Clean Slate

Whenever I think of new beginnings, I imagine a clean slate: black, unmarked with chalk and dust, with wooden square frame to contain everything.

But having a clean slate is frameless. There are no borders to seek a new start (well, there are, but they are all in your head). A clean slate is infinite. You turn left, you start anew; you turn right, you start anew; step forward, you start anew; and even if you step backwards, you are staring back with new eyes, reflecting rather than drowning on your past mistakes.

When my mom was in school, she had a clean slate every morning because the day before, she wiped it clean.

She would show up for school with her bucket-full of wood, as would all the other students, in order to keep the classroom warm while the teacher taught the various grades. But once the embers died and the sunlight had faded, each student would be charged to wipe off their slates and for the new day of learning that awaited them.

Ah, the advantages of a clean slate.

I wish the mind worked just as well.

About Clean Slate

In case you haven’t noticed, I write my poems before I write the introduction to them, so what was on my mind when I put thoughts to words sets me up for explaining them later.

And such it was with Clean Slate.

Seeking forgiveness of those we’ve hurt, well, it hurts. We have to open wounds, scrub them clean, disinfect them, bandage them up and wait for them to heal. And all the while, we have to do the same for the cuts and bruises we’ve inflicted on others, otherwise, more will surface like boils, lesions and hives, until they spread through our entire bodies and those we have reacted with.

Clean Slate is a story of seeking that repentance. I say repentance, rather than forgiveness, because as we all know, you can ask for forgiveness for an act and then turn right around and do the same horrible thing again. Repentance is doing a 180: a reversal in behaviour because you’ve recognized the way you’ve been doing things for years is wrong.

There are many things I’ve done in the past that I strived to repent for, and am still striving. The aim, for me, is that clean slate; that new beginning — each day, each moment, each breath. Dust blows away, after all, and when the chalk marks are so deep even a breeze cannot move them, sweat, tears, water does.

Clean Slate by Karen Petkau

I scaled the rocky-pebbled shore in search of pools so deep

To drown my ever-growing pain from promises I didn’t keep

I fall down on my red-scabbed knees and scratch the skin with stone

And bow before the rippled-waves as they roll onto the shore

I cry into my blistered hands and sob like a child just born

For all the heartache that I’ve caused to those for years I’ve scorned

Thistles poke at my red-raw skin and I realize I’m still alive

I look up to the azure blue and see the white-swirled sky

How long I’ve laid my sorrows out, I know not anymore

But peace has entered my threaded heart and nailed me to the floor

I cannot move these thistled bones and raise the locked-in limbs

And so I fear I will no more be a burden to my kin

The nightfall comes with the rushing breeze that whistles in the trees

I hear the creatures of the blackened night whispering about me

I lay down upon the pebbled ground and rest my head on rocks

The coldness of their pool-smoothed skin freeze me like a block

I close my eyes and deep in thought, I free my soul to go

And leave me in this hallowed ground where grass refused to grow

The warmth of the rising sun heats my ice-cold cheek

And I rise with the strength of a reborn babe in search of nourishment

I walk down the hillside path, leaving the pool behind

And peace befalls my once-hardened heart and a clean slate is left in kind

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I was sitting on my couch the other night and chanced a glance on our digital photo frame on the end table.

The photo of the anchor was taken by my husband Rob when our family was staying at a motel in Cape Breton a few years ago during our jaunt to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in Newfoundland. I was busy putting the two kids down for the night and Rob had to get outta there so they wouldn’t be distracted.

We had visited the remote little area while touring the island years ago en route to Savage Cove, NL, and with the yellow and orange haze of the setting sun as a backdrop, and lighting, this rusting anchor came to life. The dark red rust spots were peeling on the tarnished metal; the jagged edges dulled with wear and weather; and the salt-spray flicks dusting the surface, illuminating in the setting sun. It all came together to create a very surreal image on a not-so soft subject matter.

So, I wrote Anchor.

Anchor by Karen Petkau

Blood-stained and discarded
Leaning against a salt-speckled boulder
To the touch
To the bone
Reason to rust

Swaying grasses play hide and seek
With broken and jagged spears
They reach
They mourn
Limbs to limbo

Chains curl like slithering snakes
Waiting to spew venom at those who trod
By their graveyard
For their wrath
Dependence to dilapidation

Rain drops pelt metal
Sending tin-tin sounds echoing on the waves
In landwashes
At the teeth
Life to lamenting

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Blanking out

A year ago, I wrote my first blog titled Shooting Blanks and in the vein my dear hubby Rob, who recently celebrated his own blog anniversary — — I decided to repost and revisit some of my entries that had the most views and comments.

