Today

I see it reflected in the cocked

eye of a seagull,

a bustling day of plums.

The wind finds me swung

inside the hammock

of a hunched plum tree.

It brings the taste

of cement and grass –

the sun is ploughing

its August fields.

Juice fills my teeth.

I’m not hungry

but I suck every plum

to the pit with a feeling

of accomplishment.

Still, the juice

dribbles down

my forearm

in a map of my veins.

Canada geese prowl

the afternoon’s yellow lawn.

Their behinds step

in rhythm with the park’s

waddling toddlers

whose grass-stained knees

are marks of freedom.

Chinese crabbers bend

their necks

over sloshing buckets

like herons,

admiring the feast of red

with patient hands.

I let the sun slip between

my dangled toes

until it finds the horizon.

Poem In Your Pocket Day

This fall, my mother introduced me to the Wednesday Poem. Every Wednesday since 1998, my mother’s friend Elizabeth Salper has been sending out poems to a gradually larger group of people – so large, in fact, that she started a blog dedicated the Wednesday Poem. Between now and my first Wednesday, last November 25, I have received twenty three poems. Some I liked, some I didn’t, but I read each one faithfully.

With every cup of tea we shared, the broken lines of these regular visitors took hold of me and gradually added to my love of poetry. Through them, I discovered that sometimes a poem can unravel your mind, just as Katie describes in her post on Jack Johnson’s songs. Their words are quieter, more discreet than songs but are more present for me. They ask for my full attention, not willing to blend into the background of my everyday activities.

Last Friday, I decided to help share what has been shared with me. Armed with nine poems in my pocket, I entered school prepared to spread the word about Poem In Your Pocket Day, part of National Poetry Month. The night before, instead of doing my homework, I had carefully selected some of my old and new favourites for a few of my teachers and friends.  Here is the list:

Mr. SliziakDusting, Marilyn Nelson

Mr. Jackson – Why Latin Should Still Be Taught in School, Christopher Bursk

Ms. MulderCrossings, Ravi Shankar

KikoSmall Talk, Eleanor Lerman

KateSea Canes, Derek Walcott

KatieAlice at Seventeen: Like a Blind Child, Darcy Cummings

ClareFirst Fig, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Louise Eating Poetry, Mark Strand

AndreaMushrooms, Sylvia Plath

I got more excited every time I handed out a poem. In each of them I found something of myself and, as they left my hand, I found myself holding my breath, hoping that my recipients would find the same home between those printed letters.

By the end of lunch, I had no poems left. I entered my third period class a little disappointed. Watching corners of bent paper inching their way out of my friends’ jeans, I felt the emptiness of my own pocket tangibly.

“Ariana!” my science teacher called me over. She handed me an inconspicuous sheet of plain printer paper. “Mr. Sliziak dropped this over for you.” I turned it over to find a poem sitting there, waiting. The Meaning of Existence by Les Murray. Three days later, it is still in my pocket.

Poet Project

I first met Lorna Crozier at the start of my in-depth project, when my mother brought home Inventing the Hawk from the local library. Lorna Crozier’s graceful language and unexpected metaphors drew me into the treads of her words. I took the book to school and flipped through it during Spanish class, finding the world of discoveries within its bent covers and eagerly sharing them with my surrounding friends.

Eventually, I had to return the book. I have, however, kept Lorna Crozier at the back of my mind ever since. So, when my English teacher assigned each student to pick a poet, I knew that Lorna Crozier would be a perfect choice. (Also, my mother offered to buy me Lorna Crozier’s most recent book if I chose her as my poet.)

For those who don’t know, Lorna Crozier is a Canadian poet who lives on Vancouver Island. She has taught creative writing at several universities, been a writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto, and been an arts show host for CBC Radio (my favourite station). Her book Inventing the Hawk won the 1991 Governor General’s Award.

Babies, babies, babies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s time to implement more support programs for aboriginal children and youth.  The Aboriginal fertility rate, at 2.25 babies per woman, is 1.5 times that of the overall Canadian population. Aboriginals are one of the only segments of the population that is growing without help from immigration. However, we are still not adequately acknowledging their contribution, just as we haven’t done in the past.

In the 1700s, faced with a colony of bachelor Frenchmen, the government of New France encouraged church-sanctioned marriage between natives and whites. Both the church and the state saw the attraction of such unions: more converts and a boost to the population of New France.

