Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Category: observations

Out of the blue

unknown photographer

I hear the repetitive hit of a hammer–the neighbours putting in a suite, I think. I notice motion, see a pileated woodpecker nailing the top of a countertop I have leaning against the porch railings. The woodpecker’s done a lot of damage–to the old junk countertop, but also, I see, to the porch beams, and I think how stupid it is to look for insects in new wood, the scars bright and bare. As I move closer to the doors, the woodpecker dives out of sight, makes three ovals so I can only briefly note its raised red alarmed crest. Like a cartoon, really, all wheeling motion.

I’m blue like the shortest day, the blue of indigo. I’ve been trying to keep my pecker up, as they say, and indeed here at the manse there are many other peckers up–this morning six flickers at a time, along with downy and hairy woodpeckers, and of course the big mama of them all, the huge pileateds who swoop in for leisurely meals of suet or peanuts before dashing away.

This woodpecker’s in trouble. This woodpecker, I see, on stepping outside, is entangled in the netting I use for clematis, in effect, caught just as certainly in a doll-size sea of six-pack plastic as any turtle or whale. I rue the problems with feeding birds, the list of which sweeps through me as the bird thrashes, hung by one over-extended claw … the window hits, the rodents, the birds of prey, the starlings (does one give in and just feed the things? I shout, Go murmur! as I bang the window, but they are never dissuaded), the expense, and now this.

Entirely my fault.

Whisper, I tell myself. So I go quiet and inside my head I tell her I know she’s stuck, and I’m going to go into my house and fetch something to free her, but the important part will be for her to make herself calm because when she struggles, I can’t get the netting off. When I get back with scissors the bird is wild, and wilder still as I extend an arm. I tell her, internally, I can’t help if you don’t stay still. I size up her bill, a fat three-inch needle. She heaves herself upright and lies out along the top of the counter’s edge with her snagged leg extended back toward me. Without thinking, I snip as close to her foot as I can get and before I can try a second time for the netting on her claw, she’s long gone. I watch her lift into the trees and snag herself onto pine bark.

I feel sad, though. Sad to have inadvertently caught her in a kind of leg-hold trap, as I’m sad when birds hit my windows. I’m trying two group whispers now, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, and the first is to stop the window carnage. It seems to be working here at the end of a week. Too soon to know for sure, but the rates seem down.

Is there a whisperer available to just talk to me? I haven’t been able to see my pipsqueak g-babies in weeks because of illnesses, even for tree trimming, and I am worried, tormented, filling up with more and more concerns, the personal ones, the bigger ones. There isn’t any point, is there, to struggling? I’m post-natal on (draft of) a major project. I’m agonizing about money. I’m worried for the welfare of friends, especially in the hot zones like Vancouver and the US. I’m cranked about desertification, jellification, plastics. I’m frantic about who will take in climate and political refugees, about Trudeau being so right-wing, about the Congress and omnibus bills and Mueller not being allowed to finish. I’m worried about the dreamers. I’m worried about the ACA. I’m worried about my disabled friends, because whatever problems others are having, they’re magnified for the disabled. I’m worried about the loneliness that capsizes people during the holidays.

I think about my dead parents-in-law, my dead cat, my dead marriage. I light what I call the “mama candle” for my dead mother and m-in-l, which is blue like my mood. It’s a green night tonight, small flame notwithstanding, with patches of white heavy on cedars, on today’s day that is seconds longer than yesterday’s. The dark falls like tree boughs in wind storms, and I can’t shake my depression.

I hope your holidays are the best they can be, with warmth and intimacies that cherish you. I wish you the return of light.

The Weekends

jehreading2015

The cabbie called to say he was in the alley and 10 minutes later he dropped my bag outside Pacific Central Station before I had even unlocked my seat belt, which in Vancouver’s theft-frenzied city was crazy, and while I sat in front of the train station getting myself together I thought about how I had seen F- for the last time when I dropped her off exactly here, and I thought about the monument to the women massacred at École Polytechnique, the commemorative benches I could see across in the park where geese had shat into their bowls of tears, and how somewhere my name was etched into one of the stones, linked to a woman who had long been violent with me. I wondered what the engineers who had been killed would be facing now in their lives if they had lived through that day’s hell of misogyny. As I write this, it is almost an anniversary … this year, the 27th. My life, already strangled my disability then, has had its twists and turns. As those women were being slaughtered, I happened to be in Victoria shopping for my kids’ holiday gifts, and when I got back to Salt Spring Island, where I lived, I found the TV on in the living room blaring the shattering news. No woman alive was unaffected. We had all been harrassed, or raped, or battered, or bullied, or denied opportunities in our lives. There was at most three degrees of separation between us and the victims. They were living the dreams my generation had fought for, and they had been killed for them. We knew. We felt the truth move through us like scurrying rats.

I call October Hell Month because a friend was slaughtered in cold blood in October, shot to death during a custody dispute with an ex. I call November the month of twelve months. 2016 has been scarcely anyone’s friend.

There is always pushback when fighting for civil rights. We got same-sex marriage then Harper. The US got same-sex marriage then Trump.

There is always pushback, but we already know how to fight. We’ve done it before. We’ve won before. We will rise steadily to our feet and fight again. Every day we see the truth of this. We see harshness and harm. We see damage and death. We see our friends attacked. We see women losing abortion rights. We see people harmed by police. We wail and mourn. We kick back. We pull our hair. We long for bigger arms, more resources, a longer life to fight. We long for greater and greater capacities. But we also see desegregation, pipelines defeated, inquiries called, universal medicare, HIV drugs developed, poverty dealt blows, women elected, misogyny challenged, constitutions changed, glass ceilings blown to smithereens.

