Rolling clouds, and cows
across fields of grass, and
tall and thick
trees in woolen skies.
I want your green in my soul.
Encircled by the sea, grey jade,
olive, olive jade, charcoal,
Green, round the jagged,
folded green, green meshed.
Wash me clean. My cluttered body,
Tangled in webs and knitted
Split my skies with jade.
Devour me until I am satiated,
full, quiet, calm.
I want courage again, dreams
Behind me is ochre and pomegranate.
Blush and balconies. But you,
you ground my feet in soft earth.
In your terrarium untangle this
I roll up the window shutter when it is still dark; the January chill creeps through small spaces in the large, white framed window. A hyacinth, resting on the black table, is in bloom; its smell strong and sweet. Like other spring flowers, it calls out in a musical whisper to be noticed. Light pink flowers, partially opened, from its five, tall thick stocks, all bound by a blue ribbon I tied them with so their stems could cluster for strength. A sixth, small stock nestles, tucked between the durable others.
As the sun rises, construction workers begin their work on a new apartment complex. As I am on the second floor, the new building has stolen the morning sunshine that once brightened my spot at the table. On the other side of my apartment, buildings shade the evening light. It stays dim inside all day.
The drilling, hammering and occasional loud clunks crash into the room’s silence. I watch workers walking along the scaffolding shell and kneeling in bare concrete rooms drilling. They work like ants.
The sun rises, again unencumbered by clouds. Every day, for as long as I can remember, for months, it has been clear. Only one day lapsed into the gentleness of rain, Thursday last, the day my friend left Milan. It’s hard for me to believe only four days have passed since then. Already it feels an eternity of loneliness.
I could be anywhere in the world with a hyacinth on a table in January and construction outside my window.
When I go out wandering, examples of human capacity surround me, architectural examples, churches the most obvious. A strange comment about humankind that it creates such masterworks in respond to ideas of God. There is a contemporary building I like, the Bosca Verticale, a high-rise residential building in Porto Nuovo, with large balconies dripping with over 4,000 plants and trees. The plants help clean pollution from the Milanese air.
My hyacinth cleans my air. As she realizes the day has arrived, her fragrance increases. I can almost see the movement in her flowers, the stretching and awakening of her stocks. If I pause to watch, even for ten minutes, I see the sixth small stock reach upward to the light. This is my vertical garden, masterpiece, spot of wonder among the hubbub of development outside.
How different would life have been, I wonder, if I were born someplace in Europe.
Alone I walk a formal garden, the conversation not gone, but moved inside my head, behind the Villa Reale, now home to public art.
Ducks and strangely yellow swans rest, plucking at their feathers, on wet, brown earth near the small lake. The sound of a contrived waterfall clapping softly.
On the palace lawn, a boy kicks an orange and white soccer ball with his father, stylishly Milanese with cobalt cashmere sweater and plaid scarf tightly wrapping his long narrow neck. A couple with two young children, noticeably English, stroll by.
So much depends on the placement of the chicken and red wheelbarrow.
Last night between teeth grinding and wakefulness, I thought I understood the meaning of my last eight years, how I arrived where I am today, and I lighted, like a giant, smoky bug, on the pedals of a monumental, black flower. I am in the darkness, after passing through light and hope; after losing hope, community connections and my very identity; and after unsuccessfully searching for myself in the realm of remembering. It is beautiful in the darkness, more beautiful than in the full light and hopefulness, most definitely better than the longing gaze to memory. Sentimentality only occasionally and dimly wafts through these lightless halls, a brief whiff of my dead father’s pipe smoke, his voice on an answering machine repeating into infinity that he will return, the invisible umbilical cord connecting me to my dead mother as she walks to a podium one last time, my body resting on my favorite, faraway, lover’s chest, fitting so perfectly that we think we will be together forever, the dry, hot breeze from an open window on a lone, night drive through central Texas. These are the occasional that enter my regular, extant walk through the corridors of a dreamy gloaming amidst deep, dark truths, in the halls of the mythical, primordial and vaguely romantic. In this darkness, my eyes adjust as if in an Italian cathedral, the image of a Giotto or Bellini slowly revealed.
