Sunday, December 20, 2015

Beyond words, music, images

A little 7-minute film produced in 2006 at Saint-Lukas, Brussels, school of arts, as part of the graphic design course, animating  "Of Death", a poem by Ivor Gurney, English composer and war poet who spent the last 15 years of his life in mental hospitals.  He died in 1937 at the age of 47, of tuberculosis.

Ivor Gurney, of Gloucestershire, wrote over 100 poems and 300 songs.  Some of his letters and poems were written in the trenches of World War I.

Gurney expressed, in verse, his experience of war, of those things he observed and reflected on during his long walks, alone; his sadness, his yearning for death.  A number of years ago artist Tom Denny created eight magnificent stinglass panels in his honor in a chapel in Gloucester Cathedral, each depicting moments from Ivor Gurney's life and writings.

I was particularly drawn to the 7th one ("To God").   The person who took the above photo remarked that the people standing and gazing at these windows"were moved to tears by what Gurney had seen and suffered."[1]

Poetry, music, and art that move us.  An odd verb--"move"--usually meaning 'to go to a different place', 'change direction', or in this case, 'cause us to react emotionally'.  You don't have to have experienced "war" to understand what its victims feel; you can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voice, identify with its expression in poetry, music, and art.  Not perhaps the specifics, but we all recognize pain, loss, suffering, despair.

Why would one want to continue staring at something that moves one to tears, re-read a poem, or listen to a piece of music, again and again, that haunts by its sadness?  Perhaps for the same reason one reads uplifting verse, is moved by exquisite beauty, or senses the presence of overwhelming love.  Sometimes it's just to make yourself remember, both the joyful and the sad.  One minute you're standing there, and the next minute you're suddenly taken to a whole other  place, and you don't resist.  It's like a magnet, pulling you in.

These moments make a mark; you remember them.  It's how we connect with our shared universe, and by extension, to one another, to people or events that occurred before we were born, to those ongoing.  Such moments will continue to draw others long after we're gone.  Even more so, when we know the story behind the story, as in this case, of Ivor Gurney.

Gurney actually thought of himself more as a composer than a poet.

You can listen to his Sonata for Violin and Piano in E flat major here,
and his song "Sleep" here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

They Found Her

Eight and a half years ago, 9-year old Cédrika Provencher, a little girl in our city, disappeared.  It was summer, she'd gone out near her home, on her bicycle.  A man approached and asked her to help him find his dog.  They found her abandoned bicycle and bike helmet.  She was never seen nor heard from again.

I remember that summer, because of the sudden appearance of posters, everywhere, showing her picture.  Just in my neighborhood alone, stores, banks, bulletin boards, telephone polls posted her picture with pleas for information. Each time I crossed the border into the States, her photo would stare out at me, on the bulletin board at Customs, facing every bus traveler coming or going, alongside that of Canada's other missing children.  Despite the offer of a $100,000 reward, despite 200 volunteers for days combing fields and forests, despite massive and frequent media coverage, despite 500 tips phoned in, no trace was ever found.  Until this weekend.

Hunters in the woods in an area off the highway 20 kilometers away found some bones and a skull, authorities determined to be that of Cédrika.  

Persons hundreds or even thousands of miles away spent months (some, even years) trying to help locate her, many convinced they would eventually discover what really happened to her.  Psychics chimed in, people reported having dreams about her, that she was alive, that she was a victim of sex trafficking; others felt certain she was dead.  I myself believed she was still alive, as every year, on the anniversary of her disappearance, local media again reminded us that yet another year had passed and still no answer.

It made me think about all those other disappearances, the other names and faces on the missing children list; about the disappeared in general.  Some had gone missing as long as 20 years ago, with age-progressed images to show what they might look like now. 

Everyone in this region knows who Cédrika is (was), that missing girl from Trois-Rivières, whose photo is still displayed on some local billboards.  How many other Cédrikas there are out there, whose name we'll never know, their stories kept alive by those still hoping they'll be found.

Rest in peace, Cédrika.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Understanding the "Other"

[Artist: Javier Zabala].

On Re-reading Bartleby the Scrivener

Nothing so aggravates ... as passive resistance,
the stubborn persistence of the unaccepting Other, 
where the refusal to comply
forces others to react.