Problems, however, arose with the dream of “one people.” Natives and French Traders had a tolerance for marriages not blessed by the Church, which distressed the French state and the Catholic Church. In addition, the mixed babies, who became known as Metis, didn’t all assimilate into French society. Many didn’t appreciate the constraints of the Catholic Church and the French state. They stayed with their mothers, taking on “savage” ways.

When the availability of French wives increased in the 18th century, the government shifted its policy towards discouraging intermarriage. It brought over “filles du roi” – orphaned French girls – to marry French colonists and provide French babies. The Metis and their native counterparts, unwanted, were pushed to the periphery of society.

Today, we are again facing a shortage of babies. Despite our immigration rates having risen to 0.8% in recent years (one of the highest per capita rates in the world), Canada is facing an alarmingly ageing population. A combination of lower fertility rates and higher life expectancy mean that elderly persons currently take up 13% of the Canadian population and are projected to take up 25% by 2031. Our fertility rate, which is now at 1.5 babies per woman, has been below replacement since 1971.

Now is the time to recognize Canada’s Aboriginals for doing their bit. After all, our social programs – healthcare, pensions, unemployment insurance – depend on the workforce being the largest section of the population. Yet, Aboriginal children are in a delicate position. Infant mortality rates are twice to three times as high in Aboriginal communities as in other Canadian communities (2004 statistic). The suicide rate among Aboriginals is two to six times that of the overall Canadian population (2004 statistic). Rates of premature deaths are four times that of the overall Canadian population (2005 statistic). This is not to mention that about 58% of Aboriginal students on reserves won’t graduate from high school (2006 statistic).

What do these numbers mean? They mean that we need to provide more programs and support for our Aboriginal children and youth. Babies are a true investment in our future as a country and Aboriginals are providing us with lots of babies. We need to make sure they grow up to be productive members of society. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past and ignore the contributions of our Aboriginals.

Blogging Challenge 4

British Columbia license plates all read “Beautiful British Columbia.” They don’t lie. Glancing out my window right now, I am surrounded on all sides by blue-green mountains. Behind me, their snowy peaks disappear into the smudge of low-lying clouds. The snow, light at this time of year, lies like a layer of icing sugar sifted down from the heavens. Between the trees in front of my house, I can see an arm of the ocean. Vancouver Island blocks the waves from reaching us here and so the ocean is a calmer being than its wild sister. Its smile dimples as it receives the rain. In my yard, the pink flowers of a plum tree provide contrast against the deep eternal green of the background hemlock and spruce.

the inlet beside my house

the inlet beside my house

I can’t imagine living anywhere other than in Greater Vancouver. The lapping ocean and the steady presence of the forest provide too much of the rhythm of my life for me to give them up. My friends and I walk to school in the mornings and, when silence falls over us, I listen to the sound of the chickadees as the morning mist rises. At night, when I take my dog for his evening stroll, we stop at the beach near my house. With our feet in the sand we watch patterns of lights in the water change amid the motion of the sea. The crisp air of dawn and the quiet air of dusk clear my lungs and put my troubles in perspective beside the immensity of the natural world.

I don’t think humans will ever fully understand Mother Nature. This doesn’t bother me: I prefer the mystery. However, I think not knowing makes other people afraid. They hide in city apartments where the wilds are confined by cement and TV screens. It makes me sad because if everybody saw what I see in nature, I think we would find a better way of preserving it.

I have found the beauty in my woods and I hope you find the beauty in your own landscape, too, wherever you live.

Challenge 4 of the Student Blogging Challenge asked for participants to explain what they do to help the environment. For my part, I volunteer at a salmon hatchery and helped to start the Green Team at my school. This past summer, I worked at a camp run by Metro Vancouver Parks to introduce youth to parks and teach them about environmental stewardship.

P.S I think this post counts for my answer to Challenge 3 as well.

Finding Allie Caulfield

After writing four posts on Catcher in the Rye, I decided to mix it up a little. So, here is a poem I wrote about Holden Caulfield’s relationship with his dead brother, Allie. It is an extension on one of my previous posts about the two of them.

 

Finding Allie

 

The road is slick with

gasoline rainbows

and when the light

descends,

falling

from the cracked wing

of a street lamp

or from the bedside

window of a woman,

its glimmer

thick with shampoo,

the city finds gentle fire.

Worn flames

pass through the streets,

burning like a procession

of lost souls.

