Subtle: words in brief

The things I track now are subtle. The blooming and fading of the frost landscape on the small window beside which I sit to write each morning daily traces for me the brittle extremes of this year’s cold winter. Each day I notice where the sun comes up: at mid-winter in the far south-east, almost past the window’s right-most frame; and now, this week, at the season’s turning-point towards spring, I see its incremental shift, heading daily slightly east again, where on mid-summer mornings it will rise dead centre, painfully blazing despite blinds tightly drawn against its radiant heat. I could have been tracking wolves and moose in the deep snow of Algonquin Park this weekend, and a few years ago –restless, searching – I would have moved every obstacle to go, and did. But now, something has changed: my insides have shifted. A week ago, I backed out. I want to be here. My attention has shifted its scale, expanded the small life around me like a magnifying glass, revealing an intricacy of patterns I am only now slowly tuning in to see.

Word prompt: subtle. From a daily brief writing practice with three women across the continent who I have never met in person, but who now show up in a very real way with the power of their words in my inbox each day. This is my week to choose the words we write to.

Register: words in brief

Long-legged, four-footed mammals usually move in a direct register walk or trot, hind feet stepping perfectly in the tracks left by the front, imprinting a long, almost straight line that thrills me every time I see it, especially on a wide expanse of clean snow. I’ve learned that it’s important to respect the tracks of animals, that these hold a piece of their spirit, and sometimes, if we’re trailing close behind, a little of their living warmth. I love finding squirrel, raccoon and pigeon tracks in city sidewalks, set in concrete: a gift, a reminder of what can’t be tamed. My younger son and I, rushing somewhere the other day, step directly in a patched square of sidewalk, still setting, leaving our boot prints firmly behind. The next day snow covers our tracks, but I know we’ll encounter them again in spring: I somewhat embarrassed by our carelessness, he beyond thrilled to be thus memorialized.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: register.

Backward: words in brief

This afternoon I spent hours wrestling with 400-pound fishing line in front of the wood-stove at my parents’ house, finishing off the first pair of snowshoes I’ve ever woven. Many times as the line buckles and tangles and my fingers cramp I swear that it will certainly be the last. But at no point do I either scream or throw the snowshoes across the room, for which feat of self-possession I mentally pat myself on the back, both hands otherwise engaged. I weave in and clip off the last ends as the sun dips down behind the trees; I am determined to get out before dark. I loop the perimeter of my parents’ small property, snow powdery as icing sugar, gold light angling over the tall cedars, waxing gibbous moon hanging high overhead. It’s hard to move backward in snowshoes; they are a forward-looking means of locomotion, one foot sliding past the other, awkward and graceful both. Like small rafts floating through the snow, silently skimming the skin of it, they drift me ever towards the future, lightly.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: backward. Day 93.

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Hurry: words in brief

This afternoon I sit by a fire in a Toronto ravine, drinking hot apple cider and watching red-tailed hawks soar overhead, talking with two dear friends. Our children roam the valley with the outdoor program that has been part of each of our lives since our kids were tiny. The trees around us are bare now, the creek low, November’s bold deer once again slipped under cover. The last few weeks we’ve circled up to sing at day’s end under the fiery pinks and oranges of the setting sun, last week with a nearly-full moon rising opposite. The kids return laughing, muddy, with stories of animal sightings, games, adventures, gratitude. I treasure these unhurried afternoons, these slow friendships. Each year there are changes in our lives, departures, losses of one kind or another. Community is a more porous, more fluid organism than I could have known. But it is a resilient one too, I am slowly and most gratefully learning, once I open the doors wide and let it breathe.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: hurry.

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Instructions for loving the place you live in

(A guided meditation, a love letter, a poem. Imagine it spoken out loud.)

First, stop, close your eyes, and listen. You may be tempted to open your eyes, but you will hear more that is true if you first keep them closed. Breathe into your heart, your belly, all the way down to your feet. Stand still. Let the waves of sound crash over your head: the hum of traffic, the roar of airplanes thousands of miles above you, the shrieks of laughter, the sirens, your neighbours shouting, sparrows singing, small children’s tears. Keep listening. To love a place you must listen beneath what it pretends to be, listen to what hurts it and what makes it most alive.

