Monday, May 9, 2016

only kindness makes sense anymore

The Myth of Perfectability 

by Linda Pastan

I hang the still life of flowers
by a window so it can receive
the morning light, as flowers must.
But sun will fade the paint,
so I move the picture to the east centre
of a dark wall, over the mantel
where it looks too much like a trophy - 
one of those animal heads
but made up of blossoms.
I move it again to a little wall
down a hallway where I can come upon it 
almost by chance, the way the Japanese
put a small window in an obscure place,
hoping that the sight of a particular landscape
will startle them with beauty as they pass
and not become familiar.
I do this all day long, moving
the picture or sometimes a chair or a vase
from place to place. Or else
putting in a comma to slow down 
a long sentence, then taking it out,
then putting it back again
until I feel like a happy Sisyphus,
or like a good farmer who knows
that the body's work is never over,
for the motions of plowing and planting continue
season after season, even in his sleep.

That the work goes on and on. This will either strike you as reassuring, or terribly depressing, I imagine. But for me, I think it's hopeful. The poem says, dig in, delve, deeper. Keep going, keep moving, don't get satisfied for too long. Try stuff, try more stuff, work in the morning, when you're asleep, all day. Love the work, know it, feel the motion of it in your dreams. Let it rock you into slumber. 

{This gorgeous bouquet is from the wedding of dear and lovely friends - an unexpected and beautiful gift at the end of such a nice celebration}. 

The next couple of poems are in response to the horrific and devastating fires that have taken place north of here in Fort McMurray. We can all be grateful that no lives (miraculously) were lost to the fire, at least as I currently understand. The stories coming out of the ordeal are being collected by journalists and so many of them relate acts of kindness. This is what I'm focussing on - the acts of kindness, the willingness to give. The appreciation that, while things will be tough for the families that evacuated, they could have been otherwise. And maybe it's made the rest of us think a little bit harder about what's important, who we love.


by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

And though of course none of us wish that anyone would suffer loss and experience such devastation, we can certainly be comforted by stories of kindness, and strive to be all the kinder at all times.


by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

“Scattered through the ordinary world there are books and artifacts and perhaps people who are like doorways into impossible realms, of impossible and contradictory truth.”

-  Jorge Luis Borges

Those Who Carry

by Anna Kamienska

Those who carry grand pianos
to the tenth floor wardrobe and coffins
the old man with a bundle of wood hobbling toward the horizon
the lady with a hump of nettles
the madwoman pushing her baby carriage
full of empty vodka bottles
they will all be raised up
like the seagull’s feather like a dry leaf
like an eggshell a scrap of newspaper on the street

Blessed are those who carry
for they will be raised.

Everything here is blooming early, but it's still to early to garden. So you see above my little garden in its 'before' state. 'After' might be a while.

My favourite blooms are the double mock plums, and walking around the neighbourhood, you can see they're the favourite of many.

These are mine:

Along the path:

I love this next poems which ends up being about a 'bad' poem, one that sings out over time nevertheless. A message we need to hear. The ladder we need to ascend.

The Ladder

by Michael Chitwood

He worked years on the tablet,
deciphering the pictographs. He knew
it was a kind of language, those images.
An eye. A bird, maybe a crow.
A basket of wheat. A ladder.
Did the order of the images matter?
He cross-referenced similar texts.
He studied the history of the region
and satisfied many hours in the tablet's service.
In a cousin language, a ladder
was the word for happiness, to rise up,
to be lifted above the ordinary.
After years of work, he sorted it out.
It was poetry, bad poetry, adolescent:
"Today, I am happy,
happy all this day, today."


So this past week was a busy one. (And I'm hoping this next one will be extra quiet to make up for it).

It was our anniversary, my birthday, an Alberta Reader's Choice event, Rob's show opening in Calgary, and Mother's Day. I think I must be leaving a thing or two out....

And all I really want now, is to get back to the writing, to get back to a more disciplined practice.

I don't need time. What I need is a deadline.

