Arrival: words in brief

How do we wait for the new year’s arrival?
Fire burning day and night,
pots littering the top of the wood stove,
turning up their noses
at the full kitchen upstairs.
I once burned old letters here
as the year turned,
blazing through endings;
now the purple-gold glow
is our small share of the sun’s
wild energies captured
to keep our winter bones warm.
Polar temperatures, I’m learning,
have their own variations:
today is bright and windless.
I pad in winter moccasins and snowshoes
through the soft snow,
like a child in the warmest slippers;
no colder than the mice
who leave their small trails
scattered under the cedars,
tunnel down underneath it all,
and survive.
Inside there is tea and soup,
and I take it in slowly.
The contours of my heart are rounded,
both spacious and full, its rhythms
keeping pace with my life.
I hold the hot soup of this moment
in my cold hands, note its arrivals and leavings,
the newborn child of its entrance,
the small swift bird of it lifting its wings
to take off.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: arrival. Day 97, New Year’s Eve. 

Spanish: words in brief

Evenings around the woodstove at my parents’ house this holiday week have been accompanied by an electronic soundtrack of arbitrary phrases voiced in four languages – Polish, French, Spanish, Russian – punctuated by happy pings of reward and more occasional buzzings of error. My sister, amused, last night: “Am I the only person here who owns earphones?” My children and I are on a month-long Polish streak on Duolingo, me finally determined to teach them my first language after years of feeling tongue-tied trying to translate the English that colonized my brain more than 35 years ago. My dad and sisters, on hearing our lessons, each dive in too, and now we are all daily practicing every language that we know in this new and addictive format. I don’t know how much Polish my children will take away, but there are other truths they are starting to glean: that we must take care in our communication, but also take risks; that the way we construct our language shapes the way we construct our world; that some things, important things, will never be translated.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: Spanish. Day 96 of 100. 

I’ve tried out various things with this daily writing practice over the past three months. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve challenged and entertained myself by finding my brief story within the day’s events. It has been surprisingly easy to find the connection points. As times goes on, however, I am increasingly lax with the word count.

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.

IMG_20171227_164957.jpg

Once-in-a-lifetime: words in brief

This morning we made more maps for our calendar, which late in the day was re-themed. More play with watercolour, ink, pen, pencil crayons. More strange geographical features labeled. “How do you spell ‘serpents’”? So many details to finish. Twelve is a detailed age, perhaps, but he’s always been a perfectionist. Nine on the other hand, apart from occasional wild bursts of tears, is convinced that most things he does are brilliant. Children are not born a blank slate. I drop them off with grandparents, take an out-of-the-way subway ride to fulfill a complicated arrangement with a car pick-up. For other complicated reasons, the car is not there. I pick up a tourtiere for dinner instead, decide that a brisk walk makes up for my annoyance, rush home to paint my one contribution to finish off our joint project, which I insist will be for March, my birthday month. The house smells like fir tree, beeswax candles, paints, and Sharpies. The shortest day, the longest night. Today, once it has passed, will never come again.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: once-in-a-lifetime. From the day of the Winter Solstice, Day 87.

IMG_20171222_124854.jpg

Cry: words in brief

I’m losing steam. I’ve been working on an big art project with my kids: our annual calendar, a gift for their dad. I love the result, but the process is laborious. Too many hours spent indoors at a table, too much creative pressure, too much self-criticism, too much paper thrown away. Most days I love my life, the flexibility and freedom of it, my sense of resistance to the status quo, the pockets of time for my own creative projects. This evening my husband sang carols at a hospital, came home forty-five minutes later than promised, and I exploded into tears. Why am I the default parent? What if I’ve made all the wrong choices? What if I’m wasting my life? He told me gently about singing in the dementia ward, the man who sang loudly along, the nurse who couldn’t hold back her own tears. He said, I’m grateful that you made it possible for me to be there. That was all I needed to hear. The tears washed through. We will keep compromising. We will keep finding time for ourselves, for each other, for our small offerings to the world.

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

From yesterday, day 86 of 100. This week has been the hardest to keep up since I started this in September. For the first time, I missed two days in a row.

Drawing: words in brief

Drawing, I have learned, is primarily a form of focused attention, a meditation integrating the eye and the hand. Writing is also attention: the careful observation of the nooks and crannies of inner and outer landscapes. Recently, taking time for yoga most days of the week allows me to devote attention to each part of my body and discover what it needs. Attention, I think, is love in its simplest form. What I pay attention to, what I let myself see and listen to and feel, is where I will direct my love and my energy. When I say to friends, long-term love requires work, I don’t mean that it should be a constant struggle. I mean that love is like a plant that will always need water; that like a hearth-fire, it requires regular tending. But with a lifetime of trust it is also true that sometimes the fire can burn down to its coals and still be set ablaze again by a few deep sustained breaths; that plants with deep roots can soak up rain after periods of drought; that it is possible – sometimes or often – to forgive each other’s mistakes.

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