It all begins with knowing nothing lasts forever. So you might as well start packing now. But, in the meantime, practice being alive.
There will be a party where you’ll feel like nobody’s paying you attention. And there will be a party where attention’s all you’ll get. What you need to do is know how to talk to yourself between these parties.
And, again, there will be a day, — a decade — where you won’t fit in with your body even though you’re in the only body you’re in.
You need to control your habit of forgetting to breathe.
Remember when you were younger and you practiced kissing on your arm? You were on to something then. Sometimes harm knows its own healing comfort its own intelligence. Kindness too. It needs no reason.
There is a you telling you a story of you. Listen to her.
Where do you feel anxiety in your body? The chest? The fist? The dream before waking? The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing or the clutch of gut like falling & falling & falling and falling It knows something: you’re dying. Try to stay alive.
For now, touch yourself. I’m serious.
Touch yourself. Take your hand and place your hand some place upon your body. And listen to the community of madness that you are.
Prologue: Last winter in the midst of another Covid lockdown, Vancouver poet Samantha Reynolds, writing as bentlily, invited her readers to notice life around them. This is, after all, the basis of most good poetry. So successful was the reception that she re-issued her invitation for May. Each morning my inbox welcomed her prompt. I’d read and file each one in a folder for the time when less distracted by who knows what – oh I know, the coming of summer and all that great outdoor stuff – I could focus my noticing in response. That day came September first. And while I don’t do every activity every day, more than not I do, this prose poem being one suchentry.
You invite me to notice, for thirty days.
From gazing at the sky, to taking a mundane moment and making it sacred; eulogizing a favourite food, then eating it back to life; listening to a piece of music while conjuring the images it evokes.
Today it’s WATER. To take in – in a holy way – the everyday banal which for me, for so many of us in this so called civilized western world, comes so freely, without effort or a moment’s thought. We turn on the tap to take a drink, a bath, or a shower; cook our food, wash our clothes, cars, and dishes; soak the dried grass and limp flowers. Mindless motions and maneuverings. Yet drought, wildfires, insufficient snowfall, contamination – even here we are running out of water, and several of our reserves, home of our First Nations peoples, to this day, have no clean drinking water. So much for treaty terms and promises.
When you wrote that women and girls around the world collectively spend 200 million hours daily finding and collecting water, that many are raped on their long walks to distant sources, I shamefully admit, I mindlessly took a sip from my SWELL bottle and went on to tackle the next thing on my list, sitting safely in my office, in my home.
When I read your invitation to drink a glass of water slowly, as though I had dedicated my entire day – my life even – to finding it, getting it, carrying it home, still, the enormity of that reality skipped across the surface of my consciousness.
What does it take for a stone to break the water’s surface, drop down deep inside me, ripple out across my cells, create a resonant wave of comprehension and compassion?
for your telling of this fact to fracture the façade of indifference, flood me with understanding the impacts of privilege?
to remember once long ago, water turned to wine turned to blood, an alchemy of the sacred, a miracle to quench my thirst?
Epilogue: A dozen or so years ago, I wrote a “nested” poem and made a card collage of words and images to acknowledge a young friend who, at four years of age, asked “How can it be that clean water is not a given for all those alive in the world?” He went on to organize local benefit concerts and community fund raising events to support well building in Uganda. The collage design became a promotional image helping him raise over $25,000 in the four years since first asking that question.
Well, water is very important.
Well, water is very important,
for LIFE especially.
Well water is very important
for LIFE, especially when there is no rain.”
“So that’s why we’re making some.”
The truth of miles walked by women to gather water for their families came home when I travelled to Morocco in 2019, where I saw Berber women with plastic jugs, walking to wells to get the day’s supply for cooking and washing.
Last month, someone posted three photos of the same view of Lake Oroville in California’s Sonoma valley taken first in 2017, then in spring of 2021, and finally in July showing the devastation of repeated and prolonged drought. From lush green hillsides and a mighty flow of blue water, to sand parched hills and reduced flow, to merely a creek bordered by muddy banks and hills devoid of vegetation. A picture – or three – telling a powerful story.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
– Pema Chödrön –
Not so much a poem, but words that bring solace from its simple, utter truthfulness. In many places around the world, we are riding another covid wave – the fourth, perhaps even the fifth. Variants and vaccinations, closures, masks, crowded ICUs… Several months ago my mother wondered if she’d live through to the other side of this virus. I thought it was a wise observation, to which I had no answer. To which there is no solving. Things come together, fall apart, come together again and fall apart again. And so it goes. And so we let there be room. For it all.
