donal mclaughlin

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Dubé (Canada)


Paulette Dubé was born in Westlock, Alberta, and grew up in the French-speaking village of Legal. Aged three, she watched her third sister being born on the kitchen table – and she has been hooked on magic, creation, and miracles ever since.

Paulette has written six books, including her haunting and poetic novel Talon (2002) which was short-listed for three awards in Canada. Poems which subsequently appeared in First Mountain (2007) earned her a  CBC Literary Award in 2005. Her latest collection – Gaits (2010) – builds on the success of First Mountain. A second novel – with the working title Autant – is currently in progress. Paulette lives in Jasper, Alberta.

“Sometimes I think I dreamt this: 2003, it was, a cave in Slovenia’s karst region, a French-Canadian steps up to the mike, her words – poetic prose or prose poem? – projected onto the screen behind her. The first session of the festival in question, and she’s running away with an award, it seems, which, that year, wasn’t awarded. Paulette Dubé. Reading from TALON. A voice. A presence. A heart. A soul. Phenomenal, it was. She blew us away. – And now – pinch yourself, Donal – this collection from Jasper, Alberta. The work of a wife-mother-teacher who manages not just to walk and see, but to find the words, a form. The work of a poet with what Richard Ford calls “an intuition for the world’s details”. The work of a poet whose work, every time, works magic.”

Donal’s endorsement of First Mountain

First Mountain 001

From: Cover of First Mountain


The sample of Paulette’s work provided below is in fact a letter, written by Paulette to her son, André, as he was about to travel to Ireland in the Spring of 2009. The letter recalls Paulette’s own visit to the North in May 1986 and contains a telling story – published here for the first time with the kind permission of both Paulette and André.


Dear One,

The first and last time I saw Ireland was in 1986. It is a different place today, a different place you are going to see. Mine, my Ireland and my place there, is held in time by smoke, made memory handsome. I travelled there with someone who couldn’t be your father, so I left him. I was waiting for you, you see, and well… that’s another story. I want to tell you about Northern Ireland in May, 1986.

There was still Trouble there. I could see that from the bus window, the bus we took from Dublin to Belfast. Sitting beside me was an old woman, who sighed and tsked her way through the whole trip. We passed a store, close to the border, still smoking, in rubble. I asked if there had been a fire. She said, “A bomb.” She said, “The waste of it all,” and she crossed herself. I crossed myself too and she chided me for that. “Don’t do that! Are you looking for trouble?” She reminded me that with red hair, I’d be a target. As a tourist, I was a target. They’d killed a man and his wife in their hotel room in Belfast that week.  An unfortunate case of mistaken identity, the papers said. “Indeed,” she said.

We crossed into Northern Ireland. Quiet, different, greener than I thought it would be; the roads more narrow and pitted. We stopped outside of Armagh for the night. Found a B&B near the train station and went to the pub for supper. I ordered a half Bass and a pint of Guinness. Bartender Man voiced his disbelief when I sipped the Guinness and lit a foul cigarette. The ceiling was six feet high and the place was crowded. Everyone was smoking and talking. There was a jukebox at the end of the bar, unplugged. I led us to an empty table towards the other end of the bar, through a doorway, where no door hung. It was a little quieter there. Sat there, until a guy in a beat-up black leather jacket, long black hair and mirrored sunglasses came over and growled for us to pack up. Must be a reserved table, for regulars, I thought.  “No offence meant,” I said.

Sat at the bar. Ordered the steak and kidney pie with lima beans. Guy With Glasses came over and asked if he could sit down beside me. Asked the person I was travelling with, who didn’t understand the growly accent, so I said, “Be my guest, it’s your bar.” Guy With Glasses laughs at that. Showed me the tattoo on his left arm.

“Sinn Fein,” he said, “avenging angel of the IRA. You know about that?”

“Not much,” I said.

He let me buy him another beer and explained, graphically, what the angels were up against. “Everyone here knows that, knows us; and now, we know you.”

“Enough,” said the bartender. “Just, enough.”

We finished our beers in silence; I offered a cigarette to Guy With Glasses. We watched each other through shared smoke.

We made for the Giant’s Causeway next day.

The bus lines were on strike, so we hitchhiked. Nice man in an older-model blue car picked us up. “Split up,” he said. “No-one will pick up two hitchhikers at the same time. Not safe and all. And drop your packs,” he said. “Not safe. No-one wants a bomb or gun pulled on them.”

He dropped us off at the end of the driveway to the Causeway. We walked towards the sound of the ocean. It was so foggy and cold I couldn’t tell where the sky ended and the land began or anything. Finally, we were standing at the shore line and the Causeway literally manifested itself through the thinning mist. Leading to Scotland, it was all great huge black basalt columns – some octagonal, some six-sided. All rising from the ocean floor. We couldn’t hear each other over the waves so we didn’t talk. I was gone. That place took me in and sometimes, I am there, still.

