Look, it’s spring. And last year’s loose dust has turned into this soft willingness. The wind-flowers have come up trembling, slowly the brackens are up-lifting their curvaceous and pale bodies. The thrushes have come home, none less than filled with mystery, sorrow, happiness, music, ambition.
And I am walking out into all of this with nowhere to go and no task undertaken but to turn the pages of this beautiful world over and over, in the world of my mind.
Therefore, dark past, I’m about to do it. I’m about to forgive you
Last week I posted on Facebook:“It’s legit. I am a writer. Got my first paid contract as writer for EdmontonEats.yeg, and my first publication. Penning the words of my next life chapter. Thank you.”Below is my first story for EdmontonEats.
Safely distanced, masked and gloved, we gathered on a beautiful spring day in Bannerman community to assemble the latest offering from EdmontonEats. The “Sweet Treats Box” – a colourful combination of cookies, cakes, nuts, and dates traditionally prepared for Eid Al-Fitr, the Islamic feast celebrating the end of Ramadan’s month of holy fasting – was chosen by the Cultural Hosts to be a perfect gift to celebrate Mother’s Day.
Standing in a circle, introductions made, and duties assigned by founder Maureen Murphy-Black, this small group of mothers and daughters folded boxes, carefully placed the assortment of goodies – each made with an equal portion of love and care by Cultural Hosts and Chef Cindy Lazarenko – topped them with a menu card, tied up with ribbon, bow and a Mother’s Day card handmade by local artist, Lucie Vadaro.
With Afaf Bayoud’s presence, one of three bakers for this event, we learned about the treats and what went into making them. The first fifty boxes finished, we broke for coffee, sitting in the sunshine and sampling from the tasty broken bits, feeling most fortunate for this preview of goodness!
The next fifty boxes went like clockwork, each of us settled into our role, working seamlessly. Circling up for goodbyes, we remarked how much we enjoyed our time together, and recalled times when women traditionally worked together – in quilting and sewing bees, cooking and canning – to share the labour and our stories, and make community.
In those few hours, we experienced why EdmontonEats exists – connecting people through the celebration of food, culture and community while providing economic and social capital opportunities for Edmonton’s immigrant and refugee communities – and it tasted sweet.
I appreciate the time you take to read (and-or in some cases, listen via my podcast) to my posts. Your comments – both public and private – help me become a better writer. Thank you. Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not how shall I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.
– Mary Oliver –
Recently this poem has shown up on friends’ feeds and in other social media. Personal life circumstances and the still staggering impacts of the pandemic here and around the world are reason enough for the reminder. I was taught to worry in that less than obvious way parents transmit what to do, though not necessarily what’s true nor even effective. It’s become a habit of mind, an addiction, even. And it never amounts to anything, always comes to nothing. When I catch myself, and have the presence of mind, I turn worry into prayer, the kind that Anne Lamott describes as the “help, thanks and wow” prayer. That helps, even if only by making me feel better and giving me space to put it down for a while.
Something just now moved through my heart like the thinnest of blades as that red-tail pumped once with its great wings and flew above the gray, cracked rock wall.
It wasn’t about the bird, it was something about the way stone stays mute and put, whatever goes flashing by.
Sometimes, when I sit like this, quiet, all the dreams of my blood and all outrageous divisions of time seem ready to leave, to slide out of me. Then, I imagine, I would never move.
By now the hawk has flown five mile sat least, dazzling whoever else has happened to look up. I was dazzled. But that wasn’t the knife.
It was the sheer, dense wall of blind stone without a pinch of hope or a single unfulfilled desire sponging up and reflecting, so brilliantly, as it has for centuries, the sun’s fire.
– Mary Oliver –
The photo above, taken when we spent a few days on the “off the beaten path” Hawaiian island of Molokai, might be a better correspondence with the image evoked by Mary Oliver’s words. Yet, I love how LIFE finds its way into cracks and crevices, making beauty within the improbable.
