Monday, February 14, 2011

habitus, part one.

i am in my home. photo by jason, december 2010

Some nights
I just never go to sleep at all,

and I stand,
shaking in the doorway like a sentinel,
all alone,
bracing like the bow upon a ship,
and fully abandoning
any thought of anywhere
but home,
my home.

-- Joanna Newsom, from 'In California'.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

baba yaga is my patron saint.

kalyna berries, aspens, birches... top photo by me, bottom photo taken by jason. riverlot, december 2010.

Last month, Sady Doyle, wrote a wonderful post about Joan of Arc on her blog Tigerbeatdown, which is fantastic, & you should read it if you don't already (that post for sure, because it's one my favourites, but all of the blog, really!) & it inspired me, because I have been thinking of Baba Yaga a lot lately, especially as a feminist icon, and an example of patriarchal structures and those who enact them use certain methods to try to bring down powerful women, & how these methods haven't really changed. & there's this bit where Sady discusses the process of picking out a Catholic confirmation name, and choosing Joan as the patron saint she'd like to have her back, which made me smile, because, yes. From what I know of this girl and her activism, it suits her perfectly.

Anyway, of course Baba Yaga in any incarnation never has & never will be canonized, but I still wish she was my patron. & so I imagine her as grandmother and protector, dispelling the myths spread to slander her, grinding the patriarchy to a pulp in that mortar & pestle.

Poem, as usual, in progress:


baba yaga is my grandmother,

baking bread by morning:

she kneads her mottled heart,

offers it to the oven: all day it rises,

each pulse powering

the bellows that the bellows that set the forest

breathing, her avian hut

slowly stirring with the day.

she works, and works, arms a

a sinewy genealogy, layers of onion-skin

windowing over veins tracing paths,

remembering: a loaf for my mother,

and my mother’s mother, one for my

grandfather and another for the birds.

late afternoon, she shakes out her linens,

magpie wings as she flutters out, all

walnut-kneed and juniper-eyed,

from tree-tops she watches winter sun

soak the river fiery, turn the coals

in the dark furnace of her woods.


baba yaga is my grandmother,

even though she has no children.

those she shirked retort

that she’s just a spinster, a

dessicated pestle-pusher

but i have seen the red rider

leaving hoofprints in the yard

at dawn, & her corvid voice creaking

& lilting as she gathers herbs,


don’t tell your mother

i’ve been teaching you bawdy songs!


baba yaga is my grandmother,

although no one believes it.

she’s not even a woman,

they scoff. village men say

she drinks the blood of livestock,

devours our children! robs

every nest, corrupts them, crazed

barren woman, bitter and unfed;

look at her fence! they cry,

(mistaking brambles for ribcages,

silver birches for weathered bones.)

they never remember

how all the women call for her,

have her cure their difficult infants,

coax them down that red-poppied

path, spin their linens, save their lives.

the men scorn, but she knows

their need, & how in times of

desperation they remember

that psha krev dog’s blood

is just a curse for a burned hand.


baba yaga is my grandmother

& also probably my great-grandmother.

those skeletons? she says,

those are my only relatives:

they said, bury me here, baba,

i will be fodder for your sunflowers,

i want asters & yarrow to blossom

from the hollows of my eyes!

baba shakes her head,

a handful of rich dark earth

in her fingers: everything we eat,

you know, is of the dead.


baba yaga is my grandmother,

bright forest inside of me:

& they said she is death

but i know it’s more dangerous

to create

with a mortar with a spindle

with a sharp flint spark!

to crush harm like poppyseeds

into numb paste on your tongue –

forget the macabre lanterns,

she says, you won’t need them

in the dark:

every night she sends me off as

my own talisman,

my whole skull blazing with light.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

geological poem #2

fossil crinoids, jasper national park, july 2010

fossil corals and other creatures, kananaskis, july 2010

When my grandmother was in the last years of her life, she often retreated into memories of her early years; she spoke of relatives and friends long since passed. English slipped away into the background, as her first language seemed more suitable for telling me about people like her grandmother whom she'd only ever known in that language. The present moments were a gauzy blur to her, and this frightened her; they were much less clear than the past times that had suddenly flooded into view, carrying her into a comforting future where she believed she would live amongst those personages again.

When my father found out he was dying, his interest in geology saw a striking resurgence. He studied it in university before becoming a teacher, and throughout my childhood we were always hunting fossils and inspecting outcroppings. However, a few years ago, he became immersed in tomes on stratigraphy and sedimentology again, and travelling in the mountains became a time for him to recite the epics of terrain formation. This past summer we drove southward through the mountains from Jasper to Kananaskis and I learned pretty much everything about how the middle Rockies formed. He reveled in telling me every detail, as he was parsing every pattern of thrust faults and reconstructing each shattered slope, reading the rocks, the story of their genesis. And it occured to me that this recounting of the story of creation, the slow transformations that made the world was a deep comfort to him; in this time of certain uncertainty, of living daily with an illness that will kill him, it calms him to dwell on understanding the story of the forces that move the earth beyond us.

* * *

when my father fell ill, he

starting reading the rocks:

in every surface crack he saw

the seismic shift in his own

marrow, a mirror of his slow decay:

it’s in the barest wavering of fingers,

pallid colour of the dry rock face.

in this sickness, he says, there’s

no great landslide: i erode.

it’s the slow slip in a steady

rainstorms, persistent wind

twinges, the shake of dead cells

rattling in a cave of riddled bone.

one by one those fragments gather:

infinitesimal ions seeking each other,

pushing through the cloudy morion,

migrations replacing the base.

my bones, he says, are no carbonate.

they’re quicker, like young clastics:

bodies of scrappy particles gathered

on land, wreathed & jointed by water.

we are all cobbled creatures, sedimentary.

clay in shale, siltstone, gritstone, gravel

and sand. smashed together by the whim

of the river & the wind.

& so he softens, despite himself. despite

the heart still quartzite, pulsing intrusion

into the limestone, those mountains of

small lost things:

crinoids and lilies and three-lobed water

insects, mollusc mantles and coral rings.

repetition after repetition in the strata,

an augury, a memory, of how

every tiny dying makes the earth.

geological poem #1