Wednesday, June 21, 2017

we move out (and apart)

on the brink of spring
our perennials wilt
a cactus too
behind roman curtains

we live in the brick row house
at the corner
of monmouth and cataraqui
always under
the blank stare of george
our next door neighbour's
black and white cat

we take down
the wooden ladder your father made
so we could reach our attic loft

the air's off
dishes packed
chopsticks split in half

all these lasts

cycling to sandwich town
under the ambassador bridge
another country blinking madly
cargo ships floating silent

feeling so small
against a skyline so big

the cicadas caw
bees hum
song of birds (cardinals, robins, the odd blue jay)

i was annoyed at squirrels then
the bird that pushed its way
through a vent into the living room
flew madly into windows

so much space
yet so many walls

Sunday, March 12, 2017

the years you loved me

when you are on the other end
of wet concrete ribbon
dusted with winter wheat
and flurries in march

when we are a month apart
from the dry African sun
foam sprayed coast
star smeared sky

when I am wedged between
the skyline's crooked teeth
the walls that echo 
in our hollow house
pots clang 
bounce from brick

(I forget the contours of your face
your skin's porous breath
those calloused hands that built a boat
the years you loved me)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

leaving mianyang.

Tues Dec 6, 2016
10:14 p.m.
Auntie and grandma’s house

Exerpt from letter to N:

Being in China makes me want to live here. Sunshine is really rare especially in winter so sunny days draw out the entire city. It's amazing. Adorable babies everywhere with their caregiver grandparents. Little food stands and fresh veggies and fruit everywhere too. Farmers cart them in and you can buy them right from their little truck or cart or basket. You can easily cab. Walk take a 'three wheel bicycle' somewhere. There's uber. There are non registered cabs. Regular cabs. Buses. Everything. It's insane. By no means efficient all the time but just ...very different. There's a lack of pretension or keeping up images that I love too. People hoarking everywhere. Dog poop. The bathrooms are super stinky. But once you overlook that you end up appreciating how frank people are bc there are so many thmany there's no time to waste on fake ness. You'd find it fascinating methinks :) 

But apparently you can't come back until we're married according to po po. Otherwise they'll think you're a secret agent. I actually do think you might have to register with police haha. 

But you'd love it here. We could probably end up spending a lot of time having fun living here if that's what we really wanted 

Tues Dec 6, 2016
10:30 p.m.
Auntie and grandma’s house

It’s so cliché but it never gets old. Time flies. Three weeks is drawing to a close quickly. I knew it would. N knew. My parents did. Doesn't really make it much easier. Unless I still need practice. I’ve said so many goodbyes. Been torn from so many cities and lived so many wonderful and painful storylines you’d like it would be easy by now. As I age, though, I find it’s tougher because it’s not just the conclusion of a storyline, but there are fewer chances to write those stories. Especially on this trip.

As I’m writing, my popo is talking about how important it is to sleep before 11 p.m. every night. How she needs me to start cooking an herbal soup 1-2 times a week to alleviate period pain. Not to roughhouse with my parents because they don’t like it. Exercise but don’t over exercise. And make sure you don’t talk or laugh when you do. And focus when you do yoga. I love her furiously. My grandma worries, though. Without my grandpa who had a bit more of a sense of humour. When I was younger, when the two of them lived with us for two years in Canada, I remember thinking I liked joking around with him better. I miss the two of them together. I think part of it is because I’ve never known them separately until this trip.

Po po says her appetite has increased since we’ve been back. She has more energy, too. I make her promise to sustain all this once we leave the day after tomorrow. I’m not sure she can, to be honest.

Having PMS during the end of a trip like this is terrible. I’ve ben with family nonstop for three weeks. Listening to advice, heeding bed times, melting into family time. My bad mood brings on annoyance. Irrational anger. And a lack of appreciation for those around me.

My grandma is in bed beside me. We have separate duvets. She snores so loudly and rustles around and turns on the light briefly at night. All of which wake me up briefly.

Even when I’m PMSing I push through the annoyance and haze. I realize I’m experiencing something special and rare.

(I often wonder what it’s like when people can see grandparents each week or few weeks. Do they value their time together as much. Do they realize how lucky they are. N got to grow up surrounded by family. He’s lucky, for sure.)

