Poem A Day Challenge & Poetry Friday April 26, 2019

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink. Check out her page for links to more poets sharing work today.

In 1958, when I was five years old, my parents and other relatives set out on a great adventure north. I have been writing bits and pieces about that time for a while. Over the last couple of years as I write more, I interview remaining family members for more details and stories about their experience. To motivate myself to write, I plan to post bits and pieces of their saga here every Friday. They might not be in any kind of order. I'm just hoping to get some kind of reasonable drafts out there. I hope for feedback both on the construction of the poetry, and more details from family.

This is the fourth instalment. You can read the previous posts at the links below.




Early afternoon
they arrived at the settlement.
nestled in a grove of pines
along the river, 
an assortment of ragged

Not dignified enough
to be built of logs,
rough shiplap
nailed together
rose up to meet
a low peaked roof.

No insulation, 
no interior walls,
just two room shacks 
with wind whistling tunes
through cracked wood and
empty knot holes.

Filthy abodes, 
infested with
pack rats 
and other forest creatures.
Birds nested
in chimneys
and ceiling corners.

A family of skunks had
taken up in one of the cabins
and were left alone.

Dismayed but undaunted,
optimistic crews
of men, women and older children
set to work shovelling out
what would be their winter homes. 
My mother,
seven and a half months pregnant, 
scrubbed alongside them. 
A passel of children,
the oldest set to 
looking out for the youngest,
explored this new landscape.

Inside these hovels,
one small window,
covered with plastic,
welcomed sunlight into 
the kitchen eating area. 
An even smaller one,
high on the wall,
invited a sliver of light
into the sleeping space.

Out back,
a ramshackle outhouse
waited for you to do your business.
Water was hauled in buckets from the river. 
The wood cook stove in the front room
provided the only heat.

Come dark,
kerosene lamps
radiated golden
as the travellers bedded down,
camping out
that first night
in their new dwellings.

Links to my previous April poems can be found here.

Here is a link to blogs of other participants in the poem a day challenge.


  1. When we lament our times today, perhaps no electricity for a few hours, I believe we need to read stories from our ancestors, like this one. I cannot imagine their grit, determined to make a home! "with wind whistling tunes
    through cracked wood and
    empty knot holes." This is going to be a wonderful collection, Cheriee!

    1. Thank you Linda. As I write this, and spend time talking to others who were there, I am more impressed by their stamina and optimism.

  2. Wow, I guess you do what you have to do, but it's inspirational that they did it with a buoyant spirit.
    Did the family of skunks live WITH them? When you say they were left alone, I pictured them all living together.

    1. Thanks for this feedback Tabatha. There were more cabins than they needed, so the skunks got their own. I'll try to rewrite that so it's clearer.

    2. I was probably just reading too fast!

  3. Cheriee, I do like your writing style and need to go back to the two installments I missed. This part of the story shows the grit and determination your ancestors had to make a home in a new place. When I read the part about the infested quarters, I visualized what that may have looked like. But in your retelling the adventurous group was "dismayed but undaunted/optimistic crews of men, women and older children/ set to work shovelling out/what would be their winter homes." They persevered with a fresh outlook.

  4. Wow, what an amazing and determined bunch! (And I'm not talking about the skunks!) It certainly makes one appreciate our lazy, convenient modern lives. I hope you'll continue your draft writing beyond April, Cheriee!

  5. Verse novels are so often used for emotional impact - but I think think they're perfect for beautifully-briefly conveying scenes and place, without getting bogged down in clutter. This is both enthralling and enlightening - and I too loved the sensory wind whistling through empty knot holes. I personally would cut 'awaited them' - don't think you need it. But that's a personal thing. Keep going with this - and enjoy the research/writing!

    1. thank you so much for the feedback Kat. It's much appreciated.

  6. I agree with Kat...this piece shows a place so well. I can imagine being there and the feeling of being heavily pregnant while scrubbing slower than I would like to...knowing that cold weather and darkness were coming. Your installments are a great way to spin out this story. I'm very much enjoying it. Can't wait for next week!

  7. Now that we've gotten a picture of the place, it would be great to hear from some of the characters -- what were they thinking when they got there?

    1. thank you for this question. I'm going to have to imagine a lot of that since few of them are left.

  8. You have created such a vivid image of this place. I am enjoying learning about your family from these and hope to read more. Today's poem makes me grateful for all the conveniences we have now.

  9. Had you not signaled with some specific words like "cabin" the genesis of this narrative poem, I would have thought it a description of refugees entering this country. It reminds me of "Inside Out and Back Again." Your poem has a universality inherent in the mobility and struggle you describe. And the shiplap you describe certainly isn't the popular building material featured on home improvement sites.