Swimming To Canada

I look out at a vast darkness called Lake Ontario at night

forty kilometers across

it’s a clear night so I can see the lights that dot the American coast across the lake

I think of my American citizenship

which I sometimes forget I have

my only connections to The States

my Mom, baseball and my spelling

the only times I feel American

and even in baseball I rooted for Canada over the U.S.

in the World Classic game I lived live

My heart sank as Jason Bay flared out to right with two outs and a runner at second

in a 6 – 5 game in the bottom of the ninth

best loss I have ever seen

and though I sing both Anthems proudly

I prefer the Star Spangled Banner over Oh Canada

(Oh Canada: it sounds like the writer forgot which country he was writing an Anthem for and then it hit him: Oh! Canada!)

though I prefer the Anthem written to rally against the forces of Upper Canada

as soon as we’re through singing, I’m cheering for Canada, Upper and Lower

like the American Anthem itself, my words are American

but my song has British notes.

I forgot I was an American when crossing at Niagara Falls

“What’s your nationality?” asked the American border guard

“Canadian,” I answered

“And what is your purpose for visiting the United States?”

“I’m moving to New York City to get a job,” says I

“Could you step out of the car, sir,” responds the border guard

“Wait! Wait! I’m an American! I forgot!” I said, fishing in the glove compartment for

my American Birth certificate and Social Insurance

“You forgot you’re an American?”

You have never seen a look on another man’s face as this border guard

“I never use it,” is my excuse for forgetting my nationality.

Now I look at the American side with the lights of Rochester and Wilson

two towns I have never been but I see every night like stars across the lake

and sometimes I like to scare myself

rent Jaws then go swimming

I know it’s all fake, it’s just a lake, still, my imagination is greater than any reality

like the difference between salt water and lake water doesn’t interest me when I’m

swimming so far from the shore

but never too far

I have never swum so far from the shore that I couldn’t see the shore

still there are times I like to scare myself

when I look out the window at night

and think about how I would feel if I found myself in the middle of this deep dark lake

right here at midnight

it’s always the middle that is the most frightening

not closer to either shore

no, it’s the middle that’s the scariest

because the middle means there’s no good way to go

even a drowning man knows which way is up to the surface

but if I was swimming right in the middle of Lake Ontario

twenty kilometers to either side

I would dig in to that lake

and start my way back to the Canadian side

cause though a citizen of both countries

all my stuff is on the Canadian side.

22 thoughts on “Swimming To Canada

  1. kvennarad

    I would have loved to have seen the face of that border guard.

    “You forgot you were American?”

    “Yes. It’s the sole purpose of my existence!” 😉


      1. kvennarad

        I was just reminded of that thing you have to sign (or at least you had to sign it the one time I visited the USA many decades ago) to the effect that you promise not to try to overthrow the US government by force. Like you’d say if you were going to.

      2. cottonbombs Post author

        They might also ask you if you are entering the U.S.A with the intention of killing the President. I wonder how many terrorists they catch that way. World’s dumbest terrorist:
        Immigration Officer: Are you entering the United States with the intention of killing the President?

        Dumb Terrorist: Yes. I mean, no! I’m here to visit Mt. Rushmore.

        Immigration Officer: Could you step out of the car, please, sir.

  2. Steven Myers

    too bad mccovey’s cove has no equivalent in toronto.blow the roof of the rogers centre
    and wheel her a little closer to the shore and presto-bautista’s bay,
    but seriously, i enjoyed your discovery out in the middle of the lake,
    where “there’s no good way to go”
    and sort of off topic, i’m reminded of the survival craze that is maybe more a protection of objects in america and more a natural habit in the parts of canada i’ve visited.
    wouldn’t flotation clothes like an airplane seat cushion suffice
    with plenty of water and fishing techniques to learn
    and all the flotsam and jetsam let go except the baseball cards?

