One of mine today!
photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton kanzen cherry 2015
I go outdoors into the corridors of plum and cherry blossoms, the florid wisterias with their dangling racemes, their whips you must cut back three times a season or they will eat your cat, your car, your house. Here on the street the magnolias lift their cups waiting for spring to pour itself down. I know what’s in there. I know they have crowns, Kinder egg treats, their surprises, their jesters’ hats with dangling gold bells. The air is tinted with scent of hyacinths: Carnegie, City of Harlem, China Pink, Woodstock. They grow ceraceous, stiff along their water-filled stalks, blossoms further apart or closer together depending on light conditions—in my garden with its parsimonious sunshine, they can only try hard, but they give off their kick of perfume, they string it out, they let me have it anyway. Spring is soft as cotton batten, and some moments it goes gaudy as a circus. Watch the chestnut leaf unfurl. Watch the Clematis coil around the stem. Watch the talented beak of the finch as it cracks a sunflower seed. Watch the spotted towhee peck, the variegated thrush as it hurries to hide itself. The sempiternitous sky carves its bowl of the possibilities up beyond the clouds where rockets shoot, where astronauts imagine, where Sally Ride rode her lesbianism into blue space, where Christa McAuliffe exploded when I still lived in the house with the climbing tree.
I kick off my shoes, pull at my socks. The crust of the earth is chilled under my feet, dark, but the wet flock of grass stalks, the brush-cut of green against my toes is a party, takes me into the scrum of childhood when lawns were made for kick-the-can and there was no Round-Up and the measure of a good summer was whether you got enough callouses that you could walk across sharp pebbles and how big a cannonball splash you could make. I spill my hand over a Kanzan cherry trunk, bark rigid and broken. I unwrap the perianth, the floral envelope. A whole bough is Kyoto in April, the Philosopher’s Path, the wandering maiko in their wooden shoes, pink kimonos and white faces, elaborate combs. The individual petals in my hands weigh less than air; weigh less than the eyelashes I brushed last weekend from my lover’s rose-pink cheek. The petals are translucent, pink, silky. I don’t lift my arms, but lifting my arms is what I mean, into the symphonic air.
One year, when I had greatly suffered, when my body was giving itself up, when I had lost all in the world there was to lose, except my life, and was losing that as surely as if I had a hole in my toe through which it drained, I heard a woman playing, on violin, Bach’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, and I was drawn by the threads of music like a rat behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I sank to a bench to listen, and was contrapuntally struck. Terror, relief. Pain, pleasure. Hatred, love. Sour, sweet. The labyrinth we all unwittingly walk, where everything horrible is eventually overwritten by beauty. Everything beautiful is eventually overwritten by horror. And repeat. I know this as a simple truth. This is ever reliable.
I was for the first time in a year of fear not trembling.
Instead of writing the composition, the way as a writer I was prone to do, or capturing the composition the way as a photographer and painter I was prone to do, somehow I became the composition indivisibly and then, just as mysteriously, I melded with air and breeze. I was still me, old and challenged and broken, and not me, too. I was as much the musician as I was her audience. The violinist drew her bow under an ornamental plum tree, white-blossomed, through which sunlight dappled and sky showed cerulean, and all of these things merged—Bach, the poise of her wrist, how hard she had worked to stand under this blossoming Vancouver tree on this too-cold spring day, the sunshine, my own sorrow and grief and sour-hearted blood mechanics—and I was saved. I had not been able to live, and now, via this merging of talent and music and blossom and chill, I could, again. Happiness filled me as if the hole in my foot had healed and instead had become a hole in my head, and the filling was as complete as the emptying. Where I had been but a shell, I plumped. My corpuscles danced. My mitochondria laughed.
A couple weeks ago, a friend hurt herself badly. Yesterday, there was a terrible home invasion, a harsh injury, on a street where I love people. Yesterday a friend wrote to say that even so people save themselves with minute beauty. I knew she was right. I have done this over and over and over again through my life, redemption (if you like, though I might call it retrieval, or restitution) through the communion wafer of nature, through the holy drink that is nature. People save themselves on buttercups under chins to say if they like butter. People save themselves with raccoon kits, bees’ wings, and bird babies in the eaves. These accidental evolutionary goodnesses. People save themselves with kittens, and lambs pronging in fields, and the slap of a horse’s mane on their hands as they ride barebacked through meadows. People save themselves with good cups of coffee or food. People save themselves with tickles, with hand holding, just by meeting someone’s eyes. People save themselves with hikes or bicyling or long runs. These spices of experience. Fragments of mercy.
