The Karma Abacus: Birthday Blooms

Another year. I used to think of it like it was over, like I’d just completed something, marking an X on the wall like I’d done time. I don’t know why; I just did. But this year I am decidedly feeling like it is a beginning. At some point in the last year I could see the trajectory of my life was not one my heart felt called to anymore. So, I threw a wrench into the works knowing it would insist on change.

I think some era’s in life begin this way—with a sense of feeling life as you’ve known it is coming to an end. Like weeding a garden that’s gone to seed. You can hear something calling to you, a far away bloom, a perfume of future creativity. If I was being honest I would say I am intoxicated with the scent of it already.

Wherever you are, I’m toasting you for reading this blog and I hope to share many more words this year with you than last.

Birthday

It’s that time of year again,

hang my flag, say it’s my day.

Bring your weak lumbar,

your wrecked knee, fading eyebrows and

fear of earthquakes —

 

acknowledge aloneness

assess the years on the

karma abacus, your finger

touching more and more beads

sliding over years one by one

 

insistent, resigned,

a birthday.

 

Still, at night

You have a hunger, a mortal wish

to uncover promises you made to

yourself, so you route around

on the silty floor of the past,

and find your life

stubbornly

still breathing

ready at long last

to be understood.

 

 

 

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Suspended in Time, Love and Kissing the Year Goodbye

 

Sunset_and_Moonset(Photo courtesy of European Southern Observatory (ESO))

The short time between Christmas and New Years is like a plane ride—there’s really no one looking for you, asking you to do much or cares whether you are asleep, reading a book and snacking on salty chips.

It’s a time of in between, when you exhale from over-indulgence and begin to turn your mind, ever so slightly, towards your life and what you’ll make of it the following year.

I am feeling the pull of solitude after so many conversations—the need to think, and let sentences uncoil in my mind and have time to track down where they are taking me. The tug of stories that want to be written is polite but insistent, like children who’ve waited a long time in a lineup but implore you with their eyes that a chocolate bar would do wonders for their mood.

I realize I’ve been damming up my interior self for so long it feels like the sandbags—work, chores, bills, deadlines—have to now give way for some creativity. Of course, what follows after the river runneth is always a scene of me screaming I don’t want to go to work around January 5th, but let’s not talk about that just yet.

Christmas has left me with a new feeling in my heart and this comes from new people in my family. It’s amazing how a culture you’ve never known can suddenly feel so dear to you overnight. My nephew Luke married Jan, a woman he met a few years ago in Thailand and now she is living with him in their smart new place in Kelowna. Jan had her first Christmas in Canada and I was really privileged to be part of it. I noticed how her graciousness and respect for family was paramount and my role as Aunt seemed to have real meaning and significance. Her idea of family is so different from my experience I was deeply touched when she intimated that I should live with my son in their apartment building as well. After all, why wouldn’t we all live right close by one another?

As we struggled over language and culture barriers, the snow came down through the pines, and we ate tins of German cookies and watched the fire, sharing stories and opening gifts and while I’m not yet sure exactly what the new feeling is—hence the need to have some solitude to sort it out into a poem—I do know it feels wonderful to be loved. That’s what my Christmas gave me and isn’t that, I mean really and truly, such a gift?

I think so.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to detach and focus on some poems for the coming year, ponder my recent acceptance into the Creative Writing graduate program at UBC (very exciting), and how I might make the most of this gorgeous suspended time, between what was and what will be.

I hope you find yourself suspended in your own cloud of yearning, looking up into the night sky, kissing 2015 goodbye and falling into the arms of 2016. xo

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The blood jet is poetry, there is no stopping it

The headline is a line from Sylvia Plath’s poem, Kindness. I read it decades ago and it pops in my mind at least once a week still. Usually when I have poems caged in my chest and stuck there behind a lineup of copy I have to write for my day job. I know it’s inevitable I’ll let them out because…the bloodjet is poetry, there is no stopping it.

