Does Anyone Know Carla Funk?*

I find her online by accident. Who knows what I was researching, but when her website loads onto my screen I think I found it: Carla Funk…writer, reader, glutton for joy. Suddenly I feel like I am staring at exactly who I want to be. Every click leads to something beautiful and funny and real and satiating and lyrical. I pause just long enough to open another window and order Gloryland, her latest poetry book, from the library.

I message Carla right away and tell her how much I love her. It’s forward of me, I know, and perhaps even a little annoying (barging in through Facebook’s back-door), but I have an ulterior motive. Wonderscape 2017 is approaching and I wonder if maybe, just maybe, she’ll be in Saskatchewan that weekend, and might she possibly consider attending the retreat? For free, of course! I type out my awkward flattery and wait.

Surprisingly, she replies. She is kind and courteous but happens to be busy that weekend. Flying off to New York for some writerly thing.

Ah, yes. Of course. New York.

I now feel silly that I thought she might come to Wonderscape and we would meet and she would share all her writing secrets and we would be best friends forever.

Gloryland arrives a few days later. My intuition about her is confirmed. Usually poetry volumes like this leave me disoriented and confused. Hers is different. It’s full of earthy, grounded writing. Humble in a fleshy, joyful sort of way. I keep it on  my lamp-stand and nibble on a poem or two, every night, as a bed-time snack.

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*Note: If you know Carla, can you put in a good word for me? Or convince her to come to Wonderscape next year? Canada isn’t that big… she lives on Vancouver Island and her last name is Funk. Which is practically Friesen, for goodness’ sake.

This post should have been a part of wordy-things I’m loving but I forgot. Which is okay. Carla deserves a post of her own.

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Being Forty

I couldn’t wait to turn 40. This is what it is like so far…

* * *

Being 40 is running with my daughter and lagging behind. She lopes on easily and seems surprised when I can’t keep up. “What’s wrong? ” she asks. “You’re not really trying,” she suggests kindly. “You could run this fast if you wanted to.”

Being 40 is growing food, buying food, preparing food, serving food, packing food, storing food and thinking about food.

Being 40 is keeping the extra leaves in the dining room table and surplus chairs nearby for last-minute guests.

Being 40 is hanging on to your brother’s shoulder while watching the the birth of his new baby girl. It is weeping at the beauty of her glorious entrance, her head full of black hair, and the way she moves her lips as if she is trying out her mouth for the first time. Which she kinda is.

Being 40 is knowing more about–but never taming–mother nature. It is puzzling over dead watermelon transplants, shriveled beans, and spotty spinach; it is showing off my heavily-mulched garden paths, and glowing with pride over ruby-red strawberries and an early lettuce crop.

Being 40 is staunchly supporting my local library with over-due book fines. (Besides protesting provincial funding cuts by lobbying government offices.)

Being 40 is watching my husband lift a frame full of honeybees, gently scraping off the burr comb while talking to “his girls” (the bees), and wondering if there is anyone more creative, curious, and productive than the person I married.

Being 40 is craving solitude and silence and long walks alone when I can listen to the wind in the poplars.

Being 40 is dressing, feeding, serving, wiping, directing, disciplining, consoling, talking and listening to other people nearly all of my waking moments.

Being 40 is wondering what to say when my child dives into her bed, sobbing on her pillow while your heart breaks beside hers.

Being 40 is sitting on a beach with friends, who by now almost qualify for the homey title of “old friends”, talking about traditions we have started together with our families.

Being 40 is sliding into my chair at the restaurant, overhearing my mom point out to the waitress that I am the “birthday child”.

Being 40 is feeling grateful that someone still cares for and thinks of me as a child.

Being 40 is inhaling the morning-breath of my two-year old, thankful I still have a child with whom I share a mutual enthusiasm for physical affection.

Being 40 is buying a mini-van at long last and driving around the neighbourhood while my kids roll down the windows of their cavernous ride, shouting the good news of our purchase to all passersby.

Being 40 is remembering what it was like to turn 25 when I lived in Bolivia and ate a gluten-filled cake for the very last time.

Being 40 is taking ridiculously long, hot showers as a small act of rebellion in the face of the conservationist, socially-responsible life we try to lead.

