2nd June 2002
The stuff I don't own any more. Sewing scraps. Spice jars. Rubber boots.
Maps. Super 8 films. Philosophy notes. Drawerful of tools and nails.
The sky is so intensely blue today. The season has changed at last.
Oh the death of life - there's the Fauré Requiem on - I
mean the cutting of this consciousness of it - oh young self I was here
- oh Luke - oh Rowen kissing the balustrade and hugging the tub -
When I couldn't sleep one night last week I lay thinking what were the
moments in this house. The summer evenings writing in this room with sun
on the east wall as it is now, the scent of dame's rocket and the sight
of it in a glass jar against the green boards, with the oval mirror in the
corner. I was living a lyrical life. Love woman in her pale green cords
and white Indian shirt.
Early mornings, 4:30 to 5:30, in this room after Rowen was born, the
dazzling silent light.
The summer afternoon three years ago when Tom, Paul and Luke were sitting
with me in the kitchen.
The moment I came into the middle room and found Tom sitting on the floor
with his back against the bed and his feet stretched in front of him, staring
ahead looking utterly stymied.
The half hour one Christmas when I sat in my bed going through the crucifixion
of the child abandoned in a hospital bed.
The moment sitting in my bed when I understood that I had seen through
what is wrong with philosophy of mind.
The moment sitting in the dark - the bed was this single bed but in the
middle room then - late one night when Louie phoned me from Wall Street
and I sat straight up because I realized I could tell her what I actually
The night in bed with Rob - it was on the floor in this room then - when
we both felt an electric weight over us like a layer of snow.
The moment I began to pour aged pee down through the floor crack onto
Trudy's palette, shaking but steadfast.
The first time I took acid, sitting on the floor in the kitchen watching
images of Assyrians flowing in the crystal grain of the plaster.
The moment Luke came and lay down next to me wearing a towel, and looked
at the middle room as it has been lately, blue and gold glowing in lamplight,
and said, This room is exquisite.
The moment under the green tweed blanket (it is gone) with Ken Sallett,
wrapped in his fur, in peace of bliss because I had wrestled hard with him.
Jam and I sitting or lying on the corridor floor to talk, many hours,
many lights. Summer evenings like now.
Evenings at the west window seeing the sky incandescent.
Long evenings lying around on the couch in the kitchen with Michael,
laughing, laughing, after the grim dark years.
The grim dark nights awake in the dark in that couch in the kitchen,
nauseated, desperately horny, pregnant.
The moments I would walk through the corridor feeling every moment could
be some new revelation.
The moment after I heard Frank died, when I opened my arms to him and
held him to comfort him.
Louie and Rowen when he was four playing with cardboard boxes, rope and
sheets in the middle room. Louie will you play 'ith me?
The moment writing the Mary Tiles paper at the work table (which faced
south in this room then) when I felt I was hovering over something, doing
something more creative than I had ever done.
The very small picture assemblies I had on the corridor walls in the
days when I was lyrical. A white tower in pink evening light with a crescent
moon made of a little fingernail of clear apple seed casing.
I was thirty one and am fifty seven. Janeen visited me here, sat at the
I stood in the middle of this room the first night David Carter saw it,
stunned with grief and fear feeling him behind me seeing the quality of
Tom standing with his back to the window in the kitchen, in twilight,
telling me he had lied about being born in San Diego. The first evening
of his first visit.
The night I lay in the dark talking to Janet about Tom. The night I lay
waiting for Tom to call, excruciated and then peaceful, when he called late
and drunk. We had a graceful conversation, he said. It was after that he
came to his decision, June 1st six years ago. He called me when he had been
dry a month.
Monday morning, 6:30, is that a seaplane - the part of this place I haven't
felt for years - the coast rainforest pressed against the flank of mountains
- salt inlets lapping quietly - cedar trees' flat finely braided - I'm stuck
trying to say a cedar tree's branches - the smell -
cedar, hemlock, salmonberry, Indian plum, salal, arbutus, alder.
seagull, crow, otter, seal, orca, bear, deer.
starling, squirrel, raccoon.
flat blue of mountain shapes in haze, white cut-out shapes of snow.
the rain, the rain, the rain.
There's a black squirrel spread like ivy on the stucco wall of the apartment
building next door, climbing in jumps as if it is weightless.
