Early One March Saturday

The morning is a pearl. Not a twig moves in its shimmering globe. Not a bird stirs. All is tension between reality and potential – between now and later. Stasis. Welcome respite for some; anxious pause for others. The moment of keenest awareness before all the clocks in the world stutter and continue their endless, Sisyphean rounds.

Hopeful chickadees have arrived now, and a junco, picking at seeds embedded in the frozen crust. My two rats have eaten well, and crafted a maze of tunnels through the drifts. They pop up and disappear like groundhogs. As the rains move in and the snow shrinks, they will lose their winter warren. I wonder if this will disappoint them. So much effort, such complexity – gone at the whim of Nature.

Then again, isn’t that what happens to us as well? Mayan ruins, Roman walls and aqueducts, Sable Island spars drowning in sand … the winds passing indifferently over all this wrack and glory. “Cloud-capp’d towers and gorgeous palaces” dissolving, Prospero’s vision come to pass. But for now, for this hour, the rats build their corridors of ice. They never invade my human domain, for they have no need. I let them be. We live too far in the back country for pestilence to touch them, or me.

A car crunches the frozen ruts on my road. Cash barks to be let in, his urgent business completed. The cardinal enters with crimson flare. He is my Prospero, my Mage of the Snows. Someday, perhaps he will magick me to ancient Egypt or Uluru. Waking time is brief; sleep is long. And always, the pearl rolls away and the revels end.

FB cardinal mage_edited-1

An Absence of Sun

People speak of the “dark night of the soul”. It is real. It is overwhelming. You wake up to it and wonder where the door is. Every step is barefoot on glass that has no shine. The cup sits at your left hand, glimmering with its burden, and you beg for it to be taken away. But of course, it isn’t. You have filled it yourself. Every sin you have ever committed – even those you’ve forgotten – swirls in its dregs. Every regret, every sorrow, every wrong done to others – they’re all part of that elixir. You stare at it, terrified to drink. But you will. Inevitably, you will.

This is the time for family – if you have one – to gather and shut the drapes against a darkfall that many will never endure. This is the time for friends to toot their horns as they pass, their headlights leading your pathway out. They have, after all, thought to acknowledge you, and thoughts are another kind of beam through the dusk. But on this night, you’re lost to family, though they may be unaware of it. Friends pass and follow their own destinies. They don’t see that overturned sky over your head. And they couldn’t raise it, should they want to try. You must protect them from that knowledge, and from that attempt.

So you draw the blankness around yourself like a robe. You turn off your porch lantern and cancel the warmth falling on your yard, where the grass is frozen. No sleepy birds murmur in this winter of your discontent. In the old days, wagons ringed a comforting fire. Wolves and night terrors dared not intrude. But there are no wagons now. No fire but a candle clumsily lighted. And the wolves tiptoe closer, baring the teeth of those who hate you. Sadly, they far outnumber those who love, because after all, this is your darkness. You have shaped it through your own pain.

Because no one is entirely without fault, and you understand this, you’ve muddled along as best you can manage. No one believes you won’t keep on doing it. You err because that’s the human thing. You get back to the road and survive a few more years. Your twist your ankle or shatter your heart as you fall off the margin of that road and of those years. Then you either limp forever after, or work out the injury and build yourself stronger for awhile.

And in the irony of ironies, chances are you will be noted most for the brilliance of your smile. You’ve learned to hide everything behind it. You’ve cultivated it like a flower that blooms best after sunset. And when people say, “You have the most beautiful smile,” you feel reassured. You have hidden well the shadow that would turn your face to a mask of grief.

But the dark night still comes. It closes down around you, the way cooling stones trap water. Perhaps this is how crystals feel, locked in their geodes, unable to shine for anyone until the rock is broken. The risk involves smashing the best and most beautiful of those gems. Escape entails a cost. Something inevitably cracks.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, indeed. You need not raise that particular question. The ringing drowns out all other music now. It goes on and on; it shakes the windows. You block your ears and it swells inside without the slightest softening.