Understand that you can't always reach or understand
the souls of those who suffer.
They sometimes seem ungrateful, treat you with disdain.
There is no compromise, no felt need to explain,
theirs is the only universe, and you're not in it.

Know you what it's like to be undone?
Bound up in
overwhelming hopelessness
where you can no longer Be, where 
even hunger's ceased - one
dies, despairing, choked by
unrelieved meaninglessness.
At days' end will still they murmur
 "asleep with angels now"
to restore lost balance?

Ah lost soul.  Ah humanity.

I would prefer not to
on the whats, or whys or whos
inside or outside the Tombs,
on action versus passivity, guess
the motive, know the reason,
judge the Silent.
We adapt, pretend, shut down, continue -
do or be done unto, who's ultimately
to blame?  "We are all brothers" but
don't communicate, and even if we did,
what is there to say.

We, I, you, him, her, can you divorce
an "us", reject all life, to let the world know
none of it applies?  Oh do not lecture, that
the rules have been bypassed, that one has
self-destructed in the process.
All life is a process, it's not life but the
with which we concern ourselves -
and there are many ways to Be . . .
and even more,


To read a text of the complete story, go here.

To hear the full audio book, click here.

To see a 27-minute film reenacting the story, go here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

And on the political front ...

Chris Watte/Reuters

"Canada’s Liberal Party swept into power for the first time in nine years Monday night, ousting the Conservative government in a dramatic upset in the country’s parliamentary elections.

"Justin Trudeau, the charismatic 43-year-old Liberal leader, will become the second-youngest prime minister in Canadian history.

 "His father, Pierre Trudeau, served as prime minister from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984. During his lengthy tenure in office, the elder Trudeau severed Canada’s last legal ties to Britain, passed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enshrined multiculturalism and bilingualism as national policy, and dominated the Canadian political scene like no other postwar prime minister.Although the final few days of opinion polling suggested a strong Liberal showing, the younger Trudeau's victory is nevertheless one of the most surprising upsets in Canadian electoral history. Never before has the third-ranked party in one Canadian parliament won a majority government in the next one."   [Source]

Saturday, October 17, 2015

First Snow Today

Imagine, I said to a friend the other day.   It's snowed already in Moscow!

When we woke up this morning huge flakes were scurrying past the window,
covering the ground.

Maurice our tree had not yet shed his yellow coat, it was occurring leaf by leaf.

Well all right then, we'll have it the full six months this year.

Bring it on, as they say.   Send sun. 
Hold off  the cold.

Like the sky ever listens.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


from a trip down to the States,
returning through wonderful Vermont

 Detail from a painting by artist Mary Callahan,
hung in the reception hall of a medical building
 on St. Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA

Grandson's little toy moose,
cloth canoe, wood wheels

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Back to the Island


Felt a need to get away, he took me
across the river to the island, I
trekked across the bridge.


At the wooden table, a piece of tooth
broke off, surprise.  The wind whooshed past
so strong it took my pencil.  About eight people braved
the breeze and currant in an end-of-season swim. Why
did I bring my umbrella and not my
bathing suit!!

I breathed in sand, and wind, and sky, in
company of the gulls perched there expectant,
like sentinels on the shore.  I love this place, the
trees, the many paths, the Quiet.
You can scatter my ashes here
when my time times, I'll tell him.
I'll show you the exact spot.

The bridge

The Island
The Boardwalk.  It takes 30 minutes from
start to finish. Bikes not allowed.

Rest Stop in the Woods
 I follow the gulls

to the Beach

 The River

     In the park I saw:
          A series of gates to nowhere
             A homeless man who asked "Quelle heure est-il?" 
               A chatty octogenarian on her bike
                 A wooden stick that spoke to me.  I took it home.
                   A sand fort licked by the waves
                       Two little siblings giggling feetfirst into a puddle
                            Eleven baby pine trees in pots in the grass.
                              A red leaf so red I heard its shout through the silence.
                                  A found photograph of a fox that I wish I had met.

