Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Like drinking water from a creek
in your cupped hands
Lap it up before it leaks
Out between your fingers

Splash it in your face
catching the drops
that run off the end of your nose
on the tip of your tongue

Drops evaporate
and hands must be dipped again
to wet a dry throat
and wipe the sweat away

Then one day you come
sliding down the gravel bank
sitting on your rock
under the hemlock

And the creek is dry
sand on the parched bed
dappled with the pools
of summer's last flow

And the water
runs underground
to be tapped lower down.
It will fill again.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006


She walked carefully down the driveway to the truck, in her light jacket and shoes. The snow crunched underfoot and squeaked with the sound of styrofoam, the way it does at 30 below. She clutched the keys in her hand and felt for her wallet in her pocket. It was there as always, ready for escape.

She heard the house door being locked behind her and bowed her head and walked around to unplug the block heater, which kept the starter battery from freezing. She unlocked the truck door and pulled it open in the cold. It was not frozen shut as she had thought it would be. She got in and turned the key in the ignition and it started.

She let the truck ease down the driveway and she pulled into the road. No traffic at 3 am, only ink black sky and white circles of light from the streetlamps. The road was glare ice but she drove slowly past the sparse houses and stopped at the sign, before turning south onto the highway heading into town.

Tears ran freely down her cheeks and her nose ran, dripping past her mouth and chin, tickling her neck. She took a hand off the steering wheel and wiped her face. Now her hand was wet and slick on the wheel and her vision was blurred and her shoulders heaved.

The road curved as it followed the river on the right, and a steep cliff rose on the left. The rough dynamited wall of rock was crossed by chicken wire to keep the boulders from crashing down on the road. She prayed God to keep the truck from sliding off the road and into the river, and then she prayed that the truck would slide off the road and into the river.

But it didn't. She drove into the town and parked at the strip mall at the opposite end from the row of neon signs, and cleaned her face, and got her breathing to slow down. She had been on the road for 20 minutes. If she stayed a little longer then she could drive back arriving home an hour after she had left.

When she got back home, she opened the door quietly and came in. All was silent so she lay down on the couch and pulled the afghan over her, and punched the cushion into shape and lay stiff listening for a sound. She slept from exhaustion and woke only when she heard the boy walking down the hallway, calling for her.

She got up and changed his diapers and cleaned him up, and sat him at the kitchen table and gave him cheese and cheerios to eat with his hands. Then she fed him some cereal with milk, making sure he didn't choke. She reached for a kleenex and wiped his nose which always ran.

That is what it was about, right. That she, the negligent mother, had exposed him to germs by taking him to playgroup in the winter. If she had kept him at home, or asked or checked to see if any of the other children had a cold, then Brian would not have caught another cold. But, no, unthinking, not taking appropriate care, she had taken him anyway and there was hell to pay.

So when Brian coughed in the middle of the night, it was directly a consequence of her failure, her lack of foresight, and proper care of the child. That is why her husband had yelled, to teach her what her responsibility was, to keep this misbegotten child from further illness. It was the disgusting mess really, of a nose always running, and a 4 year old in diapers.

Well, you could not mistake the fact that this child was not normal. He had the impish face and features of Down's syndrome, with the open mouth and large tongue, narrow eyes twinkling with fun. He would put his hands over his eyes and play peekaboo between his fingers. Happy child, as long as he was in his routine, playing with his blocks and piling them over and over. But just change a step and watch out.

This morning her husband got up and drank his coffee and ate breakfast and took his lunch that she had made. He went over and spoke to the kid, touching the hair matted with pablum. He had only ever shouted at Brian once, and the look of bald uncomprehending terror, the shrieks of distress, lasting half an hour, set up a no go zone, for some reason. Leanne wondered how the boy had done it and she couldn't. Her husband headed off to work without looking at her.

So she would be safe for another week, until it started again.

It was Tuesday morning so she phoned Lisa and said that she would not be at the Moms and Tots group that day because Brian had a cold. Lisa promised to drop in in the afternoon, which was better because that gave her time to wash her face and put on a little makeup, and check her complexion in the mirror to see if the crying had left any marks.

To be Continued

All posts are copyrighted by the author. This is a work of fiction, a product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


I was at university in those heady days of women's liberation and flower power. Women were coming into their own and I was in that same year with the first women graduates in theology who would be ordained. I was studying French and German philosophy, reveling in the freedom this gave me when I spent the summers backpacking through Europe on my own.

