On June 10, 2013, it will be ten years since Canadians won the right to same-sex marriage. I wrote a short piece on queer marriage in Canada for the Ms Foundation for Women blog recently, which can be found here:
“I discover that your skin can be lifted layer by layer, I pull , it lifts off, it coils above your knees, I pull starting at the labia, it slides the length of the belly, fine to extreme transparency. I pull starting at the loins, the skin uncovers the round muscles and trapezii of the back, it peels off up to the nape of the neck, I arrive under your hair, m/y fingers traverse its thickness, I touch your skull, I grasp it with all m/y fingers, I press it, I gather the skin over the whole cranial vault, I tear off the skin brutally beneath the hair, I reveal the beauty of the shining bone traversed by blood-vessels, m/y two hands crush the vault and the occiput behind, now m/y fingers bury themselves in the cerebral convolutions, the meninges are traversed by cerebrospinal fluid flowing from all quarters, m/y hands are plunged in the soft hemispheres, I seek the medulla and the cerebellum tucked in somewhere underneath, now I hold all of you silent immobilized every cry blocked in your throat your last thoughts behind your eyes caught in m/y hands, the daylight is no purer than the depths of m/y heart, my dearest one.” -Monique Wittig, The Lesbian Body (Le Corps Lesbien)
I see people on FB thanking various helping professions often, people whose work, I know, is to be lauded, but whose work is paid and generally, at least in Canada, comes with benefits.
I’ve never seen anyone thank writers, so I’m going to. Thank you, writers, for labouring so intensively, usually without even the hope let alone the promise of even minimum wage, never mind benefits, to produce works of art that will live in our hearts and minds forever, that will change us in countless, wonderful, unexpected ways, that will build bridges between communities, that will make us laugh and weep and learn and despair and celebrate and forget ourselves for an hour or a day or a week.
We need you, and we will never stop needing you. So when it’s hard, when you feel you can’t go on for another word or paragraph, know that we’re out here, appreciating all that you do to make books come true . Three cheers!
A pair of twitchy yellow warblers tumbling themselves through the tree branches today, no doubt in some kind of fat bird mating nirvana; a huge thrill for me as I’ve never seen any before. Now if a pileated woodpecker would just attack the cedar tree, I’d be in heaven.
In writing news, kids, the Montreal International Poetry Prize is finishing up for the year, so get your entries buffed, prettied and submitted. Catch this, my babios: the purse is $20,000.
Happy Mother’s Day for those of you celebrating the occasion. I have always loved it, for it brings spring flowers and my children to my side, along with reminiscences like breast feeding my girls. My best Mother’s Day gift was when my children were very very small, and, in daycare, Sarah had made an ashtray (which I cherished). Her little sister, almost two, wasn’t to be outdone. She peeled out of my bedroom in a blaze and a minute later returned with her head cocked, blushing with pleasure, hiding something behind her back. “What did you bring me, sweetheart?” I asked and she held it out. Something from her room. Something she could bear to part with: a dirty sock.
four a.m. feeding
I light no lamp
i go by ache
the song of your hunger
to your humid nest my hands
curl under your arms and lift
it’s instinct this gift
i give you at night
i know you
smell you when i can’t see you
buttons to unfasten
it’s hard to work my fingers
and juggle you
but sooon i fold you
in the crook of my arm
these pouches of stone
four hours without you
look what it does
you seek me
blindly rooting for the source
it is there
i melt and gush
you choke break cough
gurgling to your belly
milk splatters your face and fuzzy scalp
milk sweet and warm such
plenty to grow on
i nuzzle your head
and rock the chair
slip my hand
under your gown
your miniature toes
little peach little plum
i cannot imagine you
-Jane Eaton Hamilton from “Body Rain”
I had the deep pleasure of hearing Cheryl Strayed during her event this week in Vancouver. The author of “Wild” and “Tiny Beautiful Things” compiling her Dear Sugar columns is witty, engaging and bright. I know many of us wish we had done something as brave and personal as walk the Pacific Crest Trail alone at 25, and the rest of us are just glad Cheryl did so that eventually she could write “Wild” and we could read it.
