Jane Eaton Hamilton

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

Tag: death

How do you say goodbye?

Toni Morrison towered over literature. Though older than me by a generation, her early novels became my lodestones, magnets pointing me toward a new kind of literature. Her writing cracked open a world I hadn’t read on the page before, a vibrant world where Black women were accorded center stage, absent “the white gaze.” I knew how corrosive the white gaze could be from going to school in the Bahamas, and how complete, complex and nuanced were the worlds beyond its acid brow.

“Beloved” eventually became my most cherished title.

I started writing in about 1985 as an out lesbian, using mostly male protagonists. I snuck one story with lesbians into my first collection, a story about two women and their adopted autistic child. My second story collection had lots of queer protagonists, and my second poetry collection was all queer. By the time I wrote those books, I was done pretending just to get published. I understood that I’d been pandering (to use Claire Vaye Watkins’ word), though all the while I had been reaching for something else, the bravery to make up tales my way, from a queer gaze, a non-binary gaze, a disabled gaze, and to insist that mainstream Canada hear me. I honed my skills so that they would have to listen. When they wouldn’t, I submitted to literary awards, and I won contests.

That never translated, for me, into publishing contracts, and so, broken-hearted, I distanced myself. I’m sorry to have to say that we have a long way to go in Canada before parity for queers is reached.

I loved Toni Morrison, and I loved her writing, and the lessons of her writing resound with me even today. I’m grateful her literature is available to us all, and particularly grateful it and she stood as beacon and exemplar for generations of Black womxn. I’m going to be doing what many people around the world are doing now, reading her novels again, reading The Bluest Eye, Jazz, Song of Soloman, letting her literature soak back into me with all its strength and wisdom.

A white person, even one marginalized, cannot begin to understand the meaning of Toni Morrison to Black womxn. Here is a link to a touching and important eulogy by Dr Roxane Gay, NY Times. The Legacy of Toni Morrison.

At Medium, the Zora team has re-printed Toni Morrison: In Her Own Words; Cinderella’s Stepsisters, her commencement address to the Barnard graduating class of ’79.

 

Sharon Olds: Can She Write, or Is She Just a Woman?

Over at Read It Forward, Jonathan Russell Clark talks about the phenomenon that is Sharon Olds in The Poetic Persistence of Sharon Olds: Why critics can’t handle the poet’s honest depictions of life, death, and women. The critical response to her work has leaked its hatred of women–of their embodiment, of their insistence for indulging this,for demanding a place at the table of letters. But literature snubs its nose back at them. Sharon Olds has been persistently successful as an American poet, in 2013 winning the Pulitzer for Stag’s Leap and this year winning the Wallace Stevens Award carrying a purse of $100,000. And she will be forever revered for teaching many of us how to think about intimacy and the domestic, how to approach it honestly, with our pens drawn, with an analysis of rounded character, with our politics in our pulsing blood, in words.

Love Letters–of a sort

Will You Ossuary Me?

 Jane Eaton Hamilton

She wanted to kiss me in bones. Death, much? Spiraling down 19 meters. She pulled the ends of my scarf and I moved closer because hers were Parisian lips, the top lip thin, the bottom lip full, and I felt her deeply inside where my nerves snapped and I was decomposible. There were tibias all around us in the damp light, and scapulas from the plague, phalanges and fibulas and metatarsals. Infant bones. People dead of polio. People collapsed of childbirth and famine. Of war. Cries and tears and screams. The bones of six million Parisians dug up from cemeteries to make room, shovels of bones, wagon-loads of bones pulled by sway-backed nags for a full two years—carted down into these old mine tunnels, then arranged. We stood in puddles. The air was heavy with the motes of people’s lives—more broken dreams, I guessed, than dreams come true. It was quiet, but the past echoed. Ghost-din. Someone had written, Pour moi, mort est un gain. Pour moi, pour moi, pour moi, she whispered, rumbling her voice. Exhumations and exhalations all around us, the breath of death, bone-stacks, bone-crosses, bone-chips in heaps, my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, maybe, resting in pieces. My lips were swollen and sore, cut and scabbed over from all that had already happened. Skulls placed in the shape of a heart, eye sockets staring, and behind those eye sockets more eye sockets. Shadows moved across us; her nipples hardened. She pressed me up against a white cross against a black tombstone. I will leave you, she said as she bit my throat, but not yet.

Poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly has died

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Brigit Pegeen Kelly

I was sorry to hear that poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly has died. Her work will stay with me, and her poem “Song” will always shatter me.

Song

Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Eva Saulitis: “I will know how to die.”

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Today, Eva Saulitis, biologist, essayist, poet died of metastatic breast cancer.

She has left us her work with the AT1 pod of orcas in Alaska, documenting the decimation during the Exxon Valdez spill of what is now, when it is too late to save them, thought to be a separate species of whale.

Death is capricious and cruel, and I wonder as you must, in this January of domino-deaths, why someone so talented and necessary has been lost, and why we can’t bargain our life for hers.

I urge you to read The Woman Who Loves Orcas, below, and to listen to her fine essay Wild Darkness.

Her books:

Leaving Resurrection: Chronicles of a Whale Scientist, essays
Many Ways to Say It, poetry
Into Great Silence: Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas, memoir

The Woman Who Loves Orcas

Wild Darkness

Eva Saulitis reading from the Alaska Quarterly Review

A review of Leaving Resurrection: Chronicles of a Whale Scientist

 

Mother’s Day

For those of us without mothers, for the mothers who no longer have children, loss presses against us: Mother’s Day.  It opens our hearts to absence.  I go to a friend’s garden and carry home armfuls of lilacs and remember the lilac shrub just beyond my childhood back porch where my mother and I gathered scent, but while I hammer the stems so they’ll draw more water, the sucked-out place inside me quivers.

The year my mother died, I wrote a story about another mother and daughter, ‘The Lost Boy,”  which won my first CBC Literary Award.   It was about my auntie’s childhood in the internment camps, and her fraught relationship with her mother, but it was also about my mother and how much in love with her I was after she died, and how this love threw me back into my childhood when I loved her simply and uncritically, when she swirled over my life as gorgeously as a van Gogh sky.

Here is a poem I wrote to my mama during NaPoMo:

 

Poem to Something Inanimate

Jane Eaton Hamilton

 

Even though she was my mother

and I begged her to get up

she did not climb from the casket

 

Let’s get the fuck outa here, I whispered

They don’t need to know.

Let’s hit the rails. Blow this pop-stand.

 

Georgia, I said, Tennessee, Colorado, California

Or hell—l’ve got the dough you left me

Let’s blow it on Paris

 

Like she hadn’t squeaked across the floor in nursing shoes

rubbed life into new kittens

helped me hammer holes into canning jars

 

Like she hadn’t pulled foals into soft midnight light

like she hadn’t kissed me up and down my face

till I squirmed

 

 

 

 

On Making Poems

On Saturday, I had set aside the afternoon to write a poem for my new gal-pal, and instead, the day produced two other poems.  Two poems in one day is extraordinary output for this accidental-poet who can go years (perfectly content years) without writing a single one, and so I was happy even though they weren’t either what the doctor ordered (which was a sweet bit of romantic puffery I could then magic marker onto the skin of my lover).

One I’ve provisionally called “War Poem” and is taken from a photograph of two Angolan boys I saw online, one of whom has had a leg amputation.  It niggled at me I think not because of his tragedy–although, god knows, that is what originally drew me to the shot–but because he had a tiny brother at his side gazing up at him with such sheer, unconsidered devotion it made me catch my breath.

The other poem is different, a bit of rant, actually, on the years I spent taking photographs for an organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (Colorado-based).  They offer bereavement photography, which is a euphemistic way of saying photos of ill, dying and deceased babies.  I was one of a cadre of volunteers to travel into labour and delivery rooms, into hospital wards, into hospices in the still of the night to make these shots.  These are photographs for parents who’ve had no opportunity to have other photographs made, and, quite often, as I shot, in these hushed or busy-with-family rooms, these infants would die, so that between one click of the shutter and the next, a life had been snuffed out.  Sometimes right as I was making a very close-up image of the child’s eyelashes wet with tears.  Sometimes as I was photographing a little one in her mama’s arms, with her other kids reaching towards them.

We took plenty of flak, we photographers, for shooting moments like these.  People thought us macabre and cracked.  And in my poem, I take exception to that.  The poem doesn’t depict any one family in particular, but took one of the simplest and most heartbreaking situations I encountered–the middle-of-the-night, parents-only-vigil–and commented on why it was important to be there, to mark it, to help them count the moment when life stutters and fails.
Here is a photograph I made then:

The Lovely Boy

 

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