I’m moody, tearful. I explode with joy and temper.
You long for me but I elude you.
Just when you think you’ve tamed me
My bossy sister, summer comes barging in.
Can’t stand her…..I’m outta here!
Clothes blowing on the line for the first time
this enclosed Spring.
Pink t-shirt reaches out arms to clasp close
a child, a friend,
chin on the other’s warm shoulder – a long embrace.
But not today.
Cold wind breezes through the arms, the body
that cannot meet another.
At the track where I walk alone
white emperor clouds lounge in a song-blue sky
not seen since childhood.
The sun behind me throws down shadows of my lengthening hair
sprung up and writhing like fronds of sea anemones
swayed by a fierce tide.
Tonight when the wind is blown away down river
I’ll sleep in faded cool pyjamas and a soft shirt left
by an old lover,
the memory of his breath, wind through the heart-harp strings.
Sap tears of the vine near the clothes line drip
through the Spring night beneath a waning crescent moon.
A project to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostella in Spain this spring has been shelved because of the Corona virus. I had trained all winter because, after all, when granny makes up her mind to walk 800 kms, she had better be in shape. I lost 10 pounds and found I fell into a trance-like state as I walked mile after mile in all weathers. Montreal is blessed with a substantial hill that residents call our “mountain”. Many times I walked up the slopes and steps of the mountain to prepare for the notorious first days of the hike from St. Jean Pied de Port that begin the classic Frances Route.
Restless at home and lothe to completely give up my dream, I took to walking the track in my local park. I made it my goal to walk ten laps a day and to work up to higher numbers. Even under Corona lock down I am allowed to go out for a solitary walk each day. I ran into the problem of counting how many laps I had done. Of course I could just keep track of time and walk for an hour, check my pedometer for distance and head off home for my lunch but today, I hit upon a way of keeping count. I looked for a rhyme for each lap and this is the “head poem” that emerged.
ONE – Just begun.
But something is finished, a dream. What’s begun is resignation, adaptation, appreciation of this little Camino that just goes round and round. The Road is in my imagination.
TWO – Blue
Just like the sky battling to show its beauty through low clouds. The clouds are beautiful too, shifting, grey and shades of white, torn by a north-east wind. Let me glimpse that open sky, just for a moment.
THREE – For me
Alone, in quarantine, striding along with no one to agree that it’s a good idea or object that it’s not. Walking for my body, for my mind.
FOUR – “The door “
Subject of a poem recently published that I will not share for fear of hurting someone, for fear of hurting myself, perhaps. Decision made and firm.
FIVE – The bee hive
My neighbor’s bees coming to visit, coming to swarm around my home forced tulips, to take sustenance from them. Remembering them as they swarm for water in summer in my garden.
SIX – Fix
I can’t fix this. Years of “fixing” all for nothing. Time to endure now.
SEVEN – Heaven and Hell
Where are they? What are they? Who can tell us? Who can know what would be hell for me and heaven for another? Walking to heaven.
EIGHT – Late
Is it too late for me ever to walk the Camino? I should have done it years ago, like so many other things.
NINE – Pine tree
Standing in the wind as I pass the half-way mark around the track. Sure of yourself, watching the walkers, the runners, the dogs, the children. Putting out your cones every year with no thought, no deliberation, no agony
TEN – The pen
Solace, friend, helper, enemy, adversary, rebel, triumph.
And that’s how I kept track of the laps today.
I walked a long way today. Tired of going around the track close to my home, I walked down to the river. I sat watching the grey, rushing water hurrying along. Sometimes it is a comfort to me that the river flows away day and night, summer and winter, distinct from our worries and yet interwoven with our lives. It was cold comfort today. I returned through my little working-class neighborhood and was shocked at all the doors that were closed to me. When the pawn shop is closed in a neighborhood like mine, there is a big problem. Bars, nail salons, cafes and hair-dressers – all closed. The Catholic church, the mosque and the Hindu temple, all within three blocks of each other bore a government message that they were closed because of the virus. Even the Ville Emard Social Club where Italian grandfathers drink coffee and discuss who knows what for hours and hours …closed.