Thursday Dec 8, 2016
Grandma and Aunt’s house

Exerpt from letter to N:

when you wake up (Thursday morning) it will be my last night in Mianyang. We fly out to Beijing just before noon time. Mixed feelings. In a way, I'm very excited to get back to you and regularity bc I know it's inevitable, so may as well just get to it. But, I also just want to spend more time here. It's weird. I've been back only four times since I was four and every time it's within the comfort and protection of family who always are looking out for me, to accompany grandparents, so I feel like I only ever skirt the surface of this country every time. Then, when I return, everything has changed all over again and I'll only get to know the 'new china' on the surface. It's a weird feeling.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Back home to Mianyang

Thurs Nov 24, 2016 11:30 a.m.
Auntie and grandma’s house

My auntie’s house is freezing. I’m wearing a sweatshirt, thermal layer underneath and a windbreaker vest. China’s winters are frigid. I haven’t experienced one since I was four. Arriving in Mianyang last night was awful. Chengdu was fun. Touring with my parents is always fun. We have each other figured out and can get along reasonably well. As our bullet train arrived in Mianyang, I knew family business would inevitably play a role in the next two weeks. Our base in this city of a million.

As we got out of the cab and walked toward our family’s apartment, I realized we were walking the steps toward the doorway entrance where I last saw my grandpa. That entranceway where he saw us off for the last time five years ago. Where we took walks together, just him and I. And I took those ridiculous photos of our two pairs of feet from above. My grandma looks that much older. Still tiny and walking around in a winter coat and puffy vest. Mind clear as day, comforting me as I couldn’t compose myself seeing all the photos of grandpa in her room. Hands on hips in the ocean in Atlantic city. Strong legs and just starting to grey. I was six then in a pink dress. Black and whites of him and my grandma through the decades.

Last night, I took his spot in bed and slept beside my grandma. Everything about this life is unfamiliar and strange. I’m home. I’ve come home before. I don’t know where to put my clothes. I don’t know how to unpack. What to wear in this damp cold. And I stare up at his photos in this fog, I start crying and can’t stop. Something is off. He is not here and I don’t know how to act. I see him at the computer desk brushing up on current affairs. I see him coming home with a little baggie of treats for me. I see him sitting up in bed, reading. I sleep beside my grandma in my grandpa’s spot. This morning, as I’m waking up, I think I smell him faintly on the pillow.

Everyone here has moved on. This is the first I’ve been back. Everyone else has already been through this.

I change out of my sleep clothes in bed. I pry myself out of bed and fold up the duvet in the way my grandma does and place the neat bundle under the pillow. I fumble through all these routines.

Fri Nov 25, 2016 10 p.m. before bed
Auntie and grandma’s house

In bed by 10-10:30 p.m. Like India. Early up, early to bed. Though in India, it was more like 8:30-9:30 p.m. bed time. After a day of fresh Himalayan sun and air. Ah. I miss that place so much. Another one that took a lot of work getting there, but well worth the trek. I started my day waking up next to my grandma. We lay side by side as she sometimes reached over to pull the covers over my back so I couldn’t be cold. China’s winters are biting. And I might get a cold, like all Chinese grannies tend to think. But, there’s no central heating so I’m in a culture of coats indoors and outdoors. So chilly, I change under the covers, too.

Grandma and I talked in bed this morning, facing each other. She talked about when I was small, like she’s prone to do often. When it was just me, her and grandpa in China and my parents had immigrated to Canada already. She says she should have known things back then. Hindsight. When I ate cookies, I used to always make sure I saved some for my mama. I would ask my grandma if they’d go ‘stinky’ (chou) by the time they got to her. So, I made my grandma promise to buy a new box instead. She says re grets not finding me more friends my age to play with. I didn’t know how to play with adults. I’d try to roughhouse with my great grandma and she would have none of it and I’d get frustrated.

Mornings with grandma in bed. A tiny, slow frail looking woman who is still a pillar for the family. Who may philosophize too much or find life lessons in everything. In a T program about panda birthing. But, what is an 84 year old (turning 85 tomorrow) to do. She says she’s fortunate to have her grand daughter sleeping beside her again. She’s eating better. Sleeping better. Feeling better now that we’re back. I wonder what will happen when we leave in two weeks.

