Qu’Appelle?

May 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

 When suddenly from out of the shadowed shore,
I heard a voice speak tenderly my name.

“Who calls?” I answered; no reply; and long
I stilled my paddle blade and listened. Then
Above the night wind’s melancholy song
A woman’s voice, that through the twilight came
Like to a soul unborn – song unsung.

I leaned and listened – yes, she spoke my name,
And then I answered in the quaint French tongue,
“Qu’Appelle? Qu’Appelle?…”

– Pauline Johnson

Legend tells of a young Indian brave canoeing home from a hunting trip one evening when he thought he heard someone calling his name. “Who calls?”, he asked aloud.There was no reply. “Qu’appelle?” he tried again, this time in French. Then came a reply from the hills on the other side of the placid, moonlit lake: “Qu’appelle?” It was his echo.

Light enough to let it go

Our train passes into Saskatchewan atop a valley, along the Qu’Appelle river.    The Who-is-Calling river and the valley our train snakes over.

Who is calling?

I put the last of my boxes on a greyhound bus to Vancouver two days ago, in a hectic and uncomfortable frenzy.  As I let go of my life there, I clung to my belongings like a life vest, held tight to my chest, not able to throw much of anything away.   Mason jars and old notebooks found their way into boxes stuffed like a Christmas morning stocking, full of mediocre gifts I will open anew next week in a place I will call home with the awkwardness a newlywed calls her long-time boyfriend “my husband.”

I am shocked by how little I now care about the place which only two days ago gave me such enormous pangs to leave.    It occurred to me that the reason this move has been so difficult is that is has been somewhat involuntary.  I woke up at the crack of dawn each morning over the last two weeks, at a quarter to five, but not by choice.  I was being moved.  Wake up and move it!  If I resist this I will only suffer more. It is time. It is time to move.  I am so stressed I decide to write this Haiku poem to calm down:

Packing everything

the dishes became sacred

evidence of a past

With the wrong attitude it is easy to feel a kind of defeat in the act of letting go. We feel defeated until we are free, and then we notice a strength that emerges:  It’s over.  And the world gets bigger.

I thought I was clinging all along to my apartment. I discussed the intricacies of my love for my apartment over and over again with my friends, until I realised I was staring a leading roll in my very own Woody Allen film, taking neurosis to new theatrical heights!  With every belonging I put into a box, my life in Montreal seemed to get richer and richer, the men more handsome, my friendships deeper.  “I’m going to Paris for a job interview,” an old friend, born and raised in Rome, told me when we passed one another on the busy sidewalk in front of the Premiere Moisson bakery. The smell of fresh baguettes, the bicycles and tulips all annoyed me.  I am moving and you’re no longer supposed to be so interesting.

Is it light enough to let it go?  Leonard Cohen asks us.

Don’t look down the ground is gone,
there’s no one waiting anyway
The Smoky Life is practiced everywhere

Come on back if the moment lends
You can look up all my very closest friends

Light, light enough
To let it go
It’s light enough to let it go

While I am letting go, songs and poems from the last decade I have spent in Montreal return to me unexpectedly .  An old boyfriend once wrote in a poem he left taped onto his door one evening after I had been away, that while I was gone he felt like a box of jewels after the theft.  I looked around my empty apartment one day and this line came back to me with surprising alacrity.  My empty apartment, a box of jewels after the theft.  I am the jewels and I am also the thief, I suddenly realised.  We all are.  This is how we make a life and this is how we leave.

Move it or lose it! I awake before the alarm I set for 6am by a force larger than me. It’s anxiety again.  An old friend who comes to tell me it is time to grieve.   It is time to feel, not only this loss but all the ones that came before.  It seems silly now to close down to how they are linked.   Is there anything too large to let go of?  Is there any pain that will always be too hard to feel?  Anxiety is usually safer than the sadness that lurks just below.

Qui appelle? 

It’s moving day and the apartment is now a shell of someone else’s former life.   It’s grubby and run down.   I don’t want it anymore.  I’ve stopped dreaming about where I would put the new shelves, or how I would operate my home office out of the front bedroom.  The cats are gone, and now their old grey fur is just stuck to the green carpet on the back balcony, a balcony I will decide not to clean because I don’t have the time.   The cats are ghosts that roam the empty hallways at night, at least that’s what I think of when I hear the old wooden apartment creaking in the darkness.  I still see them there, outstretched on the wood floor or curled up on a pillow if I turn my head too quickly.  I see the way the streetlight flashes off one of their eyes and large alert pupils.  Then my eyes adjust to a brown shirt lying on the floor, to the button that caught the light.  It’s so interesting how loss comes back again, gentle, then strong, then unavoidable, forcing a feeling you didn’t even know you were trying to avoid.

Is it light enough to let it go?

The train weaves down into the fertile Fraser valley.  This isn’t a reunion, I think, this is union.  I now know the geographical distance between that life I left four sleeps ago when the train pushed off from Montreal’s Central Station and the one I am travelling towards. An airplane can trick us into believing that geography is but a minimal obstacle, traversable.  But my body and soul know otherwise.  Away from home our skin gets harder, protective, we are always plotting and planning the inevitable: a homecoming.  I want to say I feel like my grandfather, who wrote on his return from war: “When we had our first glimpse of salt water at Port Moody, I never regretted for a moment we were riding on a one-way ticket.”  The truth is, we are constantly negotiating what is light enough to let go of, and there are rarely one-way tickets, only the present moment and the ebb and flow of memories on a quest for wholeness.


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