Down Time

In the down time since the Healing Breaths workshops ended, I have worked with the local chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, continued to write and submit poems, and reviewed Emma Hooper’s new book, to be published in 2015. See below. Note what she says about breathing.        

 Down Time

Untended gardens all began with plans.

Circles were peonies and lines, paths.

Pears were to be espaliered on crossed laths.

First came camellias, jonquils; japonica.

In turns, nandina, rose, and coxcomb fans.

Wasp-heavy vines threaded arching trellis.

Oh, I would like for you to stay a while.

Oxeyes watch for you and a bench waits.

But gates are down, the paths mole-heaved, and this—

this tipped, blackberry-overtaken sundial

leaning on a standpipe, remnant of hours

no flowers will toll, this tells the time too well.

  

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper (Simon and Schuster 2015)

Neither the novelist nor her people fear open space, the pages often as windswept as the dusty fields of Gopherlands. Emma Hooper has a gift for apt phrases: how words of ridicule are “worse than bruises on gravel;” the “fuzz and stutter” of a home-made radio; how in the house of Russell’s aunt “everything was quiet and breakable,” and how Etta was the kind of cook who could “feel through the spoon.” Like the sturdy plants they have cultivated for eighty years on the rocky farms of Saskatchewan, Etta and the others anchor themselves in the heart-ache, war trauma, and loneliness which have driven neighbors away. They absorb the pain, grow, and regenerate. As Etta says, “It’s so terrible to give up. It makes me want to do things and do things and do things and never stop doing.”

So, in her eighty-third year, Etta packs one evening and leaves next day at dawn. Her Long Walk from Holdfast to Halifax, like other walks of enlightenment, sparkles with humor and peril. The men she leaves behind had been her students in a one-room school-house: Otto, her husband, and Russell, whom she should have married.  They follow her in their own ways by “getting rid of the old and letting in the new,” as she taught them. “And therefore, moving forward. Making progress. That’s all you have to do to move forward sometimes . . . just breathe.”

She walks East to close the “long loop” of her life and to put distance between the three of them. Etta does not even fear the space opening within herself, her own identity sometimes completely folded away like freshly ironed clothes. She becomes Otto screaming when his eardrum burst in the crump and clamor of battle as he dragged his dead schoolmate from the water and ran back from the front. She also loses herself in long discussions with Coyote, who introduces himself by licking her blistered feet. He explains that killing is only about always being hungry. In the end, it is no surprise that Coyote, the meddling trickster who in some legends brought  fire to Earth, delivers Etta and sets her back on the path to the sea. In this pilgrim’s progress, here a Jack London story and there a Pawnee myth, three quiet lives rooted in inconvenience grow through resilience, invention, and curiosity. A worthy corrective for a self-promoting, self-indulgent age in which conveniences are necessities.

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