The First Breath of Spring

Photo by Mark A. Harrison

Starting off the first day of National Poetry Month with one that didn’t make it into WTWBT, but feels right for the first day of April, when the snow has receded into only the darkest, coldest corners, the birds are singing non-stop, squirrels are running rampant, and green is sprouting everywhere. But at the same time, in the back of your mind, you know there’s still an ice storm or two on the way before the month is over.

[Original title: Fifteen degrees of February]

When the first breath of spring
catches you up, teases your
heart with false promises,
blushing green peeking from
fresh damp earth, emerging
islands amidst the fast
melting snow; when even
discarded skins of chocolate
bars and dollar store bags
seem to herald new beginnings:
life from destruction, devouring
the old bones, bleeding
ice from the river’s edge.

Even the birds are deceived,
filling the air with distracted chatter,
while free roaming dogs and
preschool children run madly through
the squelching mud, feeling the shift;
and yet, the cynical voice reminds
you that it’s far too soon, winter
won’t let us go that easily.

To hell, you say, with rationality,
and walk faster, as if by
sheer defiance you can escape
the warning howl of the cold
grey clouds, wind pushing you
back into the inevitable grip
of winter.

T.H.

Interlude

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Winter Light, Summer Tree by Mark A. Harrison

Doing boring grownup stuff is made infinitely better with a big fluffy coffee and a muffin on one side, and your sweetheart on the other. The city’s feet are slushy brown and the sky’s a muted grey, a few lazy white flakes drifting down as if they forgot where or why they were. One loose branch caught in the fingers of the others on the tree outside the window, hanging on despite the shivering breeze.

Snow

Seemed an appropriate theme for one of the coldest, snowiest Decembers we’ve had in a long time. Five original images by M, from the archives, in slideshow form. You can right-click to open a full-rez version in a new tab, where you can see all the insane detail that goes into one of these.

Here’s to the New Year picking itself up, dusting itself off, and putting on those well-worn, many-times-mended gloves for another round. We can do this, folks. It will get better!

 

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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

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.

paradise, lost and found

FallLeaf-by-MarkAHarrison

Photo by Mark A. Harrison

There was a line-up at our local pharmacy today, which led to much more waiting around than usual. Turns out that the delay worked in my favour. On the way home (a short three block walk), I got to see a monarch butterfly (rare in these parts lately) and three goldfinches, all nearly within touching distance. The sun came out from the clouds, the neighbourhood garden flowers seemed to grow ten times brighter, and all the compounded irritations and annoyances that had piled up during the day disappeared.

It brought back the memory of these two poems, one a snapshot from early childhood, the other an equally perfect moment from a B.C. trip in my early twenties. A reminder that paradise exists, not as an afterthought, but in those small moments of pure contentment.

1.

on the curved stretch of unkempt beach
a thin, tow-headed child, squatting barefoot
pokes at seaweed with a stick
wrinkling her nose at the pungent salt-rot smell
the kelp bladders bloating in the sun
she picks up shells and pebbles with
the reverence of an artist
admires the iridescent sheen
of a fractured oyster shell
dropped by one of the wheeling gulls
toes and knees crusted with wet sand
wading ankle deep into the chill water
she holds the dry pebbles under
watching the secret colours emerge
a moment of discovery
on the shore of some far-off land
its name long forgotten, the details faded
save that one perfect moment
captured like a bead on a string

2.

we step into the forest
armoured in layers
of cotton, nylon, bright
green and yellow raincoats
thick soled rubber boots
an old manual camera
slung around my neck
bounces against my chest
most of our journey
along the wooden plank paths
is done in silence
our ears open to the sounds
around us, wind and birds,
distant rushing water
there is a sorrow behind
the sacredness of this place
part of its sanctity lies in
it being one of the last
doomed, ultimately, to destruction
(we followed logging roads to get here)
we trail reverent hands along
fern fronds longer than we are tall
damp gnarled bark softened
by lush green moss
we crane our necks to stare
up at the trees that seem
to go on forever, their tips
lost in the fog, only the barest hint
of heavy grey sky far above
a permanent ache in my chest
I can’t seem to stop smiling
I think, whatever else happens
I stood here, in this place
before they took it all away
on the drive out, we see
two black bears, wandering the
wasteland of the clear-cut swath
a stone’s throw from heaven
they pay little attention to us
our compact Westfalia camper
must seem a mere toy
compared to the monsters
that daily tear the land asunder
I close my eyes, and think
of paradise, of moss under fingers
of air so clean you wonder
what you’ve been breathing all this time.

– T.H.

Worst Paragraph EVER (Today’s Fun with Editing)

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

So I’m innocently skimming an earlier chapter, quite a ways back from the bit I’m currently on, and I find, to my horror, what I’m officially designating the Worst Paragraph in the Entire Novel. One might wonder how I could possibly have missed it the first time around. In my defense, this stage of editing mainly involves jumping from one editorial comment to the next, and only cursorily skimming the prose in between.

Thankfully, a consistency issue sent me back, and the salvaging of the Worst Paragraph Ever is underway – after nearly two hours of (1) attempting to tweak rather than re-write, (2) realizing this is impossible, and reassessing the entire scene including which street corner it takes place on, and (3) spending a ridiculous amount of time playing with Google maps street view to determine exactly what will happen where.

This, my friends, is how a planned 20-30 minute quickie editing session turns into a behemoth that devours your entire evening. A brief glimpse behind the curtain of that mysterious alchemical process that transforms first draft dreck into a proper novel that you’d be proud to have someone read. Or so I fervently hope.