It’s the final week of April and still we are in serious need of rain. Where I live we have not had much in the way of April showers to bring May flowers, and as I wrote last week, firefighters are readying for a hell of a season. And this past weekend, if lack of moisture isn’t enough, we had a suspected arsonist destroy several small local businesses in one of my community’s first strip malls. No injuries but the cost is near unbearable on all levels for those business owners who’ve barely kept their heads above water during this year plus of pandemic restrictions.
I woke early this morning, well before dawn, and at 4:30 I could see the night giving way to day. I wrote a bit, musings and machinations, and some questions arising from noticing:
What am I hungry for? What action do I need to take? What is the shoe that I’m waiting for to drop? What would be a “passionate project” to undertake? How might that be a distraction from simply sitting still and writing?
Questions not so much to answer, but simply to let swirl and settle or, in the word and way of “MU” – the answer given in Japanese Zen Buddhism when the wrong question is asked – ask a different question.
Then I replied to a friend’s email, in which I tapped:
“I am well. This is the base line from which many ebbs and flows – some use the word “corroding,” others “languishing,” in response to these prolonged days of covid, with no respite in sight. Here at home, we forget that this IS having an effect on us and our relationship…of course, and even though I blogged about it, I somehow assumed I might be exempt, attributing malaise, and lack of focus to my inner workings instead of to how “out there” is affecting those inner workings. That being said, again, to myself as much as anyone, I AM WELL!
…You have invited some reflection as I begin this week. And for you, the dawn I paused to notice this morning…so fleeting its colours. One has to be right there and ready to see…a life lesson I think.“
To be right there and ready… to see…to know… when to take action, when to sit still…when to undertake a new project or recognize it as distraction…when the inner is affected by the outer…that the through line is “I AM WELL.”
your voice the companion to my otherwise silent walks reciting others’ poems in my ears offering interpretation and invitation into new contexts, meanings, shapes, and forms
I’d thought that glorious enough until I heard your voice recite your words interpret and invite me into hearing anew holy scripture and story
your poems a clarion call to love and justice to curiosity and compassion to wondering as I walk who am I and how am I complicit in empire’s delusion?
Naomi Shihab Nye
hearing her disembodied voice coming to you across the plaza in Columbia telling you of kindness and its peculiar kin you take the only possessions you have left – save the clothing on your back – and with pen and notebook alone take dictation, writing words that become iconic for their naked, known truth
too, in Albuquerque’s airport you hear her call and with your broken Arabic and wide-open heart you tend to the distressed grandmother both of you delayed at the gate soon a party breaks out as Arabic cookies and American juice boxes are shared community made among women dusted for those hours of waiting in something far sweeter than powdered sugar
something my heart yearns for with every poem of yours I read
This is my third and final set of poems written as tribute to poets for National Poetry Month. I “met” Pádraig Ó Tuama last spring walking with Annie and listening to him host the podcast, Poetry Unbound. Becoming a fan, I discovered he was Poet-in-Residence at NYC’s Church of the Heavenly Rest, leading virtual workshops on contemporary interpretation of scripture, guided by his work in social justice and conflict mediation in Ireland. Naomi Shihab Nye came to my attention with her wondrous poem of tending and befriending at the Albuquerque Airport, Gate A-4. Her work often sheds light on the plight of refugees, immigration, cultural conflict, and belonging. Both poets incisively invite me into deepening consciousness of my privilege, complicity, and commitments.
This past year’s events continue to weigh heavy. The long arc of its impacts at every scale continue to stagger. I’d started to detail here some of what is present in the collective field of attention, and then deleted it knowing anyone with any awareness knows quite simply, it is still hard slogging. And at this very moment, I’m praying for rain. Despite forecasts, we’ve had but a spit during this early, dry spring. Today our neighbor mentioned his firefighter brother-in-law said station staff are very concerned for the city, outlying rural regions, and forests.
