“A Winter Night” by Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796)


When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
Sharp shivers thro’ the leafless bow’r;
When Phoebus gies a short-liv’d glow’r,
Far south the lift,
Dim-dark’ning thro’ the flaky show’r,
Or whirling drift:

Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor Labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi’ snawy wreeths upchoked,
Wild-eddying swirl,
Or thro’ the mining outlet bocked,
Down headlong hurl.

List’ning, the doors an’ winnocks rattle,
I thought me on the ourie cattle,
Or silly sheep, wha bide this brattle
O’ winter war,
And thro’ the drift, deep-lairing, sprattle,
Beneath a scar.

Ilk happing bird, wee, helpless thing!
That, in the merry months o’ spring,
Delighted me to hear thee sing,
What comes o’ thee?
Whare wilt thou cow’r thy chittering wing
An’ close thy e’e?

Ev’n you on murd’ring errands toil’d,
Lone from your savage homes exil’d,
The blood-stain’d roost, and sheep-cote spoil’d
My heart forgets,
While pityless the tempest wild
Sore on you beats.

Robert Burns

Re-visiting Windigo ( a poem I wrote about a place I loved)


I know I’ve posted this before but I ventured to submit it to Northern Cardinal Review, an online magazine I happened upon today:

 

Windigo

Ripples lick the rocks

As the pines and birch politely applaud

Gulls catching their petits déjeuners

In the waking lake.

 

Sky’s amethyst shroud cascades

Towards the western shore

And the water’s silky blue

Becomes the pewter and emerald of armour.

 

The fleeting storm rumbles to the west and north

Dragging a chair across a distant wooden floor

But our only thunder is from a train

Rolling to market behind its mournful whistle.

 

The winds shift, the shroud – like a chameleon -

Becomes soft pillows of gray and white.

Lake Simcoe’s armour is but a duvet;

The white top-sheets being turned down toward Windigo.

 

Once here, and with dusk approaching,

The sheets are smoothed, the pillows fluffed

And the sun sinks past the foot of the bed

Leaving colours of peace and wonder.

 

No sooner are distant pinks orange, and oranges purple,

Then a star pierces the darkening blue

And the trees begin to sigh, knowing the moon’s glow

Over Windigo will keep watch another night.

 

Kenn Chaplin

(July 30, 1993)

 

Kenn Chaplin is a Toronto, Ontario blogger, amateur photographer and long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS. Windigo is the name of a cottage on Lake Simcoe, north of Toronto, which support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS were graciously loaned, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, as a place of quiet retreat. Kenn was grateful to have been a part of several of these retreats. In one group photo he is the lone survivor, apart from the facilitators who – in the case of that particular group – were not HIV-positive.

Finding Émile


I reached another marker this week in my posthumous, intriguing, fan-like relationship with Montréal poet Émile Nelligan (1879-1941) when Craig’s partner, Claude, drove me to the site of his burial in Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges. Even with a map of the cemetery it took us a while to find Marker #588 in Section N. At 350 acres, and with fifty-five kilometres of road, Notre-Dame-des-Neiges is Canada’s largest cemetery, dating back to 1854, and fast closing in on a population of one million people’s remains.

He even wrote about the place, the only reference in his works to Montréal:

Notre-dame-des-neiges

Sainte Notre-Dame, en beau manteau d’or,
De sa lande fleurie
Descend chaque soir, quand son Jésus dort,
En sa Ville-Marie.
Sous l’astral flambeau que portent ses anges,
La belle Vierge va
Triomphalement, aux accords étranges
De céleste bîva.

Sainte Notre-Dame a là-haut son trône
Sur notre Mont-Royal ;
Et de là, son oeil subjugue le Faune
De l’abîme infernal.
Car elle a dicté: ” Qu’un ange protège
De son arme de feu
Ma ville d’argent au collier de neige “,
La Dame du Ciel bleu !

Sainte Notre-Dame, oh ! tôt nous délivre
De tout joug pour le tien ;
Chasse l’étranger ! Au pays de givre
Sois-nous force et soutien.
Ce placet fleuri de choses dorées,
Puisses-tu de tes yeux,
Bénigne, le lire aux roses vesprées,
Quand tu nous viens des Cieux !

