i forgive

each bleed, each never-to-be-
born, she called me, the
secret-keeper, stung womb one
who stained my sheets, stained my
walls, my windows, my garden,
my family
still, i forgive, it, all
i forgive it, all
but for such banality.


& i forgive

all the times you drove by our child, our house,
deserted with broken fences, cracked windows, all
the million jobs left undone, you in a such a rush
to adolescence because you missed it the first time around –
rock band rehearsal, & Sheeva, & hockey (sorry about that broken
ankle, but you never were much of a skater. but taking up hockey
at 46??? still, I said “of course
I’ll take on all your driving duties

because even after you fired me, I was in the habit of wife,
& i forgive that too).

& I forgive that the child would see your car
and crying ask, “why
doesn’t he want to eat dinner with me?”

but I could only turn my head from the route
you chose, wondering, wasn’t there another way
you could have driven that day?

& i forgive

the pashmina i bought, brought home
to thank her for cooking, cleaning for you, my two,

pashmina soft, blue, blue and wide, as the little girl
eyes that blinked beneath her over-plucked brows

and pink, paisleys, shaped, as appealing to you,
as her barren uterus, the one that could only expel

unborns, like our never-to-be’s. because i knew sting,
& helped her through miscarriage, again and again and again

loss. failure. cramps’ razor-fear,
dank, brown-blooded hopelessness. o i knew that too.

so i gifted pashmina to warm her on Mother’s Day
the childless womans’ worst of the year, never dreaming.

what plans she had, sparrow, starling, nest-stealer,
for my daughter, with you.

then too i forgive

the hard knock at the door,
the English bailiff. delivering sixty-four
pages of force, sixty-four pages
of thump, your case for divorce.
every word on every expensive page,
as you would know, after 29 years with me,
burnt, bitter herbs to my Catholic tongue.

then too i forgive the timing,
legal bullying, arranged just hours
before our young daughter’s return home to me.
from you & she drinking tea,
laughing, reminiscing. 8000 kilometres away.
in my mother’s room, the old woman
welcoming you as always. always.
like a son.

& i forgive

the thousand million kindnesses,
oily black coffee, fresh beans you ground
and steeped for me for 25 years,
each a yang to the yin of the pearls
I still wear, like the amber that drips
electric from around my neck, your love trapped
like ancient lavender moths caught
drinking from honey sap of a million years ago.
o, & i forgive the unfinishedness of violence,
paint & blood & forensic audit
that you & she made on me, pouring
over my expenses like i was the one
who killed us.

i forgive

your black silk, Chinese dragons, gold, red-tongues licking across the dressing gown. the one I found. husband. hanging on the curtain rod of the room I made for her. soft. welcome for someone. so utterly motherless. so utterly without a home.

and i forgive.
your heads leaned in towards one another. over a Santa jigsaw puzzle I bought. to jolly us through Christmas. I, home early from the field.

her blood. on my yellow bedding. the satin shot with her. little bulls-eyes.
and God knows. what else.

there i was

on the way to you, while the prairie
hawk circled, circled, and the canola
grew thick, heavy, along the great highway no. 1

and the wheat that year was blond, blond as you
and that prairie sky, my God, that prairie sky
pierced blue and blue and blue

there I was
on my way to you
on my way to you.

on lines by Robert Frost

oh the woods are dark and deep
the snow, the ice, steep river banks
and you, and you, lead me through
though I can barely walk though I
can barely, breathless talk, the winter
woods, so silent but for river rock
then river talks, it talks, we walk
through cedar, fir, the path so steep
the day is dusk, you give your hand,
until my stick appears, in duff,
I pick it up, then I gain strength,
then walk and walk til the opening,
hot springs, little canyon pools, so hot
and mud heat-heals my heart, in woods
so dark and deep, on a bridge we kiss
and we have miles to walk then loving sleep,
to keep, and so much more, of lovely sleep.

here it is again

the closing in, the opening up

of memory, yours, of you

and how we waited, waited

for you to never arrive, never

o our daughter, beloved of us

all, still, you are still, tho November

the ocean’s high sea haunts us

your mother cannot sleep now

it was the closing of them, us

it was the closing of us all, then

the terrible imaginings of broken

mast, broken sails, broken hull

it is the high winds, the North

Atlantic, too grey, too wild, too

much for us to begin this

our green-hued sea grief

and here it is again, November

and the terrible ocean

goes on and on and on

and still, we cannot see you.

Emily Carr in London

Forget the absurd reference to Frieda Kahlo, Emily Carr has zero in common with Kahlo with the exception of female physique. Just as last week in another review Carr was described as “Canada’s answer to Van Gogh,” I find it pathetic that the “old world”, Europe and the UK that is, needs to see Carr’s work in relation to other greats from “anywhere but CANADA”… the colonial attitudes are getting more than tiresome. Our country has been independent for over 140 years. That makes it technically older than Great Britain, Germany, Russia etc… all the countries of Europe who have drawn and redrawn their borders so many times.

