Poems and Stories of Strength/Resiliency from Space/Time
RESILIENT SOUL by Gay Josephine Valles
MY SILENCE by N. Wali
COZY by Sasha Patterson
SONG of the FIR TREE by Mary E. McCullough
SOFT, SOFTER, SOFTEST by Tiffany Morris
By Gay Josephine Valles, Peterborough
Do you believe in souls?
I do! I believe I have a soul.
A woman whose soul has been struggling honestly, for how long—eight years?
Her soul had undergone depression when her parents decided to seek for greener pastures in this land. I was 15 then.
Who are you? What is your name? Where are you from—uhmm, what country do you want to hear? How long have you been here? Wow, your English is very fluent! Were you born here? Are you alone here or with a family?
And so the question list continues.
Let’s fast forward it to the NOW.
By now, I come to accept all the pain and hurt—all invisible to my eyes but strongly felt and visible to my heart—what I went through.
Thank you Ms. Trauma of separation for letting me cry and grieve all through the years. Those days and years were breakdown, loneliness, confusion—Why why why this?
Those were my main companions in the everyday.
Can I just stop existing? I’m almost worn out in this battle I’ve taken. My shield is gone and I’m left with myself now.
Thank you Ms. Trauma of separation for allowing me to accept the negative side of things and renewing optimism from it.
Thank you for helping me choose the brighter side of things when darkness is strongly felt.
Thank you Ms. Trauma of separation for teaching me to replace emotional breakdown with calmness and a quiet mind; to replace loneliness with happiness and contentment; to replace confusion with a clear mind in the everyday now.
Thank you for teaching me how to be resilient in all circumstances when that’s the only choice I’ve got.
Thank you for opening my heart next to my mind, to see things more than they appear.
Thank you Ms. Trauma of separation for the gift of connection and appreciation. This life I have right now is a fruit that has ripened and fallen from your tree.
With love, Resilient Soul
By N. Wali (Free Women Writers of Afghanistan)
I have remained under your fists and kicks for years
But I will never break.
I am a woman, harder than diamonds
And no burqas will hide me.
Why should I cover for your honor?
“What does a woman have to say?” you told me.
You told me to be silent,
But you didn’t know:
Even my silence is a thunderous roar.
Free Women Writers is a collective of writers and students working for gender equality and social justice in Afghanistan.
By Sasha Patterson, Peterborough, Ontario
in a race to embrace the ground outside,
but in here we are warm
bundled in sweaters and slippers, too,
hot tea in hand and a million stories lined up
in here we find ways to build cozy
make a ceiling out of rainbows,
and a floor out of laps,
count eyes, ears, and nose,
sing the abc’s over and over,
fill the dog with so many pots of imaginary soup
we learn cozy in the cuddles
we learn to build towers,
but also how to tear them down,
how to ask for tickles,
ask for what we want
learn yes, and no
because they are equally important
in here we are giants,
in here we are ants,
in here we speak in third person
and why not?
our names are beautiful
our names have no gender
in here we learn to struggle,
to be kind
the snow tumbles,
in a flurried chill outside our window
but in here we are cozy
Song of the Fir Tree
by Mary E. McCullough (1915 – 1942) Navan, Ontario
I will tell you
What the fir tree told me,
When I walked in the twilight
On Roseberry Lea.
‘You are young, you are lovely,
Your movements have grace,
And firm are your footsteps
in treading this place.
“But how tall is your soul?”
Asked the fir tree of me,
“Have you grandeur of spirit,
Untramelled and free?
“Oh, let your soul reach
To the uttermost star,
Grow straight like the sunbeams
And shadow-lines are!”
In the eloquent twilight,
Beyond the brown gate,
The fir tree was chanting:
“Stand tall, and stand straight!”
Soft, Softer, Softest
by Tiffany Morris, Halifax, Nova Scotia
The girl in the red lipstick was the first to greet me. She wrapped me into a hug.
“I remember you, it’s nice to see you again,” she said. I searched my memory for her name.
I could recall talking to her before, and had enjoyed our buzzed conversation at a party a few months prior. I smiled and hugged her back. I tried not to begrudge her the fact that I had been expecting a smaller, more intimate hangout. Going over to my friend’s house was an attempt to avoid sequestering myself in my apartment after a panic attack. I was rough-edged with anxiety. I had hoped to immerse myself slowly into the rest of the world, like walking into a lake for the first time in the summer.