Sainte Notre-Dame a pleuré longtemps
Parmi ses petits anges ;
Tellement, dit-on, qu’en les cieux latents
Se font des bruits étranges.
Et que notre Vierge entraînant l’Eden,
O floraison chérie !
Va tôt refleurir en même jardin
Sa France et sa Ville-Marie…

Below, closer to his home as a teenager on rue Laval (also shown) near Square Saint-Louis, is a bust of the young Nelligan, which enjoys a prominent place in that lovely park.  It remains a somewhat bohemian, albeit pricier, neighbourhood of artists and students among whom, over the objections of his parents, he found companionship among peers.

Born at 602, rue de La Gauchetière (not far from present-day Gare Centrale) on Christmas Eve 1879, and baptized at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church on Christmas Day, he was the first son of Irish immigrant David Nelligan and Emilia Amanda Hudon, a francophone and daughter of the former mayor of the lower St. Lawrence town of Rimouski. Two younger sisters, Beatrice and Gertrude, followed. It cannot be overlooked that Nelligan’s bi-cultural background represented something essential to the understanding of Montréal culture at the time (think of Hugh MacLennan’s later work “Two Solitudes”). At the time of Nelligan’s birth, the percentages of francophones and anglophones in the city-proper was tied (and the English overwhelmingly waved power over the French). It was only after the annexation of outlying “towns”, which have been part of Montréal for generations now, and with increased migration from rural areas to the city, that the proportion of francophones grew to 75% by 1920.

On the outside, his childhood would have appeared to be pretty good, spent between the family home in Montréal and their summer residence in Cacouna, not too far from his mother’s birthplace. However Nelligan skipped school increasingly, devoting more and more time to his love of writing poetry. He left school outright in 1897, over the strong objections of his working-class father.

Childhood, despair, difficult relationships with his individual parents right out of a session with Freud, social awkwardness, love, sin, music and a morbid fascination with what he viewed as the relief of death dominate his work.

The story is told, in the preface to P.F. Widdows’ bilingual edition of “Émile Nelligan – Selected Poems”, of David Nelligan sending his son off to Liverpool, as something of a would-be merchant mariner. Alas he was back home in two months. His father having given up on him, as Widdows writes, “he never again submitted himself to what the world and his father called work”.

Émile’s work, however, his poetry, continued unstopped.

His first published poem appeared in the journal Le Samedi de Montréal on June 13, 1896, which he submitted under the pen-name Émile Kovar. It was Rêve fantasque, an early indication of his fascination with death, even suicide.

Qu’il est doux de mourir quand notre âme s’afflige,
Quand nous pèse le temps tel un cuisant remords,
-Que le désespoir ou qu’un noir penser l’exige -
Qu’il est doux de mourir alors!

My shaky translation:

How sweet to die when our soul is grieved,
When we weigh the time such a bitter remorse,
-Such black despair of thinking that is required
It is sweet to die then!

Nelligan was just sixteen years old.

Between 1896 and 1897 he met, and was taken under the wing of, Roman Catholic père Eugène Seers, better known in Montréal literary circles as Louis Dantin. An encouraging critic of Nelligan’s work, he published some of his religious-themed poems in the newsletter of his Order and was instrumental in preparing his protegé’s collected poems for publication after Nelligan’s mental breakdown.

Joining, quitting, then re-joining, l’École littéraire de Montréal which met at the Château Ramezay (pictured below in Old Montréal) Nelligan’s brief public reading stint came to a dramatic end during the presentation of three of his poems to members, one of them his most well-known La Romance du vin. Following a rapturous reception from his audience a nearly-ecstatic Émile Nelligan was carried away on the shoulders of his friends during – or after – which he suffered a psychotic breakdown.

That was May 26, 1899.  He was diagnosed with irreversible psychoses, before schizophrenia had been named.

At the insistence of his parents, Nelligan was confined to la Retraite Saint-Benoît, a Catholic brothers’ retreat centre at the eastern end of the Island of Montréal. He was moved to what was then the Saint-Jean-de-Dieu asylum in 1925, where he remained until his death on November 18, 1941.

In 1979, to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp which paid tribute to one of his most widely-read poems Le Vaisseau d’Or:

“Le Vaisseau d’Or”

C’était un grand Vaisseau taillé dans l’or massif: 
Ses mâts touchaient l’azur, sur des mers inconnues; 
La Cyprine d’amour, cheveux épars, chairs nues, 
S’étalait à sa proue, au soleil excessif. 