But like the winecup, poured at your behest, you can identify where this tolling started. There’s no need to ask. You’ve hung that damned bell in your own soul, after all. Now you’ve hauled on the ropes, it won’t stop. It peals into that not-so-good night where no one goes gentle, and most don’t go at all. Only you, and only now.

You walk into the darkness on a carillon trail, unspooling silence behind you.

BW FB sickleIMG_1910

Do Unto Others (or not …)

It is puzzling to watch how, in various social media (and in a wider sense as well), some Christians reach out to other Christians and interact with them as a closed circle, yet fail to extend their friendship quite so generously with those who might either be struggling with their faith, or simply not Christian at all. I suppose it’s natural to do this. Like seeks like. But when it becomes self-focused, then it also becomes less than inclusive. At least, that has been my personal observation just lately.

I wonder if this is what Jesus would have intended. The Christian Church is shrinking in membership. Is this sense of exclusivity a part of the reason? A retreat behind the barricades of faith, so to speak? A feeling that “our church” is better than “your church” because WE do it right and YOU don’t? I have heard this sentiment explicitly expressed from the pulpit. It disturbed me so much (coupled with the anti-scientific mindset I encountered) that I stopped attending services anywhere. My gardens are my sacred places these days. God – genderless and remote but still present – glimmers above my head and dances in the leaf shadows. I suspect I have become something of an animist. I detect that holy but unfathomable presence in almost everything, from the stones and water to the air and light. It doesn’t wear the skin of either a man or a woman. My fundamental Christian acquaintances will no doubt be concerned for my soul and consider me damned for eternity. I have done many things worthy of damnation, after all. But is this one of them?

I’ve belonged to a “traditional” church but now live at some distance from it and am no longer a participant – although I hasten to note that these are fine people with beautiful hearts. So it’s not their fault; I’m just standing outside the circle. My home congregation from childhood is in another region entirely. I have been exploring the Jewish roots of my father’s Levy lineage, with considerable and increased attention. That is the surname I’ve carried from infancy and its history is undeniable.

And then there’s Yeshua, Jesus, the Jew at the foundations of Christianity. He never once claimed to be anything else but Jewish. I think too many Christians have forgotten that over the years. Western society harbours a groundswell of anti-Semitism that I find frightening. The situation in the Middle East has some bearing on this, but it’s not the whole story. There’s this knee-jerk reactionism that gets directed at a much broader spectrum. So I quietly research my name and its ancient antecedents and wonder if we will ever truly be comfortable with our own identities, any of us, regardless of beliefs or cultures or places of residence. I doubt it. Contention is inherent in humanity. We do not play well with others. If we believe otherwise, we are lying to ourselves. No one ought to get too smug about our capacity for committing acts of goodness.

Meanwhile, my family’s home in Yarmouth will become increasingly our “prison” owing to my husband’s physical deterioration, thanks to ALS. Its address is not far from several mainstream churches. People from these congregations know us and many also know what we are dealing with. Yet David has received nary a visitor from any church, except Mormon – and they were total strangers to him until then. He appreciated their attention. Otherwise – nada. Nary a card. Nary a knock on the door. Nothing. He is confronted with mortality and it will be a terrible conclusion to a life bravely lived. His atheism is, I suspect, more along the lines of agnosticism. He has a keen intellect and his mind closes no doors entirely. It doesn’t need to. The religious community closes them for him. We have been the recipients of generosity from many sources but all of them were secular. I do find this curious.

Still … he can hardly hike out to the nearest place of worship these days. And he’s probably not alone. Well, yes, he IS alone in that terrible sense. On his hospital admission forms, he always writes “Anglican”. He was born in England although he deems himself 100% Canadian but that one tie remains. I believe the last time he saw any clergy member one-on-one was in a hospital setting. And for a religion that originally emphasized outreach and conversion, this strikes me as rather sad.

corberrie church IMG_3731


The former Catholic Church in Corberrie, NS – now unused and no longer consecrated.

I took this photo on a recent drive around the area. I have never attended this church, however. 

A New Year’s Day Reflection – 2014

  • The year has ended and so we move into another one. Linear time is the only way we can organize our lives, the only structure our minds can grasp. And by that measure, it is 2014 – January 1st. The dual face of Janus gazes ahead, and turns away from what has gone before. Whether we are leaving a good year or one we aren’t sorry to abandon, may we all find hope and joy in the new version.

