A poem for Monday

I love how heightened our senses become in changing seasons. The light, the movement of clouds, the smell of snow are all remarked upon. We give voice to a deep animal that lies dormant within in the unchanging seasons. We huddle and stretch and sleep like dogs, waking up to remark how our sleep has changed, how enough is not enough now. We stand by windows looking outwards but safely uninvolved, still knowing how it will burn and bright when we step out into it.

This is by Kenneth Rexroth.

Falling Leaves and Early Snow
In the years to come they will say,
“They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.”
November has come to the forest,
To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen.
The year fades with the white frost
On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows,
Where the deer tracks were black in the morning.
Ice forms in the shadows;
Disheveled maples hang over the water;
Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream.
Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold.
The yellow maple leaves eddy above them,
The glittering leaves of the cottonwood,
The olive, velvety alder leaves,
The scarlet dogwood leaves,
Most poignant of all.

In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.

Sunday best: Snow

It started yesterday, the snow. I love it and dread it. I love the biting cold and the soft flurries, the slow mo falling that seems to suspend time, shimmering and uncapturable. I dread my steps being truncated, made tentative, the fear of falling, the holding of breath, the shortcuts.


It hasn't felt as close to Christmas as it did when that snow started falling. I went downtown and did some shopping, gifts squirrelled in corners of my bookshelves and closet, the places I searched for my own gifts growing up.

And so easily a mood takes hold. A craving for cinnamon and stuffing. A reaching for green and twinkling things to hang up. A yearning to see movies and sing songs, watched and sung just once a year.

The snow set all that in motion in me yesterday.

Happy Sunday!

Sunghee Bang Adelphi Beanie from Barneys | MM6 by Maison Martin Margiela Chunky Hand-Knit Cardigan from La Garconne | Proenza Schouler Boyfriend Jean from La Garconne | Women's Earthkeepers® Mount Hope Mid Waterproof Boot from Timerbland | The Lip Slip from Sara Happ

Friday!

Oddly, this week went along. I felt like I was fumbling, drunken, through my days with no sense of the usual arc of a week. Not in a way you'd remark on as unpleasant, just a little unsteady, a little confused. But here we are and it's Friday and I can feel my roots sink deeper — a chance to ground myself once again.


I loved reading this piece about Irish literature's books of the dark. It's something I've always felt - most of all in Beckett. And indeed I see it as more characteristically Irish than the usual twinkling manifestations that are thought of elsewhere.
"Patrick Kavanagh, in his stark poem "Dark Ireland", wrote: "We are a dark people, / Our eyes ever turned / Inward / Watching the liar who twists / The hill-paths awry". In a slant way, he exposes a genre of writing that is concealed in plain sight, what might be called the Irish book of the dark. It comes out of the persistent tendency of Irish writers to occupy the shadows of the mind, often pushing the English language out of shape in the process."

As if to prove the point, I turned to read this by Colum McCann and reached this wonderful line.
"All the stories he wrote walked themselves into the dark."

Though I would also say there's levity in darkness, which is in itself a lovely turn, to allow both to occupy the same space. In all the Beckett productions I've seen, this is a fragile tension that involves not only the players but the audience too. Often, the audience has broken it, by straining too much for the punchlines and not settling into the silence. Next weekend I'm going to see the McKellen / Stewart Godot. I'm hoping to feel the light and the dark.

For now, a happy weekend to you!

New work from Jamie Evrard

I included a work by Jamie Evrard in my last post - it's one I've looked at many times and even imagined hanging in various dream rooms. But her new work deserves a post all of its own. I suppose I usually like my florals dark and Dutch-style, with a note of future decay. But these are light and bright and full of energy. Still, the brushstrokes are dynamic and hint at something fleeting, something falling away from the canvas, the urgency of capturing a moment that will too soon pass.


All paintings by Jamie Evrard, available from Bau-Xi.

Mossy

These lush greens and warm interiors really appeal to me right now. With rain rapping my window, these nights take me home. I don't think we've ever had so much rain in Toronto as this year and it has me disoriented; homesick for four distinct seasons as if they were something experienced in another place.