    1. cottonbombs Post author

      Thank you for inspiring this. Your comment to Anticipatory Nostalgia: “the middle way empty vessel ready to be filled up in either direction” got me thinking. I started writing this as a response to you, but then after a couple hundred words I thought I’d save it for an actual post. Have you been to the Roger’s Centre? Reads like it, cause, your redesign is right on the money. Bautista’s Bay. Great. The man deserves an ocean named after him. One of the most exciting players I have ever seen. You could be right on your observation on survival craze. You can see it in how many museums and monuments Americans put up versus Canadians. Every bed George Washington slept is today a national shrine. The house Sir John A. MacDonald lived as Prime Minister is today used as a Admissions office for the University of Toronto.

      1. Steven Myers

        that’s true about american museums being everywhere.
        even john lennon’s underpants generated a lot of interest.
        i’m not complaining because baseball relics are preserved as much as
        any bloody civil war finger and that was a survival raft for me and still is,
        but it would be nice if there were some native american museums not to be
        all white man’s burden about it and cultivate an angry personality,
        but more in preparation for the sky when we’re forced to survive again.
        kids could study the stars and recognize animal foot prints and hunt with no weapons…lead bears off of cliffs and sing and dance
        or maybe they do that already. anyway, i forgot to mention how much i love your praise of bautista and naming an ocean after him. i’m fully a blue jays fan now. i’ve never had two teams to root for. it was always only the brewers.

      2. cottonbombs Post author

        When I was ten years old, my family went on a trip from Cooperstown to Washington. We saw The Baseball Hall of Fame and the House Where Lincoln Died. Together they show how great America is at pickling history. I saw Babe Ruth`s old mitt: I saw the pillow Lincoln died on, both preserved under glass. With Babe Ruth`s glove I thought: Wow, Babe Ruth`s hand was in there. With the blood stained pillow I thought: Wow, I think I can see parts of Lincoln`s brain.
        I preferred The Hall of Fame. And sure, Bautista. I have been spoiled watching that man play baseball. I can count 4 games I have been to in the last two years where he homered twice, including a game off A.J. Burnett, which was especially sweet. And this reply is long enough without getting into his defense and hustle.
        Still, Roy Halladay is the best thing I have ever seen in the game, and last July when Roy came in Phillies` uniform, there I was in Rogers Centre cheering for Roy over the Jays. It was a perfect game though Roy gave up a solo blast to Bautista. That`s what made it perfect, cause Roy still went the distance and won, 5-3.

      3. Steven Myers

        i love what you’re doing to america here. hearing the lyrics of its national anthem as decisive and sharing memories that cut deeper than the typical boo hoo america is so mean.
        hasn’t it always been love the people and land, but question the government with whiskey and wash it down with a playful beer at the border? i find the border situation very entertaining. i used to cross every day making deliveries when a guard began asking me questions with a very serious face. does the company you work for have other delivery vans? what color are they? have you ever driven the red one? and when i hesitated to answer, he said, “lighten up son. i’m only kidding and we laughed me through. i wonder if i would have remained all stiff if he would have cuffed me.
        i like the effect american museums had on you. ruth’s hand and lincoln’s brain. that’s priceless. that’s a real connection to a previous generation. i’m no expert on native american beliefs, but i’d venture to say that members of the iroquois confederacy would dig a place that inspired ancestor feelings. and many cheers to enjoying bautuista. i hope to be sitting and standing at the rogers centre one afternoon this summer. maybe we could meet up at the game.

      4. cottonbombs Post author

        America. How can I hate a country that gave me the two greatest things in my life: my Mom and Baseball? Huge fan of both. I have met many America bashers in my travels, many telling me how much they hate the USA while wearing Levis jeans and drinking a Coca Cola.
        I read you about the Iroquois. The irony is we whities defeated the culture that could teach us the most about how to survive in this nature.
        And back to baseball. I think it would be wonderful to share a game with you. Please let me know when you are in town and we’ll catch a game.

