Tom Farr and First Distance

Guy Birchard






Tom Farr


In days when we might rather have hitched instead, we  boarded The Canadian in Vancouver, bound for Union Station, Toronto. Late winter, 1971. Won't now more than tried then to hide. I am that I am, avowal not less profound for  having  come from  Little  Richard in them days, no matter where he got it.

Not long after departure, a man I'd noticed up and down the aisle stopped at our shoulders and spoke. He was built slight,  in  early  middle years,  close-cropped  and  clean-shaven, jeans and  a windbreaker, a mild face, and quietly he told us he'd chosen us. 

If we'd give him our full attention, what else would there be to do - between Hope and Tee-O he would teach us the Secret of Delight. That's what he said. Nothing we didn't want anyway, and all we had to pay was attention. He had looked over all his other prospects  in all the other cars, from Baggage  to  Observation,  and we were the ones he could tell.

He was on his return from Australia, where he'd been a tire recapper, and he was hoping to make contact with his estranged family,  his children last seen around Hamilton  whence  mail sent went unanswered were maturing wherever they were, and for them, too, he had what he had for us, and the only thing he wanted in this world was a Mobile Home.


Having made  his  introduction,  he  said he'd leave us get ready and be back.  So  we  stirred and stared at each other,  and somebody sniggered, and somebody did not, but said she thought  she  saw Satan,  which was a little strong, I reckoned. Somebody was disdainful. Somebody didn't care. I wasn't sure I didn't mind.


Dogged by sorrow all our days, what's special. He  didn't get much from us. That's all. I sat apart with him a time or two. He neither quoted nor cited, no rote, no rhetoric. Pure instinct. But he craved Authority. And a medium must be covert, that old theme. I want what else he wanted. Achievement of a lay order. Graciousness in isolation.  Pardon cant if I slide. If he had a Secret to impart, he needed time we lack. If it was our souls he sought, I'm wrong, Lord have mercy. I don't know who he was.               


Tired,  discouraged  at  Union Station in the throng detraining, rueful, into  the  diaspora  of our like, salut, elusive Delight, Tom Farr, salut.



First Distance 


An elderly man boarded the Greyhound at Kenora. I cleared ' my bag from beside me so he could sit. White hair. Ojibway - He didn't speak. We didn't speak. I was  remembering paddling out of Kenora twenty-three years before, and almost told him about it, but didn't. He sat. I dozed. We rode. After a time I dug out the trail-mix, asked him if he'd want some. Cranberries. No more words. He took a handful, a small handful. When he brushed  his  palms I offered the bag and he took a small handful. We got off the bus separately at a rest stop and I saw him once unaccompanied in the crowd.


In the men's room  I  was faintly surprised to hear suppressed weeping from the next stall. Faintly.  You   never   know,  travelling   like  this. It didn't sound desperate. It sounded - reticent.


I  expected  the  old  man  to  board  the  bus when   it  left.  He  hadn't  indicated  he  was going to, just somehow I expected it, but he didn't  show  and  the  driver's head-count seemed to tally so we pulled away of course.

Many miles and hours  later  I  found  beneath the  seat  beside me a plain white plastic shopping   bag   with  a sweater,  fairly   new, new enough the nylon bit thrift stores secure price tags  with  was  still  hanging  in  the  label at the neck. Also  in  the bag, a worn   tooth-brush stogged in a box of CREST. That's it. Anonymous. Unclaimed. I don't know.


Tom Farr was first published as a limited edition broadside from Fine Line (Cobourg, Ontario, May 1999).   First Distance  appeared in  A Gathering for Gael Turnbull, edited by Peter McCarey  (Au Quai / Vennel Press) (with thanks also to Richard Price).




Kater Murr's Press, Piraeus Series, 2004. 
Texts copyright © Guy Birchard, 1998, 1999, 2003
Cover drawing by Anne Heeney;
copyright © Anne Heeney, 2003