Rain on My Skin

Published by Aeolus House, 2023

The poems in this book range over eight decades of my lived life. They recall the world as it was before and after WW2 to the present day, and are thus both history and memoir.

The book begins with childhood memories of a pristine world where the freedom to explore other cultures opened doors to travel in the relative safety of postwar Europe.

Memories of my athletic exploits interweave with family love and loss; all underscored by a growing concern for the degradation of our natural world.

Now in my eighties and still going strong, I keep my eye on this thing called aging, and the deep pleasures to be found on home turf.

The Locks in Port Sandfield

We gossiped about Muskoka in those days
of spaciousness and wicker;
                                               the Thirties and Forties,
when going north meant all summer
                                 blue lakes and rocky shores
                                                          as the song goes;
our cottage on Lake of Bays, the Brown one, then
the White one we rented at Elgin House
on Lake Joseph.
                             Lake Jo for short.
Everything that wasn’t blue was green –
matched only by the flawless sky outdoing
the limits of my imagination.

At eight years, I felt the immensity of the world
in the wave cap, pendant snap, wind and lake rocking
the day.

What we did not have I wanted most badly.
                                                   Wind’s soft shriek
in my ears, wave fleck and a two-track wake
plumbing passage. In short, I pined for a boat.

Saturdays, when mother shopped at Roger’s Grocery
    I loafed by the locks.
Mahogany, the colour of heaven I thought, fingering
the smooth, dark skin of the Dukes and Ditchburns
spooning at the wharf. Their lake-licked decks,
    water-spotted like leopards at rest.

Suddenly, the wind stops singing.
                                                         We look up.
Two hoots blast like a call to noontime stillness.
Dividing earth from sky, the swing bridge
                                                         glides to open:

the knife-narrow bow of the SS Sagamo
                  eases its elegance
                           into the

I have tried to hold on to the details
– the optic tangle of bridge and trees.

Was it the whiff of gasoline
or marine varnish that I loved the most?

Song for Stamm Woodlot

A milkweed pod on a brittle stalk
leans toward me out of tangled grass     her
split heart
                 a poured cup
                                        a done vessel
emptied now of seeds the wind stole.

I have seen death a few times.
                                                  It is always
unmistakable: the dry husk of hope
that remains after love expires. And once
I saw two stiff-legged cows
inert on the floor of the huntsman’s hut.

Before cosmeticians learned to dress it up
                                                                          pallor had dignity.
I was three when my father lifted me
to look at my grandmother
still, in her best, dark dress on a white satin bed.

I did not understand the words if I even heard them,
but like wind’s sudden hush
                                                  her peace invaded me.

The Leisure of Late Rising

On this January Saturday lying in bed the leisure of reading
’til noon the pale sun unexpectedly silvers the bare branches
and spills shadows on the bedroom wall I do not see
the street nor Nick and his boys pegging fast ones
the driveway’s length the cadence of their exuberant laughter
counterpoint now to the ball’s thwack inside
his catcher’s mitt – a tangent echo just how and why
so many years later this new tempo in the air evokes

                                                          Seville and the silky nights
pouring darkness into the courtyard below my window
where curled up and tuned to nuance I did not understand
I listened to the grannies in black four-square on stools
at their open doorways greet and gossip the day
their shadows over-lit from hallways as the waves
of their crackling song floated weightless and soothing
as bedtime stories in those days of duennas
and my loneliness and not for the last time the comfort
of the cathedral bells counting down the hours
as the women drifted indoors.

Beaver Pond

Algonquin Park
for Judy Raymer Ivkoff

                                                      On a breezy afternoon
we head out by canoe to the bog –
                                                          for a bog it is,
this tannin-stained lost world of verdant excess
we call Beaver Pond where we shove off
drifting for a minute in the whispering shore grasses,
every stroke scooping up yards of lily stems’ drips
running up our arms – all smelly and anoxic –

                                        You can hear the stuff growing you say,
leather-leaf-lavender-tea-golden-mosses fringing shorelines
and those guileless pitcher plants, their ruby-veined vessels
bearing poison in a drop of rainwater – years
we have paddled this pond calling us back
as if memories need renewing lest we lose ourselves
in the wherever –
                            but mostly we meander, leaving to the last
what haunts us most, the floating islands which yearly
pull up anchor for a new spot in the sunshine
come to meet us as tarnished ghosts in the slanting light,
and while the pond’s rim, mostly pine and tamarack, folds
black shadows into the rippled surface, the trees
and blue-blue sky look back at us, our world bottom-up,
and we ask what on earth are we doing to save it all.

Late, Late Winter

This moment of light is all I’ve lived for:
the sun warming me through the glass door.

Outside, wind. New snow.
                                            The trembling clematis
gone to seed glows like an opal
until the thieving clouds gallop across
the sky:
               unnerving light.

For True North, night and day are equal.
Each in their turn, but here
                                                  at this time of year
the light, entre chien et loup.

The moment you can’t really tell
night from day.

From blurbs:

In a splendid culmination of her life’s work so far as a poet, Rosemary Clewes’ Rain on My Skin investigates themes that rank of sublime importance: climate and memory. With grace and intelligence, she high dives into geographies from the far North to Ontario lakes to Europe, in poems that span decades from childhood to age. Whether this poet is rowing, sailing, riding, climbing, or caught in freezing rain, her poems are fresh, lucid, and full of that unique brand of Clewes Wonder, a genuine curiosity about all she encounters. Rain on My Skin refreshes and sustains.

~ Molly Peacock, author of The Analyst: Poems, and A Friend Sails in on a Poem