The Last Days of Mrs. Allen

for Brian Wilson and family in Red Deer

Over many days in the Summer of 1971,
you are visiting the oldest patient in her room
in the geriatrics ward of an Edmonton Alberta hospital.

“How old are you?”
“Oh, one hundred. Or so.”
“When were you born?”

“On the 22nd of June.”
“What year?”
“I don’t know. I lost track.”

* * *

She lets go of your hand
and leans back on the pillow
and through her wet eyes

gazes not at you, but somewhere
behind you, somewhere
beyond you.

All we use to have to do
is just give a toss of the reins
and speak to them.

Come on, George.
Come on, Bessie.
Come on, Bill.

And they would go.
I use to win the races.
Oh, yes, I still remember Bessie.

(Laughs)

She wouldn’t let any stranger ride her.
One boy tried to ride her
and she ditched him.

Just like that.
Oh, she was wicked.
Wicked.

(Laughs)

She ditched him.
Us girls, we just laughed.
Oh, he was mad as a hornet.

The kids today,
they don’t have half the fun
we use to have.

* * *

Oh, they were wicked, believe me.
The minute we spoke to them
they would just go.

I use to put my fingers together
and whistle.
It’s all I had to do.

She was out in the field.
She’d stop and hold her head up.
I’d whistle again.

She’d come running.
She couldn’t have walked
any quicker than that.

I was born in Montana
before we came here to Alberta.
Oh, how I wish I had those old days again.

* * *

I use to have a lot of photographs of us.
But my family got away with them.
Divided them.

We had some that were framed.
Photographs of the horses
and us girls on them, racing.

One horse we brought up from a colt.
And all we had to do is whistle
and she’d come.

She would always come running
and lay her head on our shoulders.
She’d take her nose and rub us.

* * *

Oh, I will never forget when we lost our dad.
He use to raise his own horses.
Oh, I was quite an age when he died.

I was the oldest of the three of us.
All girls.
No brothers.

We had cousins, though,
who use to stay with us,
and they were good.

My sister, the one closest to me,
was quite a rider, too.
We use to ride at the fairs.

Father taught us.
He was a great horseman.
When he died,

I missed him and missed him.
I still miss him.
He was a big man.

* * *

Animals. They’re the ones who know.
We use to ride them at the fair.
Win our races. Never use a whip.
That was cruel. Just stroke them.

My father was a great horseman.
They use to call him the Old Man and his girls.
That’s what they use to call us.
We didn’t care.

Our horses, they wouldn’t let any stranger on them.
They’d just hump their backs and pitch them off.
Horses know. They’re not given credit.
But a horse does know.

I’ve never seen horses like the ones we raised.
They’d be out in the field and Father’d just whistle.
And they didn’t walk to him, they’d run.
And lay their head on his shoulder.

* * *

When old Bessie died,
Father made a coffin for her.
She was about nine years old.

She had the best of care, too.
Just like a person.
She was little.

Didn’t weigh much more than a colt.
Oh, old Bessie, she’d come
no matter where she was.

And she would always come running
and lay her head on our shoulder.
Oh, I miss them. I miss them all.

~ Steven Michael Berzensky

Steven Michael Berzensky (aka Mick Burrs) is a prize-winning author (Variations on the Birth of Jacob, 1997). The first of his many poetry books and chapbooks was published in Alberta in 1971. While residing in Edmonton (1969-1973), he became a freelance producer at CKUA Radio with his series Stand Tall on the Rubble Pile. Mick also performed his own songs in local coffeehouses. He is a former editor of the literary magazine Grain (1988-1990) and founder of the Annual Short Grain Contest. After residing in Saskatchewan for 32 years, he moved to Toronto in 2005.

2 Responses to “The Last Days of Mrs. Allen”

  1. This is a very moving poem. Keep up the good work Micki! You can send an email if you like also.

  2. I miss having Mick in SK! *pout*

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