    Yet there is also, perhaps, a form of concurrent time … a nagging sense that somewhere, all things are happening at once. Our child-selves race and climb, bruise and laugh. Our parents are whole and young; our first loves hold out their hands toward us. Summers stretch ahead, innocent and bright. The sea rolls cleaner and the leaves bear no scars. There are gleaming trout and salmon in those other rivers. Snow falls unmarked by grit and wood smoke hangs in the winter air. We stir the cream through our milk and eat fat molasses cookies without a second’s pause. Ours is the kingdom of anticipation.

    In that strange framework where time runs parallel to itself, we are winding through an endless conga dance and every sorrow, every triumph, every delight or pain is woven into that line. They are all ours to know again. We dream ourselves into each well-remembered scene and suspended moment. Hours no longer stride across the world like booted enemies. The only borders are those we build in our sleep.

    I know, I know! This is but the ramble of an aging mind. The longing of a heart no longer certain it is entitled to long for much of anything. Health, perhaps. Comfort enough, peace enough, coins for spending and a scatter of stars for feeling insignificant. Things that my brain is able to set out – here, and here, and over there too. A table where all the cutlery is neatly arranged, and nothing takes me unaware. I suppose there are worse prospects than organization but I’d rather have disorder and surprise. The feather dropped in my hair from something unseen. The cat that holds half my memories in her eyes.

    Happy New Year to my family and friends, and a glass raised in salute to you all! May you move forward with optimism and courage, but bundle the older years around you like a worn and familiar coat.

    Ring the change and listen. The sky is chiming tonight, like a great bell.

  • For All the Broken Butterflies


    For All the Broken Butterflies

    The last, the very last,
    So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow. – Pavel Friedman, “The Butterfly”, June 4 1942

    You are old now, torn by air and the too-sharp petals of every false flower                                
    in the world. Nothing about you will stay any longer than your paths                                       
    through the wet grass. Hopeful to the final probe, you prickle your tongue                                    
    with sweet beads. Cobalt and ochre dust sifts through the morning’s thorns.

    God writes your kind on parchment – haiku of a single hour. Early sun
    burns through your dénouement. Foils turn to deltas of dry rivers.
    Yet you fear no evil in the vacuum beyond this last garden.
    Since you cannot hold memories, I would offer a few for each
    of your journeys, my friend.

    A woman grips her own innocence – round fruit on an open palm. Raised
    hands,  juice between fingers, sticky lure you must never try to drink.
    Shake free: clouds and walls, slam of a gate below you.

    Taste now Ishmael’s wrist. Lick the salt desert from his skin.
    Feel Hagar’s laugh, its bubble like water rising. Her son opens a spring
    with his heel, bends toward the wet stones. Tremble your heart
    against his pulse, then blow away.

    Settle as a leopard on Khadija’s robe, companion to the slow
    sandglass of her breath. Your veins are stitching gold and shadow.
    Habibti, she murmurs – My own beloved. But you have such a tiny voice,
    not made for love. Eyes on your wings open to watch her leave.
    Their bruised edges she has chosen not to see.

    Rest on a Roman’s plume, bring a kiss from his daughter. He cannot kill
    you this time – evader of flags, hooves, spears, fire. You, the stroke
    of light beyond an old man’s window. First visitor at a rolled tomb,
    even before the women.

    Wisp caught on a barb at Terezin. A small boy points and cries,
    Mameh … look! He calls you angel, pinned on unforgiving wire.
    Not even the bravest of all malachim will fly to this place,
    his mother answers.

    When death arrives at last, it always belongs to someone else.
    So it is best not to remember everything I tell you.

    Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2013
    ~ posted in an exhibit at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Western Branch ~

    *The community of Terezin was the location of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where 12,000 children were kept prisoner during the Holocaust. 90% did not survive. Pavel Friedman, from whose poem I quote at the beginning, was one of those children. He later died at Auschwitz.

