Death Sucks.
 

Brilliant photograph HERE. Okay, so, that didn't work. Dammit.

 

"Death sucks" is hardly how I should put it; it seems disrespectful of Death. Death cannot help itself, after all; it is what it is. It's not Death's fault. Death is just doing its underpaid, unloved, ununionized job. Everyone hates death, but what would we do without him? (Sorry I am not willing to make death feminine. It's my blog.)

My friend, Linda Pauline Griffiths, died recently. September 21, 2014. She was 61 years old, though most of us thought she was in her 50's. Linda Griffiths was an icon in Canadian theatre, an artist through and through, a gifted playwright and brilliant actor. She was a diva, in a real way--though a Canadian way, too, sometimes (privately) self-effacing, jittery about her talents. Still, she knew that Work was the key to her life, to life, for her. We were writers together--that is what our relationship was about. She is the first of my close writer friends to die, and her death, by breast cancer metastasized to her liver, is still reverberating through my life and the lives of the many people who loved her. I was in conniptions half the time while she was in the final stages of her illness, mostly because I couldn't see her. (And before that, it had proved almost impossible to have a conversation about her dying; she was too busy working.) In the palliative care ward, she had become a kind of Madonna figure. I mean the holy mother of God, not the other one. People who had not seen her for years were coming to visit, to say goodbye---dozens of people, and their siblings. Her close caretakers did not know how to handle this onslaught of well-wishers. Eventually the doctors told people she needed time alone. She needed time and privacy to die. Death is such hard work. for everyone; it's truly exhausting to labour alongside the one who is dying. I was not attending Linda in that manner--but it had been hard to visit with her at all, to find a few private moments. I was certainly not the only one who felt that way.

Here is an edited email exchange with a friend:

Yes, it is disconcerting to go in her room and listen to a huddle of strangers talk about the roles they are going to play in which show and who's lost which part. Why are people pretending she is not dying? Because she is? She is so pissed off about dying. Says she finds it BORING. The worst crime, really, to be boring. To be bored, in this life. She is rebellious against it still, refusing to die even while dying. Which is so stressful. Have I told her, "I love you? I love you!" ? I wept, with a gaggle of people behind me talking about shoes! I am selfish: I want her to die the good, accepting death so that I can learn how to do it. It is mundane, the Enormous Mundane, like so many natural things in life. . .  childbirth, sex, mortgages . . .  the Little Mundane anchors us through the Enormous Mundane of life, the little mundane allows us to be natural and real, as you said the other day, neither sobbing (uh, at least not all the time) nor faking it, just being natural, wiping up the spills, laughing at the small things, holding that white hand with its little diamond ring, her mother’s certainly.  And that naturalness seems to be sth that some stage actors lose. (I have noticed this often, when I’ve become friends with actors and some dancers; they are almost always acting and dancing.)  Isn’t that the strangest irony? The actor acts, trying to be natural and true in their craft, in their role, then, when stressed, they perhaps are unable to be fullynatural?

 

Of course it’s not only actors who act.

But the Buddhists and Zen-ners have it right: to just be, to just be, simply, in the moment. It is no small thing. All those beautiful koans and Zen haikus, nature-based, earthy, about clay pots and wells and walking up the mountain. They make so much sense when you’re stressed out of your mind. Or hallucinating. (One jumps to mind, v well-known: The barn burned down. Now I can see the moon.) And Koban? Ichikyo:

Empty handed I entered

The world

Barefoot I leave it.

My coming, my going—

Two simple happenings

that grow entangled

Like dew drops on the lotus

I vanish

One Buddhist practice, to keep one present to life and conscious of death, is to write a short death poem every day. (It was what most Zen teachers did—they wrote death poems as they were dying, as a kind of last lesson to their disciples.) Westerners often think writing a death poem is morbid, but it’s so---basically intelligent. Again, no drama, just plain consciousness. Basho’s last poem was something about his dream ‘goes wandering over the withered fields’.

