Everyone Has a Place Where Their Mind Comes Into Being

It was a long walk from the tip of Coley’s point, across a beach of smooth stones and almost as far as Mercer’s Cove where she had an aunt, to get to the Methodist school. One day, when the snow began to fall, Miss Butt, the teacher, said to her and her sister,

“You girls come home with me, and my brother will give you a ride home in the sleigh.”

They walked with the teacher a little ways, and then there was their father coming in his sleigh to meet them. They had a horse named Doll.  In summer, Doll was put out to pasture and she’d returned that year, coming down the long lane to their house, with a little foal. They called the foal, Forest, because it was born in the forest, and they used to play with it a lot and have fun with it, and jump over the fence when it came after them…. (Great Aunt Ellen)
We live on Forest Road, across from the hospital, with a view from our door down the slope to Quidi Vidi.  On nice days, I walk my daughter to Bishop Feild and Mrs. Gill’s classroom, and then up the hill and through the streets all the way to MUN.  Most days, though, when I go outside, it’s a struggle to get out of the door and up the stairs against the snow and wind. My neighbour, Richard Hanson, scrapes ice from the windshield of his car. His son, Christian, goes to school with my daughter, Xan, and Richard teaches at the University. Richard and I wear fake-fur hats (his have ear-flaps) and heavy jackets and are festooned with briefcases, computers, gloves. The children leap into the backseat of Richard’s car, finish eating toast and start gently bickering.

In late afternoons, I look out my office window: at first, with my west coast eyes, I’m searching for trees: where are they? What kind of landscape is this? Where’s the green? Over the weeks of the semester, I begin to find trees: little ones, bare-boned, and on some days gloriously pricked out in ice. I observe the colour of the sky and calculate whether it’s a good idea to walk back to the school or if I should take a taxi to pick up my daughter from after school care. Once I’m there, my upstairs neighbour whose daughter, Sarah, has become Xan’s best friend, often gives us a ride: in fact, our little nest has come with a built-in network of friends: Joan Clark and Ann Hart who found the house for us; the upstairs neighbour and his children and their mother down the hill; Richard and Janet next door, the Schrank’s, also at the University, a few doors up. The network expands into a web of writers, musicians, artists, academics. Highs and lows: Anne Budgell takes us to Deadman’s Pond to skate and we find a sofa encased in ice; I meet Sister Ann Ameen; I fail Noreen Golfman’s aerobics class. In the evenings I work, give readings or visit writer’s groups, read manuscripts; and then there’s the contests— for the CBC and various awards and prizes: at the Valentine erotic poetry reading, Lillian Bouzane spies me licking chocolate cake  from my fingers:

“Oh, can you still eat that?” she says….
My daughter and I walk to Belbin’s for most of our groceries.

She ate pease pudding tied up in a bag and boiled with meat and vegetables; bruise (hard tack boiled up with salt pork, cod fish and onion); bake apples from Labrador; blue berries. She’d go off and pick the blueberries while her mother worked in the big vegetable garden that her oldest brother, James had on his property.  He’d built a small shack on this property– which was as big as a city block— to live in while he was building his house. He was going to get married. She was just eight years old when he died. Her father wrote a poem: none of them went past grade four, but they read a great deal and he worked all his figures for carpentering and boat-building.

“A visit from the hand of death/Has caused us all to mourn,/For one we loved and prized so dear/has from our hearts been torn…”
Tuesday Nights
‘Every Tuesday night, during the worst winter in forty years in Newfoundland—at least, so they told me—a group of fourteen student poets and I- Memorial’s writer-in-residence for the winter semester—met to workshop poetry at the University.’ This is how I begin my introduction to the anthology, Once on a Tuesday Night, the students produce at the end of the semester. Several of them, including James Langer and Danielle Deveraux, have gone on to publish. But what strikes me about the poems now, is that each has something to say and I still want to listen. I’d heard, before classes began that the poet, Mary Dalton, laid on atmosphere for her poetry class: lamps from home draped in scarves, home-made cookies, music. Once they’d taken the measure of me, the class brought in giant boxes of donuts and pizza…. I loved their humour and the passion they brought to poetry. On Tuesday nights I took a taxi both directions: when I came home and paid Gillian, the babysitter, I’d find my daughter asleep in my bed.
Collage (from the students’ poems):
I am a poem
My form
Lies within
The boundaries of your thoughts

I can break a heart…
I can pray

I take the stones of these words
I travel deep into the skull
Until I can find a crack

Shapes float upward
Stirring the mirror face of quiet

Sometimes late a night
I like to dim
All but one tiny lamp
And watch you
Strip me bare

I stand alone in the snow
Smell the hair and the skin
Feel the voices on my neck, near my ear

The night sky lit
Landscapes, ice water clear

Let them hear the waves
That I’ve made your home.

Love is what happens
When the little arcs
That used to snap and fizz
Begin to hurt

Sometime in 1980, after I came back from living in Scotland, I painted a hill. It’s a simple image of wind-blown golden grass and above it a dark and turbulent sky. If you look closely you’ll see sea-birds flying. My husband, a Scot, thinks he knows where it is; but I knew when I painted it, it was an image I’d had in my mind as long as I can remember.
My father was born at the end of Gully’s Road on Coley’s Point where the Post Office is. His mother grew up in Mercer’s Cove. I lived with my grandparents in Victoria when I was small and from both grandparents, but particularly my grandmother, heard poetry. My grandfather also told stories, but my grandmother evoked places– none more so than French’s Cove, where her family had first settled, and I’d sit on her lap and think I could see it.
The hills are turfy like many I’ve seen in Scotland, and with long flat sweeps above the ocean. The wind howls in our faces as we walk down the track, with Chum, the dog, leading to the end where there are graves from the 1700’s. The site was too exposed, and so the original outport inhabitants moved further in: you can still see an old cellar, with birch bark between the stones for waterproofing, where they built. Little black birds flip and fly; we notice two dogs and a few sheep and a young man carrying a ghetto blaster pass along the horizon. I and my parents, who have come to visit, climb up behind where once laneways ran bordered with two- storey houses, and stand and look down to where far below there is wrack and rock, and we can only imagine the gardens and stages: but the wind is cold and my parents are elderly, and so we tuck in low behind a ridge where the grass is golden, long and tufty; and then my parents look at each other and smiling take hands, and they lie down on the earth. I lie beside them, and right in front of us there’s the hill, the one I absorbed through my skin.

Vol.34, No.2 Summer 2010 LUMINUS pg 12-13