Ordinary, Moving

Original Text: 
Phyllis Gotlieb, Red Blood Black Ink White Paper (Toronto: Exile Editions, 2002): 63-83. PS 8513 .O77R33 Robarts Library
2laughing, talking where the ball bounces
3in the forgotten schoolyard
4one hand, the other hand; one foot, the other foot
5you know the one
6(Saturday Afternoon Kid
7blackball-cracker, scotchmint-muncher
8handkerchief-chewer extraordinary)
9clap front, clap back
10ballthwack on the boardfence
11front and back, back and front
12arms of old beeches reaching over drop their
13sawtooth leaves in your hair
14  (as I was sitting beneath a tree
15  a birdie sent his love to me
16  and as I wiped it from my eye
17  I thought: thank goodness cows can't fly)
18tweedle, twydle
19curtsey, salute
20and roundabout
21until you're out
22the shadows turn, the light is long
23and while you're out you sing this song
24     this year, next year, sometime, never
25     en roule-en ma boule roule-en
26     we'll be friends for ever and ever
27              Pimperroquet, le roi des papillons
28                se faisant la barbe, il
29                  se coupa le menton
30                    une, une, c'est la lune
31                    deux, deux, c'est le jeu
33nine, a-laura
34ten a-laura echod, shtaim
36                                echod, shtaim, sholosh, ar-ba ...
37     whereja get the cold, sir?
38     up at the North Pole, sir;
39     what were ya doin there, sir?
40     catchin Polar bears, sir;
41     how many didja catch, sir?
42     one, sir; two, sir
43                  Salome was a dancer
44                  she did the hootchykootch
45                  she shook her shimmy shoulder
46                  and showed a bit too much
47     my boyfriend's name is Fatty
48     he comes from Cincinnati
49     my boyfriend's name is Jello
50     he comes from Monticello
52          que cheleque palesto
53          que jingale lestingo
54          ini ini maini mo
55     and this is the way you played
56     begin:
57ordinary throw the ball against the fence, catch it
58moving same thing, don't move your feet laughing
59mustn't show your teeth talking
60shut, your, mouth
61                          one hand that's how you
62catch it the other hand
63one foot pick it up, you dope the other foot
65clap front, clap back
66                             front&back, back&front
67tweedle with your hands like twiddling your thumbs
68only overhand
69twydle underhand curtsey, salute
70and roundabout
71                         catch it and
72start from moving
73over the whole thing without
74stirring from the spot slap
75your leg for one foot wave your
76arms for roundabout on through laughing ononon
78particle, atom, molecule, world
79solar system, galaxy, supergalaxy, cosmos
80but start with small, the ball on the wall
81that's how it went, and begin again:
84  with twenty-four toes
85  and a pickle on his nose
86  and this is the way my story goes:
87               *
88              we
89            started
90          something
91          like a slug
92        and grew without
93      a thought or wish to
94     something like a fish a
95    frog a bird a pig a golly-
96    wog and ultimately red and
97     born a blueblack head or
98      peppercorn or bald or
99        blind or idiot or
100          multiheaded
101            ,poly-
102             glot
103               *
104             I = I
105            I? = ?I
106            ?W?H?Y?
107            ?I = I?
108            I = not
109          ALL/eye/see
110           = (s/ m)uch
111            = notme
113yer pa got it outa the junkman's backyard)
114the thing that I thought was the moon
115turned out to be Mother's face
116or Sister's or Brother's or Dad's or the cat's
117-- there's notme all over the place
118(but I want the world's food in my belly
119I want all the things I can see
120I want all the toys in the world in my arms
121and I want all the arms around ME)
122  black skin, drum belly
123  little stick leg
124  Papa paint the sores on
125  hold your hands and beg
127What shall we name the baby?
128William? or James? or John?
129Matthew? or Mark? or maybe
130even Napoleon?
131  sticks and stones can break my bones
133  and when I'm dead and in my grave
134  you'll be sorry for what you called me
135whatcher name?
137ask me agin
138and I'll tell ya the same ...
139... the secret power, the personal key
140the three golden hairs in the forehead of the Giant
141the stone in the yoke in the egg in the duck
142in the rabbit in the basket in the chest beneath the Oak
143in the Oak of the Golden Bough
144in the magical Mistletoe:
145'In the whole of the East Indian Archipelago
146the etiquette is the same
147no-one utters his own name...'
