One Book: My father’s pocket watch

Editors Note: Spacing is pleased to be participating in the Toronto Public Library’s One Book program again this year. This month the library hopes the whole city will start reading Loyalty Management, a poetry book by Glenn Downie, set in part in the Junction neighbourhood. Throughout the month Spacing Toronto will present a series of posts exploring the book. 

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Downie begins his poem with a quote from poet Thomas McGrath, a Left Wing writer from the United States;

He was wishing me luck, he was saying love in a language
That has no word for it, the language of fathers and sons.

What follows is a short, moving poem about a gift from his father which is like a “heartbeat / history / running / him  to me  to her” (his daughter). This idea of a physical objects holding an explicit connection to history runs throughout Downie’s poem and often draw on his family and neighborhood history. In this poem the author takes a material keeper of time, which is an imposed and artificial system—”a ticking wrist shackle“, and relates it to the genetic tree of his family, relationships that are less abstract but more subtle and personal. This is another one of Downie’s themes: objects that are mass produced or seemingly insignificant can be made meaningful by the passage of time and their relationship to people, an idea that in many respects McGrath also explored in his later works, namely Letter to an Imaginary Friend. The pocket watch is a particularly lovely and emotional poem in Loyalty Management. The ending reads:

Something tells me
this is our future: running
stopping
shaking.

Primarily, Downie seems to be speaking about the watch which had stopped momentarily and had to be wound up again, but I also think it could be a metaphor for how people move and progress through their lives. We go to a spot, stay, but then need to move around again and do something different, wind the watch again.

Photo by robert.molinarius.