Sep 162013

Marty Gervais by JanisseMarty Gervais by Janisse

Marty Gervais is a poet, prose writer, photographer, historian, journalist and publisher from Windsor, Ontario. His family is ancient, descended as it is from early French settlers along the Detroit River (in the days when the French owned a vast North American empire stretching from Louisiana to New Brunswick and far to the west — the thirteen American colonies were hemmed in along the Atlantic seaboard). Marty is special to me because he published my first book at his publishing house Black Moss Press. He’s a gifted reader of his own work, also an amiable and hilarious raconteur; I got the full effect during the little reading tour Marty, Sydney Lea, John B. Lee and I did last spring along the Lake Erie north shore (many readers will recall the Extravaganza by the Lake). When you read the first poem “Cathedrals,” remember that Windsor sits across the river from Detroit. When you read the second, remember that Marty was  raised Catholic by the nuns and speaks easily if whimsically of angels and such. And when you “The Wedding Dress,” beautiful and aching with human sweetness, remember that he is a family man with a large heart.



They were cathedrals
—these sprawling factories
with frosted glass metal-framed windows
that tilted open to a landscape
of wartime houses and brick schools
—the men, like monks, moved
in slow motion, and my father
in a white shirt and crooked bowtie
paced among them
worried over meeting the numbers
Today, these places lie mute —
edifices of crumbling brick
cracked and broken windows
and the rubble-strewn earth
taking back the 20th century
with trees bursting up
through the busted concrete
Months before my father died
we cruised the empty streets
and picked our way among the ruins
of the old Studebaker and Ford plants
the Motor Lamp on Seminole,
boarded up dry goods stores
and barber shops and fish & chip joints
We stood in the middle of the sunlight floor
of the place where he made headlamps —
an acre of concrete once complicated
by conveyor belts and sturdy steel columns
and he told me of those mornings
walking to work from Albert Road
chomping on an apple
a metal lunch pail tucked under his arm
a skinny boy of 16 having landed her
from the mining towns in the north
a job on the line, a job he’d never quit
till his heart gave out, and now
there are mornings when I pause
before a single building
and peer through a toothwall wall
of broken glass imagining life
on that concrete floor
He told me once how he’d trade
Everything to return to that time
that sweet independence
of youth and a job
and a cheque on Fridays


Guardian Angel

He’s lazy and never around
when I need him
I drive down
to the coffee shop
in the early morning
and find him reading the paper
or talking to the locals
I want to tell him
he’s not taking this seriously
— he’s supposed to watch over me
He shrugs and says the rules
have changed
I can reach him on Facebook
Besides he carries a cell phone
I want to ask how he got this job
Why me? Why him?
Luck of the draw, he shrugs
our birthdays the same
we both have bad eyes
a hearing problem
and can’t eat spicy foods
But where was he in October 1950
the afternoon on Wyandotte
when I was four
and I ran between
two parked cars?
He was there, he says
coming out of the pool hall
to save me
to cup my bleeding head
on the warm pavement
to glare at the driver
who stood in the open door
of his Ford worried sick
that I might die
He was there, he said
otherwise I might not
be having this conversation
and he was there again
when I lay curled up
and unconscious
in the hospital room one winter
swearing at the hospital staff
after bowel surgery
and he touched my lips
with his index and middle fingers
and quieted me
Besides, he’s always there
and there’s no point
having this conversation
— he’s so far ahead
and knows so much more:
a hundred different languages
names of every star
in the universe, the physics
of flying, and the winner
of the Stanley Cup
every year till the
end of time


The Wedding Dress

The first time I saw it
I was six
and sunlight spilled
through the bedroom window
I lifted this limp white satiny dress
from a flattened cardboard box
in the cedar chest
I raised it high above my head
— the fitted narrow waist
with a row of fabric covered buttons
and the invisible side buttons
along the left side seam
I could hear Arthur Godfrey on the radio
in the other room
the kettle’s whistle
I could hear the man next door
working on the roof of his house
I held the dress high above me
fingers marveling at its smoothness
lost in its whiteness
and the full length skirt
cascading gracefully
in alternating tiers of sheer chiffon
when suddenly my mother’s voice
at the doorway told me
it was a summer day like this
It was at the farm in Stoney Point
when she first put on the dress
and how she had gone upstairs
in the room shaded by the front yard maple
and how she remembered
gleaming cars zigzagged in the yard
and her fingers fidgeting
as she slipped on this dress
how the day was hot and cloudless
and how her father complained
there hadn’t been enough rain
and she told me she had waited
forever resting on the edge of the bed
for her mother to come and approve
and how she sat there
staring out the window
shoes resting beneath her
like two sleeping birds
on the hardwood floor
then she heard her mother’s
voice at the edge of the room
the softness of the words
enveloping her in that moment
and she knew it was time
to take the car to the church
its steeple towering above the flatness
of the farm fields
and she wondered then
if it was all a mistake

—Marty Gervais


Marty Gervais is an award winning journalist, poet, playwright, historian photographer and editor. In 1998, he won the prestigious Toronto’s Harbourfront Festival Prize for his contributions to Canadian letters and to emerging writers. In 1996, he was awarded the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award for his book, Tearing Into A Summer Day. That book also was awarded the City of Windsor Mayor’s Award for literature. In 2003, Gervais was given City of Windsor Mayor’s Award for literature for To Be Now: Selected Poems. His most successful work, The Rumrunners, a book about the Prohibition period was a Canadian bestseller in 1980 and was re-released in an expanded format in 2010 and was on the top ten Globe and Mail bestseller list for non-fiction titles. Another book, Ghost Road and Other Forgotten Tales of Windsor was released in 2012. An earlier collection, Seeds In the Wilderness, of his journalism appeared with Quarry Press in Kingston. It includes interviews Gervais conducted with such notable religious leaders as Mother Theresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Hans Kung and Terry Waite. With this latter book, Gervais photographed many of these world leaders.

  5 Responses to “Cathedrals: Poems — Marty Gervais”

  1. Lovely work, Marty – complex weights borne by elegantly simple language, the spaciousness, longing, and light of images and subjects, and your genuine warmth through and through. Thanks dg for bringing these here.

  2. Terrific stuff, as always, Marty.

  3. Lovely presentation, Doug! Much appreciated.

  4. Okay. I’m in love. Mr. Gervais, your work is stunning. I have learned so much about entering and exiting a poem with these three posted here. Lovely lovely work. Thanks so much.

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