Free parking

In the park,
a gate to nowhere

Dead Tree Carcass

For the weary walker

It blew past, then turned inside out.  Rain tonight.
 Under a tree, little swing for two

On the way back

Where are the fish

The Salamander House

Nobody home

Salut, toi, salamandre
Wait here for A.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Be careful what you write, what you sing

Acclaimed prize-winning author Margaret Atwood's satirical column lambasting Canada's conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's hair was removed within hours of publication on The National Post's website.  [Source]
And an environmental scientist working for Environment Canada has been suspended and will be investigated for recording a protest song about the prime minister.

Turner was being accused of having “violated the departmental code of values and ethics in that the writing and performing of this song somehow impeded his ability to impartially study migratory birds”.

“We will stand up for its members who face the prospect of being disciplined for exercising their democratic rights as citizens. The supreme court of Canada has confirmed that public service workers, like all Canadian citizens, benefit from freedom of expression,” Debi Daviau, the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), the union which represents Turner.

“Can’t we make jokes or say anything? Are we all muzzled? This is the politics of fear. I am an activist and singer but mostly I am a citizen and I care about democracy and freedom of speech,” Diane McIntyre, who sang a solo in the song, told the Ottawa Citizen. [Source]

It is getting so that if you work for the government, you cannot publicly sing out your opinion of its leaders. And if you're a writer, you will be censored for calling attention to the actions or non-actions of those in government - and don't even think about daring to make fun of them.

So . . . Orwellian.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

One reminds me of the other

and it's not the lyrics.

Just a few bars, some similar-sounding notes, that when I was humming the melody to "Elle" the other day, trying to remember the singer's name, my mate thought I was humming a BeeGees tune.

Kind of like the time I went to a family picnic here a few years back and heard what I immediately recognized as "City of New Orleans", except it was a French song sung to the same melody. I wrote about it here.
It's less clear with the two songs presented below, but whenever I hear one, it reminds me of the other. Anyway, for anyone interested - Enjoy.

"It's only words," they say.
They're different notes, I'm told.
Both songs speak of love -
a universal language, understood
even if you don't know the words
or remember what notes,
or hum it imperfectly.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Bark Art

In its natural state - a piece of bark
blown off a tree out back
during a hail-spitting thunderstorm today

Same piece of bark -
reverse side, watercolored

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Terms of Endearment

The first line of this poem is true.
The rest is made up.


He called her chou

which in French means cabbage.
A term of endearment, mon petit chou
my little cabbage -
only she wasn't little
and she wasn't his.

He darlinged and sweetied his wife
the way one says "It's raining" or
"Pour me a coffee."
His wife was not darlingable
and the sweetness in her heart
had long soured.

He wondered how it had come to this -
how strange is life, how
"Darling, turn out the light please,"
he said, inviting sleep
so he could be,
      at least in dreams,
with Chou.


I once knew a couple named Jim and Jinx. Nelda was Jinx's birth name but everybody called her Jinx.
The first time I'd met them, at the dinner table, Jim addressed, or referred to Jinx alternately as "Ace", "Meister", and "Fred".
               "Remember that time we went there, Ace?"
               "You'd better go check on the chicken, Meister."
               "Fred here, was a sociology major."
It was a bit confusing, because Jinx also called Jim "Ace".  So they were both, somehow, "Ace.".

Names we call one another. "Il m'appelle mon ange.   He calls me "my angel", someone wrote once, overwhelmed, because she was anything but.  But repeat a thing long enough and the person will come to believe it. In essence he was just saying "You are loved. You are loved. You are loved." And that is enough to drive away any lingering demons of disbelief.  Google Translate translates mon ange as "Sweetie". I prefer the literal translation.  Sweetie seems so . . . common. Nothing nearly as lofty or endearing as "angel". (As if we could really become angels, but it's the thought that counts, right?)

My mate just informed me that chou can mean more than just cabbage. It could refer to a sort of cream cake.  (Another type of 'sweetie').  Which answered my initial question as to why would someone refer endearingly to a loved one as a cabbage.  Then I remembered George.  George was a dear family friend and elderly suitor of my widowed mother and he used to call her "Peanut"--probably because she was so much shorter than him.   Tall people and short people, big people and little people. In Greece, I once heard a child being addressed as πουλάκι μου, "my little bird".  In French Canada, puppies are sometimes named 'ti-loup (a contraction of petit loup, meaning "little wolf").  Someone I know here refers to his cat as ma petite fille  (lit.: my little girl/daughter). Terms of endearment. 