But what I’ve never done a good job at is sending them along into the world. Specifically, to publishers. I was knocked back, rejected and told I was shite early on in my 20’s and it really just made me feel like I was a terrible writer and though I would often perform my poetry and do plays with poems I stopped sending them out into the world to publishers or anyone else that might be in a position to knock them down and tear a hole in my heart.

That was then. Now I’m shrugging my shoulders and writing like a demon because I’m determined to find an audience. One way I’ve found this week is through Instagram. It’s so immediate and wonderful. You write a little poem and people like it, comment, and voila! Insta-poet.

If you are a proper published poet you are likely sighing and sitting back in your chair and shaking your head at me. And that is just fine. But I know some young kids who don’t care about which medium as long as its digital and will never read your beautifully bound little slim volume in a library. Sad but true. I don’t want to be a forgotten poet at the back of a dusty row of books. So I’m going to fool around with media and the medium a bit. I’m also wanting to do video poems because again, I think these are much more likely to find an audience.

It is fun to write for Instagram–it’s a very tight format, you have to fit them into one or two stanzas tops. If you care to follow me, I’m letting it all out @poemsbymeforyou. Keep in mind they’re for social media–not a literary magazine. Enjoy!

November

You must know the rain

Cannot sound like it did then—

No, it comes down now as ordinary

As a cobbler or librarian, doing a days work

And nothing more. No wild mercury elasticity

To its droplets, no mad bouncing in joy like

A love-sick puppy, laughing under an eave

Dripping down between my breasts as I call you

In Germany, hold the phone up so you can hear its silvery song. 

 

My love. It is still raining.

It no longer rains for us.

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Memories and Melancholia

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here and I’m sorry for that readers—I was working on a major writing project that took up all my spare time outside my day job.

But today I have a fever and am home sick. And what comes with fevers are always those strange hyper-real dreams, you know the ones where you think you are awake they are so tangible? I had one of those today about my mom and it brought me back to the years I was looking after her while slowly losing her to dementia.

Also woven into these dreams were the poems of Ulrikka S. Gernes, a Danish poet, who read at the Vancouver Writers Festival this past Saturday. Her poems have been singing in my head ever since. They surfaced in my fevered dreams like ocean glass and I wasn’t so sad to be sick if you want to know the truth.

She writes in her book, Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments,  that “Melancholia has a wide spectrum of nuances and tones and it often evokes a heightened sensitivity.” I felt these nuances today, the curtains drawn, quilt pulled up, dreaming of my mother, her small dog Max, her brittle collarbone against me as I held her towards the end. Don’t think ‘depression’, it’s just a daughter missing her mother when she’s sick. People like to make more of these things than they are—just human moments we all experience and sometimes the way into them, to really feel them, is through a fevered dream.

Ulrikka’s says she will “forever defend melancholia; it has an inherent power to sharpen certain senses that are beneficial to art, to life.” I couldn’t agree more. Herewith, a little poem that came from my memory dream with my mom and her little dog Max and myself towards the end when she was slipping in and out of the now and I was trying to pretend everything was just fine and hold onto her.

Moustache 

I look at your dark moustache as your coffee cup dangles

From your bony fingers, smoke curling into the air

through the dust as it floats

Through a shaft of morning light.

The hairs move like cheerful whiskers,

black and wiry, poking down into your cup

as we talk about the dog , how he likes to bark especially hard

at the man in the motorized wheelchair.

You tell me you sometimes duck your head

under the window to avoid him

or let the dog out to attack his wheels.

This was some time ago but I don’t bring it up.

I help you walk to the bathroom, undo your pants,

let you down slowly onto the toilet

then slip out for a second so you can be alone.

Okay? I say then come back, place your hands on my shoulders

And pull you up. We laugh a little as your pants drop

To the floor and I have to balance you and pull them up in one motion.

I close the lid on the toilet and sit you gently back down.

I’m going to dye your moustache okay?

You seem a bit embarassed but not sure why and

cluck at the dog to come and he circles then sits down at your feet.

I mix the Jolen powder and cream together and apply

the white paste to your wiry scruff.

I set a small kitchen timer for five minutes.

