Posted in Music, Musicians, Poems/Poetry

Progression of Buts, &c. | Robert Priest

Progression of Buts

I shouldn't be saying this but —
Typically the majority stand for it but —
They assumed we'd go on being quiet but —
They said that moral courage was at a minimum but —
They thought we'd go on stunned in the grey TV glow but — 
They thought we were flies on the screen forever but —
Even we believed we had no wings, no grandeur but —
They thought our outrage was dead but —
There’s supposed to be limits on how long you can push it
                                                        push it push it but but but —
We thought we'd lost each other but —
They believed that silence was assent forever but —
It looked like it was going to be World War III but —
They said that faith was not a well, not a flow, not a channel but —
I was telling everybody don't count on me
                                                        I can't be relied upon but —
They're going to tell us we're not brave but —
They’re going to push the negative but —
They said there was no buttress but —
No resistance but —
No insistence but —
No victory but —

Give Us a Floor

Give us a floor we can drag a chair over
And leave a mark
A hardwood floor that can take a lot of dancing
We want a floor that you leave your shoes on and tap when you like

A floor you can jump on
Give us a floor where a kid can bang a hammer for an hour
And no one cares
We want a good flat floor strong enough for a piano or two

A floor that can bear the weight of ten bass amps
Fifty stomping bikers on choppers
And still be fine for yoga in the morning
It is important to have a floor you can fall on

A floor good for trying risky positions
Tipsy calisthenics
Maybe one day we’ll want to invite
Multi-faith obesity groups intent on leaping and praying

A floor equipped to bear them all
And still take a child’s lightest footfall
With never the creak of any small floor complaint

A floor to hold up the elephants
And hippopotami

A floor, please, to take the great weight of human hearts
Held in thrall by mere matter
By love by stampede

We want a floor to bear seven generations
Each unfolded out of the other
All at once in a great hootenanny and holler

A floor to bear the greatest table ever made
For a feast where no one’s missing
We don’t want some poor flat excuse
We don’t want some bottom-line trapdoor
We want a floor to hold the world up when it’s exhausted

A floor to keep the sky on when it’s drained and dry
And ready to fall
It’s time we had the floor

Give us the floor

poem from Previously Feared Darkness


Spread the Word

Spread the word outward
From the centre
To the edges
 
Spread the word like the word
Was your wings
And you could fly
 
Spread the word
Like wind in all directions
Let the word be spread
Like a lover's legs
Like petals strewn upon a bed
Like the breath of life
On the land of the dead
 
Spread the word
Let nothing go unsaid
That must be said
 
Spread the word like breath
To the drowning
Like food to the unfed
 
Spread the word like medicine
To a child on a deathbed
Spread it like a wild fire
Of thought in some genius head
 
 
Spread the word to all and one
Alike
Refusing it to none
Like wealth like water
Like thirst
All over the earth
Let it never go unheard
 
Spread the word

Islam Means Surrender

There is a lot of Islam
In everything
 Those who surrender to Jesus
Are Islamic - 'Islam' means surrender
 
If you yearn to give up your essence
Into nirvana - isn't that a huge surrender?
 
Islam!
 
And Jews who seek to do the will of God
They surrender themselves to the teachings of the Torah
 
Very Islamic
 
Even lovers who bow to one another's pure forms
Or those who give in the needs of the moment — surrender
 
Islam
 
Is beautiful

—Robert Priest


Robert Priest Poet
Robert Priest

A literary poet in the tradition of Neruda and Mayakovsky, a composer of lush love poems, a singer-songwriter, a widely quoted aphorist, a children’s poet and novelist, Robert Priest is a mainstay of the literary/spoken word/music circuit both in Canada and abroad. His words have been quoted in the Farmer’s Almanac, debated in the Ontario Legislature, sung on Sesame Street, posted in Toronto’s transit system, broadcast on MuchMusic, released on numerous CDs, quoted by politicians, and widely published in textbooks and anthologies.


Robert Priest is the author of fourteen books of poetry. His book, Reading the Bible Backwards, rose to number two on the Toronto Globe and Mail’s poetry charts. He is a previous winner of the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry award. He co-wrote the hit, Song Instead of a Kiss, for Alannah Myles, which is still played all around the world and went to number one for two weeks in Canada and six weeks in Québec. His aphorisms show up frequently in Colombo’s Canadian Quotations and The Farmer’s Almanac.

His latest book of poetry for children, The Wolf is Back received a Gold Moonbeam award in the US and his previous volume for children, Rosa Rose, was a book of honour in the Lion and the Unicorn award for poetry in the North American category at John Hopkins University. His fantasy series, Spell Crossed, was described by Open Book as a ‘Modern Classic’. He is also a singer-songwriter and children’s singer-songwriter of note with songs on Sesame Street. For two years he was the resident topical songwriter on the CBC radio program Is Anybody Home and has contributed topical songs to CBC’s Sunday Night News. 


Robert Priest—Audio Video
Listen to BAAM! and Feeling the Pinch on Spotify.
Poem Video: What Ugly Is
Poem: In the next War
Song: The bomb in Reverse
Song/poetry album: BAAM!
Live version of Alannah Myles performing Robert Priest co-written,
Song Instead of a Kiss (four weeks at number one in Canada).
Some Links

Poetry books for purchase online
Previously Feared Darkness
Reading the Bible Backwards
Blue Pyramids: New and Selected Poems
How to Swallow a Pig

Selection of poems for reading
Robert Priest, Hand Poems

Robert Priest Retrospective in Big Bridge

Robert Priest’s Children’s Site

Children’s Books
The Paper Sword from Dundurn Books (on Amazon)
Spell Crossed—three book bundle from Dundurn Books
Rose Rose
The Secret Invasion of Bananas


All Contents ©2020 Robert Priest,
except where otherwise noted for recordings on YouTube.
All rights reserved

Posted in Uncategorized

As You Like It (Reflections Upon the Art of Aging)

“All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…”


My mother and her sister Loena were best friends.  Wherever Loena went, she would sing or hum quietly to herself.  My mother used to introduce her to friends saying, “This is my sister Loena.  Don’t mind her; she hums.”

