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       The Life and Times of Alice Maude, p.1

          Leslie Smith Dow / History & Fiction
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The Life and Times of Alice Maude

The Pioneer Poems:

The Life and Times of Alice Maude

by Leslie Smith Dow

For Darrin

Cover artwork:

Original oil painting "Cruise Control" © 2015 Debra A. Horwitz

© 2015 Leslie Smith Dow. All rights reserved.


looks directly

at the camera


her picture to be taken


and gives away her soul


I always look away

or blink

at the last minute


like children of nuns

on iron bedstead

on pillow of sugar sacks

we slept through

the orange fire of summer

our room full of the freshness of apples

the pink and white

of June roses

the warm breeze of new laundry

while out the window

Maude bent over her plots of sun

relentless green searing the grasses

and rustling the trees

in our dreams

we flew down to join you


first the Indians came

then the gypsies

all travellers welcomes on our land

we too were merely passing through

in the long grass of twilight

we and our small cousins crept

to the edge of their smoky campfires

to see with their eyes

the dancing the singing

longing to leave the land

as much as they loved it


did the work of men between us five

pretty Helen too frail for threshing

Charlotte and Beatrice too proud

in the fields we laboured

beside our father

without sons

later in the bad times

it was me pulled the plough

Marge guiding the blade

through the worthless earth

no men to speak of

two boys in Flanders

Jack up to his elbows

in axle grease and drink


her hair curled in long waves

to her lap

when I first saw her

I'd take the car

head north, anywhere

to clear the city from my mind

breathe the grease

and poison

from my lungs

a horse in the bend of the road

legs clawing sky

Alice Maude astride

cursing a blue streak

threatening me with her whip

I knew she'd do it always



he sized her up

his blue eyes

her dark hair


running his hands over her

over her flanks

trembling like a filly


these walls are smoothed

by rocks and pounding

waves along the shore

the very bones of home

on which the flesh

of family thrives

heat of afternoon

warms the windows

through the cool of evening

and of troubles

these pine boards

fairly sing

the history of us

years from now I'll feel you

on wet nights and blustery days

a dull ache inside

a reminder of the bones of home


Monday in the forenoon

Alice Maude worked in the far field

where the Lefroy train passed by

trainmen blew the whistle hard

at her red hair streaming

black skirts flying

laughed at the three runaways

Tuesday heard the hiss of steam

Alice Maude stripped off her skirts

blindfolded the chestnuts

smiled and ploughed in petticoats

that day the 12:05

was late arriving


Days were war enough

for Marge and me

those years we ploughed

and milked alone

scratched the soil

for seeds that barely grew

bleary nights our fingers

mumbled over hand-knit socks

and sugar cookies for the Red Cross

nights I dreamed

of mud and shrieking horses

blackened hands grasping at my legs

the smell of mustard gas


Even at 5 a.m. you knew

hardly time for dressing

no boots for speed in the early darkness

You could run for miles

to those far blue-wet fields

soft-throated cows

moist nostrils

welcoming your smell

heavy udders waiting

for the gentle pressure of your hands

so like him, pleading

pressing his greasy pencil stub

against the paper

"Dear Maude,

whatever is the matter"


One two three frogs

exploded into blood

at the end of Johnny's gun

I never thought of catching them that way

cried past all the cattails

on the path to home

those three shots reverberating

and my heart pounding

behind the clumps of cedar

mud on my belly

when Johnny tired of the frogs


ninety years and more

for one of us to live

dreams you wanted

she wanted

she sealed your fate

you sealed hers

in denial

in pride

and opened my world to possibilities

ninety years and more

these dreams have slept

extinguished in sorrow

trodden by time

and now the time for which

the two generations

prepared the third has come

now what becomes this fourth

inside me?


who remembers the night

the giant poplar crashed

down dark and stormy

along the drive

missing the house by inches

and the bedroom

where the babies slept?