Being 40 is choosing lemonade and water over any cocktail, wine or beer because I still hate the taste of alcohol.

Being 40 is wearing my experience on my skin. It is finding new saggy spots, like the eyelids that don’t stick to my eye-sockets as well as they used to.

Being 40 is strenuously weighing simple decisions while a parade of people marches through my mind. “How will she feel? Will he be happy?” I ask as I consider each person in the clamour and how they will be affected by my choices.

Being 40 is feeling like 17 one day and 57 the next.

Being 40 is waking up on an ordinary day flush with miracles. Breath. The colour green. And candles that mean I’m still alive on this spinning earth.

 

 

 

Resurrection

All winter long we slide across our backyard ice-rink

then trek through the snow, past the naked raspberry canes,

to dispose of our garbage.

Orange peels,

mouldy spaghetti sauce,

used coffee grounds,

rotten potatoes,

and eggshells

create a frozen palette in our compost bin.

When the geese return

and the snow shrinks to reveal the muddy,

beaten grass,

it’s time.

 

*

Shalain calls to tell me her 44-year old friend is gone.

They carried her body,

piled with flowers her children laid on her,

out of her home where she died.

*

 

The pitch fork stabs through the kitchen slime and

and pulls out a tangle of last year’s tomatoe vines.

I dump in dry leaves, then stop to moisten each layer.

A season’s worth of waste begins to heat.

 

Five days after I mix the beastly pile

I check for signs of life,

plunging my hand into the rank darkness.

The deeper

I go

the warmer

it gets

until it is

not only warm

but hot

and I squeal at the same old miracle.

From the broken, discarded, trampled and rotten

springs potential.

Billions of microbes pulse with new life.

 

*

Sandy’s funeral was last week.

She was too young, too vibrant to go.

Death came anyway.

She smiles in her memorial photograph

with her arms raised triumphantly.

I wonder if any embalmer has arranged

a body in the casket like that.

*

 

Six weeks after tackling the pile

I wheelbarrow the fresh compost to its new home.

I would carry it teaspoon by teaspoon if I had to.

When I transfer it to the garden box

not a single crumble slips off my spade.

 

Everything discarded has become precious.

Bacteria sings the chorus of resurrection.

Easter hums through creation.

Death is not the end.

It never is.

Not even in a pile of garbage.

*Photo credit: http://www.readybagonline.com/blog/2014/7/8/give-composting-a-try

Arms Wide Open

image

Arms Wide Open

On Monday I walk with Meredith, who is angry and lonely
On Tuesday I listen to Steve tell me how his son tried to kill him in his sleep
On Wednesday I pray for the father who watched his daughters suffocate in canola
On Thursday I hand Justine a hot casserole while her husband rages, unaware I’ve come
On Friday I cry because Jason is dying

This road is too long
this listening too hard
this prayer too small
this food too little
these tears too late
to mend the crack

It would be easier to curl up, cover up, and shut up
than let in the Light
To turn away from the pain
instead of look it in the face

But every mile, word, tear, and crumb
stretches
my
contracted
spirit

until I hear the wingbeats of the bird who flies steady,
balanced by sorrow and beauty

Until I see Him hanging,
the One who bears the wounds of the world,
arms wide open

***

Last week was hard and I am not sure how to write about it. In the meantime, there is this poem. I couldn’t have written it without Kirsten telling me about Ettie Hillesum and Hildegard of Bingen, and of her own experience of thin places and the cross.

 

Today’s Top Ten

Golden leaves litter the grass; wind whips at pony tails; nerves wait for the gun; calf muscles tighten; hundreds of shoes pound the ground; parents whoop, holler and even jump over fences–in suit pants and dress shoes–to keep up with their children and cheer them on. Yep, it’s cross-country season. I’m always mystified why it’s such a big deal here (three different meets for young elementary students) but I’m not complaining. Running is more accessible than many other sports; you don’t need special equipment or hand-eye coordination, only a pair of legs that work and a bit of spirit. In honour of the season I’m handing out ribbons, in the shape of sentences, to the ideas racing around my brain. They aren’t necessarily my favourite things in the whole world, rather, the top ten things I feel like noting today.