Like the pangs of grief, if this darkness is denied, my heart will be shot through with holes, my fragile soul shattered. This contemporary and relentless pursuit of happiness does not belong to me. Instead, I fear a disregard for the truths of living. The pain of it. Darkness, like a trick birthday candle, cannot be extinguished.
My body and soul tumble through a voluminous blackness because I am not held in place by love. I accept the sadness this brings. Not depression, not loss of strength, just sadness. I have given up the battle for love in air that holds no moisture. I have entered the free fall, and know that when I land, the darkness and loneliness total, the fresco image finally and completely obscured, I must love nonetheless. I must love when no one is loving me.
A new phase will follow, perhaps light, perhaps hope, perhaps something I cannot guess at now.
The cat stands, stretches, jumps from the chair and leaves the warm place on my hip…already becoming cold. My child sleeps in the other room. My head swims with the loss of those I’ve loved. No rhyme. No reason. I want more power to shape life around me, to stop the unexpected from wrenching my gut, the rain from coming on days we planned on sunshine. I want to stop the dishes from piling up in the sink and dust from accumulating on baseboards and bedsheets, to end the sense of more to do than can ever be done. I want security, control, success. But I don’t have any of that.
The earth will turn. Rain or sunshine will come. The songbird will stop singing when it sees a worm. The heron will leave the rock to fly away. The cherry blossoms will fall to the brick walkway where they will be trampled to pink paste. My daughter will battle the labyrinth of an over-wrought world. Oceans will rise. Climates will change. Innocent people will be killed.
Oh, look. The cat is back. She has come to my side again and rests against my hip, warming it. I hear her purring, and tickle her neck, kiss her head, and wonder what it is like to be her. She doesn’t have control of when she is fed or when the basking sun breaks through the window or when the humans come home. Yet, she is content.
A stranger wearing jeans and a sweatshirt walks toward me under the viaduct.
Another stranger shoots heroin in his arm while sitting on shaggy littered grass near the concrete sidewalk.
Cars pass. It is raining.
The approaching stranger carries a white paper cup with a brown plastic lid. I assume it contains hot coffee. And I think of a…
simple joy, as joy will be. The softness of it, like mist. Loving that was knowing, loving rolling into a body more familiar than my own, unassumingly as easy as brushing my teeth.
He would leave our bed, my eyes dancing over his body, happy knowing he knew how to touch me.
Downstairs into the cold early morning he went to the kitchen,
to the street by the hotel where red rocks cast shadows,
to his car covered in snow, to drive to Starbucks,
wherever he needed to go to get the coffee I liked best.
I used to believe in more love and more time.
Wrinkled in overpasses now, I imagine the approaching stranger is taking coffee to his lover.
I pass him and the junkie and in my hand,
I clutch and conjugate “to grant.”
From within a small rabbit hole, a black liquid burped up from the earth. It was hot and sticky and thick like molasses, smelling of sulphur and honey. From the hole, the black tar spread like an army of ants across undulating lime-tinted, spring grasses, grabbing the tender sheaves, and pulling them down like a wet comb through unruly hair. A misty rain fell from one large white cloud that hovered above the field. On the horizon at the farthest edge of the field walked an old woman, dressed in many loose layers of ripped cloth. Her gnarled toes touched the tar as she gently placed a foot down The heat spread between her toes and warmed her soles. The door was faint to her age-weakened sense of smell, and what lingered was not the sulphur but only the honey.
She missed the sound of bees. She missed horses in the field. She missed flowers and the houses and neighbors..all of it. But after walking over 100 years, she knew to expect nothing, be startled by nothing.
She didn’t look back, she never looked back, but behind her the blackened earth was curling like old paper into a roll, the fullness of the roll at her back like a tsunami.
She walked because she wanted to go home, back to her beginnings, to leave all the struggle and loneliness, all the disappointment and hardship, all the tears and sadness. And even if home was a tar ground that offered her nothing, she needed to reach that place she once knew, that place where she was true to herself, was only herself, unaltered by the demands of life and others, by her spirit which gave too much and left her depleted, to find again her heart, and mind, and soul, to find again herself. Two years it took her to march across that field. She ate only the berries dropped from the sky that landed in her begging hands.
