Alexander Best: “Notes on Normal”

ZP_Norval Morrisseau, 1932-2007_Conversation, a serigraph from 1978

ZP_Norval Morrisseau, 1932-2007_Conversation, a serigraph from 1978

Alexander Best

“Notes on Normal”


The investment advertisement spoke of “smart risk”.

The sign on the bottled-water truck read: “Taste you can trust.”

At the townhouse complex, little notices

skewered the golf-green grass. They gave the date and time of

spraying and when the lawn would be “safe” again.


An office worker took two puffs of her cigarette then

tossed it onto the granite slab;  it was back to the salt mines.

Two beggars stood nearby.

It didn’t get ugly over the “Hollywood butt”;

another one would be along in awhile.


.     .     .


Last night I awoke;  it was slow and easy.

Down the hall, my neighbour picked out chords on his guitar.

The sound wasn’t loud;  the house was unusually quiet.

3 a.m.  Oh, but he hit the right notes!

I lay there and listened.

Then the music stopped.


My mind went this way and that.  Those years returned, and

I knew there was no playing with the facts:

how ignorant I’d been — aggressive and stupid.  And hadn’t it

gone on — and on.

Sleep came again, and took me.


.     .     .


Finally, he died.

Yes, he was old, but he’d been old for two-and-a-half decades,

since the age of forty-five.

The florid beard, silver in the black, had

given him a weight;  and he’d been listened to, the difficult



His Uncle.  The only man left of that small,

snuffed-or-petered-out generation.

And these past five years, the beard gone, his face was

crunched and unintelligible.


What a waste.

So much could’ve happened that didn’t.

Yet so much had happened that had to.

And though he felt regret — fibrous and stony — he felt also

the uselessness of regrets.


That tightly-wound, far-flung bunch, their story was told.

And the estranged pair of them — Uncle and him —

they were one and complete.


.     .     .


I told someone off the other day, really laid it on thick.

She’d been burying me in bullshit for quite some time.

Who doesn’t she despise in our society?


Now I’m doubtful. I feel guilt. Was I perhaps too…

no, I didn’t go far enough.


.     .     .


Oh privileged people —

when you extract head from navel, the

muffled hums and haws will become

well-spoken excuses.


Shut up and get on with it.

I expect more of thee!


.     .     .


Smug. It defines him.

Orthodoxy in all the obvious opinions;  a crass certitude;


And in one so young!


Facts. What he does with them is…



But now I say to myself:

Fool.  Look around.

This  is the only world he knows.


.     .     .


He was mistaken.

He’d thought it sensible to share so much — to be ‘modern’ —

with the old dear / battleaxe who’d given him Life.

But he didn’t know when to stop.

And now they are both of them



How does one repair such damage?


Learning to be silent,

this will be hard work.

But the birds, cat and dog;  the piano.

Maybe a ginger beer — she likes that —

in the backyard, when the hot days come.

It can be enough.


.     .     .


The funeral was a brisk affair;  the woman’s decline had been

gradual, her death no surprise. Still, the hour was a solemn one.

He was the brother of someone who’d known the deceased,

a stranger in a small congregation, all of whom appeared to

be familiars.  But afterward, he observed how

people departed in two distinct groups which had little or

nothing to say to one another.


His sister — the “someone who’d known the deceased” — was,

in truth, a very important person — mourner — in the pews.

But only the dead woman had known that.


Two square-looking, thirty-something women

— they’d sat in the front row —

attempted to pick him up as he

walked away from the cut-stone chapel.

One called him “distinguished”;  the other, “hot”.

The coffin was carried down the steps, and

dayglo arrows marked the route to the grave.

It was a cold, early-spring afternoon.


.     .     .


The dream startled me awake.

I had to walk around, move myself here and there.

Downstairs, I put the kettle on.


First I was hunched over, then I was on the attack.

A door, off its hinges, was my shield, then my weapon.

There was no ground yet we weren’t falling.

There was no sky yet we kept breathing.

There was no room for us, in fact,

yet we had ample space for a struggle.

And who was we?





.     .     .     .     .