All right, Kaz,that’s enough. How do you write a death poem about a bunch of actors laughing beside their dying Diva? Shall we try, set it as practice?

Oh, I agree, I agree. All that stupid smiling makes me want to slap someone. And just writing that makes me want to CRY!  And isn’t that a style too? Am I acting?  (I don’t think so. I think I am just a bundle of raw, jumping nerves, wires in rain.)

Yes, this has been such a bonding experience for you and me. I am also EXTREMELY grateful for you now. I’ve been so fretful, so scattered, emotional without having much of a place to put that emotion. You are such a good friend, to everyone you come close to. Steph said that the other day,something like “even I felt how caring and generous she was, in our brief encounters”.  (He always speaks like that, so elegantly.) He’s still in a lot of pain but seems to be getting better.

Aren’t we fortunate to have become friends? I love you very much.

And the day awaits. It’s so beautiful outside, gold and blue. I have to go for a walk. I cannot believe there will be more brilliant bright autumn days, soon now, without Linda in them. It cannot be. Linda!

 
Karen ConnellyComment
Dis/Passionate Observers
 

You are invited to a Pen Canada Benefit . . .

Ideas in Dialogue: Wade Davis and John Vaillant in conversation

Thursday, May 22, 2014

7:00 p.m.

Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario

Tickets can be purchased online at www.pencanada.ca  until noon on May 22.

Remaining tickets will be available at the door for $25, cash only.

Elegist, advocate, or dispassionate observer? What role should writers play in a world of transient landscapes, and ever-changing languages and cultures? Anthropologist Wade Davis and author John Vaillant consider the ethics of storytelling, reportage and bearing witness in the twenty-first century. Moderated by poet and novelist Karen Connelly.

And, speaking of dispassionate observers, an excerpt from an essay-in-progress:

 

#StolenSisters      #INM   #MMIW     #ItEndsHere

The full text will be published this fall in The New Quarterly

. . .  But then the man across the table said, “You cannot compare two disparate situations, like missing Aboriginal girls and women in Canada and a bunch of school kids from Nigeria, stolen away by Islamic extremists.” But the man is wrong. I am a poet as well as a prose writer. It is my job to compare disparate objects, people, and situations. The work of metaphor is to uncover the root between the dead star and the living seed, to lift the buried net into conscious language and see what stays, caught there. Then I also must look beneath the net and pick up what falls through.

As I read the newspapers, saw the Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, heard people declaim the horror of losing a beloved teenage daughter to a bunch of madmen, I felt the same kind of anger that I felt twelve years ago, in Vancouver. Except that it felt tempered by maturity.

Then some of the preliminaries findings in an RCMP report were released. In the last thirty years, over a thousand Aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or are missing. Aboriginal women and girls face much higher rates of violence than any other group of women in Canada. But there was no corresponding hashtag, Twitter, and blogosphere outrage, at least not among the majority of white people, anyway. And I no longer felt mature in my anger, or tempered. I felt kind of crazy. Disbelieving, yet knowing that it was all real, the deep concern for girls (conveniently) far away, the utter lack of empathy or even awareness for the girls and women who are our fellow citizens, the next street or province over. By email, I asked Aboriginal colleagues if this was a moment to highlight the profound disconnect that we have when it comes to violence overseas and violence right here at home. Was there a hashtag? Would they, you know, publicize one?

They must have rolled their eyes at my indignation, my bad punctuation. But they answered my emails. They pointed out how long they have been doing this, how much they have been doing. They patiently educated me. Jess Housty, a young Aboriginal leader on Haida Gwaii, wrote “Good point,” then sent me most of the hashtags that are scattered throughout this essay . . .

 
Karen ConnellyComment
The Holy Trinity: Flesh, Sex, Desire
 

If you are in Toronto and would like to hear some poetry from my new book Come Cold River, come out to the Art Bar on Tuesday April 8 at 8 pm.     www.artbar.org

 

AND . . .  to celebrate the arrival of spring (AT LAST, here in Toronto, anyway) and in response to a reader who wanted to read this essay in full, here is a reprint from Shambhala Sun magazine's Body Issue in 2013 A year later, March 30, I am happy to say that it still works. It has no expiry date . . .

