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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.

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The Sun Always Rises …

I awoke before 6 AM and realized that today would arrive in spectacular fashion. Perhaps it was the faint play of light on mist; perhaps it was the silence that wrapped both water and sky. Perhaps it was just my own body stirring from sleep, anxious to stand and celebrate the dawn, as humanity has done from its own earliest rising. I grabbed my camera and hurried to the car. The sunrise is no longer centered above my section of the Tusket River but I knew it would be positioned over Lake Vaughan, one minute’s drive from my house if I could get there in time. And so it was. Here’s what I saw as the light shifted and changed, minute by minute. I hope you enjoy! Carpe diem … right from the beginning.

~ Brenda

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A Salute to Seafarers

Lobster-Trap Dumping Day
(Sandford 2012)

The moon swims on an indigo sea, a drift
of mist across the horizon’s swell and shift,
star-gleam, wave-play, foam-sigh on breakwater.
I gaze from the wharf and shiver with my daughter
to watch the boats process below our places,
traps bright as candy, ropes, far-looking faces
already out there, already somewhere ahead

on the open ocean. No fanfare here – instead,
just a scatter of women, a quiet man with phone
to capture the moment. We move to the rocks, alone
in the gathering silver. A last boat leaves us there.
Its trail of light is hung on the edge of air
as we turn to go, while moonset drags the sky
with a wrap of cloud. We smile – my daughter and I –
and stumble back to our car in the rising dawn.
When we pause for one last glance, the lights are gone.

Brenda Levy Tate

Living by the ocean, as we do in Nova Scotia, entails both risk and reward. The rhythms of the tides lap our shores and pulse through our bodies, even when we’re far inland. There’s always an awareness of this regular beat, the monotone that never ceases keeping time. Click – high tide – click – low tide – and all the suspensions between: these are the measure of our days and years.

Whether or not our own families include those who fish or otherwise make their living from the waters, we all know people who do. Most of us enjoy their catches and support their efforts by purchasing fish. It is a fair exchange although, sadly, the market prices seem to have little bearing on what the fishermen receive.

And yes, I call them “fishermen” as opposed to “fishers” which, to me, are small and rather mean animals. Furthermore, I admit that in the Bible, the term “fishers of men” is used. That doesn’t make much of a case for “fishers”, though, because “of men” is pretty exclusive too. 

Women participate in the fishery as well. They’re included here. Language that is reshaped by political correctness can sometimes turn rather ugly and, to me, that’s the case with something as ancient and honorable as the fishing culture. When I was a child, catching brook trout, my Dad always used to call me “a good little fisherman” and I was fine with that. It’s just a term. I will continue to use it, because “fisherwomen” sounds so awkward … and besides, the “men” ending is part of “women” too. 

For those unfamiliar with this particular occupation, the first day of the lobster season probably holds little significance. For us, down in Districts 33 and 34 in southwestern N.S., it is a time for both celebration and anxiety. Termed “Dumping Day”, it signifies the placing or dumping of traps in each boat’s assigned grounds. They’re hauled by the thousands – up to 400 per boat, divided into manageable numbers and dumped on more than one trip – then cast into the sea, attached to buoys that mark their locations. The early morning of this day is observed by those on shore, who gather at wharves and other coastal sites to see the boats off. At Yarmouth Light, there’s always a crowd, enhanced by music and photographers and a breakfast for all present. The boats parade past, gleaming in the pre-dawn darkness. Their mast lights float like stars.

On the wharves themselves, closer to the actual departure of the boats, friends and families assemble to watch and bear witness. I prefer this; it allows me to see the action close up. It’s a more personal experience to stand, wave and wish good luck. My camera catches the foam, the crew balanced on the gunwale or standing on deck, the stacked traps, the procession of boats in a line of hope that strings across the horizon. No diamond necklace is as beautiful as this sight. I enjoy reading the inventive and often comical names given to these sturdy Cape Island craft: EZ-Go-n; Full of Bull; Obsession; Knot Too Shore. Then there are boats named for loved ones, usually children or wives. The family’s story rides on the waves. One cannot separate the boat from those whose lives depend on its bounty.

