Monday, November 24, 2014

all that is glorious

All That Is Glorious Around Us

by Barbara Crooker

is not, for me, these grand vistas, sublime peaks, mist-filled
overlooks, towering clouds, but doing errands on a day
of driving rain, staying dry inside the silver skin of the car,
160,000 miles, still running just fine. Or later,
sitting in a café warmed by the steam
from white chicken chili, two cups of dark coffee,
watching the red and gold leaves race down the street,
confetti from autumn's bright parade. And I think
of how my mother struggles to breathe, how few good days
she has now, how we never think about the glories
of breath, oxygen cascading down our throats to the lungs,
simple as the journey of water over a rock. It is the nature
of stone / to be satisfied / writes Mary Oliver, It is the nature
of water / to want to be somewhere else, rushing down
a rocky tor or high escarpment, the panoramic landscape
boundless behind it. But everything glorious is around
us already: black and blue graffiti shining in the rain's
bright glaze, the small rainbows of oil on the pavement,
where the last car to park has left its mark on the glistening
street, this radiant world.


And it's true that all that is glorious is not just the grand vistas and sublime peaks. But we enjoyed them all the same this past weekend as we made a quick road trip to Banff for the annual art show at Canada House Gallery. We left early the next morning since we invariably wake up at 6am, weekend or not. It was still dark when we drove out of town, and both of us just wanted to be back home. I'd wanted to take photos around town, but gave that idea up. And honestly, I wasn't expecting much, maybe a click or two as we drove through the park. But then the sun rose, and holy. The colours!

I say yes to the radiance of the every day, to the glories of breath, but I also say yes to the sunrise in the rocky mountains, as we drove through, back home to those we love, and to our simple and rather happily dull existence.

The light all around was glorious and changed so quickly. I won't even try to describe the experience but will leave you with the photos, which admittedly, are abundant. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

in the name of the marigold sun


by Michael McCarthy

I bless you in the name of the morning
the first thing of it, whispering
through the folds of my ear-imprinted pillow.
In the name of the mirror, toothbrush
and the slow shower that clarifies
vowels and consonants of my waking.

I bless you in the name of the breakfast
the wake up of it, orange juice and 
Quaker Oats, sometimes Cornflakes
milk, white and breathless
becoming supple flesh of sally-rod
bone of unbreakable dolomite.

I bless you in the name of toast, buttered
spread flat, not to mention marmalade 
its orange ribs rolled into this glass jar.
And in the name of an egg, boiled
in a white fountain-head of bubbles
the shell cracked open, and salted.

I bless you in the name of the chair, upright
my feet soft-shod on the floor-shine.
In the name of Gerry, who lives downstairs
and makes no more noise than a mouse
and in the name of the mouse
for whose absence I am grateful.

I bless you in the name of the marigold sun
remembering me to the meadows, where cows
who neither know nor number, graze
in a mist that is minding its own business
as it rises over the river
disappearing until nightfall. 

I bless you in the name of the air
rising over my childhood
when I stood to my waist in the water
splashed in a sacrament of swimming.
Where I ran round the field with my sister
in her summer of first communion.

I bless you in the name of that summer
for girls who came down from the city
and our games played in white clover. 
Once and for all and over and over
for moments of eternity
here and now, and forever. Amen.

{used with the author's permission}

The above poem is by a good friend of mine, and one to which I often return. It's even better when Michael reads it aloud. I remember hearing him read it when he lived here in Edmonton, for a while. And then he later recorded it, so I can hear his voice anytime I like. It's from his book Birds' Nests and Other Poems, which won the Patrick Kavanagh Award. Kind of a big deal. You can find copies on places like Abe Books etc, and perhaps in your local library. You can find some of his more recent work via The Poetry Business.

What is it about the poem above though, that almost always makes my hair stand on end, in the way that happens when you read a poem you love. It's the details, unadorned, clear, but homely, and full of memory and reverence. The description of Quaker Oats and cereal and eggs gets me every time. And then, Gerry. There's something about the Gerry stanza that makes me happy and chokes me up. The pure innocence of the last two stanzas. The potential for a beautiful childhood to live on and on inside us. The power of that, and the lovely gentleness.

When I asked him if I could use his poem this morning he reminded me that he'd written it in Edmonton, when he was here on sabbatical, and this makes it even more special for me.

A life in poetry, in writing can be a very strange thing. Though it might be difficult to believe at the beginning of a poetry career, you will make enemies, simply because of what or how you write. The good news is, you'll also make friends. Really amazing people who struggle with ideas, overcome pain, confront grief, whose hearts are big and full, and who are courageous and open. They live in uncertainty, with little acclaim for their artistic work. Their lives are often pared down, at times perilous. These people are invariably extremely hardworking. They give things up so they can instead carve time out to be creative. They're the people you ask to read something you've written because you're full of angst over it and they drop everything to do so. Their critique is honest and understanding and they know how to word things, but they don't let you off the hook.

Among the many gifts of the writing life is this kind of friendship. In fact, I've talked about this with several writing friends, and we always come back to this as the primary gift, besides the writing itself.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

cool and quiet


by Charles Simic

Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

{listen to Charles Simic read the poem}

Would you rather be a dove or a tiger or a stone? There's a question. I suppose I'd side with Simic, and choose to become a soft smooth stone.