Over the weekend, I cleaned my whole apartment, purging it of magazine stacks and unloved books. I waxed my desk, leaving it clear for days to soap up its polish and return to a deep, honeyed sheen. I made breakfast for dinner and planted paperwhites. It was all easy and warm and gently worn.


Image credits: Silk velvet dress from Toast | Artwork (detail) by Jamie Evrard at Bau-Xi | Interior photograph by James Fennell | Artwork (detail) by Jamie Evrard at Bau-Xi | Armchair by Howe London | Photograph by Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua

Friday!

It's been a while since I did a Friday post, but I have some links to share with you this week.

First, Kevin Barry's Paris Review interview. This, I loved: "My suspicion is that feeling escapes from people and seeps into the stones of a place."

And page 22 of the new Five Dials cut me to shreds.


I loved this Irish Times article about a swimmer (and the video here, which is as Gaeilge, but gorgeous). This woman exudes a lovely wisdom:
"Describing her love of the sea over lake swimming she talks of her difficulty in finding “the pulse of the water – there’s no heartbeat in the lake”; on the challenge of ice swimming she describes building her courage as “everything is as life allows”; and of managing anxiety she explains that “you can’t swim the fears of tomorrow”."

Helen's blog post (the last paragraph!) and tweets have me missing my past life in the mountains. These paintings too.

But even here in Toronto there are moments it cuts through. And our city's scandals can't counter the beauty of the moon this week, waxing each day to fullness. Last night, I left the office and walked in that strange suburb, just to keep eye contact with its friendly gaze. To bask in the pink halo that encircled it, to feel my limbs loosen and my head clear.

And this, this too. Read it right to the end. To have such grace.
"I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love."

Have a gentle weekend, friends.

A poem for Wednesday

My elocution teacher was a Kerrywoman - Mrs Slattery - and the classes mostly consisted of memorizing and reciting poetry. I adored it. Probably because of her, I still memorize any poems I really love. And in the shower and when washing up, places other people might hum or sing, I incant Yeats and Heaney and Ponsot, Beckett and Billy Collins and Elizabeth Bishop.

I think the last of the geese have flown or will soon. I love how they honk when they fly, ungainly and tone deaf and straining. And maybe I caught a glimpse of their vee in some early, oblique light and that's why this has been playing in my mind all week. It's by Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

Sunday best: Easy

I went back to spinning yesterday for the first time in months. Those of you who maintain routines through thick and thin amaze me. Me - it's like I go through phases of blindess and then get my perfect eyesight restored - and the colours and light dazzle me each time. I'd really like to fluctuate less in this one area... because it's an area where inconsistency creates its own issues. I guess it's about setting priorities that override work demands, really.


Already that one class has changed my energy and mindset. Today is just going to be easy. I might walk down to the garden centre and plant some paperwhites on my windowsill. Or I might gallivant a little in some stores. Or simply walk to my favourite coffee shop with my book (The Goldfinch, if you're wondering, and yes I recommend!)

I love this outfit. I don't really wear trainers except when I'm wearing yoga pants, but I probably should because I walk so much. And I usually resist wearing a coat until it's absolutely senseless. So maybe this is an ensemble that represents a more realistic, grounded me.

In a few weeks, my office moves downtown and that's going to change my days too. I'll be able to walk to work! I'm imagining those strolling mornings... Leaving early enough to stop on the way for coffee. And leaving work in the evening and picking my way home through the flower market or bookstore or another coffee shop or even pub - things that right now seem like an unwieldy detour.

Change will be good.

Happy Sunday!

Products: MARC BY Marc Jacobs Max coat from Net-a-Porter | MiH Paris jeans from Net-a-Porter | Sweater from James Perse | Adidas Gazelle trainers from Gravity Pope | Marjorie bag from Ally Capellino

The spirit of Oddfellowship

I often have a hard time imagining Toronto's past lives. In Dublin, there's always a foot in its past, a sense of connection with the age of Joyce's Dubliners and Maeve Brennan's Derdons and even sometimes with Swift and Strongbow. I tend to think that's as much to do with our storytelling as the ostensive evidence. And that those stories of Dublins past sink into our consciousness before memories are formed, giving them a deep and resonating sense of foreshadowing.