Daphne, Juan, Leah Rosling, Roy Kiyooka, Muggs, the Chinese woman next
door who gardened, the stevedore on the ground floor next door on the other
side - I'm scanning, who mattered in 25 or 26 years - Irene the waitress
at the Princess Café - Gordon Koo - Joe further up on Keefer.
The Princess Café itself, and the Marine View Café above
the dock where the fish boats came in. Koo's Automotive.
The drunk woman who screamed on welfare night every month year after
year - Eric in the hotel on Hastings - the Avalon Hotel - the hotel on Cordova
where I first landed.
The neighbour across the alley cutting down his cherry tree from the
top down with a kitchen cleaver. The day I answered a knock and found him
on the porch with a bag of plums.
Mr Choy on the doorstep once a month through all the years.
San Diego 24th June
Saturday night with Tom, spooning getting ready to go to sleep. Tom praising
me as he does. I felt warmer between my legs. Are you hard enough for a
dip? Oh yes! In his way he jumped to it. Sit on me he said. Pinched my nipples
and gently poked - bliss near unbearable - no, not near unbearable but near
an edge. In the morning he put me on my tummy over his knee so my ass was
in the air and lay stroking it so it plumped up blooming like a rose, blooming
Should I imagine a goddess presiding. The goddess of persistence, it
says. The persistence I've had? Yes. It is the accomplished goddess. Shining
in my corner? Yes. Something I wished to know. Something I wished to be.
Is persistence a Greek goddess? Large? Very large, monumental. The years
of work, the patient tracking, the willing crashes, the persistence in a
true question, the joyful embrace of allies, painful endurance of attack
- real attack - the strategy, the poverty, the boredom, the slog, the years
of isolation, the days without light.
It is the morning after a hell night. The hard dyed-blond woman yelling
at her kids, shut up, shut up until midnight. Even when it was quiet
I lay awake. It's 7:20 now and I'm washed up on the beach among the broken
Should I be doing this now, though? Is it a mistake to have come here
to do this revision? Do I need it to be a deeper graduation, is that it?
I'm in a corner with my contradiction. I can't run away from it. I can't
slip into one of the poles and ignore the other. No garden plots left but
those last ones standing in water, in shade in the bush behind the house
- the thick mosquito bush by the outhouse.
For now do nothing. If I run from it I will reconstruct it somewhere
else. Joyce is gone, I'm on my own. Be honest about her and be honest about
how painful it is to be with her. She is trash but she can't help it.
Louie phoned last night at 10. I told her about the struggle. She said,
Who is speaking now? I had called my working self she: she can't
stand him. The one who is talking to you, I said. I had noticed the tone:
even, intimate, light, smart without trying, smart in the naturalness of
the back-and-forth. I had been thinking I wish I could sound like that with
Tom, or be with a man with whom I could sound like that. My distance from
that tone is the measure of love woman's inadequacy - is that the word -
I'm a woman whose twin doesn't have good taste in men; I have a brother-in-law
who bores and irritates me. Does that description cut corners? Two ways
- it's worse than "bores and irritates," and it is I who do not
have good taste in men. I have many kinds of good taste, and appalling taste
in men. But it is my taste and I have no other. That's where my heart is.
So I'm stuck with it, is that the way to say it? Is that the way to say
it? Yes. Could I improve my taste? No. It is my contradiction and I have
to be willing to show it. It is like my thin leg. I have to keep bringing
it back to this: Tom is what he is but it's not about him. I couldn't pick
a better man because I am not better in the part that picks. He's what my
heart wanted. He allows me to be home, attached.
Vancouver 16th July
One of the side windows is up all the way, and seeing mountain, sky,
tree and worn-shingled roof-peak through that rectangle is like seeing space
naked. There's a thrill in it, as if the eye travels all the way to the
blue ridge and touches it, as it is not able through glass. The tenderness
of that bit of naked sky between tree, mountain and window frame.
As I was parking near Koo's today the man who used to be my neighbour
across the alley was walking on the far side of the street. He paused so
I got out and spoke to him. A very small man with only two upper teeth.
Howcome you park here? I tell him I've moved. We were neighbours a long
time, I say, nearly thirty years. I saw your children grow up. Too ol' now,
he says. He's the man who brought me plums. Maybe he watched me getting
in and out of the bathtub all those years. He was welcome, if so. Our meeting
had the quality of the meeting with the other neighbour, the stevedore.
