iv. But I digress

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Photo by Mark, messed with by me

In the absence of ambition, we become a conglomeration of tangents, an aimless wandering path laid down by the stick the dog is carrying: a scrappy, stocky, short-legged terrier beagle something or other cross, who has somehow outdistanced her loping, tongue-lolling, muddy pawed golden retriever pal, and is dragging a branch far too big for her size, but nowhere near equal to her spirit.

The broad line laid down in the dormant November grass, still wet with last night’s frost, will last for a few hours, at most; the sun has already thawed the exposed areas; only the shadows still carry hints of freezing, the ground crunchy and damp under recently unearthed winter boots.

A path laid down by accident, without purpose or intent, a temporary testament to life having passed this way, proof that momentum exists, that change is inevitable. And yet, itself, it is static, empty of life, mere black marks on a white background, bird tracks and fallen branches, a memory of what was, rather than a bold imagining of something new, something yet to come.

But if you follow the trail long enough, it will do at least one thing: it will bring you home.

Music: Thelonious Monk, Live in Japan 1963

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iii. Cooking, and other creative endeavors

The components of the spell are there, the page in the recipe book yellowed with age, smudged and stained with cocoa and brown sugar and cinnamon – not because you need the recipe any more; it was memorized years ago, as instinctive now as any other everyday task. You know exactly what to reach for, in which cupboard, in which order. You have the perfect spoon, worn soft to the touch; the perfect bowl, beautifully weathered, scratched and dented, fine hairline cracks in the porcelain, like an old painting.

The smaller metal bowls ring when you clean them, a clear mild tone, teased into wakefulness by an enthusiastic swipe of the frayed checkered dish towel, encouraged to greater volume as the sink provides quiet settling background noises, the last soap bubbles sighing in resignation, collapsing, imploding in near-silent release.

ii. Art

Visualizing: the painter in her many layers: cotton, wool and fleece, an outer layer to break the wind, thick socks in practical boots, hybrid gloves – the kind where the finger tips detach and bend back to grip Velcro fasteners, leaving thin fingers free to freeze solid.

She stabs her stubby, short bristled brush into the orange, yellow, red, white, green, squinting in the dying light, painting more by feel and memory than sight. The application of paint is reassuring in its methodical swiftness, confident and direct, devoid of hesitation. The basic physics of the equation are those of a crafts-person, building a picture as one might a chair – the first rough cut, before the joining and sanding and polishing.

There are some of those on the wall too, quick sparse sketches, laid out in wide utilitarian strokes, slapped down in a hurry while the light lasted. They lack the glow of the two finished paintings; the canvas lies flat against the uneven bricks, no real sense of depth, despite the hasty blue shadows thrown across the snow, the flash of winter sunlight on the south-facing wall of the farm house – a depiction not so much of a specific building, but rather a symbolic representation of the idealized form of the southern Ontario concept of House: a sturdy rectangle with a triangular roof, three windows and a door, smudges that might be pine trees cozying up to it on either side. The sky is two shades of blue, the brush strokes reaching from ground to sky, as if following the memory of the last time the aurora borealis enveloped the house in dancing green fingers.

i. People

The lady across from me is wearing a long john top, the kind I used to wear as PJs when I was in high school, waffled grey with disconnected grey-blue stripes. Her long black and white homespun scarf partially doubles as a sweater, or a cloak. She’s wearing her toque indoors, despite the mild day: purple wool with a pink rim, topped with a perky navy blue pompom. I’m thinking she has bird in her ancestry, some ancient feathered dinosaur with a lean face tapering to a fine, sharp point, long skinny legs and hollow bones. If I were betting on who would be able to glide if thrown off a cliff, she’d be the main contender; so light she’d waft like a feather.

Fragility

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Photo by Mark A. Harrison

Fragility

Muscles clenched
into a fist
wrapped around my spine
as if intending
to pull it out
through the flesh of my back

If only thoughts mattered
I could live a thousand lifetimes
I would be a mountain
pocked, scarred, eroded
wearing my damage like a testimony
to having lived
watching oceans grow and shrink;
I would be a phoenix
endlessly burning
all my sins turned to ashes
pulling myself, choking, back into the world
again and again;
I would be a river
carving out the earth
wearing down centuries
roaring torrent or sluggish as a snail;
still I would move, and move.

Without this fragile shell,
bound by bones & blood & sinew
I could converse with dark nebulae
wander the tracks of galaxies
discover what really happens
when you fall into a black hole;

But without these volatile chemicals
flowing through temperamental veins
tickling twitching, fragile nerves,
would I still feel delight at the birth of a star?
anticipation approaching the speed of light?
sorrow at the heat death of the universe?

Without these mundane aches and pains,
the constant nod and wink of death’s eventual shadow
would happiness taste as sweet?
Would we trade these perpetual growing pains
for an eternity without joy?

– T.H.