Since I last wrote in this space, we’ve both had our first vaccinations and I celebrated my second birthday as a member of the Covid Celebration Club with a “dome dinner” at one of our golf courses. Borrowing from Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic design, a local company, in a pandemic pivot, built clear, weatherproof vinyl domes, lined them with artificial turf, plugged in heaters, and voila, a safe, contained dinner for two, or four, with a featured local chef at the helm. The food was great, but the highlight- the retro baked Alaska. I have a special fondness for that dessert as I’d often make it for birthdays, never mine, though. Made for two, enough for four, we dug in through the thick layer of perfectly bronzed meringue, the just melting vanilla ice cream to the solid double chocolate chip cookie base. Did I say good?
The day I went for my shot was thankfully sunny and warm as when I arrived at urban shopping centre site, there were line ups with hour-long delays. “Should have called my local health centre instead of booking online,” offered the friendly security guard who was in the know, managing people at the different vaccination sites in the region. When I entered the cavernous former retail space, falling in line, safely distanced, and moving through the cordoned route, first to replace my cloth mask and sanitize my hands, to the computer check-in station, and then to one of the twenty inoculation stations, I thought back to a conversation I’d heard earlier in the week while walking with Annie. Another On Being podcast, this one featuring health psychologist, Dr. Christine Runyon, whose specialty is providing mental health support to front line medical and health care staff dealing with the pandemic.
“No amount of sophisticated technology can do what health professionals have done these past few months — offered care with uncertain evidence, sat with the dying, comforted family members from afar, held one another in fear and grief, celebrated unexpected recoveries, and simply showed up… No one has been trained how to keep regular life afloat at home and anxiety at bay, while working day after day with a little known biohazard.”
Dr. Christine Runyon, On Being with Krista Tippett, March 18, 2021
I thought of this when I saw all around me, health care professionals taking a moment, here and there, to say hello, make a bit of a connection with the hundreds of us who were coming to get, what feels to me, a modicum of insurance but perhaps more reassurance with so much that is still so uncertain, unsettled, unraveling. I was deeply moved.
Dr. Runyon’s main point was to assure that whoever you are, whatever you are feeling – depressed, anxious, angry, irritable, flat, disconnected, numb, impulsive, moody, rigid, lashing out , impatient, exhausted, foggy, forgetful – “it’s a normal response to incredibly unfamiliar, unusual, unpredictable, uncontrollable circumstances.” Not to be pathologized because our nervous systems – the built-in flight, fight, freeze protective processes – have been activated beyond, and that depending on our personal histories and patterns of coping, many of us have had past traumas re-activated further compounding this current tender situation.
As antidote, she underscores our body-mind connection, suggesting among other practices, deep exhaling, background music, body-work, evoking curiosity, and noticing. But at the foundation is compassion.
“…if I had to say the one thing that probably supersedes all of those, is compassion, including compassion for oneself.”
Dr. Christine Runyon, On Being with Krista Tippett, March 18, 2021
All said, the broad stroke of this spring is brighter for me than last year. I’ve been earnest in my commitment to write, submitting to poetry contests and publication calls, participating in open mic readings, and saying “yes” to a part-time professional gig for a local social enterprise. That vision board I created last December, to honour my autumn life chapter, the one I gaze on every day when I sit down to write or make this season’s cycle of “love notes,” that holds my dreams and intentions…there’s some magic at work here, and some lightness to balance the gravitas of the still heavy days.
