Jane Eaton Hamilton

"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

Tag: poetry

Many Gendered Mothers: Ntozake Shange

I’m not sure Ntozake Shange would be thrilled at being my literary mentor, but nevetheless, she was my first and I honour her every writing day.

Many Gendered Mothers

So You Want To Write About Life

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Gillian Jerome is a poet and essayist from Vancouver, British Columbia and a contributing editor at GEIST. Her work has appeared in GEIST, New Poetry, Colorado Review, Malahat Review, Canadian Literature and elsewhere.

Life Writing

March 25 @ 2:30 pm7:30 pm

“I write to define myself—an act of self creation—part of the process of becoming.”
–Susan Sontag

“This workshop is designed for people who aren’t professional writers, but who have something meaningful to say about their lives. We will learn how to discover our stories and to focus our material using techniques of creative nonfiction and Life Review, an educational process that enhances our understanding of ourselves and our lives through storytelling. By reading, writing and participating in interactive exercises, we will be guided toward finding new ways to write about our lives, for ourselves and/or for others.”

Life Writing

27 Books Every Person In Any Country Should Read

…but especially if you’re attending one of the hundreds of Women’s Marches around the world this weekend. Or should I say especially if you’re not?

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“These novels, essay collections, memoirs, histories, and more will help you understand why there is no feminism without intersectionality, why we should remember our history before we repeat it, and why Roe v. Wade is a lot more tenuous than you might think.” -Doree Shafrir

Buzzfeed Books

The fleet-footed thing among us

fleetingness

happiness.
you cannot lock it out,
nor bar the door against it.
like the midnight cinnamon
and ginger wafts
from the kitchen
of the insomniac
finnish woman one floor
down, sleepless and dour,
prone to nocturnal baking,
it simply arrives,
happiness, that is,
through the vents,
the radiators,
the small cracks
in the parquet or plaster.
uninvited,
unannounced,
unreserved,
it goes from room to room,
examining your favourite things,
touching them, gently,
not saying why it’s come,
where it’s been,
who it’s seen.
genial, uncritical,
it overlooks the dust,
the lingering odours
of squander and rancour.
astonishing how much
space it claims, something
so small as this happiness,
so small and so demure.
it does not want you to fuss,
not even to fill the kettle
let alone put it on.
what would be the point?
it won’t be staying long enough,
not long enough for tea.
there’s somewhere else it’s going,
it has someone else to see.
goodbye, goodbye, till next time.
it’s come and gone before.
its bags are packed and ready.
they’re waiting by the door.

–Bill Richardson

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

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Another of my favourite poems is Good Bones by Maggie Smith.

Poetry

Best Canadian Poetry

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This arrived today, editors Helen Humphreys, Molly Peacock and Anita Lahey, and I look forward to reading this year’s crop of “best” poems. I already know some of the poems in the anthology … Rachel Rose’s affecting “Good Measure,” Sally Ito’s soul-weathered “Idle” and Maureen Hynes’ “Wing On.” Lucky me, to get to explore further.

I can quite often roll my eyes when I read my own work (I mostly hate reading it because I would never stop editing and once you see where you can take a piece the piece as it stands seems murderously bad), but this poem I found quite funny. I love when humour manages to seep through the cracks of my work–which reflects my life, too, how laughter finds its way in, a magic dust sprinkled over the bad or humdrum. “Wish You Were Here” first appeared in CVII.

PS Someone asked and I found a link to a shorter version of the poem here on the blog:

Wish You Were Here

 

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

50 books by Canadian women of colour

What a celebration! The good folks at Room Magazine have put out a wonderful list of books for all tastes and styles. Much better fare than last night’s debate! Full of energy and humanity and hope. Full of talent and skill. Full of familiar names and books, and new-to-you names and books. Happy reading!

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Room Magazine

Sharon Olds

Alexandra Schwartz, writing in the New Yorker, about Sharon Olds and her new book, “Odes.”