In need of a hot cup of anything, we struggled to the information centre and dumped our wet packs just inside the door. The guard told us that they were officially closed due to fog. But he settled us in a back office with steaming cups of milky tea, a tin of his own biscuits between us. He told the legend of the Giant Finn, who so loved his Scottish princess, that he built the causeway to visit her. From what I remember, they both died. The nice man, Liam, who had given us a lift earlier, walked in. It happened that he too worked here and he was leaving early because officially, they were closed due to fog. He offered us a lift back to town and a place to sleep. His own apartment, he was so proud, “and Mary won’t mind.”

Mary was some put out for a twenty-year-old. She minded, thank you very much for asking, and told Liam as much. We appeased her by buying all the grub for a fry-up supper. Eggs, bacon, bread, tea, sugar and a big beer each for dessert. Their apartment was cement walls, floors, everything cement, and painted a white wash of lime. Windowless. Futon and a throw was the living room. Small kitchen with the cooker and a sink. A WC and their room – no more than a closet furthest from the door. Amazing. Mary finally settled out of her put out attitude which was really just embarrassment for being “without much in the cupboard”. We washed up the dishes, drank the beer slowly, compared rolling abilities and talked about Universities, here and back home. They talked of jobs, the scarcity of them all, and the Troubles. A little, not much, as they were actually depressed by it all, more than angry anymore. They were older looking and sad when they finished their stories about friends dead and gone, lives on hold, no money and no future. We saw ourselves through the night with candles in saucers because the electricity was off. The peat fire smell grew bold and crawled into bed beside me, curled up on my stomach and until you were born my Dear One, sweeter dreams I had yet to have.

In the morning, so the watch said it was morning, we rose quietly not to wake them. Washed in cold water. Left a note of thanks as I pocketed the last of the bread. Left a red enamelled maple-leaf pin, and a fistful of condoms, “they are so hard to come by here,” Mary had whispered. We left, softly setting the latch as the door thumped behind us. It was Sunday morning.

We got to the town square. Passed a large brick affair, some church or a city hall I think. Sat on a bench to figure out trains – nope, no good from here- bus-nope. Now what? No traffic, no people; it must have been really ungodly early. A black armoured vehicle was there, parked and purring like some stealthy cat. A black helmet wearing black gloves, black puffy jacket, dark glasses barked from a turret at the top, “Drop your packs. Do it now. Drop your packs. Do it.” We did. I was cold all of a sudden. I could feel the small Christ médaille against my chest like a burn. I was never so cold as that.

The soldier came out of the vehicle; he pointed a nasty insect-looking rifle. “Let’s have the passports. Canada, right. Open your pack. Now. Do it.” We unbuckled, unzipped the packs. With the barrel end of his weapon, he lifted layers in my pack and flung all manner of things to the street, my t-shirts, my papers, my underwear, everything scattered like so much garbage on the ground. He passed the passports into the vehicle and stood there, gun pointed at our chests.

“What are you doing here?”

“Visiting,” I said.

“No, here. Here at City Hall then, looking for something then? Looking for what?”

“We sat to check train schedules.”

“Train schedules? On a Sunday? Why? What train?”

“To get to Belfast,” my travelling partner piped in.

I wanted to kill him, Belfast!? Fuck. Wasn’t he listening to anything anyone had said in the last two days?

“Where’d you stay last night?”

“With friends, Liam and Mary – just up the road.”

That’s it, if they didn’t kill him I would.

“Mary and Liam who?”

“We don’t know. We met Liam when we were hitch hiking up to the Giant’s Causeway.  He gave us a lift, he works there. It was officially closed because of fog. Then he was nice enough to offer us a place to sleep. That’s all,” I said.

Interrupting females cause males to collectively roll their eyes at each other, no matter where you live. Even if this one was wearing dark glasses, I could tell he was doing it too. Fucker.

There was a rap on the black turret, the passports came out. The soldier picked them up and threw them down on top of my denuded pack.

“Pack up. Now.Do it,” he barked, shouldering the rifle, levelling it at my head this time.

I piled things in as fast as I could. My médaille of Christ came flipping out over the top of my shirt; I shoved it back just as fast, not stopping my packing, not looking up. My travelling partner had hoisted his pack onto his shoulders, and was talking in a low voice to the soldier. His back was to me.

The soldier lowered the gun, and said, “Yeah, don’t I know it. Go to Lewis’s pub, down the block a bit; it’s the last place on the corner, on your right. Can’t miss it. Have breakfast then get to the train station. You have plenty of time, but don’t wander about. Stay in the pub until it’s time to leave. Get on that train. Do it.”

He climbed back into the vehicle and it moved off. Black Helmet appeared at the turret.  Vehicle continued at a snail’s pace across the square.

Somehow, we weren’t killed. Somehow we were alive. Somehow we found Lewis’ pub, ate breakfast, stayed there until it was time to catch the train. Took the train as far as Bushmills, not far really, it was Sunday after all.

I love(d) Ireland. A country that people felt was worth saving from invading insect guns and black armoured vehicles was country enough for me.  Hope you find the Ireland you are looking for, Dear One.

Love, Mom

Previously unpublished.

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