A new poem by Donald McGrath

Goose Village, 1963, a ghost town in southwest Montreal


Hardly auspicious, growing up right there,
where the ancestors came to perish
of typhus and despair
in fever sheds. Yet here he stands,
Mr. D. Delaney, the cane
that usually shores up his starboard side
now held aloft to buttress
some high-flown claim.
A grand man, and a grand talker, too!

The boy helped break
(accidentally, he says)
a leg off a local Neptune. The gang
placed it in a wheelbarrow
and peddled it for scrap, transmuting
bronze into silver.
Proceeds from the sale—$1.85.

His Da’ kept
a blunderbuss upstairs.
And when the geese touched down on Windmill Point,
the boy would stuff the barrel full of gravel
and mimic Cartier trumpeting to auks
on the Magdalens.
                              If anything worth doing
is worth doing well, well this was better
—and by a long shot!—
than eating out of trash cans.

Other days he’d go tramping after butts
and roll the booty up in stolen papers.
When butts got scarce
he smoked the silk off corn.
And when that was gone, dried horse dung
made him every bit as good a man as Raleigh.

And then a Jaysus hiatus in the tale …
Korea, war, work, the bottle—industrial
quantities of monosodium glutamate
(enough to tenderize an entire colony)
churning in a massive centrifuge
and a tight pack of like-minded men
tippling on a dizzy gangplank,
not one soul among them eager
to turn a hand.

Yet the man progresses
from ignorance of the comma and the colon
—the latter “widely used” says our grammarian
with a grin—
to authorship and a book
that deems the hand a claw, in deference
to Clawhammer Jack, Leo Leonard,
who earned the moniker baling on the docks.

Leo’s recently decamped from Griffintown
and from, indeed, this world,
leaving house, horses and the Horse Palace
far behind.
Delaney was down there not so long ago.
Concrete was being poured
through Leo’s basement window.
“The Griffintown Project?” I assay.
“Naw, just Griffin. They dropped the ‘town’
because they don’t want you to know
that anyone so much as drew a breath there.”