    Musings from Eden

    The Book of Genesis provides many opportunities for literary creation. As a poet, I keep returning to it for ideas and themes. I tend to view its events as part of a complex mythos that predates Christianity by millennia, yet also represents an interpretation of creation as viewed by the Old Testament/Torah authors – more intuitive than analytical, but still compelling. The Word figures prominently in this narrative, not to mention in the New Testament, and in Greek The Word is Λόγος or logos – Logic, Reason. I approach Genesis from a metaphorical and symbolical perspective rather than as a literal text, yet the process of creation itself appears to be vaguely parallel to what actually must have happened, albeit with certain artistic liberties. It does have its inherent logic. The primary issue is in the exact details and, of course, the time frame. There’s a certain progression from formless void to a coalescing planet, the appearance of water and an atmosphere, the rise of marine creatures, vascular plants, land animals with birds, then homo sapiens – appearing quite late in the sequence. The creatures of Eden that existed in this period were already there when Adam showed up. He was asked to name them, in fact. Needless to say, he did not have to identify the extinct ones since they were already gone. But I digress (as usual).

    Being a woman, I have long resented the burdens placed upon my gender by those who see Eve as some sort of original sinner – regardless of Adam’s own role in this particular transgression. I, personally, understand why she reached for that pomegranate*. She was consumed by curiosity and a hunger to know things. As the verb sciare means “to know”, it is not a stretch to consider Eve as the first scientist on the planet. She was willing to overlook the serpent’s rather sinister appearance, although she may have instinctively distrusted it, in order to learn. The pursuit of learning often comes at a considerable price, after all. Many have since died for it. Discovery is often tied to great personal risk.

    These intellectual qualities were part of Eve’s composition from the outset. Therefore, I have to assume that God fully expected her to go after enlightenment and orchestrated her “fall” to make it look like deliberate defiance on her part. He didn’t give Adam that kind of drive toward understanding. It seems rather clever of Him to force Eve’s hand by forbidding her to even think about that Tree of Knowledge. As He had made this pair as childlike beings in adult bodies, He probably anticipated the next step. A child will inevitably push the limits and grab whatever he or she has been told not to touch. Any parent is well aware of this fact. If this sounds like determinism as opposed to free will … yes, it probably is. Free will might not have been as important in the beginning as it has become in later ages. First, humanity had to evolve somehow and survive the process.

    In the end, Eve’s actions quite conveniently resulted in the punishment of childbearing. The world needed to be populated, after all. God could simply have erased her and used another rib. But He chose not to do so. Eden was undoubtedly a glorious place but, as Robert Frost has noted in a poem by the same title, “Nothing gold can stay.” Maybe it was never designed to last forever. But coupled with Eve’s newly-assigned physical pain was an intense emotional bonding to her baby. Most mothers would probably view this as a fair exchange.

    At any rate, I write a fair bit of “Eden Poetry”. I’m including two samples below, with accompanying photos. If you tend to hold the fundamentalist and literal view of Genesis or Biblical history in general, my blog will possibly not be to your liking. I tend to wrestle with metaphysical issues that make people uncomfortable – not always, but occasionally. No apologies, however. God and/or Goddess (I can’t associate either sex with such a remote and incomprehensible being) gave me an imagination and meant for me to use it.

    On to the poems …

    *Note – Since apples were unknown in the region where Eden is said to have existed, but pomegranates were native to that area, most historians now believe that “apple” is a faulty translation for a fruit that looks quite similar, in that both are red, round, juicy and seed-bearing.






    He tightens himself into his branches,
    rustles their leaves only a little –
    yellow hearts, he notices. Jigging
    lightly in a late-harvest shower.
    But he cannot name the tree, although
    he knows it has one. Everything
    is named, but fading like himself.
    Memories wrap around and around,
    tendrils without the strength
    to cling harder or vine wilder.

    He has chosen carefully his lure,
    red ripeness and high sweet notes
    like a descant above the darker alto
    of this abandoned garden.
    Blemished, certainly, but some
    imperfections grow their own hooks.