Profound. The meetings say, mutually, You were there for so much of my life.
As I wrote this paragraph darkness came to all the houses under the sky,
though there is still midsummer yellow in the notch where the mountain drops
back. It's 10. Below it there's gold light in what I can see of the picture
window of the house that's like Oma's house on Clearbrook Road.
It was at 2 on the 22nd, 2002.
The day was radiant. The windows looked onto a shining bank of alders.
Louie brought the flowers she bought yesterday - sunflowers, goldenrod,
yellow freesia. I wore the leopard trimmed jacket. My cheeks were pink.
I would have liked the way I looked, Louie said - sophisticated.
The night before, I imagined the room with the tables and when I was
thinking of the introduction and the conclusion on the two center tables
I called up the child whose suffering in her bed was also accomplished in
this time, and the young woman who learned to be an honest and responsible
love woman, and felt them, or gave them to feel, as graduating too.
Yesterday morning when I began to feel fear, a burning at the heart,
I lay down for half an hour and felt into the constriction. I thought of
the church men in suits and the way they taught me to be frightened to show
what I knew, and then I called up the three men who praised and defended
me as a student, Mr Mann, Superintendent Toews, Martyn Estall. Mr Mann stood
on the La Glace community center platform and said, You all know how I feel
about Elfreda. Mr Toews got me the Canada Council trip to Stratford, afterwards
found me walking with my suitcase on the Sexsmith road and drove me home.
Martyn Estall at Queen's took care of me behind the scenes so I hardly knew
he was doing it, got me the philosophy medal and the Woodrow Wilson nomination.
Lying there I imagined the three of them in the Halpern Lounge defending
Yesterday Ray and Barry were that too. Ray said he hadn't seen language
so well described anywhere. Barry said, in the first round of questions,
what amounted to, If you mess with Ellie I am going to fight you.
Calmly knowing, then standing your ground, Louie said.
Last night when Louie got into my bed to say goodnight and asked about
my day I said, There is something I have to deal with now. Telling her,
I had a sore heart rather than a blank one. She said she heard my voice
get younger. But when I was there with that sore heart like a half-formed
chick embryo, stricken, I wanted something specific that I couldn't get
from her. I wanted a shell containing me - a strong hard mind knowing what
I am and what to do with it. Louie did what she does, which is touch me
with her soft small hands and reassure me with her soft small voice. I felt
her a child wanting to use my helplessness to be able to touch me. I could
feel the helpless state firming itself involuntarily as if a muscle thickened
When did the heart blankness begin. I noticed it first in Bellingham
on one of the visits. The garden above the motel. Here's my question, has
it come because I don't have Joyce any more to get me through to the real,
or because I haven't been safe enough with Tom? It says no to both. Because
there is a spring stopped and I haven't allowed myself the device that unstops
it, just that? Yes. And need to be contained to unstop it directly, and
have no one to contain me. Yes. And therefore am at an end. No. Can I find
someone to contain me? No. That means there's another way. Yes. A quest
for soul, which is that stricken embryo. Yes. Can you explain how? The secret
is processing withdrawn crisis. The state I felt last night? Yes. Can I
find it without help? Yes. By just being alone? No. By not evading it. Yes.
It isn't far to find. Yes.
David was wearing his green plaid shirt and looked beautiful. His mum
had cried a tear that I wasn't coming, he said. We could go, I said. We
come into the house through the kitchen door and find Russell transformed
from a thick-faced patriarch to a small sweet elf, big-eyed, pink-cheeked,
sunk in a leatherette armchair under a blanket. He stands up to shake my
hand and I feel his arm just bone in a sleeve. David goes to find Dorothy
who is resting in the bedroom. He comes back and says she is putting in
her teeth. There she is, surprising, more a girl than she'd been, hair quite
brown, cut off in a schoolgirl bob. She is wearing a red skirt. We sit with
them in the dining room. They make a fuss of my doctorate. Dorothy wants
to know what question the eminent external examiner asked. Russell suddenly
pipes up clear and comprehending. Betweentimes he would put his head down
on his hand. At some moment Dorothy begins to cry. All our work has been
undone, she says.
Can I say how fluid and vivid they were. David's sort of vividness and
fluidity. A kind of haplessness, the house stacked ever deeper in boxes.
And yet they are 89, long survivors. I asked at what age they think old
age begins. 85, Dorothy said.