Out Looking for Poetry – June 16, 2020
I went out walking, looking for a poem. First, I baked four dozen molasses ginger cookies—I’m kind of famous for them. I portioned the cookies into packages for delivery to our friends. Doing something nice for people you love can sometimes lead to poetry.
The first package went to Luis, who in exchange, shared a secret about his new business enterprise. I’m sworn to secrecy. I suspect I’m not alone in the secrecy. Luis is pretty excited.
Then to Sloan and John and their baby Clark’s home. Matthew—Luis’s ten-year-old son—answered the door. “Are you babysitting?” I asked.
“No but I’m sort of practicing,” he explained. “Like training.”
“Well, it’s good then, that your shirt and socks match.” They were both bright orange. “Prospective employers will see that you are a serious guy.”
Matthew looked at his socks, pulled out the front of his shirt and then—eyes wide—said, “I didn’t even realize!” A beatific smile shone on his face, like he had witnessed a miracle. He scooped up the cookies from the porch—set there in deference to physical distancing—and hurried off to tell Sloan and Clark about the amazing synchronicity of his matching orange shirt and socks.
Next door, Selina, our minister, answered my knock, with a ukulele slung around her neck. She claimed to be struggling with worship preparation for Sunday, but to mind it is a sin, not smile in the presence of a ukulele playing minister and molasses and ginger cookies.
Then, I loped along a street that traces a wooded hill. Houses line one side and a forest the other. There I heard the unmistakable sound of a bear, crashing down the hill directly toward me. Twigs snapping. Branches breaking. Growing louder by the second. I scanned my options for escape—fenced yards, easy to climb trees.
From the underbrush, came crashing out onto the street… a dachshund, aka a wiener dog. Our friend Valerie emerged hot on its heels. She scooped the dog up in her arms. “I’m going to strangle this dog! It out of the harness and I’ve been chasing it through the woods!”
“I thought you were a bear!” It was relief a see a dachshund
“He does nip,” she warned me.
The rest of our conversation was spoken in the language the absurd joy of life. “It’s funny that it’s you, who ran into,” she said.
“Well, you know Valerie, sometime our little inner dog leads us to places where there are no paths, they know we are lost, we just have to chase them for a while in our inner woods. We must listen to our inner wiener dogs!” We headed off in opposite directions, laughing.
In spite intending it as a joke, I found myself contemplating my inner wiener dog. Where was it leading me?
Then there was the sound of the tap dancing. I kid you not. To say there is not a lot of tap dancing going on in our tiny town, would be an exaggeration. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would have said there is none.
Inside the pedestrian culvert, running beneath the CP Rails, a girl was—yes—tap dancing. Like an apparition. I cannot say much to you about her appearance because my eyes were mesmerized by her tapping patent leather shoes. She danced in the culvert on a portable square of wood flooring.
I watched, listened, awhile, my jaw slack with wonder, then I asked, “Is it okay if I pass by.” Six-feet of physical separation in a pedestrian culvert is not possible.
“Of course,” she smiled. (Right, now I remember, she had a lovely smile and long straight hair).
“I’ve never seen anyone tap dancing,” I said, “in a culvert.”
“I love the acoustics,” she said, and unleashed a flurry of rhythmic feet for our listening pleasure.
There really is poetry everywhere: in cookies, new work, babies, socks magically matching shirts, preachers and their ukuleles, wiener dogs losing us in the woods, and a girl tap dancing in a culvert. Sometimes we just need to go out looking for it. It’s Good to Be Here.
Fragaria Vesca – June 11, 2020
How many times
Have I walked past
The wild strawberries,
Pushing up between
Last year’s dry-brown
Leaves, and this year’s
How many times
Have I failed to rest,
The coming and the
Going of my feet,
To breathe the scent of
Spring, clinging to their
How many times
I forget, to sit the
Earth, in summer,
And taste the sweet-red,
Warm blessing in my mouth—
A universe of tiny seeds
Upon my tongue.
More times than I
Can know. But comes a
Breath, long enough to
Learn a Latin name—
Fragaria Vesca—to hear
Forgiveness, by all the wild
May 16, 2020
“What do you want for your birthday?” A reasonable question to ask a guy who, on Saturday, will have ridden this blue planet, sixty times, around the sun. Pearl, my beloved, asked it of me walking along the shore of Lake Superior.