I am as dunderheaded as a person could be, but, yet, even so, even despite my flaws and weaknesses and losses, this reliable lift I feel because of the intricacy of a poppy unfolding crumpled petals, is there, is real, is find-able, is replicable, is mine for the looking. You won’t find it where I find it, because we are not the same person, but someday when the intricacy of terror and ruination lift, you will find it all the same–in a child’s giggle, a moon shadow, or in the way birch bark curls.
It is yours.
I’m delighted to be longlisted for the:
2018 Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction
Thanks, Prism! Congrats, longlist!
In no particular order:
A Girl’s Guide to the End of the World by Elle Wild (Bowen Island, BC)
Baptism of Alleluia Gomez by Michael Mendonez (Pemberton, NJ)
North Coast, Late Sixties, with Soundtrack by Jane Kinegal (Vancouver, BC)
Bodies in Trouble by Diane Carley (St John’s, NL)
She Figures That by Rachael Lesosky (Victoria, BC)
Sisters on a Quest by Mi-Kyung Shin (New York, NY)
Hawthorne Yellow Lisa Alward (Fredericton, NB)
Pooka by Angelique Lalonde (Hazelton, BC)
Ursa Minor by Quinn Mason (Montreal, QC)
Whiteout January by Jessica Waite (Calgary, AB)
Chosen by Marilyn Abildskov (Emeryville, CA)
Potlatch Returns to Wazhashk Creek by D.A. Lockhart (Windsor, ON)
Catch by Jennifer Dickieson (Vancouver, BC)
A Wager by Gord Grisenthwaite (Kingsville, ON)
The Gravity of Rocks by Jane Eaton Hamilton (Salt Spring, BC)
Today ‘Weekend’ was long shortlisted for the ReLit Awards. Congrats also to Ashley Little for Niagara Motel, also through Arsenal Pulp, and the other finalists in the three categories of novel, short fiction and poetry.
Poet Wendy Xu over at Lit Hub and this passage about learning to parse literature:
“My father was my first poetry teacher in all of these ways—he paused to let us wonder together at the power of words. Why was this part so vivid and easy to picture in your head? Why did you cry at this part? Why did you fall in love with this phrase and repeat it over and over? Back then I was just happy to be spending time with my father, but the gift he gave me will last a lifetime.”
I can’t get it out of my head how helpful this training would be for a child who would later become a poet.
“Xu is the author of Phrasis (Fence, 2017, winner of the Ottoline Prize), and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient of a 2014 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, her poetry has appeared in The Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Poetry, A Public Space, and elsewhere, with fiction and essays appearing in BOMB and BuzzFeed. Born in Shandong, China, in 1987, she currently teaches in the Creative Writing MFA Program at Columbia University, and is poetry editor for Hyperallergic.”
Her poem, Notes for an Opening, is here.
The interview with her from which I pulled this quote is here.
Ah, but we have a smart and sharp bunch to celebrate over at Many Gendered Mothers, where we publish essays on writers’ mentors. Today Rose Cullis writes on finding and admiring Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and feeling “…as I read it, I felt a shift in that place where the meanings are.” There is no more you could ask from someone’s work, is there?
Please join us and send us 800 words about your lit hero. We especially welcome submissions from and about marginalized authors.
The Garden Getting Going
Cutworms have decimated the sprouts of the daylilies; slugs have been rolling out placemats on my ligularia, forks and knives in hand. Yesterday, I tucked some last-leg plants that have been crying out for root-room into my new garden. I don’t even know if the delphinium, given to me by garden-witch Tekla Deverell on Pender Island, now deceased, can possibly make it. I’ll baby it along, thinking mauve/blue thoughts at it, but what if, as the sun rises higher in the sky, the garden still gets no sun?
All over town the cherry blossoms are out and it’s hard not to believe they are hollering celebration. Is there anything else as beautiful as a magnolia in bloom? I chase blossoms like candy, up and down the good streets in Vancouver, the streets where I know there are canopies, because I have to feast on the beauty, storing it up and hiding it the way chipmunks do stashes. All the hyacinths, the muscari, the daffs, the tulips play their parts. Come winter, I’ll be pulling blossoms into a memory quilt.
A flicker came to sit on my fence a couple of days ago, but it didn’t talk to me, just sat there, orange and grey, eyeing the suet feeder which is surrounded by a cage much deeper than the flicker’s beak. I used to get them at my house, drumming on the metal hat of my garden heater.
