The great steel knell of the building always being built
& the smooth expanse of silk that opens up between the river’s currents
& the white nicks of gulls clipping the spots where new leaves spring &
the trains clicking in their rails while a few people stray down
from the corner church, light skimming their clothes and the sky beyond
slips & slips past them.
All this is being alive in the world.
I cannot tell you how hard it is some days.
And now, to the furthest pylon I can see, a red barge is being tethered
with a long, damp coil of rope.
Anna Kuchkova, bookstores, Calgary, Canadian poetry, Designated Mourner, ECW press, Edmonton, elegies, grief, Karen Moe., Lainna Lane., Monique de St Croix, mourning, poet photos., poetry tours, poets, pubs, Vancouver
#1 Vancouver: The first event on my Designated Mourner tour (ECW Press, 2014), apart from the initial Grief Forms workshop I offered out of my New Westminster apartment, was held at the deliciously cozy Paper Hound Bookstore on Pender Street. There was an audience of about 13, all people I knew, including my ever supportive parents, a few writers (Jamie Reid, Dennis E Bolen), a couple of musicians, and three visual artists. I had decided I would begin every reading by singing 4 lines, then reciting the other 4 of the first piece in the book, Lung Poem, followed by reading Sonnet on You Not. At the end, for short recitations, I would close with the second poem in the book, Constellation, in an effort to create a kind of “textual resurrection” by reading the other poems from back to front, in essence bringing Chris, my deceased spouse and the subject of the book, “back to life.” For the Vancouver, Edmonton and perhaps Kingston events though, as I was and will be the solo performer, I thought I would end instead with the long poem in 13 parts called “The Nth Chambers of the Heart,” a piece that moves through many difficult registers and narratives of addiction, gentrification, love. Tonight, I recited it with the accompaniment of Anna Kuchkova, dark cellist. Apart from a few sludgy pronunciation moments, I think it went intensely well. I like the luxury of longer poems sometimes, despite their massive energy output, as one can lose oneself in the rhythms, sink into the space outside of repartee, introduction and immerse at depth. Luminous photographs, most of myself and the listeners laughing, though some harshly vulnerable, were snapped by Karen Moe. I sold about six books and went out for pizza afterwards 🙂 #2 Edmonton: I was nervous about returning to the city where Chris died, a place I had lived in for 3.5 years and where I had to flee when he became addicted the second to final time, losing my home, bands, animals, people I had called friends, our reading series, my writers’ group. But I also had hope that it would feel like a semi-homecoming and a fulfillment of one circle of this returning of poems to the world. That was to be in one sense and not in another. Yes, there were poets at the Empress Pub for the Olive Series like Lainna Lane (who took otherworldly photos of my solo performance) and Doug Barbour and artists such as Jenny Keith (who also let me stay two nights at her warm, cat-happy house) and musicians like Russ Drury, also one of Chris’s closest friends. But no other of his compatriots in the metal scene and next to no other writers attended. It was snowing yes, and there were colliding events. Time is just so brief though and one wants, on the road, to see as many people that one knows as possible in the limited hours, especially when those individuals carry emotional resonance. Regardless, I relished the largesse of two sets, one of lyrics, alone, and the other, when I jumped from the stage to the floor, and recited the lengthy piece into the mic, to the dual accompaniment of John Armstrong on Theramin and Izumi Kuribayashi on violin. At times, as with when I worked with the cellist, I felt I had to yell a bit too loudly to rise above the music, but mostly I was pleased with the way they created melodic themes, trailed off at intervals and with how I ended in silence. There were tears from audience members. Lots of embraces. Thea Bowering bought me a Magners cider. Eight books exchanged hands, including one to a teacher I had never met who told me how she still hasn’t recovered from her father’s death 15 years ago. A man, Alaistair, who had just come to the usually noisy bar for a drink, pounded the area around his heart and told me, “I like what you said though it was hard. Keep speaking of grief. You have profound talents. Thank you.” Then more drinks and long talks into the early dawn. #3 Calgary: Snow fell through my Red Arrow bus trip and onwards into the evening. I was fairly jubilant though a little exhausted from staying at my brother’s house and being auntie to his six kids under seven all day prior to the reading 🙂 The reading (after a lovely bowl of soup and chit chat with 12 poets at the Rose & Crown Pub) was held at Shelf Life Books, hosted by the Single Onion series. This was my first group performance and I read last after the humorous hockey poet, Keith Worthington and the generous river-historian poet, Bruce Hunter, following a break where the crowd of about 38 listeners (many this time being writers, among them Nikki Reimer, Kimmy Beach, Micheline Maylor, & Kirk Miles) munched on cheese and grapes while sipping wine and browsing the wonderful selection of titles in all genres. I started with my song-poem, forgetting in my weariness one word and replacing it in the moment – “accept” became “escape” – I don’t know how the one word was lost, the other found, but if I was irritated at myself for failing, I was relieved that an alternative suggested itself so quickly, that perhaps no one noticed and that I continued to sing on-key. I felt very comfortable in this space with these people. They laughed, were hushed, wiped their eyes, were held in the moment. Afterwards, until the bookstore closed, conversation washed all over the room & photos were snapped by Monique de St Croix & hugs were had. One man wouldn’t stop telling me how much he enjoyed the reading, how he had never experienced anything like it and how important talking about mourning is. Anne Sorbie brought me back to her lavishly calm home afterwards, I not only feeling content at having signed nine books but at feeling so much connection with Calgary’s artists. I slept so very deeply as the snow continued to ignore April, all night long.