 

I wait while the earth spins,

trying to find

you between the grey lines

of the city, there among

coloured lights

that look so much like

Christmas.

Blogging Challenge 1

If I were to choose something that represented me most, it would be my writing. There is a place deep inside me that keeps my words. When I write, I draw my letters from that well and from inside myself. The words that spill onto my page take with them the memory of my inner secrets, even if they don’t speak them aloud.

In September of this school year, my English teacher announced that he had made each student in the class a blog where we would post our writing. I wasn’t thrilled. I didn’t want to share my words with the world. Over time, however, I have come to change my opinion of blogging.

It started in November, when my class was writing speeches. We posted them on our blogs and then began a comment extravaganza, with everybody giving and receiving constructive criticism on second, third, and even fourth drafts. When we finally presented our finished product to our parents, siblings, and teachers, we wowed everybody. Since then, a larger and larger handful of the class is sharing non-required posts on their blogs. People have written about visiting the cemetery, meeting old classmates on the bus, and even lucky pennies. I feel that each time I read somebody’s ponderings, I know them a little better. The whole class, I think, has become a closer thanks to our blogs.

So, to answer the first question posed by the student bloging challenge, why should people visit my blog? Because then I will visit theirs and we will become a community of bloggers, linked beyond just one classroom or one country. Because then the world won’t be such a large place.

A Boy and his Cigarette

They slouch behind the back gate of my high school with sagging pants and sagging faces. I see them as I leave for the bus stop, right hands holding cigarettes, left hands draped in their pockets. I don’t stop to wonder what they’re thinking: the divide between us is palpable and, following a strict, unspoken code, we avoid eye contact.

I broke the rules once. As I stood under the bright winter sun waiting for the 97 B-Line, a stream of smoke floated to settle above my friends and me.  The smell was the same one engrained into my memory of my grandmother and into the tablecloths we inherited from her after she died of lung cancer. I turned towards the boy and his cigarette.

“Will you please stop smoking upwind of us? Do you know that what we’re breathing in has twice the amount of nicotine as what you are?”  He gave me a blank, confused stare.  Maybe he didn’t speak English or maybe he just couldn’t fathom why I was talking to him and, even beyond that, reprimanding him.

Holden Caulfield is a smoker and a “bad” boy. He drinks, hires prostitutes, and discusses sex. Under any normal circumstances, my eyes would never meet his. I would never learn about Allie (I’ll get to him later) or Holden’s stark social commentary. I could probably walk by Holden every day and not glance past the look on his face and the cigarette in his hand. J.D. Salinger gave me the opportunity to see through Holden Caulfield’s exterior.

Holden Caulfield describes himself as “one of those very yellow guys,” meaning cowardly. He says this in relation to not confronting the thief who stole his gloves. However, I think he means it in a deeper sense, as well. Maybe part of the reason Holden rejects the world is to protect himself from the emotions inside him that he is too afraid to face.  When Holden was thirteen, his brother, Allie, died of leukemia.

“I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it. I even tried to break all the windows in the station wagon we had that summer, but my hand was already broken and everything by that time, and I couldn’t do it. I was a very stupid thing to do, I’ll admit, but I hardly didn’t even know I was doing it, and you didn’t know Allie. “

Allie’s death is a wound that Holden unsuccessfully tries to hide throughout the course of the novel.  At one point, Holden has a nervous breakdown and begins chanting: “Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie.” After his sister, Phoebe, asks Holden to find one thing he really likes, he can only think of Allie and talking with Phoebe. The most telling moments are when Holden is drunk. One such time he becomes convinced that he has a bullet in his gut. He keeps putting his hand under his jacket to stop the blood and conceal the fact that he is wounded. “I didn’t want anybody to know I was even wounded,” he says.

I wonder what stories the smokers by the bus stop have.

I have a mentor!

I am very excited to be writing this in-depth post because I have some very exciting news: I have a mentor! Her name is Jamella Hagen and she is a poet from the Yukon. Last week I sent her five of my poems and she e-mailed back some awesome commentary. So, here is the edited version of one of my poems. I hope you like it.

Dreams

Your wings spread,

rise, fall with a

sigh and then

reach for the

white of my ribs,

crimson against the moon.

 

The cage of my

bones is only mine.

If you asked,

I would set you free,

watch your feathers

unfurl between the

folding blue of

the sky

and I would know

that you didn’t

belong to me,

only to the wind

that sweeps you

far, farther

from my gravity.