"Hurricane Betsey" & "Our Cottage"

Margaret Sullivan

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Margaret Sullivan’s two poems "Hurricane Betsey" and "Our Cottage" present a nostalgic look at haunting memories, reminding us of why certain moments never leave us.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

Hurricane Betsey 

Wurlein’s window, the real Basilica
where certain people made certain choices
just buy an organ
just buy a baby grand
the white one with gold keys
maybe some kid’s Christmas present
some special anniversary
drive along Canal Street
suddenly, you want an organ

we weren’t allowed to
go to the bomb shelter
at my school
and sleep beside the
Ursuline sisters as they were

serving soup and
showing movies on a
linen bedsheet

“I’m not sleeping on the floor in that basement
beside all those losers!”
shouted my father
“We’re finding a hotel.”

so we were on Canal Street
not buying a piano
not being tourists
not looking for po boy stands
not obeying the authorities
by going to the bomb shelter

Here’s what you do
when Betsey comes calling
you lower the windows
one or two inches
same on each side
so the winds match each other
winds from the east match
winds from the west

the car will be rocking
the winds will blow through it
and not tip you over
same with your house

Hurricane Betsey was coming on strong
the eye of this hurricane
set squarely in the City center
before my eyes
the window of Wurlein’s
blew in like crushed ice

our car was rocking
the street was strewn with
overturned cars
splinters of glass
sliced through the back seat
glass from the east
getting caught in my hair

to get a hotel room
you must leave the car
you should not leave the car
rocking your children
but you need a hotel room

the honeymoon suite
is all that they have
three oranges, canned stew
cooked under a lighter
five spoons in the saucepan
a heart shaped bed

we were told
we could bring
one thing
I brought my blue bear
Frank brought his slide rule

Patrick brought the index
of the encyclopedia
it was heavy in his arms|“One thing,” said my father
“One thing,” said my father
“One thing you could bring|and you chose the index?”
and you chose the index?”

“All of civilization
will be destroyed tonight,”
said my brother
who was nine at the time
all of it
as we know it
will be gone
all in one night
and that night
is tonight

Our Cottage

A sweep of a glass wall exposed
the interior
the iron and glass dining table
the living room on the right
a granite platform most would call a coffee table
seven cedar steps built for a prior purpose 

I could see right into the soft white beds
a chair he had won a design award for
an ebony black pedestal bowl
resting inside the full skeleton of a fawn
arranged like the reception area flowers
at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome

an iron stove for a fireplace
a stone mantel behind it
holding a simple glass vase 
a wide bouquet 
of porcupine quills 
stood straight up

He told me stories, late at night,
about how he found these things
some of them being illegal to have
here in Canada
where he rescues eagles

bathroom walls of clean heavy teakwood
floors of granite that actually felt soft
the bathtub so wide 
that you could stretch out your arms and legs
become the Vitruvian Man
and not touch the sides

circular window along the side of the tub
showing you shining woods
and the edge of the slope 
that led down to the water
at night time, it showed you nothing
but waving shadows and mysterious movements

Much was going on low on the ground
much moving of little feet
rearranging of fruits and branches and pinecones
much was going on inside the leaves
much fluttering of wings
swishing of nest material

at the top of the trees
there was constant 
manipulating of branches
an owl maybe
or just the wind maybe
breaking the curtain 

of forested darkness
letting in dark blue
revealing very quickly 
one star
then shutting the curtain 
fast and hard

How did I see it again?
was it in the sky 
was it reflected 
onto the bath water?
there was much
moving around in there too

as I shivered 
under the pressure
of the tide 
and the wind 
and the wildlife
and the changing light

Professor Sullivan is a poet and lecturer who publishes in the. areas of vinyl music consumption and stigma,  especially around mental illness. She created the Summer Arts Camp at Columbia College , North America’s first all day all arts camp. She founded the “The Journal of Undiscovered Poets” and acts as editor in chief. Margaret lives on Salt Spring Island.

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Additional reading


Sicilian Blue

Hurricane Betsey Margaret Sullivan Wurlein’s window, the real Basilicawhere certain people made certain choicesjust buy an organjust buy a baby grandthe white one with gold keysmaybe some kid’s Christmas presentsome special anniversarydrive along Canal Streetsuddenly, you want an organwe weren’t allowed togo to the bomb shelterat my schooland sleep beside theUrsuline sisters as they wereserving soup andshowing movies on alinen bedsheet“I’m not sleeping on the floor in that basementbeside all those losers!”shouted my father“We’re finding a hotel.”so we were on Canal Streetnot buying a pianonot being touristsnot looking for po boy standsnot obeying the authoritiesby going to the bomb shelterHere’s what you dowhen Betsey comes callingyou lower the windowsone or two inchessame on each sideso the winds match each otherwinds from the east matchwinds from the westthe car will be rockingthe winds will blow through itand not tip you oversame with your houseHurricane Betsey was coming on strongthe eye of this hurricaneset squarely in the City centerbefore my eyesthe window of Wurlein’sblew in like crushed iceour car was rockingthe street was strewn withoverturned carssplinters of glasssliced through the back seatglass from the eastgetting caught in my hairto get a hotel roomyou must leave the caryou should not leave the carrocking your childrenbut you need a hotel roomthe honeymoon suiteis all that they havethree oranges, canned stewcooked under a lighterfive spoons in the saucepana heart shaped bedwe were toldwe could bringone thingI brought my blue bearFrank brought his slide rulePatrick brought the indexof the encyclopediait was heavy in his arms|“One thing,” said my father“One thing,” said my father“One thing you could bring|and you chose the index?”and you chose the index?”‍“All of civilizationwill be destroyed tonight,”said my brotherwho was nine at the timeall of itas we know itwill be goneall in one nightand that nightis tonight‍Our CottageMargaret Sullivan A sweep of a glass wall exposedthe interiorthe iron and glass dining tablethe living room on the righta granite platform most would call a coffee tableseven cedar steps built for a prior purpose I could see right into the soft white bedsa chair he had won a design award foran ebony black pedestal bowlresting inside the full skeleton of a fawnarranged like the reception area flowersat the Excelsior Hotel in Romean iron stove for a fireplacea stone mantel behind itholding a simple glass vase a wide bouquet of porcupine quills stood straight upHe told me stories, late at night,about how he found these thingssome of them being illegal to havehere in Canadawhere he rescues eaglesbathroom walls of clean heavy teakwoodfloors of granite that actually felt softthe bathtub so wide that you could stretch out your arms and legsbecome the Vitruvian Manand not touch the sidescircular window along the side of the tubshowing you shining woodsand the edge of the slope that led down to the waterat night time, it showed you nothingbut waving shadows and mysterious movementsMuch was going on low on the groundmuch moving of little feetrearranging of fruits and branches and pineconesmuch was going on inside the leavesmuch fluttering of wingsswishing of nest materialat the top of the treesthere was constant manipulating of branchesan owl maybeor just the wind maybebreaking the curtain of forested darknessletting in dark bluerevealing very quickly one starthen shutting the curtain fast and hardHow did I see it again?was it in the sky was it reflected onto the bath water?there was muchmoving around in there tooas I shivered under the pressureof the tide and the wind and the wildlifeand the changing light‍