    1. cottonbombs Post author

      Thank you, Betty! I am glad my cultural confusion could provoke a laugh from you! Though born and raised in Canada, Oh Canada seems tentative next to the rockets red glare of the Star Spangled Banner.

  3. kvennarad

    What a way to spend breakfast time – reading the exchanges between you and Steven.

    At a border post on the Parallel a boy would cross from Canada every day with a wheelbarrow full of horse manure. The US Customs guy became suspicious of him and took to forking through the manure to look for what might be hidden. He sent samples of it away for analysis (the report always came back “100% pure Canadian horse shit”), once he even made the kid empty his load out onto the roadside and passed a metal detector over it. Nada. And yet every day the Canadian kid would be there with his load of horse manure. It drove the Customs guy demented, and at last he took the kid into his office and gave him the proverbial ‘third degree’. Eventually the kid broke down under the intense questioning and confessed that he had been smuggling wheelbarrows.

    1. cottonbombs Post author

      “100% pure Canadian horse shit.” Sometimes I feel like that boy smuggling wheelbarrows. Kvennarad! Once again your comment got some laughs outta me. Thank you for this parable that is closer to my heart than I care to admit.

      1. cottonbombs Post author

        Marie! Thank you, I will. You can call me whatever you want, but I usually go by ‘Peter’ or ‘Pete’ or, in this universe, ‘Cottonbombs’. I have been called many other things, some of them good, so, I will leave it up to you to pick your nom de plume for me.

    2. Steven Myers

      this raises a good question. if the kid admits guilt under false accusations and questionable tactics, will his confession be considered irrelevant?
      my coffee filters couldn’t hold the grinds this morning. a crunchy coffee makes a square head.
      i think the border patrol operates in a neutral zone and can do whatever they want, but then again, so can a black belt in karate when passing thru airplane security. i mean they can take away his actual belt, but…

      1. cottonbombs Post author

        Haven’t you heard of waterboarding? Irrelevant? It’s what defined the Bush Administration.
        And, you’re English, you’re a square head, deal with it.
        Sure, you can take the boy outta the black belt, but not the black belt outta the boy.

      2. Steven Myers

        i hadn’t heard of waterboarding. i’ll check it out.
        but i did borrow a filter for this morning’s coffee, one shaped more like a cone than a bucket and the walls didn’t cave in and the grinds stayed grounded. it’s looking like a black belt discipline day right on through the border security.

      3. cottonbombs Post author

        The first cup of coffee does set the tone for the day. I’m not a picky eater, (after dining on insects, dogs, and beating snakes hearts, I appreciate eating any food dead, frozen, or even, sleepy) still, I am picky with my coffee. And I usually only drink a single cup a day, but, the day doesn’t start without it. I’m glad your grounds stayed grounded. I drank a mouthful of grinds last week and I tasted the day bitter.

  4. granbee

    Peter, so THRILLED to be finally getting back with you. I had some interviews to perform and a rugged MS submission deadline battle to win last week–but I am now BACK–so watch out! Not letting you get away with stuff anymore! All through reading this post, I could not help but remember vividly all the guys who totally craved Canadian citizenship during the Vietnam War! I cannot blame you at all for feeling ever-so Canadian. Love your description of the encounter with the border guard! Also love the metaphor of being in the middle of Lake Ontario! We Americans are just way too full of ourselves and just plain lazy in our lack of aspiration to be any other way! My parents often discussed moving to Canada in my childhood! Also Australia! The U.S. is too violent, for one thing!

    1. cottonbombs Post author

      Rose! Welcome back! Glad to read you won the deadline battle. I love The United States of America, but, I grew up north of the border, so, some times I forget I’m an American. The Second Amendment is the biggest difference between USA and Canada. Not that you have the Right To Bear Arms and we don’t, but the reason you have that particular Amendment. Americans fought for their independence while Canadians negotiated. The American War of Independence was also Canada’s war of independence, that we had the luxury not to fight. 90 years when it was Canada’s turn to fight, England learned their lesson from losing The States, and instead of fighting change, they negotiated.


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