March 31, 2014

A Spring Poem that Isn't, and Some that Are

I will not attempt to write a poem about spring
I fear it would not amount to anything

Bluebells, lambs and other new creatures
and subjects which a spring poem usually features

Would certainly grow weary being under my pen
Their glory not enhanced by being written of again

Although the urge rises up in my heart
"The sunlight on verdant green buds..." I won't start

Not writing such a poem is my gift to you
So, like me, read some good ones and feel spring anew!

Daffodils by Mark Slaughter

I fell in love - 
Taken by the innocence of 
Child-face daffodils: 

Their perky April fanfares - 
Clarion calls from yellow-ochre brass bands - 
Presaging, rejoicing, calling us: 

"Here we are! Here we are!'

Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring - 
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. - Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Today by Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

And we can even listen to Philip Larkin read his poem, The Trees.

There are plenty more spring poems to be found. Some more good ones are here. Enjoy! The first three photos I found on Google Images, but the last one is of a tree in my garden last spring.

March 22, 2014

When the Silver Lining Fades

I tend to subscribe to the idea that Every Cloud has a Silver Lining. I just find it pays to be positive in general. I am not always such a Pollyanna type. I have my dark hours of self-doubt and of disgust with the world, but overall, as I heard someone say in a documentary about the uncertain future of the planet I agree that 'Pessimism is not a strategy." (Not that I am a strategic person. I tend to float along taking opportunities as they present themselves - or not - and going with my instincts.) When unfortunate circumstances arise, I tend to find the upside fairly quickly, as long as the circumstance does not last too, too long.

Take the last couple of weeks of my life as an example. First, my husband caught a cold. I had it three days later, and much worse than he did. It was just a cold, I told myself. I could still read, eat well, sip hot lemon and honey. It wasn't bad at all, really. I got better for two days and my eldest daughter caught the cold. I roasted a chicken, made soup, cleaned a little and caught up on the laundry, glad to be feeling better enough to look after her. Then, my husband came home with a tale of a guest at his hotel who had spent the day vomiting. He was concerned about catching her flu. That night, he came down with stomach flu and I was relieved I could help him out in the middle of the night when his symptoms were at their worst and he fainted in the upstairs hallway. I am not sure if it was the guest's flu or just part two of whatever we had started with, but two days later, I came down with it. I spent three days in and out of bed. I would think I was getting better, only to be up half the night with stomach cramps and spend the next sleeping to recover. Still, I was grateful that my daughter was feeling better and could help with meals, and that my husband had recovered so quickly from his flu and could look after everything else. The silver linings were still within view.

One evening, my eldest daughter, by then well recovered from her cold, asked me how I was feeling."It's only a matter of time," I said.

"Until what?" she asked me, eyebrows furrowed, daring me to be pessimistic about my prognosis.

"Until I feel better."

"Oh," she said, brightening a little as if to say, "That's the mother I approve of." She despises other people's drama, just as I did at her age.

On the ninth day of my on-and-off illness, my husband came home early from work. He came to see me in our bedroom. I admitted to him I was completely miserable and frustrated, and burst into tears. After commiserating with me he went upstairs to see our youngest daughter who had, so far, escaped any version of the flu and was just home from school. I lay in my bed, comfortable, and somewhat relieved after my tiny nervous breakdown, but I still felt plenty sorry for myself. My cache of silver linings was all used up, I thought. I would just have to wait until this misery passed.

A few minutes later my husband returned to our room and poked his head around the door. "There's an email for you," he said.

"I'll read it later," I said, waving the idea of dealing with emails away with a limp hand and reclosing my eyes.

"It's from a movie magazine in Australia. They want to buy some of your photos. The ones you took of the set of Wayward Pines."

I opened my eyes and looked at him. A smile crept into the corners of my mouth. "Really?" No one had ever offered to pay me for any of my creative product before.

"I thought you'd like to know," he said flashing me a little grin and heading back upstairs. Sometimes it is unnerving to be known so well.

I had slept most of the day and suddenly, I felt hungry. I had been subsisting for the past several days on bread and cheese, crackers, apples and yogurt. I asked for a bowl of my homemade granola mixed with yogurt. I ate it all and began to feel slightly stronger. My youngest came down to visit me and I asked if she would like to watch some TV with me in my room. She went upstairs to get a DVD and returned to announce that her dad suggested we all watch it upstairs. I decided it would not kill me to get up and join my family in the living room. I made myself comfortable in my usual chair with a blanket and we watched an episode of the comedic classic Jeeves and Wooster. I would read that email from Australia later. For now, it was enough to know it was there waiting for me. Just when I thought the silver linings had deserted me, one had shown up gleaming and, even if it came to nothing, was giving me hope for the moment.

