiously every time Road Runner cartoons came on TV. He loved Donald Duck, but he’d sulk in the corner and shake nervously every time Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials came on.
For entertainment, I tried to teach him the chicken dance, but he couldn’t get the moves right.
The building superintendent, responding to a steadily increasing crescendo of complaints, told me I had to get rid of my pet chicken. As you can imagine, I was crestfallen.
I though I’d just adopt him out. I put up signs on telephone poles in the area saying, “Chicken Looking For A Good Home,” but got no response whatsoever.
Well, actually, I DID get one response.
From an Italian restaurant in the area.
Apparently he made great chicken cacciatore.
Does anybody need some parrot seed?
THE PIGEONS OF PARIS
The AirBnB that my husband and I rented in Paris was a little one-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor from which one could see a corner of the Louvre. In between strolling the historic streets and visiting favourite haunts, we relaxed in our chosen retreat and enjoyed the view. This included some of the feathered residents of the city as the windows featured a long ledge that doubled as a landing strip for the pigeons that flock and fly over the City of Light. I thought about their flights and imagined a bird’s eye view of such a beautiful panorama.
Their gathering and fluttering outside the window was a pleasant addition to the ambiance of our stay in this city. I wondered if they cooed with a French accent; would the pigeons back home in Toronto understand them?
It was only natural to start sharing my breakfast with them in the morning. The initial offering – of my muesli and dried cranberries scattered on the window ledge – was appreciated but limited, since there needed to be some for my breakfast, too. Within a few days I found a local store to supply more appropriate birdseed to distribute and it became a regular part of the day to watch the birds feast in the morning as we sipped our coffees.
Their behaviour seemed to mimic an avian mafia, with the biggest one, nicknamed the Godfeather, domineering the others. Until he had eaten his fill, the others would preen on nearby ledges, waiting their turn and then quickly arrive to gather up as much seed as possible before he came hurtling back from a nearby rooftop.
It was easy to recognize individual patterns and colours, naming them according to some characteristic. Of the larger ones, there was Pierre La Plume and his consort, Peggy (with a handicapped leg), Arrow (who always flew straight in), Buckeye (with dark circles around his eyes) and two little ones with pale green tummies, who were Tweeter and Toot. Very quickly, however, there were just too many to name.
It occurred to me that, just as the collective noun is a “murder” of crows, maybe there is a special one for these birds. A throng? A mob? Sure enough, a peek into the ever-present internet gave me the collective noun as a “flight”, as in “The flight of pigeons gathered over the strewn bread crumbs.” Judging by the activity outside my window, I still think a mob was a more accurate description.
One day, while meandering in the first arrondissement, we discovered a lovely little restaurant called La Poule au Pot that had a nice vibe to it, cozy and very French, so we entered. Surprisingly, the menu featured pigeonneau, not a very common offering, even in Paris.
Although recoiling at first, I felt a bit adventurous and decided to try it. This was not the time to flirt with vegetarianism. The pigeonneau was delicious but I was very glad that Pierre La Plume and Peggy et al were not watching me through the window.
Later, surfing through the internet, I came across an article in the New Yorker (“A Scholar of Pigeons” by Betsey Morais) that said: “Obsession with pigeons suggests a lost soul gone kooky” so I stopped reading, closed my computer and settled back to watch the pigeons pecking at the food on the ledge. I knew the woman had never seen my pigeons.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I may have made a mistake in opening up such a popular bistro for the birds. Every morning I woke to a flurry of wings and squawks as a crowd of pigeons fought over space at the window, waiting to be served; I felt obliged to get up early and scatter a cup of seed along the ledge before my own breakfast. In many cities, feeding pigeons is discouraged, so I am not sure how the neighbours felt about the sudden increase in pigeon population and activity. But, for me, the early hour wake-up call was worth the pleasure of watching the lightening sky and my winged friends for the duration of a brief visit to their city.
A month later, I was back in Toronto and suddenly plunged into the effects of the pandemic. Home entertainment, at first, seemed limited to Netflix and baking sourdough bread until I remembered the pigeons of Paris. Perhaps I could recreate a similar tableau to watch. We have a garden with an appropriate window view, and I could picture an attractive little tray full of birdseed and many happy feathered visitors.
Implementation proved to be somewhat more complicated than opening a window to scatter seed but I drafted a reluctant husband into the assembly of the birdfeeder and supplemental components purchased at the wildlife store. Supervising was easy; I had years of practice, after all.
