Poetry

Failed Seances for Rita MacNeil

LUCAS CRAWFORD

From Sideshow Concessions. Published by Invisible in 2015. Crawford’s poetry has been published in the Literary Review of Canada, Antigonish Review, PRISM International and Best Canadian Poetry (2015). Sideshow Concessions won the 2015 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Crawford lives in Vancouver.

I.

Rita, you requested that your ashes

be held in a teapot—two if necessary, you said.

            Low days, I browse plus-size caskets

              (They are all pink or blue)

                      But you took death with

                      milk and sugar, long steep.

Rita, we are both members

of the fat neo-Scottish diaspora.

             Don’t tell me it doesn’t exist, sweet darlin’,

             until you are the only fat transsexual

             at a Rankin Family concert in Montreal.

             Until you feel more at home

             than you have all year when

             Raylene (1960–2012)

             thumbs-ups your half-ton dance moves in the front

             row during that last last encore.

                      Fare thee well, love.

                      Will we never meet again no more?

II.

In Grade Two, I sang with your coalmining choir,

The Men of the Deep. There is something terrifying

about a hundred prepubescent squirts

squeaking out the high falsetto tones of “We Rise Again”

over the miners’ sea of capsized bass tones. The highest note

of the song comes at the word “child” and we screamed it.

We didn’t yet have the sadness that keeps you

from even trying those high notes that take you

from ours to other worlds and back again.

             A miner comes forward

             in concerts for a mustachioed solo.

             He was on the CBC the day you died,

             having an open cry.

             They all wear helmets onstage.

             They are all Henny Penny,

             ever hardhat-ready for another falling sky.

Rita, did I ever tell you

my great uncle Miley died in the mines?

My mother and I drove to Glace Bay last year.

The old company houses are split

down the middle. Each half is a

different hand-painted hue

and empty.

We bowled candlepin alone in the basement of a church,

but it did not strike us to genuflect upon entry.

III.

Rita, I heard you were trailed by the RCMP in the ’70s.

They weren’t arts reviewers, those Mounties:

             She’s the one who composes and sings women’s lib songs.

             A hundred sweating, uncombed women

             standing around

             in the middle of the floor with their arms around each

             other crying sisterhood and dancing.

They don’t know the gravitas required

of a fat woman who wants a microphone.

They didn’t see you as a teenager with a baby

decades before Juno.

Or the surgeries you had for the cleft palate of your youth.

Not even the abuse you sang through.

They don’t believe in ghosts like we do or

know those family spirits

that can refill a rum tumbler

when your back is turned.

IV.

Rita, do you remember the Heritage commercial

about the mine collapse?

An actor swears that they sang those hymns,

drank their own “you know”…

At seven, this frightened me,

but now I’ve seen a bit:

             I’ve watched Ashley MacIsaac (1975–)

             discuss urination during sex.

             I still toe-tap to his first crossover hit,

             and still watch the bit on Conan O’Brien

             when he kicks up his kilt while going commando.

             Yes, to queer kids watching at home,

             a kilt can become a portal to another life not yet

             witnessed or possible.

             Step we gaily, on we go,

             heel for heel and toe for toe!

             I want to feel Ashley move his bow, dab at his 

             brow,

             wash his feet or at least buy him a pedicure

             so that I can tell him          the queer rural Nova

Scotian diaspora

                                 (don’t tell me it doesn’t exist, b’y)

        needs him to survive because

                     my accent is buried in Banff now

                     and he’s the last member of my

                     trinity still (last I checked) alive.

V.

One of my fat aunts resembles you, Rita.

Once, at the liquor store, someone cried:

I didn’t know you were in town for a show!

This aunt grabbed her rye,

drove home angry foot to floor,

had her niece pour the spirit

until the ice floated.

She is on the wagon now. Sort of.

Her niece could be a nephew, sort of.

Things change, Rita.

             Rita, say anything.

             Tell me we can break biscuits

             with blueberries and Devonshire cream.

             Tell me that you’ll let pitch-free me

             hum along as you sing me to sleep.

                     Just don’t tell me

                     we didn’t exist. Don’t

                     tell me that you don’t

                     feel the same way too.

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