Mais il vint une nuit frapper le grand écueil 
Dans l’Océan trompeur où chantait la Sirène, 
Et le naufrage horrible inclina sa carène 
Aux profondeurs du Gouffre, immuable cercueil. 

Ce fut un Vaisseau d’Or, dont les flancs diaphanes 
Révélaient des trésors que les marins profanes, 
Dégoût, Haine et Névrose, entre eux ont disputés. 

Que reste-t-il de lui dans la tempête brève? 
Qu’est devenu mon coeur, navire déserté? 
Hélas! Il a sombré dans l’abîme du Rêve! 

“The Ship of Gold”

It was a great ship carved from solid gold:
Its masts touched to the skies on uncharted seas;
Venus, goddess of love, her hair streaming, her flesh bare,
Flaunted herself on the prow beneath a blazing sun.

But one night it struck the great reef
In that treacherous ocean where the Siren sang,
And the horrible shipwreck tilted its keel
Into the depths of the abyss, ineluctable coffin.

It was a ship of gold whose diaphanous sides
Revealed treasures which the profane mariners,
Loathing, Hatred, and Neurosis, disputed among themselves.

What remains of it in the brief tempest?
What has become of my heart, a deserted ship?
Alas! It has foundered in the depths of the dream!

Source: Wikipedia, translator unknown

My very first introduction to Nelligan was through the music of pianist and composer André Gagnon .  On an early album was a tune entitled “Nelligan”.

Then, around 1990, Gagnon collaborated with playwright Michel Tremblay and mounted an opera/musical “Nelligan”.

One of Nelligan’s poems Soir d’hiver was put to music by the recently-deceased Claude Léveillée

Ah! comme la neige a neigé!   Ah! as snow snowed!
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.   My window is a garden of frost.
Ah! comme la neige a neigé!   Ah! as snow snowed!
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre   What is the spasm of life
Ô la douleur que j’ai, que j’ai!   Oh the pain I have, that I have!

Tous les étangs gisent gelés,   All ponds lie frozen,
Mon âme est noire: Où vis-je? où vais-je?   My soul is black: Where am I living? Where am I going?
Tous ses espoirs gisent gelés:    All his hopes lie frozen:
Je suis la nouvelle Norvège   I am the new Norway
D’où les blonds ciels s’en sont allés.  Hence the fair skies are gone.

Pleurez, oiseaux de février,   Weep, birds of February,
Au sinistre frisson des choses,  The thrill of sinister things,
Pleurez, oiseaux de février,   Weep, birds of February,
Pleurez mes pleurs, pleurez mes roses,   Weep my tears, cry my roses,
Aux branches du genévrier.  On branches of juniper.

Ah! comme la neige a neigé!   Ah! as snow snowed!
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.   My window is a garden of frost.
Ah! comme la neige a neigé!   Ah! as snow snowed!
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre   What is the spasm of life
A tout l’ennui que j’ai, que j’ai!…   For all the trouble I have, that I have! …

A lovely boutique hotel in Vieux-Montréal, complete with the renowned Verses restaurant, bears his name and celebrates his legacy. Hôtel Nelligan opens onto the cobble-stoned Rue Saint-Paul

Having learned about Nelligan’s impressive body of work (to say nothing of a promising career) dashed by mental illness that was treated with the crude methods of the day, I felt some identification with him – if only in the sense of having felt private despair.  I almost never fail to walk past Nelligan’s bust in Square St-Louis when I’m in Montréal.  I am so pleased to be connecting my love of André Gagnon’s music, the poetry of Émile Nelligan, my fascination with Nelligan landmarks downtown, and now his grave-site on the beautiful slopes of Mont-Royal.

Toronto AIDS Memorial, 519 Church Street Community Centre


With one eye on the wider world, marking thirty years of AIDS (and hopes that we may be seeing the beginning of the end), my other eye is on memories of friends lost here in Toronto (and hopes that many more may yet survive).

Music therapy – after which you may need some (without the music)


I cannot remember a time when music was not a vital part of my life.  Music is in my genes, especially from my mother’s side of the family, with my grandparents having been matched up in the early 1920s as a violinist/fiddler being accompanied by his pianist.  What I wouldn’t give for a cell-phone video of one of their evenings together at a Depression-era house party in rural eastern Ontario!  My mother studied piano throughout her childhood, later graduating from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, then earning her qualifications to teach the subject in Ontario schools.  With probably fifty years of teaching individuals, coinciding with thirty-plus years on the pipe organ at church, and I’m sure you’d agree that it was inevitable my siblings and I would also have some natural gifts in this area.