What they don’t tell you about grief.
Did they tell you anything?
Funerals were mute on what now with their innocuous sandwiches, reminiscences
from the pulpit, rhetoric-coloured memories, embalmed flowers.
Perhaps then a small moment of weeping.
And after, the weeks, months and so on?
What they don’t tell you about grief is almost everything.
There are no packaged stages; no set timelines.
In that doubled darkness – the loss, this silence – you continue your piecework
of a life – most do at least – and the years are supposed to pass into forgetful
happiness – O yes, they tell us this – that “time heals all wounds” – a lie
of course, not that it gets worse, harder, but in some way no one shares with you,
it does – there is no protection from forever after awhile – and so every day
starts with that sad, hungry gong – gone always, always gone – there is no
consolation for this – the grey light begins and with it,
what they did not tell you about grief.
Always, your family lived by water,
each summer spent their days on a smallish
sloop, beer & sandwiches in the hold,
on the deck, layers of inflatable dinghies
ready to become ideas of paradise, pumped up, pitched
into the cold Elysium of Okanagan Lake.
A picture of you at 15 in the boat’s plastic seat:
ball cap, white Marvel shirt, a grin of such innocence,
as if, wholly, you were innocent, smiling like a child
first learns to walk, hesitance spreading to ecstasy,
no knowledge that you were in midlife already,
that in less than 15 years you would be dead, the day
was so bright; everything held the sun.
[for Chris Matzigkeit, 1981-2010]
A Birthday poem for Chris (February 27th)
Germany we had planned for your birthday, or Bergen
Or, finances lacking, a dog sledding trip in Banff,
The destination not the point, just that this would be your 30th,
No, would have been had you not died six weeks after
Your 29th. All ages were contained in you. Some days
I called you “puppy,” others “Gramps,” eyes shifting between
Vivid giddiness, sweet liquidity and routine’s weary glaze.
And yet, you wanted to age so much, loved the thought of grey,
A slower pace, even infirmity through which we would lie
Together, calm. You wept at seniors holding hands.
You were like no young man I ever knew. Or will ever know again.
Now what does growing old hold? No you there
To hope for a vision of my long white hair, and music
Between us—softer, but there, still.
From the shore, a few dark boats.
The ocean with its shushshushshush to all that’s past.
Tonight I dreamed of your return.
Nothing new in this but the lessened pain.
Sometimes I ask what more can I give
You’ve been gone so long now.
And still the time of salt retreats and in its place
I wait within the long life line of mountains.
The last, un-mastered, song recorded by the former duo of Medea with Catherine Owen on lyrics/bass/vocals & Malachi on guitars & drum machine.
Video: Catherine as The Mad Widow along with clips of bones & grasses, shot by the Canon Rebel and edited in Video Pad.
It is what it is. RIP (again).
LYRICS (by Catherine & Euripedes)
Only to be alive/to be alive/and see the light/is beautiful (x 2)/ only to see the light/to see a blade/of young grass. Only to see the light/to see the gray/face of stone
You are/ruined/You are/gone from/ this earth.
for Chris Matzigkeit (1981-2010)
I remember being on the other side with you
driving from Edmonton to Vancouver
seeing the train go through the mountain pass
between Kamloops & Jasper
stopping by the emerald pool
for you to smoke, me stretch, our dog crouching to piss
on the edge of the pebbled embankment, whip whip whip
the iron animal undulate and a dream, its whistle’s
uninterpretable ache. Now I am on that train,
there are cars across the creek, people waving,
unfastened by nostalgia and I imagine one is you,
nodding at me from beyond this impasse, I am
moving fast, you are standing still, you will never leave
this place, young & having a smoke, that simple, damaged pleasure,
boulders raw in the water, here & there, an unmoored flank of ice.