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A Simple Spring Morning

I remember from my Hebrew school days one of the first prayers we were taught. It had to do with gratitude that we had actually awoken and were being given the privilege of another day. However, on some grey days we wish we could burrow deeper beneath the covers and forgo the interactions and onslaughts that arise in everyday living. But at the early indications of spring, our hearts feel brave enough to take another chance and face the world. The sight of a tiny pink bud emerging or a patch of muddy grass is cause to sing – and even smile.

Yesterday I had lunch with.my mother’s best and truly only friend. My mom would say if you have a friend like Mary, you don’t need anyone else. And she was right, of course. Mary was there every Tuesday evening to take her for fish and chips, supporting my mother’s faltering body up the stairs to the same restaurant that greeted them as old and valued friends.Mary no matter the weather was always there. Where I once considered Mary unsmiling and cheerless, in my infrequent lunches with her since my mother’s death, I find her laughing, charming and friendly, really delightful. She tells me she was my mother’s confidant, which of course I knew.

But as I get older, I wish more and more that I had probed deeper into my mother’s thoughts, stories and history. For now the few scraps I recall are in deed fragments, not well remembered because I was enduring not really listening to the descriptions of Poland, or family fracas, or who was married to whom. All these pieces make for a Jewish geography and in that, my place, my identity in a family tree that although specific to me, crosses branches with others in unexpected ways.  

Last week at Pusateri’s, I ran into a second or third cousin on my mother’s side, Pauline, the lovely daughter of more than 80 year old Bertha who still travels the world by herself- to India, and this spring back to her home in Paris, France where she plans to go with her grandchildren to aid them in discovering their origins. It occurs to me that both Pauline and I, Patricia, are named for the same person, her grandmother, reportedly patrician, who lost her life in the camps or the gas chamber.Her father was the nephew of my mother’s father,I think, my grandfather bringing as many landesman and kin to Canada as possible.

This information is only a casual whiff from the past and I have hardly wanted more as it seems everyone in the European shetls were somehow related and entwined with their cousins so unraveling the roots leads to maladies and conclusions one would rather not know: as in the familial tremor that afflicted both my mother and Bertha. And lately I’ve heard claims my youngest cousin in California had fallen victim to the family heirloom of “ the shakes “ as my mother called it so he can no longer practice dentistry. How she dreaded any emotional encounter that caused her head to independently bob yes when she was responding no, the recipient clearly confused.

Yet there are also positive good stories of loading up a truck ( a la Jed Clampett) and heading off to Etobicoke for Sunday picnics, the whole mishpucha.

And there is merit in unwinding some family history, particularly as one gets older – or if not merit, at least interest. Because unless you glance at your grey hairs or trip over fragile feet, you do not consciously think of yourself as aging. The sweet flowers outside my window are still the same, whether encountered by a seven or seventeen or seventy year old. The pleasure they offer remains neutral , but as the mystic artist Blake was aware one can” … see a world in a grain of sand “, the eyes continue( hopefully) to perceive them anew each spring, perhaps first as harbingers of new commencements, and later, as we make associations with other springs, imbuing them with memories, good or bad, happy or sad . But outright, they signal the possibility of fresh opportunities.

Perhaps that is why I’ve come to love California where every day flowers such as birds of paradise or lilies continually lend promise to the saddest of moods, keeping us in a persistent state of beginning. As Tennyson surmised a lotus land. Here in Canada, it is the spring that fools us, tempting with peeks of purple and yellow that life will renew. In any case, I wish I had listened and questioned my mother more, noting how and what she focused on as she aged, her world changing and how she pereceived herself in that transformation.

Too often I did not want to hear the family stories, shielding myself from the pain, hurt and anger at her treatment by the family, particularly their disregard once my father came down with polio. Even as I write this, I feel myself bristle. She would proudly relate with a tiny chuckle the story of  The Little Red Hen who eventually did it all by herself. And that was what she accomplished so her own little family of husband and two daughters could endure. And so she bravely soldiered on.

 But her meta thoughts… I should have opened myself to them, not pushed them away with a yawn. How did my mother process and think about her thinking about the twists and upheavals in her life? I think she could have stood at one or several removes, philosophically taking it all in at an impartial distance: that she did with my cruel grandmother who tore books from her hands and continued to berate her. Older, my mother would extol her mother’s acceptance of relatives who descended upon her- uninvited by my grandfather- for whom she shopped, cleaned, cooked, gave sanctuary, even making her own children sleep nose to toe. My mother seemed to project another, a softer picture of her mother, once beautiful, an immigrant with few choices but who had become hard and hardened, much like a server or hidden downstairs maid to the overflow of encroaching relatives. In my unforgiving mind, I recall a small purple African violet offered to my grandmother on Mother’s Day harshly pushed away and the chant to my mother, “ Send her to commercial. She can be a secretary.” Which thankfully my mother did not do. I would have been interested in how my mother saw the spring flowers, how they spoke to her.

As I age I do comprehend better. My mother confided that music had helped her so much , especially as she aged although she continually lamented that her operatic voice had been squelched by her mother. I think music had become her Mindfulness meditation , lifting her from her confounding drudge , her growing infirmities of age. She explained it had transported her away from daily depressing thoughts and rigours of her life. It renewed her hope, obliterating much else.

I truly believe that for baby boomers, especially getting older is a shock. We foolishly never believe we will be taking a back seat and become weary. Sudden or chronic pains persist in surprising in spite of the fact that even a washing machine rarely endures more than a few decades, and its parts are/were- metal that will inevitably wear or rust or disintegrate.

