A Bedpan for Icarus?

Red Wolf Journal recently asked writers to create a poem “borrowed” in theme or language from a famous poem. I’m delighted that they chose my poem”Bedpan for Icarus” which was inspired by W.H. Auden’s work “Musée des Beaux Arts“.

You might recognize the opening lines. But the rest of the work is my own take on his theme. Auden’s poem means a lot to me because I kept reciting it in my head as my mother was dying. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that she passed away long before Dancing With The Stars existed. (She would not have been a fan!)

Read the poem here: http://redwolfjournal.com or below:

A Bedpan for Icarus

About suffering they were never wrong.

The Old Masters. How well they understood

its human position, how it takes place

when someone else is just scarfing down a burrito,

or adjusting their earbuds.

When my mother lay dying, her heart skipping beats,

her pulse losing rhythm,the nurses stood in the hallway,

outside her room, chatting normally,

taking bets on “Dancing With the Stars”,

ordering Mexican food for dinner.

Mother could have been Icarus, falling

from the sky, Icarus needing a bedpan.

I shook my fist at the nurses through the hospital curtain.

And yet, I should have known, we all turn away, quite leisurely,

from disaster, just as Breughel drew.

We run our eyes down the screen,

clicking even as the typhoon hits

the mosque is bombed, the small child drowns in the Rio Grande.

We hear the splash. We gulp and shake our heads, maybe

 mutter a prayer, And then, quite calmly, we move on.

Red Wolf Journal also recently accepted another one of my “borrowed” poems. Grounded:Seventh Day” was inspired by Wallace Steven’s famous “Sunday Morning.

You can read the poem in this link: http://Redwolfjournal.com or below:

Grounded: Seventh Day

Complacencies of the sweatpants,

and a late latte, and those really good blood

oranges from Trader Joe’s.

Stretched out on the couch, pecking at the tablet

like a cockatoo, in the holy hush

of NPR, with the news shrunk and week-end withered,

and then, later, after the laundry’s done, a few

hours along the river, barely a jog,

the day like wide water

without sound, not even church bells or a call to prayer,

disinterested in sacrifice or sepulcher,

just grounded on the soft moist earth

holding the entire bickering planet in the Light.

A Poem Celebrating Emily Carr 1871-1945

I’ve long been fascinated by the Canadian painter and writer, Emily Carr. Who wouldn’t admire a woman who went off – in 1898 – by herself – to stay in aboriginal villages in British Columbia? She was a daring Modernist artist, Canada’s answer to Georgia O’Keefe. At the same time, she was a staunch environmentalist before most people knew the word or understood the concept.

Photo by Christofer Jeschke, Portland Oregon.

Today, Aji Magazine (pronounced Ah-hee) published a poem of mine about this amazing artist in their “Emerald Issue”. http://ajimagazine.com

Brushed: Emily Carr

No one asked her to come.  She just came. To Cumshewa,

To Haida Gwaii. To The Islands of the People.

A leather satchel, wrinkled like an old woman’s nose,

stuffed with tubes of pthalo blue, camel hair brushes, old rags.

A dented frying pan, blackened by beans, hung

onto the slope of her horse’s back like a metal tail.


She was there to paint the hidden woods and waters,

to sweep the mines of aqua and marine.

Her arrival stirred the native sons, who narrowed their eyes

and hid behind the virgin firs at her first approach.

But the elders knew sacred when they saw it,

and praised the transparent quiet of the stranger’s step.

At night she bedded down alone on the forest floor

letting wolves speak to her, fauve to fauve.

By day, with hurried strokes, she copied the beryl pond,

the turquoise lakes, the blue-green domes.

Before the loggers slashed, before soapsuds curdled streams,

She stashed emeralds onto canvas, none too soon.


Skating to China

I’m just back from Montreal where I participated in the launch of My Island, My City, a collection of new work from forty different writers, sponsored by Montreal’s own Lawn Chair Soirée and edited by Jan Jorgensen. I was delighted to have my poem Skating to China included in this anthology.

If you don’t know Montreal (one of my favorite cities in the world!) you might like a bit of an explanation.

The quick facts are:

1)Montreal is really an island in the huge Saint Lawrence River.

2) Jacques Cartier arrived in the area around 1538 (think about that for a minute!).

3) He was certain that China lay beyond the rapids blocking his further passage. The area south of the city became known as Lachine (China) and still bears that name.

4). Eventually, around 1821, they built a canal to bypass the rapids.

5). You can bike, walk or rollerblade along this now refurbished canal path.

6). It’s really fun to skate to China.