Almost inevitably, there will be some kind of mishap. The boats are heavily-laden and now and then, one will be swamped and come to grief. It is a good first day when this happens only once, or not at all. Sometimes, an engine will fail, or a crew member will be injured. At the very worst, during the several months of the season, a boat will be lost and her hands will perish in the bitter North Atlantic swells. This is the unthinkable; this is the knife-edge that touches every fishing community with its tracery of fear. Every seaside town or village has its own monuments to those whom the ocean has taken: some are visible, others carved on the hearts of the people. The list of surnames often contains considerable repetition – fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons, nephews and cousins, all gone from the world but never from remembrance. When we sit down to a lobster dinner, we are partaking of an accumulated heritage. We are also commemorating courage, determination and danger. No fine thing comes without its price.

But another Dumping Day has passed. The boats once more ply the Gulf of Maine and offshore currents, hauling traps, bearing their harvests, returning again and again. I often walk the shorelines here and step past washed blue and orange gloves, bits of wire mesh, rope, buoys. On a rough sea, it’s easy to drop something overboard. Lines and cables break. The evidence floats back to these rocky beaches where it lies unclaimed.

Here’s to a successful and safe fishery from now through to the end of May! Or, in the words of a Yarmouth business whose sign would probably be taken the wrong way in most inland places:

“Have a Good Dump!”

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For further reading:
http://thisfish.info/fishery/15/

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.

 

 

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Bait

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

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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)

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Words about Wings

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As a poet, I tend to write what I know best – which usually means that my themes are drawn from familiar experiences and settings. The world around me, or the people and other creatures who inhabit that world, lend me their voices sometimes. Today, I’ll share two of my poems about hummingbirds. At least, on one level they’re about hummingbirds. They’re taken from my third collection, Wingflash, published in 2011 by Pink Petticoat Press (see link below the poetry and photos). This is the time of ruby-throats and as I write, they zip and chitter through the rain beyond my window. I love their tenacity and boldness! One need not be massive, muscular and loud in order to leave a lasting imprint on our collective psyche. It is enough to delight the eye, yet remain quick and ephemeral, never present for longer than a season.

Photographing a Hummingbird

It is not enough to be ready – shutter speed set to overfast,
lens filled with sungleam. He mocks me – he is not the float
of a waterlily far from shore. He is a close-up stutter, one stray

spark from fire I have not ignited. He lights on a wire
above my head and I can smell the ash, drifting. When I anticipate
his flight path, he knows. Better to listen with my fingertip,

prick its skin with the sound of air dividing: pre-thunder
for a lesser being. A storm that never reaches me.
Wingflash over monarda! Long before his body shapes itself,

I open a hand that cannot hold him, forget the camera.
This prayer inhabits a bird, and he will never offer himself.
He was not created for my redemption.

At the crematorium, I stop outside the door, afraid to view
my father. I wish he had not died on his own, a fallen
straggler. It is not enough to be ready – he is one stray spark

from fire ignited and drowned. The sky can refuse him now.
But I wait for a wingflash, one image: the captivity of leaving.
Listen for air to divide around him as he shines.

Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2011, all rights reserved

 

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September Morning in the Garden

The last hummer has abandoned me now,
whirring her path behind the sea’s wrinkled
invitation sent on a southeast wind.
My bee balm slowly circles a black hole
at its centre. I sip café au lait,
brought from that same forest where hummingbirds
retreat to grow old. If the clouds are kind –
if no whirling horrors with human names
toss them aside – if nets fail to pull them
out of the air they trust. Small perfect things
jitter across the sharpened grassblades. Brass
chimes haunt the lake. My jadeite pendant swings,
spills its light. I am stretching – a skin drum.    
No prayers needed. Nothing to save me from.

Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2011, all rights reserved

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The Pink Petticoat Press

http://thepinkpetticoatpress.yolasite.com/