Diana, along with some other friends of mine, signed up for theology. I saw her struggle through her beginning lessons in Greek and Hebrew. This was the first time she had tackled a foreign language and I was baffled by her pain. She stuck at it, more determination than facility, but that is often the way.

I heard one of her theology professors address a group of young students and I was impressed with this severe-looking man, who told outrageous jokes with a straight face but a twinkle in his eye. His iron grey hair erupted in unruly curls more suited to a teenager and his motherly wife doted on us.

Some of us girls assessed this situation carefully, and finally decided that this conservative theologian did, in fact, consider woman to be equal to man. We did not doubt this ourselves but we were not ready yet to venture into unknown territory. We were still uninstructed in the history of women leaders who had gone before, and shrank from being the ones to create a new role model.

We switched from language and philosophy into health and education in search of a pragmatic choice. These careers have served us well, and, no matter what you read in the papers, we have blended work into family with the light hand required for folding beaten egg whites into batter.

Diana, unlike some of us, did not abandon her aspirations to theology and became her professor's best student and protégé. He mentored her with pride as the woman who would become a model theologian. She walked with a sure foot where angels fear to tread. She considered no one her equal. But she did consent to be a part of our little group of friends who got together for movies and spaghetti.

For reading week that year we decided to book a chalet near a ski resort and bundled ourselves into 4 cars and drove 6 hours inland from the coast through the mountains to our retreat. We were a group of friends only, no couples, ready to ski and talk and joke around. Rob came too. He was a buddy of mine, still recovering from a breakup with his girlfriend.

We skied all day and basked in the sun, eating soggy lunches wrapped in wax paper, racing down the long runs, some making a great show of expertise and others of us hoping that no one would comment on our style.

The second night the moon was full. We went to the chalet shed that held the snowshoes and laid the wooden shoes on the snow and buckled our boots into leather bindings. We tramped across the field and past the dark spruce, down a trail through the naked willows and aspen to the creek. A layer of snow lay on the frozen surface.

We walked along until we came to a pond, and circled the shore by the bulrushes and the beaver house, a brushwork dome mounded with snow. Looking across the open expanse of white, a hush fell, and the moon shone.

Diana, always dramatic, looked up at the moon and stretched her arms to the sky. She back tossed her long black hair and laughed. We paused and breathed in the cold air, each of us lost in our own quiet thoughts.

Someone threw a snowball and the silence broke. Throwing off our snowshoes, we launched our missiles, or simply stuffed handfuls of wet packed snow down the shirts of whoever we could catch offguard.

Exhausted, we lay on our backs in the drifts on the surface of the pond, spreadeagle to the sky and made angels in the snow. We stood and admired our own outlines, divine shapes, captured for a moment in the cold.

Our sweaters had become clumped with snow, and our behinds were damp and chilled. Our hands and feet were wet and our noses were red.

But most of all, us girls knew that our hair no longer hung sleek down our backs, but had clumped into matted tails of sweat and ice, disfiguring our glory.

Back at the chalet we drank hot chocolate with marshmallows from chipped mugs at the long table in the kitchen. We laughed and told jokes, and didn't even once think about the fact that we were supposed to use this week for studying.

(In all these years, over thirty since then, this is the first time the thought crossed my mind that we were supposed to read during reading week.)

We slept from 3 until 8 and staggered down to breakfast. There was Rob, his head laid down on arms folded on the table, staring into space. He looked truly hungover. I sat on the bench across from him and commiserated. He murmered into the air, "Diana."

I stopped too quickly and spilt my coffee. But I mopped up the coffee and left it at that. There was nothing to be said.

A couple of years later, Rob and Diana were married. They had two children and he became a famous scientist and she became a theologian. She occupies a seminary post in the South West and sometimes I come across books that she has written.

Just a couple of years ago I was back in my hometown with my husband and we looked up some old friends. We met for dinner at the house of a couple who enjoy entertaining.

We sat around the oval dining room table making a great show of tasting wine and sharing gossip about people in the news. Some of us women chatted about our children growing up and leaving home, and dismissed for a brief evening our careers.

Rob was there as well, without Diana, she had left him long ago. He sat beside me and as the evening grew late, he drank yet another glass of wine. Then he leaned in my direction, speaking low, looking at the table.

I gazed up at the ornate candelabra, black iron twisted stalks holding cream candles burnt down to stubs, wax dripping, yellow light flickered on the damask linen cloth. Crystal clinked and silver forks were laid on plates.

Rob studied the spreading stain of port merging into mango,

"Diana is out there still searching for that one right man who will be the equal to her own great intellect."