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“In some six dozen poems, Olds sings in praise of things that are not often considered worthy of appreciation—tampons, stretch marks, fat, composting toilets, douche bags, menstrual blood—and reconsiders others that are.”

Sharon Olds Sings the Body Electric

 

Milktini

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Milktini

I) The Broom

is a pole with attached bristles
The broom can stand in a closet and be seen by no one
The broom comes alive only in hands:

a woman’s hands
ordinary, tremoring
sweeping mouse nests and spider webs across the kitchen tile
towards the living room carpet
under the underlay they lump like live things

The problem of cash
The problem of the vomiting child
The problem of varicose veins
The problem of the car’s bald tires
The problem of the husband’s fist

At the intersection of Drake and Thomas
a broom–turquoise, plastic, with short black bristles
has been struck, the pole twisted and warped,
the head de-throned

II) The Sponge

is not what the woman calls for when
her head splits, but it is all the boy thinks
to grab from the silver belly of the sink
and what he holds to her blood-clotted hair

It is the same sponge swiped the night before
across a clot of pork gravy

III) The Bucket

is worn by the boy when he wants to
shut out fighting
Is yellow. Has a
compartment to wring out the mop
When the boy wears the bucket he believes
he is invisible, an action hero
who can zip through the battlezone
as invisible as his mother
who is known to be clumsy
who calls in sick on average four days every month

IV) The Vacuum

was originally her mother’s vacuum
is so old it has a fabric electrical cord
a two-pronged plug

The bags fill up like paper pregnancies
to be discarded
She would like a wet-dry vac

The vacuum makes an unholy roar. Sounds like aircraft

V) The Mop

also combats dirt
the kind that adheres
the way a bruise adheres

When dinner is flung from the table
a broom will take care of the mess
(Caesar salad, green beans, rice, salmon)
but anything wet
blood in particular
leaves a sticky film

The mop is a fright wig
a Medussa head

VI) The Toilet Bowl Cleanser

Pine Sol. The boy adds it to water
where it turns to milk
While his mother serves ice cream
he passes it to his father
Milktini, Dad! Drink your milktini!

-Jane Eaton Hamilton, from LOVE WILL BURST INTO A THOUSAND SHAPES, 2014

Eileen Myles Animated

Woman With a Mango

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Woman With A Mango (by Gauguin): Etta Cone

 

Gertrude you are a Gertrude are a Gertrude

no one in Baltimore is a Gertrude anymore

If you can’t say anything nice about anyone

come sit next to me

you said

and I did

under Mother and Child come sitting

in Baltimore in Paris in Baltimore

no one is a Gertrude is a Gertrude enough

 

There were the two of us, you said, we were not sisters

We were not large not then we were not rich

we were not so different one from the other one

an eye was an eye was an eye, gazing

 

A woman would smell

a woman would hold out her smell and smell and petals

would drop from Large Reclining Nude

white petals cool and fragrant and soft

and dropping and dropping and dropping down

Three Lives my fingers sore my wrists aching typing

Come sit next to me you said

and I did sit I did sit I sat and sat and after I sat I sat and sat

 

I typed until the “G” key stuck

Three lives, yours, Claribel’s, mine

I was sitting and sitting under

Woman With a Mango under Blue Nude

I was sitting with textiles draped over me

hoping their weight

but they are not you, because you have–

Alice? Alice? Alice?

 

Is an Alice?

Gertrude you undertake to overthrow my undertaking

You say my dessicated loneliness is

across the ocean in Baltimore and you pull Alice onto

your lap on the large brown broken armchair

where you sat with me

while Pablo’s portrait strains above

You sit, running Alice’s hair through your hands

her hair through your fingers

Your fingers in my hair unpinning tangling

your lips against my neck

There is no there there now

anymore

there is Henri there is Vincent there is Paul and Paul there is Gustave

my neck a neck is a neck with a rose

that died and petals like brown rain

I like what is, you said

I like what is mine I like it

 

*with reference to: Three Lives, Stanzas in Meditaion (VII), Sacred Emily, by Gertrude Stein

-from the book Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes by Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

Sharon Olds in Edinburgh

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The exquisite poems of Sharon Olds. Her voice, always.

