Looking back to last July, I wrote a blog about the launch of poetry chapbooks that came out of poetry retreats with Patrick Lane in Honeymoon Bay. I went to the launch and also the July 2015 retreat. The chapbook from that poetry retreat was launched at the Nanaimo Museum this month.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe title of the chapbook anthology, What We Cannot Know or Own (Leaf Press, 2016) comes from “Ashes of the Dead,” a poem by Liz McNally. Here are the lines in which the words appear:

There are unseen places in us where tears live,
where we crave what we cannot know or own.

There is so much to be learned from poems and from the writing of them. Poems become guides and teachers with unexpected lessons and discoveries.

Lorna Crozier was at the launch too (both she and Patrick read from their books of poetry) as she taught the January 2016 poetry retreat, also in Honeymoon Bay.

In the introduction to The Precise Dimension of Light (Leaf Press, 2016), the chapbook she edited, Lorna wrote: “Poetry has the remarkable ability to hold opposites: passion and restraint, joy and sorrow, clarity and ambiguity, humour and gravitas. It sets out to do one impossible thing and takes a swerve and does something else.”

“A poem knows how to carry a burden,” Lorna said as she introduced the poems.

The words resonate with me – about poems and about life which is made up of joy and sorrow, clarity and ambiguity.

July marks other anniversaries: my birthday and the results of a biopsy of a lump on my shin which I received following the poetry retreat last summer. Spindle cell sarcoma was the diagnosis. From there, things moved pretty swiftly: a visit to the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver to meet an orthopaedic oncologist and his “prescription” for the months to come.



Because the surgeon bears an impish grin
and pulls himself closer to me on a wheel-less stool
– he looks me straight in the eye long enough
for me to know he sees me –
and because he wears a mauve shirt with co-ordinating tie,
directs my gaze to a wall calendar and says:
This will all be over in five months,
I accept his prescription:
five weeks of radiation,
six weeks of rest,
surgery in November.
We leave the building, walk slowly to the car.
Let’s just go home, Sarah says.
Because our home is across the Salish Sea,
we drive, silently, to the ferry at Horseshoe Bay.
In the line-up, Sarah goes for take-out fish and chips.
When they arrive, I eat them. Ravenous.

I saw those five weeks in Victoria for radiation as a pilgrimage and as a pilgrim I did lots of walking. I miss those days of wandering as following surgery in January (not November!), I wasn’t to put weight on my left foot for six to eight weeks. It took a while to get walking on two feet again.

At physiotherapy in Nanaimo, I aimed to please and surprise my physiotherapist Janine by walking with a cane following months of hopping with a walker.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI came to value my time at home. Sarah says I didn’t used to stay home for three days in a row without going stir crazy. Those three days are the days she works outside our home and has the car. I really appreciate those quiet days.

In the early days, the outings were to see my plastic surgeon in Vancouver, have various tests in Nanaimo and to see my family doctor here. Now I can drive myself but have become very discerning about how much I can do. There’s only so much energy. And I’m an introvert. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t gone “stir crazy.” Solitary days at home reading and writing, getting in touch with “purposeful innerliness,” suit me.  (Writer Vivian Gornick used the phrase to refer to particular writers of personal essays.)

I’ve read so much this year. Some of the reading I’m doing is about healing: Healing Touch by Dorothea Hover-Kramer (Sounds True, 2011) and Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin, MD. (Hay House, 2013). I’m fascinated by the way our bodies can heal themselves. We need doctors and treatment and yet there are so many other choices we have to be well and many of them have to do with activities or non-activities that bring on a “relaxation response”.

In another book by Lissa Rankin, Anatomy of a Calling (Rodale, 2015), I made note of a quote by Charles Eisenstein: “If you are in the sacred space between stories, allow yourself to be there. It is frightening to lose the old structures of security, but you will find that even as you might lose things that were unthinkable to lose, you will be okay .There is a kind of grace that protects us in the space between stories.” (Charles Eisenstein’s book is The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know.)

The security referred to has to do with a usual way of life. My usual way has changed although there are similarities. I live in the same house with the same beloved partner. I’m working on writing projects I had set aside for awhile. I offer women’s writing circles in our home and feel enriched by the stories of our spiritual journeys. Is there something else I wonder? I could be in the space between stories.

“Things are always in transition,” Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says. “Life is a good teacher and a good friend. . . . Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs.”

She continues to say in an article included in The Buddha Is Still Teaching selected and edited by Jack Kornfield (Shambhala, 2010): “Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic – this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior.”

I had kept this passage sent to me in an email by a friend three years ago. I’m glad to be reminded of “gently and compassionately catching ourselves.”

It’s something for us to do as we age too, heading into a place we’ve never been before. At last year’s poetry chapbook launch and poetry readings, Patrick Lane said he had learned to say no. At age 76 (now 77), he has learned to follow his heart.

At that time I had cleared the way for whatever was next. “Don’t hurry,” Patrick advised me at that time. I’m not hurrying as my body has determined a slow pace.

It’s amazing how helpful people have been during this year-long journey – not the people I would have expected necessarily but those who kept in touch, surprisingly, throughout. I’m grateful for them all. One of them is my poet friend Bill who I was able to see for an in-person visit as he returned to the island for the July poetry retreat.

The journey isn’t over as walking confidently again with a differently formed ankle will take time. As other areas of my body show signs to take note of, I’ll continue to have tests. And perhaps this slower pace is how it’s meant to me from now on.

ayearwithhafizOn my birthday, July 3rd, I was interested to read a poem by Hafiz called “Nests in Your Palm” included in A Year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations (Penguin Books, 2011). It reminds me of how much there is to be learned by staying right here, at home.

What makes the wings return in the spring,
I know all about.

And what makes them leave again before the
snow weighs down their need for flight? That
feeling too I am very familiar with.

Look at your own migration from spirit to
form and back, so many times.

What is there to learn before you can retire
and cease such an arduous journey?
. . .
Until you discover heaven nests in your palm,
you will keep traveling in widening circles,

in exploration from spirit to form, until there
is that deep Ahhh inside, and then nowhere
else you will want to go.