The feeder was placed in the middle of the lawn, far away from any possible springboard for scheming squirrels. The squirrel baffle seems to have worked, although I believe that the squirrels perceive it as more of a challenge than a final defeat. As it was, they climbed distant bushes, probably planning the algorithms for trajectory.
However, even without their help, the food disappears at a prodigious rate, now that some birds have tweeted the news about the buffet to family and friends. There are no pigeons, Parisian or otherwise, but our most frequent guests range from the humble sparrow to the brilliant blue jay, along with bright scarlet cardinals, occasional woodpeckers, and the sweet little chickadees and nuthatches.
The large bags of feed contain a mixture of seeds and nuts to satisfy a variety of dietary requirements. However, it turned out that most of the local birds were too small for the peanuts (or the peanuts are too large for them) and they were tossed, by a flick of the beak, to the grateful squirrels who were running rampant in our garden. It became necessary to separate the peanuts from the rest of the seeds myself although there was no thought of keeping them for myself; illogically I considered them bird peanuts and not human peanuts.
The clumsy winnowing process – which scattered the seeds everywhere – sorted out a surprisingly large amount of peanuts. This would result in either an unnecessary increase in the squirrel population or an increase in the girth of the current squirrels.
So some work needed to be done to size the chunks for the birds. A food processor helped break them down into manageable bits for the range of beaks outside without leaving big chunks or creating peanut butter. They were mostly mixed back into the feed, with just the few larger pieces tossed to the squirrels. There are never more than five but the changing dynamics include groups (“scurries”, is the official collective term – isn’t that cute?) of black, grey and red squirrels, in different combinations of audacity. Plus two chipmunks, a hare or two and – of course – the inevitable visit from a Toronto raccoon.
All, I am strangely proud to say, exhibiting great muscle tone and shiny fur from the unexpected bonanza of nuts and seeds.
Unfortunately, all of this work was for a fraction of bird feed that was kept in the kitchen and not the large stockpile of seeds and nuts I had stockpiled in the basement. That will take hours longer and I will probably be knee-deep in the spilled seeds on the kitchen floor. There are always spilled seeds.
My subscription to audiobooks helps pass the time; I felt that I could start listening to Remembrance of Things Past and finally finish.
Because of the possibility of avian flu – a subject brought up by my husband – I disinfected the utensils as well as I could, but then was reminded that it was more important not to attract any bats either. Haven’t they caused enough trouble in the world this year? Fortunately, at the moment, only the woodpeckers hang upside down.
Later I will be going back down to make supper for the human portion of the family. Maybe some Thai food; they use peanuts in the recipe, don’t they?
The road winds north from Namoya through jungle
and like a highway, is numbered
though barely wide enough to contain twin ruts for truck wheels.
We are a month into the dry season
yet the way is blocked in many places
by deep pools of mud and toppled branches
and everywhere one looks is jungle:
shimmering, green-roiled and pregnant, impenetrable.
Our two Landcruisers have been left with the drivers
and we will walk the last hour of our journey.
Once underway, you wish never to cease walking
for the morning is unusually soft and translucent,
cool, and the air intoxicates.
We pass three villages sheltered in forest clearings near the road,
each a smattering of tiny homes of mud and wattle.
These are shy folk who live so far from anywhere,
they look away at first, then smile, grow warm and welcoming;
the children approach us slowly and giggle.
Further on, the roadway dips toward a valley
shaded in forest canopy and silence.
It is then we see them, three in the lead,
tall, willowy, furious men moving quickly toward us on foot,
and then more, a dozen appearing around a bend,
followed by a gaggle of long-horned, skinny, rib-jutting cattle
who trot hurriedly behind.
These men are clothed in yellowing brown rags
that barely hang together
yet they tower over us as they pass.
Everything about this is startling, an apparition out of time.
We know who they are, Tutsi cattle herders from Rwanda,
in relentless search of grazing land.
Even my Congolese companions have heard only stories,
and are encountering them for the first time.
There is no way of knowing whether this resolute band
arrived in Congo the week before last, or like ghosts,
have been wandering these primeval ways
generation to generation,
since before even the Belgians arrived.
These men bestow not a moment’s glance on us
but rush past in furious ensemble,
a curdled loathing on curled mouths,
enraged with what, we are not sure
though the contempt is strangely wounding.
Possibly, they do not regard us as human and consider
it profane to pollute their eyes with our presence.
Or perhaps they fear us, for hatreds simmer unspoken
in this brooding and brutal land
where it is rare but not unknown
for men to slit a Tutsi herder’s throat
without a thought.