Hopeful Poem Advent Poem

The other day a friend who is, among other things, the Arts Chaplain/Curator at St Faith’s Anglican church, asked if I had a poem that focused on the struggle of moving out of a dark vulnerable place towards hope. He wanted the poem to be part of the church’s observance of Advent. (To refresh: Advent, for Christians, is a period of introspection that arrests the daily hypnosis, exposes an existential loneliness, and sharpens a hopeful longing for the manifestation of Christ.)

The poem he picked wasn’t written with Advent in mind, nor was it written to reveal any sort of virtue, let alone hope. As most poems, it wasn’t planned, it was simply the occasion of sitting alone in a small park in downtown Edmonton one late summer afternoon, looking at a tree; a tree that happened to be leaning. I wrote a few drafts right there on the park bench. Later, after a dozen more, it gave itself up. These few years later, I see that it is an Advent poem. But conceivably, for those who don’t observe Advent, it is still a hopeful poem. 

Tree in a northern park

Today I saw a tree in a northern park
that slanted out as though it thought
to breach the blue horizon.

A mighty lean for a madroña,
but unknown for a white pine
-arc-boutant of imperfection.

It seemed a lonely tree.
A price it paid in failing the upright
company of other trees.

It did not tower or scrape the sky
as is said of the great redwoods.
It did not triumph over forces

that kept it lean-limbed and low.
Prostrate, its keeling crown
an uncertain compass—

weaving keening O’s, and silent Om’s
the semaphore of yearning,
the defying of impasse.

By the will of wind it moaned
a beggars hymn. Bough-bent
toward hell, it did not despair.

I imagined praying roots like great
hands spanning toward the arctic.
And restive roots that felt far

into the flesh of earth,
picking up the tremolo of palmetto.
Forever following a faint calling,

it hungered to lean
farther, still farther,
and touch the Southern Cross.

Inverse Dementia

If demise,
why not a disease
like Inverse Dementia?
Imagine: your thoughts,
imperceptibly at first,
a shuffle-step quicker,
your mind, somehow,
progressively lighter,
as though someone is going from room to room turning on lights,

and everywhere shadows are scattering,
and everywhere memories are leaping,
names, scenes, images, lists,
rapid-fire flashes of original associations,
ripe and ready, hanging like apricots
in those gardens at Babylon;

and now the roof evanesces in a luminous rain,
and the ceiling is carried off by swallows,
and the walls become rivers in fields
upon fields of unfolding horizons
under a wheeling multi-verse
of skies within skies, 
quickening, quickening,

until, what kills you,
is no suffocating slip into black,
but an explosion of perception,
which carries you
wholly prepared
into the Mystery.

If I Had A Name Like Wendy Morton

This was written for the occasion of Wendy Morton’s 77th birthday, celebrated last night at Planet Earth Poetry. As was so apparent at last evening’s standing room only event, Wendy is an inspiration to a great crowd of people.

Wendy handing out free wishes at her birthday party: here with Yvonne Blomer’s son, (Yvonne is Victoria’s Poet Laureate).

Poet, gardener, private investigator, West Jet Poet of the Air, free-spirit, recipient of a host of awards, the latest of which is the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada, for her projects: Random Acts of Poetry and The Elder Project, she remains, quite simply, a friend to many.

For those unfamiliar with Wendy’s work, the following is a riff on one of her many popular poems, “If I Had A Name Like Rosie Fernandez”.

Happy Birthday Wendy!

If I Had A Name Like Wendy Morton

I would wear braids of blue bells,
and a shawl of wild indigo.

I would sleuth the understorey of old-growth forests,
packing pistils of Peruvian lilies,
finding clues under cloak ferns.

I would transcribe the weave of wind in willows.
I would publish the loop and sweep of cliff swallows.

If I had a name like Wendy Morton
I would serve lavender tea to every stranger
willing to waltz me
through a pink blizzard of blossoms.

I’d buy a purple satchel
and stalk the autumnal equinox
to forage a pot of filigreed collards.

I would walk on water
wearing pontoon shoes
of pumpkin shells.

I would recline with sea lions
—we’d watch the geysers of orcas. 

I would sit with a young Inuit poet,
—we’d find the shortest path to each other’s heart.

I would take all the turbulent minds,
the hijacked dreams,
our fears of flying,
and lyric them into oblivion.

Oh, if I had a name like Wendy Morton,
I would shush the mortal creak and moan
and bring on everlasting spring
with a single poem.

Geography of Injury

One year ago today, my friend Connie passed away. This poem, published in emerge 17, SFU’s Writer’s Studio Anthology, was written for Connie. I never showed it to her.

Over the years we met regularly for coffee, always getting around to talk of that quiet mania: writing. Spring before last, feeling the need for a shot in our writerly arms, we (essentially) dared each other to try make the cut for Simon Fraser University’s Writer’s Studio.

I knew she’d be a lock. Her last gig was assistant editor at Eighteen Bridges, an upscale literary periodical. For a string of years before that, having previously aced the writing program at Grant McEwan which helped make her a meticulous researcher, she had a popular alternative health column in Vue Weekly (Well, Well, Well). In the meantime she published articles in the Edmonton Journal and Alberta Views. And…in the meantime, lived with and kicked at cancer’s lengthening shadow. Her blog, which is still up, courageously catalogues much of this time.

She received her acceptance letter first, but didn’t tell me, worried, with reason, I didn’t get in. For a while it seemed like this new opportunity/purpose/direction might so focus her as to send her, again, into remission. The “seeming” was short lived. Within a month of her start date she was forced to withdraw.

I never had the courage (was that it?), to show her the poem: it was dark, the images sparse, the overarching metaphor foreboding, the ending bleak. I had written it in hopes of some kind of catharsis. But if I could go back, I’d show it to her. It was not her way to shrink from reality, she had no problem facing what was in front of her. It’s me that had the problem.

For Jeff, Connie’s kids, family and friends. We still miss you Connie.

This memoriam (and award announcement) appears at the back of the anthology: