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A Brief Gathering of Old Classmates

Class of ‘Sixty-Four

All our decades somersault, deposit us
in this circle of cross-legged strangers
whom I almost recognize. We put them
together like a wall of fragments: eyelid,
earlobe, bone. Laugh or grimace.

I cough without sound; nothing must smack
of mortality. We balance carefully, attentive
to hips and knees and feet, spines
no longer flexed like spring birches.

Backlight from a window casts our runes.
Her fine hair glows angelic. His shoulder
curves, a hillside traced on shadow.
Your eyes belong to the boy hidden
in them. We study each other, look away,
people the spaces with our own memories.

Dust spins in sloped rays that settle
on the floor. I think of stars slowly turning
until one finds us worthy, offers us life.
A hopeful fly circles my glass, perhaps
meaning to drown herself in bliss.

We speak quietly at first; explore
this new country. The room recedes
while stories form around us. The past
rebounds off our hostess’s painting
of a young girl, playing her flute forever.

Somebody mentions band concerts,
army cadets, gym, rifles. Male affairs.
I once stood with my swirly-skirt friends
– proper ladies – and wondered why.

But I have worn a dress today. I tuck
my legs, wish I could sit like a lotus,
then unfold, petals sharp as blades.
Glory from the mud. Surprise bloom
after such long and secret growth.

My chardonnay splashes, magnifies
the coffee-table grain. It’s like viewing
the universe through the wrong end
of a telescope. What we have become
is a contraction, yet the detail shines
with greater clarity than it ever did.

Science teaches us the definition
of gravity but we need no illustration
beyond a breast displaced, a chin
dropped, a belly tugging free from its
moorings. We bow to the dominion
of a force far greater than ourselves.

Yes. Gravity, regal and cruel, Henry VIII
of physical laws. I briefly rub the back
of my neck and this room shudders
with the ring of a crown falling. No one
else notices. You refill my drink and grin.

Brenda Levy Tate

for my Wolfville High School companions

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Tripping on the Road: August 20, 2014

It’s been a long day. Sometimes, we celebrate even though there’s a darker shadow just below the surface. Birthdays come and go, in their endless parade – until suddenly, we wonder if there will be a next one in that lineup. At least I do. Mortality casts a lengthening shadow, and at this time of year, as the sunset looms ever earlier in the evening, we start to think of the way things wane and wind down. The blades spin slower. Their shadows fall in dark bands across our skin.

But the sky is indelibly blue and the close of the light casts glory across the waters. The Pubnico windmills turn, turn, turn … the gulls on Yarmouth Harbour rise and scatter over its salt mirror. I stitch the path between these two actions with smaller things: opening a pat of butter at a restaurant; helping to put on a pair of shoes (no laces – only velcro now); assisting my husband with getting out of our car and being able to stand. When he falls, I can’t manage to restore him to his feet. Chatting with friends, I am keenly aware that on the other side of the table sits a man who, not so long ago, would have introduced himself, added his own remarks, enjoyed the conversation – but can only smile now, as well as his facial muscles will allow. It’s almost like looking at one of the Greek masks: comedy or tragedy.  I’m relieved when comedy wins.

His voice inevitably falters. He tries not to talk much any more, in case someone might misinterpret or, worse, assume he’s “not all there” – drunk, on drugs, senile. Explaining about his disease takes too many words and he doesn’t have enough breath to deliver them without his voice amplifier. A couple months earlier, he could manage three syllables per breath. The amplifier has pushed that number to ten. But he doesn’t always wear it when he’s just out wandering around. So the words drown him.

Still, he gamely tackles his parmesan haddock with mashed potatoes (no more french fries), sips a Diet Coke (his throat seems to respond to the carbonation and he doesn’t choke as much), samples some bread pudding. His feeding tube lurks beneath his shirt. He knows it’s there, of course, but he refuses to relinquish his solid meals just yet. That will come soon enough. On the drive home, he speaks of pain – cramps in his arms, legs, chest. At night, he fumbles with a BiPap breathing mask so a machine can force his lungs to take in air. And he wonders where to buy suspenders to hold his pants up! Weight loss and diminished muscle tone make it tough to keep them in place. Gravity is merciless.

While we’re on this day trip, unknown to us, compassionate folks in Yarmouth are participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. They shiver and grin through their discomfort, which is duly recorded for posterity. Two thumbs up to them all! ALS gets much-needed attention and those who wish to donate are inspired to do so.

