Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Reading

I sat in the aisle seat
(the better to escape if need be)
Another woman munched a salad
  crunch, crunch, 
at the far end of my aisle.
I was late for the workshop;
the workshop ran late for me.
The poets would be along momentarily.

Frozen in the room lights
I glanced at vibrant scarves
draped limply along drab walls.
They could have been hung
with flair to fill this room
and the voices that would ring
with words

Instead I hid behind
my unbelonging, my newness
that clung to me like
the pinched pins
that suffered the colours
meant to infuse the space,
this gathering of bards

I punched at my phone,
glanced at the empty lectern
and side-eyed my solitary seatmate

til the lights dimmed

And then the words rang out
staccato song
followed by aggrandized soliloquies
pretentious prose that elicited
and awesome thought.

I related,
and clapped along with poetasters alike.

But the house lights cast me aside anew
and I fled.

There was no belonging to the chummy chattering that erupted around me.
No faces to smile into nor laugh with.
No comment on the prose
we were so blessed to consider that night.
Just a cold car,
my single key
and a lonesome home
once more

Will I dare return again?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014




My neighbour died last week. Another neighbour came over to break the news to me. She knew that I would want to hear, as I had always had a soft spot for him. It had been quick. He had gone to hospital Wednesday in distress and died before the day was out. The only thing left to do was schedule the funeral. 

Larry was a sweet old man. He was 90, still lived in his own home, drove his own car, and took care of himself. Another neighbour cut his grass and took care of his pool. Many neighbours brought him over meals, pies, and treats of one sort or another. We always gave him some of whatever we baked. He loved his sweets and appreciated everything that people did for him. From what I could tell everyone liked him. I was sad to hear of his passing.

Today was the funeral. As Larry had been kind to me in days when my grief was most poignant, I felt I needed to go and pay my respects. I had never noticed his family visit much, but the gesture of saying goodbye is an important one to me, so I wanted to go. A visitation was held, followed immediately by the funeral. He was to be interned afterwards. I knew that the internment would be out of the question, as I had to pick the girls up from school, but I planned to attend the other events. 

I drove to the church and said my hellos to the granddaughter that greeted me at the door. Larry was laid out in the next room with a few pictures nestled into the coffin with him. Death is never pretty, as the lifeblood that makes one real flesh and blood leaves the deceased withered and waxy. But I left a tear in his presence nonetheless. I took a seat in a pew off to one side and waited for the funeral to begin. A woman noticed me wipe my eyes though and approached to say hello. She was Larry's niece and looked like she needed a friend to talk to. We shared stories and I was convinced to sit in her aisle with her. Once the pianist played a few songs, the doors of the chapel were closed and the service began.

That is when I should have left.

I have been to many funerals. As much as they are sad affairs, they are held so that people can pay their respects to the deceased. They are an opportunity to start the closure of loss. This funeral was far from respectful though. And it certainly did nothing to honour the memory of the neighbour that I saw as a kindly elderly gentleman who was social, active and friendly with all he met. 

The preacher took to the pulpit and began by reading a letter from the daughter-in-law, who was seated in the front pew. It was awful. Not only did it highlight the ugliness of Larry's final hours, but it cast Larry in a light I never would have imagined. We were told of his mother's young death, then the destitution that followed. His father put him in an orphanage, only to bring him home to a house of alcoholism and poverty. So the story went, it made Larry bitter. And it went on to say that he remained that way for the rest of his life. 

As my fingers dug holes into my palms, I listened to Larry disparaged due to his lack of faith. His son and wife supposedly prayed for him to take Jesus into his heart, to no avail. It was his downfall and left him desperate to fill that whole with material possessions. 

Now it wasn't a secret that Larry had a problem. He was a hoarder. Two years ago he had damage in his home because of flooding. Due to the sheer mountain of stuff in his home the cleanup took the better part of six months. He spent that time living in his trailer out of town. I never heard tell that his son ever offered to put him up during that time. Oh, but they prayed that he would release the devil in his soul! 

Last I heard, hoarding was a mental illness though. Not a reason to castigate someone. Especially not at their funeral. 

There was no mention of what Larry did for a living. No recount of how many years he was married to his wife. Nothing said about his love of dancing. I wanted to pipe up that he was blessed with another romance late in life that was sadly cut short by his fiance's death on the day Larry asked her to marry him. And gee, he was 90 years old, living on his own, still able to walk and drive (not well, but its hard to let go of that independence) and visit with his neighbours when the mood struck him. 

No, we were told that despite Larry having made his family's life miserable for so many years by refusing to take up their faith, they finally won. As Larry lay dying, wracked by painful seizures that apparently terrified him, he finally saw the light. After yet another seizure, he "saw the light" that was Jesus. And then his fear left him. And he died. 

