Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Magpie Tales: Snow Dreams in Red

Snow Dreams in Red

A dreaming ashen stillness falls upon
The frozen breathless path, the sapless woods,
The winter of my brother’s death. An etude
Full of young men’s voices calling, his wan,
A hush above the rest. Fleshy heart gone.
The snow so bright, I weep. Weary to rest
My own scarlet vesture beneath my breast.
Strewn with arrows memory hastens on
To pierce far beyond the hard icy rim.
His bright Robin hair shines into the grey
Of sombre wind-rent flakes, that gather grim
Around the dying portals of the day.
The snow so red, I bleed. His tawny lore
Dressed in white, his voice sings evermore.

(This sonnet is dedicated to the memory of my beloved red-headed brother, Jason, 1975 - 2003.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Permitting Play Time

My youngest sister, H, and her little son.

 During the three years I parented my two little grandsons, I gradually came to the conclusion that young parents are under enormous pressure. It seems greater than I remember from the time when my own children were small.

There is an intense push to have your child enrolled in multiple activities, to provide a constant barrage of educational experiences and classes of every description. I also think there is a bigger pressure now to be seen as the perfect nurturer, and to produce a child who is viewed somehow as "more special" than the rest.

In my months standing outside the school waiting for kindergarten dismissal each day, I listened to a litany of parents discussing their child-rearing methods and children’s achievements. There appeared to be an almost desperate need to display superior philosophies.

"We have her in dance three times a week now. The teacher says she’s very gifted."

"We already often eat dinner in the car. I don’t know what I’ll do once the baby is old enough to start activities!"

"He has developed a strong sense of personal space. He is a spirited boy.", said one mother, smiling as her son shoved several children out of his way as he pushed to the head of the line.

I don't like the guilt-mongering and pressure. We parents and grandparents need to be kinder and more gentle with each other. No matter what my preferences and prejudices, the goal should be happy, healthy children ... all children ... not just mine because they're somehow more deserving or "special" than yours. As though all other children are lacking, cheated, less worthy.

An excellent surgeon I once worked with, a very nice, empathic man, shared something with a group of us one day. He was taken aback when his eight year old daughter, after being informed that one of her extra-curricular classes had been cancelled, exclaimed joyfully, "Daddy, do I really have a whole afternoon off?!" If I remember correctly, this little girl was involved in a dizzying array of activities which included piano lessons, dance, gymnastics and Japanese Kumon.

During the holidays, I watched my youngest grandson, aged four, completely absorbed in arranging a series of small sticks in the snow, rocks dotted here and there alongside small cars in an elaborate design of his own making. His mind was cradled in its own rocking.

I passionately believe that children need, as we all do, spaces where passions and visions dance without specific shape. Being over-programmed with scheduled activity takes a toll not just on the child’s soul and body, but on those of its parents as well.

Maybe the only remedy is to permit ourselves and our children to play. To become absorbed in the apparent nothing which is everything.

My grandson, D (in the orange shirt), playing with some of his kindergarten friends.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Good Woman

As this January morning whitened, I took a taxi. The news was on and a story about a violent act committed by a youth was broadcast. The driver, hands clenched tightly on the wheel, expressed to me that, "The problem with the world today is that women think about their careers instead of thinking about their duty as wives and mothers."

His words are expressed politely, but there is an edge to them. "Life can be complex," I murmur. "No," he says. "My daughter will be a good woman."

From his mirror dangles a laminated photo of two children. The little girl looks out with huge, limpid brown eyes. I wonder about her. She’s wearing an orange butterfly clip in her thick, dark hair. I stare at it. A butterfly meant to be probing the heart of tiger lilies, meant to be ascending the sky in papery bursts, improbably strong. Will she find herself stretching, constrained, bound by glass walls she can’t escape?

The silence between me and the driver grows. I want to tell him that our children bear all our hopes, and fears, and expectations. That, these we wrap around us in the guise of love and care. I say nothing more, except, "Thank you" and "Have a good day", as I leave the taxi.