I briefly wonder if any of the PALS (People with ALS) from our area were able to attend this wet and icy event. There aren’t very many – only two or three. It would have been fun to watch the local challenge in person, since we “ALS families” are affected more than anybody else. But this, I think, highlights the ultimate isolation that this disease can bring. When there’s a community fundraiser for, say, breast cancer research, chances are there will be breast cancer survivors or patients applauding or even saying a few words of appreciation, or possibly tossing a ball at a hapless dunk-tank volunteer. Same goes for MS, diabetes, kidney disease or almost any other health-related cause one can name. You’ll usually see a few patients and their families represented among the spectators. With ALS, in a smaller community it might be hard to find anyone who actually has the disease, let alone is able to be there. Thank goodness for videos! They’ve allowed so many of us to share in the experience without struggling to make a physical appearance.

Still, it’s very cool – literally as well as figuratively – that David’s birthday was also the date chosen for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in his own town! Perfect timing. Thanks, Mayor Mood.

So ALS is finally “out there”. People are learning what it is, why this battle is so important, how they can help. ALS isn’t just a bunch of letters that need to be explained. And it no longer wears only Lou Gehrig’s face. It wears David’s, and Pete Frates’, and all the others who take this same road trip. These are beautiful, brave faces even when they can’t smile any more.

This, my friends, is the reality behind the ice water and the donations and the long-overdue hype. These are people who have been going about their lives, working, learning, sharing, contributing, hoping and planning. Suddenly it all crashes. At any age, under any circumstances, that terrible diagnosis changes everything. Yet hope remains as a constant, in these bleakest hours. There’s reason to celebrate even on these long days when the sun fades in mid-evening. Maybe not a wild, street-dancing kind of party but at least a whoop of excitement. A “YES”! An awareness that we aren’t in this fight on our own.

 

Uncovering Lou Gehrig’s Mirror

I never knew how someone dying could say he was the luckiest man in the world.
But now I understand. – Mickey Mantle

You should have scrabbled for it sooner,
hung it before the images first appeared –
maybe to reflect yourself, maybe this room
when snow sifted against a windowscreen.

But summer’s here now, with diamond afternoons,
and star-showers over the hills. Time to look.
The glaze wavers you. Your masked smile inverts.
Not tragedy yet, but the corners loosen.

You hold out a hand, touch the slicksilver,
fingertip to fingertip. “Make a fist,” your doctor
asked yesterday. But you can’t anymore. Arms
ripple their own nerves, and the child they held

has been gone for years. You used to laugh
and swing her up, that game you played best –
just a small girl’s arc through air. “Higher,
Daddy, higher.” First base: front step,

lunch pail beside you, crickets rubbing wind.
Old weathervane spinning on the barn. Radio
scores from the kitchen: no errors. You will
make one. Somebody else can be champion.

The glass tarnishes everything. Your shadow
drops its razor and rolls away. Supper flows
from a bag, libation for a man without hunger.
Bottom of the ninth: Steee-rrrriiike threeee!

In your head, you flip that chair and run crazy
down the lawn, gut trailing a tube. Those damn
wheels slowly turn and stop. You churn for the plate,
dust on your legs, no breath, nothing but crickets.

A long slide home.

 

(c) 2014 Brenda Levy Tate

 

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“Emotional Predators” of the Elderly

Advancing years – coupled with illness – often make us vulnerable to many challenges. If we have loved ones to help us cope and to offer protection against personal harm, this can be immensely reassuring. Sadly, some seniors – especially if they’re confronting major disabilities and gradually losing their sense of self-control or independence – often fall victim to others who insinuate themselves between the concerned family and the struggling father, mother or grandparent.

Because women tend to outlive men in Westernized nations, this particular situation can entail a gender imbalance. However, both males and females do become targets for the unscrupulous. Sadly, these unethical individuals usually gain the confidence of the victim through an appearance of friendship and good intentions. By the time family members become aware that something is awry, the relationship between predator and prey might be firmly established. It’s then very difficult to convince the elderly person that he or she is being conned.

This is frequently not a matter of mental incompetence but of misplaced trust. As we age, or face various hardships at any stage in our lives, we do need to feel that we’re the focus of someone else’s attention. We need to believe we’re highly valued and that we’ll receive assistance from those who know us best. Usually, in fact, we are important to our loved ones and we do get help as needed. Unfortunately, our adult children might well have jobs and families that take up much of their time. Spouses, too, might be feeling overwhelmed by the demands of caregiving and coping with their own ageing processes. They might not be aware that others are showing excessive and inappropriate interest in their partners.

Granted, elder abuse – and the kinds of scams that often accompany it – can also happen within families. This is a whole different topic. And there are many wonderful souls who visit seniors in nursing homes or at their own residences, assist them with everyday needs and genuinely want to make a positive difference. Heaven knows, we need these merciful angels! But my own concern is with total-to-near-strangers who materialize almost out of nowhere and gain the trust of their victims. Whether their intent is to acquire property, exploit financially or merely to interfere with the individual’s social and personal interactions, the results can be disastrous.