Eleven-year-olds… This is the bi-lingual age; of picking up the accent of adulthood while still fluent with childhood, of friends with cell phones and tree forts, of babysitting jobs and bedtime hugs, of sarcasm and silly dances, of looking adults in the eye and tag with two-year-olds. I don’t find myself coaching Belén on how to “look at people” when they speak anymore, as much as I watch her talking with adults and children alike and act the proud-mama part in secret. Inside my head I’m shouting, “See her over there? That one who stands tall with the wide smile? She’s my child! That’s my girl!”

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One moment, during Belén’s birthday party, I’m having a serious and meaningful conversation with the girls, the next moment they’re all off playing tag.

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Salsa verde… Made from tomatillos, this green sauce for enchiladas fits my favourite cooking category: the one where you don’t need a recipe. Of course, there are plenty on-line to follow but as long as you have tomatillos, peppers, onion, garlic and salt, it will turn out fine. I don’t add any extra water, but let it all simmer slowly before liquefying with my immersion blender.

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I’ve never cooked with tomatillos before growing them this summer but will definitely plant them again next year.

Neighbours with garbage… Thank you Rebecca for sharing your wealth. The rotting broccoli, over-ripe tomatoes and wilted lettuce is much appreciated. When I see you coming up the walk with a full bucket I get excited just thinking about the nitrogen, carbon and microbes that will work together to make the most precious of gifts. Dirt. Now that’s neighbourliness.

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I have 2 compost bins; one for collecting and one for curing. (It takes about 2 months once I start turning/watering/tending it.) The one on the right is finished and I am shoveling it out here.

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Instead of pulling my bean plants I piled fresh compost right on top (and spread it out later). The nitrogen-rich plants should decompose in place and be ready to host tomatoes next spring.

Wild goose meat… “You’ll need your knives for this kids,” Stan announces as he brings the grilled meat to the table. “Just pretend it’s jerky and you’ll be okay.” It’s true, the leg meat is chewy and tough but the breasts are different. Juicy and barely pink on the inside, they resemble steak and taste just as good. “It’s the rib-eye of the sky,” he tells us. We all agree, chiming in with compliments for the hunter.

Watermelon packages… I tell her it won’t grow; she doesn’t listen. I tell her it’s too late, too shady; she plants it anyway. I tell her the vine is too spindly; she calls her grandma to tell her there’s a blossom. I tell her the fruit will never ripen; she takes every visitor back to the garden to see it. If watermelon could grow on faith and loyalty alone, this one would be a prize winner. When her cousins from Ontario come she gives them the tour and leaves the best ’til last. Her dear watermelon, no bigger than a tennis ball and mostly white with a greenish hue, elicits sufficient praise. Matteus even asks for a taste.

A week later we scramble to bring in the garden before the first frost and Susanna picks her precious fruit. She slices it up and gently places one half on a square of plastic wrap while informing her father she is sending it in the mail to her cousin. He shoots her idea down; she hums and keeps working. The next day I ask about the piece of rind wrapped up on the counter.

“It’s going in the mail,” she responds.

“No, it’s not,” I say. “You can’t send a drippy, moldy package of watermelon.”

Susanna looks at me, smiles sweetly, and continues on.

It’s still there, awaiting its final destiny: compost or Canada post. Who will win?

This book… If you share my reading taste you will love Tattoos on the Heart written by a Jesuit priest who lives in gang territory in L.A.

And this one: Good God, Lousy World, and Me. It’s another spiritual memoir written by a human rights activist who comes to understand God is present even in in the filthiest, darkest, and most violent of places.

Deception in the name of cleanliness… We have a house cleaner. She comes once a week. We don’t know her full name because of her company’s privacy policy, but we know we all have to tidy up the night before so she can deep clean without the clutter. Everyone is very impressed with her work. I don’t think we pay her enough.

Orca beans… Dry beans are the middle child of the garden; they get on quite well with almost no attention. I planted a tiny corner of my garden with these and basically forgot about them until today, when I harvested enough for a few meals and next year’s seed cache.

