Thursday, 7 December 2017

Family Tree - A Tanka Prose Piece


In the days when life was less loud and messy … and mostly, fixable with a good night’s sleep, my family was as big as the biggest oak tree that you could imagine.  There were branches and branches of relatives in every combination and configuration, with which, a human being can lay claim to a leaf on a family tree … grandparents and great grannies, cousins galore … and, as if that wasn’t enough … second, third and fourth cousins … likewise aunts and uncles … to say nothing of the once and twice removed, lot – that nobody ever got … but counted them as kin … or, at least – ‘married-in’. 
From time to time, all the leaves on all the branches, from all over Ontario, would return to the family tree, for giant reunions, held in our small town of Port Arthur – where the best cooks in the clan had ended up.   The women prepared food for days in advance … and the men made homemade potato champagne … in vast quantities. 
And then, the party would commence.  Records were played, of someone’s favorite tunes – that, inevitably, conjured forth special memories.  The words ‘remember when’ rustled through the air like colorful autumn leaves fluttering before the fall.   And immense backyard bonfires were lit, that threatened to burn down the house of the host … but never did.  Instead ‘goings-on’, such as those, were celebrated in hilarious family anecdotes … to be retold, again and again, at future reunions … and funerals.
Those were such good times ... looking back ... extraordinary times.  There was joking and fun.  There was laughter.  There was abiding affection and a sense of belonging – in some which-way – to that strange ‘warts-and-all’ tribe that didn’t have much in common, really … other than – from the youngest to the oldest – we considered ourselves … part of the family. 
Small town Canada … like small towns, everywhere … has changed a lot, since then.  People move away and no one ever goes back.   Many of the leaves from the family tree have fallen … or toss … on far off winds, never to return.  Those wonderful, wonderful ‘get-togethers’, of people who genuinely wanted to spend time with each other … who wanted the best for each other … are gone … long gone … many years now … though my mind casts back to them … often … in my rambles ………… 
I linger before
a huge dead tree trunk 
feeling the serenity of acceptance
there ... in what remains
of what once was

note: 'warts and all'  means to reveal something in its totality, and not conceal the less attractive aspects.  The expression is said to have come from Oliver Cromwell’s instructions to his portrait painter to paint him ‘warts and all’ and not in the style of the day, which was to flatter the sitter.

photo:  taken in Lynn Headwaters Park in North Vancouver – P. Bourke
© 2017 Wendy Bourke

Friday, 1 December 2017

burden of ancients

I had expected
I would be more at peace
at this place in my life, for ...
I have sought it
these many years,
in my way

I carry the weighty woes
of this planet,
like a big bass drum,
to the fragile heartbeat
of our earth

to know
what it is, to live …
is to know,
that survival is precarious and hard

perhaps, ancients
are not meant
to find peace
in bearing witness to
failure to exist harmoniously
and with diligence
perhaps, it is part of the price we pay,
for the gift of long life –
the burden of owning
the state of the world
we will leave behind, at passing

“We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit. … We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home.” – David Suzuki:  Canadian environmentalist, scientist, and writer.

photo:  Ucluelet's Wild Pacific Trail – B. Bourke

© 2017 Wendy Bourke

Friday, 24 November 2017


the day after we moved to Vancouver, the kids and I took a bus into the downtown area … the bus went through East Hastings … that part of the city, our philosopher/bus driver referred to as:  three blocks – he had to believe – that were as dark as addiction can take a place …......... that was over twenty years ago, and the days when addiction was three blocks long, are long gone …  now, in this town, they call addiction – and death by addiction – an epidemic ... and the epidemic has spread ... everywhere

~ ~ ~ 

in our grocery store there is a little table with four chairs next to the deli counter … sometimes I sit there, while M goes through the checkout … I am often joined by other customers who stop to rest or nibble or scratch their lottery tickets … yesterday … a young man … a kid … joined me, and when I glanced his way, he was inhaling a drug with a lighter and tin foil and a short straw  ...

my world was rocked … I was shocked, of course …  and horrified and terribly saddened … the spectacle of youth … brought so low … far beyond caring who saw him poisoning himself, poisoning the space and breaking the law … beyond caring that 90% of street drugs in this town, are laced with killer fentanyl … beyond caring he'd brought an epidemic into a grocery store ... I walked away ... fast ... and joined M who had just finished paying … 

his hand holding the weight of the shopping bag started to shake … it does that sometimes … his doctor says:  if you can make it stop, it’s probably not a big deal … he switched hands and it stopped … I could hear the kid shouting at himself and, by then … we had to walk passed him to get out ... but as we approached … he bolted through the doors and was gone … poor child … poor lost soul racing towards death  ...

surely, he cared ... once ... surely, there was a time when he believed he could make it stop … or was his life so intolerable and devoid of hope, that he was always beyond caring ... can it be so
~ ~ ~

outside, the sky had taken on the melancholy ombré of autumn dusk … the boy’s shouts were, slowly, shushing with distance and traffic … I recalled a showing M and I had attended, at a gallery … a famous painting … two hazy figures, off in the distance … before them … someone is screaming … someone is in profound pain … in an agony of panic and despair … the spectators were barely in the picture … but I remember wondering … what would it be, to come upon that ... right before your eyes

image (public domain):  The Scream - Edvard Munch 1893.

© 2017 Wendy Bourke

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

another November 11th … come and gone

I notice a woman selling poppies at the door of the mall and marvel
that a whole year has come and gone, since the twins’ last birthday

there is not much chance of forgetting their birthday – November 11th
Remembrance Day ... not that I could forget that recurrent occasion ...

a liturgy at the town cenotaph, standing in snow in northern ontario gusts,
watching the laying of wreaths with my family and grandparents

bitter winds … flanders fields … abide with me … prayers … the last post …
my grandma … a hanky to her eyes …. talk of her two dead soldier boys

and then, the “girls” were off to early holiday shopping … and the men …
to the legion to drink away their remembrance and wonder at their survival

November 11, 1983, was not so … I was giving birth as the 11th hour approached
… my grandparents had all passed away … one by one … dust to dust …

and my dad had died six days earlier … I had sat, rather ridiculously,
at his graveside in a lawn chair … ashes to ashes … too heavy to stand

so many changes in my life, but THAT November 11th … when the boys were born  ...
that day … after the birth, I felt so overwhelmed … my body – so heavy, still –

so crushingly heavy … I could barely lift myself up … the weight of birth …
the weight of death …  the weight of change … the weight of remembrance –

I stop to buy a poppy and think about asking the boys for supper…
our little tradition … a November 11th tradition … a gift and a light repast

Photos:  Dad on his Bike, 1940 – shortly before he enlisted – ANON; 
Birth Day – Nov. 11, 1983 – ANON 

© 2017 Wendy Bourke