I lean back against the sink and tell you about my son.

He’s four months old now. You exclaim oh oh—

Most of the time you forget he’s been born.

Sometimes you remember and admonish me,

saying  of course, of course.

I take the face cloth and gently wipe the paste off then

take you to the mirror. You’re not sure

what you should be looking at but smile at me as though

I have just given you the news we were going on a holiday.

You will have no memory of this tomorrow.

I will hold it inside long after you are gone

like a snowglobe

shaking it whenever I need you.

 

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Filed under Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry

Before it’s too late…

DSCF0672I’ve been transformed. There I’ve said it—it may feel like I’ve just dumped an overblown heap of pseudo wellness speak or new age bullshit on you but this isn’t like that. It is the actual thing of transformation, before the word started being used in mission statements, yoga studio bathrooms or political ads.

What I’m talking about is the sense of slipping out of  your life and into another, only you are in the same body, driving the same car, with mail addressed to where you still live. But suddenly the old gimmick you used for so long to enter into the world is no longer needed, that half-truth you were telling yourself and others, about your life, about moment after moment when your heart’s subliminal, traitorous subtext was screaming at you: I don’t care. I don’t care. 

Gone. All those discouraging voices have disappeared like magic, and what is left is the actual thing you trying to discover, so easily seen now in the outline of buildings , textured and contrasted against the sky; people’s intentions appear undiluted and transparent, like veins you never noticed before. Their agenda so obviously void of you. Agree to disagree? Yes, probably a good idea at this point.

My former life, the one before the transformation, is like a nice but slow patient I must put my arm around and through the crook of its arm and walk to a bench, any old bench in a park say, at dusk. I put my hands on its shoulders and shift it onto the wood, see it firmly seated then say adieu in as cheerful a manner as I can muster.

Walking away, I remind myself change doesn’t come without something—someone— making room for its fruition, and that real transformation is a long haul, only fully complete after it is considered in reflection, a death having occurred of some kind or another.

But I’m talking around the facts. The truth is I went to an intense writing residency for ten days and it changed my life. Or rather, it reminded me of life, the one I used to live, when I wrote and performed my writing all the time. Something so important to my happiness yet year by year I let it go; sometimes on purpose, to prove I could what? Sacrifice? Not be selfish? Be a good mother. Oh, maybe it was to survive. That was it. A lot of it. For years. Like a fog bank that moves in, I could see no other way. And then I spent 10 days with poets and Susan Musgrave. Yeah, if you know of Susan then you’re nodding right now. You get it.

In the book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about just showing up at the blank page to write, chipping away at it, she urges writers to just keep staying in motion, moving towards the moment when you give your attention completely to the doing, even if it feels like you can’t wrap your arms around all you have to, the immensity of the task, its blinding and potentially life threatening call to truth, insurmountable. You write anyway.

You write anyway.

I want the habit, of writing anyway. I want to live a life that calls me to the page each day. That’s what I know now that I didn’t know then. As in a month ago.

The latin roots of transformation are trans meaning “across” and  formare meaning “to form” so I take this to mean that it affects every part of your life, the very nature of your chemical makeup is somehow altered, and a new form comes into being.

I am so grateful for the wakening to go across and to form. To have the just-in-time love affair with my own life again, my poems, before it was too late.

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Filed under Non-fiction, Poetry

The Unwanted House Guest

I was talking about my constant waking up in the middle of the night with a friend the other day and he said, “Mags, we’re getting old.” I laughed but inside I winced just a little. I don’t like being included in that club.

It seems suddenly—though let’s be honest, it isn’t sudden, not really, you just don’t notice the incremental changes—I am noticing my age.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with genes that belie my age. Up until a few years ago I used my son’s age as a kind of party trick to gasps of ‘surely you don’t have a son that old! Did you have him when you were 14?’ which I took as affirmation I was beating the age game.

But lately I have noticed it, particularly in my yoga class as I look over longingly at the taut young girls in  their power poses, their lean long abs with muscle highways running up and down and their dewy skin plump and glowing. I used to look at shoes this way. What is happening to me?

