12 words

her holy hands scorch me
that effervescent grin
the laugh that went into the candle wax
those splashing eyes
her fingers a myriad of vowels, of consonants
that eclectic thing she does when she breathes me in
her winsome writing dress
introspection is where she stepped onto the bus
murmuration is where she got off
our trinity involves flannel, soft grass, omelettes
i made her mulligatawny soup for breakfast
she sang vespers for me in the bath

trocadero

My brother started collecting squirrel skulls at the age of seven. But it is not yet time for madness to enter the story.

My mother found a ring at the Canadian National Exhibition Princess Gates. But it is not yet time for turquoise to enter the story.

I fell in love on the Paris Metro. But it is not time for Trocadero to enter the story.

Still, we have to enter somehow, with the story of something. So how about the story of the thimble in my jewelry box – and how it is the only thing left from my father’s house. He burned mom’s recipes and gave away her coats. Who would want them? he asked the daughter, seriously.

So I rescued her thimble and keep it preserved. And I guess that in itself is a little bit of madness and, in fact, is proof that it’s never too early for madness to enter a story.

Collecting squirrel skulls is certainly madness. My brother didn’t kill the squirrels, I hope you didn’t think that; that would be seriously mad. No, he just saved and preserved skulls he found in the woods; he had good eyes, good skills for such a thing. Our father had been a naturalist and taxidermist from the age of 13 so in our family this sort of thing was considered not even close to madness. When my father’s mother, my grandmother Clem, killed herself at 38, her madness was swept under the rug. His collections of bird and small animal skulls provided some kind of intricate, earthy solace.

The ring? Why did I save my mother’s thimble instead of the turquoise ring? I don’t know, really. The thimble seemed more her to me. She sewed some clothes for me with it. If you know what I mean.

trocadero-2I’m starting to think the turquoise ring would fit better inside a story about love on the Paris Metro. So now it is time to introduce Trocadero to the story.

There is no Eiffel Tower stop, you see; you have to know that you get off at Trocadero if you want the best view of the tower. There is a flat plane leading up to it, and always lots of people selling Eiffel Tower trinkets. Key chains. Pens. Sunglasses. Statuettes. Bottled mineral water that says Evian on the label but you suspect has been replaced with tap water. Counterfeit Evian. Paris is just that kind of place. You love and trust it even as you are suspicious of everything.

Trocadero. Did I really find love there? Seriously? No.

But I really love the sound of Trocadero. Troc-a-de-ro. Trocadero. I also love the sound of Vavin – which is a Metro stop close to another Paris tower – the less famous, big black monolith of Montparnasse that’s world-class ugly and completely soul-less. Apparently there is a view, but why would you go up to see that when you can just sit in the Odessa Cafe and enjoy the swirling sepia tones of the City of Light?

Vavin. Va-vin … Va va va voom … TROCADEEEEEEERO!

I fell in love with a boy on the Paris Metro. He was wearing a turquoise ring and reminded me a bit of my little brother. He made art that induced madness in squirrels.

Fighting Normal – Making Sense of Mental Illness

Lovely story in today’s Edmonton Journal previewing our art show at VAA Gallery:

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/Visual+arts+preview+Making+sense+mental+illness/7862273/story.html

MacFayden & Willans; photo by Fish Griwkowsky

MacFayden & Willans; photo by Fish Griwkowsky

hallelujah moments

1. the first time i rode a two-wheeler, dad’s steadying hand at the ready but not necessary. hallelujah!

2. the time mom suggested i use a bigger bat because i was older now, and i resisted, but she insisted, so to please her i tried joey’s louisville slugger and swung hard and i hit a home run. hallelujah! my mom is smart, and i am a champion.

3. that time a boy in a wheelchair told me i have a nice aura.

4. motherless at 27; feeling mostly lost, cold, broken and fat. the sculptor next door tells me he used to watch me sunbathing on the roof when i still lived at home. hallelujah! i had a teenage body somebody thought was worth leering at. wait – hallelujah! – you’re a creep. no wonder your wife left you. do all art teachers sleep with their students?

5. i have always always always lived alone. orphaned at three, disconnected forever. there is a manhattan cafe that feels more like family. the chelsea hotel read my book! hallelujah!

6. racing off the end of the dock. no sharks. no rocks. the water is freezing, but i am not going under. i will survive. hallelujah!

7. if you tell enough lies you can get out of synchronized swimming AND piano recitals. hallelujah!

8. recipe for light getting in (come back to this).

9. hallelujah! your life is not wasted just because you are not a world-famous filmmaker. there is joy in quiet mornings and long prairie skies.