    He has set himself above her,
    runs his tongue over the last
    of his teeth as she steps without
    questioning this path made for her.
    She scents the grass with musk –
    resonant as these autumn apples –
    and scans the hedges for spies
    among their thorns. He looks down,
    deeper than the already shadows.

    She has been here forever.
    Only the coyotes are evil, but
    they hold music in their voices
    so she accepts them as necessary.
    Shrinking light limns her
    with a brief aureole. Her gaze
    lifts toward him, mandorla-eyes
    centered with sun points.

    The odour of their temptation
    wreathes them – his locked arms,
    her eagerness. She stretches
    her neck; he remembers a swan
    dropping from the blank sky
    with arrows in its breast.
    He slides out his instrument:
    that weapon hidden in his head –
    less merciful now, primed
    with all the failed chases strung
    from his neck. Beads shaped
    like every sorrow in the world.
    He understands he is not beautiful,
    so cruelty must be sufficient.
    He owns this forked seat
    of both cunning and disaster.

    When she finally eats, he blinks
    with sudden regret. As if his vision
    shows only part truth. As if her
    innocence trumps everything
    he believes about himself.
    I am your God, he whispers then.
    For once, I get to decide.
    But no tremor shakes the quiet.
    Because nobody cares what he says.

    She is listening to the wind. He strains
    toward her, so elastic now. So cocksure.
    He will give her one chance. Yet she
    stands unafraid, the juice of his sin
    leaking from her mouth. No hand
    out of the holy air will drag her
    away from this place of atonement.
    This lost orchard, where ruined fruit
    offers her all its power. Where
    nothing else wonders what its name is.
    And everything depends on the fall.

    He is quick as any striking asp, but
    still winces at the recoil that rattles
    trunk, earth, even the dusk itself.
    A birdwing flurry rises above him.
    He wishes he could take it all back.

    But she is lost to him now,
    vanished into her new awareness.
    He stoops to stroke her, draws
    away from the up-and-down saw
    of her ribs dying under his touch.
    She has put on mortality – lies
    here in mud and damnation.

    Night pools around her like blood
    under an old and broken bough.

    Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2011 – all rights reserved

    from Tipping the Sacred Cow, Fortunate Childe Publications, 2011; reprinted in Wingflash, Pink Petticoat Press, 2011




    In the Beginning

    Our mothers taught us too well
    to fear the snake, bringer of a cry 
    under the knife, a cutting, the mangled 
    cord that loops us to a single loss,
    one night when we forgot
    to be wary. The rind stretches,
    inevitably bursts. 

    In this blackberry meadow 
    we gather – we women who hold 
    that same pomegranate 
    the serpent offers, month after month, 
    year upon bloody year, until its lure
    gleams flat as a mirror, raised 
    for us to bear witness.

    Here, then, are its red-jellied ova 
    in their five hundred cradles: this, 
    a sea-maid with war under her fists;
    this, a dust orphan who believes 
    only that each road leads 
    to some new sorrow.

    There, tumbling downriver, 
    a firstborn son grasps his own 
    ankles, jellyfishes on the current. 
    And there, a buttercup lass 
    without voice refuses to curse 
    her creator. She does not recognize 
    a bribe when it dangles in front 
    of her hand. The swollen skin is fruit – 
    nothing more. She wrinkles it 
    into the dirt.        

    We limp toward our dry age,
    when every kernel is blown and gone. 
    I throw off my heavy scarf 
    dividing skull from spine. Thought
    has become acceptable. I am 
    no longer forbidden to jackknife 
    questions for my enemy 
    in a round-bark trunk. Nothing 
    grows inside me any more. 

    The Garden temptress hums sweet 
    as a harp – she, who has tricked 
    us from the beginning. Her secret 
    teeth fill a gourd with droplets 
    of juice. Its neck juts firm, 
    the last man-thing in paradise. 
    The false adder hangs her trap
    on a thorn. Insects jostle each other.
    Come, you are not too late.
    Flies’ wings click-zip together
    like angel bones.

    She could have bitten Eve 
    instead of feeding her. She has never 
    shared a bond with Adam, the lust
    that urges every poor girl to damn
    herself. Now she relives that choice, 
    over and over, having no legs
    to walk away from it. We are all too late,
    but she understands.

