Saturday, September 21, 2013

Two Prose Poems on Coming Home

I was born in distrust. Its place in my heart well nurtured—suckled on a diet of disappointment, failure and even success. Dancing with wanton desire over my flesh bound landscape, its rhythm—a dirge of endless need—beat upon my soul, demanding, berating; denying until finally its sustenance grew thin. I no longer fed its wants.

Aged footsteps, the pattern of their dance exists even now: a contour of hills and valleys, steep precipices and jagged arĂȘtes. I explore these slopes and dig deep within their geology. They no longer scare me, these shadows from the past, but support and sustain me.

The call of the seagull pulls me forward: a longing, a search for that which is not yet held but faintly discerned in my heart.  A sweet siren of hope; melancholic notes of coming home.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why Say Goodbye?

There is an empty space that lies waiting at the end of a visit or phone call. We have set phrases for these times: see you soon; I’ll call you later; good bye. Half the time we may not even mean what we say. But this space is a vacuum; it pulls us forward with no respite: something must be said. 

Or must it?

What if we didn’t say anything? What if we just walked away or turned our heads when we took our leave? It feels rude when I imagine doing it or, when done to me, like the other didn’t care enough to acknowledge my parting. Then again, I think of conversations in the work place. We see our colleagues several times a day, heads nod, jokes are made, how-are-yous said. These social fragments tend to have little meaning in themselves but symbolically we are telling others we appreciate their presence. Whether it is because they just help us pass the day or that we truly like them is not overly important—it is the connection, however tenuous, that makes it special.  

But notice how these bits and pieces of dialogue tend to have no proscribed beginning or end. Unless you actually see your work mate walk in or leave at the end of the day, the conversation can be a continuation of what was said when you last saw them. In a way these verbal passages are more realistic than those with the more formal salutations of hello and goodbye. A more meaningful reflection, perhaps, of the life cycle: birth, growth, decay and rebirth; no beginning; no end.

I always say goodbye with an “I love you” attached to my father who I talk on the phone several times a week. With most of my friends I do the same and they with me. I have never queried them on this but in self-reflection perhaps some of it is based in fear. What if I never saw them again; what if something happens to either them or me? I don’t want to regret not saying what I feel when I had the chance. But do we really need to conclude so dramatically each time? What if we initiated conversations with the expectation that it never ends, that even in death, the dialogue continues?

Perhaps we should be more like those poets who shun punctuation. We could have pauses and line breaks, even multiple line breaks and still be considered a cohesive whole. Our lives a piece of poetic prose with no beginnings or ends but bookmarked within the pages of infinite time and space.

There Is No Word for Goodbye

Sokoya, I said, looking through
the net of wrinkles into
wise black pools
of her eyes.

What do you say in Athabascan
when you leave each other?
What is the word
for goodbye?

A shade of feeling rippled 
the wind-tanned skin.
Ah, nothing, she said,
watching the river flash.

She looked at me close.
We just say, Tlaa. That means,
See you.
We never leave each other.
When does your mouth
say goodbye to your heart?

She touched me light
as a bluebell.
You forget when you leave us;
you're so small then.
We don't use that word.

We always think you're coming back,
but if you don't,
we'll see you someplace else.
There is no word for goodbye.

From Mary TallMountain’s volume, The Light on the Wall. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wannabe Gurus

Caution: Rant Ahead

I’ve never been one for gurus. Perhaps it is because I have never met a legitimate one. Then again, I seem to run across a lot of wannabes. You know the type, the people that can’t wait to enlighten you with their pithy knowledge, sage insight and worldly wisdom. God save me from such saints.

I came across two such gurus (posing as customers) at work. They arrived about a month apart but two is just short of a trend and I am trying to rally myself in preparation for the third. The first guy, “John”, was second in line and a witness to a rather fast witted repartee I was enjoying with the customer in front of him. We smiled through the sale, said goodbye and along came John. I continued on with my stage persona which, when I am in a good mood can be quite funny and entertaining. John joined me in my humour and then said something about how nice I was. I said, trying to continue the fun, that is was the only way I was gonna get into heaven. 

Okay, I admit that one-liner was kind of flat but hey, even Carol Burnett had her bad days. Anyhow, John looked at me and said so earnestly I almost hit him, heaven and hell are concepts, a story of what we make of our lives each day. My face went immediately blank and my voice flattened: I was trying to be funny. Obviously my joke failed. I understand and agree with the philosophy you are trying to impart but it is not needed. Next!

Okay, maybe I wasn’t that rude but close enough.