-Duke Ellington

Last week we ate out several times - so not like us. People often ask how we survive on the income of artist and writer/library assistant. Part of the answer is - we don't eat out often, we don't get haircuts, or rarely. We're always asking what we can do away with, what can we cut. We're not deprived, though. Yes we drink the cheapest possible wines, but we drink wine. And on special occasions we splurge on some Lucky Buddha beer.

On the way home from Rob's show in Calgary we had a good laugh about how we're never going to be rich and how we're always going to struggle. We resolved to cancel our cable and our landline (which we should have done ages ago - who has a landline these days?) And maybe it's good to live frugally though we also live well enough. It's good to think of ways to simplify, to pare down.

So I hope to be very quiet this next week. I hope to chase blossoms with my camera and be outdoors as much as possible.

My birthday flowers are below. I want for nothing, and this isn't a bad way to feel as I begin my 50th year. It's strange how one waits so long for 50 to arrive. I've seen many friends celebrate the number in various ways. I'm not yet sure how I feel about it. It's not what I thought it would be, but maybe that will arrive in its own time, that other feeling that I always imagine would come at around now.

So. A quick round-up to end:





One last poem which I found on the blog Alive on All Channels:

In Your Ordinary Life….

by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

In your ordinary life,
with its handbag of pain
and your few little coins of success,
an entire star burns with pure glory,
a field of wildflowers exults.
This is not good luck, or physics gone wild.
It’s God.

What can you do, you who are made of delight,
but fall defenselessly in love with everybody,
and give yourself away
until you are pure song?
What can you do but
shuck off your burlap clothing,
catch fire
and dance?


  1. Lovely, as always, Shawna.

    I seem to remember a humorous quote by Douglas Adams, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."

    Congratulations on making the Finals in the Alberta Readers' Choice Awards! It is a wonderful book, I'm enjoying it.

    "Whatever happens. Whatever what is is is what I want. Only that. But that."

    1. Thanks, Paul. And yes, indeed - whatever happens.

  2. Oh, man. If we stopped going out for dinner we'd be millionaires.

    1. We all have our things, though, right. I should stop going to Winners, haha.

  3. Wishing you a belated but very happy birthday, Shawna. Another lovely post, thank you. xo

    1. Thank you! Lovely to see you here :)

  4. So many wonderful poems you've included here. Jane Kenyon's really hit me, it's going in my little notebook. I hope you had a lovely birthday and Mother's Day, Shawna. The one thing I remember about turning fifty is that it was the start of not caring about what other people was freeing. Spring continues to look amazing in your part of the world. These photos are bedazzling!

    1. I'm hoping that not caring thing kicks in - any time now :)

  5. Happy Birthday! Loved the last poem.

  6. Dear Shawna - You have been on my heart since I've heard about the fires. We live with threatening wildfires here in Oklahoma. I'm glad to hear you all are okay and I pray grace to those affected.

    Thank you for posting [(excuse my expression)] a butt-load of beauty! Your pics, poetry selections, and thoughts are always a tremendous blessing. You make me look forward to Mondays!
    I appreciate your honesty and wisdom.

    Happy Birthday! The best is yet to come. I'm two years shy of 50 and look forward to this Jubilee number! May you be recharged and re-fired from deep within. May you be curious and calm all the days of your life.

    1. Sandra - thanks so much for all of this. Love that expression :)

      And thank for the bday wishes and lovely comment all round!

  7. That beautiful bird bowl!!! I would drink and eat every meal from it. I would keep all my treasures inside it. It's a ceramic poem.

  8. happy, happy birthday, Shawna! 50 was not eventful for me-- I put in a 12 hour workday and I would agree that there was something missing in the way I felt about it. what are we really supposed to feel? society and its media isn't kind about women and aging but I can't say I worried much about that aspect of it.
    as far as the start of not caring what others think, it's occurring over a decade later than that for me. it took retiring to a quiet rural life to be able to screen out the chatter. now it is much easier.
    truly loved Brooklyn-- watched it twice last week on loan from our library. what a transporting film, and it gave me a lovely insight into my parents' world when they were a young married couple just before I was born.
    here's to being content drinking less expensive wines, eating in rather than out, and being rich in imagination and resourcefulness. life is endlessly satisfying if you make it so!


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