Sex plays an important role in my next novel, too, The Change Room, tentatively slated for publication with Random House in 2015. In fact, it was after I wrote this essay that I decided to put away a much more political and difficult book that was depressing the hell out of me and write something more fun. In other words, I took my own advice . . .

 

Flesh. Desire. Sex. It’s not the only holy trinity, but it’s my favorite one, Buddhist noble truths notwithstanding.

All Buddhist schools agree on the Second Noble Truth—that we suffer because we desire. I know it. There is no way to wiggle out of it. Trust me, I’ve tried. Changing the vocabulary to ‘attachment’ does not work at all. Desire is all about getting attached, clinging like an octopus with suckers (but without the octopus’s elegance) to what we want, be it a beautiful fellow human or a serene state of being.

De sideris, the Latin root of the word "desire," is wonderfully instructive. In a roundabout way, it provides a Buddhist comment on the impossibility of getting what we want, of ever being completely satisfied, sexually or otherwise. The very meaning of the word also explains why desire is so compelling and magical, why it will always reach us, somehow, from another world, another life. De sideris means "of the stars."

We think of the stars as far away, and of the light that comes to us from them as dead. Yet the Sun is our closest star; we cannot live without it. Desire is a large, hot fact of life. Everyone, Buddhistically inclined or not, has to find a way to handle it, to enjoy the light without going blind or burning to a crisp.

I was raised with the Bible, but also, secretly, as a little pagan. So when I think of human flesh, my flesh, my lover’s body, the Earth follows close behind. Adam came from adamah, the Hebrew word for "the dust of the earth." When I think of some of the best sexual experiences I have ever had, I remember how thin the walls were, or non-existent, or how the windows were open and the land or water were there, close by, present, part of the act.

After the ragged breath and that sweet, sometimes violent crashing together of two hungry bodies, after the orgasmic focus begins to ebb, something I love (beyond the lover’s body and my own body, and the cracked-up grinning happiness of orgasm) is how the air returns, how I become aware of the air on my skin. The wind might move the edge of the curtains, might actually enter the room and be there with us. It’s the easiest, most natural way to have a threesome.

And if there is no wind, then just the air—that breath outside the body speaking to the breath inside. I become aware of how it moves into the room, over my naked skin, and its arrival seems almost conscious to me. And voices, somewhere outside. Our own murmurs. Then birdsong, if there are birds; I hear them again, anew, though the sounds never stopped during the sex, or lovemaking, or whatever.

Whatever. That catch-all teenage word works well, because sex is many things, and changeable, unpredictable, our own human weather. The calm sea of grass, waving, bending over, bending back. The tornado. The reluctant or drenching shower of rain. Even the most routine sex wakes me up to the body’s climate. Oh! Oh! Here I am! This is my body!

Does a session of blissful fucking in a tent make the nearby trees and squirrels happy?  Does the earth beneath his sweaty back rejoice, and the rivers rush harder when I come?

Sometimes I desire the living, wild flesh of the Earth as much as I desire my lover’s body. In the city where I live, I feel this desire as a low-grade, grinding ache, a lustfulness for that other flesh, the living presence of uncontained nature. It seems to me that such a sensual longing, a yearning for my senses to be awakened, exercised, and expanded, must also be sexual. Yet we never call it that. I do not call it that.

But it is spring now. The natural world shows me how sexual it is, without shame, without coyness. Glorying in the strong light of the sun, the starlight that reaches us all, the sex of trees and birds is literally in the air these days, and in me, too. Buds are swelling up; trees are getting ready to have flagrant congress in public. Soon, flowers will start to pop open, spread themselves for all to see. Flowers are the genitalia of plants. Is that why we love them so much, why we adorn our houses with their colors? Even the mud around my car tires looks great, rich and juicy and wonderfully eatable. If I were a goddess, I too would want to mold it into a beautiful human, breathe life into it, and let nature take its course.