148  Sha-ame, sha-ame!
149  everybody knows yer na-ame!
150Whatcher name?
151Mary Jane
153down'a lane je m'appelle comme mon pere
154whatcher number? et ton pere?
155cucumber mon pere s'appelle comme moi
156it's Dinger Bell and Dusty Miller, Moishe Tochas
157   and Lumber Bonce
158it's mwele and Elkeh Pipick, Scaevola, Pepito and
159   Tanglefoot ...
160what do they call'y'?
161Patchy Dolly
162where were y' born?
163in the cow's horn
165where were ya born? I didn't hear ya
166roundabout and begin again
167well I'll tell ya
168  my father was born in England
169  my mother was born in France
170  but I was born in diapers
171  because I had no pants
173if I ever tell a lie )
174where were you born my pretty lass?
175born in the still-house bin
177they'd'a called me Stone Blind Gin
178where do you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?
180where do you come from, Vinegar Bill?
182where do you come from, Popoli
183in your laplap jockstrap sewn with bead?
184I'm growing up in New Guin-ea
186laughing, talking, one hand, the other hand
187one foot, the other foot
188that's where the shoe is
191how's your old man earn his nicker?
192potter? piper? peapod-picker?
193packer? knacker? sailor? stoker?
194bumbailiff? or bailbond-broker?
195doctor? proctor? thane? or thief?
196dustman? postman? on relief?
198  he wears a dustman's hat --
199aah, knock it off, Noddy
200we already been there
202a navvy by his trade
203he wheels a great big barrow
204he swings a pick and spade
205my old man's a navvy
207it doesn't fill a rotten tooth
208or scare the wolf away
209I'm growin up to earn my keep
210as quickly as I can
211an I guess I'll be a navvy
212just like my old man
214  my mother clerks in the baker-y
215  my sister dances in the hula show
216  and they do it for me, me, me
217my old man's a psychiatrist
218he has a psychiatrist's couch
219he doesn't stick any needles in
220but his patients still cry ouch!
221he thinks I'm slightly paranoid
222or maybe rather manic
223I tell him I'll turn out all right
224if only he won't panic
225if you got anxiety
226my dad will worry for you
227at 25 bucks an hour
228it's what psychiatrists do
230Why? -- Z
231butter your bread
232if you don't like it
233go to bed
234Why? Why? Why?
235¿Cuándo? Pourquoi? Far vus?
236why does a chicken cross the road?
240¿ cuándo la gallina cruza la carretera?
241vais ich?
242perchè Garibaldi alla battaglia di Calatafimi
243  portava le bretelle tricolori?
244to hold his pants up, stupid
246how and when and where and why
247stars and sun and moon and sky
248canals and craters, dunghills, dunes
249tell me what's beyond the moons?
250beyond the moons the sands are deep
251they spread through all the purple skies
252in them are Giants who never sleep
253but watch the world with burning eyes
254they're just like us, with sharper claws
255huger pincers, fiercer jaws
256and if they catch you -- goodbye head!
257goodbye little crystal bed!
258so wrap your feelers round your feet
259fold your thorax nice and neat
260the sun is high, the hour is late
263  I pray the gods to keep it cool
264  to keep off demons far and near
265  and wake me when the winter's here
266  to dance with joy on all my legs
267  and live to lay a thousand eggs
269  Mother Mother I am sick
270  call for the doctor quick quick quick!!!
271  Doctor Doctor shall I die?
272  Yes my child and so shall I ...
273Do you ever think when the hearse goes by
274that one of these days you're going to die?
275a-whoo, a-whoo ...
276the dark the hairy scary dark's where
277the nightblooming neuroses grow:
278Mummy the THING'S under my bed again!
279they wrap you up in a big white shirt
280and cover you over with tons of dirt
281a-whoo ...
282under my bed, my childhood bed
283only the dustflocks blew
284in the midnight caverns of my head
285the goblins spawned and grew
286they stuff you into a long long box
287and cover you over with mountains of rocks
288a-whoo ...
289but my children's fears are wider, wilder
290fiercer, freer
291in their delirious feverdreams
292angry shadows chatter from the bookshelves
295           imperial ibises rise
296stark and threatening from the reeds of the rug
297and the worms crawl out and the worms crawl in
298and the ones that crawl in are lean and thin
299and the ones that crawl out are fat and stout
300a-whoo, a-whoo ...