Originally, this blog was started as a creative outlet I’ve longed for since hanging up my writing pen in favour of red editing one. Poetry was my first introduction into writing, so it only stands to reason it would be my outlet now.

As my dear, sweet sister Dorothy has written on my blog: “I see your true self shining through in your poetry.” And I guess that’s the truth of it. Stripped of barriers, perceptions, expectations, and anxieties – naked in the dark.

My earliest memories of poetry writing have been when I’ve been distraught, in pain, in fear, in torment, incensed, involved. I bleed. I ached. I cried. The result was these words scribbled on notebooks and tucked under pillows and mattresses.

I don’t tuck anymore, so that’s a start. To put myself  “out there” so others could see my true self, too, was a leap of faith that took a lot of courage. But since then, I have learned so much about who I am, and what I believe, by transposing thoughts into prose.

And I’m not so concerned about being liked and understood as I am in being heard – the true me.

What a poem says to me one day, says something different another, so here are my favourites, and I hope you find new meaning as I did. By the way, they aren’t in order of preference, cause like a mother toward her children, I can’t pick favourites. And the fact that there are 10 doesn’t mean they are so ranked.

Shooting Blanks:

The Rose:

Trio Amigo:

Rock Solid:


Christmas, too:

Me, Myself and I:

Living for Today:

King Crazy Glue:


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Life in the fast lane

Why is it that when you’re in the fast lane, you’re only happy when you’re in front of everyone else?


Every morning, I line up to get onto Deerfoot Trail for my daily trek to the Herald. I join the flock of seemingly mindless drones as we stop-and-start our way into the merging traffic, only to blink and jump our way into that all-to-unreachable far left lane of Shangri-La, thinking once we get there, all would be well in the world and our commute will be uninterrupted and fast.

Too often, though, I am peddle-pumping my way in this “fast lane” at the same “break-neck speed” as those in the middle and “slow lane.” And if I ponder on it further, I can admit that more often than not, those in the non-desirable lanes pass me as often as I pass them. The only difference is they know they aren’t in the fast lane, and they are fine with it. And in the end, we all get to our destinations at roughly the same time, give or take a few seconds.

So, was my white-knuckle, knee-jerk aggressive “gotta get there” mantra worth it?

Because if I ponder it fully, the illusion of the fast lane is just that and the difference is in the stress gauge.

This same analogy can be applied to life. We want to leave our high school years in the past so fast, we propel ourselves into post-secondary and harpoon ourselves into career paths with the goal of “making it” by the time we are 40. But what if we don’t get there until we are 43, or 46, or 57? Do are lives then become void of meaning? Or do they become more meaningful if we let ourselves meander our way to our goals rather than taking the fast lane?


About Fast Lane

Like many, I have life goals I strive to live to: where I want to be by the time I retire. And If I look at how many years to that magic number arrives, I get a little nervous thinking I won’t make it in time. And not all of those pre-retirement goals centre on my career. Some, if not most, involve getting there with my relationships intact, as well as my sanity.

Staying sane in the fast lane is near impossible.

The poem is about that: living in the fast lane, constantly thinking of your next move, cut off, lane-change and exit ramp plan. But in the end, being passed by those annoying middle-lane and slow-lane drivers that irritate the hell out of you when you are trying to get to that off ramp mere kilometres away.

Being driven has its disadvantages, after all.

One of my co-workers last year knows this first hand. At the age of 45-ish, she had a heart attack. Managers, and other workers in the office, passed it off as her stressful stance in her job — that and her smoking.

But I wonder. Is she much different than the rest of us?

We may not smoke, but our drugs are just as addictive: the high of accomplishment.

But would we accomplish more and be happier if we allowed ourselves to ease off the pedals and enjoyed the passing scenery?

Cause if the fast lane is not so fast and you’re stressed to the max when you’re in it, would the middle lane be more pleasurable and manageable?

These are the choices we are faced with in life: do I take the promotion if I will spend less time at home because of it? Do I stay in a job where I spend so much time stressing over the workload that I am unable to enjoy the downtimes? Do I take the highest paid position over a lesser one if I know my time will no longer be my own?

Middle lanes sometimes draw me like a bee to honey.

I’m just too scared to put on “my blinker.”






The Fast Lane by Karen Petkau


Snarling and determined

I ride

Past pastures dotted with cows and combines

Past lines with bobbing orange bobbles

Suspended and swaying

As my exhaust propels me forward


Crazed and delusional

I pump

Gas pedals and brakes through honking horns

Heartbeats and pulses thumping in ringing ears

Fuelled and fascinated

By goals scratched on chalkboards


Empty and slow

I limp

Onto shoulders littered with broken down drivers

Onto off ramps waiting to be towed

Cabled and hooked

While K-cars pass me going 80







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I often wonder what it would be like to be a fetus one minute and a breathing, crying, crapping entity the next.