It takes a village, yes, but we are a village, a global village. And we are mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore. We are mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore.

I went indoors and waited on a hard bench for the train to Seattle, and then in a long lineup. In my ankles, blood was pooling, compliments of heart failure. I proferred my passport and the customs officer questioned why I was returning on Sunday. I didn’t know how to answer. Because two days is enough time with someone I’m just starting to date? He was suspicious. He looked at me for a long time before making his decision about me. I’m queer and not a snappy dresser; I was sending up his alarms. But he let me go forward when the press of people behind me got longer. I had brought editorial work for the ride, but when I started it, I got motion sick, and this made me close my computer. I thought about a dawn train to Seattle with my friend L-, how the frost had filligreed the grass down the coastline. I remembered how dawn had cracked on the eastern horizon so heavily it stained even the sky on our western side of the train pink. I thought about how, that earlier time, I’d just had a big surgery and how all day she’d pushed me around in a wheelchair looking at art. I hungered after art; I particularly recalled the work of Yayoi Kusami and Romaine Brooks, neither of which I’d seen in person before. The Elles exhibit was my first time with many artists whose work I had admired in reproduction. I loved Suzanne Valadon, whose work I would later search out in Paris to much frustration (she wasn’t represented with a painting even in the house she once owned, now a Montmartre gallery, or at the Pompidou, which owned the one piece in the Elles show).

When the train pulled in to Seattle, F- was there in her snazzy car and my heart lit up just a little and I wondered what kind of time we would have together. On Friday night we gazed at the Space Needle from her apartment; behind us was a desk so huge it took up nearly half her living room, a family heirloom or maybe lodestone. In the morning, F- went out for croissants and we sat in her dining room with thick coffee and the NY Times Book Review.

After our weekend ended, another weekend began, and during this one I had four readings, two of them up-coast. F- and I didn’t know each other well. I was suddenly sicker than I could remember having been before, and indeed I then had a mini-stroke while performing in Fanny Bay (as pictured). The next day, when I should have been in hospital getting cardioverted, instead we took ferries to Hornby Island for another reading, me hanging on to F-‘s elbow like the cripple I’d become. I remember the time there only in flashes: my host’s beautiful garden, my difficulty breathing, my cardiac asthma, my horrible A-fib, lines from my co-reader’s poetry, being convinced I would die, trying to sleep sitting up, imagining/yearning for MediVacs. I just couldn’t see over the mountain of my illness into love. I would get back to Vancouver and go to the ER, while F- would drive back to Seattle and consider becoming part of Hillary’s administration. I wouldn’t end up with a cardioversion, but I would get a far more daunting cardiac ablation from which I’d recover, more or less. I’d publish that quickie novel I’d been finagling, and take up with a couple cute kids who called me “Nana” and landed me right back on Salt Spring Island after all those twenty-seven years.

Time threads you through the tiniest needle hole into your own vein, loops you around to your own past, to your own youth, to your own remembrances of women past. If there is one thing I’ve learned in this life it is that love is not enough. To make change, love has to be paired with action.

A Muslim youngster in Hamilton was brutally assaulted. The east and west have been postered with neo-Nazi fliers. Friends report queer attacks. POC friends report slurs, break-ins, attacks. The disabled are more frightened every day as their basic right to exist is challenged. Women report more public harrassment, a new level of anger in the attacks.

Time is a village we occupy. Rise, friends. Rise with me in power and patience and fortitude and intent. Together we are stronger.

 

 

 

Thinking about spring

JEHParisdancer1

painting: Jane Eaton Hamilton, acrylic on paper, 2014, Paris

Labyrinth

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 against 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.

 

 

 

The Adequate Writer: First Drafts

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 11.22.27 AMFirst drafts are taking your skull off and letting all the folds of your brain unwind in a bitter winter windstorm. Unmitigated, unremitting agony.

On Considering Savagery

The wonderful poet Méira Cook is interviewing me for Brick Books about a long-ago poem I wrote from the imagined perspective of Ted Bundy’s mother during his execution.  I had to keyboard in this long poem tonight because I no longer had it on a computer.  What a surreal experience to be inside the imagined voice of an onlooker to violence while also being inside my young poet’s voice.  I remembered that mother-blaming was even worse then than it is now.  I remembered how enraged I became that Ted Bundy had caused so many women and their families pain and incalculable losses (my word, I had daughters, I could almost–), and how confusing was the struggle in my conscience when he was executed, since I remain against capital punishment.

To add to this, of course it just the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique this past weekend (along with the anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death, from whence many losses issued).  Here in Vancouver, there was a Saturday vigil in response to Montreal, then a Sunday vigil for Canada’s missing and indigenous women.

I have been worrying a lot about police violence, too, as everyone has.  Recently I watched Brian Lindstrom’s film Alien Boy about the Portland murder of James Chasse, and again footage of the Robert Dziekanski police murder at YVR.  Did these murders presage the militarization of police in N America and the new wave of shootings of Black men across the US?  A Vietnamese man in Vancouver, Du Na Phuong, waving a piece of lumber in a crosswalk, was also shot and killed by police a few blocks from here a couple weeks ago.  Story here.

And even as I watch footage of these men dying from police brutality, and try to come to terms, I know that women also die in police custody, and that reporters don’t note it the way they do male deaths.

Let’s see it.  Let’s name it.  Let’s not look away.  Can we not look away?

Can I not avert my eyes one more time?

JEHAllergyfromBodyRainBrickBooks

Scarcity

There’s a whole lot of literary world and not a lot of pie to feed it.  Just sayin’.

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