we stood in the middle of the inbetween

(for Garry – today would have been your 60th birthday)

At Latitude 16, the moon hangs in the night sky

a crooked smile

a lunar apostrophe, a haunting.

It was edging out of dark when my daughter

and I rose at dawn to drive a winding road

through this dry land.

The inbetween awaited us.

A small boat and kayak took us the rest of the way.

We felt his presence where he had never been.

Telling stories, we remembered him, there.

How his dust to dust settles into a narrow sandy beach

that disappears during the season of tropical rains.

Remember him. His voice.

How do you imagine the dead?

A littoral place he had never been.

In the dry season, we stood in the middle of the inbetween.

On one edge of the beach, the Pacific blue ocean waves

sweep you out to sea in untameable rip tides.

On the interior inland lip of sand –

the smooth blue green calm of river-fed lagoon

stretches toward the Sierra Madres.

The inbetween awaited us.
The place where flowers walk on water.
Where birds proliferate like leaves.

How do you name the dead in the place of inbetween?

Every tall branch, a perch for Agami Heron,

Boat-billed Heron, American Bittern, Black-crowned

Night Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron,

Green Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron,

Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Bare-throated

Tiger Heron, Snowy Egret.

How do you regret the dead in the place of inbetween?

On each post, a landing for Whimbrel,

Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit,

Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot,

Surfbird.

How do you mourn the dead in the place of inbetween?

You name the living.

In swampy shallows Black-bellied Whistling Duck,

Masked Duck, Ruddy Duck,

Canvasback and Redhead,

Ring-necked and Cinnamon Teal,

Mallard and Northern Pintail,

Muscovy and Wood.

Count the grief in the flap of wings,

the sound of flight.

Remember your hand on a paddle, your arm arcs above.

What arrived with your stride and hat?

You – devoted uncle and friend and lover and brother and son

your smile, wry

crooked with laughter

a lair of fun

and love, your embrace

a big hug from above

a tall man, you wore your hats tall too

motherless too young,

you taught us kindness

and play in everyday zones

like dinner and dishes

(delight staves off despair)

you taught us love of wild zones

a solitude of solitudes

of water and forest

in ice cave and the deep

long darkness of winter nights

you taught the virtue of

a light in the window

a home, to tend

to care, to mind

It was edging out of dark when we rose at dawn.

The inbetween awaited us.

We took this road to arrive.

We remembered him, there. You
Your hand on a paddle, arm arcing above.
Smile, wry, knowing. Your lair of loving fun.
On one side, the Pacific blue ocean crashes
Waves will sweep you out to sea in untameable rip tides.
On the other inland edge of the beach
Smooth blue green calm of a river-fed lagoon
stretches your journey toward the Sierra Madres.
.
Laguna de Manieltepec , Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico

the wear and tear of this beautiful difficult sassy knowledge

IMG_5769 (1)


I

While writing my dissertation during the 1980s, I worked on Sounding Differences, my collection of interviews with Canadian women writers. I called them “oral essays” to indicate the way this generative exploration project worked to empower a chorus of voices – a notion . While infused with differentiated power relations, the collectivity of women I interviewed revised the canon beyond the distinguished female triumvirate of Margaret (Atwood), Margaret (Laurence) and Alice (Munroe).

My thinking was not original – but shaped by this earlier second-wave notion of difference as generative of “difficult conversations that can be life-saving” in Sara Salem’s words.

I was inspired by feminist film critic and art critic friends who introduced me to Trinh T. Minh-ha whose theoretical and cinematic work remains an inspiration. In Woman, Native Other (1989), she wrote:

“you and I are close, we intertwine; you may stand on the other side of the hill once in awhile, but you may also be me while remaining what you are and what I am not.”
 I may be on another hill further away. But this distant nearness of  our “intertwine” is an implication acknowledging the interior diss-identification of an origami fold. A cutting, a grafting that takes.



II


Mothering, interracial, adoptive,
reaffirms
an origami fold,
occasionally torn,
sometimes shorn,
of our undying days,
sleepless nights,
live-long years together,
daughtering,
mothering,
this rapport between
a 65-year-old mother and
an 18-year-old daughter unfolds.
with
the wear and tear of
difficult
sassy
knowledge,
an acknowledgement
in our bones
of how
lives
are lived
in this
unevenly
staged
world.
 IMG_5720


 

III

 




IV

 


IMG_5647
On a rip-tide Mexican beach at a sunny Spanish colonial resort
thinking of boredom of deluxe indulgence
of the first tourist t-shirt
glimpsed  on arrival –  
SUN’S OUT
GUNS OUT
(without the punctuation)

 

 



V

turquoise pools meander between
clipped fuschia & chartreuse
bougainvillea hedge funds
a watery lipless horizon
acres of white empty plates
groan stainless steel and
porcelain bowls of luscious
ceviche, salsa, guacamole,
chipolte-reddened fish
chocolate chicken mole
delicately tied tamales
steamed to perfection
ice creamed bins, farting
triple layer cheesecake
artful bamboo hidden Japanese sushi rolls
black tureened lobster bisque
careening carnivals of carved fruit
secret fish today, a sea bird tomorrow,
all day every day rainbow hilled
chopped pineapple, papaya, mango, melon
IMG_5723 copy
scales

 

before bed an 8:30pm performance of Michael Jackson lip-syncing,

Aztec psychedelia and swirling moebius looped Mexican skirts
late night drunken songs of weddings
sand between their ears

 

IMG_5744 (1)

and everywhere top heavy chef hats working
alongside friendly name-tags of aproned maids
anonymously shy
wandering smiles of mojito-laden waiters
all for tips, given or taken away
generous with their time
in conversation, the give and take of
my stilted Spanish the limit case of
what gracias
we know and not
IMG_5708
meanwhile from our fake 1%er perch
atop a white wrought iron fenced stone wall
a man in a bathing suit motions to the air along the shore
and white cotton-suited men women on the beach
offer brilliant enamelled bowls, striped multi-coloured
hand-woven blankets, t-shirts that name this place
for almost nothing.