Still pond and puddle reflecting a cloud swept sky.
Our hard-earned love.
– KW –
My honorably mentioned submission to the monthly Canadian Off Topic writing contest. The requirements included using the word “corner” in some form or fashion; ten lines maximum; and acknowledging-referencing the inspiration, which was using the first line of Mark S. Burrows, “Nine Forms of Light,” in The Chance of Home, 2018. An added benefit was receiving feedback from the two judges.And upon postingit in social media, the congratulations, support, and encouragement from friends and family.
Thank you and much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
We knew it would come crashing down, but now we are in the clatter – fire, drought, flood, smoke, heat, the million and one ways that beings cry out. We thought there would be more time. We pretended that we didn’t know. We squandered so much that we might have saved, and for what? Trinkets. Glitter. The pleasures of ignorance and a basket full of Happy Meals.
It’s time to ask the dying what they know. What will you give up to cure what is killing you? What do you pursue when your days are numbered? Gaze into the eyes of a beloved old dog. Bury your face in her neck and engrave the scent on your memory. Let your heart break open. Learn to cherish what remains.
– Lynn Ungar –
Lynn Ungar first came to my attention last year with her “viral” poem, Pandemic. Straight to the point and heart, her words pierce with truthfulness. A week ago, our beloved Annie dog went under for a brief diagnostic procedure. Thankfully an “all OK” diagnosis, she returned home that day woozy and with a package each of probiotics and antacids, hopefully to curb the somedays’ frantic rush to eat grass. But with eleven and a half years under her belt, and a decade this month with us, I know the times we walk together are ever precious. But isn’t it so for each of us – how life changes on a dime? Once again, around the world, we see how precarious, precious, and fragile our circumstances. Reading Radical Regeneration: Birthing the New Human in the Age of Extinction (2020) by Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker makes the unequivocal point that we are living in the end times. The posthumous One Drum (2019) by Richard Wagamese cites ancient prophesy of a time “when words would fly like lightning bolts across the sky, and ” when “the human family would move farther apart and that this separation, the break in energy, would cause great stress upon the Earth… floods, titanic storms, famine, earthquakes, the departure of animals, strange diseases, and turmoil among all peoples.” (22)
“There is a juiciness to creativity, a succulence, or a sensuality which both produces and is soothed by creating something. I think that creativity is pleasing to women on a very deep level, whatever form it might take – whether it’s the feel of clay in our hands, the colours that work on us as we knit, the meaning that we find in the words that we write, or the energizing feel of movement as we dance and the music moves through our bodies.”
Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
I had the unexpected pleasure of a working staycation at the Folk Tree Lodge in the foothill town of Bragg Creek, Alberta a few weeks ago. Invited to bring my scribing skills to a women’s creators retreat, I packed a few requisite mountain weather layers of clothing , and with my writing pens, paper pads, and camera, “caught” women’s words as we sat in circle to learn about, talk about, and play about living a creative life, about being creators.
Yes, one of our hosts, Theo Harasymiw, an established mosaic artist, invited us into activities and stations to experience different forms of creative expression – foraging, mosaic, collage, print and stamping, writing. But her constant, consistent message throughout was that of giving value and making time for the creative process as a way of living – a way of life.
So, prepare an area, make it accessible, easy to invite Creativity into. The product is the product. The process is the gift.
“At its most basic level, of course, creativity is about making stuff. Taking something like wool and turning it into a sweater. Or creating less tangible things, like taking the germ of an idea and turning it into reality. But more than all of that, creativity to me is a way of thinking and problem-solving, an imaginative approach to living. Creativity helps us to be more fully alive on every level, asking that we engage with life in a visceral and interactive way.”
Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
Each of us around the circle had plenty of experience creating – both in the traditional ways of making of art and writing, photography, crafting within cultural traditions – and in the less obvious ways of choices made in our professional and personal lives – the work we designed, ways we care for others, and serve our communities.
