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Picnic with Al

Al, you tough brilliant old bastard
you've been dead for what,
6 ... 7 years now?
And yet your spirit still soars thru
this godforsaken country north of Belleville
permeating the equally godforsaken Canadian poetry scene

We, your people's poetry progeny
miss you and Uncle Milt so much
we've organized a festival with your name all that's necessary
to announce our intentions

Now the formal parts of the festival are over
It's time for beer and finger food and
real poetry in the graveyard where your
spirit keeps company with failed Loyalist ancestors

Today you've got us to lift your spirits
one crazy old hippie poet (me)
is ringing a Buddhist temple bell
reminding you not to be late for the feast
of poets reading your poetry
all beer sodden, chicken smeared
and better for it

This early August day in A-burgh's settler cemetery is perfect
sunny, the wind coming up as the bell chimes
its invocation: animals may appear I intone
& sure enough, a second turtle pops onto the log
from the millpond's cool depths

I remember the wake in Belleville
in the posh private school dining hall
more Hogwartz than the owners realized
Halfway through the turgid readings
you flew from the rafters
in the form of a bat
swooping among your guests
and all recognized your spirit
with authentic laughs

Melanie reads your poem "The Buddhist Bell"
after the goofy invocation
and as our vision clears
we see the turtles smile
as Jeff Seffinga appropriately reads "At The Quinte Hotel"
all of us joining to chorus "for I am a sensitive man!"

James Deahl lounges on your tombstone
carved in the shape of an open poetry book
his arm is draped as if over your shoulder
while he props on this convenient lectern
reading your words of drunken wisdom

Suddenly rude crows caw above the pond
Uncle Milty with his raven clan
clangour their guttural approval
People's Poetry is alive and well
laughing from beyond the grave
mingling pitch perfect with Jim's voice

Chris Faiers
Oct. 6/07
revised Oct. 14/07

Dedicated to James (Jim) Deahl. About the Aug. 6/07
picnic celebration in Ameliasburgh by Al Purdy's grave.

* Uncle Milty is of course Milton Acorn, Purdy's best friend
and fellow Governor General award winning poet.

this poem appeared in "Umbrella" (May 2008) (Quinte Arts Council)

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revised 16 November 2007