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Ode to Herbert Wood




Herbert Wood with my grandmother, Elizabeth Moorhouse,

around or about 1918


This is a memorial to Herbert Wood

to write about him I know I should

my grandfather on my mother’s side

nineteen days before her birth he died


In 1918 a railway company sent Herbert

to be its stationmaster in Prince Rupert

when Herbert left Montreal at twenty-nine 

he was hale and hearty - perfectly fine


Around this time, in Europe the Great War was winding down

a bloody conflict that killed twenty million round

soldiers from the US and Canada began to return home

carrying a deadly virus and propagating its roam


With the Spanish Flu, it is oft’ repeated

fifty to a hundred million perished before it was defeated

borne on a Kansas army base

it took years for there to be a breathing space 


With the war, the Canadian government saw an opportunity

to win greater control over its foreign policy

this is why it responded favorably to a British request

to send an expeditionary force to the Russian east


Where at that time there raged a civil war

between the whites and the reds, opposed to the core  

prepared to fight

until victory was in sight


The Canadian expeditionary force sailed from Prince Rupert

arriving there by railway where the stationmaster was Herbert

this was the closest Canadian port to the Russian East

and was probably because of this that Herbert’s life would cease 


The Canadians came home some six months later

much depleted, not thorough war, but through disease much greater

my grandfather’s infector among them, maybe yes, maybe not

whatever, it was an exercise in inutility, however thought


A century on, I think about the grandfather

that I never knew, the father of my mother

whose early disappearance marked her time

and maybe somehow mine.


In 1957, after the USSR entered space

in my life, I decided to give Russian a special place

sensing somehow that the language would prove to be my lodestar

even if during many years the country would from me remain far


I wonder whether my grandfather’s encounter

with the Russia-bound Canadian soldier that may have been his downer

did not plant a seed in me

that has shaped my trajectory.


I wish I had known my grandfather 

whose daughters and their mother

gave me deep affection and wise love

Herbert, I think of this you were a big part of.  –


I feel you are listening from above.

Click to read in Spanish

Click to read in Russian

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           The Girl from Chernobyl

       Montrealés en Balcon Malagueno


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