Dark Beauty

Bright yellow and pink in the city garden.

Blazing sun and dazzling colors.

After days of baking heat, at last welcome rain

and these darker beauties.

Clematis coddled and anticipated

opens like a Japanese sunshade to reveal

a purple that puts the pallid roses to shame.

On cue, a mysterious visitor, his brown and iridescent wings

boldly carry him to a stick that holds some mysterious attraction.

Surrounded by scents and blooms visited by drunken bees

he, severe and austere, remains faithful to his choice.

Goundhogs and Fireflies

img_20200618_200022356It’s summer with all the luxurious roses and the brilliant buttercups that enchant a young photographer. Today’s image was made by my granddaughter who has suddenly developed an interest in photography.

It is tremendously hot in Montreal and the good weather has been holding for days. I thoughtlessly planted a lovely rosebush on my mother’s grave about 10 days ago and watering it has been something of a chore. Because of Covid 19 access to the big mountain cemetery has been limited to late afternoon and  evening. Only one entrance can be used by cars. I am on foot and that means I have been getting my exercise by walking from the gate at the higher level through the old section with its wonderful trees and monuments and then up a steep incline to the top where my mother’s black headstone sits baking in the merciless sun. Fortunately a dear friend has been giving me a lift from time to time. Besides the inaccessibility of the site, the taps set here and there for relatives to water their plants and shrubs have mainly run out of water. I scout around on lower levels to find a tap that works or when I get a lift bring my own water! We met a widower the other day who promised to water my mother’s precious rose bush. It  is already blooming with many pink blossoms. However, I know I will not rest until the heat wave is over and I can trust rain to once again take over my duties.

The groundhogs, you ask? I saw two lovely ones up in the cemetery and then, as if to remind me of my responsibilities the next day – – a fat one in my city garden. He was bustling away under the fence. When he heard me he turned as if to say, “Well, is there a problem here?” and off he went.

Fireflies appeared that evening as I was watering my plants in the blessed darkness. I have a stubborn clematis that does not want to open its magnificent purple blooms, but it too will yield to the heat and length of days. In the meantime the little flashing lights, pulsating with mysterious life in the dense leaves, remind us that other lives, other forces are at work.

Covid 19 Test

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Photo by Lê Minh on Pexels.com

 

Magic bus driver in the Covid screening bus,

you don’t take my ticket through the low slot

of the plastic barrier that cuts the wattage

of your brilliant smile.

You take my medicare card, sanitized, in order.

In return, you, the driver, give me a ticket.

The three magic questions,” Do you have symptoms?, Have you been

in contact ….?” The right answers, any answers grant me admission to the

bus with no seats.

Nurses (later I learn they are not nurses) decked out in Covid regalia on the

hottest day of the year, wait to test me in the bus with no seats.

Four cubicles. A figure in a sanitary burka peers at me.

A Quebec scandal!

“anglais ou francais, Madame?” Through the barrier of our masks and

my diminished hearing, we arrive at the compromise of “franglais”.

a ping-ping of both languages in which we are both fluent.

A long swab down my throat elicits a discrete gag on my part.

Then the nose. “Sit still” I tell myself, “If Trump can do this every morning,

you can do it this once.”

All done and I am released through the back door of the magic bus.

Like a sheep guided through the “it’s for your own good” dip,

out I go into the blazing parking lot of my beloved library.

Why did I test? As we say in Quebec, “Le coeur a ses raisons.”

Magic bus driver, stop giving tickets! Take the wheel.

Let the wheels of your bus grow light, transparent, buoyant,

Slam down the gas pedal and carry us away from

Montreal, plague city, city of wary looks, masks, no touch, death.

The next day an email. Negative. For today.

Covid 19 wind 

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.

 

Poetry on Track

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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.

 

 

Social Isolation

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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.

Corona isolation

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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.

Feast of the Three Kings

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Yes, I’m a day late. The kings were late too, right. This image is taken from the stunning collection of nativity scenes from all over the world that is housed in St. Joseph’s Oratory here in Montreal. I know, the picture is not stunning but – be proud of me – it’s the first picture I have ever transferred from my phone to WordPress.  Marvel at this modern miracle. The nativity scenes at the Oratory show how people from all over depicted their idea of the Nativity mirrored by their own culture. The good news is that the whole collection is on permanent display, year-round. There is even an activity room for the kids where they can make their own Nativity figures and drawings.

In fact, I went to the Oratory yesterday, close to a site of an errand, to do my outdoor cardio. There is a formidable set of outside steps where summer pilgrims sometimes ascend on their knees. To be honest, one used to see a lot more of that in years gone by. Having huffed and puffed up to the top I decided to explore one of the staple tourist attractions in our city. This huge building houses a vast church with a formidable organ, a smaller chapel, a mysterious and candle-lit foyer with various relief sculptures of St. Joseph and even the crypt of Frere Andre. Even though he has now been made a saint, no one calls him anything but Frere Andre. He was the humble doorkeeper at the college across the street for many years. It is through his force of will and mobilization that this complex was built. Of course, that was in the old Catholic Quebec of the early 1900’s.

I always thought St. Joseph got a bit of a raw deal and I love his trade, his devotion to family and work. Frere Andre was like that too. Just an ordinary guy who did extraordinary things.

I love the feast of the Kings. I love this idea of traveling far just on hope, on faith that something wonderful will happen. I bet St. Joseph was surprised to find them knocking on the door. At home, my Nativity scene only has two kings. About fifty years a dog whose only devotion was to my mother, grabbed one of the kings and hid away to gnaw him into pieces. To our shame, we were much more worried that the dog had poisoned himself than about the fate of the third king. Anyone who ever asked was told, “the third king is still on his way.” These days I try to act as stand-in – traveling around full of hope and faith. Time to dismantle the Christmas tree!.