Nebula (#6) Is Proud To Present


by Clifton Whiten

Backwoods Image

Dramatis Personae: Turcotte Corners

by Clifton Whiten


Archie is dead now, 77, of starvation. He had $20,000 in the bank.
When he came for coffee to my place and they tried to kick him out, I felt obliged to stand up for him. I won my case but, much to the relief of my superintendent, he died suddenly shortly thereafter.
They whisked him through town in a lonely hearse without a police escort. His dream was to live to be 101 but his diet of rice crispies, sour milk and rotten bananas couldn’t sustain him.
Because of his filthy attire and habits, in his last two years he was gradually kicked out of every restaurant in town except one, five in all. Coffee and the daily newspaper were his only diversion, and me.
I called him “Willy” in my writing, and with a piece called “With Willy Gone”, which I never wrote, anticipated his death by several months.
He was a miser, counting every penny, but squandering what money he kept on two bags of candy a day.
“Tasty,” he used to say.


I call him “Vipo” in my writing, “Very Important Person”.
He studied me on Main St. from his lonely perch on the steps of the local hotel for three years before he spoke to me, after I slipped him five cigarettes in The Main St. Caf‚ on Sunday morning.
Now, with the caf closed on Sundays, he comes to me for his coffee and toast mornings.
He is a hunchback, his back twisted in a fall from a ladder onto a concrete floor, he lay there two hours before he was discovered.
He lives on the Old Age and like the rest of us is broke month to month.
His eyes glisten when he sees me coming and he does a little jig. I love him as I love all men.
Today he apologised for not having wine with him, but a nurse is coming this week to visit him to wash him and he is really afraid of her.


I call O “Mr. Mayor”. He is one of the town’s simpletons. At 22, the town’s hockey captain and baseball star, engaged to be married, he suffered an aneurysm lifting steel in the bush and now has steel staples in his head.
He waddles up Main Street at 300 pounds running coffee errands for people on the itinerary that includes every restaurant in town, where he stops to eat in every one.
He is a ‘funnyman’, his jokes crude and simple, with a loud laugh after each one.
He greets every stranger to town without the xenophobia peculiar to Turcotte Corners and acts as ambassador-at-large.
Like most people here, he is tight with pennies. Don’t ask him for a cigarette, you won’t get one, though he’ll ask you.
His day starts at 5 at Myrt’s Grill and ends at 1 at The Highway Hotel.

The Love Goddess

The Love Goddess is the town ‘crazy’.
Her day starts at 6 every morning at the Post Office, which doesn’t open ‘til 8. She bums “good” cigarettes from anybody left who will give her one.
Her face is lined and haggard, her hair stringy and course, like one of the three hags in Macbeth.
She will knock on your door, selling trinkets, and bum cigarettes.
I have actually dreamed of her, in compromising positions. “Suzanne,” again.
She is actually ‘hated’ in town and the town is divided as to whether she should be ‘put away’ or left to roam the streets.


Fym owns The Highway Hotel. Like so many southerners here, she too is ‘hated’ by the town.
She says, “They don’t know how to take me,” meaning opinionated, for you don’t rock the boat in Turcotte Corners.
She has very few customers, very few hotel guests, but somehow has money and keeps hiring ‘heavy metal’ bands for an audience that never comes, weekends. This is a 50’s Rock and Country town.
Her two daughters have fled back to the South for the young people here do not take to young people from the South.

Au Claire de la Lune

I have been flirting now with Au Claire de la Lune for 10 months over coffee at Main Street Caf‚.
She is married and the men here ‘own’ their women. Nothing will come of it.
In Toronto, she would fit in on Jarvis and Isabelle, for she dresses like a hooker. Mini-skirt, Pixie boots. She is 54.
She is, also, the saddest woman I have ever met. She won’t let her husband of 37 years touch her, and sleeps in a separate bedroom.
Her lawn is covered with pink flamingos, which she puts to bed at night.
She has one friend, a widow, but now her husband has grounded her indefinitely for talking to me.
Keeping up with the Joneses seems to lead us up false paths.

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas, or Moses, or Methuselah, or God, or whoever he really is, I loathe with a passion.
He is another self-appointed guru to the North from Toronto.
He looks like this: Northern toque, White Methuselah-Walt Whitman beard, Bay St. trenchcoat and voyager sash. In summer he goes without his shirt, to reveal his chest, back and arms covered in tattoos, his tits hang.
He is actually disgusting and preaches to anybody who will listen how “we can improve this town” by sending “all the Frenchmen” to Quebec “where they belong”.
When we both arrived in town the summer of ‘87 he told me how much we “needed each other”, the people were so “stupid”.
I now cross the road when I see him coming and refuse to enter The Main Street Caf‚ when he’s in there, the only restaurant which still tolerates him.


Rob has just gotten out of hospital, again.
After being on the wagon three weeks, he got into two gallon-vats of choke-cherry wine—over three days.
The police came for him.
He’s a W.W.II vet, Dieppe prisoner, with a Scottish warbride who left him.
He’s been drunk ever since. He’s 73.
When he’s sober he makes perfect sense, talks with a rattle in his throat, and occupies himself doing jig-saw puzzles, which he pastes to his walls.
He scours the town early mornings for pop bottles, empty beer bottles and beer cans.
You can often see him trudging off to The Beer Store with his bags of bottles and cans—or reeling down the street begging “Enough money for one more beer”.


Charlie is my minou, my cat, tiger-striped—and the most intelligent, balanced cat I’ve ever met.
He had to be. He’s just survived three months on the streets after I left him for dead at the Point when I thought I had strangled him on his lead when I walked him too fast and suddenly realised I was dragging him, one morning in August at 6.
He gave me one last feeble swipe with his claws, drew back, and angered me. I left him to the Ravens without putting him in the Ottawa, for some reason.
Three weeks ago he came to me out of the bushes behind the chipstand, starving. He touched my hand with his nose and forgave me.
I carried him home with his neck between my fingers cradled in my arm. He is one-year-old.


Gerald is a devout Christian. He prays every night for his wife and boys to return to him or for his “time to be”.
He has attempted suicide six times, before he realised his insurance wouldn’t pay. He has grade 2 education and comes from a family of 22, the largest in Ontario. Most of his brothers and sisters are dead, only one of the others visits him in his shabby digs.
He is almost totally blind, and a rake of a man, his ribs protruding, with a hollow chest. He eats only bananas and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and drinks two pots of coffee a day. His pension is only $740 a month but he deals in contraband tobacco.
I visit him almost daily to keep him company. He ventures out only for 15 minutes each day for coffee at 8 a.m. at The Main St. Caf‚. He gropes his way there. He is a gentleman.
Post Script:
Shortly after I left for Toronto for the 18 weeks I was there Gerald was murdered, for a truck full of contraband tobacco.


Whitey is 22, from the south, living with his father, who has returned to live in his hometown, and loathes Turcotte Corners.
He has spent two of his 22 years in jail, claims he was the bronze medalist in the ‘88 Olympics as a kick- boxer, and a former male stripper. He is retired with a gas bar in the south, he claims.
Like me, he blows his money as soon as it comes in each month. We have to scramble to survive the month.
The girls up here are not his kind and he doesn’t understand it. he claims he has slept with 500 women. I claim a modest 93. We are two of a kind, strangely enough, though I am 30 years his senior. I finally have a friend here. He’s been here since June, this is October. He now owes me $433. My friend Les, the poet, whom I also love, owes me $635.


Sheila wears red cowboy boots above a scrawny 65-year-old body and owns the local funeral parlour and Turcotte Corners News. She charges me 30 cents a week to write for the paper, and then the 2 cents GST. I finally quit after establishing a profile for myself here as a nut who didn’t make sense—one article and one poem a week. At least I’ve earned the cognomen “Poet” here.
Sheila likes the dead, they have money. She also likes money, but claims she didn’t love her husband of 47 years, the former undertaker and mayor, now dead. He had money.
The Turcotte Corners News is the worst rag in Canadian, maybe North American history, but it’s read faithfully by the locals, all 2,500 of them. We can’t get the Globe here, too high brow.


Doug is on disability, $970 a month, always broke, and searches Main St. morning, noon , and night with his head down for pennies.
He had a heart attack working in the bush. Each month, for one day, he goes on a binge. Then he’s broke, for the rest of the month.
For a redneck, he is actually quite civilised, speaks well and never swears. “Fuck” is the most common word here.
His lover is “purr”, a morose, 250-pound mute, who lives downstairs. In five years she hasn’t spoken to me, as many haven’t here, xenophobia.
He claims she is not a very good “screw”. “More like a dead fish”, he says.

Grey Duck

Next to Saint Nicholas, Grey Duck is the most despicable man I have ever met, maybe even worse.
An alcoholic recluse and homosexual with a mysterious, married lover who visits him in his chambers during the night, he has the meanest, foulest, most vulgar tongue of any living man.
He likes to refer to his right hand as “the five sisters” and makes a jerking motion to make his point, and did so in front of my wife, when she was sane, after we had just met. We tried to laugh it off. He charged me $2.00 a beer and 25 cents a cigarette when I dare to visit him.


Rog is a nice man. They “hate me here”, he says, but he stays. He is a conspicuous homosexual, with a frame like a seductive woman, plus the ponytail. He has guts, I must admit, for he minces and talks like Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.
From time to time he gives me the occasional cigarette and never insists I pay him back.
When I arrive, in his only time in the bar in five years to my knowledge, he patted me on the knee, told me I was “a god” and meanwhile fondled Piz’s balls. He was quite drunk.
I quite like him. I’ll miss his kind when I leave here next spring.


They call him “Ahab” in Turcotte Corners, a real outsider. He’s a Moslem from Africa, an Indian.
He’s probably the most sophisticated man here but when I suggested to him “money corrupts”, he was visibly startled. He too likes the penny. He’s my landlord and local pharmacist.
We often talk, between customers lined up for pills, this is a pill-pushing-town, the doctors are young and green, the customers have to wait while we finish up.
He’s begun comparing me, much to my surprise, with Mahatma Gandhi, one of my boyhood heroes.
He, too, I will miss, sorely, when I leave.


