“Write a sad story…in only four words.” This was the prompt I spotted on Facebook a week ago, posted by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I wrote what immediately came to mind, being immersed in media, conversation, and reflection on the week prior’s news of the undocumented remains of two hundred fifteen children found on the grounds of a since closed residential school in Kamloops, BC. An unearthing revealing the underbelly of my country’s colonial past – Government policy, from 1883 to the 1990s, enacted by its agents and police, whereby First Nations children were forcibly seized from their parents and placed in residential schools to have the Indian schooled and worked and punished and abused out of them. And we wonder what else is hidden and how many more remains of innocent Indigenous children are to be found?
I’ll close with the lyrics of a song I heard recently by folk singer-songwriter-activist and all around fine person, Maria Dunn.
You are that little one Sacred as the morning sun In your mother’s arms Your father’s heart the same Taken from your family By brutal, bared, bureaucracy Instead of opening your mind They shut you up in shame
You are that little one – hold on
What child denied her mother tongue Underfed and preyed upon Who among us could survive A stripping to our soul? In waves of rage that rock you now Any other might have drowned But you’re still here Determined to be whole
You are that little one – hold on You are beloved – hold on
How slow to open up our eyes Say out loud “we spun those lies” Sorry’s but a start upon the road It’s not enough Until we walk the path that shows To every child who suffers so Your life matters You are truly loved
I’ve been through what my through was to be I did what I could and couldn’t I was never sure how I would get there
I nourished an ardor for thresholds for stepping stones and for ladders I discovered detour and ditch
I swam in the high tides of greed I built sandcastles to house my dreams I survived the sunburns of love
No longer do I hunt for targets I’ve climbed all the summits I need to and I’ve eaten my share of lotus
Now I give praise and thanks for what could not be avoided and for every foolhardy choice
I cherish my wounds and their cures and the sweet enervations of bliss My book is an open life
I wave goodbye to the absolutes and send my regards to infinity I’d rather be blithe than correct
Until something transcendent turns up I splash in my poetry puddle and try to keep God amused.
– James Broughton –
Our province has just announced a fast track re-opening post Covid plan, to make this “the best summer ever.” More slogans and clichés that fall flat on these ears. Few of us have received our second vaccinations with no word as to when. So until that time, having come this far maintaining safety protocols for me and my community, I’ll do my best to keep God amused as I’m sure she’s been with all these political shenanigans.
“When death is near, or when time forces us into binaries that are dangerous and ungenerous, we wish for such spaciousness, so that we continue the difficult work of preserving life in this world.”
Pádraig Ó Tuama, “The Pause,” On Being Newsletter, Saturday, May 22, 2021
Reading these words from my current, favourite poet I felt a deep thud land in my heart. I won’t say “languishing,” though it’s a word I’ve heard friends use to self-describe since the recent article named it as another quality of pandemic living. For me, it’s more the ebb and flow, waxing and waning, ups and downs that make some days heavier than others. “Corrosive,” my husband calls it.
Still, the buoyancy from my last post announcing that sweet writing gig and having a short piece published. And since then, I’ve submitted a six-poem collection and five-chapter poem to contests. Admittedly a very, very long shot to even be long listed, but the way I see it, it’s practice in taking myself seriously as a writer, and in learning the art of rolling with rejections.
So maybe it’s the recent resurgence of fighting in Israel, the bombing and killing of so many innocents, including children. I’m staggered by the fact that no sooner had Israel so quickly achieved the world’s most significant vaccination rate, when the fighting resumed. I know I’m adding 2 + 2 and coming up with 35, but is this what post covid “getting back to normal” looks like? And I wonder, “WTF, if anything, have we learned this past year?” Admittedly I’m feeling a holy outrage and holy grief.
Maybe it’s the snowstorm that came suddenly last week after a much needed day of straight ‘n steady rain – the day after a full-out gorgeous, sunny and warm spring day. Those thick wet flakes weighed heavy on the just greening trees, so much so, that when I went to bed that night, the wind blowing white all around, the leaning tree limbs and laden branches looked as if I could touch them from the upper deck. An optical illusion but enough to fall asleep praying all would be well, that we’d not have the kind of breakage our trees had suffered several years ago during an similar, late spring snowstorm. Upon waking, except for a few tender broken bits scattered on the snow’s surface, all appeared OK until Sunday, when we noticed a cracked, newly risen mound of soil around the base of my beloved laurel leaf willow. The heft of this near fifty-year old beauty, together with the leaning of its mass and the weight of snow have begun to lift the tree by its roots, making it just a matter of time before it lets go, meaning its removal is urgent and imminent.