I walked into the market with my auntie this morning. She picked up where my grandma left off this morning. About my great grandma. I would say to her—great grandma, when you’re my age, you must go to kindergarten, ok? Whereas my cousin would say—how can you teach me things when you haven’t even been to kindergarten? All this reminiscing about 30 years ago. Usually the same stories, but they never stale or expire. I don’t get to see family for Sunday dinners. Holidays. Even once every few months. So I don’t get picky, or try not to, at least. I try to let annoyances fritter away and sink into the family I know but don’t, for these three weeks.

It all moves quickly. I wonder if this will be the last time I see my grandma. The same thing I wondered about my grandpa when I left last time four years ago. Look what happened. My last grandparent and my clearest, earliest memories

Sunday Nov 27, 2016
Auntie and grandma’s house

Grandma’s 86th birthday. Because I’ve only see her in sporadic bursts, I’ve never experienced her grief. I was too young when my greatgrandma died. I remember my mama crying on the phone. Sniffling myself a bit. The memory is vague. I’ve not grown up with extended family, nor much close family in the way other are fortunate to have done. Not like N who grew up steps away from Gramma. Down the road from his uncle and cousin. A town away from a few other cousins. The family circle is constant and consistent and I wonder what that would have been like and I now realize how important it is to have that. I don’t want my parents to grow old with none of my mama’s cousins and their kids (who clearly adore them) far away. I worry where they’ll choose to stay once they grow too old to make the 13-plus hour flight here. Who they’ll have around them. I don’t want them to just have me when there are so many others who love them.

I bought my grandma a cake. We also bought her a bouquest of roses. The second she saw them she went silent. Said something about how it’s too much. I found her in her room (ours for three weeks) in a chair and I knew right away. Because I’ve never experienced her grief or much grief in general, I didn’t know how to ac. I placed my hand on her knee and asked if she wanted me to stay. She said no. So I got my mama. Soon after, I heard her sobs. They tore through the house with a rather subdued dignity. She’s been so strong, put together for others. I think she’s still feeling it herself. Still missing my ye ye after 60 years together. Their room has their photos framed everywhere. Through the decades. Black and white to colour. Through technological advances and two world wars and other skirmishes and close calls. He’s everywhere to her. Me, my memories are more limited. It’s this knowledge that shuts me up. I can’t understand. I sit there as my mama and cousin comfort her. He wants us to be happy. He’s always with us. He knows and sees but how does that help 60 years of knowing and seeing. I don’t know. Everyone eventually loses. First, grandparents, then parents. All the way through, you have the support of a lover, spouse. And when you lose your spouse, the world must seem so foreign. What happens when one of my parents loses the other. I’m their child but will never know them in that way. Only one person does. And they’re gone. I think of N and our meager four years together that seems like forever right now. How much I already never want him to leave. How he’s 11 years older. How the better someone is to you, the more they understand you. The more you fit together, the harder it will be down the road. How do you reconcile that? I don’t yet know.

After taking some time, po po emerged from her/our room. She put on a brave, though sullen, face. We sang happy birthday. She opened cards and ate cake. In her card, I wrote to her about how odd it is to be here for the first time ever without my yeye and how much it reminds me to treasure our time together. In Chinese. With Dad’s help. I think that helped.