The adjective "little" applied to another may have nothing to do with age or size.  It could signify an acknowledged innocence, fragility, or specialness.  Something precious that one recognizes the value of, that one wishes to watch out for and protect.   The "my" prefacing it, while it could indicate a perceived claim to ownership, also could merely be acknowledgment of one's involvement on a slightly higher level, than if, for example, one were to phrase it merely "you little" whatever.  (MY little cabbage, MY little wolf, MY little bird.) Not that Honey, Sweetie, Darling, even Babe, because of their commonness, don't signify endearment.    But it's interesting to hear creative alternatives and wonder as to their origins.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Beach Stick Gallery

May I present
a single piece of driftwood
from the shore along Lake Champlain, Vermont

 one of those random objects we keep -
just because

Same stick,
separate views, from
different angles

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Last Visit

We're off to Q. City Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday,
Nathalie and I, to say goodbye to Oncle Jean,
who got a tummy ache awhile back
that turned out to be terminal cancer.
We're going for one last visit
to this gentle old man, who in his 94th year
is being called home,
as some would put it.

I must speak with him in French, because he
can't converse in English.
I could say, when it's time to leave, "Sois bien",
which doesn't apply,
for to wish someone to "be well"
implies that it's is still possible.

I'm tempted to say what I always say
in situations such as this, the simple, but illogical
"See ya".
Illogical because I won't ... see him again,
except at the funeral parlor.
In French that would be "a la prochaine"  (till next time),
though we both know there'll be no next time.
But it sounds better than the sad-filled "So long"
or  finality-laden "Goodbye".
See ya on the other side
(if there is another side).
(If only they could find a way to
tell us.)

Of course, one could say nothing at all -
pretend it's just another visit.
I did that when I crossed four states
to say goodbye to Bini.
We both said "See ya",
continuing the pretence
(or was it veiled hope?)
Like a shared secret,
we didn't even let on to
each other.
Humans are funny that way.
We cope how we can.

Oncle Jean, who always sat and talked to me,
despite my poor French
and his limited vocabulary of English.
He'd grasp my hand and smile,
give you his undivided attention,
never once corrected me for my grammar,

always rose from his chair to greet you,
this thin, frail, elegant old man,
genuinely interested to listen
even if there was no news to tell.

A lifetime of prayer, and teaching,
his family mostly gone;
now all those descendants,
sprung from that ever-diminishing older generation,
their spouses, children, children's children ...
we make our last visits, not unaware that for some of us,
yes, we're next,
(we laugh) - knowing
this scene will just repeat.

I will miss the carefully fashioned annual Christmas card
which  in this age of duplicatability,
means everyone got to get one.
Everyone, down to the last little cousin.
While the rest of us mainly use email now
(saves so much postage, 'tis true),
Oncle Jean's greetings still come hand-delivered by post -
(I mentally correct that to "came')
in which he always writes -
(I mentally correct that to "wrote"),
that we'd always be in his prayers.
There will be no such cards this year.

I'm thinking, it is a good thing sometimes
to always be in somebody's prayers, that
if you're told by some serious-looking white-coated physician
that you'll soon no longer "be",
as you slowly drift further toward the "going"
(to wherever it is we all go
when we croak) - there's comfort in believing
that some of those that are left behind
still remember.

I suspect, Oncle Jean will still say
he's keeping on praying for us -
a praying man to the very end.
I see those bright, eager eyes,
     that warm, friendly smile,
         that kind, ageless old face -
for I have only known him as old.

I don't know about you
but I tire when reading long poems,
especially such line-chopped prose as this
pretending to be a poem,
but it seemed a fitting format 
for this spontaneous tribute
to the kind old man I know as Oncle Jean  -
who is not really my uncle at all
but family nonetheless.

I wanted just to thank him
for those few brief conversations,
for all those heartfelt intercessions on my behalf
to the mysterious Whatever,

Merci encore, Oncle Jean.

See ya.