August 21, 2017 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION

Jonatan Pie photo



Penn Kemp



Complementary Hooks



“A turning point in history,” our leaders claim.

Hanging in the gallery, an empty skirt swings.


I’ve been pondering that red dress symbol for

missing aboriginal women as Red Riding Hood.


So I dream my mother reclaims the green silk

dress she wore, the one that fits me now that I


just had it dry-cleaned. What use is it to her on

the other side? What reversal is she sporting?


The green life vine winding along generations

down a deep forest path. Sunlight glimmers on


a green dress of lawn this too warm December as

the Paris conference concludes in timely fashion.


“Climate agreement falls short of a fair deal– but

Paris is only the beginning… an important hook on


which people can hang their demands”…and act.





Scaling the Colour Bar: for Ecophonics



Transchromaticized by love, by

palette of constantly shifting grey

shades, we intermittently glimpse

vivid streaks, flash on the wing.


Orioles everywhere this year:

bright gleams searing the sky

impeccably orange and black.


A red-winged blackbird creaks

like a clothesline in low gear.

The creek it nests by murmurs


bubbles of possibility, ignoring

frothing eddies of sodden soap

for the fun of funnelling spray.





Street Tales, Street Tells

for the Harris family of Eldon House, Ridout Street, London Ontario



When jackhammers ring through the layers down we glimpse

peripheral reminiscence part dreamt, part recollected in shards.

No telling where multiple truths lie along this worn manhole.


Ridout Street is stratified and striated from asphalt to bedrock.

The surface shines downward. The family assume their place,

proper and prosperous. Trophies live as collected memorabilia


in the words and deeds they chose to commit to paper, in chips

of imported Limoges. A palimpsest is imposed on old growth

forest as if summoning the Old World to replace place names

with their own, erasing other pasts for this newly named road…


Rider, ride out with the news that stays news. Poetry tells, is telling,

is told. Tell, the riches of midden. From now on, tell your poems.










Heart’s ease is home. But when home

is under threat, when terrain changes


before our eyes, then the lives the land

holds in backward glimpse are fogged


in faulty reminiscence. Shifting ground

hides secrets as we search. Nostalgia


replaces rich reality of particular place

revivified in family photos, old stories.


We are at home still here in London

but the city is unstoppably expanding,


developed well beyond recognition,

bloated into a complicated present.


Eldon House stands as a beacon

of light— a white house on the hill,


pinnacle of what history can offer,

framed shining against blue sky.


A living house caught in the amber of

time, scrubbed to polished perfection.


Gleaming clean lines express elegant

simplicity we’ve lost to complication.






We stroll the rolling lawn as if parading

under parasol in a swish of crinoline.


Pretending we were back pining for

grandeur, the glory of modified past.


We the colonial outpost identify with

Empire. We swell with pink splotches


that encircle the globe as our own even

if we live on circumspect circumference.


Our bones recognize upright posture.

We slow down to experience what we


fantasize: a palimpsest of green shire

the Harris family had to transplant here.


Proud plane trees imported from England

stand beside their native cousin sycamore.


English gardens proclaim cultivated beauty

over felled groves of hickory, ash and oak.


Such regions of thought may feel like home,

a place we might emulate and recreate now.


We are already there, inside a fiction that we

may experience as the presence of time gone.


But we impose a past purified, cleared of all

embarrassing inconvenient smell or fact. Loss


lies in the single view, closed to interpretation.

We erase many-faceted history at our peril.




*A neologism coined by Glenn Albrecht to indicate “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault.”





Telling Tales



A white house in white snow

gleams against reflected past.


The family entertain suitable

suitors to maintain their station.


They conform to a norm long

past fashion in Home County.


They adapt but do not adopt

the lay of the land. The lie is


implicit in living on middens

of territory they claim as theirs.


They plant and supplant. They

judge.  They determine the law


to be the real, to replace all that

went before by sheer resolve and


the might of Empire at their heel.


They tell their children old stories

of other places not to be outdone

but to outdo.  Tradition regulates.


Trees surround them.  Sycamore

approaches imported plane trees.


Winter reverses realities: sycamore

ghost trees glint in sunshine while plane


fades to bare-bough obscurity. Such

imposed perimeters are held by the land.


We glimpse peripheral reminiscence, half

dreamed, half a history recollected in pieces.


The family assume their place in the past.





Trees, please!



What is your choice?  Razing

ten thousand trees or raising morale?


The realty corporation is clear

that the wood lot would be clear cut


so they can establish a Complex to re-

place an Environmentally Sensitive Area.


I’m developing a complex.  Aren’t you?

Which do you love? The choice is yours.


Deep pockets or deep wood. Development

vs. organic diversity. Tarmac vs. trillium..


The seasonal round: Nature’s long cycle or

inevitable recompense in lost resource.


And the consequence? Invasive species

multiplied in a virus of corporation logos.


Native phlox and poppies from an old farm.

Willows sun-sparkle green on warbler song.


Beech on the hill slope shelter Spring Beauty.

Hemlocks mingle over fern in lacy ravines.


A boy wades into the river, fixing his lure to

wait just as still as nearby Great Blue Heron.


What cost beauty? What value do we place

on walking through harmonious complexity?


In the woods you can breathe deeply and be

inspired. Here we know we belong, participating


in the co-creative process of simply living,

sensing continuous wholeness. Drawing


on the energy of nature, we emerge renewed

in a relationship of respect, understanding


what a wood is worth. Stand your ground!






Penn Kemp

Penn Kemp is an activist Canadian poet, playwright and editor.  Her latest works are two plays celebrating local hero and explorer, Teresa Harris, produced in 2017 and published by Playwrights Guild of Canada. Recent books include Barbaric Cultural Practice (quattrobooks.ca/books/barbaric-cultural-practice/) and two anthologies edited, Women and Multimedia and Performing Women (http://poets.ca/feministcaucus/livingarchives/). See www.pennkemp.weebly.com.

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