UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO LINKS
From: Waterglass. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999.
"Cooshay and feddy doe: Up the wooden stair
and to sleep." I can hear my father's voice.
Each night at the bedtime hour he was there,
sent these words behind me to the house top.
It was really a parqueted tile floor
that angled up in gyres through our low-rent
suburban townhouse to the room above.
And I was Orpheus the wrong way round,
climbing from the dream spaces of a life
in time--the flickering tv firelights,
the thread of conversation my mother
would needle from her mending--to the sheer
underworld's upper sphere, fallen to shades
beyond the landing, where my own raised spirit
each time followed to a point, and though
I turned round more than once, just disappeared.
But his words were mild and palliative,
So "Cooshay and feddy doe," I replied,
feeling that often, with no stronger spell
to ward off chimeras I knew were there,
a home-made incantation worked as well.
And chimed "up the wooden stair and to sleep...."
For that was what they meant, the cryptic sounds,
my father said. Two ways to put the same thing.
The magic part was French Canadian,
that much I knew. As for the English half,
I had to follow through it to the end
in no uncertain terms, and at his word,
a cold blank stair went up in the dark
farther than I could see, and though I felt
that a terror of it was beneath me,
I sensed a jittered railing under grip,
and noiselessly held onto it, the thought
of where it lead me growing clear, by steps
more bewildering, like a nightfall's
gradually distincter star on star.
My room was all dark forms and outlines,
the closet and the drapes in mock charade
moved when I moved, and always faced me square.
When I turned, the bed was ten miles away.
There was an oblong window of moonlight
on the floor, and beside it a chair,
and in the chair, propped like a tippler
bunched up under his own weight, my father's
oak-carved, antique marionette looked out.
Cuttings of sun-browned curtain for a suit
patched with neat squares of a checkered dish-cloth.
One leg was off. All up in arms with string.
Its face was painted like a tart's, red cheeks,
red lips, hysteric smile, and oak-hard stare
that returned the blank appearances in kind
of whatever it saw there in the dark.
I didn't see, for each night what brought me
to my senses with a shake was the gaze
itself, impenetrable, laissez faire,
whose point I only later understood.
You start seeing things if you close your eyes.
Cooshay and feddy doe. As I grew up,
I felt the same need to trade the mystic
theatre of the word for cause, effect.
By the time I heard "coucher" in first-year
French, I was only just learning to lie
down among half truths, and wanted the rest.
But "feddy doe"? ... how would I get from there
to wooden steps in french? I didn't know.
And then one night, a movie on tv,
a woman sees her daughter off to bed,
reads to her from a book until she sleeps,
kisses her brow good night. "Fais des beaux reves,"
she whispers in her ear. And I saw a child,
with closed eyes, long gone for a sweeter dream,
lost in translation on the wooden stair.
Jeffery Donaldson's works copyright © to the author.