Birth, after all, is something most of us don’t recall, unless you get some new-age psychoanalysis to hypnotize you and make you believe you are reliving the moment of exiting your mother’s womb.

But, for the rest of us folks, that memory wasn’t retained with the thumb-sucking, blanket-toting ones from our toddler years – thankfully – and the idea of being “born” is some far-off concept that has been replaced with just being aware that you exist.

The point of existence, however, is awe-inspiring in itself.

You look out the window and the land is a flat wasteland. A minute latter, your view is of majestic mountains and the blue azure gleam of the Pacific Ocean. Awe-inspiring? You bettcha!

How much more incomprehensible is creation of a being with the intelligence to circumnavigate the very planet we are placed, the motor skills to propel off cliffs on thin, narrow strips of wood and the imagination to invent boxes that fly, paintings that inspire and the written word that makes us ponder new ideas and ideals. Awe-inspiring? No question.

The idea that we are even more majestic than those snow-topped mountains or that untamable body of water is beyond most of us. We spend wasted hours figuring out how to best change our appearance, our circumstances and our placement in life. We try to fit in and fit out what is expected of us. And when we can’t measure up, we spend even more time trying to not belong (or exist) at all.

Rebirth is not an option.

Or is it?

If we can’t remember when exactly when we were born, can we be reborn?

Our memories are tied to who we are, so if this is the case, shouldn’t our birth as well? We can reinvent our opinions by reeducating ourselves, so it stands to reason that we do the same for ourselves, too.

Great idea, don’t you think — the ability to let a certain aspect of our personality or character die so that a more meaningful one is born? Life, after all, is only life if it is lived.  Otherwise, it is mere reflection.

Birth can mirror life in every aspect.

You just need to turn the glass to the right light.

About Reborn

There are creatures in this world that regularly get reborn, shedding old skin for new; decapitated limbs for ones that work.

So, why can’t we?

Skin, after all, is the combination of layers over our bones and muscles. It is also what we construct as barriers that prevent us from experiencing the joys of every-day life. We all have dead cells just waiting to be shed so new ones can grow.

But we muddle along, limping and decaying; waiting for an ocean to show up at our doorstep.

When the rebirth we are seeking is just an exfoliation away.

The challenge is making sure the act of ridding ourselves of these dead layers isn’t just cosmetic, but one that lasts a lifetime. After all, once you go through the trouble of exfoliating, it has to be a regular part of your regime. Otherwise, the layers build up again and you’re back where you started – in need of a good pumice!

Reborn by Karen Petkau

Skin falls

Flaky and rippled

Cascading down worn limbs

And muscles tired

Cells join dust

Collected in corners

Forgotten amid worries

Once foremost

Long utmost


Now blown out

Like extinguished smoke

From dying birthday candles

Red from rebirth

New skin raw

Layers fresh and untouched

By hands and dampers

Hot from conception

In stained hotel mattresses

New life made

Clean and unafraid


For a brief millisecond

Until reality seeps in

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Do you believe in magic?

When I was about 16, one of my favourite things to do was to walk across the harbour with my gal-pals, singing at the top of our lungs, as we thought about boys we liked, things we would do when we grew up and, above all, who we would see at Applin’s Restaurant, which wasn’t a ‘restaurant’ but a take-out place that had a few video games like Pac-Man and Moon Patrol, as well as a pool table.

And in its day, it also had a movie theatre in the back where we saw Bruce Lee beat the crap out of Asian gangs while we sat on these cold, creaky, grey metal chairs. Comfortable? Not a chance, but it was always a challenge eating the plate of fries and ketchup with a toothpick in the dark.

Part of the pleasure of being out and about and 16 was the idea of what lay beyond the moment. We never knew. We were thrilled with the prospect of not knowing what was going to happen next, and as all those feelings of anticipation started to build in our minds, our mouths would be singing “The Sea of Heartbreak” or “Summer of 69” or, better yet, “The Northern Lights of Labrador.”

The latter little ditty would pop to mind when we looked to our left and could see the lights of Labrador shining in the distance, and, if it was cold enough, the Northern Lights hovering and dancing in the black sky above the Labrador coastline.

It was magical; almost as wondrous as being 16 on a Saturday night with no plans, and with the faint idea of meeting a boy you crushed over and eating “fries with everything” (something, I found out in Toronto, was a strictly “Newfie thing” and no one else knew the hell what you were talking about when you ordered it).