  When I let this body outside for a walk, it awakens; when the air and the wind touch my skin, or when I sit down on slightly wet grass, or in dry, powdery dirt, I feel both calmer and more electrically alive. Walking in a mountain valley, or even a well-treed inner city park, or on a deserted beach, or swimming in the water, salty or sweet, I usually get a little turned on. Horny. Don’t you?

Maybe not. Maybe you just get hay fever. Each one of us is so different when it comes to the holy trinity. In the mountains, some would be nervous about bears. In the Aegean, where I have swum for hours on end and reached a mystical, physical union with the sea—I could show you my gills, though I won’t show you what I can do with them—some would only think of drowning, and jellyfish. So. What does it for you, then? Make your own list.

I know why I bring the Earth into sex. Because then I can never be without it. The hardest times in my life have been sexless. When I have healed, or mourned, or untangled myself from unhealthy relationships, or when I have been deeply focused on work, celibacy has sometimes been a necessity, a form of spiritual and physical rejuvenation. But even when I have recognized its importance and usefulness, my body has always disliked sexlessness and felt grumpy about it. By accepting the Earth as a lover, I know that as long as I am alive, that sensual, fleshly pleasure can be mine, even if I am alone.

It is impossible to speak honestly of sex and not mention fear. Fear is partly why sex makes us feel so alive, and half-crazed sometimes, and weird, and irritated. Sex disturbs us for many other reasons, too, but fear is always in the mix. Touch it—whatever it is for you--and the fear rises like the fine, narrow skull of a snake. Flick, flick. Is it poisonous? Will it kill me? Or is it just a garter snake?

It might be a small, niggling fear, an embarrassment, something that makes you roll your eyes at yourself, or at your lover. It might turn the sexiest moment into ridiculous comedy, which is a kind of blessing. Yes: what we fear can also be, and very often is, funny. The body is an honest comic, no matter how cool and wise the mind may be. On all fours, her lovely ass seductively lifted in the air, the most beautiful woman in the world farts, loudly. Once, on the night that the seduction was going to take place, after a meal of long, delicious foreplay (lots of oysters), by the time we got down to our knickers and lots of tongue, there was no longer any way to deny it: we both had food poisoning (lots of oysters). Or, during that longed-for romantic weekend away from the children, you will have enough time and space and a gorgeous hotel bed to lie down in, naked and alone together at last! You find that the hotel bed is wide and big enough to accommodate a huge argument over finances. The sex should be unsalvageable, but you attack it anyway, desperate, needful, furious at that need. As you enter or are entered, you wonder why you ever married anyway. Was it out of lust? Or for money? And now you’re stuck in it, with the products, the joyful, miraculous results of your sex, gorgeous children, left at home. And you’ll be terrified that you could wonder such a thing, in anger, just before you have the best, outraged, breaking-through-outrage sex you’ve had in your life.

Fear is as much a part of being human as sex is. I have just turned forty-four, and am haunted by and fearful of what my mother told me about menopause: It finished sex for her. Done. Gonzo. Never again. “You’re not even interested in masturbation?” I asked her in a disbelieving, whiny voice. She howled at the absurdity of the idea. When I suggested she just needed a good vibrator, she laughed so hard she almost fell off her chair. “Nope,” she said. “Not for me. After the change, I just lost interest. The hot flashes burned the lust right out of me.” She acknowledged that she had even less interest in men messing up her house and leaving their damn socks on the floor, but still, her words frightened me. Her post-menopausal stories made me think of the poet Donald Hall’s beautiful elegies for his wife, who cried out, in the midst of her fatal illness: “No more fucking, no more fucking!”