Eventually, she arrived at a place where light fell upon her through a hole in the white cloud, and she knew she was near. The land around her was the same as all the land she had covered over the last two years, and yet this location felt familiar.
When she heard a voice coming from the earth, or was it a voice?, she looked down. A wolf’s nose was poking through the black liquid. After over 100 years, she stopped for the first time. She put her foot to the wolf’s nose. His mouth opened and he took her foot inside his mouth, and then her leg, and then all of her. His mouth shut. She was home.
“A starling blue jay,” said the friendly stranger as we both stood attendant to the squawking bird. The bird seemed angry or frustrated. It was loud and beautiful. The man said he’d never seen a starling in Strathcona before. I wondered how this man knew what type of bird it was? I wondered if everyone knew more about birds than me. The jay was large compared to a robin, one the few birds I can name, and it was more formidable. It’s silken feathers were a deep blue and it’s crown a plumbing azure. It pecked the earth with his long beak, and squawked loudly like there was danger. When it flew to a top branch in the large Maple, it quieted except for its tapping on the rain darkened bark. Was it finding bugs? Was the tree infested with bugs, sick like so many other trees?
The friendly man told me he had also seen two eagles that morning. His eyes sparkled as he spoke. Then he turned, and walked away with his little brown dog, diminishing in size on the sidewalk shaded by looming trees. I was looking high into the nearly bare branches on that cold, fall day when a mother with two small children, and a stollered baby passed. The children wore mittens and caps, their clothes a cacophony of mixed bright colors in the golden reflection of fallen leaves.
I’ve always noticed birds, but I was noticing them more because I had just finished Kyo Maclear’s memoir. I was thankful for her tiny book so full of large wisdom, thankful that earlier when I heard a bird I thought of the passage about city birds and how they have adjusted their songs to be heard above city’s noises. I thought, maybe I could do the same, maybe I could learn to adjust my pitch to be heard. But while gazing into the tree, I wasn’t thinking about sound, I was awed by this stranger in the neighbourhood, this unusual bird. At a distance, it’s colors were not as vibrant and my eyes started to wander to many, hidden, tiny birds flitting in the branches, tiny finches with yellow chests. They seemed to be partaking in a furtive, directionless dance. I lowered my gaze, moving on and watched a crow lift a leaf under which he found a hidden morsel as a black squirrel darted across the street.
It feels like bone pain, like having a length of solid metal pipe dropped on your shin from a tenth floor apartment window, prone when it comes hurling down, laid out vulnerably like a child making an angel in the snow, trusting and unexpectant when the metal pipe crashes, breaking skin, shattering bone, and the pain sears not just the leg but chest and brain, too. A pain so profound all else stops existing, a pain that runs through the body twisting everything.. .the color of blood, thickness of saliva, bladder, nerve endings, brain waves, body temperature, heart beat, breath.
Forgiving seems impossible, not forgiving you, but forgiving me…me for spreading out to make a snow angel, for letting go under pressure, for not being strong enough to continue saying “no”, for not being able to stop you. It’s an emblematic disgrace of many times I’ve been fucked, when I was blind, didn’t foresee, was too weak to stop a predator. I am unforgiving of my ignorance, my weakness, my vulnerability, the access I allowed, the room I made for violation. The child in me has not learned, I have not learned a thing…not to look up and scour the windows for those intent on cruel acts. I keep looking for birds and snowflakes. For all I have been through, I am none the wiser.
The little girl is curled up now, in a ball, inside herself, depleted, cocooning, hiding, afraid, maybe gone forever. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about any of the times I’ve been fucked because “no” wasn’t enough, because common human decency didn’t apply to me just because I’m a woman. You take my body as if you have more of a right to it than I do - but that’s common knowledge, that’s commonly accepted. What you may not know is that it is me I hate…for not having the strength to stop it, you, the others. For allowing the humiliation.