“Adrienne Rich’s Poetic Transformations” by Claudia Rankine

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Adrienne Rich remains one of my favourite writer and a touchstone to me as a lesbian poet in the 1980s and beyond. Here is the astute Claudia Rankine in The New Yorker talking about her legacy. I, with my partners, dreamed of accessing this common language. That it remained a dream was as much our personal failures as the then pressures of patriarchy and homophobia.

“Lying is done with words, and also with silence.”
Adrienne Rich

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”
Adrienne Rich

“No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.”
Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate.

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power. ”
Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language

“That’s why I want to speak to you now.

To say: no person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors. (I make up this strange, angry packet for you, threaded with love.)

I think you thought there was no such place for you, and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we will have to make it, we who want an end to suffering, who want to change the laws of history, if we are not to give ourselves away.”
Adrienne Rich, Sources

“That’s why I want to speak to you now.

To say: no person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors. (I make up this strange, angry packet for you, threaded with love.)

I think you thought there was no such place for you, and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we will have to make it, we who want an end to suffering, who want to change the laws of history, if we are not to give ourselves away.”
Adrienne Rich, Sources

“My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.”
Adrienne Rich

Best Canadian Poetry

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Best Canadian Poetry, 2016

Great news! Just received word today that I’ll have a poem in the 2016 volume of Best Canadian Poetry! The poem is “Wish You Were Here” first published in CVII. The editor for this year is Helen Humphreys, and the series editors are Molly Peacock and Anita Lahey. Thanks, Helen, Molly and Anita.

Best Canadian Poetry

Publication Day!

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Always an exciting day for a writer–publication day when we first see our new book! WEEKEND is out! I’m so happy to be launching at Historic Joy Kogawa House, where I’ll be writer-in-residence, on June 6. My special guest is author Anne Fleming and, yes, their new poetry book POEMW and their banjo, which I hear will be plunking out some campfire songs. Sharpen your marshmallow sticks, kids. Price of admission is a ghost story. Here’s hoping somebody will tell one about the ghosts of frogs we pithed in high school!

Best One-Sentence Advice You’ve Ever Gotten on Writing?

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Over at Lit Reactor, Christopher Schultz has compiled some great one-liners of advice from well-known authors in this article here.

On Writing Across the Curriculum

Magnolia2JEH

magnolia: Jane Eaton Hamilton, unknown year

Instead of asking me to repeat myself, why don’t you challenge yourself to expand? I am not ever going to make myself smaller, my talents fewer, my range tiny, in order to garner your praise.

Revising Your Poems

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On revision:

The Warmth of the Messy Page by Rachel Richardson

Bird Nights, a short story

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Here is a story I wrote more than 5 years ago, called “Bird Nights.” It came out first in Numéro Cinq and then was picked up by poet Marilyn Hacker for translation into French for Siécle 21, Paris, translated by Cécile Oumhani. I would be most honoured if you read it and left me your thoughts. It remains one of my favourite pieces of my writing. The news of my marital separation was still new when I wrote it, yet the story is as much travelogue as it is a raw cry from my heart. It also appeals to the side of me that likes subversive, fractured and braided narratives.

Bird Nights

Here is a story. It is true, but it is also full of lies. And small axes, the kind that make tiny cross-hatchings on hearts.

1)

A surgeon flayed open my wife’s chest and removed her breast: stiches and staples. This was several years ago. While she sleeps her scar unzips (top tape extension, top stop, slider, pull tab), her flesh unfolding like a sleeping bag. Some nights I only see the corset bones that girdle her lungs, gleaming moon slivers in murky red sky, and I say a prayer for them, those pale canoe ribs, those pickup sticks that are all that cinch her in. I wish I could do that: I wish I could hold her together. Some nights I think she may fly away in all directions, north, east, south, west, a huge splatter. She will go so far so fast I will only be able to watch with my mouth fallen open. She’ll be gone, and all I’ll have is a big red mess to clean up and a sliver of rib sticking out of my eye.