Con artists have no shame and will practise their deception without any qualms. But then there are those other folks who don’t understand the circumstances and honestly think they’re being kind and compassionate. They never stop to consider the impact their attention might be having on others who have been part of that senior’s life for many, many years. These people are, perhaps, more naive than malicious, but in the end they can do dreadful damage. If the person is undergoing medical treatment, usually the next-of-kin are the ones who understand each procedure and help to manage appointments, medications and so on. Most medical authorities want to deal with next-of-kin, such as spouses and/or grown children, or professionals such as nurses and Homecare providers. They’re not going to accept someone with no legal connections as an appropriate source of patient support.

When called to account for their actions, these so-called “friends” will typically protest. “But I was only trying to help.” “He loves going for drives.” “I’m just being a good neighbour.” Or – worst of all – “I don’t see any of YOU looking after her!”

At times, either party may misrepresent his/her marital status or familial ties. He or she might even play the “pity card” rather effectively. “Poor me – my wife is more like my sister now.” “Don’t worry; we’re separated.” “Our marriage has been dead for years.” “It’s OK, she (he) won’t mind as long as we’re just friends.” “He totally ignores me most of the time.” “My children never do anything for me.” And so on. Without actually having known this individual beforehand, the sympathetic listener might well be inclined to believe everything at face value. This can also occur in online relationships where the “details” can be slanted to fit the intention. Indeed, the devil is in those details when that’s the case.

It’s usually not hard to determine the truth. Separated or divorced? Ask to see proof – the papers themselves, or a document scan sent as an email attachment. Neglectful family? Check the Facebook page, if there is one, and see whether or not family members show up on it. Or make discreet inquiries around the community. She (or he) won’t mind? Then why not talk to him or her, make email contact or call and ask? If you’re reluctant to do that, perhaps you ought to question your own motives and then back away. And if there is no documentation of a marriage breakdown, it’s best to run. Fast!

Otherwise, such a “friendship” can quickly alienate a family from a loved one if that person is still living independently and has, in fact, not been estranged from those who care most. This is simply not fair. 

Some opportunists will even claim to be affiliated with a particular religion that sincerely cares for the senior’s soul, even when it doesn’t. They’ll pray with him, visit him regularly, invite him to their church. Flattered, and unaware he’s being used for profit, he will respond with eagerness. Needless to say, there will be some tradeoff: salvation for donations. The relatives often have no idea this is going on. Countless elderly folks have been bilked out of their life savings by charlatans operating in the name of God. A valid and caring church will offer support to its adherents. A fake one will siphon away their money.

For partners and others responsible for the welfare of a vulnerable individual, here are a few warning signs that might indicate a problem:

– the appearance of a new “friend” or “companion” whom the family members don’t know very well, if at all
– the exclusion of family, by the above individual, from activities involving their loved one
– unusual generosity on the part of the senior when it comes to either money or time given to a stranger
– secretiveness and refusal to respond to questions about new or recent relationships
– unavailability for family events, or unexpected refusal to attend them
– increasing suspicion directed at loved ones over their concern for the situation
– hostility and resentment that appear to have little or no cause
– lack of communication through the usual channels (phone, email, texting, Facebook messages or whatever)
– loss of empathy with others who might also be facing hard times; self-absorption
– indifference to consequences, or inability to think ahead
– sudden and inexplicable interest in activities that have never before been important

I am the wife of a seriously ill senior. His disease has no cure and it will ultimately take him from us. Yes, my daughter and I occasionally find ourselves dealing with disruptions by those who don’t have his (or our family’s) best interests at heart. Sometimes there have been innocent approaches and other times, not so much. The trick is to know the difference! I’ve also had connections with other families that were torn apart by the machinations of a predator.

I hope that anyone in similar circumstances will find my reflections relevant. Some readers might even recognize their own stories here. They key is to remain vigilant. We have to speak up! If we don’t, who will?

Stand firm. We’re our loved one’s last and most reliable line of defence.  He or she might not realize this, but we do.

Sonnet for a Not-So-Well-Meaning Stranger

You call yourself his “friend”; he names you thus
as well – and yet, my dear, you have not been
with him these thirty years or more; not seen
his weeping wounds, nor braved the night, to rush
down rainy back roads while he cries in pain.
Have never heard his doctor say “Cancer”;
his specialist sigh “ALS” – his answer:
“Thank you. I’ve lived my span. I can’t complain.”

