Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mirror Moments

I know the story each photograph holds because I’ve heard them hundreds of times. My Dad and I would visit Great Grandma Rhona every Sunday morning. Holding the two loudly patterned photo-albums close to my chest, I’d follow closely behind him, as we made our way through the wide hallways – which were often swelled with the heavy sent of lunch being prepared. White-haired ladies would rise from their seats, and inch toward the doorways. I, puzzled as to why seeing a six-year-olds face was one of the most anticipated events of the day. As they would move from their doorways into the hall, I recall being rather frightened – they would reach-out to touch my hands and pinch my skin. My Dad, only steps in front of me, would turn to share a knowing smile, a nod, and a blink – I was no longer scared.

At the end of the hall, next to the big window on the left, sat Grandma Rhona’s room. My Dad would gently rap at the door. I’m not sure if it was that she never heard the gentle knock, or if she did, and just chose to continue to stare out the large window before her. She settled in the corner. My Dad would step in and gently place his hand on her shoulder. As she would look up, her gaze fixed on his face, I could see she was very excited about this visit; her face brightened. She looked like a child. “Dan,” she would say enthusiastically. Though she knew his name, I don’t know that she knew him – that is, she couldn’t remember. “This is Mandy,” he would smile. As a child, going through this familiar routine and still having my Dad introduce me was a tradition I found difficult to understand.

I would then present the albums. Grandma Rhona and I would sit on either side of my Dad. He would flip through the pages, pointing-out each face, placing a name, and making the connections for her, “That’s your brother, Donald,” he’d inform. Rhona was perpetually shocked upon this discovery.
On the third page, placed directly in the centre, sat a photograph of a boy. He is perched on a roof so high up, the leafy branches reaching for him. His feet are dusted with dirt, especially his heels. The bright-blonde hair makes the 10-year-old boy barely recognizable – he is my Dad. Yellow sweat-pants are in stark contrast with the deep grey shingles. It looks to be a sunlit day, I wonder if the shingles were hot on the palms of his hands. His eyes: squinted, brows lowered in attempt to keep out the sun. I see the grey roof and realize it’s the home on Lacon Street where he was raised. 

Among three significantly older sisters, my Dad is the only boy in his family. He would often tell stories of a somewhat lonesome childhood, in where he would spend days’ venturing off alone; maybe that afternoon was one of them. 

My Dad tells Rhona that the small boy in the photo is him, she laughs.

A page over, there is a time difference of twenty years. It is the peak of summer at Katepwa Lake, perhaps July. My hair, much like my Dad’s back in ’76, is so light it’s glowing. I’m wearing a bathing suit covered in a pattern of sunflowers. There are five people in the photo, my eyes are the only one’s directly visible to the camera. Behind me stands my Uncle – he’s giving me “bunny ears.” Sunglasses and a red-brimmed baseball cap which reads “Hounds,” covers his eyes. Though I call him my uncle, I’m not sure he was. “Rex” (as he would tell us to call him), was one of the men my aunt was attached to briefly, I’m not sure they were ever married – I could be wrong. I recall him calling my cousin Steffanine and I “loonies” in a playful tone moments before this shot.

Steffanie stands next to me. She is entranced by what she is holding inches away from her face with both hands – a giant cow’s bone she’s likely found on the shore. Mickey Mouse is on her bathing suit. Her feet, bare. 
My brother is up to her waist. All that’s visible is the back of his head as he observes Steffanie’s skeletal treasure. He must’ve been three that summer. He, too, has the signature blonde hair of our Dad. It wisps around his ears, which stick out just barely enough to notice, making him appear a little like Dopey from Snow White – he does grow into the ears eleven years later. To the far left, sitting underneath a sky-blue umbrella, is my Grandpa – my Dad’s Dad. He is watching Rex give me “bunny ears.” He is laughing. In his hand he holds five pencil crayons: red, navy, kelly green, yellow, and white. Papers scattered before him -- sketches fill their corners. He looks relaxed – with one leg up on the beach chair in front of him. 

