Monday, December 14, 2015

monday morning, and it's there

The Gift 

by Kevin Hart

One day the gift arrives - outside your door,
Left on a windowsill, inside the mailbox,
Or in the hallway, far too large to lift.

Your postman shrugs his shoulders, the police
Consult a statute, and the cat miaows.
No name, no signature, and no address,

Only, "To you, my dearest one, my all..."
One day it all fits snugly on your lap,
Then fills the backyard like afternoon in spring.

Monday morning, and it's there at work -
Already ahead of you, or left behind
Amongst the papers, files and photographs;

And were there lipstick smudges down the side
Or have they just appeared? What a headache!
And worse, people have begun to talk:

"You lucky thing!" they say, or roll their eyes.
Nights find you combing the directory
(A glass of straw-coloured wine upon the desk)

Still hoping to chance on a forgotten name.
Yet mornings see you happier than before -
After all, the gift has set you up for life.

Impossible to tell, now, what was given
And what was not: slivers of rain on the window,
Those gold-tooled Oeuvres of Diderot on the shelf,

The strawberry dreaming in a champagne flute -
Were they part of the gift or something else?
Or is the gift still coming, on its way?


I can't even quite remember what led me to the poem above. One of those mysterious discoveries of the google search. Much to discover, no doubt on The Saturday Poem page of The Guardian. More on Kevin Hart on Poetry International.

But it's like this, the gift that is maybe always arriving. "Monday morning, and it's there...."

Most days, "Impossible to tell, now, what was given / And what was not."

I'm sure there's more than one way to interpret the gift in this poem, which is the lovely part of it.

My dreary cold lingers, three weeks in. And now I'm just pretending that it's gone. Imagining it gone.

We began last week with very little weather, so to speak. Dull skies, dark days, no light. In the middle of the day the light in the house was so dim it was necessary to turn the lamps on to read. Everything seemed dark and dull and dreary. And it was, exceedingly so.

Early in the week, on my walks, I had to look hard for anything at all to photograph, drawn to the tiny bits of colour, to unexpected splashes of yellow in other peoples' front yards.

I was drawn to the last bits of colour in curling leaves, and bruised ones.

I will resort to photographing these leaves for the hundredth time, I told myself.

The day I shot this next leaf, which I love and which I did not at all do justice to, the light was barely there. I think of it as the grand failure of my week.

Okay, so just saying, I ADORE this next poem. So honest, funny. True. There isn't a single word or line in it that I don't love. It's not that I don't also love a romanticized view of winter, but this gets at the reality of it, and also addresses my increasing lack of holiday spirit. Which is funny. The dark comedy of it all, you know?

A Severe Lack Of Holiday Spirit

by Amy Gerstler

I dread the icy white concussion
of winter. Each snowfall demands
panic, like a kidnapper’s hand
clapped over my chapped mouth.
Ice forms everywhere, a plague
of glass. Christmas ornaments’
sickly tinkle makes my molars ache.
One pities the anemic sun
come January. Trees go skeletal.
Children born in the chilly months
are apt to stammer. People hit
the sauce in a big way all winter.
Amidst blizzards they wrestle
unsuccessfully with the dark comedy
of their lives, laughter trapped
in their frigid gizzards. Meanwhile,
the mercury just plummets,
like a migrating duck blasted
out of the sky by some hunter
in a cap with fur earflaps.

- from Medicine by Amy Gerstler

Inspired by the Amy Gerstler poem, I thought I'd share a short essay from my as yet unpublished book of essays, short and long. If you know me, you'll have heard me talk about my extrovert tokens. And this explains how they work:

An Imaginary System

by Shawna Lemay

At the beginning of each year I come into possession of a certain number of extrovert tokens. I need to ration the tokens through the year, until the next allotment. Well before Christmas I’m running a sizeable deficit. Because converting any of my introvert tokens into extrovert tokens is unthinkable, I know I’m destined to permanent insolvency.

Okay, there were a couple of days when I was fairly desperate for subject matter, and the cigarette butt on the cement on the way to the path by the utility corridor, seemed the ticket.

The sunflower in my backyard wasn't going to escape, even though it wasn't exactly calling to me as a subject.

Then came days of snow and frost, and though nothing looks quite right, or quite as good as it could have been through the lens of a rotten, lingering cold, it's what was possible this past week. And I offer the photographs with little commentary.

Interesting to compare this next poem to the Gerstler poem. The panic of the snow fall, versus "silent, and soft, and slow."


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 Out of the bosom of the Air,
    Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
    Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
      Silent, and soft, and slow
      Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
    Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
      The troubled sky reveals
      The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
    Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
    Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
      Now whispered and revealed
      To wood and field.

There was an article on Hazlitt that was quite popular on FB last week, titled "The Year in Work" by Andrea Bennett. The piece ends:

"A lot of very talented writers and editors in Canada—some of whom we’d consider at the top of their game in terms of craft—make ends meet by working low-paid part-time jobs. (Because those jobs are flexible, because our career doesn’t pay us enough to survive and yet we still want to give ourselves to it.) This is the reality that we live in, and it’s a reality that people should be aware of. If it’s not okay, then we need to re-approach our valuation of creative work."
If you know anyone who is a writer or creative person, you really should read this article. Those of us living that 'porous' life - mashing together a part-time job with various freelance gigs, and whatever else might come up, know what she's talking about. We are, as she says, nodding along, and saying, "yeah, dude." It's exhausting, and I'm one of those fortunate ones who has a really great and decently paying part-time job.