That tree, with its large and languid presence, has been a source of inspiration and healing. As I’ve noted here and in my other blogs, most mornings find me sitting in our living room before dawn, watching that tree and the day begin. Recovering from Bells Palsy, too shocked and vulnerable to see anyone, and a few years later when recovering from a complete thyroidectomy and waiting for the “verdict,” I’d spent hours sitting outside basking in its healing green. I’ve written to it, about it, and in the last month, even submitted for consideration, a piece to an anthology on trees. Titled “A Laud to A Laurel Leaf Willow,” it now feels like an eulogy. First thing tomorrow we’ll search for an arborist skilled in tree climbing to carefully “dismember” it. Right now, as I type, I feel such deep sadness for its loss when it is still so vibrant and alive. I’ve thought about how to stabilize it, but the paradox is we have carefully tended to it for these many years, willingly investing in its regular trimming, and now it’s so massive, its girth so wide, that cable lines would need to stretch through and past our home to secure it. There must be a metaphor in all of this, but right now it escapes me. I simply feel sad.
Maybe it’s that dear friends have moved to start new life chapters with new life partners in other provinces. Pragmatically, the pandemic has oddly prepared me for their absence, as this past year seeing each of them has been very episodic, if at all. But I feel that familiar pandemic-induced “missing them in my bones and by my body.” I know the changed reality of relationships signified by such relocations, as forty plus years ago, we did the same thing and friendships were never the same.
And maybe it’s that rather suddenly – both to us and to them – our next-door neighbors moved, too. Yesterday! He’d been working out of province, unable to find work here since the pandemic. For months, she tended the home fires, including all their DIY renovations. Finally, the home of her dreams and then the decision to move and sell – in that order. I came home Friday to see people sorting through stuff in the garage, assuming it was a version of spring cleaning. Then a moving van and a quick, across the fence conversation confirming the obvious to everyone but me! Several months earlier I’d acknowledged my lack of sociability towards her. Nothing personal, I assured, I had been cordial but regretted it was not what it might have been. Now I wonder if the Universe might be giving me a second chance.
No maybe’s about it, I was so disappointed not be to with my father yesterday to celebrate his 90th birthday. Last year, he – my “glass half full” parent – optimistically announced we’d have a big party for him this year. Our German “sister” had promised to fly over to celebrate with us, as she had for his 80th. Thankfully, he and my mother worked through the decision to abandon the party idea a few months ago, as currently, their region of Ontario is in very restrictive lockdowns. Flowers and a cupcake with candles over a video call would have to do. And once again, with his signature optimism, he asked for a rain check and said he’s dealing in for another five healthy years, at least. That made me smile. I have a lot to learn from him, still.
The wish for spaciousness to hold it all. The knowing that it’s all true and that this, too, will pass, until the next time. Choosing the half full glass of generosity while acknowledging the grief. And signing off as I started:
“Friends, in all your circumstances this week, we pray that love, and a generous reading of time can guide you and center you towards justice and life.”
Pádraig Ó Tuama, “The Pause,” On Being Newsletter, Saturday, May 15, 2021
Pray to whomever you kneel down to: Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross, his suffering face bent to kiss you, Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat, Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary that she may lay her palm on our brows, to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth, to Inanna in her stripped descent.
Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work. On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus, for everyone riding buses all over the world. Drop some silver and pray.
Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM, for your latte and croissant, offer your plea. Make your eating and drinking a supplication. Make your slicing of carrots a holy act, each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.
To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray. Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats. Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.
Make the brushing of your hair a prayer, every strand its own voice, singing in the choir on your head. As you wash your face, the water slipping through your fingers, a prayer: Water, softest thing on earth, gentleness that wears away rock.
Making love, of course, is already prayer. Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin, the fragile cases we are poured into.
If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired. Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day. Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth. When you walk to your car, to the mailbox, to the video store, let each step be a prayer that we all keep our legs, that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs. Or crush their skulls. And if you are riding on a bicycle or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves: less harm, less harm, less harm.
And as you work, typing with a new manicure, a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail, or delivering soda or drawing good blood into rubber-capped vials, twirling pizzas–
With each breath in, take in the faith of those who have believed when belief seemed foolish, who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.
Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace, feed the birds, each shiny seed that spills onto the earth, another second of peace. Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.
Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk. Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child around your Visa card. Scoop your holy water from the gutter. Gnaw your crust. Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling your prayer through the streets.
– Ellen Bass –
This poem prayer was posted this week on social media, I suppose in response to the current re-ignition of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Today, I read that a ceasefire has been called. May we see peace, bring peace, pray for peace, make peace, and be peace.
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.