A walk in the neighborhood Covid 19

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.

Pruning the vine

   
 
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.

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.

Snow Sculpture 2020

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The town is full of snow sculptures. This one is mine. What caprice of wind and snow crystals, driven into my sheltered garden made this form? Layered and swirled, like thick cream or icing, fine and sugary, it sits transforming my old yard furniture into an untouchable beauty. There’s such a variety of line and texture that I could look at it for a long time. Is it just that ordinary spot where I sit and have a drink or entertain friends when it’s too hot or humid or dark to eat indoors?

In Spring I sit outside alone, in my warm jacket that shields me from the cool breeze. When the crocuses are just up or when the daffodils are still sheathed in that sap-scented green that means life, life again I sit out there alone. How many winters, how many summers?

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!.

Happy New Year 2020

 

   

  

We enjoyed a green Christmas. A little snow had fallen in November but much of it had been washed away by rain. Yesterday heavy snow fell over Montreal. Such a snowfall always makes me look more closely at my surroundings. The neighbor’s black cat sitting on a snowy step, the intricate lacing of tree branches highlighted by a heavy white burden or my bird-bath wearing a solid heavy cap are all new and interesting to see. It is so easy to walk through the neighborhood, not even noticing my surroundings. The still white and clean etching of snow turns every street corner into a novel sight. Young children are no longer stumbling along, clinging to the hands of their parents. Today many were pulled along in traditional wooden sleds. Today, to my surprise, I saw a black labrador harnessed to one such sled, pulling away with so much enthusiasm that the baby was bumped along to his obvious delight. The snow was perfect for snowballs and snowmen so, of course, heavy for shoveling. My neighbors fall into two categories: those who are out cleaning their driveways and walks while the snow is still falling and those (like me) who make sure the steps are safe for the mailman and consider my duty done.

Our winter is very long and the early darkness is hard to bear. I think of my garden sleeping now but ready to burst into color at the first faint warmth of Spring. It never fails me with the early snowdrops and crocus. It’s not even New Years’ Day yet and I am longing for Spring! I wish all of you happiness and good health in 2020. This will be the year of seeing clearly.

Thank you Mr. Van Horne

steam-train-1442795In the train, the first train

to run over the brand new tracks

sat Sonya.

The clank, the hiss, the slamming of doors

as the huge weight of steel, wood, coal, luggage, passengers,

moved slowly out of Windsor Station.

The jolts, sudden lurches, settled into

a steady rocking flow out over the St. Lawrence plain,

into the barely lemon sky of late afternoon,

over new bridges, immobile under this first test,

proud and nonchalant.

Sonya sat upright, her new hat

pinned on

for fear the sweating effort of shoveling coal

the blaze,

the terrible power of steam,

would blow it off her head.

Blow her little jacket off, her dress, her petticoats,

Leaving only her black lace-up boots,

protected by the foot-board of the plush seat.

She would sit, young and naked, a figurehead

for the mighty train, delivering its power,

its majesty, its unraveling of the future.

If the young porter invited her to the dining car, she would murmur,

“Oh, no, look what has happened to me.”

A glance down at her white body

seated like the wife of Pharaoh.

And he, in his new uniform,

the collar a little stiff around his Adam’s apple,

fallen already in love with her at that instant,

would pull down the window sash, take her in his arms,

and together they would float out into the just-evening sky

decorated with a few pale stars.

Up over Lake Ontario while the new train

plunged fearlessly on over the Canadian Sheild.

 

 

End of a drought

Nothing has escaped the pen, the keyboard, the soft yielding lead of the pencil for a long time. It has been about three months since I was able to write anything. No sitting at the table before a blank paper, no jotting things down, no type and backspace – just a horror of writing anything at all. In desperation I went to a poetry workshop led by a wonderful teacher. Larissa Andrusyshyn is a very talented teacher, prodder, encourager, with many a trick up her sleeve. Did you know, for instance, that the little paint color cards you pick up in hardware stores when you are agonizing over whether your living room wall should be black or morning cloud are blessed with the most wonderful names? ” Barely banana” ” shy meadow” ” storm cloud” ” trumpet voluntary” How could you not slip one of these wonderful phrases into a poem? I’m off to Canadian Tire to get my own pack this morning.

It is such a relief to feel the first little trickle of life come back to an activity I love, one I love to share with readers. I’m not going to church today. I’m going to work on two pieces Larissa evoked, coaxed, simply expected me to write yesterday. The long sheets of white embraced my lists, my sentences, my rhymes, my crossing out, my arrows. Something emerged, something a little rough, a little flowing, opening up just at the end.

They say when you fall off a horse you should get right back on. I had to chase my poney over hill and dale for many sad weeks but, oh, how good that warm steady movement feels now.I’ll post the poem when  I think it’s ready.