My father rode in a helicopter


Before his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis diagnosis, my father

traversed a stretch of Eastern Ontario

in an air ambulance emergency helicopter. Unable

to properly breathe,

before they discovered                         his lungs no longer strong enough

to discharge carbon dioxide. The syntax

of exhalation: this orange helicopter, arriving

somewhere on the farm property                     to transport him the hour’s drive

to the Ottawa General Hospital. As the crow flies,

a distance only he has travelled. Whatever else

I might have garnered,

that would have been worth seeing. Did it land

in an adjacent field? The driveway? Did it make a big noise? Did it

frighten my father’s dog?

Nearly eight unbroken decades on singular property, feet firm

on the ground, my father: his premier

helicopter jaunt. Was he able                           to enjoy it?


At fifty-one, I have outlived Paul Celan, Jack Spicer, Frank O’Hara,

and will never be, thankfully,

a member of the twenty-seven club. At nearly eighty, my father

outlasted most of his parents’ generation, some by more than twenty years,

surviving cancer surgery and a triple-bypass, knowing

either heart or cancer discharged the entire assembly

of his immediate relations. Fifty-one and adopted, both of my birth parents

are still of this world: at times, one appreciates the articulation

of alternate genes.


As my birth mother offers: I’ve much

from her matrilineal path: Whitteker hair

and Whitteker eyes. Early cataracts. A social energy. To introduce this list

of previously unknown genealogical details

I’ve yet                                    to fully incorporate. Fragments formed

of words, alone. To fractal into parts once mine,

a complex web of interconnected selves.


Christine suggests I misunderstood: my father gasped,

my sister delivered by car                     to their local ER, a helicopter

not at homestead, but instead, from their

small regional hospital. As the crow flies. Hardly

a period                       of reflection. Or a comma. So easily

worn, worn out. He could                               not breathe.


Was time                     not different, then? What rare, unwieldly crow

might soar in one sustained direction. An absence

that spreads through the bones.

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (1838): We cut over the fields

at the back with him between us — straight

as the crow flies — through hedge and ditch. And yet, that hardly

sounds direct.                          Clouds drift, clouds drift and spill,

and still spill, light.


My father,                    his once-charcoal tussle, crow-black,

gradually eroded into silver                  grey                  to white; reduced

to ash. Where my sister set him, there, in the soil,

just by our mother. I’m sure she complained. The headstone

already his adjacent name. In the end              , it was where

he needed to be.

rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. His most recent titles include the poetry collections the book of smaller (University of Calgary Press, 2022) and World’s End, (ARP Books, 2023), and a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at