When you were a kid did you always have a stone in your pocket for good luck, or reassurance? I'll still pick a nice stone up when I see one. Who knows why exactly. But the one in the top photograph seems to echo the texture of my Claire Fontaine notebook, the one where I jot down daily thoughts, happenings, anxieties, angst.

If we were having tea, what would we talk about.

I'd tell you about the video made of Rob painting during his writer in residenceship at Graceland University and which you can view on Facebook. I'd tell you about the latest from our Humans of EPL project, and ask you to click like etc.

This weekend Rob and I will be heading to Banff, for the Canada House Gallery 40th annual "JOY" Christmas show. Looking forward to seeing great art, hanging out with cool artists, and of course all the lovely and joy-filled gallery folks.

We finished watching series two of Endeavour, starring Shaun Evans as Morse. The cliffhanger ending though.....kind of killed me. And now the wait for series three......waaaah!

Meanwhile, have been thinking a lot about typewriters, typing. Over the years of reading this blog you've like seen one or two of our typewriters make an appearance in various photographs. In the next photo I paired one of them with a painting of clouds Rob did for us a few years back, then decided he didn't like and hid it in the basement.

I missed it though, and had him bring it up, and hung it in my study. Quite enjoying it there.

Though it probably won't be this lovely little Remington Cadet, I would like to get one of the typewriters in typing condition. I'd like to try working on one for a change of pace. I have a Smith-Corona (blue) that's in working shape, save the ribbon. So my next step will be to track down one of those on the internet.

There's been much interest in the typewriter app designed by Tom Hanks, which is cool, but it's the real thing that calls me at present.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

frayed loveliness


by Donald Justice

It's snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.
There is only this sound of falling, quiet and remote,
Like the memory of scales descending the white keys
Of a childhood piano—outside the window, palms!
And the heavy head of the cereus, inclining,
Soon to let down its white or yellow-white.

Now, only these poor snow-flowers in a heap,
Like the memory of a white dress cast down . . .
So much has fallen.
And I, who have listened for a step
All afternoon, hear it now, but already falling away,
Already in memory. And the terrible scales descending
On the silent piano; the snow; and the absent flowers


"It's true, I think, as Kenko says in his Idleness,
That all beauty depends upon disappearance,
The bitten edges of things,
                    the gradual sliding away
Into tissue and memory,
                    the uncertainty
And dazzling impermanence of days we beg our meanings from,
And their frayed loveliness."

- Charles Wright from The World of the Ten Thousand Things

"Dreamers like a severe winter," says Baudelaire, and I am well into my usual winter reveries. Thinking about beauty, impermanence, and as Charles Wright calls it, the 'frayed loveliness' and 'the bitten edges of things.' I'm collecting phrases to describe snow, the 'white dress cast down' and the falling of snow like 'scales descending on the silent piano.'

The photos were taken the same day as yesterday's photos, in my yard. The same sunflowers, at their wit's end by now, mad, frayed, lovely.

The decorative ball hanging in our cherry tree.

And then the Tibetan bells I have in the front yard, which I seem to capture at least once each year, frosted, sugared, bitten.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

winter blessings

Winter Is the Best Time

by David Budbill

Winter is the best time
to find out who you are.

Quiet, contemplation time,
away from the rushing world,

cold time, dark time, holed-up
pulled-in time and space

to see that inner landscape,
that place hidden and within.



by Anne Sexton

blessed snow,
comes out of the sky
like bleached flies.
The ground is no longer naked.
The ground has on its clothes.
The trees poke out of sheets
and each branch wears the sock of God.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
I bite it.
Someone once said:
Don't bite till you know
if it's bread or stone.
What I bite is all bread,
rising, yeasty as a cloud.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
Today God gives milk
and I have the pail.

You might remember back in the spring I shared Max Richter's Vivaldi Recomposition of "Spring." I think it's now time for winter:

As difficult as I sometimes find winter, there's part of me that agrees with the sentiment "winter is the best time." I really feel the snow as blessed, the frost. The light, early morning in winter, is blessed. There is hope, even if we have to repeat this to ourselves over and over to believe it.

Yesterday morning there was a beautifully heavy frost. The night previous, before bed, we looked out our front window and there had been a fog, so I knew the next day would produce some interesting weather related phenomenon. Part of me wanted to hop in the car and drive somewhere and take photos there. It wouldn't last, though, especially on a sunny day. So off I went on my usual.

Besides, it seemed a sort of loyalty to my path.

I think this next one is my favourite of the bunch.

The frost was so heavy, everything hung with the weight of it.

You can see Ace has the posing thing down. This is his noble dog looking off into the distance pose.

I take a photo from a similar spot quite often. But I liked the faint trace of an airplane in the upper righthand corner of this one:

A different stand of trees, on our way home, that we often tromp through.

A particular tree on the way back through the streets, full of chickadees - too high up to properly capture with my short lens.

The light gets higher on our way home. The frost won't last long in those branches.

Close to home, on one of the side streets. This tree. Also full of birds.

An overload of photographs today, then. But if you're the sort who likes to take pictures of cold things, then this has been a pretty spectacular winter so far.....many blessings to be found in the season.