“I don’t believe my grandfather knew these places.”

It’s snowing here on the edge of the world. Everything is quiet, apart from the chickadees beeping and buzzing as they take seed and find good places to eat it. I looked out the kitchen window just now and saw three of them under the crown of cotoneaster.

kitchen window

By the time I returned with a camera, they’d gone.

It’s a good day to try to figure out how to make a chapbook. How to make a chapbook. That sounds easy. But I am at a loss as to how to get the text in the right order—the little book will be 27 pages and I’ve made a mock-up to understand how the sequence of text has to work on the pages—and I keep pasting, deleting, leaving my desk in order to find patience again. The other day we went out to the printshop and chose paper for this project. We have enough cover stock in a beautiful soft moss green. We found some sort of faux parchment bond in an off-white and I tried printing the map I will be using as endpapers on this and it’s perfect. Somewhere I have some red linen thread for stitching. John will print cover labels and we talked about how to print a border on them, using some ornaments in each corner and decorative rule; he will also print title pages, maybe with some of the rule to echo the label (which I hope will echo in turn old museum labels). Now it’s up to me to prepare the text. I’m reminded of quilt designs that ask you to cut so many triangles, so many squares, little bits of this and that, and to fit them together in what might seem to some in a logical arrangement but that always leave me feeling that I have more thumbs than functional fingers. I look at the text, reduce the font size, gasp as a whole page disappears.

Yet I want to make this book, “The Museum of the Multitude Village”. I want something to give to my friends and my family to celebrate my birthday and this particular essay, about my trip to Ukraine, about my grandfather, has a shape that I think will fit the notion of chapbook, each section a small exhibit in the museum of my memory. It snows and I copy and paste, delete and look at my hands, wishing for the kind of spatial intelligence that such work requires.

Star, Shandro, Bolan, Toporvitsi, North Kotzman, Buchach, Podola, Luzan, Smoky Lake, Myrnam, Musidora, South River. I don’t believe my grandfather knew these places. They were not what he came to. What did he come to? What did he come for? I look at photographs of the buildingsthe grain elevator from a village now dissolved; a burdei, or dugout structure, where a family might have lived for years until a true house could be built, a clay-plastered log home, saddle-notched, a four-sided hip-gabled roof, thatched with straw or marsh grass; the churches with their elegant domes; a school-house; barns collapsing into earth. I look at the men on flimsy pole scaffolding building a church in Alberta and try to imagine my grandfather among them.

looking west

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s