    We watch her tend the tree, cultivate
    its next crop – wisdom and illusion. 
    Apples for fools. Pomegranates for the rest, 
    who should know better. She lacks 
    interest in us now.
    Then we leave her there and follow 
    the flowless rivers out of Eden, 
    where beheaded grasses shake and mourn. 
    She has taken our wombs before
    letting us go. No rapture can ever enter us 
    by that path again. The gate rings 
    as it closes. 


    Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2011 – all rights reserved

    First published on IBPC, Web del Sol (October 2011)







    early reflections

    dawn on the river, June 6 2013

    Crepuscular. When I was a child, that word suggested rather negative ideas; perhaps I associated it with corpuscles or the black crepe one drapes around a dead-room in Victorian melodrama. Its meaning has been transformed by the passage of years and many walks among shadows barely touched by light.

    This morning, I awaken very early and decide that 5:30 is a perfectly fine hour to wander my little Eden. The grass is drenched, of course, and my sock-bound feed are constricted in cold. I should really remove them – the socks, that is, not the feet – clumsy though they can be sometimes. But I want to sit with my coffee and watch the morning unfold. I know this is an imperfect world, fraught with horror and chaos, riven with possibilities for evil and often interrupted by alarmist sirens. However, this fresh dawn, where I am right now, must surely be perfect. I would be false to myself if I were to ignore that.

    Out on the Tusket River stillwater, which curves along the edge of my land, mist has cast its gauzy veil across the water. Cormorants, ever anxious for their catch-of-the-day and not bound by any clock, are poised in dense lines along the protruding rocks. Gulls skim the trees and current, more quietly than usual – perhaps out of respect for the general stillness of the hour. To the east of the river’s bend, a necklace of circles breaks the surface as fish, unaware of their audience, celebrate a return from spawning and their impending reunion with the sea. Some will not make it. The cormorants and gulls are good at what they do.

    A great blue heron glides above me, too suddenly for my camera to catch. These birds rise later than the more common predators; they take flight toward the west, upriver – perhaps enjoying the air through their pinions and thinking of nothing much. What they lack in magnificent voices is more than offset by their elegance and adaptability. Herons, eagles and hummingbirds give my hours of photographic pleasure. I love all birds but these three, all different from each other, contribute the most material for my lens.

    I think again of crepuscular as the sunlight explores with gentle fingers among my new-leaved trees. Its beams don’t yet touch the ground but they turn the mist to a warm drapery that blows and billows around the cormorants, the stones, and me. Dylan Thomas speaks of “the close and holy darkness” but for me, this half-shine is holy too. It reminds me that hope inevitably outlines the edges of trees and fences and buildings, and of us as well. We are the moving shades within the light. Behind us, it rays out and shifts as we move. We rise as the sun does, strengthened moment by moment, tentative at first – then brave and undeniable. My only concern is to illuminate without burning. Such light can be fierce if unguarded. I would rather be a candle than a flare.

    And so the day hurries forward. In the maples and oaks, warblers raise their greetings. A veery begins his carol, hidden visually but not aurally. How can a mere physical body ever match such sound? It is astonishing, this cascade, a pitcher of melody poured over my head – the small singer’s blessing. No one can hear a veery or wood thrush and consider the day a loss.

    Now the light has descended. It shatters and bends though dewdrops and webs and the translucence of opening flowers. I search for a spider’s midnight efforts, but there are no web artists alive yet. These are young creatures, learning the ways of their kind, looping their experimental strands from spruce boughs. The parents – such skilled weavers of autumn magic – have vanished forever. We learn, and create, and excel. Then all that awareness is consigned to the earth. Or is it?

    The morning is fully bright now. A loon runs across the mirrored surface, takes off, calls back to me. The fish have stopped their dance and continued their journey home. Traffic begins to move on my country road, and dust replaces ground fog. The world of humanity intrudes; the world of water, silence and crepuscular light withdraws. Tonight it will return for another quick reminder that it still exists. I am content with that.

    – Brenda

    running across the water gull-dance

    light in the dew

    light in the dew

    triple sunrays

    triple sunrays