(Not) My Writing Desk

This is not my writing desk, but the view of the back of my father’s house and barn facing north, from the back of the property. I was raised on a small dairy farm in Eastern Ontario, roughly half-way between Ottawa (where I have lived since moving out at nineteen) and Montreal, sitting a thirty-five minute drive or so north of the mighty Ste. Lawrence River. Over past decade or so, he’s had to sell the cows (for the sake of his diabetes and sleep apnea) and move to cash crop, which finally led to him renting the fields to a neighbour for same (for the sake of his cancer surgeries and multiple sclerosis diagnosis), to finally selling his nearly four hundred acres of farmland (while keeping the buildings: house, barn, sheds, garage) last summer (for the sake of his triple bypass surgery, which led to multiple complications).

This is not my writing desk, but it is where I am every second or third weekend, to provide care (and a relief to my sister, who lives immediately across from the home farm) for the sake of his February, 2019 diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He is fine, and he is stable, but requires assistance to get in and out of bed, for the sake of meals, and in and out of his electric wheelchair, among other things. And yet, he remains in good spirits. Dealt a bad hand, and widower for nearly a decade (after my mother’s forty-three years of health complications, including twenty-two years of kidney dialysis), he rarely complains, if at all. He has rarely ever complained. He is pleased to be able to remain in the house where he’s lived since he was less than a year old (he was born across the road, where my sister lives; and his father and grandfather were both born next door). He is pleased for the company of medical assistance, of myself and my sister, and my sister’s three children. At times, one of the neighbours drops by to visit, or the retired minister from his church. He tells the occasional story, most of which I’m hearing now for the first time.

This is not my writing desk, but the view of the farmhouse and barn from the back fields, a space central to my origins, and sense of space, of place, of setting. Settling. From where, in certain ways, I write, and began to write. My Eastern Ontario foundation, as I negotiate my father into his gator, and he drives us along the back lane to the fields to see how the new owners are doing with clearing away some of the brush, some of the bush and improving the tile-drainage system my father installed back in the mid-1980s. This year, the fields immediately surrounding the house are flush with peas. The fields to the back along tree-line stubble a freshness of corn as it begins to announce. Out here the birds flicker and spark—an array of robins, cardinals, hummingbirds and orioles—as many out here as might visit my father’s half-dozen feeders, on porches in the front and the back. I am old enough now, I suppose, through age and situation, to know that this view remains temporary. This is a view my family has held for generations, some one hundred and seventy-five years since we landed from Scotland, to acquire the land grant. This is all temporary, now.

This is not my writing desk, but a space that I learn to concurrently hold and release. This is where I learn, once again, to pay proper attention, and breathe. I listen.


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent poetry titles include A halt, which is empty (Mansfield Press, 2019) and Life sentence, (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He is “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, editor of my (small press) writing day, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

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