My feeder last year was clustered with baby goldfinches for weeks running.
This year I’ve got juncos, sparrows, chickadees, finches, bushtits and even (finally, finally) hummingbirds. I’m going to try that thing where you pour syrup into your palm and see if they’ll eat out of it. Plus I’ll do sunflower seeds to see if I can entice chickadees.
Suffused with well-being that never seem to let go.
sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, March, 2018, mixed media, 9×12, paper
Pharting around at sketching today, late today because I had an ultrasound at the hospital–yay! stand down on cancer scare! When I arrive at the atelier (which, here, is upstairs at the Lion’s Club), the model is usually doing one and two-minute poses, and my hand warms up, drops its daily concerns, finding its lines, remembering how to draw into the body, remembering how to make lines occupy space. Today I was only there for two long poses (long poses are usually 20 minutes). Since I started with this group in Jan, I’ve done something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now–I’ve let myself play.
A long time ago, I started sketching in Bali. I was a photographer and couldn’t (from overseas) find a model, and so I signed up in Ubud for a day-long sketching session. I was really pleasantly surprised at what came out of my pencil, and I kept drawing. I’d drawn as a kid, a lot, and had been put into art classes which bored me to tears (perspective! it still bores me! I would fall down dead if I had to draw architecture!), but then I was told to do a self-portrait, which I did in front of my mother’s makeup mirror, above the mascara cake she always spit in, its little brush, her foundation and rouge, her pair of yellow earrings. I contorted my expression, and finally settled on horrified. I drew myself like The Scream, and I was really proud. I’d only ever been proud of horse drawings before that. But people were uniformly horrified. My mother, aghast. My teacher revolted.
So I quit. I must have been in grade six, so eleven, and I quit drawing for forty years. I was terrified of it, in fact. Any time someone said, “Pictionary?” I froze.
Until Ubud. From Ubud, I started taking night classes, some with James Picard. I started going to the Vancouver atelier which had just then moved to Main Street–what was cool about it was that it had sessions every day. What was uncool was that I was too disabled to park far from it and walk carrying a portfolio (not really a portfolio, just drawing supplies, which are heavy), so I had to stop. I kept taking classes, classes with Emily Carr, classes with artists I met through the atelier, and a shit-ton of classes with Justin Ogilvie. I liked Justin; I loved his work. One day, though, he said something very unkind–something like Well, you’ll produce something worth looking at in six years. On the spot, I quit for six years.
When I got over myself again, I started a certificate program at Emily Carr. But I kept having heart surgeries and not getting to class. And then I kept coming up against the fact that Emily Carr wanted me to have a broad education–which is to say, take that perspectives class again and a class on running a business, and these I had and have utterly no interest again. I want to draw figures, and I want those figures to be women or non-binary or trans. I have no interest in drawing cis men. When you are as sick and disabled as I am, you get particular. I started teaching myself at home instead, which made sense because I was mostly relegated, then, to a chair with my feet up against heart failure, and I could hold small drawing paper on my lap. I spent some time living in a friend’s apartment in Paris, and I found I was too disabled to use the transit system, so I was house-bound, and I gesso’d paper and painted on that, nothing too large to carry home in a suitcase (I was too disabled to get to the PO). I found some double sided tape and taped these (bright) paintings to the walls of the apartment, ceiling to floor. I only went out for two reasons: food, with a little cart/bag that I pulled, or art galleries, where I could borrow wheelchairs. I spent that time intensely engaged in writing and art/art history.
I’ve been seeking something in my fingers. It’s been inchoate–I guessed it was a “breakthrough,” but I don’t actually draw or paint often enough to have one of those. Still, suddenly, it seems far closer to me.
I’ve always previously been preoccupied with an accuracy I could never obtain, which kept my style stiff, and I have thrown that concern the hell out the window now. For a few years, mostly outside ateliers, classes and degrees, I’ve taught myself to draw lines. Over and over again, drawing without looking at the page, drawing without lifting the pen, drawing without lifting the pen while not looking at the page. Over and over, practicing lines, which is to say, rather than doing a figure with chicken-scratch, a thousand teeny tiny lines to get from armpit to waist, as is my natural wont, I’ve forsaken that for long lines in ink or paint and no chance to re-do. Committed, as you will. I’ve also tried to take poses to the fewest lines I could manage (a la Picasso’s animals). This was a very useful home-study. Now I’m just sitting in the atelier each week with my body screaming in pain (from the setup, from my auto immune disorder, from carrying in supplies), having fun. Not second-guessing my impulses, not thinking–in paper, in media, in line–just scribbling like a kid, making happy and occasionally felicitous mistakes. I don’t care what mediums I’m combining–I’ve put acrylic with charcoal with conte with pastels with watercolour blocks and back again. I just want my representation of a person to breathe on the page–and care nothing at all if the model is represented. (Partly I just don’t see well enough to do that sort of drawing any longer.)
