Of Leaves and Crows

The wind and rain of this past week have stripped trees bare

But here and there

Dull yellow leaves retain a tenuous grip

And crows,

Themselves a stark punctuation,

Perch high in newly naked branches,

A position best for them to see

Winters inevitable “Land-ho!”

And me – sailing by

More confined on my grey ocean,

Clouds dark, nearing, stacking overhead

Numerous as the worries filling me with dread.

And I long

Just for a moment

As leaves fall and crows fly

For these fractured thoughts to release, fall and find

A fertile place to die

And for my black-hearted Kyrie prayers

To soar toward cloud-break

And answers I cannot yet see.

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation 2016

Early July Greg and I flew to Vancouver (on points in case you’re wondering how we managed that!) and I took a course at Regent College with Malcolm Guite. Here is a link to his blog which is updated regularly (unlike… AHEM…mine) https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/blog/

Can I just say – if you love poetry – or even just like it a little, you really need to read his …or listen to him read. Either way, you need to stop what you are doing now (reading this) and head on over via the above link. I’ll wait.

…..

Back? So very good right?! Imagine a week of a class with him! I took notes like crazy. Listened with my head and my heart and enjoyed every minute.

And also…didn’t hurt a bit that it was in Vancouver. Not any wonder at all that it costs you all the money to live there. Mornings (while I was in class), it was cool and sometimes a teeny bit rainy; by noon the sun was out, it was warm, the mountains emerged in all their splendor and we took full advantage. Greg and I walked over 20,000 steps/day visiting Granville Market, biking around False Creek and Stanley Park, taking the ferry over to North Van, walking the streets and beaches around Point Grey. It was exhausting and amazing together. We had such a good week.

What I am going to do – hopefully for a few days – is post some of the poetry I’ve been doing around that time and since.

I watch the boats on English Bay today
(and crabbers dipping nets)
fearless gulls hover
waiting a discarded feast
(not of their own making)

some paddlers, young and inexperienced
fight losing battles with ocean waves
and tiny windsurfer sails upended
their intended form
now salt-water flatten, shapeless, void

a boat moves in
a rope is thrown
a child
who’s cries have mingled with gull shrieks
is pulled from an unwanted baptism

Your Spirit too
Blows where it will
Moves this frail craft

I hold tight to my sail
Into these unknown, uncharted places
Brace myself for my own upending
water-washing
And then the bread and fish
That you provide

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Paying Attention

  Greg was leading a workshop in a little community near the Northumberland Shore of Nova Scotia. I had the better part of a day free to fill.  A very rare occurrence. 

I discover the Whirligigs Cafe in Wallace, Nova Scotia, Main Street just outside the front door, a wharf and water just behind. It’s eclectic  and lovely – bright colors on the walls inside; cornflower blue, deep mauve, white – tall and short tiled tables, leather and wood, art and photographs on the walls, pink and purple violets their open faces belying the browns and grey outside. Blue sky and sun keep edging round the clouds. 

Spring on the East Coast, oatcakes, cream and jam – another cup of coffee. Diana Krall singing an afternoon song. Bumblebee lobster traps stacked on the wharf against an azure and grey bay. Canadian flag, at attention in a brisk early May wind and in the center of the bay, a lobster boat drops traps and bright orange buoys then scuttles back, maneuvering skillfully into the dock.

The door bangs open as the lunch crowd bustles in. Beside me, three grown daughters (and their mom) change tables, rearrange the chairs for her comfort, pour her tea and talk of going to the market on their way home. Conversations rise and fall – I’m offered a fill-up on my coffee. The sun streams through white and black sheers in the front windows. Pastel paper globe lights are a pale replacement for the larger orb outside.

A family near the fireplace eats and leaves, their table awash with empty soup bowls and crumpled napkins. A beam of sunlight warms the wood.  Two grey-haired men murmur of the ice leaving the harbour to their white-haired mother, earnestly leaning in, their faces soft and smiling.

Dishes and cutlery jangle, chairs scrape the hardwood floor.

“How long have you been open” someone asks. 

A voice behind the counter – maybe in the kitchen, “This year we opened in February.” A smile, a nod.

“What part of the west are you from?”

“Winnipeg. But we’ve been here since 1970. 1970 we moved to Nova Scotia”

Diana’s piano takes center stage. A truck drives by. 

We on the East Coast emerge from this long winter of snow and shadows, a hopeful awakening. Dirty snow merges back into the land. I am not sorry to see it go. Winter coats are consigned to closets deep in the bowels of our windows-wide-open houses. We wear our spring jackets, light and hyacinth-colored, new leaves bright, regardless of the temperature. The calendar says it’s Spring and we declare it to be so.

