National Poetry Month Poem-a-Week 2012: Randall Maggs’s “Different Ways of Telling Time”

April 21, 2012

Bobby Orr flies through the air after scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal in 1970. Photo by Ray Lussier

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have been on my mind this week as my home town Boston Bruins attempt to defend their championship from last year — our first since my childhood.

I started playing hockey the same year I started writing poetry. And hockey legend Bobby Orr had something to do with both pursuits.

Poetry and hockey may seem unlikely bedfellows, but not to me. I was the player in the back of the bus with a stack of library books: the Beats, Transcendalists, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and a slim volume of Stephen (“Red Badge of Courage”) Crane’s poetry I’d love to find today.

To me, hockey is a kind of poetry; perhaps because my earliest memory of the sport is tied to a flying Bobby Orr in black and gold. The game is comprised of all life’s elements: brutality, grace, and fragility; the speed, tenacity, and acumen it takes to succeed in the world. All life’s triumphs and heartbreaks played out on a hard, frozen surface.

Bobby Orr and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup 1970 in a Mother’s Day overtime game captured in my memory by twin images: Orr flying through the air over the collapsing St. Louis goalie Glenn Hall — triumphant, jubilant, having just scored the winning goal; and the trajectory of my father’s beer can that I sent flying in my enthusiasm of the moment.

To this day, I don’t wear socks in my skates because that’s how #4 rolled, and Inever rest a beer can on the arm of a chair.

Orr’s first year in the league — 1966-67 — was the last year of the National Hockey League’s “Original Six”: Boston, New York, Montreal, Detroit, Chicago, and the improbably, poetically named Toronto Maple Leafs. That was also the last time Toronto won the Stanley Cup. The Leaf’s goalie that season, Terry Sawchuk, was one of the best of the golden era of goaltending.

It’s called the golden era because the game was rapidly changing, becoming a “shooters game.” Goaltenders had to develop new techniques and new approaches in response to the goal-scoring, stick-handling legends of the age, guys with names like Howe and Hull and Rocket Richard.

And unlike the heavily armored and padded goalies of today, Sawchuk and Hall and Jacques Plante and Gump Worsley didn’t wear masks; their faces were exposed to screaming pucks and sharpened blades and wooden spears brandished by bruisers careening down the ice at breakneck speeds.

Terry Sawchuk as a Boston Bruin, 1956. Associate Press Photo,

Canadian poet Randall Maggs wrote a book-length poetic tribute to the game and the complicated man who was Terry Sawchuk, Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, is some of the best hockey writing I’ve read and it contains some pretty good poetry too.

Here are a few sections from Randall Maggs’ poem “Different Ways of Telling Time,” from Night Work:


(i)     last minute of play

Four-faced, the clock sees everywhere.
Dead centre over the ice, it hangs from chains.
The players glance up, exchange a word, a sideward
look – less than a minute to go. They know time’s rough
and tumble. Space and time, that’s where they live,
arcs and angles, a quick move to open ice.
Their flashy physics.

Spectacles shift and glitter behind the glass.
Maybe someone they know but they never look
at the crowd. They’re at the bench to hear the plan –
“Boys, you get a bounce here, things can happen fast.”
Left out on the ice – they might as well be
on the moon – both goalies eye the clock,
one’s for zero, the other likes infinity,
but things can change.

Get going clock.
Slow down slow down.

No one in the building likes time’s pace.


(ii)     you could drift out here forever

Jesus, here we go.
Seventh game, and seconds left to overtime.

Talk’s over at the glass, the captains
waved away. The referee holds four fingers up
and folds his arms, four seconds he wants put back
on the clock. Son of a bitch, an old defender
sags against the boards. Still, imagine the power,
to kick time’s arse like that.


(iv)     ice time

The guys arrive as if at random intervals,
lay out their gear, lucky shirt, same skate first,
same old jokes about my liniment, Jesus,
Ukey, lose that shit why don’t you?
Roll their eyes and tiptoe by.
Check the clock and tape my own stick,
thank you, heel to toe, no wrinkles, tape the ankles.
Time to go out and get loose, guys in twos and threes
at home on ice, tucking pucks lazily under the crossbar.
Same old talk, someone you got to slow down,
a glance where he’s talking it up
with his own guys.

Here’s the house where I live, I can’t say no.
Howe and Lindsay’s eyes on me. Pronovost, tough
as a bag of batteries, slaps my pads. I see myself as I pass
in the glass, pick up that look from the other side, a nice pair
of knees that edge apart as I go by. I get a whiff of ice
and something in me starts alive. I take
a few shots, catch and flick, feeling
quick, clank behind me,
lucky too.

Then back inside and bedlam now. Adams
flapping but I don’t hear. Holy Mary, don’t let me
fall on my face tonight. I try to loosen a pad, my shaking
hand so bad Jesus Jesus. Tommy Ivan shoves in beside me,
knowing he needs to settle me down. New cufflinks on.
Knocks my stick for luck I’m nodding but Mother of Christ
I’m dying inside, can’t keep still now everybody wants to go,
the clatter, the chatter, rockers, talkers. “Gotta have this one.
Gotta have it guys.” This was where we’d bellow out
some raunchy song when we were young, scare
the bejesus out of everyone. “Nice neighbourhood like this,”
they’d say. “Who let the bloody DPs in?” Tommy drums
a rhythm on my leg – I watch his moving hand
distracted by the veins and lines that make the hand
a miracle, an acrobat, a thief. Gotta have it, guys.
I brace for the roar at the end of the tunnel.
“Give me a hand here, Tommy, tuck that in, that – look,
that bloody strap.” Then bang the door and Jesus here we go,
someone shouts those words I love and dread, I hear
them all my life – “Let the goalie go first.”

— Randall Maggs

 ##P.S. During the Bruins 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I’m participating in Beardathon, a fundraiser for kids charities, by growing my beard. You can vote for my beard, contribute towards my fundraising goal, and watch my progress at:


2 Responses to “National Poetry Month Poem-a-Week 2012: Randall Maggs’s “Different Ways of Telling Time””

  1. […] National Poetry Month Poem-a-Week 2012: Randall Maggs's … […]

  2. Khara House Says:

    I love the pairing of sports and poetry (Interestingly, Robert Lee Brewer of Writer’s Digest just posted a prompt to write a sports poem today!) –there is an art and music to both that, at least on the sports side, often goes unrecognized; what better way to point out the artistry of both than to put them together! Thank you for this!.

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