The living room’s black lights picked up the lint on my hooded sweatshirt. They made me feel bioluminescent. I sat in a dark corner on the floor and sipped from a plastic martini glass full of rosé wine. I tried to warm to the drunken atmosphere. We talked about writing and our favourite songs by Michael Jackson. When the subject turned to near-death experiences, my friends talked about accidents, the times they forgot everything and were born anew, before their memories came flooding back to their conscious selves.
Our host invited me outside for a cigarette, the girl in the red lipstick in tow. We were sheltered under the awning on his front deck as we watched the rain fall from the trees in heaving sighs. The girl in the red lipstick posed before her phone. She mumbled something about no longer having an eating disorder. The photo, posted to Instagram, would be offered as proof of her recovery. I had no idea who this invisible audience was, or why they would demand proof. I felt momentary panic about how to respond to her revelation. Silence would be conspicuous, an unlit patio lantern.
“Congratulations,” I said. “That must have been a difficult thing to overcome.”
“It was,” she said. “
She leaned toward the camera. Her body was unobtrusive and thin and lovely, like the air in a mountain town. I didn’t know if my fat body was in the background of the photo, offering its softness as an unwitting point of comparison. The host changed the subject.
We love rough gems, edged layers of stacked stone. We love hardness and polish. By contrast, softness is malleable, compromising. Stone and metal are hard, touching upon the immemorial. Our buildings seem immortal, conquering the sky until they’re felled by sabotage or simple time.
The soft is organic, it’s quicksilver, it can slip from our grasp. Softness reminds us that we’re mortal, that our bodies are subject to decay. Softness reminds us that something can be lost.
Women are frequently rewarded for hardness by other women. Put on your big girl panties and deal with it and other slogans celebrate difficult women, toughness, reclaimed bitchiness, et al. These phrases adorn the flotsam and jetsam of daily life: refrigerator magnets, key rings, compact mirrors; usually with leopard print or other kitschy patterns. I, too, own these objects. My 2010 day planner is filled with blue ink scrawls, marking dates and appointments. Each page is decorated with pithy sayings in praise of difficulty. The 1950s’ illustrations printed on these objects are of housewives and glamour queens. In these pages, the women have beaming smiles that become transformed, migrating from their initial sunny intention to the realm of a more contemporary sardonic wit.
In looking at the past, we can trace hardness, how it may have gone from coping strategy to birthright. The right to hardness was earned by women who fought before, their rallying cry of revolution. Hardness is, still, the role continuously superimposed over women who suffer, whether they embrace the label or not. Regardless of whether they are given any room for softness.
Hardness is a defence mechanism, an expression of will, a reclamation of space and voice. Hardness is as diverse as women. The same could be said for softness, but it’s often treated as a liability, something that creeps in and announces itself quietly, an invasive species. It can be frustrating to be a woman whose emotions manifest in a way that make her seem soft. I cry not only easily but readily, succumbing to the varying strains of my emotions. In these moments, if they happen in front of other women, I almost never give an honest explanation. I’ll feel compelled to say, “I’m just PMSing”, and this is only true, can only be true, some of the time. Other women will smile and understand. Menstrual cycles can be a muster point of sisterhood, a point at which we let ourselves go soft with pain, with anger, with vulnerability.
A Google Image search for ‘softness’ results in photographs and illustrations of flower petals, kittens, babies, white women wearing white clothes, and carefully folded piles of linen. This a realm of traditionally hyper-feminine signifiers, linked to biology, reproduction, questionable notions of ‘universal’ femininity, and the domestic sphere. A link to femmephobia and an aversion to gender essentialism can be, and must be, pointed to when we talk about the dichotomies of hardness and softness. We must ask whether softness is something that is earned. Can we disavow the oppressive dimensions of both hardness and softness? For both women and men, can softness be both a blessing and a burden?
The pastels in the images blend together into an abstract, watercolour haze.
Other things that are soft: tissues ripping with tears and mucous. Bruised fruit. Pricy cashmere sweaters. Threadbare thrift store t-shirts. Lava rolling golden thunder down the side of a volcano, into the sea. The voice of my friend as she recalled her struggle to put on makeup since her breakup the previous Friday. The planks of the deck where we stood, the wood swooping and swaying with rot and our host’s enthusiastic footsteps. The tattered Canadian flags hanging outside houses where the porch lights were turned off. The sleeping people inside, cocooned in warmth and dreaming. The clouds slung overhead. The pauses between our words, the things we do and don’t say.