I like gifts. A lot. So, I contemplated her question for about fifty-yards. “I just realized,” surprising myself, “I really do already have everything I need or want—except for a Triumph Bonneville 120.” Pearl laughed. The Bonneville ship sailed a long time ago.
“What about a celebration?” Pearl asked. “Sixty is a big year.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said.
I thought about it. I’ve lived three-quarters of my life, assuming I make it to eighty years. Given family genetics, a Y chromosome, and a few run-ins with the cancer, I’ve probably got another twenty left on the clock. How to mark this gradual tipping from middle to old age? From builder to elder?
I visited the cemetery, where I sometimes go looking for wisdom. There is no wisdom quite like that of the dead and the dying. And, in a graveyard, it’s easy to maintain six feet of physical distancing. Wandering among the marble stones I asked, “What would you do differently, dear ones?” Each and every one of them told me the same thing: celebrate life more. Maybe it just was me talking in my head.
I want a celebration of life. I’m not talking about my funeral 1.0. When I’m dead, I don’t want a cheerful, “David wouldn’t want tears,” Celebration of Life. When I die, I want weeping, wailing, shrieking, gnashing of teeth, beating of chests and tearing of robes. I want people to be sad that I’m gone. If not one person can muster a howl at my demise, hire someone to do it. Sing In the Quiet Curve of Evening and Jesus, You have Come to the Lakeshore. Sing In the Bulb There is a Flower, if you must, but sing it like you’re not so damn certain! Then again, I’ll be dead. Do what you want.
Loitering among the graves, however, I fantasized a ceremony where the great cloud of witnesses—that’s you—circled this, my deteriorating body. I am supine, naked as the day I was born and wrapped my Star Blanket. One gnarly foot, with its thickening toenails, immodestly poking out at the bottom. And you? You are dancing wildly, jubilant and lifting my body, rocking me above your heads, all the while shouting wonderful things about me. Come to think of it, it would make a nice funeral ritual, too.
Of course, in these days of the plague, such gatherings are verboten, and—manifest outside of my imagination—are logistically challenging and embarrassingly awkward. Besides, I’m am slightly more curious about what you are celebrating about your life, than what you are celebrating about mine.
So, this is what I want for my birthday: to hear what you are celebrating in these days of global pandemic. Tell me about the small things that become grand: finding yeast at the grocery store, not knowing what day it is, driveway visits with neighbours, finding a bag of cinnamon buns hanging on your door knob, bird songs, duck eggs, something green pressing up from the soil, the grace of giving and of receiving—each an exchange of gratitude. Your degree of present suffering may make it more difficult to celebrate but it would lift my spirits, and perhaps yours, to raise your blessings above our heads. Tell it in words, or photos, video or song. Remind us how, in spite of it all, it is Good to be Here.
Tell us what you are celebrating here, or in the comments on Face Book
Painting by Martin Howard ‘Wasabe’ From the 2017 Lost and Found Exhibition
May 13, 2020
Parables for the Pandemic
A woman could find no yeast
She searched and searched
Day and night
Store and store
Until she found a jar.
She paid, with
From her purse.
She baked bread until
All the yeast was gone.
Then rising with joy,
She bagged the bread
And gave it away, with
A note to say:
“Rejoice with me,
For I had no yeast and
Found generosity instead.”
A writer lost a word.
He had hundreds
of perfectly good words,
But one was missing.
He searched his mind,
He searched internet
He asked his wife
If she’d seen his word.
One had wandered.
He found Old words
Like mercy, grace
He called friends
on the phone
“Rejoice with me,
I found some words
I thought were gone.”
A Leader and a builder.
Alone, at home, she
She searched the
Faces on her Zoom,
She counted her degrees,
Her pay and prizes.
She found herself,
In the mirror.
Alone and loved
Beyond all she’d done.
“Rejoice with me.
This daughter of mine
And is alive;
She was lost
Now is found!”
“They killed Jesus? Why did they do that? They are bad people! He didn’t do anything bad. It’s not fair!” Our three-year-old son ranted in this fashion the whole walk home from his first Good Friday worship service. The sidewalk—lined with filthy snow, grit and melting dog turds—the drizzle falling from a clay-coloured sky, the barren trees and the moaning wind all seemed to agree.
Our son, for the first time, realized that baby Jesus, who became a man of the marginalized and a healer, was murdered. He was furious and inconsolable in his despair over the injustice of Jesus’ crucifixion. I held his hand. I told him Jesus’ friends probably felt the same way. I didn’t mention Easter. Tears ran down his cheeks.