2)

Quiver trees are weird enough anyhow, but add a Sociable Weaver nest and you’ve got a real visual pickle. Warty, sponge toffee boils, these bird condos of dry grasses have upwards of 100 different holes for individual families; the nests can house 400 birds. Interestingly, Sociable Weavers are polyamorous, even, apparently, with barbets and finches.

In Namaqualand, Cape Weavers go it individually. The males court females by weaving testicular-like sacs, and if a female remains unimpressed, the male builds a second sac under the first, and etcetera, until a wind knocks the whole shebang down.

Bird-land, human-land—it’s all pretty much just jostling to get and keep the girl.

3)

Some nights when my wife’s incision unzips, a rib extends and on it sits a yellow bird, swaying as if in a great wind, feathers ruffling to lemon combs. I love birds. It makes me happy to hear her song, the same way it makes me happy when my wife sings. (Once when we were fresh, my wife danced naked through our kitchen belting out girl group songs from the 60s.) The little bird warbles and trills, then launches off the rib to fly around our bedroom. She grabs a mosquito near my ear. She flits into the corners, around the light fixtures, and carries back bits of yarn pulled from sweaters, spiderwebs, plastic pricetag spears, dust bunnies. She constructs a nest, shivers down into it, and lays little gelatinous eggs, eggs that I trust, with a simple, guileless trust, will grow up to be lymph nodes for my wife. These bird nights, I am happy, so happy. On some inchoate level, I know the little yellow bird has our backs, and I drift off to trills of sugary bird song.

4)

I hang out on bird-lover websites, where questions abound: Why are my lovebirds changing colour? Aphids–my bird is okay with them, but I’m not? Lovebird feather plucking?

Feather loss, says Avian Web, is a difficult problem to cure when the picking behaviour is already established. Birds should be presented to Dr Marshall at the first signs of picking. My wife and I are feather-plucking. We didn’t go to Dr Marshall and maybe that’s our problem. Our relationship has thrush, bacteria, poor nutrition. My wife and I were once lovebirds. Once, for a nanosecond, We Two Were One. Then, for years, We Two Were One and A Half. Eventually, We Two Were Two. Now, the evidence suggests We Might Be Three.

5)

Birds enchant me. Once we took our daughter to a free flight aviary, the Lory Loft in Jurong Bird Park, Singapore. Having a 20-hectare hillside park entirely devoted to birds is guaranteed to make someone like me giddy. Lories are small parrots, and in the aviaries, as you whoop and wriggle and scream over suspension bridges high in the treetops, they land on you, they cover you. It’s as if the keepers are up on the rooftop squeezing tubes of oil paint, cadmium orange and cobalt blue and carmine and viridian, screechy territorial colours with a lot of wing flap and pecking.

Ornithologists at the park answer such questions as: Will an ostrich egg support the weight of an adult human? I grapple with this one: Will my human heart support the shifting weight of my wife’s loyalties?

6)

Foraging: The Way to Keep Your [Wife] Mentally Stimulated and Happy

It’s me that forages. Watch me some nights, thumbing through theatre tickets (Wicked! The Vagina Monologues! Avenue Q! My Year of Magical Thinking!) and museum exhibitions (Dali: Painting and Film; Picasso and Britain; Carr, O’Keeffe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own) and the detritus that falls from her scar, stirring through wind-up rabbits and plastic zombies and voodoo dolls that tumble free, all the secrets and suffering that she hoards deep inside.

What am I looking for? Something to eat, maybe. Bird seed. A steak.

7)

We met a woman in Namibia who lost most of one breast to a crocodile attack. She was a member of a polygamous tribe, the Himba, whose women wear only loincloths. She bent down at the river with her water gourd, breasts hanging as breasts will do after a bunch of kids, and a croc’s teeth snapped closed on the right one.

