My website is changing… evolving… transforming! from a little, hairy, yellow and black caterpillar into, um, a little yellow and black butterfly. Soon, I hope, it will be unrecognizable. But it will still have my face. Yes, my face with antennae and 36 eyes or whatever. It will still be mine, and I hope you’ll stick around to witness the rebirth, and that you won’t stomp on me with your big human feet.
Wrote this poem in 2008 for the CBC Halifax Poetry Face Off. Seemed like a good time to post it.
The water’s cold
As a hammer head
It’s liquid nitrogen
and a needle at the dentist
It’s as cold as the church bells
That ring every Sunday
In the iron air
and squeeze the breath from me
like an accordian.
But it’s beautiful, in the dark
Heavy and soft
As snow that lulls
Lost travellers to sleep
I’m following the polar bear
Where there’s no more ice
He’s only ahead by a body’s length
His small head just above water,
Bony beneath the seal-sleek fur
He looks like a dog I knew
who almost died eating rat poison
in Shubie Park. After that,
the muscles in her head just
Dwindled to nothing.
You could see her skull,
This polar bear is a bone
Covered in fur
His body has eaten itself,
Like a seal,
Because the seals have
But I want to put my arms around him,
devoured by guilt,
and carry him
His blood speaks to mine
“Why are you here?”
Great paws churn the water beneath him.
My blood circles my organs
to keep them from freezing
And has no voice.
His head turns to look at me
Black rimmed mouth
A mile of fangs
His bloodshot eyes
See a seal.
A doggy smile.
My heart, aching, aggrieved
I put my head in his mouth
I’m sorry, my blood chatters
The bear is melting
Like an iceberg
The great body under the water
And the small head.
I feel the warm glow
Of the sun, rosy, on my back
Like the air from a balloon
My skin turns pink
And the water is on fire,
Dwindles to nothing.
And I walk in a desert
Littered with the bones
of walrus and seal,
whales and polar bears.
A white harvest
I build an igloo of skulls
And sit in their shadow
The sun looks through
Their eye holes at me,
”Why are you here?”
My blood asks
I’m sorry, the sun
The heat has the tail of
the eyes of a dove.
And squeezes the breath
From me like a cobra.
2015 was such a shit storm that 2016 can’t help but be better. that’s what I tell myself when I look out the window at the oval and the commons and that city at large . I’m gonna tend to my gut microbes, make more things, exercise regularly, take care of cats, stage manage my stress, read some novels and poetry, and engage my spirit. I may attend some protests, rallies, craft shows, concerts, support groups, kitchen parties. I may do some banking, work a little and think a little. Mostly though I want to prepare for 2017 which is a year I feel rumbling in the distance. I don’t know why but 2016 seems like a year that’s just in preparation for something bigger coming down the tracks, Does anyone else feel this way? it’s a little ominous but something else tells me it’s ok.
I started writing this long post about Love. I didn’t really know where I was going with it. I think basically what I wanted to say is something like: we all want it because we all need it. Try living without it. And by Love I don’t mean some feeling or even some ideal. I mean being seen and accepted and valued, with all our gaping, unsightly needs and wounds, in a concrete way that involves having those needs met, or being offered the opportunity to learn how to meet to meet those needs ourselves. and the opportunity to exercise that knowledge in a way that doesn’t interfere with someone else meeting their own needs.
Sittin’ here, with my eyes dry as old newspaper, trying to stay awake. My novel waits patiently and achingly, like a woman whose man has gone to sea. But I am not going to make my novel happy today, just going to try my best not to implode before my training shift at a new job.
A new job… I’ve had too many, because I like change and movement, or the illusion of movement and change. But I realize it’s exhausting to keep pursuing novelty and freedom, and I wonder, why so restless?
Likely because what I really want is to hole up with my words and never go to sea again. it’s just hard to bring myself to my writing when I am tired and cranky and ungrateful and undercaffeinated. But that is of course just an excuse. it is hard to bring myself to my writing no matter what, or when.
Only at first though. After a while i get in the rhythm of it, and then I don’t need what other people call inspiration. I just write. I love my characters and they say, screw inspiration, listen to ME, pay attention to ME. And so I listen and hope they tell me what to do, and that it won’t be too difficult or unpleasant or impossible.
Kind of like the work I may be doing this year. I hope to work with clients of a home care agency– seniors who need a companion, cook, cleaner. I hope I’ll get someone who wants me to read to them and have intelligent conversations. But in reality, they will be telling ME what to do. And if they want their toilet cleaned and toe nails clipped, it doesn’t matter how much I’d rather hear their views on Mozart or climate change. And that’s as it should be.
People telling me what to do. I never liked it much but it’s different when you know you are being paid to listen. Which is pretty much what I do as a writer except the pay is more in satisfaction than dollars and the listening is.. well, the listening is similar…characters only a few hours old may still have a lifespan that’s twice mine, and being ordered around by them is something of a privilege.
My Dad, Dr. Charles Quon
When you were just a boy,
the smallest and fastest
to chase the pig bladder ball
down the dust-covered streets
of Chien chun,
You saw the ones who had died
of starvation, swollen and ragged
in those same streets,
their ghosts drifting like dust
to join their ancestors at the temple.
But you, you didn’t believe in ghosts.
You believed in Mao, and the men
who followed him up and down the mountains
as you ran from the Japanese
into the dust-coloured hills.
You were hungry, and hungry
for knowledge. Your belly was empty
but your head was full of beautiful thing,
equations describing the universe,
A swirl of dust, how a radio works.
