(For Wayne Johnston)
When I was a kid
we had two channels in Newfoundland: CBC and CTV.
I come from an anti-confederate family,
so we weren’t allowed to watch CBC.
That was the Canadian channel.
On CTV there was a weatherman named Bob Lewis.
And he’d do the weather.
And he would always get it wrong.
But it wasn’t his fault.
It was nobody’s fault.
Weather’s hard to predict, you know?
In the world around us
there are three or four people
whose professions are to tell the future.
Aside from fortune-tellers,
there are people who can predict the stock market.
and people who can predict the weather.
So when you look at the weather map on TV
and see a low in, say, New York or Boston,
that’s tomorrow in Newfoundland.
We’re getting everybody else’s used weather.
It’s being handed down to us.
And then after it did whatever it would do to Newfoundland,
it sort of launched out into the open Atlantic,
and never went anywhere,
just some nebulous elsewhere.
That’s how I thought about it.
Time and space were linked like that map.
I knew that weather moved from west to east.
And time was moving west to east.
Time was moving toward the island.
You know that song,
“Thank God we’re surrounded by water”?
I really don’t like being surrounded by water.
To tell you the truth,
I’ve never liked the ocean.
You know how they used to talk about computers
not being user-friendly?
That’s how I feel about the ocean.
All you could do was look at it.
It was too damn cold to swim in.
And there was no other side to it.
It didn’t seem to lead anywhere.
I used to think there was no more forlorn a sight
than to see a ship leave St. John’s Harbour
all alone at twilight
and head out into that abyss.
There are two animating myths of Newfoundland.
One is that we’re better than everyone else,
and the other is that we’re worse than everyone else.
It’s like you take a certain pride
in coming from a small remote place.
But you apologize.
Yet if anyone criticizes or makes fun,
there’s this fierce sense of grievance.
Two warring aspects in the same collective mind.
I never separate Catholicism
From growing up in Newfoundland.
If you come to Newfoundland as a grown-up
It’s like converting to Catholicism as a grown-up.
The whole idea of Catholic guilt, you know?
And the notion that there’s one place you can go
to tell a secret of a certain sort?
Irish families tend to have secrets.
When I was growing up,
to take confession as you were invited to take it,
admit to doing anything wrong,
you were considered being pretty naïve.
On many occasions I’ve seen
any sort of credulous boys
go into a confessional,
own up to something,
and the priest would come out,
yank open the door,
and beat the living daylights out of him.
That was your penance then.
Not ten Hail Mary’s.
Not ten Our Fathers.
But ten cuffs to the back of the head.
I come from a long line of liars.
Laurie Brinklow is a poet, editor, and founder of Acorn Press in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada. A passionate Islander, she is doing her PhD at University of Tasmania, exploring people’s attachment to islands by examining ‘islandness’ in Tasmanian and Newfoundland artists. In 2012 she published her book of poems, Here for the Music.