I fear death for the same reason. If I were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, it’s not the unwritten books or the unlearned languages that my spirit would mourn. After despair for my son growing up motherless and my husband growing old without me, my self-focused grief would be not exactly for my body, but for all the sweet, joyful sex, and the slightly distracted, hurried sex, and the sad sex, and the confused sex that I would no longer be able to have. I know that spirits, if they exist, do not care about such things. But I am not a spirit yet.

When it comes to the body, fear is also larger; it cuts much deeper and harder than daily disappointments and human foibles. The fear that sex brings up is often about horrific losses, the ones we suffered as children, as adolescents, as adults, in abusive relationships, in dysfunctional families, in religions that hated the body, hated sex, hated us, basically, hated the holy trinity, flesh, desire, sex. For some of us, that fear has the power to stop up our throats. Literally. The words are not metaphoric.

For years, I couldn’t speak about what I wanted before, during, or after sex. I couldn’t talk about what I needed, either, about what didn’t feel right. My throat closed up. The power of speech was gone, and, along with speech, all chance of being heard by the person who happened to be undressing me.

Fear resides, often, in the throat, along with its sibling, shame. Not a trinity, these two, but the difficult, unloved twins of the human psyche, born of damage and capable of creating more. Shame and fear huddle like angry children in the places where they are inflicted, trapped in the subterranean passages of the mind and the body. Most of us have sexual wounds, smaller, larger, healed, still raw, scarred over. If we are persistent and fortunate, we find ways to heal those wounds through compassionate relationship, in spiritual practice, with good therapy. But all of us live in a culture that uses sex flagrantly; cheapens, sells, perverts, even tortures, and hates sexuality; debases the bodies of women and men in various media while using those same images to titillate, to instigate sexual response.

Meanwhile, up on the surface, in our schools and homes, in our politics, in the way we teach and talk to our children, we are often puritanical about our bodies, frightened of the flesh, of desire, of sex. Our culture seeks to control, legislate, manage, obsess about, ignore, silence, and straitjacket the body, even as our teenage girls feel pressured to hook up with boys they’re not really interested in and send out sexy photos of themselves to prove what everyone should know about everyone else, naturally, from childhood on: that we are all sexual beings, even we who are asexual. Sex is part and parcel of our humanity. We seem to be able to do almost anything with sex except simply relax with this most obvious and potentially charming fact of life.  

Somewhere, deep down, under these sensitive acres of skin and warm fat, in the animal layers, our bodies know that sex could be easier and, if we so desired, wilder. We could know both the deep comfort and edgy thrill of sex, with more grace and storminess, as the trees know it, the birds, the flowers, the animals in their spring-time cavorting. Like that old song by Cole Porter, "Let’s Do it, Let’s Fall in Love," sex with or without love could be more fun. It could simply be more. Instead of being difficult, or anxious, or kind of dull, muted by routine and our own unwillingness to let go of our fears and to change our lives. And, from time to time, our positions.

Here I bow again to the spring-time Earth as my inspiration and my teacher. I have always loved the bhumi-sparsha mudra in which the Buddha’s right hand is draped over his knee to touch the Earth. He is calling upon the Earth, the soil, to witness his enlightenment. This gesture is full of meaning for me, for us, for the planet. In the oldest extant stories, the Earth that the Buddha touched was embodied in one of the ancient goddesses that predate Buddhism. She was Prithivi, also known as Bhumi, the Source of All, She Who Cannot Be Deceived, the Womb of the World.

Ah-ha! Mother Earth, in the form of a fertility goddess, is present at the very birth of Buddhism. In some of the stories, Prithivi actually rises up and insists upon the Buddha’s purity.

That is what I see in the singing, budding, swelling, lusting, mating spring-time world around me. Prithivi rises again and again, every year, all year, whenever we are ready for her, whenever we want her. No matter how badly we humans treat this planet, she is always ready to speak on our behalf. Spring is her song, not only of life-giving lust and fecundity, but of perfect faith. The purity that she swears by is non-dualistic, enormous, with enough space and breath and starlight for every one of us, with our kinkiest kinks, our fear, our shame, our deepest lust, what we dream, what we whisper, what we dare not utter. She cries out, I am your witness, and you are—or you could be—free.   