As I trudge through the snow, something in me yearns towards the little girl in the picture. A nice man, and one I’m sure cares deeply for his family, the taxi driver perhaps cannot see the butterfly he pleasantly hopes to confine within a jar. Should I have tried to say more, I ponder? I felt incapable of articulating any words which might have bridged the chasm between us. Am I being too judgmental, too righteous, too fanciful?

Later, I think of the paradoxes inherent in the form and physics of snow. It can be soft and hard. Light and heavy. Thick and delicate. It freezes and insulates. It compacts and fluffs. It is both secretive in what it hides and open-faced in what it presents. It can be so implacably glaring, and yet so softly, amorphously beautiful.

Like a good woman.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Primordial Symphony

Today I turned 54. What better way to celebrate, than to do something I have never done before ... share one of my poems in a public forum! Thus, I have joined the orchestra in this week's Magpie Tales.

Primordial Symphony

A scuff of deer tracks,
crows feet
against my eyes
a symphony of wind song
Breathy sighs
And whispers,
Eternal murmuring;

roots and boughs,
lime filigree of light
my feet release the
song of cedar;

A plethora of
twisted wood
against tide
and mountains
to flight;

If these pieces
of music
predict any arrangement
it is that
all resting places
shall be

And for now
I am simply here
breathing air
needing no
rigid reason
for life but my

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Three Days in Hebden Bridge

Ever since discovering that Tony lives in beautiful Hebden Bridge, I have wanted to write about my own time there in September, 2004. Gem and I spent three days there visiting my sister, Connie, and her two beautiful adopted daughters, Kira and Freya.

Connie is my next in age sister, sixteen months younger than me. For all the years of our childhood, we shared a bedroom. We registered the slightest fluctuation of each others’ moods. We fought intensely sometimes, but loved each other fully, unquestionably. When I remained in Canada and Connie decided to go to England to attend university, that pattern was interrupted. Her absence from my life was like a question that I had to answer every day, until it became a part of me, like all the other barbs that are snagged on the walls of my soul.

I’m not aware of it before I arrive in Hebden Bridge, but my sister’s 12 year relationship has recently ended. Her eyes are no longer receptive, lively, but are bitter with concealment, haunted with pain. She carries her fear like a shielded flame. She and her little girls entwine their arms around each other constantly. Her eyes follow them hungrily everywhere they go.

We’ve lost our easy words with each other, but we walk all over Hebden Bridge together. Gem takes pictures, and I absorb myself in my nieces, holding their hands, peering into shop windows, stopping to buy them each a soft toy. We go out for lunch, and five year old Kira climbs onto my lap. “My Mummy is sad,” she whispers audibly into my ear.

On the way home, Connie pushes three year old Freya on a swing in the small playground near her house. The expression on my sister’s face is frozen, drained of essence. My husband wonders privately to me if we are intruding, and should leave before the planned three days are up.

My sister cooks dinner, and I paint the girls’ faces. Freya peers delightedly at the result in the mirror, and Gem captures the magic of that moment. Later, he goes out by himself in search of a pub. I stay and help my sister put the little ones to bed, and then we talk. “I don’t know how I’m going to do this alone”, she tells me. She starts to weep and the swallows her tears in an audible gulp. Gem comes back having found what he sought. He finds us stuck into the wine, laughing hysterically.

Two days later, as Gem and I walk to the railway station, I am aware of an abiding peace and beauty all around me. It seems in direct contrast to my sister’s fragility. The loveliness is almost painful. I’m not mourning the loss of my sister, but rather the passing of a time when were in the same flux and our stories were concurrent.

When we leave, Connie hugs me fiercely, kisses my cheek. “I love you,” she says. Her words sound almost surprised, as if she has suddenly just realized that it’s true.

Six years later, and so much has happened since our brief visit to Hebden Bridge. Connie has moved with her daughters to Canada. They live in Ottawa close by another sister, and are building a good life for themselves. Connie teaches at a highschool there. She is vibrant, alive, happy. Kira, now eleven, plays the French horn in the city youth orchestra. Freya, aged nine, takes ballet and gymnastics.

Another change: my hair has turned snow white, and I’ve chosen to leave it that way!

Although I hadn't looked at these pictures in several years, seeing them now, I am instantly transported back to the mellow sunshine of those three poignant days in Hebden Bridge.