All the while, I’m working beside actual artists who are honing their considerable skills. I watch with awe. And awe again at my luck in being able to be near people so talented. When I get over my shyness, I’ll ask if I can sit beside them to learn.
So, here is Marianne from today, hot off the presses, and some other sketches from other weeks from the 1-5 min bunches:
In Canada, a woman other than Queen Elizabeth II is finally on our currency in a $10 bill that will go into circulation later this year. Not quite certain of why we can’t replace all the men all at once and for as long as women have been excluded, but I guess it’s a first step. Read all about Viola Desmond, the Black Nova Scotian jailed for sitting in the white section of a movie theatre years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, here:
For decades, I read the Globe and Mail daily, and when I turned to the obit section, I would see that in Canada only white heterosexual men ever died, and I’d always breathe a sigh of relief. If they kept on being the only Canadians succumbing, well then, the rest of us might live long enough to see equality. Hope the Globe sees fit to do exactly what the Times is doing:
At the NY Times, obits have been dominated by white men–as selectors, as subjects. Today, they unveil a new column, Overlooked, to redress the problem. I’ve reprinted the introduction here. Follow the links as the stories are fascinating and well worth your investment of time.
Obituary writing is more about life than death: the last word, a testament to a human contribution.
Yet who gets remembered — and how — inherently involves judgment. To look back at the obituary archives can, therefore, be a stark lesson in how society valued various achievements and achievers.
Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female.
Charlotte Brontë wrote “Jane Eyre”; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.
Below you’ll find obituaries for these and others who left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked. We’ll be adding to this collection each week, as Overlooked becomes a regular feature in the obituaries section, and expanding our lens beyond women.
Happy International Womxn’s Day, people! So glad to cogitate and vesicate and tesselate and ungulate and agitate and fecundate and germinate and rider-rate and activate and depricate and actuate and exudate and arbitrate, interpenetrate and multi-mate and hypenate and permutate and ruminate and inundate and menstruate and fasciculate and tussiculate and fourth estate and and tête-a-tate and fiercely hate and stay awake and mitigate and oscillate and ecaudate and holi-date and epilate and execrate and and estivate and vacate-akate and rage-acate and rage-at-fate and exhalate and masturbate and irritate and celebrate and go-on-dates and generate and fornicate and levigate and bombilate and meditate and not-go-straight and medicate and desquamate and propagate and running-mate and damn-let’s-mate and replicate and deviate and make mistakes and multiplicate and catenulate and change the fucking world with y’all.
There are more and more initiatives with high school students demanding a more inclusive literature. All the support to them!
In her own words:
“When I was in high school, my group of friends developed our own language, Narg. A kind of Pig Latin, it added ?arg? to every word, leaving meaning to context, inflection, and how well we knew each other. ?Arg do narg tharg I warg to garg swimarg todarg.? is, ?I do not think I want to go swimming today.? As unintelligible as it sounds, we understood it perfectly.”
Just the facts:
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The über cool festival on every social justice tongue is of course The Fold, which takes place in Brampton, ON, every May. I’ll be joining such exciting talents as Lisa Charleyboy, Kyo Maclear, Fartumo Kusow, Catherine Hernandex, Tanya Talaga, Michele Kadarusman, Kim Thúy, and Rabindranath Maharaj. It is my great honour. Thank you to Jael Richardson for inviting me!
Bags of potpourri that the Littleton, Colorado, fire department made from flowers placed at Columbine High School: 3000
It was hard to drop her at school
that spring. She made me leave her
two blocks away
Low on her hip she
flicked dismissive fingers at me
in a way she hoped would be invisible
to other kids
It wasn’t just Columbine
Children were dying video gun deaths
all over the US
Other teens were being snapped in two in car accidents
breakable as bread sticks
or taken to lonely woods
and crumpled like test papers
At the swimming pool after
I watched a teen boy toss Meghann like pizza
his arms newly strong, voice
loud, sure, traveling out over the heads of toddlers
and kids in grade school
moms with infants at breast
She fought for footing on the bottom of the pool
came up sputtering
happy to be vanquished
I wanted to tell someone I loathed potpourri