skate away

Shocked by the news, shook with a sorrow that goes beyond saying to learn that Steve Heighton has died. What a writer. What a lovely man, kind and funny. When I was a student at Queen’s, long ago, writing studenty sentences, he was already a sparking star in Kingston’s firmament, in the thick of literary doing, rising fast, a poet in the flesh and spirit, on the page, on the fly, cool as they come, and just as friendly. Later I was writing about a novel of his, a very good and beautiful one, and assigned to profile him for a magazine, I contrived to spend a good part of a month in that collaboration, tracking him to Kingston, talking, talking, words and craft and books and everything else, drinking hellfire grappa together, nearly (almost) going out and getting myself a thrumming Selectric typewriter because that’s what Steve worked on, a one-fingered (like me) typist. I shadowed him one day as he did publicity rounds in Toronto, ending up in a vast Chapters where he sat surrounded by the books his publisher was expecting him to be autographing, and he got down dutifully to that, right after he’d schooled my forger’s pen in how to simulate his signature, to speed the work so we could get to the bar. Then when I wrote a book there was no more attentive or generous reader than Stavros, as he would sometimes sign the notes he wrote, often they’d come through after midnight, such was the urgency of celebrating the pith and pleasure of a single phrase or just a word, or maybe he had a thoughtful question, or was sending a story of his. Mine was a hockey book, and Steve loved to skate, and played the game with a serious (and self-deprecating) passion, and then for a long time we were talking hockey back and forth, about how to hook-check (“It might work really well in pick-up”), or he was reporting what happened when he suited up on Kingston beer-league ice to try his hand and reflexes as a goaltender: “Once I flopped,” he submitted, “I couldn’t get up — I lay there thrashing, grabbing at the posts — like a cockroach fallen on its back.” He invited me to join a team of his, the Journeymen, a troupe of writers who laced on skates, took up sticks for a weekend tournament that was the best mid-winter fun I’ve ever had, out in the wind and the snow on Wolfe Island, because of Steve. I was in it because of him, and he was all in, on the ice, and everywhere. What a man.

Wolfe Island Debrief: Steve Heighton, on the right, at the Lake Ontario Cup, February 7, 2015.


“Wheat Town Beer-Leaguer, Good Snapshot, No Backhand” is in Steve’s 2016 collection The Waking Comes Late (Anansi)