On A Moderately Successful Poet


ON A Moderately Successful Poet

Heart attack, heart attack
You’re dead.
There’ll be a cross behind your head.
Alack, alack
The crows will say.
The cows behind the fence will pray.
Last year’s stack
Of hay decays,
The graveyard grass bends with the breeze
When winter comes the rose will freeze.
The sun will wear away the days
Until no one knows that you are here.
New hands will lift the hotel’s beer
And falling leaves will be your praise.

A poem for myself brought on by the fact that hiking up McInnis Rise, the ridge on which I now live, left me breathless. Unusual for someone who, for years, climbed Mt. Finlayson every Wednesday afternoon no matter what the weather, who walked over Mt. Tolmie to the University and back.

I mentioned it as a curiosity when I was seeing my GP about something so trivial that I don’t remember what it was. Probably, a bashed and bloodied toenail.

You’ve got my attention, he said. Then he started asking me questions. I don’t like questions asked by doctors and I like it even less when I’m forced to say yes to them. In the morning do you cough up clear phlegm? Have you had a pain in your chest? A pain in your left arm? Etc. Yes, yes, yes. Unfortunately. Do you get short of breathe? Yes, I said, but that’s because I have a history of asthma.

“You need to have a stress test,” he said and arranged one.

Nonsense, I thought, I’m as fit as a horse, an older horse, mind you, a seventy-three year old horse. However, when I got an appointment for the stress tests, I said, “No coffee? You’ve got to be kidding. For an entire day and a morning? How about half a cup?” No. No. No. These people in the angio department aren’t into negotiating.

I went without coffee. I went to the hospital. I let them shoot me up with nuclear waste from Chernoble. I stood on that ramp and went walk, walk, walk. It didn’t work too well. Or, I didn’t work too well. Somebody sat on my chest. The second day we did it again. I didn’t make it to level three. A shot of Brennavin and I’d have been fine but they didn’t have any.

“I think,” the specialist said, “you may have a blockage here and here.” And he showed on a plastic model of a heart. “A CT scan of your heart will tell me what I need to know.”

“I was supposed to be in Gimli, Manitoba four weeks ago. I have a lot of work to do there.I’m writing a novel. I need to know when the pussy willows bloom.”

“A CT scan,” he said. “We’ll arrange it as soon as possible.”

I suggested they just rip out my heart and replace it with a polar bear heart. Grrrr. Unfortunately, polar bear hearts are in short supply.

After the CT scan, the specialist showed me that plastic heart again. Who makes these kinds of things? On Mondays we make hearts. On Tuesdays we make kidneys. On….

“Your artery is blocked 70% here. And this artery is blocked 50% here.” He pointed at two holes in the plastic heart. “We’ll arrange an angiogram.”

I don’t want to jump out of this plane. I don’t care if the engines are not working right. Just give them the gas. They’ll speed up.

Today, the phone rang. There’s been a cancellation. I’m to be at the hospital tomorrow at 9. Operation at 1:00. My daughter or my friends, Richard and Trish Baer, are to pick me up in the early evening or, maybe, the next morning.

I’m sure all will go well. The angiogram will probably be followed by an angioplasty. That’s where they inflate a balloon and squash the muck in the artery against the artery wall so more blood can flow into your heart. Personally, I’d have preferred a polar bear heart. Too bad they’re in such short supply.

(If you find yourself short of breath, have a pain, no matter how small in your chest, a pain in your left arm, have it checked out. Better before a heart attack than after.)

My Vinarterta Heritage


Heritage is a funny sort of thing. It turns up in strange places and in strange ways.

Yesterday, I took cousin Dilla and JO for supper to Amma’s Tea Room and Gift Shop.

During the summer Amma’s is crowded and getting a seat is often a problem. All the summer visitors are in Gimli. In March there aren’t many visitors. There are locals about in puffy parkas and fleece lined boots and toques. They’re usually on an errand of some kind. There’s no hanging around on street corners to gossip when it’s 22 below and there’s a 20 mph wind.

Some of the restaurants close down in the fall and don’t open again until Gimli quits looking like Siberia. The Beach Boy, one of my favorite hangouts in high summer because of the pickerel fillets and Mediterranean salad, is closed, but when I phoned, the owner said March 18 we’re open. I return to Victoria on March 17. Bad timing. However, I’ll be back shortly. I want to be here during the spring.

Amma’s Tea Room has a different strategy. It opens for supper 5-6:30. There’s just one meal prepared. No menu choices. Last night it was veal cutlet with gravy and pasta with a cheese sauce. I couldn’t eat any of it—gluten in the pasta, gluten in the gravy and the coating on the veal. However, Cousin Dilla, knowing the way of all things Gimli, phoned ahead and asked the chef to make something gluten free for me. It turned out to be chicken salad on a bed of mixed greens.

The ladies had wine. I had cranberry juice and tea. The ladies had cheesecake. I was saved from serious calorie intake because the desserts all had gluten. My virtue, what there is left of it, wasn’t voluntary.  The bill was $36.00.

