Sunday, 23 December 2012

Island Cemeteries

Island Cemeteries

Clover frosts the sod
above the pioneers.

Their graveyard edged by pickets
with iron gates beside the
clap- board church, or
hidden in the fields behind the pines;
Peoples’ Burying Grounds
beyond the village limits,
Protestants  and Catholics
forever separate.

Nameless plots
their wooden crosses lost,
a stone lamb guards a child between her parents
a family claimed by pox and pleurisy,
marble etched by salted winds
faded names beneath the lichen.

Scottish, English, Irish refugees of
famine, war and poverty,
evicted from their crofts and common lands;
farmers, tanners , fishermen,
millers, blacksmiths , merchants ,
lawyers, mayors , Loyalists .

Founders of Island dynasties
buried head-to-toe.

Bryan D. Cook Ottawa December 2010 

Context for "Island Cemeteries"
In the Summer of 2012, I spent some time searching P.E.I. cemeteries for the "Newsome" ancestors of  a friend, Kathy Wallace. It is an amazing way to get to know the people and history of the Island! The stone lamb headstone was particularly poignant. Again , thanks to Pearl and David for excellent comments.

Lower Bedeque Cemetery P.E.I.

Cape Traverse United Cemetery P.E.I.

Thomas S Newsome Family  in Searletown Cemetery P.E.I.
(Thomas S, 1854-1910, Sarah J. Collett, wife, 1854-1922
and Charlotte A, daughter)

Stone Lamb in Searletown Cemetery P.E.I. 
marks the grave of Charlotte A. Newsome, 1896,  aged 4 months



There are exotic creatures on the Isle these days
sharing pastures with the sheep and cattle,
lamas and alpacas far from Andean slopes
and donkeys which have never carried burden.
Craning necks and trumpet ears on sentry duty,
sharp hooves and brays to drive away the coyotes
hunting new-born lambs and calves , as
blue herons spear the voles in fields of soya bean.
Thirty years ago the coyotes trekked across the frozen strait
to raise their pups in scrub-land and black spruce,
driving red fox to ditch and suburb,
in a dwindling space to co-exist with man.
The trapper snared six dozen this winter past,
he ships the pelts to China, we buy them back as parka trim.

Bryan D. Cook  Ottawa December 2, 2012

Context for "Competition"
The summer of 2012 was the first time I realised that donkeys and the lama family are used on the Island as guard animals against the coyote ; that herons hunt land mammals; and that the coyote does not tolerate the fox in his territory. It is now very common to see the fox beside the road  and  on urban streets. I also did not know that pelts are exported from the Island to China. Thanks to Pearl Pirie and David Blaikie for their critiques.

   Lama on guard in P.E.I.  (photo courtesy of "GuyC", P.E.I.)


Coyote on path (photo by the author)

Fox on trail near Hunter River, P.E.I. (photo courtesy of  "PEICycler")

Donkeys on alert near Winsloe, P.E.I.(photo courtesy of  "PEICycler")

Blue Heron hunting voles (photo courtesy of Rick Cameron,

Monday, 10 December 2012

By The West River

By The West River

In Island fields the donkeys guard
the new-born lambs and calves
from coyotes.
Stubby, grey with trumpet ears on heavy heads,
they munch the thistle heads
and clover.
There’s one that’s different from the herd,
solitary in the weeds before a
derelict home.
He’s mute and deaf, he does not move,
gazing at the salt marsh of
West River.
Where herons stalk and cormorants
hang their wings to dry in
summer’s breeze.
Where eels are trapped in wooden cul-de-sacs
as geese skein down to rest before the
winter ice.
He’s burdened with a pannier which never
leaves his back, unknown cargo going
nowhere fast.
His coat is weathered to a patchwork,
white and red and lichen yellow; a
missing ear.
Yet there’s calmness in this beast of beauty.

Bryan D. Cook  Ottawa, December 2012

Context for By the West River
I just could not get this image out of my head; the donkey is always there on my drive from Nine Mile Creek to Cornwall P.E.I., just before the West River Bridge. Thanks to Pearl Pirie for some valued editorial suggestions.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Dark Side

The Dark Side

A serpent totem lies bleached on Rocky Point,
above muddy flats where bottles jag and polypropylene ensnares;
its eyes stare hollow at the rusted ribs and
concrete carcass of a ferry wharf
abandoned for a distant bridge and smog.
Rancid seaweed reeks the shore as
sand fleas  burrow in their millions and mosquitoes breed in stagnant pools.
Tattered cormorants foul the roost, unblinking at the
mussel mats toxic with infection from manure heaps and
fertiliser to feed the blight of potato farms.
An oyster boat rots; the fishery destroyed.
A behemoth cruises up the sewer,
Two thousand tourist diodes flash as
Annie beckons from her traps.