The healing question of one who cares, to create in the voice of theirs. If I could, I’d ditch this for that, make the changes with my confines choose quality, longer lasting imprints beyond just the task. Aware of children’s Souls and that Souls need attention.
So, the constraints and confines in which Creativity thrives stoke an internal fire that’s unstoppable.
I write. I photograph. I dabble, especially when travelling, in pen and ink, water colour sketches. I collage. I call myself a kindergarten knitter. I stitch and sew, though not so much so. I cook with a self claimed specialization of making one-off silk purses from leftovers. Yet I know the extent to which I question and compartmentalize creativity, asking does sewing count? Or cooking if it’s not gourmet? It’s still something I do – if and when – and not yet always, a way of understanding “this is who I am.”
I “caught” that same struggle in the words of the women sitting in circle:
Not the visual art, but the Soul’s art: Do we see it? Can we be it? Do we show it? Do we value it? Does it have to be just one thing? Can we make our life a collage of it all?
The clarion call of Creativity: I see it outside me. I feel in inside me. The obligation to hear my Soul’s calling to live it out loud.
When our fear becomes our greatest obstacle the offering from one who listens deeply between the words within the spaces brings us all a peace.
“Reclaiming our own particularly female forms of creativity is a critical part of reinstating the undervalued feminine principle in the world, but it’s not as easy as it sounds to do that – the societal conditioning which pushes us in other directions can be so complete.”
Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
How life as we’ve been taught, lived, worked, earned pushed and pulled squashed and beat creativity into submission imagination into flat line
Insists on a blue sky, a yellow sun, green grass, a red wagon. “Stop playing.” “Get real.”
“Consciously or unconsciously we know that to be a creative woman can entail huge risk. And this is what we have to overcome…this is why my driving passion is to empower women and inspire them to get their work out there, so that the world is full of our vibrant voices, creations, dreams. Our world needs all the colour and innovation we can give right now.”
Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
This was the driving force behind the retreat – a response to hearing the yearning in women’s voices to reclaim that which through their lives had been lost. To invite a small group of women into a care-fully designed and lovingly hosted experience to playfully welcome back their vibrant voices, creations and dreams.
We’re in a new future finding the strength being the support to innovate our way to co-create a new space to let our Souls soar.
We lift the veil of our beingness to make the invisible visible. That’s the voice of our Soul when we let our Souls soar.
I never dreamt it could be so good a pivot to a promise the flow into what can be when women pull together.
Such a sweet pleasure for me to witness, to play, to catch our words and weave into poem stories…to be and bring my creative self in service of this gathering.
My love made visible…one of a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the earth.
The rising hills, the slopes, of statistics lie before us. the steep climb of everything, going up, up, as we all go down.
In the next century or the one beyond that, they say, are valleys, pastures, we can meet there in peace if we make it.
To climb these coming crests one word to you, to you and your children:
stay together learn the flowers go light.
– Gary Snyder –
Yes, for the children young and old, inner and outer, near and far, who aresuffering the loss of home, safety, culture, family – too many to list to fires, floods, earthquakes, political oppression, disease, poverty – too many to list
May we stay together. May we pray together. May we play together. In the flowers. In the light.
Thinking of the peoples of Afghanistan, Haiti, Bangladesh, Turkey, Greece, Sicily, France, Canada, United States, Germany, Belgium – too many to list.
1 A moment of pleasure, An hour of pain, A day of sunshine, A week of rain, A fortnight of peace, A month of strife, These taken together Make up life.
2 One real friend To a dozen foes, Two open gates, ’Gainst twenty that’s closed, Prosperity’s chair, Then adversity’s knife; These my friends Make up life.
3 At daybreak a blossom, At noontime a rose, At twilight ’tis withered, At evening ’tis closed. The din of confusion, The strain of the fife, These with other things Make up life.
4 A smile, then a tear, Like a mystic pearl, A pause, then a rush Into the mad whirl, A kiss, then a stab From a traitor’s knife; I think that you’ll agree with me, That this life.
– Carrie Law Morgan Figgs – 1878-1968
Another inbox gift from the Academy of American Poets, I received this poem the same day I wrote Monday’s post, This Beauty. I felt an immediate correspondence and in a curious way, with more reading, its rhythm and theme remind me of “Waters of March,” that famous bossa nova by Brazilian Antonio Carlos Jobim, one that too, speaks of life’s bitter sweet.