Anytime I am asked what types of music I like the only genres not on the list, with the exceptions of a few crossover songs, are country and today’s pop.  This, of course, leaves me with a vast array of music to choose from but the music player in my head doesn’t shuffle the same way that an iPod can, but goes from mood-to-mood, sometimes lingering on and repeating, over and over, the same song.

As a teen I would play and sing along to songs such as Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”, the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” and “Hide In Your Shell” by Supertramp in my basement bedroom, no Karaoke machine required, at the top of my lungs.  I know this experience was not unique to me and, while the examples cited were just a part of my record library, my tastes were generally not too mainstream – certainly not for a guy!

All of this is to prepare you for a sampling of the YouTube video-jockeying I did late last night, prompted by two guys posting two different songs by Josh Groban.  The first was a memorial tribute, from a man who had lost his partner to AIDS several years ago, while the second was a Christmas season favourite passed on to his Facebook friends.

Then I was swept away, again, by this.

And by this.

The next selection, a lot less video than audio, was such a blessing to find recently (and another artist does sing it on camera but at a much jumpier pace than I was accustomed to.)  Years ago, when the AIDS Committee of Toronto offices were at 464 Yonge Street, there was a group of us who gathered each Sunday evening for a healing circle.  It always concluded with a slower, studio version of this song, and hearing it again sends through me chills of so many emotions:

André Gagnon – whose every recording I have possessed in formats ranging from 45s to LPs, and from cassettes to CDs and mp3s – composed this particular song in homage to beloved French Canadian poet  Émile Nelligan (1879-1941). The poetry, and tragic life, of Nelligan inspired many Québec-based composers, authors and playwrights.  In fact Gagnon, along with the legendary Michel Tremblay, later penned an opera based on Nelligan’s life and work.

These pictures hardly do his Québec notoriety justice.  Having always fascinated me in my adult years, I often pass some of his haunts whenever I am in Montréal although, to the best of my knowledge, the boutique hotel which bears his name in the Vieux-Montréal quarter has no direct connection.  (The first two images are from his home, on Laval Avenue at rue Du Square St-Louis, and the bust in the fourth picture is in that square across the street.)

 

And now, as I prepare to conclude, here is my favourite Christmas carol – bar none!

 

 

World AIDS Day 2010 – Stories – 5 – “World AIDS Day 2010″ by Aless Piper


Each writer in this series has generously given me permission to post their work. The views and experiences shared are their own. Where applicable, links will also be provided at the end of the piece.

Tony Kushner wrote in the Playwright’s Notes for Act 2 of Angels in America – Perestroika that Harold Bloom translated the Hebrew word for “blessing” as “more life”.

“More life” repeats throughout the second half of the play. Later, Prior Walter says to the Angel of America, “But still. Still. Bless me anyway I want more life.”

I remember the first time I read these words in grade 12 while trying to write my own script for a movie in Film & Video Production. They made such an impact on me that I read them over and over again and they wound up being a scene in my movie.

The play ends with these words, also spoken by Prior Walter, “Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: more life. The great work begins.”

On World AIDS Day, this more than anything else, is what I wish for you.

This past June marked 29 years since five men in Los Angeles were diagnosed with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), marking the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. To date no cure has been found, and 25 million people worldwide have died.

In Canada, there were an estimated 58,000 people living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2005. Of these, around 30% were unaware of their infection, a chilling fact that should drive home the importance, for everyone, of getting tested, and knowing your status.

I dream of a world free from AIDS, where Edward, and so many others are guaranteed to live well into old age barring hereditary and environmental factors. I dream of a world where instead of reading that thousands of people worldwide are diagnosed with HIV every day, we celebrate the victory of no new infections (or single digit), and a cure.

When Paul Martin was running for Prime Minister opposite Stephen Harper, the Liberals had a commercial that I only saw once, right before the election. I thought it was best commercial they or any party had come up with. Paul Martin was in a room and he encouraged voters to vote for their Canada. The outcome of the election was disappointing to say the least, I was a Liberal, through and through even though, even then I tended to fall to the left of the Liberal party’s politics. But that commercial always stuck with me. What would you like your world to look like?