VI


IMG_5751Thinking this in response to our few mother/daughter days together in bliss and in irritation, the back and forth of our closeness, as we lie on a rip-tide Mexican beach at a sunny Spanish colonial resort.
Where a young man drowned today of a seizure or a heart attack.
The American couple at the next table, shocked by their loss, tell us the story of his last words in the ocean. On the way back to the boat. About feeling unwell.
The shocked couple at the next table tell us about the guilt of the young male survivors, all friends, the fruitless attempt to return for him.
His lifeless body. His friends who could have done nothing to save him.
The story unfolds as though it cannot not be told.
Over and over and over and over again.
The couple at the next table tell us they are in plumbing and heating. They travel here to this resort annually. In the company of forty of their employees.
They tell us over again and then apologize. And we squeeze their hands. And they tell us again of the telephone call to the forty-year old deceased man’s parents.
That impossible conversation about drowning.
And we listen and talk in this fragility of being here now.
To sit together straining between tables at dinner talking of loss and death and love and compassion….


VII


Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 8.42.23 AM
All tonight’s writing started with this reading thanks to a colleague. The text made me think about the necessary and  irritating and incommensurable inconsolable chasms of misunderstanding and pain that are occasioned in the gaps between us.
“This generation is told that diversity is a good thing, it shows that we don’t need radical politics anymore because equality is near. Ultimately it has acted as a very depoliticizing tool. Through certain institutions and people, including the university, the idea of difference was de-radicalized, sanitized, and turned into the neoliberal-friendly idea of diversity. Many feminists have written about the problems with diversity as a concept, including the amazing Sara Ahmed. Diversity can never be a radical notion, or even a political one. But I had never noticed this particular genealogy: that those using the idea of diversity in feminism probably drew directly from these feminists of colour in the 1960s, 70s and 80s who spoke of difference.
But when these women spoke of difference, they spoke of it at two levels: the differences between women of colour and white women, which are, as Minh-ha, writes, awkward, difficult, fraught with tension. And then there are the differences among women of colour, or women of colour in the West and Third World women, or lesbian women and heterosexual women, and so on. In other words, there is a binary at play here that distinguishes different levels of difference. Not all differences are equally valuable. And not all differences should be treated in the same way. Differences between women of colour are very real, but these can act as a source of energy and inspiration. These are the types of differences that propel movements forward, that lead to difficult conversations that can be life-saving. In other words, these differences are very valuable.
This is not to say that differences between women of colour and white women are invaluable, or only cause harm. I have always believed that these differences are also important to discuss, interrogate, try to unpack. But this must be done while bearing in mind that there is a specific hierarchy always there, and not necessarily in the background. And when it is a material and ideological hierarchy, rather than simply vertical divisions, it can be difficult to unite and struggle together for the same causes.
The point is that they saw difference in a very positive light because they understood difference differently than we do today, where the term has been repackaged. Differences between women had to be acknowledged, because they were responding to first and second wave feminism that insisted on universal sisterhood. Difference was therefore something productive, a way of uniting to create a different type of society. This was never framed as something easy, or based on simplistic notions of quotas or tokenism. It was always based on radical political struggle and change. Today we have learned to assume that difference is accepted, and that it is not political. But it seems to me that returning to this more radical understanding of differences could act as a very important source of energy for critical, radical, decolonial and postcolonial feminists today.”

Janice Williamson writes “the turquoise sea”: a personal essay on suicide and survivors

(First  published in AlbertaViews Jan/Feb 2010, this won a Silver Medal in the 2011 National Magazine Awards and was a finalist for the Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Prize in Alberta. This is a slightly revised version of the original publication.)
 

The Turquoise Sea


What are we whole or beautiful or good for
but to be absolutely broken.
                                           Phyllis Webb


As though nostalgic for his Manitoba boyhood, my father points to his beloved hunting rifle. Transforming his fingers into a silent trigger, he touches his temple and says, “Sometimes I want to take that gun off the wall and blow my brains out.”

My father’s eyes are hooded and dark as he shows me how the skin peels off the back of his hands. “Stress,” he explains modestly, his face lined with sleepless fatigue. I feel awkward in an unfamiliar living room. On this my first visit to the suburban house where my father lives with his new love and her two children, I enter his new domestic life like a visitor to a foreign country. Lost in the limbo of in-between, my father is caught in a long look back. It has been two years since my parents’ separation after decades of intermittent misery. Confused and ambivalent, he refuses to grant my mother a divorce.

Later he’ll call to tell me he loves me, but this morning he’s enmeshed in what ails him. New American owners have bought out the Quebec manufacturer that supplies snowmobiles to his Ontario distribution company. He predicts this change will shut down his business since local distributors become redundant when ownership is transferred south of the border. My father doesn’t tell me he has become a useless middleman. But I’ve studied political economy and know he’s another statistic in branch-plant Canada. Continue reading “Janice Williamson writes “the turquoise sea”: a personal essay on suicide and survivors”