Bryan D. Cook Ottawa  December 2012

Context for "The Dark Side"

I hope that Islanders will forgive this stark poem. I was shocked by what I found at Rocky Point close to the old Charlottetown ferry wharf. It seems so beautiful from afar, but then........ I love P.E.I. as many of my poems attest...but sometimes you have to describe the yin which goes with the yang.

Rocky Point 

Serpent Totem

Old Ferry Wharf 


Abandoned Oyster Boat

Costa Atlantica passes Rocky Point  (Photo courtesy of Steven McFeeters)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Daily Catch

The Daily Catch

Breakers comb the seaweed rows,
an eagle hangs on thermals high above the
arctic terns in caplin frenzy, as
grey seals lazy up the bay to dive for crab.

My tin boat anchors at the honey hole,
wreck of the “Five Brothers”,
marked on those ancient charts which
guided brigantines of pioneers
past Rocky Point to Charlottetown.

Chum streams in the current
scenting shoaling mackerel to my hooks;
soon six score are in the cooler; but
now the tide is turning and the
others leave as quickly as they came.

Cormorants hang their feathers out to dry
on mussel tenders berthed at Nine Mile Creek;
the sun sets beyond Rice Point as
I head for shore beneath an anvil sky.

Marguerite greets me with her pail; 
warm scones for fish, fair trade indeed!

Bryan D. Cook  November 20, 2012

Context for "The Daily Catch"

I love to catch mackerel in Hillsborough Bay, Prince Edward Island. I fish from a recycled tin boat called "Dumpster Dan" with a recycled 9.8 h.p. motor. Marguerite always watches my progress and safety with her binoculars and we trade after most catches. The evening skies are incredible.

Dawn on the Shore

Dawn on the Shore

Dawn’s blaze fires the cliffs and
tempers water purple, mauve and blue.
My shadow lengthens as I wander
by damp caves and cliff falls
sweetened with the scent of myrtle.
I cross the strandline of a winter gale,
bleached with shells and dry seaweed, and
greet the gentle lapping of an ebbing tide
where tiny pipers scurry shrimp.
Hours drift
in search of gems which glisten in the shallows or
frost in salted wind upon the beach;
lost and found beside my foot prints,
they are my worry beads, my rosary.

Bryan D. Cook Ottawa, November 20,2012

Context for "Dawn on the Shore"
I find the beaches below the red sandstone cliffs of the South Shore of Prince Edward Island a wonderful place to meditate, especially in the changing colours of dawn as I search for sea glass.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012



The tide is low and red sands stretch
out to the oyster beds flushed fresh
by a stream meandering to the waves;
wild mussels cling to rocky footings of once tall cliffs
felled by storm surge and winter ice;
marooned upon the sand,
crabs hide from hungry gulls with sea-weed camouflage,
or side -wind from my footstep in the grassy shallows;
razor fish breathe salted air above their burrows
ever vigilant to dive at my approach;
barefoot, I dance the clam-shoe-shuffle,
feeling quahog cobbles buried in the sand;
caplin scatter at my shadow
and heron rise with frustrated caw.

The tide is flooding now and it’s a heavy catch to shoulder to
the shore, stooping for the balls beyond the final green;
soon the chowder will be thickening on the stove,
I recommend a pinch of curry powder!

Bryan D. Cook    Ottawa    November 13, 2012 

Context for "Foraging"
On my summer holidays on the South Shore of P.E.I., I forage for my supper from the shore at low tide. It is a great feeling to be going back to early human development as a littoral creature forced to the Africa's eastern shore by a combination of climate change and avoidance of open range predation.It is quite likely that on those shores innovation in the use of early tools evolved rapidly. The references to the balls and final green describe one of the many beautiful coastal  golf courses of P.E.I. and the rain of balls which overshoot the green and end up in the sea!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sea Glass

Sea Glass
Mist shrouds the light of Prim,
a fog horn moans across the calm;
heron holds vigil on the beach
rhymed with foam from an ebbing tide.
Stooped like the crows, I search for mermaid’s tears
of amber, turquoise, aqua and milk white,
hidden in the wrack with pebble, periwinkle and hermit crab.
If I look for tears, I do not find them; they find me,
time travelling from mystery to soothe my melancholy. 

 Bryan D. Cook, Ottawa, November 12, 2012

Context for "Sea Glass"
I wrote the original "sea glass" as homework for a Tree Seed Workshop on imagist poetry given by Lise Rochefort. I was pleased with it until I  met the maritime and political poet Peter Sanger at a meeting of Ottawa’s TREE Reading Series who, after hearing it,  advised me to tighten up my diction. Friends Jennifer Pederson and David Blaikie reinforced this view. I applied this wisdom  with the above result. I will now be going through this form of editorial process for every poem I write. I think part of my problem was that I had been so stultified by writing legal documents and memoranda to Cabinet that I was releasing my pent-up muse in a gush of metaphor, adjectives and adverbs.
I later received a very insightful  letter from Peter which I can precise as :

"get rid of all self aggrandising solipsism taught at creative writing courses, poetic detritus and nineteenth century clich├ęs. A poem requires the truth, not the nidnod of mutual cowardly complicity!"