Carr was, and continues to be, revolutionary, and more than overlooked. Here we have a woman working ALONE in isolation, in the twee city of Victoria, hiding place of “colonials”, a place where they could go and with a tuned-up English accent, remake themselves. And Emily, stood out as a giant amongst them and for this she received much scorn and mockery for being an artist who happened to be a woman. An artist, who did this all alone without a cadre of acolytes, male and female, or a spouse – why what man would be secure enough and brave enough to stand quietly in the shadow of a giant?

Carr was “headstrong … a tomboy, who preferred animals to people”… well no kidding. Her eldest sister, the head of the family, refused to give her the money she needed for art training in San Francisco, then in Paris and London. Finally she convinced the head of the family trust to fund her studies. But not after a fight. She studied abroad, but eventually had to return to the artistic isolation of twee Victoria, BC (it still has a twee faux-English flavour, including people who are born there but who speak with a slight English accent for heaven’s sake), where she opened a rooming house in order to fund her painting. From this experience came some really well-written books – she was as good a writer, though not as experimental, as she was a painter.

Carr eventually organized a show of her own paintings in Vancouver. Again, what male artist of her calibre would have to do this all alone? Her subject matter, beyond our great forests, and oceans, was that of the First Nations People, whom she recognized were the artisans of the “new world”, akin to what the ‘ancient Briton’s relics are to the English.” Recognizing that in the official government policy of what we now know as cultural genocide, that is, assimilation, Carr warned that the art, architecture and ritual of the First Nations in ‘only a few more years … they will be gone forever into silent nothingness.’ I have often thought about this, and how woefully inadequate the conquerers were at recognizing the 10,000 year cultural heritage of the First Nations has been. How wantonly sacred spaces, ancient weirs, the great forests filled with the symbols (petroglyphs e.g.), traces every bit as worthy as a Sutton Hoo, are destroyed, continues to be one of our country’s greatest shames… just a month ago petroglyphs that were 5 or 6 centuries old were blown up for a road building project in Nanaimo BC. Carr would have been appalled. I am appalled.

After her art show in Vancouver, Carr was totally demoralized by reviews which denigrated her work, especially the paintings of First Nations ‘relics’, decidedly unsuitable for the times in which the First Nations were not even second class citizens. (Shame #2 – it wasn’t until 1963 that First Nations peoples were given the democratic vote… tell that to the First Nations, the Inuit, veterans of the First and Second World War will you??? I guess we Metis were “white” enough to be allowed to vote). Carr packed up her paint brushes for 15 years and never touched a canvas with paint. Instead, as the article states, she became an eccentric, ‘crazy old lady’ with a band of creatures, including her grumpy monkey.

The story ends, if not happily, but better. Lawren Harris, a First World War artist btw, invited Carr to exhibit with him and come to Toronto (the CENTRE OF THE WORLD don’t ya know!). She came, she conquered, she returned to B.C. for the final go at paint, and the rest is, as they say, modernist art history.

Carr was a miracle in our midst. It’s taken a century for the “old world” to find her. Why? Oh let’s not go there shall we… (gender politics, colonialism, collective guilt for the maltreatment of the First Nations from basically an old world model of governance…). As the article states, hers ‘is not so much a macho story of discovery and conquest, but a haunting and occasionally erotic reminder of mystery.’ Indeed, her forests are gorgeous renderings of the sensuality of the living, breathing west coast. Anyone who has walked through the great old growth forest (that which hasn’t been utterly destroyed, in a manner that looks, quite frankly, like la bataille de la Somme), with the Great Pacific battering the coastline nearby, knows the utter potential, the fecundity of the greenness, the scent of the sweet duff, the rotted cedar and fir, the nursery trees, the sheltering of the ferns, a forest bed in which to lie etc. etc…

I celebrate Carr and always have. She was so brave, a visionary who foresaw the environmental cataclysm, and the cultural genocide. The First Nations, by the way, named her Klee Wyck which means “Laughing One”… so what did the First Nations see in her that her own people clearly could not?

Margaret Atwood writes, “Her canvases are so green: she takes you into the middle of the forest.” Atwood is absolutely wrong in this, but then, one can’t blame her, she has never lived in British Columbia for any length of time I believe, and has not grown up in the rain forest as some of us have been lucky to do. No, Carr’s canvases do not ‘take you into the middle of the forest’, they actually transfer one into being of the forest, being one with the forest and landscape. It wasn’t until I was ‘exiled’ in southern Ontario, flat, treeless, doing my Master degree, that upon seeing Carr’s paintings at the McMichael gallery that I finally understood Carr. I looked at this,http://www.kinderart.com/arthistory/emilycarrstrees.jpg , and I finally understood, with tears running down my face. As with all great artists, she takes us home.



Carr longed only to paint the rainforests, wild skies and indigenous cultures of her native British Columbia. Charlotte Gray celebrates the painter who, 70 years after her death, is receiving her first major European show