Godfrey and I were indignant with one another. Concerned with his wheezing, I had dragged him to a medical clinic. He sat, muttering in Welsh on an ugly, orange plastic chair, mine was itchy ass wicker. A lethargic goldfish stared at me from a lonely bowl. There were sticky magazines, and a grubby “Golden Book Of Bible Stories”. Two nurses behind glass discussed evening plans- “I’m seeing Pierre again tonight”…ooh, he’s big!’…

Across from Godfrey a chap sat bleeding, the result of cleaning a grill with a meat cleaver. An elderly lady asked us if we knew the lord. Godfrey’s reply in Welsh seemed to satisfy her. Finally his name was called, he stomped off, complimenting Pierre’s date on her smock. I waited, and waited, until coolly informed my vagabond had bolted out the toilet window. I found him two blocks away, feeding his face with doughnuts, pretending to admire a hedge.   

Over the years Godfrey spent with us, we delighted in observing the characters riding the #50 city bus. One we oft saw was a prim woman our age, always absorbed in the same book- “My Secret Mother”. The cover art featured a blond woman in pearls, a buck-toothed child eating bread and jam, a man is leaving out the saggy screen door, carrying plumbers tools. It was quiet on the bus this day, “I smell beets”, Godfrey griped, “Shut-up, I replied.

As he would talk to anyone, talk of anything but beets, to my dismay, he introduced himself to the book reader, and asked if he could borrow “My Secret Mother” when she was done. She clapped it shut, stuffed it in her bag, and gravely informed Godfrey that, “Such a good book, I never want it to end!’…

All many years ago, today I rode the bus out to Devonian Park where still roams a multi generational flock of feral chickens I promised Godfrey I would feed on Tuesdays. Only the people on #50 have changed- sleepy Kevin has moved on, the clanking sweats of tired builders, the loud group of young women claiming to be “The Supremes”. And the book reader, who inspired me to write of my own “Secret Mother”… 

I had a secret mother, she was unafraid of thunderstorms or bees or cattle, or to join me in battle, an old blue blanket rumpled as the sage prairie, or oft a wild, roily sea.  No dolls, just tin ships and plastic horses once the school bus ate my siblings, she played all morning with me.

My secret mother, sent me outside in all weather, to happy dig for treasure with spoons, pennies hidden neath the pansies. Let me eat raw pie dough, and burnt ketchup on thick toast, chicken soup from a tin, and she never made me sit politely when her friend Mrs Vowel  dropped in.

I later learned from my sister, and Inkerman our older brother, we all had that year before starting school, without you or Cudberth, alone with our secret mother. “Lacking a working car she drove us once by tractor to the shops, down main street roared the rusty Massey- Ferguson, us waving and smiling to everyone.”

Afternoons we watched “The Edge of Night”, and “Galloping Gourmet”…came the day, end of summer, I was wedged into a cousin’s dress and shoes, our Aunt June took all of us to school. Teacher loomed, pointer in hand, told the class- “Worzel’s mother, Three Mile Lil, has left by train for the coast”. I had a self embarassing lunch that day, sister Fillipendula packed burnt ketchup on thick toast.

Most days I was sat in the old, cold cloak room, in company of others who did not listen or had wet themselves. I learned to hide a book to read, behind spare chalk on the high shelves. Hid it in my arithmetic work book cover, told any one who asked that indeed, I had a secret mother.

Three Mile Lil sent one birthday card when I turned eight, said she missed burnt ketchup on toast, and all the tinned soup that we ate. Inkerman, Fillipendula and Cudberth got the same card for years always on the wrong date.

I recall with odd fondness though, my wayward mother, who oft drank along with that “Galloping Gourmet”. And called on me to stash empty wine bottles, to shoo pixies away down the drain. All that hit a wobble, no more ketchup on toast, when stepmother Mrs Gibberflat soon came…

Yes so long ago, here I sit a silly old woman feeding chickens…and recall an early work of Godfrey-” Apricot Chicken”.


My friend, The vagabond Godfrey roamed with a genuine acceptance of all people, a lifelong aversion to beets, and fondness for the street we live on still, Wharf Street, with stories of it’s own- and where now, I am elderly, and in memory still walk with Godfrey.