He would distill the poem to its essence:

Stooped like the crows, I search for mermaid’s tears
of amber, turquoise, aqua and milk white,
hidden in the wrack with pebble, periwinkle and hermit crab.
If I look for tears, I do not find them; they find me,
time travelling from mystery. 

I think I could now write an interesting piece on the evolution of an imagist poem!

Mermaids' tears are gems of hydrated and smoothed sea glass, often a century or more old, washed up on the beach and coveted for  jewellery making.

A heron 's lone vigil in the mist

Dream Wedding

Dream Wedding

I dreamt I walked the tidal strand at the dawn of a wedding day,
Lulled by a calm serenity across the Hillsborough Bay.

The perfumed scent of new mown hay drifted from the fields,
A misted curtain hung in the sky, scattering pale moon beams;
The water gleamed a plankton green and flashed with mackerel sheen,
While the lights that guided ancient ships back-lit this tranquil scene.

On a grassy knoll above red-stone cliffs at the end of Blackberry Lane,
Where fairies dance in mushroom rings and golden mustard flames,
The Island clans had gathered to hear the wedding banns
Of the flaxen maid Christena and Dan the fisherman.

With fond embrace they pledged themselves for all eternity,
Then sealed their oath with a lingering kiss of love and constancy;
And with that kiss, a minstrel sound was heard across the bay,
Swelling to an anthem in celebration of their day.

The waves they plucked a Celtic harp in crescendos of ebb and flow,
While fiddler crabs bowed a Gaelic reel as they scuttled to and fro;
Whales in the deep Atlantic echoed a haunting bass,
As the oysters sang soprano and the mussels a descant low,
While ‘neath the sands, the striped bar clams gurgled a soft alto.

Tuxedoed crows and snow-gowned gulls danced a ballet so divine,
As herons rose in single file, a plumaged chorus line;
The lobsters tap-danced on the rocks, snapping their claws in time, and
A troupe of acrobatic seals turned somersaults in the brine.

Then up from the curved horizon brimmed the morning sun,
Its warming rays roused me from my haze; the new day had begun;
From Stewart’s barn came the merry sound of revellers full of cheer,
And the first to waltz was Christena fair and Dan, her husband dear.
For Christena and Dan with love and
 a wish from Bryan that all your dreams may be fulfilled.
Ottawa, June, 2012

Context for "Dream Wedding"
I was honoured to compose and read a poem for the wedding of Christena, the daughter of Stewart Darrach and Hester Boyle, our friends in PEI, to Dan Lemelin, an avid sport fisherman. I did not realise that it had to be given from the pulpit, but it seemed to go over well with the congregation. It took a lot of composure to read as my eyes were misty from the previous  beautiful singing of Leonard Cohen's "hallelujah" by Diane MacRae!

The happy couple

Best lady and Christena

The "clan"

Dan fishing afterwards!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

What a Life!

Aaaahhhh  it’s Sunday!

Perhaps I‘ll bury my head once more into the pillow
to continue with that dream of rampant libido
or sink into another of calmer contemplation.
Then those thoughts start whining like the mosquitoes
from which I hide beneath the sheets
the list of what must be done ignores on my aching body
Get up…..get on with it….

….clean the dog’s incontinence….reunite her with her buried bone
…. read the paper and not mess it up …..
…. walk for health and so the cats can play.....
…. why do I always lose my keys and take so long to leave…..
….I’m mumbling to myself again….
….don‘t forget to flush and spray….why this fixation with my bodily functions
…. lock the doors…there’s bad men out there…..
…. back and in one piece…
…. don’t let my wet clothes drip or boots mud up the floor…
….now to feed the dog and
….think about cooking supper for six to eat with Coronation Street
…. the house is cluttered with my hasty discards
…. and the dust bunnies are thriving at the cold air return
…. time to pick-up, dust, vacuum and mop….
…. of course its garbage day tomorrow, so empty the bins and kitchen waste….
…. sort the paper from the cans and plastic…..
…. clean and haul the weight of kitty litter and poop-and-scoop the yard….
…. the bottom of the driveway beckons though the rain…..

At last some time to pot a bonsai,
grow ancestral branches on my genealogical tree
or perhaps compose;
a hot tub soak to ease my bones and
ignore priorities to fix or drive or do the taxes;
TV time then off to bed but not before the dishwasher’s stacked and pots are cleaned
and the doors and windows locked.

