Poetry

Langley

BILLEH NICKERSON

After Joe Brainard

I remember walking under the power lines near my house and how if it was raining and you held an umbrella you’d sometimes get a shock.

I remember trapping grasshoppers in ice cream pails and pickle jars, learning the hard way to poke holes in the lids.

I remember neighbourhood kids throwing their pennies into my Mr. Turtle Pool after I convinced them it doubled as a wishing well,

the U-pick strawberry patch that closed down as deer liked strawberries too

and thinking the first condom I saw on the nearby nature trails was a deflated balloon.

I remember my school was named after long-time Langley educator Alice Brown, though I wished it had been named after Laura Secord, like the one in Vancouver, as I believed students there received free chocolate.

I remember the school secretary, Mrs. Montgomery, would use the same structure for all her announcements—Mr. Jones to the office, please, Mr. Jones—and how we’d mimic her during recess and lunch—Jason, what’s in your lunch today, Jason?

I remember Shane Stackhouse and all the other Jehovah’s Witnesses in the hallway each morning during the Lord’s Prayer and holiday craft sessions,

and that Mr. Shipley, my PE teacher, married Miss Ross, who taught me choir, during the summer, and her new name confused everyone when we returned in the fall.

I remember my school divided into house teams—Haida, Nootka, Salish, Bella Coola—though nobody ever taught us the names’ true origins, so when I hear them I first think of my school.

I remember Jasvinder preferred to be called Vinder as he thought it sounded cool like Darth Vader. Every other Jasvinder I’ve met has preferred to go by Jas.

I remember finding out that the Great Wall Restaurant where my family ate buffet referred to the Great Wall of China and had nothing to do with the great wall of buffet items,

and buying Mexican jumping beans, smashing one with a hammer to reveal a small worm, then trying to replace that worm’s home with a bottle cap of water and a clump of grass in a pickle jar.

I remember a lot of pickle jars though surprisingly few pickles.

I remember my dad refused to let my mom put coins in my birthday cake as he worried we’d get sued if one of my friends choked to death,

and thinking the yellow shell on the Shell oil sign was a giant piece of cheese, then marvelling that the giant piece of cheese was shaped like a shell.

I remember my parents ordering pizzas and having me sit by the front window to wait for the pizzas the very moment they were ordered, even though it would take at least 30 minutes for them to arrive—

and the time the pizza man forgot to put his car in park, so after he opened his door the car rolled backwards and the pizza boxes slipped from his hand onto the asphalt, where the tire rolled over them.

The pizza man ran over our pizzas! The pizza man ran over our pizzas! I screamed, but no one believed me until a meek teenager knocked on our door and said, I’m sorry, sir, but I seem to have run over your pizzas.

I remember my father calling the pizza place to tell them their driver ran over our pizzas, and they thought it was a prank call and hung up.

I remember my local MP, Bob Wenman, awarding me a Canadian flag pin at my school assembly after I was the only student in kindergarten who could name our prime minister, Pierre Trudeau—

and the immediate silence of the drunk teenagers in the back seat of the car driven by that same MP in the McDonald’s drive-thru I later worked at when I said Hey, aren’t you Bob Wenman?

I remember microwaving Cheez Whiz to make quick nachos, burning the roof of my mouth almost as badly as when I’d drink vending-machine hot chocolate.

I remember the Avon lady, who I called to buy my mom a Christmas present of snowman-shaped soaps, who referred to her husband as “the husband” and whose husband always referred to her as “the wife.”

I remember when Scott and Danny’s parents divorced.

I remember when Melanie and Kim’s parents divorced.

I remember when Erin and Davy’s parents divorced.

I remember when Darren and Adam’s parents divorced.

I remember Mike Reno, the lead singer of Loverboy, visited my elementary school and signed one kid’s arm with a felt pen and how that kid screamed I’m never washing my arm again! but he did eventually (I checked his arm each day).

I remember learning about menstruation from Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon

and how when my aunt Susan picked me up from school hours after learning she was pregnant, she repeated Twins, twins! I’m pregnant with twins! the entire drive home.

I remember being called a frog because I was in French immersion, a preppy because I wore dress shoes,

and a faggot because that’s what happened when pickup trucks with rolled-down windows drove past.

I remember my mom changed our rescue dog’s name from Misty to Mitsy—it was easier to say with my lisp.

I remember finding out about my friend Karie’s death from the front page of the Langley Times. I thought the prayer stools at her Catholic funeral were footrests.

I remember having to take off my shoes before eating at the Okinawa Garden restaurant and how my parents’ drinks were served in small statues of geishas and warriors that could be taken home and used to hold pens or cut flowers.

I remember my mom’s embarrassment at having to tell me it was Gladys Knight and the Pips, not Gladys Knight and the Pimps,

and renting violent movies from the Blockbuster Video where I worked to the husband I’d later learn beat my mom’s friend.

I remember Mrs. Gray, the school librarian, reading Dennis Lee’s Garbage Delight. I loved when Suzie grew a moustache and Polly grew a beard.

I remember Ramona the Brave, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Judy Blume’s Superfudge.

I remember my friends Carmen Porter and Christie Brown loved only horses, and then they loved only horses and Shaun Cassidy, and then they loved only Shaun Cassidy.

I remember the birdhouse my dad hung high in the backyard cedar after a nest fell from the tree during a storm.

I remember my whole family standing around that nest, and the shock when I saw that the eggs inside were the same colour as the sky

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BILLEH NICKERSON

Billeh Nickerson is an author, editor and educator whose sixth book, Duct-Taped Roses was recently published with Book*hug Press. He is Co-Chair of the Creative Writing department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC. He lives in East Vancouver.


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