301deposition by J.E.G., acquaintance of writer:
302  The storm was raging and the wind was howling outside the
303  castle. Inside the castle the lights flickered of. There was a
304  blood-curling shriek. A Black figure stalked up the corridor.
305  Bloodstained was his hands. I ran down the corridor and fell.
306  Quickly I got up. I ran down the corridor only to find a girl
307  jabbed in the back. As I ran farther I fell in a pit. It was a don-
308  jon! I felt myself being chained to the wall. I struggled to
309  free myself only to get whipped in the leg. The lights went on,
310  I found the Black thing ready to cut my throat! I prepared to
311  die. IM DEAD! IM DEAD! I screamed.
312your eyes fall in and your hair falls out
313and your brains come tumb-a-ling down your snout
314a-whoo ...
315  Hap-py Birthday!
316  Hap-py Birthday!
317  children are crying
318  people are dying
319  Happy Birthday ...
320here you're in
321there you're out
322that's how the world goes
325rise, Sally, rise
326open your eyes
327the earth turns east, the sun turns west
328turn to the one you love the best
330  I wish, I wish your wish may come true
331  the sun is up high at the top of the sky
332  you can't cross my river unless you wear blue
333bushel of wheat, bushel of barley
334all not hid, holler Charley!
335bushel of wheat, bushel of rye
336all not hid, holler I!
337bushel of wheat, bushel of clover
338all not hid can't hide over
339look out, World! here I come!
340we sing from near, we sing from far
341you brought us here, and here we are
342we sing from far, we sing from near
343nobody told us why we're here
344we sing by night, we sing by day
345nobody told us what to say
346in love begot, in lust begot
347nobody asked us what we thought:
349my warriors have pitched their tents
350where Tigris meets Euphrates
351I suck the stubborn teats of goats
352and feed upon the date-trees
353I hunker down upon my heels
354(they call me chieftain's daughter)
355and I crack my lice between my nails
356and flick them in the water
357  we have to sing, we sing a song
358  it's all of Time and twice as long
361  Yes, Master Coxe, my fleece is fat and full
362  Shearer, shearer, clip him to the fell
363  and take the wool to little John who lives by the well
364I sit and pick at wool
365I pick at wool all day
366I have no time to go to school
367I have no time to play
368the shepherds tend the flocks
369the shearers clip their backs
370and sell the wool to Thomas Coxe
371who stuffs it into sacks
372and when the bags are full
373they bring them in to me
374for every day I pick the wool
375he pays my penny fee
376my hands are cracked and sore
377I pray to go to heaven
378and hope perhaps he'll pay me more
379next year when I am seven
380  I sing my song the whole day long
381  from morning light to even
383I am a little chimney sweep
384a poor benighted chap
385I knock about the dark all day
386and no-one cares a rap
387the soot grinds down into my groins
388each time my brush goes whap!
391  we sing our song, our song is long
392  it's large as life and twice as strong
393if you should see a chimney sweep
394your luck will turn to bad
395so always keep your eyes away
396from a chimney-sweeping lad
397but if by chance they light on one
398don't let it go at that
399-- just hold your collar till you see
400a horse, a dog, a cat ...
402  here upon the altar
403  lies the bleeding victim
404  we slew him without falter
405  -- that was why we picked him
407  wrapped up in tidy parcels
408  was ever god served up a dish
409  of such prodigious morsels?
410all the gods are bad ones
411and some are worse than others
412the god who gave me his name
413had demons for his brothers
414he chose the altar for me
415the axe to split my head
416the leaves to wrap my ears and nose
417for the prize when I was dead
418the missionary came then
419and he took me in his arm
420he swore his God would strike them dead
421if they did me any harm
422my father broke his spear in two
423the prayer-king stove his drum
424and as a joyful Christian child
425I sing of Kingdom Come!
427  one day he gave me peaches
428  one day he gave me pears
429  one day he gave me fifty cents
430  to kiss him on the stairs
431the missionary ladies
432have taught me to sew and cook
433to plant flowers in pots
435and write in a bluelined book
436they have taught me to read the Bible
437and to frown and turn my back
438on Corporal McGlash
439when he twirls his moustache
441but my mother will come and fetch me
442to my home on the mountain side
443and I'll turn back my face
444to the ways of my race
446and turquoise and silver will bind up my hair
447instead of a flowery hat
448my three husbands will plough
449while the fourth milks the cow
450-- but I won't tell the pastor that.
