como’s cobblestone roads

they stand side by side along the water, tall man in red pants, short man in blue. shirts tucked in, watching the sky unfold like laundry. i tiptoe past but they see, turn, watch me go. silent in the creases of a foreign land, my flip-flops skidding the surface of a cobblestone road.

morning is an anxious lover here: it doesn’t wait for invitation, but steps brightly through my hotel window. i welcome it. pull back the white blinds, step out onto a balcony inch-deep in warmth. below me, the lake, blue as my baby’s booties which i bought in an italian store downtown. around me, a cradle of mountains. i never tire of the way the rock tears jagged into clouds, pulling out white stuffing which floats softly into lake.

later i’ll eat spaghetti alla carbonara (spaghetti with bacon and eggs), or perhaps an entire ‘personal pizza’. wine is cheap, dregged straight from the grape vines which straddle rooftops. i watch my friends’ throats; see grapes slide down in a wash of clear liquid. yearn.

as we walk we pray we won’t die for the unmarked roads and the cars doing 70 miles per hour down side streets. i tuck a hand around my womb, hold my baby tight against me. “i love you aiden,” i whisper. he is my lifeline. i feel his tiny heart beat through my cotton dress. his feet tapping gentle, saying “stay strong mama.” and so i do. even as i weep for the beauty of the place i smile, a rainbow, strip of oil in foggy rain.

and flying home i read over notes inked down from days’ full of writing, sentences which scratch the essence of words, lessons taught by teachers so humble-bestselling authors who know well the rake of rejection-and i marinate. in what has been, and what will be.

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little life

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Aiden Gray…

courageous little fire…

sweet son of mine

i met you today, wiggling about inside my womb,

flesh of my flesh, you remind me of your daddy the way you move

constant motion, curious about the world you’re in.

i’ll embrace you and let you go–into the Father’s arms…

He who designed your precious toes–

your beating heart, tiny ventricles pulsating blood

i stand

astounded

bow humbly at the wonder of it all

little life, i love you.

my teacher

my mother sits wrapped in an afghan in my kitchen. i’m painting at an easel nearby. she’s reading a karen kingsbury book. karen is her favourite author.

we share a bowl of sliced apples.

there is silence save for the flip, flip of pages turning and the scratching of brush against canvas. it’s a comfortable silence–like a bowl of chicken soup when you’re sick, or a hot water bottle.

eventually she says: “i love my mochas.”

mum has ‘mocha time’ every day at 10:30 a.m. it’s her favourite time of day. “i think i like them even more than i enjoy karen kingsbury books,” she adds thoughtfully. “in fact, i’d be hard-pressed to choose if someone asked me to decide between a mocha and a karen kingsbury book.”

mum surprises me every day. her head might be floppy; her legs wobbly; her hands unable to grip the book tight, but her words are flawless. her thoughts, achingly honest. real.

for a while she dozes over the pages, the book slipping from her tired, 56-year-old hand. then i creak my chair and she awakes. “mochas are supposed to be caffeinated,” she adds sleepily, “but for me they’re quite soporific.”

my paintbrush slows; i turn. “soporific?” i ask. “i don’t know that word.”

“i learned it when i was in grade school through Beatrice Potter’s books,” mum says. “it means, to mellow. to make quiet. sleepy.”

soon, she’s asleep again, and the book falls to the floor. i sit remembering… being homeschooled by mum until grade 5. being taught a new word every day, sometimes five. becoming passionate about language.

cancer may be robbing her of her mind, but my mum still teaches me, every day. in a language more unspoken than not. in more ways than she’ll ever know.

small rubber boots

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raindrops kiss the ground. form puddles. i look down, see my face reflected in pools of sky tears.

breathe deep the air fresh with watery growth.

dream of you in small rubber boots splashing around clapping your hands, dimpled skin in yellow rain jacket.

laughing.

i wonder what you’ll be like… an artist like your mom, or a jock like your dad? will you cry when a bird hits its head on the window? will you think in poetry, or in mathematical equations? will you savour a walk, or prefer to ride your bike? and will you know God so deeply you hear his thoughts?

baby, precious extension of my soul, i wait. bated breath. to meet you.

(*photo from Design Pics)

a dance of offerings

her face is flushed. her eyes are glassy.

“we’re in grave danger,” mum tells dad over the phone. it’s sliding out of her grip.

mum is convinced her father, Grand-dad, is standing outside the door. armed and dangerous. despite my protests, she wobbles towards the door and opens it to find no one.

on the radio, the worship song ‘blessed be your name’  is playing. “when the darkness closes in, Lord, still i will say, blessed be your name…” it croons and my eyes tear up as mum stands there confused, wondering where her father’s gone.

“he’s coming on sunday, mum,” i tell her quietly. she sits back down beside me.

a few minutes later, “he’s wearing black.”

“who, mum?”

“grand-dad. i can see him by the garden.”

she’s peering out the window. the flowers wave in lonely array. no one is there.

after a while we stand up and dance to the music, but it’s hard. she keeps staring at the door. then suddenly, “let’s go home.”

“we are home, mum,” i tell her quietly, but suddenly i realize she’s not here. she’s miles away.

i remember his voice on my walk amongst the leaves and sunshine: “every good gift i give you is an offering,” he’d said. God’s voice, a whisper on the breeze. “and then you give it back to me,” he continued. “it’s a dance of offerings. and the world will watch, mesmerized, by the beauty of it all.”

so now as i watch my mum’s brain being ravaged by cancer, i give her back to him, an offering. and trust he’ll return her, a new creation. healed, and in her right mind.

dandelion seeds

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she hands me a long, seedless dandelion. its petals are faded–missing, like teeth in an old man.

“um, thank you?” i say to my sister, who’s come over for evening tea.

she laughs. “he told me to give it to you. i prayed, asking what flower to bring you, and God told me to find the tallest dandelion–and so i did. then he said to tell you that just like this flower, whose seeds are on the wind, your book is out of your hands–its seeds are in God’s hands, to be planted and bear fruit, in good time.”

tears sprout. she’s talking about Mum’s Dance–the book i’ve written for mum. the one with my agent. lately, it would seem, there’s no hope. rejection after rejection. “strong story but not right for our list”… their words dangle, cold and meaningless. like the dandelion, my book appears dead. withered. i haven’t had the strength to pray to God about it lately; so discouraged. so instead, he spoke to my sister. and she carried his words, like seeds on the wind, to me.

they fall on the soil of my heart; take root. hope, on spindly stems, reaching up for the sun, daring to grow. daring to believe.

later that night i pick up my Bible to press the dandelion between its pages. it opens directly to psalm 20:4; “may he give you the desire of your heart, and make all your plans succeed.”

once again, i weep. for small miracles like dandelion seeds.