“There are people in our communities who have more than one echo in their homes.”

I was tidying my desk yesterday, simply to be able to use it properly–laptop in front of chair, room for the stack of letters I pulled out of my file cabinet to use in this current work I am doing, box to my right for notes, and all the bits and pieces sorted (with an eye to discarding some of them, although I almost never do)– when I found a piece of paper with something scribbled on it.

There are people in our communities who have more than one echo in their homes.

I scribbled this years ago, maybe after I’d heard someone say it on the radio. I was taken with its mystery. Write it down, I must have said to myself. And then it got pushed between the books at the back of the desk, the ones I keep in place because I often use them: the Pinsky translation of Dante’s Inferno, Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho, my university copies of the Odyssey (trans. Fitzgerald), Pliny’s Natural History, my blue-cloth bound Concise Oxford Dictionary, Derek Jarman’s Chroma, British Columbia Place Names (the Akriggs, though I also have Andrew Scott’s Raincoast Place Names, too large to sit on my desk between rocks acting as bookends, one from the Skeena River, one from Sandcut Beach; it’s on a shelf above the window), Margaret Ormsby’s British Columbia: A History, a few books by Gary Snyder, Godwin’s Greek Grammar, and maybe 30 more (it’s a wide desk, pushed up against a window the width of the room). It got pushed between the books and now I have it again to try to figure out.

I am a person with more than one echo in my home. Last night there was an owl, far away, but the call finding its way to where I was reading in my bed. There’s the sound (and the echo) of the voices I’d listen for in the night when my children were young, the sound of them dreaming, and once one of them, tucked in with me when his father was working in Vancouver and the children would take turns sleeping in my bed (they would have been 1, 3, and 5), anyway one of them sitting up suddenly, calling out like a boy king leading his troops into battle, clear and loud, but the language he spoke in was not English. Was it Persian, an archaic form of Sanskrit, old Norse? I have no idea. He was still asleep and I tucked him back under the covers, back into the dream, which still echoes in my memory. On spring mornings, there’s the call and the echo of the Swainson’s thrush, the tanager, the salmonberry song of the robins in June. When the loons call at dawn or dusk, it’s every year I’ve listened, echoing, echoing.

And today, the echo is the painter who has left me with versions of my younger self on the walls of my house, echoes of who I was, who I became. I am reading his letters, one phrase echoing over and over, and I can’t quite decide if it’s love or obsession. One sounds so much like the other in these letters. One sounds so much like the other in the paintings I am writing about.


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