Dec 1, 2016
8 p.m.
Auntie and grandma’s house

Two days ago, we saw grandpa. Mianyang is mountainous. We rode a cab up one of the hills where the air is fresher than in the city A sunny, warm day in late November. Chinese cemeteries are different than Western ones. More about tradition. A little stand in front of the huge gates flanked with blue, yellow and pink flags. A little storefront selling firecrackers, paper, candles, incense and cardboard cars, clothes, riches. We bought some of each and headed up. The stones are in rows along the mountainside, staggered. You walk up to each row with stone stairs on either side. I woke up in the morning not knowing if I could cry. This trip has helped me say goodbye to him—just by seeing grandpa, sleeping alongside her in his spot. Remembering where I saw him last. But, walking up the stone steps not knowing where I’d find him (it’s my first time visiting since he died two years ago), my heart felt heavier and heavier. Each Chinese stone has a photo of the departed. I saw my grandpa’s face, eyes smiling and lips curled slightly upward. The rare sun at our backs, hearing my mama speak to him. Telling him we’re all okay, that we miss him, that she regrets he died in the ICU with no one around him because family was only allowed two visits a week, a half our each. I wrote a letter in Chinese to him—simple because I can’t express myself well in my mother tongue. I didn’t cry until the last two lines. Ye ye, I wish I could see you one last time. Don’t worry about us. We’ll take good care of po po. I love you. I didn’t say much else. I let my mama and auntie do most of the talking. Listening to their sobs I tried to imagine missing my baba in the same way. Their openness around our family, the ability to cry in front of my dad and me. Talking to their baba. Telling him to be happy up there. To take care. The day he died, the sunshine was just as strong. Two years in two months and they still cry. We burned the paper shoes and clothes, my auntie telling him winter is coming soon and he needs to keep warm. Mama knit a hat for him. We put that in, too, along with my letter and one my grandma wrote to him in Chinese calligraphy. When we left, we lit the firecrackers and the huge, imposing crackle filled the hazy sunny air, leaving a trace of smoke smell. We left with calm hearts. Yesterday my mama told me you end up missing someone more when they’ve lived longer because you’ve been able to spend more time with them.

Tonight, we went out for dinner with the son of my mama’s best friend and old work colleague, his wife and 5 year old daughter. I first met bai dou when I was 13 or 14. Had the biggest crush on him as I trailed him and my mother’s other best friend’s daughter around Suilin playing arcade games. Now, he’s a surgeon with a  5 year old daughter who calls me auntie and, for the first time in my life, and to my huge shock, calls my parents “grandpa” and “grandma”. And my parents are “auntie” and “uncle” like I always remember kids calling them. I’m “big sister”, a “jie jie”, not an “auntie”.
An devastating reminder of the passage of time. And the impermanence of the present. I’m being dramatic, but when you don’t see family regularly like many people, the time together is condensed and so are the accompanying feelings. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

chengdu, china.

i promise i will write about china. i have. just on pen and paper.
i'll post them as I write. 
for now, here are the posts from chengdu. 

Sunday Nov 20, 2016 11 a.m.
My parents’ apartment

Finally back in China. Windsor to Toronto to Beijing to Chengdu. Almost 20 hours of flying. 20-plus hours of travelling. I’m exhausted. N and I stayed up until 2 a.m. drinking, putting up Christmas decorations prematurely and looking back on old trip photos. We woke up at 7 and stayed in bed. Then, he dropped me off at Windsor airport at 9. I proceeded to throw up the second we landed in Toronto. Luckily I made it to a bathroom in the domestic arrivals terminal. Landing in Beijing wasn’t as fun. I felt it coming, despite the Gravol I’d taken as a precaution. We landed. I grabbed a barf bag while waiting to disembark from the plane. The second I stepped off the plane, I felt it coming on. I found a corner and filled a third of the airplane barf bag. I turn 30 and I start throwing up on flights. My body becomes sore and creaky. My heavy backpacks is undoing all my physio homework. And watching new releases on my ass for 13 hours straight seemed more fun when I flew to China five years ago. What a difference half a decade makes. My grandpa was alive then. I had no idea who N was. And yet, still suffering a career crisis. Everything changes and nothing changes all the times.

Monday Nov 21, 2016 10 p.m.
My parents’ apartment

Honk. Hoark. Honk. Waking up to jarring sounds. On the streets. In Bed. So routine it easily fits into the background. But only in China. The smells, too. Thick air. Dense atmosphere. Smoked meat. Tinged with faint garbage. I forget quickly about what’s in my blood memory. It jolts me back awake. Millions of people all like me. All completely unlike me. We spent the day with my two aunts and their husbands. Seeing my parents joke with them reminds me of when we were all 20 years younger. They seemed less serious then. Talked less of who they know has died like they talk about their jobs. Or retirement life. Auntie Dorothy asks if I remember when I finished grad school and my suitcases were so heavy my Italian friend Luca had to help carry them out for me. When I shopped far too much and knew too little, but thought I knew so much. I’m 30 now and only shop for work clothes online. I still think I know everything. But I know I know nothing. I come back and every time I wonder how much I’m like the people honky and hoarking around me. Wonder about how my uncle got to be 75. My aunt, 65 and early 70s. My parents, too. Last I remember, we were all in China 15 years ago. When I was still experimenting with makeup and they stayed up late eating peanuts and laughing too loudly too late.

