“In the Crow River, a mature sun overhead..”

the point

Yesterday John came back from the mailbox with a package: a book by a Ukrainian poet, Oleh Lysheha. He’d ordered it without knowing anything about the poet but wanted to read poetry rooted in the country we are about to visit next week. He opened the book at random and read a poem aloud. It was “Father” and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. Here’s the opening:

Oh, he liked to bathe..
Best in late summer,
In the Crow River, a mature sun overhead..
—Once, there was a deeper place here—
He entered patiently, his turn of wrist,
The elbow high, slipping the hand into the water and out,
As if still dry—in the manner no one sees anymore—
Swimming to a shallow place:
—Would you wash my back?

Almost every day we swim, early, in the lake nearby, and we’ve noted that we can tell it’s late in the season by the later rising of the sun over the mountain to the east of the lake. I wouldn’t have thought to call it “mature” but that’s a perfect adjective for the sun at the end of August.

Reading on, to himself, he kept saying, There are poems for animals and birds! Fish! John’s own new book arrived earlier in the week, This Was the River, with a cover detail from Tintoretto’s painting “The Creation of the Animals”, chosen because a sequence of poems named for the painting is at the heart of the book.

john's river

I’ve been looking into Oleh Lysheha’s poems (translated by the poet and James Brasfield) and find in them something rich and mysterious, anchored in the earth, but also filled with divinity. A horse dreaming of escape to the mountains, an old dog in the woods, “His skull a cobweb of veins” (the poet imploring, “Young nettle, be kind to him—listen—/His heart can’t endure any more the arc of your leaves..”).

I have been trying to learn a few phrases in Ukrainian but wish now I had time to commit one or two of these poems to memory. That father, in the Crow River, “He walked out like a blind man/and fell face down into grass, in sunlight..” and the horse who remembers,

…the day
A man outlined
In red on the cave wall
Shadows of my friends
Coming down slowly,
One by one, to water flowing
From a subterranean river..

a year later

what's new

This morning, because it’s cooler and I don’t have to rush out to water everything that droops, shrivels, or turns brown overnight, I was looking at posts from this time last year. In a way, my blog is my journal. Between it and my datebook, I am able to keep track of what happened when. On this day last year, my publisher Mona Fertig sent me two photographs of the advance proof copy of Euclid’s Orchard. I wrote about that here. As I’ve said before, it was a book I hadn’t expected to write. Or at least I hadn’t expected it to come together quite so quickly. I’m very glad it did. I’m very glad the reasons I wrote most of it—facing a potentially devastating health issue—have resolved themselves. The year leading up to Euclid’s Orchard‘s publication was filled with appointments and tests and the year leading away from it had some of those but also the relief that comes with knowing that the thing I dreaded was almost certainly not going to happen. At least not yet.

reading copy

It was a good year, this past one. My book took me to various places for readings and festivals. People wrote reviews and letters with such generosity. My book took me to the B.C. Book Prizes Gala because of its place on the Hubert Evans Award shortlist and that was fun. Some of the writing has led me to new work and for that I’m grateful. This is one of the best things about the essay form: it can be truly open-ended and you don’t have to think of it as “finished”.  It turns out “West of the 4th Meridian: A Libretto for Migrating Voices” was only the beginning of the stories I was listening to in the night as I came down to my desk to work during those weeks of waiting to learn if I had metastatic lung cancer. I’d sit in the dark with only the glow of my laptop light and the tiny desk lamp to one side and feel the presence of my father’s family around me. There is no logical way to explain this and I won’t but it was a source of comfort and now that I know a little more about them, I want to  explore their lives. In “West of the 4th Meridian”, there’s a line from Ovid’s Tristia, the letters he wrote in exile in Tomis: “I wish to be with you in any way possible.” To this end, I’m reading books about the Holodomor, about the politics of early 20th c. Ukraine, about the waves of emigrants who came to North America any way that they could. I want to find out who this woman was, the tiny image that was part of my grandfather’s archive. She is somehow familiar.

single woman

Time and the essay are related, I think. Spacious and widening, circling back on themselves when necessary, asking questions, pausing to listen to music, to take the air, remembering to keep the mind and the heart open to chance, to love, to the complexities of what a sentence can hold and also to what it can let go.

the Museum of the Multitude Village

house plan

Looking for something else this morning, I found the plans John drew for the house we built almost 4 decades ago. I thought the plans were somewhere else but I wanted the file of information on our property, our well, and anything else that would help me remember the process of day-to-day building. I am working on something about my grandfather, using a file of receipts and scraps of paper related to the house he built in Beverly, Alberta, in 1946. I am also trying to find information on the house he might have grown up in, a house in the village of Ivankivtsi, near Kitsman, in what’s now Ukraine. I’m not sure I’ll find that house but down the rabbit hole of searching on the Internet, I came upon a site devoted something called Museum of the Multitude Village, located in Valyava, not too far from Ivankivtsi, and it seems to have been founded by a man called Vasily Kishkan, who was a writer. Here’s one of the exhibit rooms of the museum:

museum of the mutitude village

What does this mean? I’m not sure but maybe I’m on the trail of…something. In trying to reconstruct the process of building our house, of my grandfather building the house I took my granddaughter to over Easter, maybe I will be able to build something new that uses materials from both these constructions. Something durable, with an old comforting patina.

I see from the copy of the drawings John did for our house and then the additions we built in later years that the language of building is a language dense with meaning, if you need it to be.

scale

I will have to determine the scale appropriate to this strange compulsion I have to find my grandfather’s life in two countries, or three, if you count the US, where he first arrived from Europe, and worked, before drifting to Alberta. And I will also have to figure out the code.

to code

Seeing this stamped on the plans reminded me that everything we did had to meet the building code and when we went to lumber yards or talked to plumbers or other tradespeople, the term, “to code”, came up so often that it lost its mysterious context and just became part of our regular speech. Is it to code? Has the code changed?

Yes, I think the code has changed but I’m determined to figure it out, at least with enough familiarity that I can understand what a museum of the multitude village might be.