All posts are copyrighted by the author. This is a work of fiction, a product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

The Edge of Silence

We grew up in a religious denomination where women were silent and men who said the wrong thing were excommunicated.

My sister decided to solve this problem by becoming a missionary. She went to live with a small community of missionaries in a faraway place and teach high school and evangelize. There were a few older missionaries and another young woman, a Bible translator, and later a couple of young men came too.

In all the meetings the women were silent. Even at the Friday evening prayer meeting. Only the men prayed. Later the Bible translator told my sister that, not only, had she never spoken during a meeting, but no one had ever even prayed for her work.

The younger missionaries finally started up a group with some of the local young people and in this group the women spoke. That went okay for a while until James arrived. He not only knew that women were to be silent but he also knew how to silence women.

If a woman speaks then you must not acknowledge it. You freeze and do not turn your head or move a muscle. Then when the woman stops you carry on as if not a sound had been made. If this happens, the woman has not spoken but she has only made a noise.

Around that same time an elderly man was falsely accused and excommunicated for teaching an unorthodox doctrine about Christ on the cross. It is difficult to explain, and difficult to understand, how it was that they thought he got it wrong. I do not know, or care to know, what their reasons were. The truth, of course, is that I do know but I refuse to write about it.

So my sister left and joined a group that she had known for a while. She had been teaching some of them Greek so they could study theology. She decided that it was time to reflect on doctrine herself in an organized way and she signed up for a diploma in theology through correspondence with the university of London.

At the end of the year she wrote her exams. She had previously learned the Old and New Testament, Eastern religion and philosophy and Greek. Church history was new and the philosophy of religion. That was just the kind of thing you would not study in our denomination.

She considered going to London and continuing in theology. However, the period of study had drawn her into quiet reflection, and at the end of the year she took a vow of silence on matters of faith. The emotional pain of remembered controversies was too deep.

She came to visit me a few weeks ago. This is thirty years later. We sat at the dining room table for tea, and I told her that I had been reading her book. I can only read a little at a time.

We talked about excommunication in general and our dear excommunicated friend, and a cold cloud of silence descended and sat in the middle, between us, on the table. We had to turn our heads away from each other and let the tears fill our eyes to the brim.

Our throats swelled closed and mouths felt tight and we did not speak. But we did not let the tears slide down and make a mess on the tablecloth. The simple reason is that then you have to get up and find a box of tissue. That is all.

She told me that she had kept her vow of silence on matters of faith ever since. You do not question a vow taken at 30 and still strong at 60. But she does attend church. Sometimes she is asked to speak about comparative religion and other things like that.

Then she talked about how she does have a service to the church and it is this. She goes in after school and she reads with children. Then the cloud of silence dissipated and fragmented into a thousand tiny droplets that scampered away with the laughter of shared memories of teaching children. The domain of children is our service in the church. And we could talk again.

Later she went out to church with me. And a professor of theology figured out who she was, and which theological fund she was the secretary for, and he tried to engage her in conversation. She smiled and said yes she is that person, and now she is retired from her other position, but yes, she does advise. What was his programme? Yes, it must be addressed through the proper channels, although it sounded very worthy.

And he thinks that she is not educated in theology, but I know that she is skating on the edge of silence.

All articles are copyrighted by the author.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Finding voice

She came to our school at the age of 10, severely hearing impaired, with the English vocabulary of a 2 year old. She had only been in Canada for 2 years but her mother tongue was no more familiar to her than English.

She sat sideways on the chair and let her hair hang down over her face, covering cheeks smeared by tears. She did not respond to speech, but allowed a touch. She followed her twin sister through the hallways on arrival, at lunch and after school. Trailing behind, she made sure she did not get left behind, she had no way to ask directions.

I phoned the last school and they told me that she was a very ‘difficult’ child, and ‘would not stop crying in spite of all their reproofs’.

"She would not behave properly and was a very noncompliant student!"

We passed her from teacher to teacher - the one who hugged her, the one that held her on her lap and relieved her sensory deprivation for a little time every day, the one who created a huge mural of colour that she helped design, and the one who got out the dressup clothes, the script, the play, the music and the dance.

She was the main actor, and learned to recite a few lines. Her dramatic body language spoke to us all, but at the end she collapsed in tears. She could be part of the group but she could not understand a single word.

Her clinical tests showed there was adequate residual hearing to change this, but she could not discriminate enough sounds to differentiate ‘treat’ from ‘street’, and ‘teak’ from ‘teach’.

One day, I noticed in her drawing of an island that she portrayed perspective and contour in a way that few adults could. My skin tingled with amazement. This was no ordinary child.