I spent all of last weekend reading Kenn’s blog instead of writing and something that seemed to come up repeatedly (or I just read the same thing repeatedly, either way!) is that AIDS is not a single issue journey and it reminded me of a very heated debate on MySpace about how when AIDS is cured the factors that allowed AIDS to happen (apathy, poverty, fear, ignorance, etc) would still be there, a fertile ground from some other disease.

As it stands, so far this week I have posted an article about access to medication in prisons, Uganda’s “kill a gay” bill (Change.org’s words, not mine), and China’s AIDS apathy that boggles my mind. All of these things and so many more allow AIDS to continue spreading unchecked. Today I read on Twitter that 7,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with HIV every single day. A short time later I opened the newspaper to read that AIDS diagnoses among men who sleep with men are climbing back up to rates not seen since the 80’s.

As we remember the lives lost to HIV/AIDS and those living with the disease, we should also be asking ourselves what we can do to change the tide. We can start by being aware, getting tested, being informed and spreading the word.

I would like to leave you with these words from Stephen Spender’s poem, I think continually. They seem especially poignant today, on World AIDS Day.

“Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields

See how these names are feted by the waving grass

And by the streamers of white cloud

And whispers of the wind in the listening sky.

The names of those who in their lives fought for life

Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.

Born of the sun, they travelled a short while towards the sun

And left the vivid air signed with their honor.”

World AIDS Day 2010 – Collected Stories – 4 – The prequel to “My journey with AIDS…and more!” by Kenn Chaplin


These days I still only started to think about trying to get a meal in my stomach once an almost painful hunger came upon me, seemingly out of nowhere, on this occasion at about three in the afternoon.

I had just been to Sunnybrook Hospital where I was part of a clinical trial combining AZT and ddI. (What these letters stand for has never been of much use to me.) The ddI came in packets something like instant oatmeal but was a fine powder which had to be dissolved in water. (Bits of the powder invariably found pockets of my mouth to hide in until the next drink.)

Even after being on AZT for three years, my appetite was often in competition with my fear of “accidents”. I had almost died from a serious bacterial infection a year-and-a-half or so earlier and was, therefore, cautious to the point of negligent when it came to eating. However the hunger won out on this day, even if my choice of meals might have given pause to a dietician.

I was close by a well-loved Canadian chicken and ribs restaurant chain with the unlikely name of Swiss Chalet. (Chocolate and watches, maybe, but chicken and ribs?) Oh well, it had long been a favourite for fast, tasty food with an almost cookie-cutter like predictability. Just the way my not-too-adventurous palate liked it. Besides ‘twas the season for the “Festive Special” when my customary quarter chicken with fries and a roll was supplemented with dressing, cranberry sauce and – the take-away gift – a delicious Toblerone bar.

The attendant at the door seated me in one of those two-person booths across from a foursome of violet-haired women who had thrown their ski jackets and rain coats in a booth of the same size next to them.

It was the sixth observance of World AIDS Day – December 1, 1993 and I was glum. I had been visiting my dear friend Jim who was in deteriorating health (he would die six weeks later) and, while fear of his death was top-of-mind, I wanted to do something to commemorate the loss of so many friends already so I was taking on some calories to go for a walk to a very special park not too far from my apartment.

I took the women friends to be altos, judging by the sub-woofer-quality pitch of their voices. I already knew they belonged to a choir because of their clucking about the sopranos.

“Does it really help to hit such a high note by shouting it?” one asked rhetorically to gales of laughter.

As someone who is equally enthused listening to the conversations of others as I am being engrossed in one of my own, I found myself making mental notes for the great play or novel, semi-autobiographical were I to be asked, rattling around in my cerebral database.

The women gathered themselves up, sharing a laugh over someone I presumed was the choir director, and rustled past me towards the front door. I wasn’t too far behind, such is the efficiency of dining alone in a place where the meats are at all stages of readiness from about 11 to 11 daily. The women scattered at the College subway station, two heading underground, the others going north to College Street itself.

When it came to the next, and most important, errand of the afternoon I couldn’t afford too grand a gesture so, on the way to the AIDS Memorial at the 519 Church Street Community Centre (“the 519”), I bought a large bouquet of wild-flowers which I picked out of a curbside bucket in front of a corner store. A miserable rain-snow mix put a glisten on the cellophane wrapping as I continued up the street.