 
Karen ConnellyComment
Happy Burma!
 

Happy New Year!  Happy Birthday! (It was mine recently.) Happy Burma! (They finally let me back in, but don't let that fool you; the military still calls all the shots there, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the great lady, while admirable in many ways, is still a big disappointment if you happen to be a Burmese Muslim: more on all this later.) Happy St Paddy's Day! Happy almost Spring! (Though you'd barely know that here in Toronto, where it is still freezing.)

Well, judging from the list of greetings, it's clear that I have failed to keep up with my "blog posts". I am obviously not a blogger. I am an occasional poster of thoughts and a bit o news, nothing more. I am even having trouble putting up regular Facebook posts, which is pathetic, considering that some people cannot seem to shut up on Facebook. And Twitter? Tweet tweet tweet! Isn't that enough? Tweet! In theory, I admire the usefulness of these social media platforms, but in practice, I always seem to be out of the country in an internet difficult area or housecleaning or having a pillow fight when it occurs to me: Oh yeah, I should be blogging. Then I watch the news or take a bath instead. And how do I hook my social media accounts to this, my unblogged blog? I don't know. How do you fix a vacuum cleaner or get to the moon? Ask me about metaphor, or Burma.

Everyone inside calls it Myanmar. Which is an interesting sign of the times. While the military is neither forgiven for their crimes and certainly impossible to forget (seeing as they take up most seats in Parliament), the people have chosen, at least in public, to give them a pass. On the surface, things LOOK busy--so many cars, and SO MANY NEW FOREIGNERS with international development degrees!! and with that youthful-white-in-SE-Asia-ability to get shit-faced drunk and ridiculous-looking. (That is a brief summary of the Alliance Francaise party in Yangon; none of them call it Rangoon; they may not have known that it ever was called Rangoon) --things look "better," more 'developed', but underneath the traffic jams and the plastic tea shop chairs, the economic situation is possibly worse than it's been for many Burmese business people and the man and woman in the street are angry about many things, especially about how the image and smell of prosperity remains very remote from their own lives. Oh: and small children are still dying of malnutrition and easily preventable diseases, just in case you thought that was all over . . .  I am working on a new essay about all of this (God, yes, she's going to write about Burma AGAIN, and probably lose her new found freedom to actually go there), about some remarkable people I met, about the grace and charm and kindness of so many Burmese people--I fell in love all over again, hopelessly--about the wackiness of my return to that country which has affected me for so many years, even when I wasn't allowed to go there. It started out with a slightly disastrous and oddly colonial affair: a big quite English literary festival in Mandalay. It was surreal, and wonderful, to be back in a country where my books had been banned for so long, reading from those same books. 

Here I am with some of the women who came to hear Aung San Suu Kyi speak at the literary festival. Not that she spoke to them at all. (I'll save that for my essay, but I have to say: it was sad. Not a single word in Burmese. How things have changed indeed.) They are also writers and poets from Mandalay. The red flag with the gold (fighting) peacock on it is National League for Democracy flag---Daw Suu's party.

Look at how beautiful all the thamins are! The longyis--mine is not Burmese but from Cambodia, across the border from Sisaket, Thailand.

Some day, I will post ONCE A WEEK here and have thousands of readers. Haha. Until then, it's just you and me, friend . . .  Please see my thrilling upcoming events if you're about to be in Ottawa or Moncton or Toronto any time soon . . .

 
Karen ConnellyComment
Come Cold River and CANADA READS
 

The new book is out--Come Cold River, a memoir in poetry--and an older book, The Lizard Cage, a novel of Burma, is up to be chosen as a CBC CANADA READS book. Feel free to vote for The Lizard Cage http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/2013/10/canad-areads-top-40-vote-for-the-top-10.html  here. The Lizard Cage takes place in a prison in Burma during the 90's, and recounts how the lives of three prison dwellers intersect and change each other. Teza, a political prisoner, exerts a profound influence on both a child labourer and a high-ranking jailer. The New York Times compared this novel to the works of Orwell and Solzenitsyn, and a Globe and Mail reviewer wrote that it was ' one of the best Canadian novels."  And, you know, there are 39 other excellent books to vote for as well . . .

