Song For My Grandfather
© Allan Markin

If we could go back to 1898
I would stand with you
in Batumi’s iron rain
collect memories of Russia
thrill to the passion of parting hymns
feel the fear deep in the hold of a dirty cattle boat
moving its Doukhobor cargo across the Black Sea
birthing an evolving legend

If we could go back to Halifax
I would hold your trembling child hand
tell you about the Canadian promise
sing you to sleep on the huffing train
lurching into darkness that conceals
your last fast glimpse of where home used to be

If I could I’d help you build your first sod house
from cold Saskatchewan dirt
I’d break the stubborn soil with you
watch you grow into a man of wit and pioneering fortitude
despite the painful struggle in your mind to understand
the confusion of Canadian politics

If I could I would share your wavering pacifism
as you watched your village burn
to make room for the Castlegar airport
I would brush the rain of white ash from your hair
falling like tears from dying doves
I would offer you my young hand
unclench your fist
lead you away into the little vineyard
which was then just my age

If only I could have been with you to watch you become
the sundried sire of us all
how I would sing with you
in Ootishenia’s great white meeting hall
learn the lilting AI DA LOO LI you sang to me
after we wrestled in the cool grass
beside the asparagus patch
feasted on grandma’s freshly baked bread
butter and strawberries

O how I wish I could push these words back, way back
I would remember how we argued Doukhobor stuff
charging boldly into the essence of leadership
love, faith, toil, peaceful living
and God
I would know that “past is prologue”
as I watched your old eyes
push shaggy tears forward
I would see in those tears
our past, present, and future
the very latitudes and longitudes
of living and dying