Article Category Archives: Poetry

Legacy

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As the shadow moves, bouncing
gently, the breeze lightly
brushes this massive maple,
a living thing, necessary—
strong, solid, hardy—
with leaves the width of
my hand, fingers spread.

Its limbs reach high
and roots dig deep.
The wheel of time
rests against its hardy
trunk, a wagon wheel—painted
to make old look old—but new
is the garden at its base,
surrounded by stone.
A circle, in a circle.

The house, as solid and firm
as its companion standing
stoic in the yard, remains strong.
How long has it been here?
Longer than you or I.

A photograph, missing, of father
or mother, or son or daughter—I
don’t remember which,
where, or when—standing before it.
Heritage. This house, this land
has history.

The tree comes to just above
their heads—tall but out of reach.
The man wearing a suit, the
woman, a dress. Were they smiling?
Written on the back of the photograph
was the date, 1884 or 1886. I wish
I could remember.

What special event would warrant
a photograph? Is the date the age
of the house? Or is it recording the birth
of a child? I was told there were twins—
two houses, two brothers—one who built
an exact copy of this house
just down the road,
with the floor plans reversed.

We do not need to leave
the front light on
to encourage shadows
and stories to play in its light.
Here inspiration is rich
and as colourful as the story
of the little white cottage
that used to be on the hill
in our back yard.

A book titled
The Rock Before the Door:
He, who grew up in that house
on the hill by the rock
by the door, fished. First with
father and brothers, then as captain
on the great sea. He dreamed.
He wrote. He built his house
at the bottom of the hill.
Life was a promise.
A house was a home.

Connections, yet not
connected. Related, but
not. Our family is
new to this house.
Our hearts already buried
deep in its land. Our mark
made. The land, its warmth
felt in the breeze, its touch
sensed in the rain, its
comfort heard in the birds’ call,
reaches out to embrace.

First child to be born to this
house in over one hundred years:
My child, this house
is your home.
Your legacy is older
than the tree and the house behind it,
and ready to be as rich as the stories
of that little white-washed cottage
that used to sit on the hill.

rock-before-the-door-_our-house2

Sketch from The Rock Before the Door

Recipe Books / Colonial Guilt

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Recipe Books

My mother pulls out a pink recipe book
from her Company’s Coming collection,
the spine spiralled,
turning in upon itself in a subdued imitation
of regret. I think of all the recipe books she gave me,
that I crammed into a water-stained cardboard box
and took to the Salvation Army
the year I moved from Sherbrooke to Québec.
She sits at the table, runs a finger
down the list of ingredients for rhubarb crumble,
flattens her lips in concentration, leans back
in her chrome kitchen chair.
“It’s too hot,” she says. I offer to do it,
to cut the rhubarb, boil the white sugar and water,
press the oatmeal-butter-brown-sugar mixture
into greased pans, as though this will compensate
for all the recipes I have not made
from those books she gave me,
those books I abandoned,
their spines now slanted anonymously
on the shelves of some used book store,
collecting dust, staring back at hungry strangers
whose mothers never baked for them
like mine did—current cookies, scones, ginger cake,
uncooked chocolate cookies, raisin pies,
date squares—hours and hours of her life
spent jackknifed over an oven.
My mother declines my offer. The moment
for baking is gone. There will be
no crumbs, no smear of sweetness
across my tongue. The recipe book is closed,
all its instructions for sharing moments of love
and happiness trapped
within its silenced pages.
I had no idea.

Retired

Retired by Sara Harley

Colonial Guilt (of a Nine-Year-Old Child)

It is true that I may have a great-great-
grandfather who stood among the willows and
tamarack and took your great-great-
grandfather’s furs and gave him muskets, beads,
brass kettles, flannel, knives, Hudson Bay blankets
and alcohol in exchange.

It is true that I may have a grandmother or great-aunt
who taught in residential schools, thinking to
help your mother integrate Canadian society,
teach her Christianity and how to read and write
a language different from the one that cradled her
in her mother’s womb.

And I suppose that, given my heritage—given
all these people who turned your ancestors’
world upside down, their upheaval trickling down
through their blood, despair, anger and tears to
leave you uprooted, displaced, disinherited,
broken-hearted—you might be entitled
to call me names (whiteman, honky),
pull my hair, chase me down on a
skidoo and hold my head
under the snow. I am, after all,
just a symbol—
empty but for the sins and
(occasionally misguided or ignorant,
perhaps well-intentioned but sometimes
simply cruel) mistakes
of my ancestors, written
out plain for all to see.

No scarlet letter this.
Simply white skin.

Imagined Dialogues with My Grandmother

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I am five, six, seven years old
standing in my grandmother’s bedroom
next to an ancient oak table while she sits on the bed.
Long ago widowed, she wears a black kerchief,
hands folded over a heavy brown dress.

We have established a treasured ritual.
She recounts epics from her expansive life
and I stage lengthy concerts comprised
entirely of improvised songs in “English.”
Taking great joy in each absurd performance,
I contort my mind, striving to summon
the most improbable sounds.

Trotting back home at sunset
through familial fields and orchards,
I do not detect the dark irony of our game
in light of approaching destinies.

Shortly, incoherence inverts reality
as all is whisked away by war,
and a few years later
I stumble through a foreign land,
fitting my mouth with a new tongue.

After she passes away
I start listening to old Russian ballads,
trying to imagine that she is singing back
the nonsensical chants from my childhood.
I cannot comprehend the language
but its similarities to Serbian yield
slow flows of faint echoes,
providing an inexplicable comfort.