Who knows what this woman’s husband thinks when he takes her shriveled, croc-mangled right breast into his hand? Does he trace her history with reverence? Does he spit in disgust and choose another wife?

8)

There are local stories of wives who change in the bathroom, wear bras and prosthetics to bed, and husbands who shun them. There are stories of marital disintegration, and by that I mean what you probably assume: straight marriage. I don’t know the stats for queer marriage breakups after breast cancer. I do know that even after twelve years, when my wife or I drive past the Cancer Agency, not even thinking about what happened, on our way to other appointments and sometimes in the midst of great happiness, one or other of us will burst into tears.

9)

Vancouver has murders of crows, and our house is on their flight path. If you go outside in the dawn gloaming, such as when you are going for chemo, they fill a Hitchcockian sky with black shrieks, and if you could count them, you would run out of numbers before you’d run out of birds. Crows are not protected in BC, and their forest roost was recently ripped down to build a Costco; now tens of thousands roost in a tangle of electric wires and pallets of home building supplies. Their noise is deafening.

10)

Magic realism aside, my wife’s scar is really just a scar, plain, unremarkable, faded with time. (Plain, unremarkable. I tell you. Plain and unremarkable.) Here is the pedestrian truth: she is sort of concave there where her breast once was, a hollowed-out nest. She opted not to have a reconstruction. Her one breast is very small and she goes braless without a prosthetic, which is a loud story, actually, the only blaring part of the reality-struck, pedestrian story: she is obviously one-breasted, especially in t-shirts, and manly anyway, so people stare. Last week at an art opening, a little boy about seven stopped from a dead run and ran his eyes up and down her, up and down her, up and down her, trying to make her make sense.

(These days, I do the same thing, rake my eyes across her. The little boy is right: she no longer makes sense. She is always saying goodbye with her actions while she smiles hello with her lips.)

11)

My heart is a big old blood pump with places engorged like a balloon (I’ve got a big old cardiomyopathy for you, I tell my wife sometimes, but it’s actually heart failure.) My heart is giving up, and has necrotic spots like measles, dead bits which have been dead now for 25 years, what an anniversary: let’s have a cake and candles, happy necrosis to me!). Referring to my circulatory system, a cardiologist once said to me: The tree of you is dying. No doubt too many polygamous weavers? How does this feel for you? my therapist asked about our lives (relationship) going—yes—tits up, three tits up I guess, instead of four, and here is the answer, my letter to my pain: It feels exactly like my heart is failing. Right now it’s stuttering along arrhythmically, but it can’t pump through all these emotions and old, ruptured scars, so it may just keep engorging till I pop like a-

12)

Tumour?

13)

Once I co-owned a grey cockatiel named Hemingway. Hemingway would hop around my scapula and peck food from my teeth while molting grey feathers onto my breasts. He was a happy bird with a yellow comb, but he never, as far as I know, wrote a great story.

14)

At the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, my wife ran at ostriches while the wild Benguela current tossed waves on the beach. Ostriches have a nail on each of their feet that is capable of slicing a person open as efficiently as any surgeon’s blade. I was up on my toes with alarm, but the ostriches didn’t fight, they only ran, their stunted wings extended. Then the male turned and knocked my wife flat. He danced on her chest until his pea-sized brain got bored.

Just a game, just a game, she assured me afterwards, brushing off, none the worse for wear. I wasn’t really dead.

(This is a lie.)

15)

At Okonjima for cheetahs, I was fascinated instead by the hornbills—those bills and casques! Female hornbills use their droppings to seal themselves into their nests. I did this too, when my wife was diagnosed, but I used an alarm system instead of poop. I’m doing it again, now, but I’m using perimeter lighting, as if shining sunbeams into my wife’s shadows will keep my marriage intact.