The snowsuit isn’t warm enough. The snow is cold. And now I think it is snowing again. But the pain, the pain is hot, so very hot. It is burning me on the insides while the snow slowly covers me and I huddle, holding myself, hating myself, unable to get free, unable to breath, unable to move forward. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to think about it. Forgiveness…it seems as distant as the place where snow is made. I can’t say I am sorry. I’m too weak and anyway why be kind to someone you disrespect, someone you hate, someone who can’t protect you. That someone is me.
He was convinced that if he could lay his plans out on a flat surface, and organize them, order would repeat itself into infinity. It was, after all, a geometric possibility. He made lists out of full sentences, pages and pages of them, looking for the five lines that should be used to construct his repeating design. I plan to have love. I plan to have knowledge. I plan to have work that satisfies…and so on. Once he felt a list was complete, then he carefully hand wrote each line in block print, and prioritized by importance.
Each plan being different, it created a unique length, not as balanced as it needed to be for the pattern to work into infinity. He had to adjust the words, enlarging or minimizing and sometimes repeating. So for instance, plan to have a community of friends, he reduced the lettering in size to achieve a length equal with love life (repeated once). But he worried that the manipulation of size might influence significance of plans in relative terms.
This process of creating, adjusting, doubting, reorganizing and prioritizing went on for years. And as he aged, his plans changed. He questioned his youthful wishes, certain aspirations fell away, others took their place then vanished as quickly as they had come to mind. He couldn’t find the perfection he sought, but he didn’t give up. He married, raised two children, changed careers several times, owned a house, divorced, moved into an apartment, began dating, remarried, moved into another house and grew a beard. His hair turned white. Everywhere he went he took a shoebox containing the lines and though not consistently — sometimes an entire year passed — he continued to try to solve the puzzle he set for himself. He became a grandfather. His second wife died of cancer.
When his daughter was helping him move to another apartment, she came across a raggedy shoebox. It was grimy, the sides had softened and needed the lid to hold the box together. “Plans” was written in black ink on top of the Hush Puppy signage.
She opened the box. Instantly the air smelled of lilacs and brewing coffee. A rush of rivers and squawking seagulls, raindrop patter and a small child’s voice playing somewhere in the distance filled her ears. Before her, she saw an image of her mother clouded in a thick purple fog.
She put the top back on, shook her head and breathed in the old man smell in her dad’s bedroom. Again, she opened the box. Out swirled a cloth of repeating patterns. It glittered with silver, purple and blue as it unfurled like a dancer across the room, spreading from one corner to the next, rising up toward the ceiling then floating down and repeating the movement as it reached toward the window and spread further, moving into the air, across the lawn and over trees.
“What are you doing, doll?” her father called as he slowly limped down the hallway toward the bedroom. Like a child secretly finished the last bit of cake, her heart quickened with shame and she reached to put the lid back on the box. But she couldn’t find it in the purple haze and undulating pattern.
“Nothing. No need to come in. Why don’t you keep working in the guest bedroom,” she yelled so he could hear through deaf ears.
It was too late. He stood in the doorway so much less the man she had known in her youth and at the same time so much more. He was reduced in statue by a quarter, she thought. His back stooped, one leg markedly weaker and slower than the other. Yet his eyes shined as brightly as ever, wiser now than when she was a child. She marvelled at his beauty. As she stared, transfixed by this man so familiar and so mysterious, her sight cut through the purple fog and dynamic pattern. She forgot about everything except what she felt in her heart for him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. Looks like you’ve seen a ghost.”
She remembered the box, the smells and sounds and the pattern that could expand into infinity, like a bee hive, or a turtle’s shell. She blinked. Her gaze widened, searching her surroundings for the memory of what had just happened. But it was all gone. The room was empty except for the two of them.
She looked back at his face, and there she found a trace, ever so faint, of this amazing pattern, and watched as it slowly sank under his thin, wrinkled skin.
“Not a ghost, dad. Not even close,” she said as she placed the lid on the box and moved it into a larger packing container where it would be taped inside in preparation for the move to a new home.
Not really a Biography
I have always been inclined to move forward, roll the stone, down, and often up, hills. I've tried to write through it all. Everything on this blog is written by me.