By the time he hit the floor

and his cigarette still burning on the striproom table

beside a can of worms.

He would’ve been leaning there that morning

in the barn, near the radio, after ploughing the fields, before

heading for Caledonia to fish on the Grand

had three-four good years after his first heart attack, see

but he’d taken it up again, lost all that nice pink from his face,

turned grey.

Vincent Church was visiting from Waterford

—oh, they liked to talk about swap, and fixing things, you know

Vince found him, and never recovered from the sight, our neighbour

Koslowski called the ambulance, took him straight to the funeral home

and went to tell Mother and Margaret at St. Bernard’s.

I was in Niagara with my girl after Ray Rutherford’s wedding,

we drove down there from Meaford, it was early May

our last blossom days

the start of tough slogging,

a hard summer with all that had to be done, you know

during tobacco harvest.

I’d kept six hives of bees but they swarmed

late in the season because I hadn’t got the supers on

and I felt so bad about that, they wouldn’t likely survive.

You remember the rhyme, a swarm in May is worth a load of hay

in June a silver spoon, but a swarm in July’s not worth a fly.

It was August already, I was driving boat

bringing loads of tobacco from the field, dreaming of Regina

when the sky went dim, a black veil, my bees

and I couldn’t stop to tend them.

That’s when I knew I couldn’t do everything, I’d failed, see

it was all blow-sand knolls and wet spots

and watching my bees fly away.

Tobacco still ripening in the fields when it came time

to leave for school in Toronto, Mother made me a bread pudding

and a pact that I’d not come home ’til Thanksgiving.

Somehow she’d get the crops in, and she sat at the table

weeping, sweet steam beading the plate, the tears

filled my throat like lit sumac and honeycomb, beekeeper’s smoke.

She’d made my favourite dessert, and you know

I couldn’t touch it.

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