The chef in sneakers and yoga pants emerges from the kitchen, chats politics and weather with the couple sitting beside the front window – sunlight blessing their bright green salad and cherry tomatoes. She gestures, he grins, they nod together, a dance of place, and comfort and companionship.

Anne Lamott says, ‘Writing is about paying attention. So is life. Wake up and look up, and then scribble it down. Don’t look at your tummy. Look at the sky.’ 

The door again – two friends greet each other, hug, laugh, exchange pleasantries. More food appears from the kitchen. My pencil etches more than remembrances of this place; gratitude, spring-like expectancy. And in all these transactions in this day a revelation, a holy communion here in the uncommon common. Pay attention.  Wake up. Scribble it down.

And I am.  

Straight Lines

There was a trick to ironing the crease in the pants of his dress uniform – wax paper – it set the straight line that started just above the tip of the mirror polished black boots and ended at the waistband of the blue then green standard air force issue. Mom ironed everything else in the house; sheets, dresses, shirts, blouses, aprons, the rain or shine laundry every Monday washing away the previous week. Every Tuesday creaking up the ironing board, pressing heavily, hotly down on cotton shirts and pleated skirts, a damp cloth to erase unwanted lines and tame our clothes, and hopefully us, into a kind of submission.

But never Dad’s uniforms. Ever. They had to be just so and he had learned to do them right in basic training, a wild young man tamed in every way into the straight, straight lines he lived/s by ever since those early days I only faintly heard of.

‘There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything’, was something of a code for him. And every wrong way a deliberate act against the right, and inevitably against him.

I hate being melodramatic. My memories are just that – mine and memories – filtered through my admittedly hazy reflections. I cannot and do not speak for anyone else in my family. I need to be very clear about that. They have their own stories and I will not – no – I cannot be their voice. They will find their own.

What I do know is that I had a foolish boldness that couldn’t be suppressed; a need to have my opinion heard in the face of what I never seemed to learn was an uncommon rage that I interpreted to be directed at me. I also had/have a gift for losing myself constantly in a dream world, ‘Wendy would do better at school if she would pay attention’ – ‘She should be tested to see if she is capable of academics’ (general surprise all around when the testing revealed a high IQ) coupled with the audacity to at least verbally leap headlong into the constant ‘walking on eggshells’ situations – it led me into SO. MUCH. TROUBLE. ‘Don’t upset your Dad’ was (is) the soundtrack for my life, in all its various incarnations.

Oh yes – and park your emotions at the door ‘Wendy, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve’, and no hugging ‘We’re not that kind of family’, two other important rules although there were a thousand more. These are only blurred scenes – faint and fading memories – I’ve spent a lifetime of my own Mondays trying to scrub away the deluge that has re-emerged lately.

Why now?

Stripping the house bare, handing over the shell to someone else, it’s dredging through those hidden places again, at least for me. But I think for all of us because we’re all angry in our own way – and we are all taking apart these pieces of our selves, of our own lives as we dismantle the visible expressions of his.

The great fading is occurring for him now, the straight lines of his world collapsing. We talk about the weather, the birdhouses outside the window, the World Cup. I answer the same questions he poses, two or three times, ‘How are the kids? What are they doing now? What grade is Molly in?’ He is perpetually surprised that she is in university. A shocking truth that newly amazes him during the hour or so we are with him. I have learned never to ask about Mom, never to ask how he is doing. He has developed his own story, told in simmering indignation that fits where truth has no place. I want to ask a hundred things, I want there to be transparency, and a kind of open-ended, borderless love. No lines, no disgust, no conditions. When we leave, I feel sad.

And I know that what I’m really asking, after all these years of feeling the press of the iron to ‘straighten up’ my life, what I’m still trying to say – will you see me – when will it be enough for you – can’t you just put the iron away.

Anniversary

July 1, 2014
July 1, 2014

‘I never knew 31 years
could go so fast’ you said,
A morning reflection on this day
three decades plus a year ago
A day as warm as this
is turning out to be.

Among other things,
we declared then,
before our family and friends,
’till death do us part’
which has proved,
at times,
more a threat
than a promise
or at least an uncertain hope.

Our daily battle
(well mine at least)
that serpent promise
of autonomy
Give me the right
to define my world
create a framework
into which
you are welcome to live
until your own naming
violates mine
which it does –
all too often.

And in the authoring
of this creation,
our deliberate act
of joining,
we took
the reins of our lives
(or so we thought)
‘Two becoming one’.

Since that moment
(and before)
Death has
and is occurring.
Daily
either self
or this shared life
is cut down.
It really is either one or the other.

So in the speed
of this life
The either / or
of ‘me’ or ‘we’
I can say this,
I’m thankful for vows kept,
a lifetime of honoring commitments
and the mercy
that does not keep a ledger.