“In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”
August has arrived in a heat wave, though not the “dome” that brought in July. Wave, dome – both feel pretty damn hot with a bit of wind blowing, deluding one into thinking “ahhh, it’s cooler now.” Cloudless skies continue, but the persistent blue of a month ago has given way to haze with smoke from the still burning forest fires that have disintegrated villages and have others on evacuation notice. Sun glowing red in the morning, redder at night, now later to rise and earlier to set.
Though less now, I’m still attuned to school year rhythms, where notions of work would begin to appear on the horizon, readying for start-up later in the month. It was a few years ago I wrote that August – always for us in the northern hemisphere, the last month of summer – feels to me like one long Sunday night. Today, Sunday, this first day in August – almost a decade since I left full-time employment to free-lance – I still feel that flutter in my belly. A cocktail of anxiety, ambivalence, anticipation, acceptance – the ingredients in this order, though amounts may vary.
I’ve alluded to and explicitly written over the past several weeks, that it’s been a “wobbly” time, difficult even some days. Writ large: the world trying to move beyond a virus that simply will not let us go, mutating faster, and exponentially more contagious. Here and abroad, again a season of relentless burning and unprecedented flooding, evidence that while the world was in retreat for eighteen months, climate change was not. Fractured and collapsed infrastructures. An apocalyptic unveiling of grievous global injustice and racism. Right now to my way of thinking, the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games appear the perfect metaphor. Writ small: me trying to find footing in a “re-opened” community, and province deciding to toss out all covid public health protocols, where I continue to monitor if and who to hug, how close to sit, where and when to wear masks, when to travel to see my parents. Sleep disrupted by the heat and a habit of worrying about unknown “what nexts”? Sensing another turn of the wheel and breaking of the “kitsugi” bowl to allow something – yet defined – room to emerge, then to be mended with gold. Sitting in such threshold space is often difficult for me when it activates old trauma reactions that vacillate between brittle anxiety and a listless, deadening loss of focus – both leaving me wrung out.
“The beauty that emerges from woundedness is a beauty infused with feeling.”
John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, 2004
And so I turn to gazing into the backyard sky and trees, onto the garden beds that are finally reviving. I walk Annie early before it’s too hot, enjoying the silence of our slowly waking streets. I listen to the water falling in the fountain – and while a far cry from my beloved Niagara River – let it soothe. I light the kitchen candle when loss’ grief comes calling. I take pen to page, not as often, and often reluctantly, to write anew or, as below, resurrect a piece hidden on just found, older pages:
So big I missed it.
So messy when my expectations of it are
that it fit a frame of perfect proportion.
When instead, it demands
spilling out and over in
delicious, voluptuous abandon.
And all I can do, is be
- thankfully -
awed and amazed,
enthralled and embraced.
that seeps through the cracks
through the shame and hurt and secret places,
to rest in the space between letting go
to fill up the letting come.
that holds and beckons us
to live alive,
again and again.
so big it fills my heart to bursting
a million exquisite pieces
of dance and song and dream,
of praise and appreciation,
of joy and sorrow,
of life and love,
“Beauty enchants us, renews us, and conquers death.
Piero Ferrucci, Beauty and the Soul, 2009
Wishing you all that is good and true and beautiful in your lives, dear friends. Much love and kindest regards.
This is my give-away— not because I don’t want it anymore, not because it’s out of style or broken or useless since it lost its lid or one of its buttons, not because I don’t understand the “value” of things. This is my give-away— because I have enough to share with you because I have been given so much health love happiness pain sorrow fear to share from the heart in a world where words can be meaningless when they come only from the head. This is my give-way— to touch what is good in you with words your heart can hear like ripples from a pebble dropped in water moving outward growing wider touching others. You are strong. You are kind. You are beautiful. This is my give-away. Wopida ye. Wopida ye. Wopida ye.
– Gwen Westerman –
Arriving in my inbox this week from the Academy of American Poet’s “poem a day” feature, this poem needs to be given away, again and again. So I share it here, to “touch what is good in you” and in me, too, during days when I need to remember this, and maybe you do, too. (Typically I format a poem on the centre of the page, but here, I chose to preserve the author’s original, off centre formatting.)