We advocated and fought for her, finally getting an assessment that showed a high average intelligence. The psychologist came to me later and said that it was a good thing that we had demanded this, since she could so easily have been dismissed as mentally handicapped.

“No one never told me that,” I protested.

“No, they did not have the heart to tell you that all your efforts would be for nothing.”

We made a photo essay of her day and took it to the school board petitioning for an aide. The audio clinic worked to improve her hearing aid, and we started ‘cued speech’, lipreading instruction, speech therapy, computerized vocabulary and story programs.

But most of all, we required feedback for every interaction, all day long. She became the toddler that spends all day with a mother, asking a million questions.

Every adult that came into our school was scheduled to bring in their pet. Through touch and petting and playing, she counted legs and felt the fur,

“Soft, long, black, white, curly, straight, big, small.”

“Look at my mouth, child, while I say the word – you say it, do you hear me? This dog is big, big and soft. Feel the ears, and the tail. The tail, once more, show me the ears, and now the tail.”

She did learn to ask questions, but whispering only, forming words with her lips, and standing in front of me, she looked up, finally, and not down. At first, it was only this.

“Does a hamster have 4 legs?”

“Is a cat soft?”

Over and over and over, she asked the same questions, never tiring of the fact that she could elicit a response, and make contact with a world that had been forever on the outside of her own consciousness.

“Is your dog big?”

Then one day she heard someone sneeze.

“What is that?”

She sorted out sound from context, foreground from background, and began to recognize that some sounds had meaning in a way that others did not.

She would run into my room from class and report to me the utterances that she had identified. She heard someone say that they had to ‘go pee’, she heard someone call someone else ‘stupid’, she heard someone swear, then she heard a school announcement.

One day she heard a joke! She even realized before the end of the year that the teacher at the front of the room was saying something.

She listened to stories on the computer, Little Bear, Goldilocks, Three Billy Goats Gruff. I heard an unusual sound one day, and turned to see her laughing. It was over a year and I had never heard that sound before.

Finally we got an aide assigned to her. It took six months to get the right person. One adult after another moved in and out of her life, wreaking havoc, depression, and tantrums. But finally we were able to get that one right person to go with her through the day, with cued speech, a dry-erase board, and an FM system.

Every instruction was clarified and confirmed,

"Did you hear that? What was the teacher’s announcement? What are you supposed to do next? Put up your hand and ask? Speak out loud, child, I can’t hear you. "

“People have to hear you. Use your voice. This is voice. Do you hear it? I turn my back and you talk and I hear you. Then I turn my head to look at you. Your voice does that. It makes me turn around.”

She came by my room when I was not looking, my head was down, looking at my desk, and she stood in the door and called out in a loud voice,

“Ms. Marthy!”

I had never heard her voice before. I jerked my head up and looked at her. She beamed. We played this game over and over, the same every day for weeks.

She called my name and like magic my head came up and I looked at her. It was like she had a magic wand that she waved over me to make me see her. Then she knew that she existed to other people not just herself.

Now she can read and write and talk and play. Sometimes still she falls into the old habits and sits and lets the world go by. But that is very rare. She dances, and does gymnastics, and draws cartoons, books full of cartoons filled with dialogue.

She was reading out loud all through the reading test and I said,

“That’s okay, you can read silently.”

“Oh, no, I have to hear myself read. That is how I understand it. I listen to the sound of the words.”

Today she asked,

“What does ‘tingle’ mean?” (How I feel when you talk, child)

“What does ‘appreciate’ mean, have you been to China? Did you see that movie? What are you doing this summer? I had a playdate. I rented the movie with the subtitles, just like you said. It is better that way. I passed my math test. I got the best mark in social studies, I like to learn big words. What are you doing? Can I watch you? I need some more books to read.”

“Don’t you ever stop talking? Don’t ever stop talking! “

She told her aide the other day,

“I used to have a bad life, but now I have a good life.”

She came to me today and said,

“I am ready now to write about my life. I remember what it was like. I didn’t know any English, I could not talk to anyone. I was very sad. I will start to write about it. I can do this myself.”

Sometimes still she has her meltdowns, and her sad days. Sometimes she curls up and pulls into herself and goes back to where you cannot reach her. She has her bad days, and she is angry.

Why shouldn’t she be angry? She had a bad life.

She needs to tell her story and listen to her own voice speaking out loud. She has yet to experience being 5 years old and six and seven. But she is learning how to speak and listen and ask questions and be part of our world. She still needs that one person beside her, and one day, one year, but not now, she will be able to speak on her own.

All articles are copyrighted by the author.