The second guru, “Bill”, came as I was just finishing off a conversation with a co-worker. Another colleague, one whom we both regularly worked with, was resigning and I said: I am sad about this upcoming change. I turned towards the customer and he, just like John, dripping with good will and sincerity, asked: And what if there is change? My smile of welcome disappeared and with my now accustomed level voice replied: I was expressing an emotion. I understand that change can be good and fine and also is a constant. But I am sad and that is all that needs to be said. Bill, with amazing dexterity, tired to back pedal and I did my best to hear him out but jeez, cannot people leave their personal development agendas at home? Cannot these guru wannabes just lighten up and enjoy good fun without trying to teach life lessons? And cannot I express a heartfelt emotion without someone trying to fix me?  Is it because I wear a big box uniform and am deemed lesser than and, therefore, in need of enlightenment? 

I honestly do not remember it happening so blatantly before but maybe I am just more sensitive these days. Do others get these impromptu and unwanted sessions?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Friendship and the Boundaries Thereof

I met up with my old friend, "Sam", last week. He was walking his bike up the street, a large bag draped over the handle bars. Sam is about my age, with sun hardened skin and strands of mid length hair pulled back in a tail. He is a generous man, affable and open hearted. He is also a binner, sleeps rough most of the time and, in his own words, usually “drunk as a skunk.” I’ve known him for about sixteen years. Sam is always kind to me, gives me writing advice and once he defended my honour. I like him a lot. 

Although it is doubtful he could be diagnosed with a mental health issue, Sam hangs with those who have one: they are the most honest people, he says, good people; you know where they stand. These friends provide him with companionship but also stress and concern; our conversation was filled with both laughter and poignancy as he described recent events. He keeps a look out when buddies go missing or run away in fear; provides food and shelter when he can and is more than willing to share a swig. He offered me a bike once, a dumpster find that needed but few repairs. Security guards and the cops in my neighbourhood know him and give him latitude, shop owners provide him with food for labour done and, ever so often, he tells me of a house sitting job. I gave him a gift certificate one Christmas to a food store. It embarrassed him—he works for his pay.

I am continually amazed at his ingenuity and his willingness to share and yet, I would never invite him home for a cup of tea. There is this fine line, no, I lie, a concrete barrier between him and me. It is not based on class or riches, job status or even alcohol. (Okay, the alcohol does influence my position but he is not always that drunk). The substances that make up this barrier, in fact, are mutable. Some days it is because I fear he may bring bed bugs into my apartment (although I have never seen him scratch); other times it is because he is slightly dirty and still others, a fear of future neediness. But once again, this excuse has no foundation, he has always been respectful of my boundaries. 

As I sit here writing I am not quite sure that I even know my truth; like the barriers between Sam and I, that truth is fickle. Perhaps I don’t invite him in because I don’t want to feel obliged. Once invited, the door is open: there is no reason, in my convoluted mind, to bar the entrance again. I will never have peace in my sanctuary—always waiting for the door bell to ring. But that screams out poor boundaries on both our parts and I know that ignoring phone calls or door chimes is not unfamiliar to me.

It is interesting to look at those invisible walls that can lie between us and those in our community. I have friends at work that I don’t see outside the job and I am pretty certain I will not trade phone numbers when I quit. Then there are the shop keepers and clerks, and, vice versa, those I serve as a cashier. I have great conversations with some of these people while errands are done but I find a slight discomfort when I find myself next to them on the bus. It is almost akin to a one-night stand: intimate knowledge of the other’s body (or what they like to buy) but practical ignorance in how the person thinks or feels. What does one say when you are out of your proscribed roles? 

Perhaps it is the idea that close friends have been through the ringer while passing acquaintances have not. You both know who the other is. You have experienced (and accepted) most of their personas—and they yours—compromises have been made; tolerances expanded. There is an implicit agreement that you are in it for the long run. With store clerks and work buddies you know your time together is limited and the space constrained. Here, too, compromises are made and tolerance expanded but only because you don’t have to live with them or have them over for coffee.  

But all this doesn’t really explain why I keep Sam at arm’s length. Perhaps, I just dont want to be reminded that we are all just ill-fated moments away from living on the street. Then again, maybe it is just my fear of intimacy: do I really want/need another friend who knows me more than I would like?

After a while I told Sam I had to go. Our visit was drawing to a natural close anyway but something else was pulling me away. Although I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it that day, in retrospect, I think a part of me was questioning who this man was and what he meant to me. What was my responsibility to him? 

As we readied to go, I asked for our usual hug. Our arms wrapped around each other. It was a solid, almost fierce hug.

Thinking back on that short moment in time, I wonder if therein lies the answer. Perhaps our relationship is fine as it stands; perhaps it is enough.