Sunday …..a day for rest and reading the obituaries!

Bryan D. Cook    May 2, 2012

Context for "What a Life"
I think it is self explanatory!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

April 2012 Tanka, Haiku and Senryu

hawthorn blossoms
over a foot-worn stile
fragrant shade
in which to watch the cricket
on the village green

lime trees
line the path beside
the green
a cricket match declares
for tea and biscuits

drapes the footpath
in the graveyard
our parents rest beneath a rose
trellised on a knapped- flint wall

below chalk cliffs
a trawler guts its catch
to mobbing gulls
night falls , cut nets are beached
and casks stored in the caves

Easter Sunday
the naked forest pregnant
in a warming sun
buds swell , straw greens,
maple sap flows bitter in the pails

water boatmen
scud the beaver pond on
surface tension
tempting hungry fish
from deadheads far below

in steerage
dreams of fortunes to be won
to sink with the unsinkable
shoes rest below an iceberg sea

of post- war hope
playing in bomb damage
driven to succeed
and to escape

a woodpecker
drums out grubs
in my head

window shopping
for birds

the void
takes so long
to fill

in the hot tub
a full moon

can’t remember
if I’m senile

Context for April 2012 Tanka, Haiku and Senryu

I am not sure if I am there yet in mastering these Japanese poetic forms but I think I am improving! Many of these are images from my youth in Banstead, Surrey, England. The Titanic is remembered on the anniversary of the sinking. "Maggie" and "Void" were written in memory of David Blaikie's cat, Maggie. The rest were inspired by the forest in April

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Message Found in a Bottle

Oh fortunate one!

Muddy foot traveller,
embankment wanderer,
fish finder, beach dweller,
coloured glass mongerer,
you, have found a message in a bottle!

What a fantastic stroke of luck!
Perhaps some maiden of
the Ottawa river, or
even the Saint-Lawrence
has brought this small message to you!

I wish you best of luck with
the rest of your river adventures!
Stomp around in the mud!
Fly over fields!
The World is yours and You are Free!


Context for “Message Found in a Bottle”

On April 1st 2012, I found this message in a sealed Perrier bottle. I was scavenging with my dog Tess along the spring flood line of the south bank of the Ottawa River behind the Carine Wilson Secondary School in Orleans, Ontario.

It had such a poetic flair that I decided to add it to this blog. The stanza format is my own....I love how each one land’s on “you”, the finder! They could almost be “natural tanka”. The poem also really reflects my nature!

The bottle also had a photo of a winter scene with the caption “p.s. the photo is an excerpt from my photo essay “winter”. I hope it is a better time of year when you read this!”

The author says “Write Me!” Ret. 483 Edison Ave, K2A1V1, Ottawa, ON, CAN.

I will contact him and report any news here.

Matthias replied and described how the initial launch was by himself and a companion off Ottawa's Victoria Island below the Chaudiere Falls.

I have added my own message and picture to those of Matthias in a heavier champagne  bottle, sealed it well and got a fishing captain to re-launch it in the ocean off Cove Head Harbour on Prince Edward Island's north shore this July. I wonder who will find it!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Tanka and Haiku by Bryan Cook with Coaching from Grant D. Savage

old china
boxed in the closet
of grandma’s parlour
not to be touched or sold

grand piano
fills the living room
where small fingers learned
music on its ivory

a cardinal
in the maple flowers
to stake his claim
warmed by the sun

ice floes
on the flooding river
hooded man
pollutes the view
with graffiti

high tea
with croquet on the lawn
fortunes sunk
to the bottom
of fine porcelain

(grant’s version)

croquet on the lawn
forget-me-nots and high tea
in fine porcelain
telling fortunes from the leaves
loves and lives not meant to be
(my cluttered version!)


a cardinal sings
in the maple flowers
staking claim
(by me)

croquet and high tea
in the fine trimmed lawn
( by Grant Savage)

Context for Tanka and Haiku by Bryan Cook with Coaching from Grant D. Savage
I have corresponded a lot with Grant who graciously gave me lots of pointers and reviewed and improved my haiku and tanka… some cases re-writing them!
I distilled from our correspondence the following guidelines for writing Tanka:

Tanka guidelines
• short, long, short, long, long
• pivot on third line ( first three and last three to make independent sense around the pivot
• slim and light…avoid being ponderous, pompous and trying to be too clever
• nature reference ( not an absolute necessity, but often expected)
• seasonal reference ( often implied) or an embedded passage of time (recommended)
• just a couple of ideas or topics….not overburdened with detail
• a human sentiment or condition anywhere in the tanka though usually in the last two lines
I wrote the graffiti tanka after seeing a vandal spray paint the "No Anchor" sign beside the Ottawa river