Only the most courageous among us truly surrender ourselves to the Good Friday story. We prefer to put Jesus in the tomb, like bread into a toaster, confident he will pop back up on Easter morning. No worries. Friday’s grisly scene will soon be transformed into pastels, tulips, painted eggs, bunnies and sunrises.
What if we had only a charismatic, donkey riding, peasant revolutionary who was publicly tortured and put to death by a powerfully militarized occupying empire?
In Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night—about his survival in a German concentration camp—he describes being forced to witness the slow, agonizing death of a young boy, hanged for collaborating against the Nazis:
Behind me, I heard… a man asking: “Where is God now?”
And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows….”
We’re Easter people. We hurry from cross to empty tomb—the show stopper, the orchestra swelling, trumpets and timpani sounding, proclamations of the end of injustice and suffering, the victory of life over death.
Can we be honest? Death and suffering have not been defeated.
The resurrection—like Donald Trump on the return to normal after COVID-19—is aspirational. It is described poetically, with metaphors and symbols—the curving neck of fiddleheads, crocuses sprouting in the snow, the song of a sparrow in a blossoming cherry tree, the restoration of relationships, an ineffable inner awakening—all true, beautiful and full of promise.
Good Friday, on the other hand, is as literal as a grave. The fear, despair, injustice, violence and suffering of God on a cross persists in the flesh.
On this Good Friday of the plague, where is God? God is weeping in Italy and Spain, perishing in a Bobcaygeon nursing home, laying down her or his life for friends and strangers at the hospital and the grocery store, suffocating for lack of a respirator, sleeping cheek to jowl in a homeless shelter, deprived of a final kiss, alone, bracing as the pandemic stalks Africa. Suffering and death abound.
This week, a little girl came to the food bank with her mother. Stressed, tired and laid off from her minimum-wage job, Mom accepted the grocery card and picked 10 items from the pantry shelf. Her daughter rummaged through a basket of hotel toiletries. “She wants one of those hotel shampoos,” her mother sighed, “to wash her hair. I use soap.” But the shampoos were all gone. Only hand lotions were left in the basket.
“Where is God,” I wanted to cry, “when a frightened little girl cannot have 30 lousy millilitres of shampoo to wash her hair?”
And I heard Good Friday answer: “Where is God? Here She is—searching in a basket for shampoo.”
Photo from the Aida refugee camp, in Bethlehem, a memorial to children killed in conflict with Israel in 2014. (Photo: James Walker)
These Canadian pilgrims learned difficult truths about life in Israel and the West BankBy David Giuliano
December 15, 2019 – Good to Be Here, Cleaning the Bathroom
Last week, I went skiing and snowshoeing through the woods, where the sunshine cast long purple spruce tree shadows and there were lynx and fox tracks to follow. There was crisp winter air to draw into my lungs and expel—warm with sigh—glad to be alive, caught up in the mystery and healing of creation. On days like those, it is easy to remember that, “It is good to be here.”
Cleaning the bathroom? Not so much. My standards aren’t exceptionally high when it comes to the spit ‘n’ polish or the antibacterial attributes of our bathroom, but from time to time it’s got to get done. I put the mats and the waste basket out in the hall for shaking and emptying later. I clear the counter of hand lotion, razors, contact lens containers and solutions. I put the soap dish in the drawer and flip the shower curtain over the rod, readied for a full on bathtub scrub.
We try to stick with environmentally friendly cleaning supplies. None of the tile cleaners that, in the television commercials, send forth happy little spinning, foaming brushes that leave everything covered in digitized sparkles. At our house, there is a lot of vinegar, baking soda, eco-friendly soap and a lot of elbow grease involved. I sometimes covet those little smiling brushes that do all the work.
I shake baking soda and sunlight soap into the toilet and bathtub and spray the shower tiles and mirror with vinegar.
Admittedly, there is satisfaction in the fresh shine on the mirror and chrome taps, and in scouring the clot of dried toothpaste from the counter. The toilet. I’m not squeamish about toilets. A brief stint in the military right out of high school disabused me of any reluctance about diving—metaphorically—right in. It would be nice to have something industrial with which to blast the hard water stains streaking down into the bowl. The tub is fun—there’s a lot tidal swishing of water involved. Then the dreaded tiles which, in spite my best efforts, inevitably lead to soapy water running down my raised arm from the rag into my armpit.