Too many of us want to recapture that magic as we get older. We move from one relationship after another, hoping to find that giddy feeling in the pit of our bellies that surfaced upon getting our crush, having our first slow dance with a boy we liked, our first kiss or the mere trek of walking around a harbor at night, not knowing what lay beyond the bend.

But we’ve screwed up.

“Every time I look in my past, I always wish I was there. I wish my youth would forever last. Why are these times so unfair?” – Green Day’s “16.”

Now, I find myself thinking the magic of those nights was in the unknown. We have spent most of our adulthood planning, organizing, prepping for all the eventualities of life, whether they be holidays, workdays, retirement days or sick days. We have it all slotted, down to the menu, the clothes we will wear, the people we will see, the routes we will take and the time of day we will travel. All the spontaneity has been sucked out of our lives. There is no “unknown.”

And so, the magic dies.

As someone who believes wholeheartedly in “the plan” for everything, I may be more guilty than most of this. I spend all my workweek juggling multiple projects and tasks, multi-tasking and planning my next day’s To Do List at the close of the day. The “unknown,” frankly, scares me.

And ever so slowly, this obsession with task allotment has crept into my personal life. When we have a travel holiday, I’ve got routes organized: when we stop for meals, where to stay to break the trip up in even segments — all to make the most of the “time” we are given.

But maybe I should be thinking more like my 16-year-old self and leave my multi-tasking, project-driven self at the office, so a little “magic” can find its way into my home-life.

Some of my best memories of childhood, trips, family vacations, etc., have been when we threw out my To Do List and improvised, including Rob’s and my recent second honeymoon.

Shortcuts through the brook, slipping on algae-filmed rocks and getting your shoes and pants wet may seem like a crazy way to arrive at a teenage hangout to see a boy you want to impress, but it sure breaks the ice when you arrive giggling with your friends, with flushed cheeks and smiling eyes  — wet pants not withstanding.

At the time, I hated those butterflies. I was never secure; never confident; never sure of who I was. I hated that “magical” feeling in my stomach and didn’t realize that was what made being a teenager such a bigger-than-life moment in time.

Just this week, my co-worker and I were discussing how great it would be to go back and time with our “today” mentalities and relive our teenage years; with the confidence and security that a 40-year-old has (in his case, 30-year-old). But, would the “magic” of being a teenager be there waiting for us, or would our task-driven selves ruin it all in the hopes of coming out of it with fewer feelings hurt and better decisions made?

I wonder.

Does magic occur when you know the trick?

I think not.

Much like faith, it surfaces when you are going about your day-to-day activities and are faced with an outcome unexpected, unplanned, undetermined, unspoiled by logic, over-thinking and over-anticipating.

The road interrupted.

The journey sidetracked.

The norm disrupted.

All for a little magic.


About Magic and Neon

I tried to portray some of that departure from uncertainty in Magic. It is about how we put aside all the things we can’t control in favour of the things we can. It is about organizing our lives to death, and in the process, removing all windows for magic to seep through. We are too closed off with To Do Lists to see we have left nothing to chance.

And so magic dies.

Neon is about the beauty of those walks across the harbour, with the spectacle of Labrador within eyeshot. It is about the lights, the night, the time that magic is prevalent; when we can still “see” the unknown and relish in its presence.


Magic by Karen Petkau

The spark started small

And grew bigger as I walked

Filling my pit with ripples

Tingling my fingers and toes

And I stretched them

Trying to tap away the feeling


I cry to the nervous butterflies


Be gone!

I shout to the ripping waters


Oblivious to the fleeting



They receded behind lists

Long and detailed as I ran

Filling my days with order

Slowing my heartbeat’s thumping

And I ache to feel them

Fluttering around my body


I beacon to the warm flow



I sob to the faint echoes


leaving small traces of





Neon by Karen Petkau

Yellow lights dance on rippling black waters

Waltzing to the wind and the Northern Lights

Swaying to the moon as it looms so bright

Casting reflections below

a hazy circular glow

warming the landwash like a blanket


Blue-green neon hovers overhead

Dancing in the darkness above rolling hills

Stretching like long fingers across the fields

Beaconing a soul long wandering

But too far to travel in a morning

With a pocket full of wooden pennies


Flat rocks glimmer in the highest light

Almost translucent in the moon’s gaze

Nearly soft in the cloudy haze

Now rising from the shoreline

Just give me one more time

To find the memory buried deep


Miles to walk in my populated mind

Trekking far across plains and sky

Like a bird I spread my wings wide and fly

Past years of vacancies

No sign now but my memories

To post in neon above my bed





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King Crazy Glue

Fifty-four years ago today, my dad put a golden wedding ring on my mother’s hand. It was new. It was bright. It shone with sun-catching diamonds that twinkled each time mom dug up potatoes from our garden. And it dulled with flour and dough as she kneaded and kneaded bread each week.