“No animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.” Fyodor Dostoyevski
I’ve been ruminating the last couple of weeks, and, really, for the last three years, on Dostoyevski’s notion of the artful use of cruelty (as I watch the exuberant machinations of the recently tin-hearted). I’ve been striving to understand how big hearts just suddenly pucker up like lemon-mouths, turn sour and vengeful and tiny. Watching a beloved tumble into the muck and then just stick there like a bug in amber, like a butterfly pinned to rubber, like a pithed frog? It’s horrible. One longs to call them back, back, back towards love and openness, towards the gentle embrace, towards trust and laughter, towards a world replete with beauty. One longs for siren fingers. Crabbed callousness must hurt like a pinch, like a slap, like a punch, must it not?
“Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable,” said Tennessee Williams through Blanche Dubois in a Streetcar Named Desire.
But I keep my mantra firmly to mind: No matter what the question is, the answer is almost always art.
Make. Make. Make. Make. When you can’t help someone, this is what you do:
Thursday in the Afternoon
Anvil stirrup semicircular canals hammer on drum
red electrical impulses towards vestibulocochlear nerve
or just eustachian canal
just just just stand closer
small whorl/d/s minute hairs vibrations
stand here where whispering nothing at all
“I believe one of the jobs of a writer is to feel life and then report on feelings. Fiction may be fantastical, but it is also emotional reportage. (Non-fiction = external truths. Fiction = internal ones. Discuss.)” –Matt Haig
As Graham Greene noted, and Matt Haig paraphrases, writers bank emotion, and when we write, we withdraw our funds. Again and again, easily enough to retire on. We use them to build a bed, a room, a house, and then when we publish, we invite you in.
“You need to feel life’s terror to feel its wonder.”- Matt Haig
I believe this. To lead a full emotion life is a talent. To not be frightened to feel is a gift. To cherish it all–the rocks, the glass, the soft down of a magnolia petal–is to live fully.
To quote Leon Rooke on one of my book blurbs, “She sits you down in her hardest chair, litters tacks on the floor about your naked feet, and holds you there petrified but alert as she speaks the body’s news.”
We have accounts full of celebration and joy and dancing, full of critical analysis, full of the sights and sounds of our lives, full of our daughter’s smiles. If we’re lucky and talented, we are able to translate the entire shebang in ways that might alarm but also move you.
I have been very carefully watching and listening to the spring bird life around my new house. We are surrounded by green, here, from swishing bamboo to cherry trees leafing out after spreading their white arms over the back garden, and the birds, now welcomed with seed and suet, are enthusiastic about full bellies at nesting time. I’ve seen the usual suspects–the striped finches, of course, who eat right at the feeder, but also the fat-belled chickadees and the ground-pecking black-headed juncos. The suet is attracting bush tits, startlingly noisy for creatures barely bigger than popcorn. Up in the trees I can hear the sharp calls of flickers, drawn, no doubt, to suet here and perhaps further away. There’s a cadre of cats living here, and all of them, thank goodness, are too elderly or uninterested to do anything at all to end a bird’s life. Even my Zoey, who, having once been wild, used to just need to extend a paw into the air and a bird would fly right in.
I love the unreasonable happiness and hope of springtime in Vancouver. The magnolias are pooping out just down the street, but I stop anyway and stroke the waxy petals thinking of a photographic series I once made of them. A neighbour has a brilliantly lush vine of Clematis armandii, and each time I pass I fill my head with its subtle delicious scent. The temperatures are climbing. The birds are busy. The bulbs thrust lustily up. Last year, I was so grateful to be given a cutting from a lilac shrub I swooned over–a late, dark-purple double–and this year it has a floret.
I think only good luck can follow all the wonder and awe I daily feel here.