10. that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. she left; i didn’t die. another she left, and i did cry, but … hallelujah! i found swing, bourbon and boogie streets without them. hallelujah! thanks for the memories. didja get my postcards?

11. barefoot crooners with white linen suits and banjos. hallelujah!

12. The company of writerly women. hallelujah!

13. hey, that’s no way to say goodbye during sunday dinner and oh brother you were such a bastard. thank g-d you found your hallelujah.

14. the moment the titanium meets the canary and the cobalt and the perfect sky comes out the end of my eternally grateful brush. hallelujah!

15. the blessed communion of asparagus, lemon, garlic.

16. the realization you are holy within and fuck the without.

17. hallelujah! the trees.

18. hallelujah! the river.

19. hallelujah! the wild blue, yonder. the adult moment when you realize ‘yonder’ is a direction, not a coloured noun.

20. flannel plaid and plaid flannel. sensible shoe hallelujah.

21. corduroy bellbottoms.

22. fried cheese and lager. hallelujah!

23. anonymous valentines. someone out there loves me! hallelujah!

24. stones, roses, ribbons, glass hearts. the lovelies rowing across my living room pond on a snowy sabbath. hallelujah!

25. blessings are plentiful when you remember where to look. sometimes you need a flashlight. sometimes you just glide.

26. constellations and ducks, omelettes and libraries, bridges and broken angels. hallelujah times a million for all of these things.

27. there is a place on the bliss trail called hallelujah point. i buried my old scared self there.

28. the big aha: that hallelujah moments are not so much giant koans as tiny flickers in the mitochondria.

29. is a prime number on which to end. hallelujah!

montparnasse

la gare

seen better in black and white
seen best through a brasserie glass
how can i tell you: it felt like home
from the first inhalation

down on the other corner is the cemetery
where simone du beauvoir and jean-paul sartre, seeking eternal rest,
are pestered daily by well-meaning fans leaving stones, coins, metro tickets
still, it beats lying next to jim morrison over in pere lachaise
that one’s like a bloody airport, crowds of people pushing and weeping
looking to pocket fragments of the famous: chopin dust, piaf crumbs
smearing the pink tomb of oscar wilde with lipstick kisses

edgar quinet is the metro stop
ringed by art stores, pharmacie, cafe la liberte, news stand.
there is creperie row, and opposite is rue de la gaite
you can pick up asian takeaway and X-rated video on your way to la gare.
down that spoke is the cyber cube where you can rent an english keyboard
and on rue delambre there’s a laundry next to cath & dave’s hotel.
there are loads more art stores; you said you like to paint?
and café dietetique, where the food is not salted
but it makes you feel lucky.

wednesday means street market, where the most brazen of eggplants
and strawberries compete for your love with cheeses and other-wordly olives
and fresh cut flowers and paisley ties and pickpockets.
there are tablecloths and genuine french berets
and leathers and imported scarves
there are small dogs attached to large owners, and satchels,
and not as many people smoke anymore.

on sundays the mussels and vegetables are replaced by etchings and small sculptures.
art invades this street. the vendors will ship it to your house
on the other side of the world.

sometimes there’s a flea market with bird cages and old dolls
no photos please, monsieur, you must stop your camera merci beaucoup

we can sit now in cafe odessa, the most darling of all my french mistresses.
she reeks of tobacco and beer and her music is a tired loop of hits
from the american ’80s.
her upholstery is worn, and in some places torn
but we don’t care. we tell ourselves it’s charming,
in the same way the waiters pretend to find our canadian accents charming.
we know they’re making fun of us
and we don’t care.
we order beer named after french gnomes, even though you wanted a coffee.
beer is cheaper, madame; you might as well get that.

this neighbourhood is even better at night. all the outside chairs are taken;
people talk and eat and glasses tinkle
and motorbikes zoom past and drunks amble by
muttering obscenities (which always sound fiercer en francais)
and shaking their fists at le ciel

and this is where picasso and hemingway liked to party
wait, you mean you didn’t know that?

at another cafe a cat sits on the tables,
a case of black-cat ass right on your linen napkin.
i took a picture of it through the window one time
kitty bum snuggled right next to the cutlery
i do not recommend dining there

on another corner, buses. the ugly black tower.
a department store that sells the finest cheap lemon vervaine soap
and those striped shirts that make me wish i was a russian sailor
cinema, patisserie, pain au chocolat, tarte au citron
sweetest of all is that screeching metal-burnt sugar smell of the paris underground
how can i tell you it has held my heart
for a thousand years?