451  I gave him back his peaches
452  I gave him back his pears
453  I only kept the fifty cents
454  and kicked him down the stairs
456Mammy, Mammy, tell me true
457when shall we be free?
459don't say dem things to me
460  ole Uncle Jack he wanta git free
461  foun his way north by de bark on de tree
462  cross dat river floatin in a tub
464Mammy, Mammy, all de years
466Hush, chile, hush chile, all you tears
467won' make him let us go
470  but Aunt Dinah gittin kinda ole
473feel de sun shine on my haid
474hush, chile! don't talk out so plain
475or you mighty close to dead!
476  ole Uncle Billy, mighty fine man
480and still we dance and still we sing
482Juba dis an Juba dat
483Juba skin dat Yaller Cat
484Juba jump and Juba sing
485Juba cut dat Pigeon's Wing!
486Gadder roun, chillun, thank de Lawd
488Massa in de cole cole groun, praise Gawd
489in de Year of Jubilee!
490  Missus an Massa, walkin down street
491  hans in dere pockets, nothin to eat
492  Missus git home, wash up de dishes!
493  patch up y'ole man's raggedy britches!
494  Massa run home, git out de hoe
495  clear de weeds outa y'own corn row
496  de Kingdom Come, de slaves gone free
498two four six eight
500  ('I dunno what they complainin about what with
502  baths an dog shows ever day')
503put down you heel
504put down you toe
505  ever time you turn aroun
507git off you knees
508hold up you head
509  ever time you turn aroun
510  Jim Crow dead!
512  get a piece of pork and
513  stick it on a fork and
514  shove it in the mouth of a Jewboy, Jew ...
516the sh'gutzim kick my shins, the cold winds blow me like a leaf
517a skinny kid, a Yidl kid, with swinging black earlocks
518for furtrimmed ladies and their gents my father fixes clocks
519he cheats them just a little bit to make up for the tax
520I call them Pan and Panya and I spit behind their backs
522  Jewboy, Jew
523  Jewboy, Jew
525I know not blue sky nor to see the sun shine
526blind, I hear others die. I am called swine.
527  and still we sing and still we sing
528  and through the wires our voices ring
529does no-one hear? does no-one come?
530Lord of the World, my mouth is dumb
532  Bach Jones a bag of bones
533  a belly full of fat
534  and when he dies he shuts his eyes
535  now what do you think of that?
537I never grew to be a man
538the slag ran down toward the town
539I cried and I was still
540God lost my name and no-one came
541I died beneath the hill
542still in their dreams our voices sing
543through stone and slime the echoes ring
544  Rhys Owen was a holy man
545  he went to church on Sunday
546  to pray to God to give him strength
547  to whip the boys on Monday!
549the light swings west, the shadows follow
550the ball is hollow
551on the wall
552curtsey, salute and roundabout
553we go by turns but never out
554we turn the world away from night
555we raise the sun, we bring the light
556if we don't act the way we should
557too bad for you. We're here for good.
558and begin again


1] Cf. "Tennis at Midnight," Noman's Land: Stories by Gwendolyn MacEwan (Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1985):
The past was a place of games played with deadly earnest, the terrible arena of childhood. He was very young and he smelled of melting running shoes and schoolyard dust and warm apples and peanut butter sandwiches. The girls at noon bounced hard rubber balls under their knees or flung them rhythmically at the school wall, chanting in girl language: ordinary, moving, left foot, right foot, curtsies, salutsies, turnsies. The boys watched them, fascinated and bewildered and afraid. Apples, peaches, pears and plums! the girls screamed as they flung themselves in great suicidal leaps into the whirling maw of their skipping ropes. Tell me when your birthday comes! And dancing in the frenzied centre they called out the names of the months of the year - this year, any year: 'JANuary, FEBruary...' until the schoolyard was a whirling circling planet of tastes and smells and colours and sounds erupting into chaos like the first dream of his life in which the sky broke up into a jigsaw of faces and figures and mythical animals and then it all fell down.
Back to Line
32] "Pimperroquet, the king of butterflies makes a beard, he cuts his chin, one, one, it's the moon, two, two, it's the game, three, three, it's your turn!" Back to Line
35] laura Secord: a Canadian heroine of the the war of 1812. She warned Canadian forces of the coming of the Americans. Back to Line
51] A version of the nonsense rhymes, perhaps "eenie, meenie, minie, mo, catch ... by the toe, catch him ... let him go" Back to Line
82] Tonto: the Lone Ranger's native sidekick. Back to Line
83] a town on the western shores of Toronto's outshirts, on Lake Ontario. Back to Line
112] rockabye baby: cf. the nursery rhyme
Rockabye baby, on the tree-top,
When the wind blows,
The cradle will rock,
And down will come baby,
Cradle and all.