It was just a good piece of luck that I trained in library studies before I even went to university. I worked in the science library at the University of Alberta, while also working in two restaurants my first year of my undergrad degree. The second year, I cut back to just the library and one restaurant. Along the way, I've worked in various libraries. I've had summer jobs in government and medical libraries. I've also worked in a mall bookstore. I worked in a stationery store with fine writing instruments selling (among many other things) Italian fountain pens for a couple of years. I've written freelance articles, taught university and extension classes. My most sustaining job though, has been at the public library.

There are very few writers who don't work at something alongside their writing. And it's hard, insanely difficult. It thins you out in unbelievable ways at times.

Here's another article that comes at the situation from a different angle. "Not Only Can You Have a Full-time Job and Write, You Probably Should."

I don't think there are any easy prescriptions, in truth. It's a balancing act that has to take in so many different factors, including how many hours of sleep per night you need. I'm pretty certain working full-time would kill my writing.

It's a balancing act that is constantly changing and which pretty much always fails.

While thinking about these two articles, I've also been reading Anne Boyer's Garments Against Women. Highly recommend. (on my recommended shelf up top).

"I thought about the poet Marcia Nardi who wrote "as if there were no connection between my being stuck at the ribbon counter in Woolworth's for eight hours a day at minimum hourly wage, and my inability to function as a poet." I was melancholy and wrote defences of my melancholy. I totally forgot to shop."

Talking about possessions, objects:

"But what you asked was another question: is it possible to write about objects - the way things look and feel, the garments on bodies and in furniture in the gardens and in the rooms without somehow also provoking a desire to acquire more things, or even if one writes about making things is it possible to write about making things without also provoking desire for them?"


"I was at the edge of cities. I was at the edge of economies. In those days some even accused me of googling my dreams."

"I was poor. I was solitary, and I undertook to devote myself to literature in a community in which the interest in literature was as yet of the smallest."

This is the one photo I took last week that I was happy with, and only because there was a little heart highlighted by the frost.


My very good friend Kimmy Beach and I have decided to close up shop on our site, Canadian Poetries. We've run it for three years, learned a lot, met some great people, shared some wonderful words. Of course we've received many kind words of thanks since we announced this for what we did there which has been lovely. More, though, than we ever received while working on the site. Moral of the story - if you like something on the web and want it to stay, click the like button. Say something. Anything. Once in a while. Otherwise the world wide web can be a lonely place.

Listening to: Heavenly Choirs.




Wishing you all a lovely week, extra extrovert tokens, some calm moments to yourself, and perhaps a flute of champagne with a dreaming strawberry.

- Shawna


  1. Enjoyed the Gerstler poem and I can totally relate to your extrovert tokens. Hopefully the new year brings rejuvenation of spirit... or maybe that doesn't happen until the sun shines more.

    1. Thanks, Thia. I'm hopeful for both more sunshine and rejuvenation of spirit :)

  2. I find solace in your words and your photos. Your photos are immensely soothing for the eyes and your words have a gentle calming effect on the mind. Thank you for sharing this beauty.

    1. So nice of you to say! Thanks for being here.

  3. Dear Shawna. I find your photographs more beautiful than ever! The light and mood of them make me think of the line in the Wadsworth Longfellow poem Snow-Flakes that you quote 'The troubled sky reveals the grief it feels'. So sad and so beautiful. I particularly love the one you took of Ace, so black and so clear against the white snow. Reading what you write, how you think and what you feel enables me to breathe more deeply, to want to breathe more deeply. I so love and am grateful for your blog and your time and dedication. Thank you. Jacqueline

    1. Thanks, Jacqueline. This makes it all worth it.xo

  4. Haha, Extrovert Tokens... brilliant! Your concept describes exactly how I feel about being out and about and interacting.
    I'm so simply happy every week for this glimpse of your world, it is indeed a calm and thoughtful oasis in an annoyingly maddened world. I'm glad to see that there’s someone else out there who appreciates ice rime on leaf and branch, and who thinks that small beauties like these are important. I loved this week's selection of photos and poems.

    1. So sweet of you. Thanks, Wintergreen. I do love a good frosty leaf :)

  5. Lovely post! We have yet to get any snow at all. It was 60 degrees fahrenheit yesterday, which was delightful as I played on the playground with the 1st and 3rd graders, but just a little obscene for mid December. Enjoyed the frost!

    1. It's been a great year for weather here so far. Lot of snow, frost, everything wintery. xo

  6. I so welcome all these beautiful images, they fit my mood perfectly. I find all the bright light and bokeh a bit over-stimulating lately...I'm longing for peace and quiet and softness these days. Love your essay and thank you for the extrovert tokens :) Hope that nasty cold goes away soon!

    1. Thanks, Susan! Enjoy the tokens, lol xo

  7. I hope Calm Things lives on and on and on. It is a rare precious gem among all the internet dross.

    Andrea, from Minnesota, happily sequestered as a volunteer in Hawaii.

    1. Thanks, Andrea! I dream of going to Hawaii some day :) Thanks for commenting!

  8. Loved the Frosted Flakes . . . so beautiful. And that handsome Ace :) I hope your ratatouille was as wonderful as it looked! Maybe Santa brought you more extrovert tokens (or less, depending on your wish . . .) and that you and your family had a lovely, peaceful celebration. xo


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