Carolyne Van Der Meer— A Portfolio of Poetry


Two days before you lost your speech
you said it clearly
every syllable enunciated
I was reminded of how much you liked French grammar
how you told me colleagues would ask you to correct their letters
Comment ça se fait que je n’ai jamais compris ce qu’il
fallait que je fasse    
How is it, you asked, that I never
understood what it was I was supposed to do?
Were you referring to the fact that
you should have been more secure
that you were good enough
in the skin you were born in
no matter how your body made you feel
how your husband made you feel
Were you referring to the nuns
who made you feel like you were
spit to be rubbed
out of God’s eye
As the dementia took
a tighter and tighter hold
we carried you
kept you whole
Now we carry you still
reliquaries around our necks
your embers
still glowing


I make the joke at a dinner party that our business partnership begins
in the morning when I make his lunch and brew tea into a travel cup
iron his shirt    send him off into the ether    My sister-in-law laughs
can’t believe I do this   finds it subservient   But his success is mine
mine is his   whatever I can do to ensure that is fair game 
It’s a love language too   taking care through dailyness  the folding
of laundry rolling his socks in a ball just so   underwear folded each
side meeting the centre   then a horizontal crease   the memory of his
mother doing the same   of mine teaching me how to iron
the ironing board a fold-up contraption hinged to the wall behind a
mysterious door in our kitchen   It’s much more than the business partnership
I joked about it’s where we come from and how we’re shaped
it’s my mother ending our call today with “I love you. Completely.” the period
between the two sentences carrying more weight than an iron on clothes
or a tea-filled travel mug meticulously placed in the console cup holder
for the trip to work

Inside the Moors*

I have always wanted to inhabit the moors
to be inside them to feel their cold sweeping winds
to be high waving heather in that barren place
stoic in my swaying    Would my feet be cold I wonder
or would I be like Emily walking long distances in
thin-soled shoes  oblivious
Would I layer up shawl over shawl as those sisters
did keeping the wuthering blast from my slender neck
Would I like Anne submit to tubercular consumption
but before giving up ghostly apparitions put faith in
cod-liver oil and carbonate of iron in a pair of cork soles
to insulate my tiny feet from those stone floors
For ten pence a pair would they bring respite or only
temporarily mask the fate that awaited me   to be
consumed by a complaint of pneumatic lungs by moors
that are unyielding in their tyranny   malevolent in their
trickery   their bewitching heather waving as I am overrun
by that cackling demon of death 

*with echoes of Xi Chuan’s “Inside”

Horse sense

What was it, this steed with four long legs, sloping pasterns, a silken tail, fine tapered nose, pointed ears, forelock between them, withers at the base of the neck, those huge round muscles called hindquarters, words I didn’t know yet but became my creed. What was that colour, red burning fire called chestnut, a white blaze down its face. What were those eyes, deepest wells of brown with lashes better than dolls’. I was three, had never seen such a creature, asked my mother, she said ‘horse.’ I look now, still find mysticism in all the same places, wonder how God or whoever created such perfection, millions of years before I got here.

Haibun for deer

We walk quietly in the dusty remainder of the day, a shroud of fog settling around us. We are surrounded by woodland and a few cottages—but mostly woodland. When we were here last year, we saw herds of deer at several different intervals, mostly as evening anchored itself to the day’s remaining hours. Now as we walk, we keep our voices low, a sort of respect we’re paying, or maybe a quiet plea for some creatures to join us on our stroll. We stand for a moment on the sparsely travelled road, snow squeaking beneath our feet, and go quiet, waiting, hoping. When nothing happens and all we hear is our own breathing, we look up into the snow-covered evergreens—but there is only silence. Resigned, we walk down the path to the chalet, look across Lac d’Argent. And there they are, standing on the frozen surface: six deer, does and fawns who stop to stare at us. They are at least 250 metres away, maybe more, but we can plainly make out their silhouettes, one leaning her head across another’s shoulder. After a few moments, they migrate towards us, bounding past in the high snow along the shoreline, their tufted tails waving goodbye.

                   Six deer peer out
                   Frozen lake covered in snow
                   Tails lifted as they scatter past