May you, too, have broad strokes of brightness, dear friends. Much love and kindest regards.
you were the first poet whose words I memorized your famous question becoming my mantra my north star for realizing mine was a life wild and precious and worthy of planning
you said you got saved by poetry and the beauty of the world that in your later years Rumi became your daily companion bringing refinement to – what in my eyes are – your already perfect observations your morning walks with pencil and notebook pausing to notice and note, your practice rendering with words the details of God’s creation, your gift amazement, your holy vow
bentlily (Samantha Reynolds)
yours are words that fit exactly the shape of holes in wounded hearts you write one a day – pithy, poignant, piercing – about your life’s everyday moments about your husband, children, friends, and jeans sometimes less than twenty lines, barely more than twenty words those are the ones that take my breath away urge me to winnow mine to essence to notice well and choose what to let be
Today, two more poems to two more poets whose words instruct me in the art of noticing life, and in so doing, make sacred the mundane. Mary Oliver needs no introduction. Vancouver’s Samantha Reynolds, writing under the pen name “bentlily”, began writing a poem a day ten years ago “to find more joy in the tedious rhythm of life as a new mother.” It’s a practice she maintains to this day, delighting us who receive her weekly collection in our inboxes.
eight hundred years ago words tumbled from your mouth as you whirled in ecstasy caught by the quill of your scribe creating images read the world over in a future unforeseen a reed burned hollow yearning for your breath a ground knelt upon and kissed in hundreds of ways a house guest greeted warmly as holy visitor
your own blazing love and searching, afire with your Beloved’s glory now the flame that lights now the song that dances me home
Christine Valters Paintner
a modern monk moored in a Celtic landscape contemplation and creativity your stock in trade prayer and painting poetry and dance song and silence evoked by your Benedictine vows and wide awake discerning eyes where illness and grief have polished smooth the cave of your heart making space for the shimmering of earth, wind, sea, and sky and the wisdom of ancients and ancestors to tell their stories and shape your words into offerings for a holy communion
As April is National Poetry Month, in appreciation and celebration, I have written a poem to each of six poets whose words, for me, inspire, instruct, and illuminate. This week, through the lens of sacred inspiration, I write to Rumi, the founder of the Whirling Dervish community of Sufism and author of several of its sacred texts, and to Christine Valters Painter, poet and abbess of the Abbey of the Arts, a global online meeting space for contemplation and creative expression. In the past year, I’ve participated in several of the Abbey’s retreats and shared here impressions and impacts of their numerous prompts and invitations.
This supper a somber affair. The feast of Passover always is, but tonight is more so.
A foreboding hangs in the air, though it appears only the man they call Jesus knows its source. The other men, twelve in total, follow their master’s lead, talking quietly among themselves, unsure of what is unfolding.
I am the unleavened bread made special to order for this gathering. My flavor is bland but when I am broken and dipped into the finest quality olive oil, I come alive in the mouths of those who chew me. I fill their stomachs with a hefty goodness.
Now I hear the man they call Jesus say I am his body. What does this mean?
Now I absorb my cousin, the heavy, dark red wine that each man sips, as the same man says, it is his blood. What does this mean?
Together, I and my cousin, the fruit of the vine made wine, are proclaimed the body and blood of this man. I know not how this is so. But I do know that as each man slowly chews me, and reverently sips my cousin, savors us together with this man’s words, we warm their bodies as we nourish and enliven them.
Now, we are part of them and what is to come.
Now we, in each of their bodies, travel to the Mount of Olives, the home of our friend, the olive oil.
Now, I sit heavy like a stone in their stomachs as they hear their master tell them they will fall away from him. I feel their stomachs clench around me.
One man, emboldened by that inner alchemy between me and my cousin, steps close to his master and passionately declares his love and commitment.
Now, this same man, resisting the bile rising in his gullet from us as we sour in his belly, the reaction to being told he will soon deny his master three times, more passionately denies this.
Soon, for some, our life giving to be denied, too.
– KW –
An experiment in Midrash, the ancient Jewish practice of re-imagining sacred text, I wrote this piece during my participation last spring in the Abbey of the Arts “Soul of a Pilgrim” online retreat. As weekly my photo and poem feature, I’m posting this a day early, in acknowledgement of the Last Supper, commemorated in the Christian tradition on Maundy Thursday.