This summer I have revisited several beloved Canadian authors. It started out as an unintentional pattern–a series of readings prompted by online articles or books that happened to be on my coffee table. But it is a trend I am happy to continue, because these have been richly enjoyable works to reread.
Over breakfast this week I returned to a collection by Canadian poet Alden Nowlan. I read a few pages while eating peanut butter toast. Now, though, I wish it had been toast with cinnamon. You’ll see why when you read the following poem. It is a lovely piece of literature–a “great thing” to behold…
Great Things Have Happened
We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, “Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time.” But, of course, we were all lying.
The truth is the moon landing didn’t mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I’m sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.
“Is that all?” I hear somebody ask.
Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you’ve never visited
before, when the bread doesn’t taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.