The Rules of the Kingdom

In the earliest days of the province almost every settler took in travellers overnight, but as immigration increased, many, almost in self-defence, took out inn licenses so as to be able to charge their guests.

—1970s Upper Canada Village Guidebook, Morrisburg, ON

If you rub nothing and nothing together, what is made?
Everything. Each thing, every day, is made from scratch.

Imagine leisure time as sleeping, dare to dream of cakes and beds made,
candles dipped, barns raised, wild turkeys plucked—

It is memories that present the problems. Fine chairs and tables and linens
packed in the brain, horses instead of borrowed oxen,

thoughts that were given free passage from a land where castles exist
to a country where no palace has ever stood.

Your log house is a room in the forest made from forest itself.
What shelters and warms you is also what you hate a little more each day.

The rocks keep coming back to the surface.
The trees rub against each other, thickening while you weep.

When you hear a knock at your door, you cannot ignore it,
even though you want only to heap sweaters on your head.

Under your own roof there may be no boots lacking holes
but if you put yourself in the traveller’s shoes you must invite the stranger in.

Your floor has comforted the weary before, your rosehip tea
has warmed many cheeks. Give them freely.

You are a long way from any kind of comfort, therefore you are the comfort.
Make this your diversion. Make this your solace.

Your heart, forced open by the new creeds of desolation,
pounds out a welcome. You hold a candle up to a face

that radiates equal measures of hope and disbelief.
Come in, your mouth says. Rest by our generous fire.

This poem “The Rules of the Kingdom” originally appeared in Contested Migrations. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 219 (Winter 2013): 93-94.

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