Chris McDermott

Sister Hiltrude

I recall the sisters as severe
black heavy vertical lines
falling from head to toe
-gravitas without grace –
exclamation marks and verdicts
against my very being
– what Darth Vader would look like
had he worn a wimple –
sisters with odd names
and eccentric nomenclature –
like ‘Guardian Angel’
and ‘Mary Five Wounds’
with whom I fell afoul
for mis-saying her name
as ‘Sister Mary Five Wombs’.
Sister Hiltrude loomed
large in dark memory and was shaped
by the shadow of half a century:
the dark habit and heavy shoes
the dark look and glare that had haunted
my small head at the age of six.
I could not read
however hard I tried
and she read my failure to the class
kept me behind and called my parents
had me carted me off to a clinic
to confirm her considered view
that I – in the hard and loose language
of the time – was ‘a retard’.
An analyst read back the contrary view
that I was on the brink of break-down
and should be carted off to safety
and another school far from
the scary hallows in those dark habits.
That was almost sixty years ago.
By chance the other day I fell upon
her face in a faded photo from that time
and was surprised: Hiltrude’s face
was younger than I recalled,
her features more fine

than the harsh lines of memory
with an expression that was –
well, kind and almost vulnerable.
A shadow then fell away
and this harrowing and
scary hallow in her habit
and the hard and heavy gravitas
of those vertical lines,
with all their fallibility
gained some grace.
After all those years
Sister Hiltrude had become a human.

© Chris McDermott

The Moon Over Long Beach: Ontario circa 1971

(for Donny 1958-2009)

Unexpectedly
a summer at Long Beach
on Lake Erie unfolded
from the dust and mildew gathered
over time in some dim lit crook
and haunted cranny
in the attic of my mind.
On one evening,
over a two-week stay,
you and I had hatched our plan:
we would sleep that night
on the sand and be sung to sleep
by the soothing lullaby
of Erie lapping on the shore
content with the cover of night
and the stars and, of course,
our sleeping bags.
We had stood that night on the shore
several yards apart
gazing into the blackness of night
and the lone lunar light
that cast a sheen across the lake.
The shimmery light slid
along the surface,
broken here and there by
slim shreds of shadow
until it lay, it seemed, at our feet.
‘Look!’ you said.
‘The whole of the moon is given to me!’
‘You mis-read her shine!’ I said.
‘She lay body and soul
At the toes of my feet!’
‘Bull!’ you protested.
‘She is prostrate here
And is mine alone!’
‘Lunacy!’ I cried.
‘Just look here
at the fine and liquid line

of light she’s hurled toward me.
She lay curled here her on this very spot
where I now stand!’
And so we bickered back and forth.
Then, weary with debate
and seeing how late it was
we shed the argy bargy
of our give and take
and settled for our bed
on the shore in the sand.
The Huntress had played the two of us
with her mischief
of physics and light.
‘I am all yours’ she had said to each,
and deceived us both.

We woke next morning
late and waterlogged in our sacks,
then drifted back to sleep
to the susurrate music
of the breaking surf.
We lay until the rising sun
warmed the beach
and dew steamed off
our bags and our bodies dried
and the huntress moon
was all but forgotten
in the warm and brilliant light
that broke into day
on Long Beach
all those years ago.

© Chris McDermott

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