16)

My wife’s skin is numb, did I mention that? That’s how her spirit must have healed from all that trauma (PTSD), don’t you think, with a big old numb spot? On the outside of her, cut nerves sometimes go crazy, like a pain orchestra, a violin screech, a flute shrill. Yowey. When I lay beside her and trail my finger across her chest, through her armpit, across the skin near her arm on her back, she can’t feel a thing. Here? I say and she shakes her head. Nothing. Here? Still nothing. Here? Nope. Here? Kinda, sorta, not really.

Does anyone ever really heal after being pushed out of the nest? Things repair, things scar, we go on, but eventually, we find ourselves in free fall anew. Our beaks impale the ground so we’re stuck flapping upside down like cat-lollipops. All the old wounds break open, the old puncture holes (insect bites, that time we fell off our bikes, the tendonitis, the hernia) ooze. We’re all leaking pain. We’re all bloody oozers, in the end, aren’t we?

17)

One night as I lie beside my wife, her chest opens and I watch Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza. The acrobats use my wife’s ribs as tightropes; the contortionists bend double through her ribs and poke their heads back out, like Gumbies. The acrobat stacks chairs one atop another atop another atop another, and then climbs atop himself, fearless, while the chairs shake. I laugh aloud in pure childish glee, and my wife awakens, coughs, and resettles as the performer tumbles.

When he’s scurried away, I rest my cheek in my wife’s loss, my sudden weight causing her to panic and sit bolt upright. She rubs her eyes and peers at me. You have the imprint of a zipper on your cheek, she mumbles.

I reach up and touch the corrugations.

18)

I am at the “my this hurts” age, where “this” is really any body part you want to interject at random: ear, elbow, knuckle, knee, uterus. What relationship do I have to my pain? I find it hot like a combustion engine. I find it has very droopy eyes, and shoulders that slope. It sees me as prey, mostly, I’d guess, and comes at my heart with its little axe, cross-hatch, cross-hatch, like a Kite in the Serengeti dive-bombing to steal a sandwich from an unsuspecting tourist’s hands, talons gashing a cheek. What relationship do I want to have in the future with my pain? I want to be its gay divorcée.

19)

My wife drummed for a PSA a few weeks ago with a group of breast cancer survivors. A murder of breast cancer survivors, they freaked me out with their black feathers and cawing. I can’t handle what’s coming for them (for my wife). The prognosis for my wife’s breast cancer is good, but the last months she has had pain on swallowing, and the chant arrives in the rhythm of the children’s song: Eyes, ears, mouth and nose! Except for breast cancer mets it’s: Liver, lungs, breast and bone! I’m not sure what the song for infidelity is….okay, I am, but I can’t sing it here.

20)

Some nights my wife’s scar opens like Monet’s water lilies at L’Orangerie, a long wide strip of art that is all blue meditation and green silence.

Intending… to… heal, intones a monk in a saffron robe.

I must sit through my pain and gird my back. I must go into my pain and through and beyond my pain.

And come out into art.

My own rendition of my wife’s lost breast is sliced into sections and presented like upright pieces of toast, the tumour glowing in phosphorescence across five slides. Anatomical, direct, confrontational, weeping blood tears.

My Wife’s Breast, by Georgia O’Keefe: a striated red flower full of motion, a rib protruding at the nipple line. My Wife’s Breast, by Pablo Picasso: a spiral breast sprouting hair, a breast with an eye instead of a nipple, a tumour instead of his model’s head. My Wife’s Breast, by Emily Carr: breast as swirling dark tree, tumour as bird’s nest. My Wife’s Breast, by Savadore Dali: a breast sitting on a rib, melting, a clock face ticking down her remaining days. My Wife’s Breast, by Frieda Kahlo: my wife and I completely clothed, hand in hand, a large shadow to my wife’s left, our injuries showing through our t-shirts, a long red, swollen gash on my wife’s right side that pumps blood across a thick vein to my over-huge, engorged, arrhythmic heart while it pumps it back–a perfect silver tea service and a yellow bird in a cage of ribs to one side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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