REMEMBERING (for Geoffrey Ursell)
Back when I was chairman of the Writers’ Guild you wanted to meet,
and dropped into the school at noon, a tall and bearded stranger
who moved like a cat, but I had noon duty so we patrolled the halls
together, the kids staring, wondering who was this extra monitor
so deep in conversation he paid them not the least attention.
Finally we settled in the gym, a wild floor hockey game raging,
but we talked about fiction and poetry, discovered writers
we both admired, suspecting already we might turn into friends.
We had no idea then that you would write an award-winning novel,
that your musicals would tour the province to much acclaim, no clue
that with two others we’d create a publishing company that would
launch scores of new writers, win three Governor-General’s Awards,
and turn over four hundred desperate dreams into actual books.
Shauna Powers phones for the CBC, wondering if I’ll reminisce about you,
your achievements, the kind of legacy you leave. Of course, I will.
We talk about your play that celebrates Sandra Schmirler’s curling team,
the surprise you felt, decades after your books were published in Winnipeg,
when the BBC broadcast your poems from London and sent a cheque,
the way you toiled over others’ manuscripts, writing helpful comments
when you saw a spark of skill, even for those that had to be rejected.
Saturday morning, my wife and I sit on the sofa in pyjamas, radio
turned up, the interview about you, your skills as an editor
putting together three mass market paperbacks of Saskatchewan
stories, a boost for writers young and old, such good memories.
The discussion ending, Shauna switches to music from the archives,
a song you wrote so many years ago, “The Bright Red Geranium Waltz,”
your guitar, your voice filling the room, and suddenly my wife and I
embrace, cleaving fiercely together, desolate because now
we feel intensely what we only knew before,
that we’ll never hear your voice again.