Mother With Child

She rocks the jar of cream
in her lap
like a cranky child,
tries to lull it
to some expected form,
as I see myself
rocked so often
on that tired lap.
Finally, late at night,
the cream thickens, clots,
she pours off the buttermilk,
gives me a glass.
Thank God that's done, she says,
and goes to bed.
I watch the pale hill of butter,
wonder if my own
murky childhood's end
met with such relief,
a sudden falling together
into one shape,
no more weary rocking, rocking
late into the night.

Reprinted from Northbound (Thistledown Press, 1984)

In the League of Canadian poets, I was founding member of the Feminist Caucus about ten years ago, and although I still wince when I think of the abuse we had to take , it does mean that now feminist women no longer feel like oddballs in the organization. In the publishing world, too, women are more visible than they used to be. When I was editor of Event, a literary magazine, a post I held for 10 years and resigned from in 1985, I remember noticing one year that among the fifty or so literaries in the country only two or three were edited by women. The situation is better now, although we're still far from fifty percent.

In terms of my own writing, I find that after five books of poetry I'm turning now to novels, and I haven't written a new poem in years. I know a number of poets who are doing this-- maybe as we get older we lose interest in that lyrical intensity that lends itself to the poem. But of course it's impossible to generalize about other writers. For me, I find the novel a happy change and my first one (Housebroken, from Newest Press) has been quite successful. Prose requires a completely different kind of discipline, though, a different kind of commitment. If a poem doesn't work, well, that's one piece of paper you can toss away; if a novel doesn't work, that's years of work, hundreds of pages to scrap. My second novel is proving much harder to write than my first, which surprises me, but I guess my expectations of it are much higher. It's distressing, too, to discover that practically none of "the tricks" of the first carry over -- the new novel is an entirely new beast and needs entirely different treatment.

Right now I keep trying to juggle my writing with a wage-earning job (teaching at Kwantlen College in Surrey, B.C.); like most writers I find it impossible to survive purely on income for writing. I have enjoyed this past year as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, my old alma mater, and it has reaffirmed to me that Alberta is a good place to be.

Leona Gom, is the author of five books of poetry, one of which won the 1980 Canadian Authors Association Award for best poetry book of the year. Her first novel. Housebroken (1986, Newest press) won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. She has just completed a term as writer in residence at the University of Alberta.

Housebroken (excerpt)

"One for me and one for you. Merry Christmas. "

"Oh, Susan, I don't think I -- I've never smoked any before. I don't know how."

"Well, good grief, then it's about time." She lit up one, inhaled deeply, and handed it to me, saying in a strange voice, "It's just like an ordinary cigarette. Inhale and then hold it.

" I did my best, feeling absurd, remembering the faces in the Woodstock movie, how this is what they were doing. The smoke was harsh and bitter in my lungs, and I coughed it out. I had never learned to properly smoke a regular cigarette before. I remembered an alarming film called Reefer Madness we saw in Guidance class in high school, but years later I saw students at the university were watching it as a joke. I hoped it was. Susan was lighting the second cigarette.

"What are you supposed to feel?" I asked nervously.

"You probably won't notice anything. You'd need more than these. It just relaxes you. And makes you want to fuck trees."
"Oh, wonderful."

But she was right. Not about the trees, but about not feeling anything. A vague dizziness, perhaps, but nothing more. It was quite disappointing. I couldn't imagine tossing people in jail for this. I've felt more intoxicated cleaning my oven.

Reprinted from Housebroken (NeWest Press, 1986)

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