Back to Line
132] a common children's rhyme Back to Line
136] Cf. the Mother Goose rhyme, "Dickery dickery dock." Back to Line
152] "What's your name? I'm named after my father. And your father? My father's named after me." Back to Line
172] Common children's verses. Back to Line
176] ifn: if an ("an" is redundant, an old form of "if"). Back to Line
179] taters: potatoes. Back to Line
181] Gila: gila monster, a common lizard. Back to Line
185] Margaret Mead: a famous anthropologist (1901-78) whose book, Growing Up in New Guinea, documented the lives of children in Manus Island. Back to Line
197] dustman: garbage collector. Back to Line
201] navvy: laborer. Back to Line
206] get's: gets us. Back to Line
213] A & P: the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, a chain of supermarkets. Back to Line
237] "I don't speak Spanish" (Spanish). Back to Line
238] The previous question ... in German. Back to Line
239] "Why not?" (French). Back to Line
261] to go into a deep sleep during the summer (like hibernating, but not in winter). Back to Line
262] quartzy: like quartz. Back to Line
293] Gaul: approximately the region in Roman times now called France. Back to Line
329] Red Rover: a school-recess game. Children divided into two teams, facing one another, each team's members holding hands. Then one of the teams chose what it thought was the weakest, smallest child on the other side, and called out "Red Rover, Red Rover, let [name] come over!" That child had to run to break through the other team as it held hands. If the child broke through, she or he got to take one member of that team, back to his team. If the child failed, she or he stayed with the other team. Back to Line
360] The Mother Goose song, "Bah, Bah, Black Sheep." Back to Line
389] nuts: testicles. Back to Line
390] clap: venereal disease. Back to Line
406] Rongo: "sound," the Polynesian god of crops, the creator. Back to Line
434] French knots: little knotted stitches representing small things, like the centres of flowers, and rather difficult to master. Back to Line
440] Ladakh: mountainous region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, characterized by wild roses. Back to Line
445] Shamlegh: a place in Rudyard Kipling's Kim. Back to Line
458] chile: child. Back to Line
463] paterollers: slang for "patrolers," whites who enforced the slave codes against African American slaves. gibm: give him. Back to Line
465] Massa: master. Back to Line
468] jes: just. Back to Line
469] wuk: work. wanta git: want to get. Back to Line
471] cole: cold. Back to Line
472] Freedom Train: the underground railway, an anti-slaving network that enabled African American escaped slaves to leave the southern states for New England and Canada. Back to Line
477] tote de: told the. Back to Line
478] fer a fac: for a fact. Back to Line
479] de hide skun offn you back: they flay the skin off your back. Back to Line
481] juba: dance where southern African Americans clapped their hands, slapped their legs, and stamped their feet on the floor as they shouted "juba." Gadder roun, chillun: Gather round, children. Back to Line
487] Abe: Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), 16th president of the United States, who led the Union against the South in the American civil war to free the slaves. Back to Line
497] Jubilee: Biblical term for the year in which slaves are freed (Leviticus 5:54). Back to Line
499] integrate: remove political, legal, and social barriors to the identical treatment of whites and blacks. Back to Line
501] Bull Connor: Theophilus Eugene Connor (1897-1973), Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama, ordered the police to use dogs and fire hoses against civil rights demonstrators in 1963. Back to Line
506] In the 1830s Daddy Rice, a white minstrel-show singer, blackened his face and danced in imitation of a black person, termed "Jim Crow." Back to Line
515] Yidl: Joseph Green's Yiddish film, Yidl mitn Fidl (1936), about the adventures of Arie and his daughter, who disguises herself as a girl named Yidl. Kiev: a city in the Ukraine. Back to Line
521] sheeny: insulting name for a jew. Back to Line
524] Belsen: a Nazi death camp sixty kilometres north of Hannover. Back to Line
536] Aberfan, a mining town in Wales that suffered a great disaster on Oct. 21, 1966 when 144 people, 116 of them children, died when a tip of coal waste collapsed on the village. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Ordinary, Moving (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1969).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright The Works: Collected Poems of Phyllis Gotlieb Calliope Press 1978