Walking up the sidewalk, along the side of the 519, and into Cawthra Park, the first few pillars of the memorial loomed into view. I could feel butterflies as I anticipated, and perhaps feared, the feelings that were rising within me.

AIDS had already cut such a wide swath through the gay community and, being as involved as I was with peer support (not directly related to HIV/AIDS), I felt as if I was already ranking the impact of people’s deaths by placing them on an imaginary diagram of inner and outer circles. Yet there were always situations where those rings were intertwined. It was just so pervasive.

I stopped at a pillar to read Michael Lynch’s beautiful poem, noticing for the first time that I was here by myself. The words seemed so familiar, not because I had memorized them, but because I felt as if I had lived them. I tucked a few flowers behind the steel plate on which the poem was engraved and continued up the path. The first names I recognized, friends, came into view. I pulled out several more stems and leaned against the pillar, tears of the day, of years, beginning to flow.

Then I realized that I was no longer alone. What looked like the light of a miner’s helmet was bobbing up the pathway towards me, two voices speaking quietly. As they reached me I recognized them as a TV crew, the familiar CBC logo on a tattered decal stuck on the man’s camera.

The woman I recognized as the reporter, seen both on local and national newscasts.

“I hope we’re not disturbing you,” she said softly, “but we were wondering if we could take some shots of you and then talk for a few moments after.”

“Sure, I guess,” I said, feeling the least telegenic that I ever had.

I continued up the path to the next pillar, again scanning the names until I saw a few more that I knew, placing flowers behind the silver-blue engravings. My reporter friends stayed back several steps, getting a variety of shots I presumed, so I kept to my task – the finding of a name sometimes feeling like a forgotten memory being jacked open, leading me to more names I knew I would locate on the same year’s plate.

The tears, and accompanying sniffles, were fairly steady now as dusk was falling, an unkind wind reminding me of the fast-approaching winter. The reporter and her cameraman were moving closer, the camera on his shoulder, light on.

“Show time,” I thought.

I placed my last flower but knew I had not seen the last name that I wanted to pay homage to, and I began to cry more noticeably.

The video clip of me quivering that made it to air that evening, between the reporter’s voice-over and the filler camera shots, was, “I’ve run out of flowers. I don’t have enough flowers. There are too many names!”

“You’ve lost a lot of people,” the reporter said, “Do you know how many?”

“I stopped counting at thirty,” I replied, sniffling, “and I haven’t tried to count again.”

“And you’ve run out of flowers,” she said, rather mournfully as fresh tears filled my eyes.

I don’t remember much else. It was pitch black by the time I walked home, wondering what would end up on the air. I called my mother, telling her that she might see me, if not over the supper hour, on the late national news. My voice did not betray the exhaustion I was feeling from having done quite a lot of crying.

Following a report on international observations of the day, which I remember included the unrolling of the giant likeness of a condom, by AIDS activists, down the Eiffel Tower then-local CBC news anchor Bill Cameron introduced the report which included me. Despite my uneasiness with my raw emotions I was quite satisfied with the report.

What remains with me to this day, particularly nice since I came to know Bill only vicariously through his sister as he was dying of cancer, was his reaction coming back on camera from the video item. A fist cupping his chin, he leaned back in his chair, and paused, the silence saying (to me anyway), “Wow”. Since it was me projecting that onto him I took it as a good “Wow”.

Understandably wound up, I would say, I watched the rest of the newscast and then decided to change direction a little by putting put a few Christmas decorations. Slapping a holiday music cassette into the stereo until I was satisfied with the dressing up of the plants in my living room window, I decided to sit down and begin writing a year-end letter to friends and family. Most of all, though, it was a letter for Jim because I wasn’t sure he would be here the next year.

That letter, and those from the next several years, eventually became the first entries to this blog. It began:

It’s dusk. My indoor garden is laced with tiny Christmas lights, some climbing and some right on the floor. Candles are lit here and there, mostly there, while I peck away at this tabletop word processor. Tiger and Blue are snuggling in my mother’s doll-crib, one of The Bay’s loose-eyed 1993 “Charity Bears” is holding a picture of yours truly at the AIDS Memorial, from the Globe & Mail’s front page last summer, and Barbra Streisand’s Christmas album – which I like to call “Babs Does Bethlehem” – is playing in the background. Life is good in this moment.