Today, we do not speak. It’s been five years since I last saw him, and six since we’ve spoken. Though I dream of these drawing moments often. 

On the second-last page of the album, I spot a photograph that (even though it was taken nearly twenty-years ago) could’ve been captured last night. The same small girls from the pervious photo stand next to each other: Steffanie and myself, this time, faces painted with yellow stars. This moment was captured in Abbotsford, British Colombia. We are standing on a balcony. Three giant cherry blossom trees are in full bloom, it must’ve been springtime. Both wear BIG smiles; Steffanie’s gap-toothed. Heavy coffee-coloured bangs cover her eyes. She is holding a bouquet of paper flowers, the stems made of straws. Her free hand is flashing the camera peace. She looks delighted to be having a photo snapped. 

I am to her left. And nearly a foot shorter. My palm open, fingers spread. I’m in the middle of saying something to the picture-taker. 

I visited Steffanie this past August in Vancouver. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly seven years – our parents no longer speak. In midst conversation, we would frequently stop one another to comment on how our faces are the same roundness and our noses are of similar wideness – “definitely cousins!” – we’d remark proudly. While at a pub downtown, I caught her glace in the mirror as we washed our hands, side-by-side. “Your hair is just like mine!” she exclaimed, “you know, like, it’s wavy and you’ve got a lot of it, but it’s sort of thin?” I knew just what she meant and laughed in agreeance. 

Everybody can look like somebody. Comparing the looks of those around you to movie stars is an entertaining past-time. Though, there’s something different about family resemblances. You actually look like these faces. And in many ways you share faces. This association is one not easily escaped. For every time the mirror meets the eyes, you see them. I’ve always been told I look like my Mom. And I do agree, more or less. She, too, is blonde with green eyes and rosey lips. Though, it seems those who really see me would say I appear more like my Dad. Our lip shape is identical: thin upper-lip, thicker on the lower, thus making our smile is uncannily similar. When he smiles big I see how his eye-teeth are placed just as mine are.

I call them “mirror moments.” And they happen at the most accidental times; I’ll be curling my eyelashes, and then I have the initial flash preceded by the – sometimes – couple minute trance in where I think: this is me. How strange it is that I am here, in this room, in this place. I begin to feel a bit crazy, even talk out-loud to myself just to see my mouth move and hear a voice escape. Where does that voice come from, how am I able to produce it, are others as fascinated by this seemingly simple act? Something – perhaps a noise – usually breaks this introspective process, and at times, I am glad, as the questioning can become so overwhelming, I become unsure of all reality. 
Rhona could not remember the faces in her own life, so the photographs did the remembering for her. 

We would be back next week to tell the same stories, recognize the same faces, reintroduce ourselves; to see one another.

Cigarette Duet

            I first noticed the painting while driving. It was October the fifteenth. I had never driven to Moose Jaw. And though I’ve called Saskatchewan home since second grade, I had not visited the city whose slogan rings, “The Friendly City!”  This might be because I am somewhat of an anxious driver. Highway lines flashing with me behind the wheel is an idea I am notably uncomfortable with. Psychologically speaking, this is perhaps due to a severe car accident that took place while I was inexperienced on gravel roads.
            Nevertheless, a trip to Moose Jaw was something I felt at ease with. There was someone who wanted to meet along Main St. – we wanted to meet one another.
            I was driving down Highway 1, when the nerves struck. Illogical doubts dimmed my mood – worried as I realized that I was meeting a stranger.  I suppose I had taken his photo in March. I photographed an event; he was painting a canvas – a quiet artist, but honest with his words. And six months later, he asked me to meet him for a beer. I said I’d come to him.
            Following the sign’s instruction, I turned under the bridge and steered onto Caribou St. -- either side lined with mature elm trees. They almost looked regal, as they stood tall and firm, as they would reach. Standing guard.  When the hulking elms cleared, they reviled raised train tracks coated with a character.
Now that I know it is there, it’s hard to miss.
I knew that the sleepy-looking figure on the front of the cement pillar – perhaps the most important pillar: it’s the first one, the one to take on the weight of wailing trains – was his. I could tell by the attention to detail; the focus on lines, there must be a hundred or more and those big dopey eyes.  The faint green that outlined him was aura-like – it put me at ease. The way his goofy painted smile mirrors yours, and how his body drooped to the right, hinted that I was on the right course.
I met the artist, Spencer, while he lit a cigarette on Main St. that afternoon. He was tall and strikingly handsome. I wondered what he looked like while painting that pillar. Wondered if he had thought about what he was going create for a long time, or if the figure came to be as the paint scattered. Was it in the night?
Now when I hit Caribou St., I feel the anticipation building. I slow down as I roll under the tracks. Squinting to get a glimpse of the familiar face that I know will always smile back at me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"The Trapeze Swinger"