Wed Nov 23, 2016 10 a.m.
My parents’ house

After two flawless nights of sleep (save for a nightmare on my second night about inviting childhood friend Fred D and colleague R over to hook them up then discovering strangers accumulating in my house and crashing the party and destroying everything ensuing in a huge headache of kicking them out and having police come) I slept for only 5.5 hours last night. I woke up at seven (slept after 1:30 a.m.) stressing about work. SO much for being out of sight, out of mind. That didn’t last long. Don’t think my vacations have been completely stress-free for a long time. Lots of replaying scenarios, conversations from the last two weeks. Frustration builds and I have to force myself to be more present in this reality. Tossing and turning. Touching myself to fall back asleep. It can’t be jet lag. I get desperate for a quiet space sometimes. As I get older, I realize I’m growing psychologically weak. Peeing. Puking. Stressing. I think, in part, this anxiety is because I know I’ll be in Mianyang this evening and grandpa won’t be there. I’ve never been in China and he hasn’t been here. My connections to this country hinge heavily on four people. My parents and grandparents. But my earliest memories are all grandpa and grandma. Living with them when my parents were already in Canada.

Yesterday we went to see pandas in the north of Chengdu. I was worried they’re be in a museum like setting, forgetting how much the Chinese government protects them. Panda diplomacy. SO many pandas—lazing, lounging, eating tumbling, play fighting. Aside from  being unable to hug one, my life was made by those furry things. I could probably be happy working in a place like that the rest of my able days. Writing panda poetry and prose. Odes. At night, dad and I took a pot from our kitchen and brought it downstairs and around the corner, to the little family run hole in the wall. A noodle shop. The owner cooked the noodles and mixed it with spicy sauce and miscellaneous sensing veggies and we brought it on back. 30 yuan and we have next day’s lunch, too. I had to help dad order and he seemed almost frozen, unable to communicate in a tongue he wasn’t familiar with. No chopsticks, thanks. Me, overeager and wanting so much to prove my Chinese ness, jumped in and filled in the blacks and silence and mulling over. The owners had a little kid. So many little kids and babies. All the parent are younger than me. 

After dinner, we got on the tube again and met up with my cousin at Cao Tang Bai Lu. She’s here for training. We had tea in her fancy hotel room, listening to her muse about work life in her mid 20s. I remembered being so full of musings about work life and life in general then. Listening to her made the work and future thoughts rush back. My mind glazed over and all I saw were her lips moving. All I heard was the blood rushing through my ears. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

montreal (july 16-23, 2017)

how is this for meta.
im in chengdu, china, posting about montreal. 
finally, i have some time to go through photos from our last vacation. 
a week in july. 
n surprised me with a trip. 
we had a week off and he told me not to worry. a birthday surprise. 
i requested a flat in the south of france. or a cottage. 
i got montreal. one morning, i woke up to train tickets magnetized onto the fridge. 
i was quick to feel wariness at his choice. 
he told me he planned surprises and activities within the trip. that i wouldn't be disappointed. 
we ended up cycling the city and beyond. 
drinking on terasses. surfing the st lawrence. dancing our faces off at piknic electronik.
he's good to me. this is our trip. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

florida wedding (april 30-may 8, 2016)

In early May, my friend got married.
N and I attended the wedding on a remote island near Fort Myers, Florida.
I was skeptical of many aspects, but it turned out to be pretty amazing.
We took the opportunity to road trip up through Florida's panhandle, through Alabama, Mississippi, ending up in New Orleans, Louisiana.
All in a week.
Needless to say, this trip destroyed me.

(note: trying to get back into updating this thing more regularly. which means i will be deviating from the standard words-only format. but only when i travel.)