Tarring the Riverboat

Ritual without dance or song seven great aunts
my grandmother
dressed as little labourers
tarred the riverboat

Every April
the ice bridge
to the family church

that serious crew
the ragged-timbered
craft against
    unsettled water

Just so
they grew up
the fertility
of dreams
sealing themselves
with small codes
and commonplace
against other
   periodic turbulence.

Dianne Reid
Ottawa, Ontario

"Give me your book" or else. Or else he'll shove me in a corner and stick his tongue in my mouth. Or else he'll toss lit matches in my hair again today at recess. I fling my damn book across the aisle at him, and I am flung into the guidance counsellor's office. I am told I am in trouble, because I "threw a temper," and I am told I must see the counsellor weekly until the end of the school year; I am asked to begin by relating my family history. Yeah, right. I could see the inkblots on the wall. I am not asked why I threw the book. I didn't go back to the office. Grade Eleven ended. I didn't go back to school. I went to work full-time instead.

Out in the 'real world' I am taught: "It don't pay to say NO." I hear: "Date me, or your hours are cut back." Pushed against the cash register, I still hear the hard cock: "Put out right here, or you don't work again. " I space. I quit, again. Walking to and from work, I hear: "Hey, is twenty bucks enough for a blow-job?!" and I think, to myself: if it were, I'd have been rich by age nine. I hear another car horn: "Two hundred dollars baby, right now!" I admit, I wondered how long he would take at it, and calculating from a minimum wage of $1.85 per hour, it was tempting, very tempting, but I did not get in to find out if it paid to say YES. I got married instead. (No, it does not pay to say yes).

My husband was both alcoholic and abusive. (I will point out that those are two separate problems, though they are often found together in the same person.) I married in 1980, and during the nine years of marriage, my husband subjected me to emotional, psychological, physical, and primarily sexual abuse (the most brutal rape inflicted upon me during my pregnancy). The operative word in what I have just said, is subjected. He owned me, controlled me, and abused me. He taught, and reviewed, all the rules: fear, shame, guilt, depression, non-existent self-esteem, and not to tell.

I begin my writing career. I work with past and future tense. I am very tense. But my work is very intense, and I am very persistent. I am finally published. My prose and my poetry; my veiled pain. Pain does not pay. Neither does a career in literary writing. I am going to have a child to support. I know I need my grade twelve and a paying career to go with motherhood. I save for the correspondence courses.

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