“In this exhibit, the map will be faded…”


I’ve spent most of the week in my bed, unable to do much because of a heavy cold and cough. And fever. But now it seems to be lifting and I can hear again. Rain on the roof, the tiny beeps of the chickadees when I take them their seeds. While I was in my bed this week, I was planning—in that surreal way you plan when you are too sick to do anything else—a chapbook. I am about to turn 65, which seems significant, if only for the reason that I will be officially an old-age pensioner, and I thought I’d like to make a small token to acknowledge that turning. John often prints a broadside for his significant birthdays but he’s a poet and almost always has something just right for the occasion. A short poem, a section from a longer poem. Well, I have an essay. John has offered to print a cover page and colophon and a label for the cover. I’ll create the text block on my computer and print it on my laser printer. In Ottawa last week, my son Forrest found an image of a beautiful old map of Bukovyna and resized it for me to use for endpapers. I’ll stitch the books by hand. In the fog of my fever, I could see the finished chapbooks and they were lovely. The essay is organized as a series of “exhibits” of some Ukrainian villages I visited in September. It feels like the right thing to print in honour of my birthday, to record the names, the contours of a land that my grandfather left and never returned to, but that lingers on in my name, the foods I ate as a child, the tattered photographs and stories that are all I have of that legacy.

Sometimes I think these things will never be known and sometimes they appear to hover just beyond my consciousness, enticing me to work harder, dig deeper. (In this exhibit, the map will be faded, with blank areas. A hatchwork of trees, a long blue river.)

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