One of the Gimli heritage delights is meeting people unexpectedly. We were just finishing up when Valdine Bjornsson (Geirholm) appeared and we had a short chat. Valdine and I started grade one together and went through all the triumphs and tragedies of the next twelve years in the same class.

Although it’s called Amma’s restaurant there were no Icelandic dishes. Once the summer trade begins, there will be.

However, tea room and Icelandic don’t quite rhyme. Icelanders are addicted to coffee, kaffi, not tea and Amma’s looks and feels very English. I’m not sure what an Icelandic café should look or feel  like. Maybe wickedly strong coffee, 17 Icelandic desserts, rotten shark, dried codfish, a few sheep’s heads, and, for the less adventurous, lamb and whale meat. With chess sets at every table and couches for people to lie down on after knocking back glasses of Black Death.

There is the local KaffiHus. In spite of its name, it’s food, which is quite good, is standard coffee shop fare. Sandwiches and melts and wraps and muffins.  It’s coffee is excellent.

Maybe that is what is left of my heritage.  An occasional name. Some occasional food. However, it’s hard to separate Gimli heritage and Icelandic heritage. They are wound tightly together. The Beach Boy is owned and run by a Greek. However, the restaurant’s forte is pickerel fillets and pickerel fillets are as Gimli as you can get.

It helps that a short distance away from Amma’s is Tergesen’s general store and book store. We dropped by the book store since it is one of the few places you can always get Icelandic books in Icelandic and in translation. They also have books by writers of Icelandic descent—there’s Arnason, Gunnars, Holm, Valgardson—and Icelandic authors such as Indridason and Yrsa, two wonderful Icelandic authors. And the clerk in the bookstore who chatted with us is from Iceland.

Gimli used to be Icelandic. Now, it’s a bit like archeology finding that heritage. There’s the Viking statue, thank goodness. There’s Islendingadagurinn. Thank goodness. There are the visiting Icelandic groups, often excellent choirs, who come and entertain. Thank goodness. There are the charters back and forth. Thank goodness. There are usually some Icelandic flags fluttering in the breeze. If you know where to look, you can buy vinarterta. No local skyr though. A local person who used to make it for sale says that the health rules and the costs imposed make it unprofitable to make locally.

In the spring the Reykjavik Bakery will open. Thank goodness. Birgir will return from his wanderings in Europe. He will make us cookies in the shape of Viking helmets and Icelandic brown bread.

We wished Iceland well during the kreppa but, at the same time, hoped that it might lead to an influx of Icelanders seeking refuge in New Iceland. That hasn’t happened. It’s easier for Icelanders to go to Europe. They can get a job without a lot of paperwork. It’s closer.

I’m not complaining. I take what I can get. At Lans Aux Meadows, all they found was a pin but it was a very precious pin. It proved the Icelanders had come to the New World. Maybe our Gimli pin is vinarterta. It proves that we do have an Icelandic heritage.



The Icelandic Festival began today. There’ll be four days of music, speeches, sand castle building, races, beach volleyball. There’ll be an impressive Icelandic women’s choir called Kvennakór Akureyrar. I know, it looks quite impossible but it just says the Akureyri Women´s Choir.

The Viking village was supposed to be up and running today at 3 p.m. on the hill overlooking the lake. Right now, there´s a thunderstorm in progress, the usual things that come with thunderstorms, lightening, thunder, pounding rain but, at least, no wind.At 7:30, Diageo, the local producer of fine whiskey, is sponsoring a musical event, Islindingarok, at the Gimli pier. However, thunderstorms are usually brief events, like summer romances, fierce, intense, and then over. By 7:30, the sky could be clear and the bands, Little House, Happy Unfortunate and Cannon Bros. could be rocking the harbour.

I’ve been hanging around the Reykjavik Bakery. It’s a great place to see people. Gail Einarson-McLeery turned up, joined our table. She’s last year’s president of the Icelandic National League.

Three guesses, how you know that that’s an Icelandic cookie made by non other than Birgir Robertsson at the Reykjavik Bakery in Gimli, Manitoba in the heart of New Iceland at Íslendingadagurinn?

Here’s Birgir. He’s from Iceland. Teaching people to enjoy European style sweets and New Iceland favorites like kleinur and vinarterta. If you stop for kaffi, it’ll be strong, Icelanders are famous for their addiction to kaffi, except they’ve quit making it in a poki, we always said it was an old sock but it was actually a cotton bag on a wire frame and predated the current paper filters in plastic holders, and you’ll find the menu on the tables, not a menu at all, but the Icelandic alphabet with the pronunciation of the letters.

The rain will stop and while you are waiting, scoff up Lake Winnipeg pickerel fillets at the Beach Boy, slurp back good kaffi at the bakery, visit friends, make new ones.The party can start indoors. Tomorrow it’ll be beach and sand, beach volleyball, a pizza eating contest, Islendingadunk, viking warfare tactics, and Music on the Rooftop.

The rain has stopped. Let the music begin.