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Sunsets during supper

The rice is cooking, so are the beans
My kitchen window glows neon
No time to cook
Pull Vivi from her highchair, buckle up, squish in, head out of town
Find a prairie,
a gravel road,
a place to smell the harvest dust
The sky blossoms purple and orange and makes this field a ballroom
This stubble our dance floor

This is 37

It’s getting harder and harder to blog lately. And it has more to do with the eight and ten-year-olds, than the five-month old. I drafted a piece last week that I thought was inspiring, hopeful, and honest; some truly magnificent writing. 🙂 I read it to Belén right after she got home from school and while she peeled off her parka and finished her snack, her face grew still and sad listening to my words. I knew then, I wouldn’t post it. I thought the salient points were positive enough to justify the honest beginning, but she disagreed.

“Why can’t you write, ‘It was hard at first, but I got over it. Now it’s good? Leave out that stuff at the start and it will be okay.”

I sat for a moment without saying anything. I really wanted to share this piece even though parts of it made me sad, too. I thought it might be worthwhile even if just one other person read it and felt less alone–and isn’t that why we do all of this reading and writing anyway? To feel connected and reassure ourselves we’re not the only ones facing the unpredictable world out there?

“Mmm…” I started slowly. “If I leave out the details, and only share the good stuff, it won’t be very interesting anymore. Telling the hard things makes the good stuff make more sense.”

She resisted, and I left it alone. I thought about a book I’d read recently and how the author, Krista Bremer, took me from mountain trails (where she met her husband) to the dusty villages of Libya (where she met her husband’s family), straight into the heart of her marriage. It’s one of the most well-written books I’ve read in a long time, precisely because she doesn’t say, “It was hard at first, but now it’s good.” Her words are sharp and the images vivid. It’s a beautiful, raw story, but I wonder: what did her husband think of it all? And her children? How do you write any kind of memoir, or even an amateur blog like this one, and respect the ones who are living out the stories with you? It’s dangerous territory, this writing hobby, and I’m not sure one can ever do it well and be safe.

So what do I do now? Turn this into a sewing blog? That would be great if I had more patience for following patterns. A foodie blog? Not likely. I’m very insecure about my kitchen skills lately; the accumulation of complaints from my children over the years is taking its toll. Besides, I’d have to type out recipes and that wouldn’t be fun at all. A photo blog? My camera is too cheap and the thrill of blogging comes from creating pictures with words, not just uploading them.

Maybe I’ll have to make it all about me–I’ve never been one to bother much with privacy anyway. It might be boring, but certainly not as risky. Here, then, is a poem to start with. It was an “assignment” for my writing group. All of us–from our early thirties into our sixties–did a piece explaining what it’s like to be the age we are. It was fun to write and I loved reading the others’ too.

***

This is 37

Unwrapping baby gifts billowed with tissue paper,
opening my front door to a friend trembling with a new diagnosis,
pretending to be the tooth fairy–but failing,
praying and explaining, but never understanding leukemia,
cheering for smiles and poop, coos and farts,
new lines under my eyes,
in between birth and death.
This is 37.

Cradling my baby to my breast,
peeling the fuzz and dust we slough from the lint trap,
dipping fingers into coarse salt and sprinkling it over roasting potatoes,
heaving half-rotten compost from one pile to another,
reaching under sheets, tracing the body pressed next to mine.
My arms are strong.
My hands are full.
This is 37.

Arranging after-school sledding dates,
hoping my college friend will notice my facebook post,
waiting for book-club night,
calling my sister three times a day,
searching, always searching, for community.
Then Friday night comes,
lights are out at 9:30.
This is 37.

Skating on an outdoor rink for an audience of two
listening to my daughters cheer from the snow-banked sidelines,
springing off toe picks, bunny-hopping more like a groggy bear than a limber rabbit,
The crowd jumps to its feet and roars with approval.
“Did you see that?” one daughter gasps to the other.
I sing the last note till it goes flat,
jazz hands still fluttering.
This is 37.

***

What’s it like for you at 28? or 45? or 67? And how honestly could you write about it? Please share.

Tricia

Good words: the beauty of innuendos

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.”

-Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

When I saw the picture below, I thought of Stevens’ poem right away.  The first stanza starts like this:  Among twenty snowy mountains, the only moving thing was the eye of the black bird.  The poem also ends with a snowy image… but it’s really not about snow at all.  (I’m not totally sure what it is about, I just know I like the fifth stanza.)

Susanna took this photo on Wednesday, from our back step.  The snow was falling thick and heavy–the girls were ecstatic, of course.

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!