This ‘O’ is a 70-year-old man who looks 50. He and I have a continuing show at the post office mornings, we exchange pennies.
He is reputed to carry $500 in his wallet at all times. He’s a little funny man, dresses shabbily, never shaves and hangs out with Gilbert, 24, probably the youngest pensioner in Canada.
Gilbert is sweet. He has a beer belly, always smiles, and always says “G’day Criff”. He doesn’t speak English too well, but always manages “Nice day” or “Cold” or “Hot” or Wet” or “Snowy today”.
The two of them, among the others, is like roly-poly Mr. Ouellette, who speaks no English, start my day at the post office 8:30-10:30.


Tiger and his wife, in their 60’s are always together.
They arrive by cab at the post office at 9 every morning and salute everybody—“You my friend? You like me? You good man. You lead good life. You be rich some day.”
How could anyone, not even a snobby sophisticate, not love such people?
Tiger and his wife amble up the street together to the Chinese Restaurant selling 50-50 draw tickets all the way for the RC church. He’s a good salesman. She handles the money. They’re very happy, the way couples should be.


Reg, 80, is getting ready to die, has given up his morning post office routine and driving his new car, shopping and now stays home.
He’s quite lame and a former hockey star with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers.
It must hurt.
He used to supply me with all my gossip and it was toss-up who would get there, to the post office first, me or him.
He used to be kind enough to loan me loonies from his little purse, which he had trouble unzipping. His hands are lame too.
In an hour-and-a-half he will be listening to “My Music” on an Ottawa radio station, golden oldies from the 30’s and 40’s.

Miss Personality

Miss Personality is a tall , stringy girl who works at the Main St. Flower Shop.
The only time she speaks or smiles is when you hand her money.
They’re like that here, very anal.
When I pass her on the street I shudder to think of the fate of the man she might marry.
When the Yellow Grosbeak banged into the window and fell dead to the sidewalk and I exclaimed how sad it was, she just shrugged and grimaced.
Dogs are “just dogs” here, cats “just cats” life is cheap, they’re meant to be short.


Sniper is a creep. He’s reputed to have had an affair with Au Claire de la Lune.
Every time I have had coffee with her and her widow friend, the Nurse, he is there, sitting, hovering, watching, listening, every time I walk up the street with them, he is across the street, looking, keeping pace.
He reminds me of a hound-dog, whimpering after his bitch, or master, or mistress.
He is a little man, though in good shape and quite handsome. He buys a Lottario ticket every Wednesday night and gives it to Au Claire de la Lune, in the hope she will win and they can run away together to Martinique.
Life in this town—is sad, sometimes sadder than Toronto.

Lannie: A Dialogue

Scene: A Northern bar, night, a Sunday
Lannie: You say you want to convert people?
Poet: I didn’t say that, Lannie, you said it. I’m a writer and a teacher, not a preacher.
Lannie, gesticulating: Well. You’re so, you know, hoity-toity.
Poet: Oh, Lannie, give me a break, I’m just another human being. Can you spring for another beer?
Lannie, looking at him quizzically: Sure.
Poet: Tell me about trapping, Lannie, that’s what I’m interested in, all the animals, tell me about the wolves.
Lannie: I will, I will, someday. When do you write, I never see you write?
Poet: Midnight to six, after I get up.
Lannie: What do you mean?
Poet: Well, I’ll go to bed now, 8 o’clock, & get up at 12 or 1, I only need 4-5 hours sleep.
Lannie, looking at him startled, swallowing his screwdriver, motioning to bartender for 2 more: Is that right? They say you spent 9 months in a shack in Newfoundland.
Poet: Yeah, Nova Scotia, my third book.
Lannied, shyly: I’ve seen your books. I don’t understand them.
Poet: That’s all right Lannie, nobody understands me except Charlie, my cat.
Lannie: You live with a cat?
Poet: Yeah, we’re up all night. He sleeps when I sleep, eats when I eat. But let’s talk about what it’s like in the bush.
Lannie, staring into empty drink, laughing to himself: No I won’t.

On Being Their “Poet”

I must be fair to this town, I’ve been here 5 years now and don’t have long to stay.
They pay me, first of all, the respect of being called their “Poet”, because of a weekly poem in their Newspaper “Poet’s Corner”, and in the process I have displaced a few versifiers.
They have also bought my books, over 200 of them, at $5 a crack. Of course, I had to hustle, but they responded.
They also pay me this tribute in a town which is largely illiterate.
Of course, I have been told in the taverns I have big feet, am crazy, am weird and don’t “make sense”. A few people obviously hate me -- reminiscent of Toronto.
Oh well, alas and alack and all that, this is Canada.

Clifton Whiten is a poet. He is also the founder and former editor of Poetry Canada Review.