My husband made a light supper. I ate it and felt stronger still. The next day I read that email from Australia. It even seemed legitimate.

March 7, 2014

The Taxi Driver

I had taken the bus from the East Vancouver basement suite that I shared with my sister Clare and her husband to Simon Fraser University where I was to meet up with my girlhood friend Tanja. The bus ride had involved a couple of transfers and a bit of waiting at bus stops. In the waning daylight the trip had been alright, but I was not anxious to repeat it in reverse, in the dark, alone. I had supper with Tanja and her boyfriend at one of the campus places and we lingered, talking for several hours. When it was time for me to return home I decided to spend some of my precious student fund on a taxi, believing it to be the safer option for me at that hour of the night.

The taxi arrived and I said goodbye to my friend. I climbed into the back and gave my direction. The taxi driver was the chatty sort and he immediately began to talk. I soon realized that what he said did not make a lot of sense. He was asking me about how school was going in St. Catherine's. I told him, no, I was in my first term at UBC, and sat back to enjoy my door to door ride home. He kept on about St. Catherine's, which was a town in Ontario, over half way across the country. After trying to correct him once more, I realized my efforts were futile. He kept asking me about people and places I did not know in the least. I began to feel uneasy, wondering if my chauffeur was quite right in the head.

My taxi driver drove a bit erratically, turning down alleyways and cutting across blocks. He told me he was going to stop at a convenience store for a Coke. Did I want one? I told him in no uncertain terms, and perhaps with just a tinge of hysteria, that he was not going to stop and get a Coke, that he was to take me straight home. I was genuinely frightened by then. I wondered if I was going to get home. I wondered if he really meant to stop at a convenience store or was it an attempt to stop the car in some out of the way place where I would be raped and chopped up into pieces, stuffed in a duffle bag and dropped in a dumpster in some sketchy back alley where I would be found by some poor person searching for discarded food, my murder reported the next day on the front page of The Province. (My gift of imagination did not serve me well just then.)

My heart in my throat, I sat forward, gripping the vinyl trim on the edge of the back seat while my driver chatted cheerfully and nonsensically. He took me on a labyrinthian journey, none of which I recognized. Just when I was thinking about opening the car door and flinging myself out onto the pavement like they do in the movies, he turned onto our block and pulled up in front of our house. The trip that had seemed endless had taken, in actual fact, a fairly short time. His route, while unrecognizable to me - I had only lived in Vancouver a couple of months and was geographically challenged at the best of times -  had been a short cut accomplished by someone who knew the city like the back of his hand. With shaking legs I got out of the car. "How much do I owe you?" I said as calmly as possible. He quoted me a fair price, less than I had anticipated in fact, and I paid him.

My sister was home when I entered the house whitefaced and completely unstrung. I felt half relief and half guilt for misjudging my driver. I am sure now that he was a decent person, although I wondered if he had been high on some substance. Or maybe his state of mind was a mixture of working a double shift on very little sleep and good memories of a youth spent in St. Catherine's. I could only speculate. In any case, I felt lucky to be alive and extremely glad to be home with my sister. Clare gave me something to drink to help bring the colour back into my face and calm my frazzled nerves. My boyfriend (now husband) drove over from Kitsilano on the west side of the city to comfort me. I am not sure I ever quite fully recovered from my fright. I refused to go anywhere at night alone for the rest of the year.

While I was having a good experience at UBC and enjoying living with Clare and her husband my adventure with the taxi driver did little to ingratiate me with the city of Vancouver as a potential home in the future. I lived there on and off for the next three years, developing a love/hate relationship with the city. The love was for its beauty and variety, although I now know that I sought out places that reminded me of home: water, lakes and mountains. The hate (perhaps a slight exaggeration) was for the fact that I never seemed to fit in there. Too sensitive and inexperienced to let the sad scenes of my neighbourhood fall off me like rainwater off a duck's back, I was haunted in particular by the mute woman who accosted me every time I walked down the street, begging me for money while she shoved the scars on her wrists and throat in my face. Her plight, so dramatically contrasted by the ease and comfort I perceived in the wealthier neighbourhoods of the city, filled me with a sense of helplessness. I knew that my coins could do little to make her life better.

My boyfriend and I got married a year and a half after the taxi driver incident. At the end of my third year in Vancouver, my husband finished his practicum and was offered a job in the East Kootenays. I was ecstatic. The only thing I seemed to miss after we moved was the Greek fish market on Commercial drive. I could buy two plump, fresh fillets of sole for a song and bake them up beautifully with a sauce of dill and yogurt.