You, madam, think a casual embrace
is somehow your entitlement to share
one more adventure with this man? His wife,
his daughter, and her little son must face
your interference? You were never there!
Just go away – wreck someone else’s life.

Brenda Levy Tate

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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/

I No Gone Cat – the loss of a beloved companion

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Gollum, 2003-2014 – the latest in my series of losses –

Some years ago now, I wrote the following poem and it seems to have become the one that  gets read more than any of my others put together. I’d just lost a young cat to cardiomyopathy, which hit him out of nowhere. Even my vet was caught off-guard. After I buried him, I sat down and wrote. My mother, who is mentioned therein, left on her own journey in November of that same year. We are, indeed, prepared for grief in many different ways.

For some reason, the poem took on a life of its own. It won the monthly IBPC competition for May of 2004, judged by CJ Sage, then was published in LilyLit Review, so it received an audience. People started asking for copies. They still tell me that they’re sending it to friends when a pet passes away. I’m happy that it offers comfort and am hoping it will continue to do so. Sam was a wonderful cat, and this is his story in his own style – with certain additional details that he has chosen to provide.

I No Gone Cat, You Just Not See Me

for Sam, 2000-2004
and for my cat-rescuer friend Laurie

I almost sleeping when he come. He say,
“Cat, why you not look up? Eyes see all
that be, until breath stop. Watch with eyes.”
When I open, he shine like morning, right
here in scary place. Two-leg mother
with me, talk touch, talk touch. I not
try stretch out claws, even after
she hurt my ear and trap me tight
for bring where are other sick ones.

“She love you,” Sun Cat say, “so she
want help you better but not time now
for her do that.” He stand close and then
I sitting beside him with no sore ear,
and ribs not breaking under. Puss on
table lie quiet, black-white like me.
He big fluffy boy with paws curled
and hay in tail. “What barn cat be this?”
I not want new enemy and he mighty
long fur but no move, him. Red earstick
and face shut off. “He be you, name Sam.”

Now I not smartest scratcher in litter box
but I know me and not-me, and him not me.
He stiff as shavings frozen in stall when I
dig for cover pee. He a dead old buddy.
I with friend who glowing all around.
It dark everywhere but Gold Mister jump–
just like that–off table in air. “Hurry,”
he call me. “You not my only today.”

And we outside, where is car and Two-leg
mother. She cry water salt on box in arms
and other two-leg carry cage but it empty.
We watch her go away and I very sad
for I remember she have love me.

“You tell goodbye,” Gold Mister speak
and surprise me. “Where your barn is?”
Before I answer, we there. Stray tom stand
in loft where I like fight him. “No,”
Gold Mister tell me though I not talk this.
“His now. He need home; you have fine
other place. Not worry about him more.”

Tom my enemy once but I no problem
for him now. Farm dogs run, maybe smell
me. They stop in path and grin so I tell
what happen. Hope they figure out.
“You gone away?” young stupid one ask.
Grey-muzzle lick at shadow and understand.
“We meet soon,” I tell her. How I know?

Others not outdoors but we are in house
and not through window, either. “They
allow see you this one day,” Sun Cat
explain, so I say we miss each other.
I make sorry for not always be friendly.
I mean son-of-a-tabby sometimes.

Car in driveway and Gold Mister
show me strange thing. Two-leg mother
dig deep deep deep, toss earth stones roots
and put plastic bag at bottom. It have
paw press against, white like Sam foot.
Wet in there so she shovel throw sawdust too.
“That from pile beside window where I napping
in winter.” Gold Mister not speak. “Why I
leave her? Just young fellow; needed here, me.”

He spin bigger than fireball that fall
from summer. “Job done,” he roar. “You get
her ready for bigger sorrow.” I understand
what he mean. She have little mother-
woman who very sick. She lose me, learn
get strong. But hard not tell her I watching.
She never even hear meow or feel tail brush,
before snow cover not-me. “You visit back
one time,” is all what I allowed. Then he
tell me stare at sun, no see home anymore.

They aster flowers where we hunt today. Old
cat mama near, even Siamese friend find me.
Gold Mister teach me how go back,
be some new kitten when I finish learning.
But this good place and I happy Sam now.

 

(c) 2004 BJ Tate

first published in LilyLit Review 2004; Cleansing (Rising Tide Press) 2005 and Wingflash (Pink Petticoat Press) 2011

 

Three family cats who have joined Sam over the years:  Mini (top), Raven (bottom left), Gimli (bottom right – my daughter’s cat).
Sam’s photo is missing from my files. I suspect it was stored on a CD that later became unreadable. 

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For All the Broken Butterflies

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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.

 

 

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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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