Strive to be happy


desiderata-incorrect-attribution

“The universe is unfolding as it should” came up in a discussion this evening and it reminded me of the place, literally and figuratively, “Desiderata” had in my home growing up – particularly through the 1970s.

A sheet of faux parchment paper, poster-size as above, was available wherever  Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin posters were sold such as K-mart or Woolco.  Now doesn’t “Woolco” date me?

If I’m not mistaken our copy was given to us by a dear family friend, complete with the now disproven story of its origins.

Wikipedia has a typical write-up on the piece and its time-line for anyone not wanting to dig too much deeper.

Desiderata (Latin: "desired things", plural of desideratum) is a prose poem by Indiana writer Max Ehrmann. It exhorts the reader to "be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be", and to "keep peace with your soul". "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams," wrote Ehrmann, "it is still a beautiful world."

Our family’s copy was stuck to a small broom closet door in our kitchen-dinette, adhered on each corner by a loop of Scotch tape turned sticky side out.  It remained there beyond my leaving home, as I recall.

Nearly every time I glanced at it, at breakfast or dinner, a different phrase popped up.  I suppose this was my first meditation exercise, however unintentional.

The opening line was easy to memorize:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

I like this too:

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

A friend of mine in recent years often used the ‘vexatious’ expression:

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexatious to the spirit.

There are many other great phrases, too many to go through, but reading it again suggests to me that there are worse things I could be meditating on, should I wish to reacquaint myself with this work.

A spin-off, which has probably lost whatever shine it might have had, was a spoken word recording of Desiderata by Les Crane and choristers who repeated the “You are a child…” stanza as a refrain.

“It is still a beautiful world…strive to be happy.”
,

Singing self-acceptance


This was a therapy day so, as the subject of self-love came up, I did a search for Jai Michael Josephs’ song “I Love Myself the Way I Am”, which was included on an early Louise Hay tape I bought in the late 1980s. I’ll paste the lyrics below the YouTube recording by Steve Stay:

I Love Myself the Way I Am

by Jai Michael Josephs from Carry The Love

I love myself the way I am,
there’s nothing I need to change
I’ll always be the perfect me
there’s nothing to rearrange
I’m beautiful and capable
of being the best me I can
And I love myself just the way I am

I love you just the way you are
there’s nothing you need to do
When I feel the love inside myself
it’s easy to love you
Behind your fears, your rage and tears
I see your shining star
And I love you just the way you are

I love the world the way it is,
’cause I can clearly see
That all the things I judge are done
by people just like me
So ’til the birth of peace on earth
that only love can bring
I’ll help it grow by loving everything

I love myself the way I am
and still I want to grow.
But change outside can only come
when deep inside I know
I’m beautiful and capable,
of being the best me I can,
And I love myself just the way I am
I love myself just the way I am

We used to sing this song in a healing circle held back in the early 1990s each Sunday evening at the AIDS Committee of Toronto offices (on Yonge Street at that time).

It was an emotional way to close after checking in with each other as we navigated the waters of caring for people living with AIDS, caregivers and those of us infected alike.

I used to say that while I may never be cured I can always be healed.

I wondered today whether I will ever internalize the positive feedback I get about my life and silence the doubting, self-critical, haunted guy who brings me down so much, at which point this poem was brought out for me.

When Death Comes
Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

from New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
(Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108-2892, ISBN 0 870 6819 5).

The richness of life with friends


It was, as I said on my facebook page, an amazing night of remembering, crying and healing at the 25th Annual Candlelight AIDS Vigil. A true sign of the richness of my life is that I didn’t get the chance to hug everybody that I knew there.

Maybe it was the fact that it was the 25th annual vigil or the fact that it’s been 20 years since I’ve known definitively that I have HIV/AIDS – and have lived to tell about it. I don’t need to know why tonight’s ceremony was extra special.

But as I fill in the details you’ll get the picture.

I sat mere steps away from the AIDS Memorial with a group of friends who have steadfastly supported me in my return to the recovery fold. Later, after several of them held me as I completely shuddered with tears, a total stranger introduced herself, asked if she could also hug me, and quickly became a found soul-mate – a friend I hadn’t met yet – as we began to share about people we both knew.