Later you wanted architecture
but settled for physics,
spoke loudly in order to sound tall
and married an English girl,
who kept a dusty house
You’re still making sacrifices
not like the first born son you are,
precious as an egg. You bow
in the dust, make me finish the rice,
try to pay for everything—
As if you haven’t already.
As if the years you spent
working off the debt
of your future, the dust of your past,
were not enough.
It’s almost time to leave my attic in the sky and float down to the lake to spend a jobless summer at my Dad’s. I am not unhappy. There is no other place I’d rather spend the summer, really, and if he is willing to let me, I will do my best to keep my bed made when I’m not in it. Leaving my bed unmade is about the only thing I habitually do that ticks him off, so I am very, very lucky.
It’s not really luck though, is it? My dad is one of those old-school Asian parents for whom sacrificing for the sake of their kids is practically a religion … or a profession. Without my Dad and his steady support over the years, I might be dead. I certainly wouldn’t have the life I have today.
It’s a privileged life. Not wealthy or stress-free one. but one where the hallmark of my days is freedom.
I don’t have a job. Soon, i will not have my own place to live. But my biggest fear right now is not going hungry or homeless. My biggest fear is falling while rollerblading and breaking my knee caps.
I bought these roller blades from a friend second hand with more money than people on assistance get for a week’s worth of groceries. I don’t have regular work, so I can get up and go to the Oval and skate, then swim, then meet a friend for coffee. This is a ridiculous amount of freedom for a middle-aged woman with no income to speak of. I was acutely aware walking home this morning that my situation is unusual, and some might say, outrageously irresponsible. Definitely privileged.
That said, part of my reason for living this way is to put my health first. Having spent a year of my life, all told, in the mental hospital, this is not irresponsible. If I can keep out of the mental hospital for the rest of my life I will save my parents and other people who care about me a lot of grief, and the powers that be thousands if not millions of dollars. More than I will ever earn, at my short-term part time gigs.
But I don’t give two figs about saving the government money. If i can save my brain from further trauma, my mind from disintegration and my heart and soul from the terrible pain of my acute illness phase, I will do what I can. The second last time I had an adult full-time job, I crashed and burned and ended up a guest of the Nova Scotia hospital for more than a month.
My last full-time job was amazing, because my boss was amazing. I loved, admired and respected her (still do), felt appreciated by my colleagues, and had a certain amount of autonomy, independence and, yes, freedom. But it was a very special job, not one that I will find again, one that was grant dependent ( the Nova Scotia government cut those grants this year), which was located in a town I have since moved from, and administered by one very special person at one very special organization. And even at this very special job, which was more fun and more fulfilling and paid me better than any regular job I’d ever had, basically ensuring that I had a carefree life financially, I couldn’t see myself staying longer than a year.
When I am mentally ill, I am the opposite of free. When I am well, I guard my freedom with my life. I don’t want to look at my life and know what I will be doing and where I will be in two years, let along five. I don’t want to be able to see that far into the future, because it makes me panic and feel trapped.
I only have this luxury because of my father who studied and worked hard all his life, is still willing to support me financially as need be and in any way he can. He often tells me not to worry, to enjoy life, not to let stress overtake me. He often says, if you need money, it’s there. It will all be yours and your siblings’ one day anyway, he says.
My father enjoys his life. He paints, walks, cooks and eats well. He has even written his memoirs. My father might, however, be a little lonely. I don’t spend as much time with him as I could, but living there this summer will of course change all that.
I was on my roller blades today for the second time since I got them. Before that I think the last time I skated was more than 15 years before. I’m out of practice. Today was better than day 1, when I fell three times and scraped my leg up. Today I made it around the Oval four times and didn’t fall. I think today was different because I had managed to buy wrist guards, and knee and elbow pads, which might have protected me if I fell and which made me feel so much more secure on my skates. I felt like I could loosen up a little, go faster. I was free-er of fear
Not to say there was no fear. As I squinted into the sun at the broad, curving expanse of the concrete path I was on, I felt dread. But I knew if I could get past that fear, I would feel pleasure, even exhilaration. I would feel free.
A certain amount of security, cushion, protection, helps reduce the dread and uncertainty that comes with freedom. This is what my father has given me. It’s not so much that I will always need that security, cushion, protection or whatever you wan to call it. It’s just knowing that it’s there, that helps.
There are many other things my Dad has given me over the years. Time and space and theories about time and space. Delicious home-cooked Chinese food, walks, and a place to swim. A house full of books and a room of my own, whether or not I make my damn bed. Thanks, Dad, for everything.
Can you write a love poem that doesn’t make my teeth ache? challenge!
give internet dating a try.
Internet dating my eye.
I wrote my profile
in blood. It took hours
to list what I’m passionate about–
sunshine, water, words, and so on.
At the end I realized they had asked me to mention
the ONE THING
I am passionate about.
I ignored the question.
I am passionate about my list.
I am not a good listener.
They asked me what people would notice about me first
I rolled my eyes
because the question was stupid,
and told the truth
as pleasantly and passive-agressively
I dress funny.
There were other questions
But I was tired
I uploaded the photos of me when I was sick, exhausted and cold
the most flattering ones I could find
The ones you will never see
because you are not looking in my direction
because you too
are sick, exhausted, cold
and over there is a bright fire
burning with all the things you love.
I am too.
But I’m holding on to my list
You’re on it.
I’ll never burn it.
It’s a new moon but it feels like an old year already. My jaw is broken… my metaphorical jaw. After winter’s pummeling and sleep’s deserting and life’s jaw dropping, I guess it is understandable if my mandible, wired shut, aches like a sad Valentine.