Not so with Toronto's past lives (for me at least), which I'm unravelling only as an immigrant. And adulthood often strips the magic from a city's past lives - one foot is always in the reality of poverty or oppression or the flip story of privilege and pomp. But still, there are some things that strike those magical chords and one is just up the road in Mount Pleasant cemetery — the Odd Fellows monument. It was only recently, after years of eyeing its symbols, that I uncovered its story.


I dug up a microfiche of a document from 1897, when the monument was constructed. It begins:
"The Odd Fellows of Ontario have every reason to be pleased with the success that has crowned the efforts of their Toronto brethren, in their endeavor to place a lasting tribute to the memory and respect of those for whom they had a kindly regard and fraternal feeling, but who were separated by distance, more or less, from the paternal home and, in some cases, were strangers in a strange land, but not without friends."



The monument - designed by Mr. Herbert Paull and built by F.B. Gullett & Sons - is a column, 27 feet tall. Its base is grey granite, the pillars are New Brunswick granite and the other pieces are limestone with elaborate and symbolic carvings. There are seven columns "the perfect number", on the lower part and three "representing Faith, Hope and Charity" in the upper, supporting a sphere which is a globe that reads "In God we Trust"

"The carvings in limestone include the all-seeing eye, the scythe, skull and cross bones, bow and arrow, a bundle of rods, the brazen serpent, a hand and heart, the axe, the hour glass, and the Holy Bible." Around the base is inscribed "Erected by the members of the I.O.O.F. of Toronto, A.D. 1897".


When it was unveiled 500 members participated in the ceremony, forming two lines at the entrance of the plot.
"Bro. Cl. T. Campbell Past Grand Sire, delivered a strong address on the advantages of the order, speaking of its beneficiary system and the spirit which prevailed in the lodges, where all members met together—all nationalities, all churches, rich and poor, high and low ; social caste did not link them to the Order… Dr. Campbell then unveiled the monument. The cords were unloosened that reached from the base to the globe, until they were unwound and the white covering fell to the ground, leaving unconcealed the magnificent column in all its freshness and polished whiteness, unspotted by time or weather. As the monument was unveiled those present applauded lustily."


I really don't know a lot about the Odd Fellows. But I guess I know enough of societies and organized religious groups to be skeptical, to know there's usually a gap between what's professed on paper and what's embodied in real life. Still… I love imagining this version of Toronto past - with their outward chivalry and their epic talismans. And I'm glad to have discovered layers hitherto hidden to me.

Mount Pleasant in the fall

Even though I didn't find Flora, I did find some other reasons to hold up my camera in the cemetery yesterday.

Sunday best: Falling back

Toronto's autumn has been damp, almost Irish this year. Those crisp blue and gold days I love the most have been elusive. But today the sky is clear azure and the light is long.



I have a few really happy places in the world. Those of you who read here know them. The head at Howth, a trail I never tire of. Sometimes, when the heather and gorse are in full bloom and the sky gives up a certain light and the sea a certain boom, its beauty is theatrical. But more often it's earthy and subdued. And I've learned to love that mutability, the days when it's just a simple place of browning ferns as well as those when it assaults every sense.

The cemetery near my apartment here has the same seasonal mutability. In fall and spring, the trees go through their choreographed dance of colours. And today was one of those days. Leaf and light synchronized magically.


Last year, I photographed the fall colours and I happened upon this one plaque that read Flora. Such name plaques surround larger family headstones. Often they read simply Mother, or Father, even - tragically - Baby. I haven't been able to find Flora since last year. I look every time. Today, I pushed leaves off an Ella and Robbie. One said Meta. But Flora eluded me again.


I walked up and down the section I thought she was in, pocketing conkers and photographing the dew on fallen leaves. It's possible I'll never find her; it's a huge cemetery and I meander when I'm there, never going back the way I came, which is one of my rules when walking. But I've begun to enjoy the looking too, the way Flora has become meaningful to me in some way, though I don't know a thing about her. The way, more generally, we imbue meaning and belonging in places we have no right or reason to, but how much of us that all makes up.

Products: Gamine cardigan from La Garconne | Cathy Waterman Rose Cut Diamond Leaf Necklace from Twist | Joliette dress from Toast | Satin Lip Pencil from NARS | RED Valentino Bow Flat Boots from Shopbop | Mulberry Ribbed cashmere scarf from Net-a-Porter