The evening started with the reading of a message from Cleve Jones, particularly to mark the 25th anniversary. The significance was lost on no one who had seen “Milk” in the past year or so, or those of us who know of him as one of the founders of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Three co-hosts masterfully presided over the ceremonies – multiple-Juno Award winner Billy Newton-Davis, himself a long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS, another long-timer Shari Margolese, and 16-year old Quinn Johnston, Shari’s completely healthy son – the first time a mother and child had shared these ceremonial duties at the vigil.

The music throughout the hour was fantastic. I know these vigils have always touched me but there was something about the music and the stories tonight that really hit home. Several references to long-term survivors (and I’d be in that group) were also very meaningful.

25 more names were added to the memorial, bringing the total to something over 2600. Candles were lit, the light passing from person to person, until the entire crowd was bathed in the glow.

I cried plenty of tears during the live music which included Nathalie Nadon singing “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf, a song – “Can You See Me” – commissioned for this 25th anniversary composed and sung by Glenn Marais, and the nineteen voices of “Guys Like Us” singing “I Believe”. As we placed our candles around the site the Regent Park School of Music String Ensemble performed the always evocative Pachelbel Canon.

That’s when the silence was broken as we hugged and cried, and cried and hugged, met old friends, made new ones and just tried to take in the gratitude we felt for such a touching community event in the early hours of Pride weekend.

A huge thank you to all who were responsible for such an important evening.

Windigo


Ripples lick the rocks
As the pines and birch politely applaud
Gulls catching their petits déjeuners
In the waking lake.

Sky’s amethyst shroud cascades
Towards the western shore
And the water’s silky blue
Becomes the pewter and emerald of armour.

The fleeting storm rumbles to the west and north
Dragging a chair across a distant wooden floor
But our only thunder is from a train
Rolling to market behind its mournful whistle.

The winds shift, the shroud – like a chameleon -
Becomes soft pillows of gray and white.
Simcoe’s armour is but a duvet,
The white top-sheets turned down towards Windigo.

Once here, and with dusk approaching,
The sheets are smoothed, the pillows fluffed
And the sun sinks past the foot of the bed
Leaving colours of peace and wonder.

No sooner are distant pinks orange, and oranges purple,
Then a star pierces the darkening blue
And the trees begin to sigh, knowing the moon’s glow
Over Windigo will keep watch another night.

183451857

Hope you’re keeping well Sue.

© Copyright 1993 Kenn Chaplin. All rights reserved.

Bread passed along for my journey


One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice—-

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world

determined to do

the only thing you could do—-

determined to save

the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver The Journey

In celebration of Earth Day


sepia_07_187×281.jpg

I heard an amazing poem today, from his book “Love letter to the milky way”, this is Drew Dellinger‘s

hymn to the sacred body of the universe

let’s meet
at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs

let’s meet
at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs

for one instant
to dwell in the presence of the galaxies
for one instant
to live in the truth of the heart
the poet says this entire traveling cosmos is
“the secret One slowly growing a body”

two eagles are mating—
clasping each other’s claws
and turning cartwheels in the sky
grasses are blooming
grandfathers dying
consciousness blinking on and off
all of this is happening at once
all of this, vibrating into existence
out of nothingness

every particle
foaming into existence
transcribing the ineffable

arising and passing away
arising and passing away
23 trillion times per second—
when Buddha saw that,
he smiled

16 million tons of rain are falling every second
on the planet
an ocean
perpetually falling
and every drop
is your body
every motion, every feather, every thought
is your body
time
is your body,
and the infinite
curled inside like
invisible rainbows folded into light

every word of every tongue is love
telling a story to her own ears

let our lives be incense
burning
like a hymn to the sacred
body of the universe
my religion is rain
my religion is stone
my religion reveals itself to me in
sweaty epiphanies

every leaf, every river,
every animal,
your body
every creature trapped in the gears
of corporate nightmares
every species made extinct
was once
your body

10 million people are dreaming
that they’re flying
junipers and violets are blossoming
stars exploding and being born
god
is having
déjà vu
I am one
elaborate
crush
we cry petals
as the void
is singing

you are the dark
that holds the stars
in intimate
distance

that spun the whirling,
whirling,
world
into existence

let’s meet
at the confluence
where you flow into me
and one breath
swirls between our lungs

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Winter Solstice


I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

‘We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,’
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

- Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

One of my late grandmother’s predictable bits of small-talk at this time of year was, “Soon we’ll begin to notice the days getting longer.”

She lives on at family gatherings as one of us will inevitably quote her.

Happy Solstice!

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