I am aging. It’s a fact. Let’s not be coy about it. What to do about this unwanted house guest? I’m figuring it out. I’m getting into gear. I’m a factory of ideas. I’m all over it. Life, I hear you okay? I won’t fool around. I get it, the time is now. My time. Is mine.  What will I do with it?

Get binary. This or that. This is the gift of age. Suddenly, you’ve built your own personal emotional garbage sorting bin. This is out. This is in. Simple really. Why haven’t I done it before? Lots of reasons. Low self-esteem. Relationship issues. Family issues. Child issues. Financial issues. Yada yada yada.

Forget all of it.

Get binary. Simplify. Yes or no? Want to have in my life or no? The chatter gets quiet, and the age question seems irrelevant.  Just the way it should be.

The Unwanted House Guest

It’s catching up to me

like a slow seeping morning fog

some mornings it catches me

and I wake with sore hips and

eyes so dry they gasp for air

like a dying fish.

 

Am I dying?

 

Suddenly, age is a house guest

worse than any one night stand.

She gives me cruel reasons to wake up—

3, 4, 5 am nudging me awake to

my sleeping bag of worry

where I am zipped up in a tight bind of middle age

as though I were camping in my own night

my own bed my own life my own pajamas

my sleeve of anxiety good till 40 below

or in menopausal flashes of heat.

 

I look askance at my guest in the mirror

she’s fooling around with my face leaving

a pattern of lines and furrows and constellations

of spots that are no longer adorable

When did I stop being adorable? 

Never.

Never!

Fuck aging.

I tell her to stay in

the guest room and not come out

‘till the funeral.

 

 

 

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On mothers, imperfection and love

It is Mother’s Day and I’ve been very blessed with a son who not only took me to lunch but to an art gallery then dinner! Can you imagine doing all that for your mom? I know. But it isn’t all bliss on the parenting front. In fact, being a mother means your worst self will be scrutinized and commented on for as long as you are alive. Your children, in all their innocent and not so innocent honesty, will bring you face to face with your shortcomings like no one else.

Recently my son said he felt like I didn’t teach him enough tasks and that I was annoyingly positive. Well, there you are. But as I ruminated on my failings at 3 am, I thought of my own mother and her imperfections and how they now endear me to her even more. Where once I was a critical 20 something I am not a not-so-smug 40 something who can, with empathy and love, look back on some of situations I was in with my mom and hold them close as cherished memories instead of damning her for being, well, human. To that end, I wrote a poem about a time when, in today’s politically correct world, my mom would have been seen as lax or worse, negligent. But I see it very differently. I my son will too some day.

Imperfect Mother

It is the imperfections of my mother

I hold dearest—

The time for instance when turning off of

West 16th near UBC in her red Beetle the

door beside me swung open and since it was the seventies

I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt

and I went with the door, grasping the handle to

avoid the road rushing below me.

I looked back at my mother who

while still turning with her left hand lunged across to snatch my

flimsy t-shirt with her right and pulled me back into the car.

It was a one shot deal but she managed it. The door banged shut as

she completed the sharp turn and we kept on driving as though

I hadn’t just about fell out of the car and onto the road.

 

A block later a small eruption of laughter burst

From my mother. It made me clap my hands together

In gleeful loopy agreement of what I wasn’t sure but

The sun was streaming through oak leaves as we drove

Creating a beautiful pattern on my mother and I kicked my legs

Out from the edge of the sticky car seat to the radio played

 

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

 

I could say my mother was negligent

I could get maudlin, drink myself silly

Recount her imperfections that had caused

My life to zig zag like a silverfish on the run

 

But then I remember how she didn’t pull over

And fuss and fawn and make a big deal of

My near death fall and how years later this

Would give me courage when real death

And real heartbreak would pull me pull me down

 

And I would swim up to the surface, clapping my hands

Ecstatic for life’s small moments of survival.

 

*Song lyric from Summer in the City by Lovin Spoonful, 1966.

 

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Filed under Memoir