Finally, on my knees—with no thoughts of prayer—I double-rag, backward out the door, while swiping up matted hair balls and errant toenail clippings.
It’s easy in the forest, or by candle light, or beneath the stars; it is more difficult—but not impossible—kneeling in the hallway, having cleaned the bathroom, to remember, “It’s good to be here.”
December 11, 2019 – I woke up to dancing
I woke up—but did not want to get—up 5:30 AM this morning. So I listened to BBC’s Cultural Frontline. Today’s show was called “Rave for a revolution”, about the power of techno-dance culture in the Palestinian struggle for justice.
In August, I traveled to Palestine with a group of young adults from Canada (read more about that in the January issue of Broadview Magazine). In Bethlehem, we were invited by our host to “a little engagement party for my nephew and his fiancée.” This little party turned out to be a feast for five-hundred and, including indoor pyrotechnics. It was the dancing, though, that inspired me.
Bethlehem is part of West Bank, and, for Palestinians, essentially a prison. Yet, in the midst of this constant stress, injustice, restricted movement, and apparent hopelessness, the dancing was positively ecstatic – the bride hoisted on chair, the groom riding the shoulders of various men, a bottle of champagne cracked open with a sword and fountaining over an elegantly dressed mosh pit of the young and the old, all bouncing to the beat of Arabic dance music. I was taken up into this raucous heaven on earth by the unaccountable joy of it. An irrepressible anarchy of joy and hope flowed through the room—joy and hope not grounded in the cruel facts of daily life but in defiance of the powers that seek to crush hope, peace, joy and love in those who dance-anyway.
This morning I lay in bed remembering the mysticism of that night in Bethlehem, and Emma Goldman, who said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And I remembered, it’s good to be here, where dancing is sometimes the most subversive thing you can do.
December 10, 2019
It’s good to be here. The further I travel from my Camino de Cancer, the harder it gets to remember that truth. So, in league with you who daily share your gratitude – like the always inspiring Laura Fouhse– I intend to remind myself each day that is indeed good to be here.
This morning it was -30 something Celsius with the wind chill factored in. I bundled up and went outside to shovel our driveway in that liminal time between night and day. I caught a last glimpse of the full moon and then the sun bleeding into the sky. I breathed the snap of air, felt the snow beneath my feet, and heard my neighbours beginning their days. A school bus roared past, ferrying a load of little miracles off to school. And I remembered, it’s good to be here.
Maybe you, like me, have a difficult time remembering that it is good to be here. Maybe life has taken you to places that aren’t good to be. I welcome your reflections and observations.
Light a Fire Against the Night
Gather up what is broken
Bring what is wounded
Bring the long winter
and the impossibility of spring.
Bring hearts cracked open
by sadness, by defeat, even guilt.
Bring your whispered prayers
your raging souls,
your pain filled memories
and your dreams, stolen.
Bring your doubt and anger too.
Bring the lie, bring the lie
about the finality of death.
Bring it all, bring it all, bring it all.
Together we will carry it, like kindling.
Stack it high, brittle stick on stick
and rub those bones together,
to light a fire against the night.
The Candle Man
In a garage, in an alley-
way in Thunder Bay,
there is an old man
who deals in candles,
on dark December nights.
A little boy, soft
in his brown parka,
peers into an open box
packed and stacked
with unlit, waiting lights.
He drops a mitten
to the floor forgotten, to
the mystery of the waxen sticks,
their cold and ready wicks,
awaiting fire, awaiting flame.
The old magician conjures up
a glass and purple globe,
sets it—like host—into small
upturned and empty hands,
entrusting it to inner lands.
“This one is mine,”
whispers the boy.
“Yes, for your advent,”
says the old man. “Yes,”
says the candle man.
And a garage, in an alley-
way in Thunder Bay,
flares with votive light,
becomes a grand cathedral,
on a dark December night.
Do you wonder why?
Does the birch tree
cry out, when its bark
splits open, unable to
contain one new ring
Does the dandelion
Mourn an infant seed,
carried on a warm breath
to waiting fertile soil
Does the green snake
gaze back upon her
discarded skin, longing
for days when she felt
Does the still, blue pond
refuse to reflect the sky
because the geese
it hosts discover wings
Do you wonder why
every birth, and every dawn
of every day, promises
tears of grief and of gladness
as the way?