The heat wave has now broken, but we had hot and extremely hot weather in Toronto over the past while. During that time, I took to walking in the streets in the evening to listen to the cicadas and crickets. I discovered, to my surprise, that I was present to listening to the sounds of the insects, birds, cars and people instead of shutting out the sounds of the city. This led me to record one of my walks, which then led me to listen to some forgotten recordings. One was of the poem in this post.
Several years ago, I spent a lot of time writing and I’d read versions of my poems out loud and record them to hear which version sounded best to me. Here’s a poem which will explain itself, followed by a recent drawing.
It’s October two thousand ten
and I’m to apply for the Old Age Security Pension,
a task made more difficult
by my originally being an immigrant
and having four different names on my papers.
These burrs that I’ve transported across borders
I now scatter on the table
as I decide which ones to carry with me,
in the hope I will be recognized
as the thread that links the different words
by which I have been known.
In the process, I contemplate my various selves,
the changing names silently
eliciting my youth and middle age
not so much in sadness as in a survey of absences.
At City Hall, I sit in a crowded room
under fluorescent lights.
I have anticipated the long wait
and help manage boredom and an undercurrent of rage
by doing crossword puzzles
and half listening to the reassuringly incomprehensible
that two young people are speaking
as they wait, likely for their marriage licence.
All of us, including the staff,
are in limbo
holding this edifice of record keeping in place,
keeping tabs on ourselves, faithlessly
leaving trails of our scant existence
on dry forms and flickering screens.
I am rescued, however, by the relief of drama.
Some people, no longer compliant, have bolted
or gone missing.
Three couples cannot be found
when their names are called for their marriage licences.
Perhaps they have broken off their engagements while waiting
or decided to live common law or
have merely gone outside for a smoke.
The staff person I eventually see is contained though cordial,
takes me for who I am
and needs few of my compiled documents.
I leave knowing I will soon receive
the form letter of approval for my pension.
Not a joyous occasion
but a quiet rite of passage
into the realm of official old age
that strange pale land in which death befriends us
whether we like its attentiveness or not
a land made more rich by its limits
and on the threshold of vast amounts of time,
oneness with ancestors human and non
and the blinding light that shields us from an unknown world.
©Lily S. May 2010 – 2014