One Day in May

I am working on another felt appliqué. In the meantime, here’s two photos I took in May at Evergreen Brickworks. I loved that the clouds and blossoms mirrored each other that day and that the red-winged blackbird stopped long enough to be in the first photo.

The Brickworks is a reclaimed brick factory and quarry in Toronto that’s become a park and environmental centre that my husband and I enjoy walking in.

My Mother’s Artwork

My mother’s name was Bernice Barsel. She lived from 1922 – 2014. She was a prolific artist and it is through her that I took up creative work. I surprised myself earlier this week by thinking it would be a shame if her work went unknown and invisible beyond the circle of people who already know of it. My surprise arose because my relationship with my mother was extremely painful, leading me in the past to turn away from creating any posts about her work.

I will likely post some of her paintings in the future, but I’ll begin with several of her enamelled pieces which I like a great deal. These she made sometime in the 1970s to ’80s when she had also taken up jewellery making and was living the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Speaking of Birds

I made this felt appliqué over the past few weeks. I had started work on a linocut but developed a great deal of pain from the repetitive strain of carving the block. I then decided to put the linoleum aside, but wanted to continue doing some creative work. So I started designing an image for an appliqué. 

Once I had completed all the first steps, I again sewed at night while listening to audiobook mysteries (see Sewing with Poirot) to help me with the dreadful news of ongoing illness and racism. This time I sewed while listening to Gaudy Night and Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers and to one or two more Hercule Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie. 

Birds, both living and symbolic, continue to help me, as do the sheep I have never met whose wool was transformed into the sheets of merino felt I used in this piece.

For the Nighthawks

I often cry while listening to the news during the pandemic. The news, not new, of horrible murder and racism in the United States, not unique to that place, of old people dying in squalid long-term non-care homes in my province, of the poor, the discarded dying more often than the comfortable.

So far, I and my husband are in good physical health. I walk in the neighbourhood, coming down out of the high-rise we live in to the ground, to streets of old and young trees and houses with gardens, to the lilacs, the robins and cardinals, to the redbud petals raining on me in the wind in a nearby park on the weekend.

Before the virus, before the protests, the demonstrations around the world, before the mad dictator with his cruel mouth and willful blindfold, I was thinking of other losses. I gathered this poem I wrote years ago, added a few words and gathered a small stuffed bird-like creature I made of handmade felt, also a few years old. Here they are.

For the Nighthawks

Dusk, a week before the solstice:

a cool summer night.

I walk home from the subway

taking the residential avenue

off the busy one.

It’s slower here

birds are singing

and the trees are full leaved.

***

I could walk forever on such a sweet night.

On such a night 

I remember the nighthawks from other summers,

I’d hear their cries

swooping low over the back lane

when the door to the tiny balcony

and all the windows were open.

***

I miss those birds.

It disturbs me that I didn’t notice their absence

until years after they were gone,

the echo of their accompaniment

suddenly returning,

shaming me in my inattentiveness.

Where are they now, I wonder?

Though they haven’t gone extinct,

their lives are threatened 

by us

with the plummeting loss of flying insects,

their food,

leaving empty corridors in the air.

***

Tonight I hear songbirds as I walk.

I cannot name them

nor tell them how they soothe the heart

on this plain summer night,

reminding me of what is good in life,

and of their relatives

who no longer pierce the city air.

Lily S. May June 17/12 – June 4/20

Confetti

As I’ve been reading over my writing, I’ve decided to put more of it on the blog. Here’s a poem I wrote in 2011/2012 along with an appliqué from 2005.

Confetti

The fortune reads:

Because of your melodic nature

the moonlight never misses

an appointment.

***

For years I liked to believe

that I alone had received this secret message

from a renegade worker in a cookie factory

gracing me through something normally banal.

Now that I have awakened

and know that I was not unique

in drawing the moon’s attention,

I am a little let down

like a child looking unsuccessfully for love, for magic,

for the ordinary to tranform itself,

and me,

into the beautiful

into song

into the adored one

who alone can draw the moon into her appointed orbit.

***

And so I give it away,

the fortune,

in an uncharacteristic act of openness

I throw it, printed a million times,

like confetti,

into the streets below

where the melodies we don’t yet know we hold

gather in the winds

carrying music from our frightened selves

into bridges of meeting.

Sewing with Poirot

During the pandemic, my husband and I have taken to listening to audiobooks at night. So far, we’ve been listening to unabridged readings of Agatha Christie’s books—mostly to the Hercule Poirot mysteries. I find that during the hour or hour and a half we listen, I think only of the puzzle of who the murderer might be and not of the pandemic.

Though the readings by an actor taking on all the voices are not in any way boring, I am lulled to sleep as I listen, much like a child. So, I’ve taken to doing something while I sit and listen to keep me awake. I’ve mostly done drawings, both of items in the room or designs in my head. But recently I also made this small (around 5” X 7”) appliqué out of wool felt and printed cotton fabrics. Sewing can be very calming in itself and the balanced look of this piece was also calming to do. A small needle and thread doodle!

Angel from Montgomery

I felt great sadness when I heard that the songwriter and singer John Prine died earlier this week from Covid-19. Hearing one of his songs on the radio took me back to the 1970s when I was young and first heard his music. One of the songs, an unhappy and powerful one, that I loved hearing him sing was Angel from Montgomery. I was just learning printmaking and made a woodcut in 1972 (under a previous name) arising from some of the lyrics.

“I am an old woman named after my mother

My old man is another child that’s grown old

If dreams were lightning

And thunder were desire

This old house would have burned down a long time ago.

****

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery

Make me a poster of an old rodeo

Just give me one thing that I can hold on to

To believe in this living is just a hard way to go.”

The last two lines above are a great reflection of how I feel at times during this pandemic and the crisis it has brought on.

Good health to you all, dear readers!

In a Garden

I’ve been rereading my writing from the past few years during this time of Covid-19. I’m throwing out what I don’t like and whittling down my notebooks. This week I came upon a poem I’d written in 2015 that I had forgotten since it was lost amidst a mountain of writing. It resonated for me in this incredible and shocking time. I’ve placed it with an oil painting I made over ten years ago. Here they are.

We are walking in a garden we are blind to

though it bears our names.

And the suffering,

the suffering is great,

but the unveiling of the heart is greater.

Good Health

I wish you good health as COVID-19 travels around the world. I and my husband are well at the time I’m writing here in Toronto, Canada. My walks in my neighbourhood help my spirit as I look for signs of spring in the gardens and on the trees. And I do a little drawing many days, some bookkeeping, some cooking and some worrying as I ponder the state of humanity and life on earth.

I thought one of the cards from the original printing of my card deck, Mirrors of the Heart would be apropos right now. If someone you know is ill, may they receive good care and recover soon. And may you be well.

Healthfulness Card from Mirrors of the Heart Card Deck by Lily S. May