Some few things were open though. A star magnolia had opened its flowers to a darkening sky. Not a green leaf to be seen but the hopeful blooms were a boon to several bees hovering about. A little further along, I saw some groceries on a low wall in front of an ordinary house. A sign said – “food – take it – as needed”. No need to ask, to explain. There was something wonderfully open about that too. Nothing very organized or formal, just a human being who thought someone might have no work, be worried about how to feed a kid. It was as hopeful as the magnolia tree.
Every year the vine has to be pruned in March. With all the turmoil about the Corona virus, I almost forgot. My little house has a small garden much beloved to me. There is a patio shaded by a vine planted many years ago. I think it was planted by the first people who owned this house, built in 1960. Other years there was more snow and it made it easier to reach up and cut the branches, already forming buds and green when the shears cut. This year I stood precariously on a chair trying to avoid a poke in the eye by some errant twig. I managed it though. The other picture shows brave tulips coming up out of the last of the snow. These old favorites are red, red as a whore’s lipstick, I think I wrote in an old poem. I saw a bee today too. I know you can’t believe it, but I really did. Spring has no time for the virus.
Here are a couple of pictures from around my neighborhood. I took my solitary walk today and noticed in the window of an upper duplex, children’s drawings telling me to take care of myself. I don’t really want to take care of myself. I want someone else to take care of me. Now that is a blatant bit of self-pity. It doesn’t matter. The lonely feeling of wandering around for the sake of “getting some fresh air” or “keeping active” has that effect on me.
There were a few couples walking in that fast purposeful way that tells you they have made up their minds to keep in shape. There were a few mothers out pushing baby carriages, There were a few oldies, like me, warily stepping aside when we passed on the sidewalk. I was surprised at the number of closed businesses, at the neighborhood church with a notice cancelling weekly services but still inviting me in with the big “Church Open” sign. I went in, gingerly grasping the door handle and reminding myself not to touch my face until I had washed my hands at home. I sat in an absolutely silent church. There were two other people there. I sat for a while in a sort of trance and then I walked the few blocks to my home and washed my hands with hot water and soap before I even took off my coat. The streets are quiet. People I expect to call me don’t. People I haven’t heard from for years do. It is very disorienting.
I feel like a spacewoman floating out in the black abyss of the universe. I can hear my mother’s voice when I write that. “Don’t be so fancifull, Isobel.” There is something fantastic, something other-worldly in this, though.
On the last day before I self-isolated I took this picture. It seemed to me a metaphor of what was happening to me. Even the phrase “happening to me” is one that is a little unfamiliar. I have been privileged to live in circumstances where a lot of the time I “”happend “to life. I was free to make my own decisions, to chose, rightly or wrongly what I would do. Of course, like everyone else, I made mistakes, acted on impulse, showed poor judgement. Then, life taught me hard lessons and I paid the price for these errors. However, they were my errors and I learned from them – usually.
This image that presented itself to me on Sherbrooke Street as I walked away from the Museum where I guide struck me as embodying my situation. Soon I would be behind a virtual fence. There is no wishing away or arguing with a fence. On that day I didn’t even know I would be confined to my home, as an “oldie” as an “elderly person” at risk of catching a virus that might threaten my life. I saw the fence as an obstacle to achieving a goal that had become a near obsession over the long winter months. I want to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Many of you will know what that is. I won’t go into a definition or exploration of it here. That’s what Wikipedia is for, right? The fact that I would train for and book for a walk of 800 km spread out over about 40 days tells you that I am not in such poor health and that is what makes considering myself “frail” and old so painful. So, the fence means – you’re out of your project and also you’re stuck inside for an indefinite period. An arbitrary fence controls me It keeps me in – and out.
Then the snow – cold, and reflective of the winter trunk and branches of a bare tree. Symbol of a dead love affair. Enough hot tears to melt the whole snowbank. And yet it is not melted, it remains. Is it grotesque, ludicrous to think that an old person can suffer new heartbreak? Consider it so if you wish. It is a reality as hard and immovable as the fence.
At the border of the snow, green ground cover already bursting out of the earth with that irresistible vigor and hope that intoxicates us in the spring. Pernicious hope that makes me go and wash my hands, cook vegetables and take my zinc tablets because I might be able to re-book the trip, work in the garden with green plants , and – oh, well two out of three is not so bad.