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Month: June 2013

In a World

We live in a world of darkness. But the colours come from the inner world to the outer world. – Norval Morrisseau

David and I lived by the river once. From shore we cast thoughts into its lights, felt its whirlpools close in. Though rivers don’t circle, the one near our town reminds me to return to the swirl of water around rocks and stones, to the stand of firs on the block, the neon-vinyl of the pizza place. Maybe David liked the blue inside the green of pines, and the wide river reaching to the other shore.

David went to my friend’s school, and she was a small, pale stranger then, wandering the halls. Her hair was so dark and weighty, you could see her thoughts moving in the strands. There is a rich, late night in her, a place without chalk dust or linoleum; a field at dusk covered in blueberries, their skins absorbing and letting out light. It is a place where night is always coming on; you never need to worry about morning.

At school we had read the poem David. You probably remember, he died in the mountains; it was the first afternoon in September; the rocks gave under his feet. He grasped for a hold and fell, later drowned. Michel Trudeau drowned too; they tried to reach him from chest deep in the snow, but it was too late to grab his parka, the curls of his hair.

That was the first I knew of the land’s intentions. Outside snug cities, it would not hold you. It would change what it wanted; make frost out of flesh, broken sticks from bones. Once David and I walked on the river ice, looking for clear, snowless stretches. Far out, the ice broke. We ran and the cracks raced ahead of us. We were soaked. Our skin went numb, our hearts slowed, thoughts broke to pieces. The snowy path, the clear blue sky filled with river holes, sloshing up black water. We found a way back. Others never felt again the tenseness of tree branches snapping in the cold, or the silent, enormous country rising up over the tops of the buildings.

David and I are small figures, bundled in coats within the cold cities, delicate as two elderly men I once saw at a wedding, twirling red roses given out by the bride, shyly, sweetly. In spite of the chill, something is still giving way. We are each passing through to the other, dragging the snow and earth behind. Our life in this land clings to us, like rain brought in to a warm café on a stormy summer day, as you remove your jacket to join an old friend.

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Caving at La Fleche

A poem I wrote a few years ago, after a trip to La Fleche caves in late winter.

All my stories are buried under white snow. I walk over them
where they sleep, curled around the roots of red pines. In the cave
we entered, you could see bats by looking up in the darkness.
Training a head lamp on a crevice showed me a dozen, nestled
against limestone, sleeping fur sparkled with frost.
Night time butterflies, wings folded.

Small jewels of time, moving: one second, then another:
each tiny creature taking in, letting out breath. What could I find
under red pine roots if I had vision to see through white wash
of spring snow? My hands turn red as I dig beneath drifts
that have grown deeper through winter. I want to cup something,
a patience held in, and wait there with it until glistening snow turns
to water; wings know it is time to open, roots to descend.

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A man of conscience is a rare thing

Ever since I first saw the video of Edward Snowden, recorded in an undisclosed hotel room in Hong Kong, I have been following media reports on his whereabouts, his government’s attempts to “bring him to justice,” and the massive American spying program that he exposed.

When I saw the video, I was struck by the simplicity of Ed Snowden’s actions. When we are young, it’s easier to do the right thing, or perhaps the “right thing” is more clear to us, because we’re not worrying so much about protecting family, making a living and our personal safety. Snowden has left all these things behind.

Much of the power of his actions comes from this simplicity. No prevarication, justification, or any other five-syllable words. Snowden followed his conscience.

“I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what’s happening and goes, ‘This is something that’s not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.’” Ed Snowden

Right now, the American government is paying lip service to the rule of law, and John Kerry, Secretary of State, has even suggested he is deeply troubled by China’s willingness to protect Snowden, which it did by allowing Snowden to leave Hong Kong. The official Chinese response to the US request for the extradition of Snowden was that the American request “did not fully comply with the law.”

Given that Snowden had recently provided the Chinese government proof that the US has been hacking into its computer systems for years, it is hardly surprising that Chinese officials dragged their feet in handing Snowden over to US authorities.

I am mystified as to why John Kerry not more troubled by his country’s massive spying apparatus.  How can a presumably intelligent human being stand before the entire world and justify this massive, unconstitutional invasion of privacy? All this in the name of freedom from terrorism. As frightening as terrorism is, more people die in the US each year in traffic accidents. Far more.

And why are we not more troubled?  Western governments are able to count on our unwillingness to leave our comfort zone. We are anaesthetized by our attachment to comfort and material things, hypnotized by the drone of our daily routine: get up, go to work, navigate traffic, pay bills, do chores, go to sleep – a rhythm punctuated by moments of real connection to people, to nature, to ideas. But all in all, we are half-asleep, and the government is listening to all our chatter, listening for disturbances in the cadence of our activities.

“…you have to make a determination about what it is that’s important to you. And if living unfreely but comfortably is something you’re willing to accept – and I think  many of us are because it’s the human nature – you can get up every day, go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows.” – Ed Snowden

Kerry defends the Obama administration’s spying policies and Obama calls on other governments to respect the rule of law. Yet what about America’s own constitution and laws? This huge spying program is illegal. America has no grounds to appeal to the rule of law. This is reality and we need to remind politicians of it.

And if I die before I learn to speak
Can money pay for all the days I lived awake
But half asleep?

-Primitive Radio Gods

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