Open your eyes slowly. Keep your ears open: to the whispered greeting beneath the noise and bluster, the first sigh of recognition, the soft hello.

To love a place, start walking. You can’t fall in love in a hurry, closed up in steel and glass, shutting out the seasons, blocking out what’s real. Each step is an offering of your presence, a necessary courtship, an invitation to a dance. Under your feet your aliveness meets the streets, it meets the skin underneath the rigid garments, it coaxes and teases and lays down your tracks. This isn’t possession, it’s a rite of celebration, a deep soul connection, a blessing. It’s your way to see and be seen.

To love a place, explore with slow urgency. This is not haste, it’s a courtship of delight. What will you find in the alleyways, between the spreading trees, in the unkempt fields of goldenrod and asters, deep down in the ravines, by the river’s edge? Don’t be afraid to open your senses – what you discover may enchant or alarm you: the rough bark of maples, the smell of the porous earth after a storm, bold green plants pushing through the sidewalk, trees heavy with fruit ripe for your picking, hawks wheeling wide above high-rises, rabbit tracks stretched out beside train tracks, nestlings cast cold to the ground by heavy rain, piles of cigarette butts and indestructible coffee cups, the stench and rot of last week’s compost spilled out by raccoons. It’s all real; it’s all true: both the pain and the beauty. You’re not perfect either.

To love a place, don’t distain, don’t turn up your nose, don’t turn away, don’t let others shame or disparage. You need to keep coming back. Listen to its stories, tend to its wounds, be mindful of its past, be kind. You can be a healer, a caretaker, a lover, a friend.

To love a place, you must keep showing up. You must map your joys and griefs slowly over its surface and its depths; you must weave through its wide and narrow spaces your own bittersweet life. If you are patient, the place you love will one day shake off its shyness. It will look you in the eye and share its secrets. It will pull back its hair, uncover its shoulders, uncross its arms and legs, let you in everywhere.

I tell you, I promise you: the place you love will love you back.

ravine

 

 

Weather (a poem)

I said to a friend once:
May is the one month no-one complains about the weather.
I too expected days of sunshine, cherry blossoms,
and eternal spring,
chastising the gods and my heart for not conforming.
When did I learn that I could no more set my soul to a perpetual May
than I could stay the seasons?
Now I give thanks for summer heat, ice-crusted trees, and dark Novembers,
for the wild wind howling, for the cold rains of spring, for snow.
I give thanks for it all,
and too for the clouds that scuttle across my own heart’s skies
and for the fierce heat that burns me, and the night-time tears,
and for those first few warm rays of spring sun upon my face,
and for the silent peace that comes after the storm.

From the word prompt “weather.”  Sticking with the poetry kick.

 

The web (a poem)

I lie awake at night,
spinning webs around people I love.
Each is a delicate construction
that requires all my heart.
I walk around my web in spirals, repair torn bits,
mend threads that have frayed. Many people
are relieved to be caught. Some
are spinning their own webs around me,
and I can rest for a while. Others thrash about,
tear the silk threads, fly away indefinitely.
I have learned that they will usually return
in their own time, once the first threads between us
have been laid.
I have frequently torn the web myself
(sometimes still do),
as I practice my skill as a weaver.
I am learning how to spin the threads
soft enough that they are barely felt,
but strong enough that they last forever.
The art is in making the web
invisible, felt only as a soft tug in the body,
one which gently, firmly, inevitably
pulls us together.

I have a small backlog of short pieces from the past month, a few of which I’d like to post. This is from today’s word in 100 Words: the Beauty of Brevity, “frequently.” I was woken up earlier than usual by a loud blue jay, looked at my phone on the way to the bathroom, saw this day’s prompt, and got back into bed for an hour, starting this poem in my head while half asleep.