Yes, CBC Reads is a ridiculous popularity contest, but seeing as I was never popular in high school, it seems that I am willing, still, to put myself out there and try and get on the basketball team. Undoubtedly a serious mistake. The thing is, writers have lost so many sources on income in the last few years (ha! including the income from their books!) that we all have to do what we have to do. Selling family heirlooms, first born sons, trawling for Canada Reads votes . ..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Karen ConnellyComment
Come Cold River
 

Yay!  My new book, Come Cold River, is available . . .

 

Published by Quattro Books and available in the next couple of weeks at better books stores near you. To order directly from Quattro, visit

http://www.quattrobooks.ca/books/

Here's the press release . . .

"Am I home for good . . . or for bad?

Am I here to bury the hatchet

or dig it up and throw it?”

 

After decades of writing about foreign landscapes, most notably Burma, the award-winning writer Karen Connelly has finally come home with her work. Her tenth book Come Cold River is a memoir in poetry, a very personal exploration of family politics, domestic abuse, and the carried-over costs of addiction. Unlike much Canadian poetry of the moment, it rejects complex intellectual and text-based formulations in favour of a more direct, almost theatrical address, asking the reader to consider not only the origins of family and gender-based violence, but the origins of violence in an entire country.

 

"Oh Canada, what do you really mean?

How can I sing you

without lying?"

 

Canada, after all, is a St. Lawrence Iroquoian word, a little-acknowledged fact among Canadians. Much of Connelly’s childhood was spent close to the borders of an “Indian” reserve. She and her Anglo-Irish siblings grew up with an acute awareness—rare at that time—that their backyard used to be someone else’s territory. In Come Cold River, this is one of many invisible histories that insist on making themselves visible and readable in the present world.

Many of the events in Come Cold River take place in Alberta and BC. While these two provinces constantly mythologize their wealth and ‘freedom’, the book responds, by turns acerbically, humorously, and harrowingly, with mythologies of its own.

Rushing forward like the river of it title, this narrative collection is also a necessary one, insisting that it is still possible for poetry to be angry and enlivening, as lyrically deft as it is politically charged.   

 
Karen ConnellyComment
Hey! I won a Canadian National Magazine Award . . .
 

For a POEM no less. Isn't it amazing that we still HAVE NMA's for poetry? I was also nominated for a personal essay called Washing The Body, which I will also post here in the coming months.  

Thank you therefore to the wonderful strange eclectic GEIST magazine for publishing the poem, The Speed of Rust; Mr. Geist also bought me my ticket to the fabulous glamourous cocktail party and (diet) dinner. I would not have gone if Mary S and Stephen O of Geist hadn't sprung for the ticket. Thanks, too, to Michal Kozlowsky, assistant publisher at Geist and dinner companion (who put up with some curmudgeonly behaviour, alluded to below.)

At the glitzy NMA ceremony, I wore a red and grey flapper dress, red heels, and so much attitude that I actually went up a second time to collect an absent friend's award--until the Reader Digest lady hip-checked me as I ran for the stage. (She was late getting up there, what can I say? Who could miss posing for a picture with Zaib Shaikh twice? He's handsome; I demanded he embrace me; he complied. You know, he was the imam on Little Mosque on the Prairie.) Anyway, I actually HATE award ceremonies (she said, ungraciously). The more hype, the more irritated I become. Then of course I revised my position briefly upon winning.

I was very inspired by richness of the articles, illustrations, essays, photo spreads that were nominated and that won for their various (more than 30) categories. For an industry that is struggling mightily against all kinds of nasty funding and techno/media monsters, the breadth of ideas and talent and energy in our magazine industry is really dazzling.

