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‘grace’ and other poems by Albi James

By: Albi James


a restaurant deck, by the harbour
in breezy sunshine – my cousin, a minister
speaks of churches

brunch arrived, she bows her head
silent in prayer

I feel left out, as if two friends
are sharing a secret – one I’ve announced
I don’t want to hear


field recording

this old tape recalls tunes
from kitchen dances and
farm festivals – suddenly,
the early chirps of my children
– the complaint of my then-wife
whose head aches – in the background
the sweet drone of bagpipes

cut to a shed backstage

I’m on fiddle, while another
bangs breakneck piano
with well-aimed but seized-up fingers
that hit just off so you wish this
five years back – even here
his wild pounding, his downhome beat
drive his plinking peers from the field

that’s all right, boy he says
in half-strangled drawl

then that march we all played
– its young maker not yet gone
by heart attack – was hitching
from Cape Breton when a driver stopped
to try the famous tune and ask if he had it
and yes, he had it pretty good –
no one said it had to be perfect

but a few minutes by the road
before that march was forgotten
before fingers bound up
and hearts gave out
came close enough


old Montreal

this poet she knew in the Montreal of Leonard
Cohen and Dubois brothers and bôites à chansons –
too young to care, poet and wife just old
enough: if downtown late, she crept up
the fire-escape, raised the window, and morning
found her on their couch. I was wont
to fancy more: late night intrusions
not to mere living- but bedroom and
passion fruit till first light blushed over
Saint Somebody whose eyes peach-pink mornings
absolved a city – and this how many heat-wave
nights including the chanteuse she danced tiptoe
up iron steps to love poet’s wife
while he and my bride-to-be watched from twined
tumbles of sheets and the beautiful waiter from
the alley pleading keys lost who too
was shushed through the window – bienvenue,
Madame Landlady, entrez, downstairs
ballerina, flustered, with two strapping
policemen, next night escorting inmates giggling
from St. Sappho’s Correctional who Sunday dragged
gangster boyfriends to the boat ride. And so
that summer of love spread its web by kiss,
by lick, by nibble to enmesh the plump
round ends of the earth till even poor,
halt, and lame forgot their wretchedness,
posed preening before mirrors in finery
soon flung to the five winds and as
St. Leonard sang fell to young and gorgeous
arms. But come morning, summer’s girls
shouldered backpacks, stuck out thumbs, hopped
into sports-cars next to square-jawed strangers
in dark shades and waved, or boarded planes
blowing kisses – the boys, in parti-coloured
helmets roared off on motorcycles,
and the beggars went back a-begging, the starved a-starving –
St. Leonard climbed his mountain, the Dubois fréres
faced the music while the bôites à chansons
went off-key – the poet promised obscurity
brides-to-be turned wives-that-were to Gallic
shrugs with Parisian accordion yearning as credits
rolled: names soon gone except Leonard
Cohen as himself. And I missed
that night – someone might have mentioned but no
they pranced, minced and hobbled past my pedestal –
next morning not even seeking the forgiveness
in my stone eyes

Notes: 1) Dubois brothers: gangsters, active 1960s-1970s; 2) bôites à chansons: small nightclubs with live music and bohemian ambience, popular in Montreal, 1950s-1970s.


Albi James (pseudonym) lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  He has been a general labourer, musician, and teacher – not necessarily in that order. His poems have appeared in various journals, anthologies, and collected in a trade book.

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