The cynic in me thinks that the tidy summation of Larry's awful existence was probably not exactly accurate. I offer no disrespect to those who have experienced this first-hand, but after listening to all the awful things said, I couldn't stomach the moral of the story - that we all must accept Jesus into our heart or be left to live eternity in hell. No heaven for any disbelievers or sinners. What about Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others? No Jesus - no heaven.
I wanted to leave. It galled me to sit and listen to them bash this dear man that had helped rake my lawn at the age of 83 years old because he saw me crying in fresh grief with rake in hand over a leaf pile. Local bank tellers had spoken of him in glowing terms for goodness sake. And all they could see was a bitter old man that I am sure they are glad to be rid of.

Well, I made it through the service, despite my seething brain. And tonight I toasted Larry with fellow neighbours that had attended the funeral and were equally shocked by the things said and manner that Larry's death had been handled. We all deserve better than that. As my neighbour said, "they could have just stated facts if they didn't have anything nice to say." But I guess their god lets them feel justified in their ugly actions. I for one want nothing to do with their religion, if it is that judgemental and cold.

... end rant

Monday, October 6, 2014

Life After Life

 Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson, © 2013, Bond Street Books

What if you had life to live all over again? And you were able to learn from the mistakes you made in the first go round? Would you do it all again? Would you try to make a difference for
yourself and the world around you?

Ursula Todd was born on February 11th, 1910. In the middle of a snowstorm, no one comes to the aid of her mother and she dies with the cord wrapped around her neck.

On February 11th, 1910, Ursula Todd is born in the middle of a snowstorm. After a quick scare, she cries to life.

As Kate Atkinson weaves the tale of Ursula's life, we travel through England during a dark time. The world is on the brink of war. Ursula lives only to die at the hands of fate. Repeatedly. After every death, she is born again to do it all over anew, but with subtle twists to extend the story.

Ursula is not untouched by this cyclical life. By the time she reaches puberty, déjà vu plagues her at every turn. Death seems to stalk her, but she learns to outsmart his hand repeatedly. Sometimes whether she wants to or not. Her family notes her odd ways, but it is only Ursula and the reader who see the purpose of it all. And as time marches on that purpose becomes a spectre that many historians would like to see smoted as well.

While I read Ursula's tale, I could not help but think on parts of my own life that could have been changed. Have I lived more than once? Have I danced with death, but picked a safer path this time? If I changed something, would my world look completely different or just slightly askew?

I cannot help but think that there are many lessons to be learned on the path we walk at present. As tempting as it is to go back in time and set things to rights, is that really the right answer? It is an interesting question and one that got Kate Atkinson a Costa Book Award for Novel (2013), plus several literary nominations for awards. I guess that means that a few other people have asked that same question themselves then, doesn't it?

This one is well worth the read in my books!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

To See Further

as the wind blows
as my story goes
people come
and others flow

through my pictures
in my dreams
just fleeting memories
so it seems

one yesterday
and another now
my losses strained
against furrowed brow

they keep adding up
to make me fall
they keep challenging life
leaving behind a dark pall

standing there
you were so strong
you'd gone before me
knew the sad song

grief enough 
to fill my head
you brushed me off
and smiled instead

with old gnarled hand
you reached to me
took up my burden
laid it aside gently

not near so bad
as it did feel
this too shall pass
with more feelings real

for many years 
you strode the path
looked death in the eye
feared not its wrath

but today you lost
your life so sweet
no goodbyes said
from across the street

how do we know 
when our time has come
can you make peace
before the reaper's last drum

Dear Larry is gone
but not forgot
his gift to me
to see further than one aught

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, © 2008, Harper Collins

I am sure plenty of you have already picked this book up. I had seen it promoted on Goodreads, Indigo/Chapters and elsewhere. While that does help to catch my eye, it doesn't always equate to me reading a book. And as I am not much into racing and I don't have a dog, I might not have picked up this book at all. But my book club strikes again and it is on our list for this fall, so off to the library I went.

And I am glad.

We are introduced to Enzo in the opening pages. He is an old dog that is failing. His hips no longer work and his bladder isn't what it used to be, but he is still dedicated to his owner, Denny. As the story unfolds, we get to recollect Enzo's life from the time he is picked out of the puppy patch at the farm. And in a unique twist, the tale is told exclusively from Enzo's perspective.

Enzo is a dog that is closing in on his perfection of doghood. He is convinced that in his next life he will come back as a human. As such, he strives to do his best to be kind and considerate to Denny and as it comes in turns, his wife Eve and their daughter Zoe. Just because Enzo feels he is close to being human doesn't mean he doesn't enjoy a good game of tug of war with Eve or a walk in the park with Denny when he is home from the race track though. But when Eve is struck by a deadly diagnosis of brain cancer, the whole family has to adjust, Enzo included.

Even if you are not a dog lover, you cannot help but be charmed by plucky Enzo. He understands the nuances of life and refuses to let go of his faith that good will prevail. Through the family's trials, he tries to find understanding and offer support to his humans, in a way that can't help but make us wonder at our own failings. If you can keep dry-eyed in this quick 321-page read, you are a stronger person than I. But I am sure you will enjoy it nonetheless even if you do.


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