Please remember me, happily
By the rosebush laughing
With bruises on my chin, the time when
We counted every black car passing

Your house beneath the hill and up until
Someone caught us in the kitchen
With maps, a mountain range, a piggy bank
A vision too removed to mention

But please remember me, fondly
I heard from someone you're still pretty
And then they went on to say that the Pearly Gates
Had some eloquent graffiti

Like 'We'll meet again' and 'Fuck the man'
And 'Tell my mother not to worry'
And angels with their great handshakes
But always done in such a hurry

And please remember me, at Halloween
Making fools of all the neighbors
Our faces painted white, by midnight
We'd forgotten one another

And when the morning came I was ashamed
Only now it seems so silly
That season left the world and then returned
And now you're lit up by the city

So please remember me, mistakenly
In the window of the tallest tower
Call, then pass us by but much too high
To see the empty road at happy hour

Gleam and resonate just like the gates
Around the Holy Kingdom
With words like, 'Lost and found' and 'Don't look down'
And 'Someone save temptation'

And please remember me as in the dream
We had as rug burned babies
Among the fallen trees and fast asleep
Beside the lions and the ladies

That called you what you like and even might
Give a gift for your behavior
A fleeting chance to see a trapeze
Swinger high as any savior

But please remember me, my misery
And how it lost me all I wanted
Those dogs that love the rain and chasing trains
The colored birds above there running

In circles round the well and where it spells
On the wall behind St. Peter
So bright on cinder gray in spray paint
'Who the hell can see forever?'

And please remember me, seldomly
In the car behind the carnival
My hand between your knees, you turn from me
And said the trapeze act was wonderful

But never meant to last, the clowns that passed
Saw me just come up with anger
When it filled with circus dogs, the parking lot
Had an element of danger

So please remember me, finally
And all my uphill clawing
My dear, but if I make the Pearly Gates
I'll do my best to make a drawing

Of God and Lucifer, a boy and girl
An angel kissin' on a sinner
A monkey and a man, a marching band
All around the frightened trapeze swinger

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pony Boy

Pony boy, pony boy 
Won’t you be my pony boy? 
Giddy-up giddy-up giddy-up, whoa
My pony boy 

Ride with me, ride with me 
Won’t you take a ride with me,
Underneath the starry sky?
My pony boy 

O’er the hills and through the trees 
We’ll go ridin’ you and me 
Giddy-up giddy-up giddy-away 
My pony boy 

Down into the valley deep 
’Neath the eaves we will sleep 
Sky of dreams up above 
My pony boy

Monday, April 1, 2013

Our Apartment

This is my first apartment.

Although, many friends can attest to me either couch surfing, or bringing over a single mattress to their bachelor suites, tucking it underneath a windowsill and calling it my own -- sometimes for weeks at a time -- this is different. I am cohabiting this little spot with my lovely boyfriend. Luckily we both have rather similar aesthetic taste, so decorating hasn't been too much of a feat. And he is gracious in putting up with my countless girly touches to every inch of the space.

Hope you enjoy the endless photos to come of our time spent here.