Skating to China

It’s not that hard, even for an old lady with bunions and a bad knee. Bring water.
Start at the Vieux Port and just keep going. A few kilometers or so.
It’s mostly flat, except for a few dips below the highways.
If you’re too chicken to fly downhill, take off your blades and waddle under the Décarie
in your SmartWools alone.
Cyclists, with their lime green jerseys, will buzz past you like flies.
But pay no attention to speed.
Put your skates back on again and continue
Notice how a city, too, takes its time. Getting rooted, decaying, rising again.
See here the graffiti, the crumbling walls, the edge of Montreal unfurling.
Then the greenery, the new and tidy condos, the canal reborn.
All along, the wild smell of the sea will follow you, floating on the Saint Lawrence like
the feather of a gull.
There will be wind and boats and birds and all things marvelous, which you might have
temporarily forgotten even existed, but now you remember, and you’ll want to hold them
inside you, even as you leave them behind.
When you arrive in LaChine, remember why it’s called LaChine.
Turn around.
Skate home


The Compassion Anthology

This is a beautiful collection of writing about disasters, refugees, loss. I find it both uplifting and inspiring. I’m honored to have one of my poems included in the latest edition. Please click below:

http://www.compassionanthology.com

https://www.compassionanthology.com/gabriella-brand.html

You might also like to check out the CHARTER FOR COMPASSION with which this anthology is affiliated. This is a document which urges the peoples and religions of the world to embrace the core value of compassion, inspired by Karen Armstrong, the writer and religious scholar.http://www/charterforcompassion.org It is available in thirty languages and embraces forty-five countries around the world.

UNI….a travel story about sea urchins



Stone Bridge Press focuses on Asian-themed literature. I am delighted that my piece entitled "Uni!" was selected for the February 2017 Stone Bridge Café website. Urchin, anyone?  Check it out here: http://stonebridge.com/…og/stone-bridge-cafe-uni

or Read it here:

UNI

The old lady waved to me as I backpacked through her seaside village on my way around Shikoku. She was clearly happy about something she had spotted off the end of the rough wooden pier.

Look over here! There’s uni!” she said, pointing below the surface of the water.

The Seto Sea gently slapped the shore. The water was the color of green tea, with a splash of cerulean. I glanced down, but I saw nothing. She pointed again.

“You eat uni?” she asked, looking into my foreign eyes.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I’ve never tried it.”

As a walking pilgrim, I was mostly eating in the dining halls of the Buddhist temples where I slept. There was never sea urchin on the menu. I supplemented the temple food with cheap udon, veggies, and plenty of Shikoku’s ubiquitous citrus fruit.

I knew that fresh uni was a beloved Japanese food, a creature prized for its privates – not the roe but the testes…which were reportedly as soft as what? Sweet butter, lemon custard, a baby’s thumb?

“Ah, just wait, chotto matte,” said the old woman as she looked around on the dock for a spear.

I gathered that she was about to procure us some urchin. 

Perhaps she was offering me this delicacy as a form of o-settai, the special gift which Shikoku people bestow on walking pilgrims. I had already met hundreds of residents bearing o-settai, as I made my way along the circular 1200-kilometer route starting at Tokushima. They had come running after me with their blessings and their small presents: hand-crocheted Kleenex holders, ball point pens, hard candies, hard-boiled eggs, oranges, freshly made omigiri.

And now, today, I was being gifted with an opportunity to taste sea urchin. 

My Japanese was hesitant, but my palate was willing. I suddenly remembered an expression from a Japanese textbook. Waku waku shiteiru. I’m excited, I told the old woman. I hoped she could sense my gratitude.

I watched as she creaked to her knees, and then leaned over the water. At her age – she had told me she was almost eighty – her agility was remarkable. I understood that her fisherman husband must have died long ago, leaving her all alone in the little house by the sea.

I started to puff up at the thought of my good fortune. A chance meeting with someone who was kind enough to offer me a Japanese luxury. That’s the kind of thing that happens to real adventurers, I gloated to myself. In the moment, I completely forgot about my goal of being a humble o-henro on a spiritual quest.

The old lady stabbed once and missed. Then stabbed again and whooped like a schoolgirl.

She raised the spear out of the water and showed off the carapaced globe, symmetrically radial and as spiky as a garden teasel.

To arrive at the meaty jewel, she covered her hands in thick rubbery-fabric gloves, and worked slowly, but deftly, like a heart surgeon. 

A lone spine brushed her bare forearm and sliced a thin crimson trough in her skin. She stopped the bleeding with the edge of her apron and kept on working to pull apart the exoskeleton and expose the living treasure.

Mo sugu. Pretty soon,” she said, pulling off her gloves and rushing into her house. 

She returned with soy sauce and a plate. A single plate. Heavy stoneware with a dull finish, chipped on the side. 

Her plate. 

She placed the naked flesh in the center and bathed it in shoyu

“Now you can see how we Japanese eat uni,” she said. 

After a quick itadakimasu, she swallowed, before my very eyes, 

the entire delicacy in one quick mouthful.

 

UNI!