I am assembling materials for a recurrent return somewhere. Familiar sound textures, deliverances, vagabond quotations, preservations, wilderness shrubs, little resuscitated patterns. Historical or miraculous. Thousands of correlations have to be sliced and spliced. In the analytic hour that is night in which Olmsted, not being able to see what has happened in his mind with regard to his mother, sleeplessly exists, perhaps there is the surety that after a silence she will contact him again in bits. Escape may be through that dawning light just filtering through the blinds. After all he is forty-five, and certainly not a child.Until the days after my mother died, the previously unopened steamer trunk left buried in back shed, photographs I never knew, her life before marriage. Why had this absence never occurred earlier? A surly sixteen year old Joanne at a beach with her family, possibly Cobourg. Her Page grandparents, at that point, still alive. Her Swain same in Kemptville. When everyone’s dying or dead, what survives?
Susan Howe, The Midnight
During the period she and six siblings scattered throughout secondary, set across downtown Ottawa in different schools for the purpose of specialization. My mother at Lisgar Collegiate, her sister Patricia at the technical high school since turned to Adult High School at Gladstone, Rochester. The youngest three at Ridgemont, on Alta Vista. For example. My father had one rural option, after starting out in one room schoolhouse, following the footsteps of his own father. Their high school, where I took my grades seven and eight. My great-grandfather, once a one-room school on a long-gone lot, just at the edge of our hundred acre wood.
At sixteen, my surly mother already a drop-out, helping raise her younger siblings, two nieces, and babysitting the neighbour children.
What can we know of anyone, staring at their teenaged selves?
As Phil Hall suggested, something that happens naturally when turning forty, attempting to gain perspective on the whole. Subsequently, the loss of a relationship that was supposed to involve relocation from Ottawa to Toronto, marriage and further offspring. The loss of one future, forced to confront the emptiness of what might happen next.
Not just the end of the future, but the end of history.
1956: a year before Prime Minister John Diefenbaker would have laid cornerstone to Ridgemont High School, less than a block further south along Alta Vista, and a further year before it opened. One of a series of composite schools built up in the city throughout the 1950s and 60s, and where T.S. Eliot is rumoured to have spoken, later in the school’s second decade.
Joanne Page, who worked for the Robertsons, a house at the corner of Alta Vista and Kilborn. Watching the children, a later photograph of two captioned “Mike + Susan Dec 1969 - with love & kisses to our other 'mom' and Douglas too.” Where babysitting, she picked up her scarlet fever.
The absence of archive in the McLennan household, her life before marriage. Was it simply abandoned to family home, long dismantled in her absence, her mother’s eventual move, excess, death, boiled down to bare fabric and stitch? How much archive can a body still carry? Her grandparents Swain, reduced to two tins. A handful of war medals, not knowing which might be his, his brother-in-law’s, his father-in-law’s. Uncertain, even which wars. Reduced to less than zero.
Her wedding dress that haunts my sister’s former bedroom closet, beside pink bridesmaid dress she wore when her sister Pam married, two years previous.
Realizing for the first time how everything begins to slip away, and how stable certain elements of my life have been, throughout. A home to return to. For the first time, feeling as though everything is slipping away, this version of home. These first few weeks scanning hundreds of maternal pictures, back generations of Page to Swain to Friend to Cassidy. A good part of the thanksgiving weekend scanning photographs of paternal grandmother’s family, great-grandfather Campbell, photographs of his daughters as children, or later on, holding his sole grandchild, in his Maxville backyard. My unmistakable father.
I haven’t slept properly in months. Perhaps only weeks, days. As perceptions shift, previous points-of-view become harder comprehend, grasp or even recall. The homestead yard shadows under spotlight of illumination, single eye over the shed. To write out the map of my life. Every time I think I might have a clear picture, it shivers, re-materializes; an alternate universe, a picture of itself. Perhaps this is what everyone experiences.
Smoke. This is smoke. I am writing out smoke.