Let's read more Canadian magazines!

And even a poem here and there . ..  I spent 20 minutes trying to get the extra space out from btn the lines, but hey. I just gave up.

 

The Speed of Rust

 

It rains.

My heart disintegrates for other reasons

while the bald eagle gazes at me

from the lifeguard’s chair.

His head is not white but scuffed, dirty.

He may look like a bird of prey but in fact

he is a fifty-two-year-old man

who has just crawled out of bed

with a hangover and a wife

he rarely loved well.

 

Whatever

was fine weather

in his life has turned

into the swamp-sky of March,

rain in April, through June,

and tomorrow is the first of July

though it’s hard to consider

celebrating Canada Day

with anything but a scream.

Which the bald eagle does:

the serrated thrust of his voice

shreds the grey light as he opens

his wings and lifts, lifts,

heaves himself into the heavy air.

There he goes, flapping over our stunned heads

toward the jungle that stalks Vancouver

like a panther, the same jungle

I fought in cold blood this morning,

so much fierce bamboo.

 

You and I walk the wide sand flats,

slick pewter acres of seaweed,

cracked shells, crabs scuttling sideways

like our desire. We are so close

to the barges that we see

a modern galley slave moving

(no stanza break)

feverishly about on the long deck.

He is silent in labour, I am silent

in sympathy, listening to you tell

how you think maybe you can’t marry her.

 

I suddenly remember my hedge clippers

lying on the grass in the back garden.

Tools rust if you leave them out

in this rain. They teach us, every year,

not to do it again.

 

Why it's all wrong takes so long to explain

that the tide begins to embrace our cold feet.

You could save yourself by drowning

but do not: we walk back to the stony shore

littered with condoms and weddings,

one of which will take place in exactly

forty days. You ask, a tear in your eye,

How much longer will it rain?

 

I reply, You’re lucky enough

to have choices. Old lover,

surprise yourself and make one.

Useless advice, like all advice

must be at this moment. You wring

your heart on the beach while on the far shore

landmines explode, men labour on

prison ships, children drown in wet sand

similar in weight to this wet sand

but lethal, marbled with blood,

impossible to walk away from.

 

You say you cannot walk away.

I say I know, I know, and think again

of my clippers in the grass,

the speed of rust. I say, 

You are a good man

and she is a good woman.


Kissing you goodbye, I wonder if

that is how bad marriages are made:

the hungry shovel of the heart

wants to break the clean surface of goodness,

get to the rich filth underneath.

I like how mistakes wait in our hands

like the orchids we crave for their beauty.

And because we don’t know how to grow them.

I like that we want to learn.

I love how we fail.

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Karen ConnellyComment
Mother's Day is coming . . .
 

After a wonderful few days at the snowy The Banff Centre, where I gave the keynote address at the Creative Nonfiction Collective Conference--thank you to Myrna Kostash for being such a brilliant organizer (and a great dame) and to Ian Brown for all those vodka sodas--I came back to sunny, flower-blooming Toronto and some great news regarding one of my nonfiction essays. Written a couple years ago, Washing The Body was published a few months ago in Alberta Views magazine. Last month, it won the Alberta Magazine Publishers Award for best essay, and last week it was nominated for a Western Magazine and a National Magazine Award, too. (One of the poems from my new book Come Cold River was also nominated for a National Magazine Award. Yay!)

The reason I'm so pleased with these nominations is because the essay is about my mother's life and death, both of which were exemplary. The nominations honour my mother as much as they do my work. I owe so much to her; she was and is one of my greatest teachers and still a source of my inspiration. As I discovered when I wrote the piece, she taught me a great deal about freedom. It makes me happy to think that other people know her a little through my words. 

would love to post the whole essay here, but it may be republished. I will keep you posted . . . And sorry to those who've come here hoping to read it. I promise to post it eventually . . .

My mother exclaiming over my son's traditional Korean first year outfit in 2006; she died less than two years later, last day of August 2008.