Part of our disillusionment comes from turning our eyes to the world ,as our parents and grandparents did, still plagued by war, famine, poverty, pollution , corruption terrible, terrible strife that even now threatens to expunge us from its midst and an idiot as master of the so- called free world. It is enough to encourage us to crawl back beneath the covers and turn away from the spring flowers, shattering our innocence forever.

And yet… soon other blooms may join those first flowers of spring , and heavy coats being shed, ,we can swing our arms and walk freely in the sunlight, pretending there is promise in the awakening spring.

***

To lend our hearts and spirits wholly

To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;

To muse and brood and live again in memory,

With those old faces of our infancy

Heap’d over with a mound of grass,

From Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Lotos- eaters

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Poetry Collectives and Such

Last week I received a glorified chain letter, but with a difference. It was entitled poetry collective.Annoyed, I reflected I would not participate but I did not delete it from my machine. A few days later, coming across it again, I thought it might be a neat idea to receive a poem or two.

Now- I am not a poetry person, rather my solace is fiction and prose and narratives. Yet in my head are stored bits and pieces of poetry that rise to the surface occasionally. “Such as home is the place…”, the haunting Robert Frost poem that emerges whenever my plane lands in Toronto; or the mantra I uttered to my kids for years as we pulled into the drive way. I giggle to recall one of my courting love notes to my husband when we were seriously dating, an. e. e.cumming’s line about” I like my body when it’s with your body…”

It is a nuisance to engage in writing chain letters, but angered by my day’s events yesterday and looking for an outlet, I pounded on my computer. What poem, I ruminated , shall I send out into the world? Oppressive weather, lost earrings, changed appointment dates? A return to the slings and arrows of life in Toronto prompted William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming. Heavy, dark and forbidding. And how perfect for angst of Easter, but truly in tune with my mindset, I remembered from my university years “ …turning and turning, the centre cannot hold”.

Was I ready to explode too?

Yup, I was feeling torn apart, angry, twisting with frustration. So I clicked on the first name in the list and sent off the poem, a bit embarrassed not to be sharing rosebuds but gloom and doom that “ the centre will not hold”. I felt heavy, my imagination clothing me in the cloak of a grim reaper, my scythe ready to slice through the encroaching darkness.

But quickly, a response returned to express :the receiver loved the poem. I thought I recognized her name and to be of my vintage so I imagined she too might have been  introduced to Yeats back at university 40 years ago. Perhaps  her awareness of stodgy intellectual love- driven Yeats was accompanied by thoughts of U of T’s grassy quadrangle, and being young and wistful and dreaming of a happy future, maybe even in a  classroom.

The next step, however was to blind copy 20 people with the request to also send out poems. I chuckled to include my list of friends from Vienna to Los Angeles, contemplating a worldwide circuit that might travel around the world spreading poetry. So maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea and my mood began to lighten, especially when I was forwarded this,”It’s a green speckle time/ my favourite time of the year/ when all the trees begin to bud/ and summertime is near”. Joyously, some qother participant, had decided to play along with his best shot, his of a burst of spring.

Alas, my damn computer refused to co- operate and I had wasted almost an hour tracking down correct configurations of email addresses. Anger rising again, I reduced the size of my list, anticipating I would bcc in smaller bits, but again, my damn computer would only send one bcc at a time. So I sent 5, thinking, maybe I’ll do this later, but almost immediately two of my respondents emailed with thanks, but no thanks, I don’t do chain letters.

 I completely understood but the idea of poetry circling the globe like children of many colours dancing was morphing into a fleeting wisp of a thought.

Just back from three months in San Diego, the incomplete chain letter fell to the back of the closet in my mind.The crashing ice storm, the appointments put off, the reassemble of one’s life back home forced itself into my head space.

Where waking up to the blue cerulean sky had awakened a positive spirit in San Diego,the grey of Toronto had reminded me of more cold bitter days until we limp in to spring -in maybe two more months or more.The enjoyable colours of birds of paradise springing wildly by the walkways en route to yoga class were replaced by rustling squirrels and one very confused robin caught in an icy downpour here.The desirability of walking out to meet the day in shirtsleeves had returned to the grumble of dashing into the car buried to the chin in multilayered beneath my winter coat and turned my smile upside down.

Double humbug. I’ld even stopped the uplifting morning meditations and felt myself the tight brown shell of a small nut. And now even poetry would not go out into the world to shake some snow from tree limbs.

I should be happy: warm, secure in my lovely house, finally reuniting with my gracious grandsons here at home. But I am yearning for the sun- not sweating by a beach, but striding out in the fresh air, feeling alive and grateful for the day.

I’m not a supporter of things American and the name Donald Trump or Ted Cruz raises my ire and makes me rage with anger that so many people can be so stupid to support these crazies. I soothe myself that our fellow Justin Trudeau although not his father’s prodigy of brilliance is,at least, demonstrating the right moves towards diversity and environment,espousing a better world. But I must wonder at opportunities in the US, and why in 3 months, five of my writing articles were accepted in a variety of publications while here in Canada, no one is interested.

And why in California, people are welcoming and smile at you, often strangers initiating conversations with no ulterior motives, and why, too, does the service industry really try to satisfy -even should you sound or look weird?I love Canada and even when my husband was offered opportunities to move or study in the states, he refused. Whenever I can, I laud our healthcare, our innovations, our society, the Eldoas.

But maybe as the tail of winter is wending through my mind and I am experiencing shadows not sunlight, I feel down, yearning for the pink buildings of La Jolla and the outside cafes for leisurely lunches with my friend Peggy. Like frog and toad, I know spring will come again, but right now as the gloomy brown day envelops my yard and the perplexed robin stands perplexed on the soggy lawn, I yearn for the purple bougenvilla at  the side of our condo.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)       THE SECOND COMING
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre

    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;

    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know

    That twenty centuries of stony sleep

    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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