It oddly was not bitter cold, as one expected mid November in Canada. I sweated to the bus stop in my bulky, old coat. The street lights in old town oft were burned out,so still vivid the stars, peaceful glowed the candles in the homeless camp tents, quiet the looming blue bridge and the harbor front bars.

Time waited for me this day, rain all night had rinsed the words in chalk a passing poet had left away.

IRISH  –Rambling the journey from home a far in Galway, cold the streets of Winnipeg to the shelter down Rock Bay. Outdoors in the park dwells “Irish”self described bard, hear him singing if you listen, above the city din, his old sad songs echo, from posh hotel cross the water to junkyard.

  DES-  Most mornings when about Des chats with me, keeps suitcase safe by her side though we both know it is empty. On her corner in summer, for a dollar she will share her poetry.

I read messages on walls, rude words imply that the poet Des is of “ill repute”and “Doubtful reputation” “A woman of the night”, seen around back of the old bus station. See her shoes on the path where they lie, below the sea bluffs, Des has shed them for to fly. On this fog blessed beach many a poet has passed by…

There is verse in the stooped, ancient couple on the curb across from us.Growing in even the most shrill child’s nursery rhyme chatter on the bus. Words ooze from the bookstore, not subdued by bag or shelf or cost..and headlines stop me in my tracks, report a poet passing, passed yet no, not lost.

Must have been him, in the warm wind I felt down on Wharf, a poet passing by, another icon gone, but never lost.


He stood at the apex of that last long hill, the one west of Calgary, where you first see the city skyline. Heading east, looking back to the west as I passed, hitchhiked  the vagabond Godfrey.

He wore brown, muddy boots and a much mended kilt of plaid, he carried a red and black suitcase. “Do not pick up hobos, lectured my dad, but I liked the peaceful look on his face..

“In my rambling adventures, I have lived in contentment , most all I have asked for eventually has come to me”. He answered when I asked of his life, I gave a long ride to the vagabond Godfrey.     “But if I had my youth to live longer, I would choose without question, the very good life of the beachcomber”.

“From flotsam and logs build my home where the morning sun, makes prisms on the ceiling to gently wake me” My T.V. the wind, and no one to fuss over how much sand gets tracked in”. “Fossick for gemstones washed down from the mountains by the cold winter rain”. Work when I must, but never have to toil in the city again.

“But that would be lonely for most, asked I.  “You are never alone in the mountains or by the sea”, was his soft reply. For with pen in hand, and notebook kept dry, strong legs to clamber and clear eyes to see, “I would write the stories long years kept inside me . Write the poems I find washed ashore, send them off with the outgoing tide, perhaps somewhere a loner, an across the world roamer, finds my poem and knows as I do, the very good life of a beachcomber to.

But what would you take to begin such a dream? Step clear from the bounds of society?  Pot and bowl, tarp and axe, water, matches, fishing line, candles for dark of night. “I will make healthy Yogurt the tramper way, put the mix in a jar in my sleeping bag, leave it in the sun all day” Have my guitar, a guide to edible mollusks, bivalves and plants, a chart for the stars and tides, one for clouds, build a very good life as a beachcomber.

With the bay for my grocers, the seabirds for crowds.   Would you not fear what lurks in the wild?   “I saw a cougar once, cross the road ahead of me on my bike, spring without effort up a rock face, glance down indifferently, melt into the wood” Same year I saw one, skinny, dirty, cringing caged in a squalid zoo..”I fear more the human than that free creature, how about you?”

When I was a lad back in Wales, watched the moonlight through water at night, droplets and frost on my windowpane trickling down, dreamed of places not on a map, far from track and town that when grown I’d see. “In my mind I’m still the boy who dragged kelp behind, who bears barnacle scars, who told all who asked, “Teacher I desire, the very good life of the beachcomber”.

“Yes, we met up with your Godfrey, we talked the night through heading east cross the plain. We parted where golden fields, give way to forest and stony shield, he was wistful of passing this way again”. In the rumble of the highway, the hum of truck wheels, his words to me resonate over, and over. “I think I understood, the vagabond heart, where lives the very good life of a beachcomber…