Just a simple ring, really.

Nothing like the diamond clusters found on many wedding rings donning today’s hands. But it did the trick.

The bond between a couple is only as strong as the glue that joins them together, and for 54 years, my parents fixed fissures, repaired cracks, re-glued and re-bonded that seal. Virtually unbreakable. It was mudder and fadder’s very own, original, never-to-be-imitated King Crazy Glue, and boy did that stuff stick!

Like any couple, hard times and struggles tested that bond. I mean, how could they not? They married when mom was 17 and dad was 18, she a store clerk in John Way’s corner store and he a newly certified teacher (yes, I said TEACHER). Within a year, they had begun their family, and they didn’t stop until they had eight kids to their credit.

Dad worked.

Mom worked.

The kids worked.

And while all this was going on, mom and dad never stopped working on their marriage. I don’t remember feeling impoverished or cheated of treats or treasures, but we did have an outhouse (later a toilet but the pipes froze in the winter so you treated it like an outhouse), we carried bucket after bucket of water from the well when the brook wasn’t frozen, and filled up barrels from a frozen pond in winter – carried out by snowmobile. We frequently had potato or onion soup for supper, or something mom called rice lolie, which was a concoction of cooked rice, raisins, milk and sugar. We wore hand-me-down clothes, that’s if mom didn’t make them, and we didn’t eat out, a trend today would be called “eating local and eating fresh.”

Fish. Yeah, we had lots of that. And no part wasn’t eaten: the body, the cheeks, the tongue, the head – you get the picture!

Moose. Yeah, that, too, especially when dad got paid for doing someone’s taxes with a few moose steaks.

Seal. Yup. Unlike most people think, we didn’t just hit them over the head and used their skins for boots.

Rabbit. My bother, and my brothers-in-law, would have a field day in Calgary, with all the hares not being caught and eaten – what a waste! I personally couldn’t stand hares cause when skinned, they reminded me of babies.

But I digress.

The point of this blog was to note that just because your family is going through hard times, doesn’t mean it has to degrade your relationship with your spouse.

Mom and dad have weathered many storms together.

There has been teen pregnancies, child cancer, sexual abuse, suicide, divorces, conflicts, illnesses, disorders, and the list goes on.

But the glue held.

About Our Love & Elemental Ties

I wrote Elemental Ties and Our Love when mom and dad, aka Amy and Aubrey King, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary some four years ago.

Like most of my poems, Elemental Ties is all about double meanings. The words read can be applied to the marriage of two people that has endured.

Much like rocks, a shoreline, a tree, a marriage can be strong, beaconing, welcoming, a safe-harbour and can sway in the breeze of uncertainties, struggles and fears but still be unbroken.

Our Love talks of the hardships and struggles and the lifeblood of a marriage that has morphed into a lasting relationship, as time changes and so do the married couple.

Not much has changed, really.  I mean, we all know that people change. I am not the same person who had a ring placed on my hand 15 years ago, and neither is Rob. We change. We adapt. We falter. We fall. We either persevere or we succumb. There is always a choice, and the same choices we are faced with, so were mom and dad.


One word.

Two hearts.

One bond.


Our Love by Karen Petkau

For 50 years, our love has weathered in the cold Atlantic winds,

Binding us together in our struggles as we put food on our table,

Clean clothes on our backs and built a warm home
to shelter us through life’s many storms

For 50 years, we have watched our children grow,

Finding their own places in this world and leaving behind
the memories that still fill our halls and empty rooms
with laughter and tears of a childhood gone by
For 50 years, we have prayed, holding onto our belief that God
was at our side and on many occasions, carrying us through our hardships
our faith never wavered; our resolve only strengthened;

And so, too, did our family

For 50 years, we have prepared for this day,
when our journey would once again bring our children home –

To rolling meadows of buttercups and irises; to lazy days of minnows, mussels
and fish drying on the beach; to a kitchen filled with bread and jam
and the warmth of a wood stove – home to us

Elemental Ties by Karen Petkau

These rocks

Offer shelter from wind and the rain

Are walls from the storms and the pain

Never bending

Never ending

These rocks sit strong

These shores

Welcome weary travelling souls

Harbour lives forever told

In stories remembered

On these shores that beckon still

These trees

With roots deeper in the ground

Than any in history to be found

Aging rings circling wide

Aging arms forever bind

Saplings from these majestic trees

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