Searching through past epochs of memory
for slivers that could rethread our dialogues,
I spend years trying to write her one small
poem in non-invented English to say:
I am sorry for leaving,
but you have gone forward
to an even further country
and must have learned
so many new words

surely now you can understand.

church

Church of Many Stories by Valentina Kenny

Collective Voices

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Where Fear Meets Love

by Zainab Al-Habibi

When I was a child
I would to go to my mother’s bedroom
while she was asleep.
I’d touch her left side of her chest
to check her heartbeat,
to see if she was still alive.
I cannot recall a time when I thought of my family
without death also in my head.
Fear and love went hand in hand.
Ancient Egyptians embalmed the dead,
rituals to preserve the body and empower the soul.
It’s not so different now.
We are afraid of loss,
of disappearance.
As I grew and met more people to love,
fear became such a heavy burden.
But not very long ago,
I discovered fear will not prevent death,
it will only prevent me from living.
So now, when I wake up,
I don’t check my mother’s heartbeat.
I simply look outside my room,
I find my family,
I know they are close,
It is enough.

mum-sewing

Mum Sewing by Zainab Al-Habibi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zainab Al-Habibi writes: “I am 22 years old. I am from Egypt but lived in Saudi Arabia for eight years during my childhood. I came to Canada five years ago and am currently in my third year in a Bachelor of Child and Youth Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University. My love for writing grew when writing was once the only way to survive oppression.”

Being a Girl

by Rebecca D

When I went to that school in the refugee camp,
we had no facilities
and being a girl,
you know,
it means so many different things.
We would study
and go home at noon
and wait
and return the next day.
Sometimes the teacher
would not show up.
I felt there was nothing to study
and no one to push me,
to make me think I have something important.
When I was in Grade 5
Angelina Jolie built a refugee school
and I went there.
She made a big difference in my life.
My mother, affected by war,
did not go to school.
Sometimes being raised by a parent who has not gone to school,
they don’t even know what it is,
they don’t even know the importance of it all.
Being a kid,
sometimes you need someone
to push you and tell you,
Oh, this is how it should be done.
A role model,
you know?

Rebecca D writes: “I am currently in my final semester at Mount Saint Vincent University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Applied Human Nutrition. I am originally from South Sudan but have spent most of my life in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya due to civil war in my home country. I went to elementary school in the camp and then my sister, who lives in Australia, sponsored me to complete my high school studies in one of the best schools outside the camp. I did well in my Grade 12 final exams and applied for World University Service of Canada (WUSC) sponsorship. I was very lucky to meet the qualifications. In 2013, Mount Saint Vincent University offered me a four-year scholarship and that is how I made it to Canada.

Shelter

by Fatima Al-Habibi

I grew up in a very hot country where everybody cursed the sun and sang of the moon and its beauty. People complained about the sun’s heat and how bad it is for food, cars, the human body—everything. I always thought of the sun as a mother, trying so hard to care for her children: they are tired of her constant watch and are very irritable. But in my mind, the sun was a mother’s hug and I allowed it to caress my skin as much as possible.

Now, years later, I am in a different land but with the same beliefs about the sun. When I first moved to Nova Scotia, I felt homesick all the time, but I came to realize that I have to let it go and carry on with my life. One on gloomy, wet day, I ran inside a café, ordered a drink and sat at a table next to the window. I let my mind wander as I stared at the tiny rivers made by heavy rain on the paved street. I looked at the sky for shelter but all I could see was greyness covering up my sun; my shelter on foreign ground. I sipped on my drink and tried to make its very weak heat count. I went home with the sun on my mind.

The next morning, I woke up to find a strong ray of sunshine shining on the wood floor. I took a few steps, opened the balcony door slightly, and sat on the floor in a mix of warmth and chilly breeze. I closed my eyes and thought about lights, shadows and home. A smile travelled across my face and stillness crawled through my mind. For a second, I felt at peace with belonging nowhere.

fatima-sun

Sun by Fatima Al-Habibi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fatima Al-Habibi is a 22-year-old third-year student in the Bachelor of Commerce program at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. She graduated last year with a diploma in accounting from the Nova Scotia Community College. She is a painter, nature-lover, and a proud immigrant and feminist.

Little Red Roofs

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What has brought on
my predilection for houses
with little red roofs?

I never lived in one
—not to my knowledge—
but out in the world
continually reach for even
hokey nicknacks of the image:
vintage plaster souvenirs from
                    Amsterdam or Aruba,
country carvings of Amish barns
and tiny bisque pagodas
                    marked Occupied Japan.

Perhaps it’s this:
I inherited a hooked rug
from my grandmother
depicting a rural structure
all roof and snow, red and white,
a Quebecois-style thing
of a sort now much coveted
in Bank Street antique shops
that has seen much abuse
at my hands, years since
I took it after her death,
left behind after other
more predatory relatives
absconded with genuine heirlooms
                    —etched crystal bowls,
                    gilt demitasse cups—
handed down from generations prior
with a reverence borne by immigrants
keenly aware of how much
they’d left behind.

My grandmother,
a stalwart, sensible, imperfect woman
I much admire in retrospect
for her fire-engine hair and
Scandinavian skepticism,
was more mid-century modern
in her personal tastes.

No; what I took
from Granma’s house was
her teak Danish folding chairs,
her vintage electric typewriter,
her SF paperback collection
and a little Quebecois-style
                    hooked rug thing
of a sort now much coveted
in Bank Street antique shops.

betweentwoplaces

Between Two Places by Deanne Fitzpatrick