Alice Maude saw

shut her eyes tight

and wished it fall

somewhere else

Grace across the road

up all night with her sick child

saw Alice Maude

rain-soaked on the lawn

like a sleepwalker

when the tree came down


in those days the lost

turned to Seth

not God

who blazed trails

through virgin woodlands

and elsewhere

marched with the rest

the dawn miles

to Montgomery's Tavern

his steps still leave marks

in these parts

too big for me to follow


Alice Maude was afraid of one thing

the undoing of women since Eve

but this was no smooth

talking serpent

this one was dead

even before Alice Maude

and her sisters began taking the radial car south to school

years it spent

unmolested unmolesting

resting in formaldehyde

until the fateful day

Alice Maude

took grade 10 biology

dissection of her mortal enemy

not for her

nr her dream as things transpired

her refusing hand clasped and plunged

into the jar by Mr. Gardiner

snake and Alice Maude

fainted dead away

never again forced

to sit in any classroom

Alice Maude worked instead

on her knees

scrubbing floors of others

over a bucket of soapy water

they met again

Alice Maude didn't recognize him

outside of the jar


look at that car

he drives up

in his pinstripe suit and tie

he's no banker

but he handles a gun

knows all the cops

he's as bulletproof

as his bathtub gin

some flying ace he is

behind the wheel

speed means nothing

to a man with no limits

first for love

then for money

Jack was every inch


through the dragon's breath of morning

it was me

who ran barefoot

through its dew-blue jaws

and over the bald hill

five miles there and back

before mother stoked the fire for porridge

collecting cows

among the velvety green

aching for me

to take away their fullness

nuzzling my empty hands


Bell Ewart was as beautiful as her name

and then she drowned

they said her father named this land for her

a memory soon to be a village

low on the shores of the squalling lake

tiny wood frame houses

crammed full of families

no money for foundations

no need to collect the floodwaters

that every spring washed away the roads


Easter gifts

embedded in dirty ice

how could he know the children of those houses

would scratch and call out "Belly Wart!"

smelling raw

and of raw sewage

wherever they swam

TRAIN SONG 5:15 a.m.

Green to the waist half-hidden

by the field of darkness

she stood before

relinquishing herself

to the bare arms

of waving wheat

her bare toes tracing

the arc of the sun

over his belly

the brakeman saw

their imprint

as he went by

he watched her slipping her dress back on


rode through one heat

where wildcats jumped

pine to pine and down

and on and on

over foaming ground and hissing embers

sizzling on horseflesh

careening over the smouldering black

where no wildcats dance

only wild fire

spitting holes through her riding cloak

curling the ends of her hair


from the washing hung

still warm

upstairs on a rainy Monday

comes a soft smell

of air

and fresh duck feathers

that by Tuesday

will be pillows and sheets so smooth

under your downy hair


you hold up the world

in your green coils

and tell me the why of everything

that is why I am afraid

I reach for my hoe

to sever your beautiful neck

none of your apples for me today


pink white red yellow

the apple trees are blooming

in her red windbreaker

hair untied now trickling

past her shoulders

Alice Maude steps into her garden

waving a little want

tipped with rabbit's fur

Mother Nature-of-the-Cross-Pollinators

here a squash

there a melon

over there a pumpkin

pausing a moment under beaming moist sun

even the bees are glad

as she takes off her straw hat

the lambs and kids run bleating to the fence

at the sound of her voice

to take strong tea perched on a camp stool

under an island of snow apple tree

her feet soothed on fallen white petals


no soft light

spreads over the stalks of last

years ripened corn field

alone and still alone she sits

shepherding darkness round its edges

until the new moon rising

catches itself in the pines

unwraps her moonkist bundles

patting one by one

into the expectant earth

a bean seed falls

from her tattered apron

as she steps inside

her camp stool waits

beside the field




tendril green at first

a delicate shoot then vines

grow up the roof

Alice Maude thought eaves troughs

would do to plant

the little seeds of squash

the boys had brought

but Hubbards mutant monsters

were what grew

hulks their bony knuckles

tore up and under the shingles

Jack! Jack! she called half-joking

under the beanstalks

and into the rustling leaves of cattle

and soon

the air was filled with

smells of baking bread


golden honey pail tied to her waist

Alice Maude moves quiet through the dew

voices of swallows

the chilly morning blue

webs of wet and green

picks the ruby raspberries

holds them soft a moment

in her ungloved hands

savours the bitter

sweetness of blooming red

her lips on early summer

waits for the sting of thorns

and stain of blood

fresh on her thighs


racoon's revenge

exploded out of dirt

dead as that one hot day

fur guts and bones

buried but not deep enough

screamed did Alice Maude

and swore the earth rumbled

with the spirit of all creatures


since age four

I have borne and laughed

this mark for you

this china scar inside my wrist

white like razors or slashing bits

of broken chamber pot

I slipped and smashed

got soaking

and give stitches

by this tiny line

my love for you will never shatter

not like your chamber pot


on a day that held no clouds

the valley droned quiet with life

under the heat of sleep

under the drowsing heat of sleep

exited by the screeching heat bug

a song of rusty nails on iron

on a day that held no clouds

only a sudden snap and scream

was heard

up to the top of the barn

to the top of the tin roof

and then no sound not even

the pulsing vein

in the throat of the throbbing leopard frog

nor a murmur of reeds

no whisper of flight

from the fledgling birds

as a shadow jumped once

and up and away

on a day that held no clouds


on cold and snowy winter mornings

Alice Maude

takes the red pail

puts on her red coat big boots

takes my hand over drifts and drifts

so big

opens wide the stable door

so snow seeps in

neighs and cackles

animals stomp impatience

but patience the sun beams

down the cobwebs

on our sweeping and shovelling breath

foams foggy

new light draws haloes on the straw

and on Alice Maude's boots

covered in muck

a look of rapture on her face

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