Mom was the one who used to bust Aunt Loena out of Detroit for road trips.  Sometimes to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister Miriam, to Maine to see my sister Constance, or to see me and my siblings in Seattle, especially if the Tigers were scheduled to play the Mariners.

Driving cross country to attend my wedding, they made a late-night stop at a hamburger joint in Iowa. They were laughing so hard the young man behind the counter came to their table and said, “Ladies, I don’t know where you’re going, but I want to come with you.”

Less than a year after Mom died, my first baby was born.  It was a wonder-full time, if bittersweet.  Aunt Loena’s visit was the next best thing to seeing my mom holding my baby in her arms.  I felt my mother’s presence, watching, smiling, loving.

But it was hard for Aunt Loena to get away.  She spent two decades housebound while caring for her mother-in-law, and then her husband.  No one blamed him for his frustration, but he yelled at everyone who came to visit or offer aid, and fired everyone my aunt hired to help with housework and eldercare.  It was emotionally isolating and physically exhausting.  She never complained, and joked that at least her medical appointments for heart trouble, cataract surgery, and blood transfusions got her out of the house.  Like my mother, she knew how to look for the bright spots.

The 911 response team knew her by name, as she had to call whenever her husband fell out of the recliner where he slept.  It was time for a nursing home.  She visited him twice a day, until she caught meningitis.  Her doctors didn’t think she’d survive.  I flew to Detroit to say goodbye, but Aunt Loena is a two-time cancer survivor, who has come back from the brink so many times she makes Rasputin look like a weenie.  It was a wake-up call, however.  She checked out of the hospital with a bucket list.  My aunt is 86, anemic, subject to dizzy spells and shortness of breath.  Oh, yes, and always up for an adventure, so long as it is wheelchair accessible.

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Aunt Loena with my sister Lee and my son Elijah

Our first adventure was a trip to Seattle.  We knew she had a great time, because wherever we went, she hummed to herself like a purring kitten.  That trip was just a warm-up for her dream trip to New York City.

Aunt Loena in Central Park with Bea and me.

When it was time to leave New York and go our separate ways, it was too sad to say goodbye, so instead we said, “Where to next?”  She’d always wanted to go the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  So that’s what we did.  My son Eli flew in from college in Maine, I flew from Seattle, and my sister Lee joined us from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

 We went in October, to take in the fall colors as well as the plays.

I chose our motel for its name.

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In Stratford I discovered the secret to longevity–a nightly dose of Miss Vicky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips!  Aunt Loena is a teetotaler, but she’s not afraid of a little salt and grease.  Got sugar?   Bring it on!

Each time we part, I fear another long drive or a cross country flight will prove too much.  We make a date and look forward to it, but  I always check before I make plane reservations.  “You’re sure?”  And she always says, “Oh, yes.  As long as I’m sitting down, it’s almost just the same as sitting at home.”

We promised to bring her to Seattle for fish and chips this summer, but Lee couldn’t make it.  I asked my friend Monica, also a Detroiter, if she’d consider escorting Aunt Loena.  The next morning I got her reply– she would be delighted!  What a gift to us all!  We couldn’t have pulled it off without her.  Monica and Aunt Loena had been hearing about each other for years, and felt like they already knew each other.  We kicked off a week-long PJ party by attending a performance of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.”   We also enjoyed Teatro Zinzanni’s very silly but impressive dinner theater show, “Gangsters of Love.”

Aunt Loena made her famous egg salad sandwiches.  Years ago, when we all drove to D.C. to visit our sister Miriam, we weren’t out of Detroit yet when Mom said, “Who’s ready for an egg salad sandwich?”  It was 10am, but so what?  We were ready for another one by lunchtime.

We picnicked at Green Lake–egg salad sandwiches, my brother Lew’s homemade cookies, and Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.  We couldn’t get to a picnic table, because we didn’t have an all-terrain wheelchair, but from our park bench we had a gorgeous view of the lake.

I would love to take Aunt Loena to Hawaii or Europe; even she feels it might be too far.  But her eyes lit up when she said church friends had gone to a casino, and she thought it might be fun to try her luck just once–if there was a smoke-free one with wheelchair access.  I don’t know anything about casinos, but an internet search and a few phone calls was all it took to locate a smoke-free casino in Toledo, not far from their wonderful zoo.  I sent Aunt Loena home with a roll of quarters and a promise.  Guess where we’re going next spring!

Saying goodbye is hard.  Aunt Loena said Mom always told her, “Whatever happens, we won’t cry.  We’ll smile, kiss the kids goodbye, and stop the car around the corner to do our crying.”  And that’s what they always did, she said.  But this time we all had to cry, just a little.

Most people in my aunt’s situation prefer the security of a recliner, the proximity of their own doctors, and to be in control, even if that just means the remote to the television.  Who can blame them?  With advanced age, circumstances often change, especially where health, finances, and family support are concerned.  Aunt Loena lives her life as an adventure, and adjusts the size of her dreams as necessary.  But for her, everything is icing on the cake.  New York is as good as Hawaii, and Ohio is as good as New York.  But she would be just as happy humming quietly and playing cards with a friend while snacking on a bag of Miss VIcky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.

I want to grow old like Aunt Loena, to go out swinging or at least singing.  When I told her she was brave for coming all the way to Seattle, she laughed and said, “All I need is a wheelchair, and someone to push it.

You got it, Aunt Loena.  And you don’t even need to ask.

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com