8 December 2016

Wenjack - Joseph Boyden

This is a heart-breaking little book.  I started reading it last night and finished it in one sitting (though the fact that I didn't start reading it until after midnight is evidence of my membership in the BadDecisionsBookClub™).  Once I started, I couldn't put it down.

The 97 pages of this book tell the story of Charlie/Chanie Wenjack, an 11-year-old boy who ran away from his residential school to try and walk 600km home through the north-western Ontario bush in 1966.  Unsurprisingly, he doesn't make it very far before he dies from exposure beside the train tracks that he was following.  Two years after he was forcibly taken away from his family, his body was returned to them in a casket.

The story was even more poignant because the school that Chanie was sent to was Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School that was located in Kenora.  When I lived in Kenora for 8 months, I used to drive by the site where it was located.  The bush that Chanie was travelling through is the same bush where I would go hiking and canoeing.  As he was struggling along in the cold and wind and sleet and snow, Boyden's word painting combined with my own time spent in that same area led to a harrowing experience for my imagination.

The story of the residential schools in Canada is an important story to be told.  I have been privileged to be entrusted with stories from people who survived these schools in my career as a physiotherapist.  While Boyden doesn't describe the experience directly, Chanie's memories of the school and the abuse that he was subjected to haunt him as he walks along.

The book won't take you long to read, but if you are Canadian (or if you are interested in the history of Canada), this is an important book to read.

This isn't a happy book, and it left me feeling bereft.  In the hours since I finished reading it, I've been trying to think if there is anything redeeming that can come out of the story of this abandoned little boy. The only thing that I can think of comes not in Chanie's story, but in the Author's Note at the end where he writes that Chanie Wenjack's death led to the first public inquiry into the residential school system, and even though it took another 30 years, the system in Canada did finally end.

Next up I'm going to read Jeff Lemire and Gord Downie's take on the same story.

(This is book 6/13 for me in the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by The Book Mine Set.)

18 November 2016


Here's another poem from my recent school assignment - a short one this time.  Apparently this one made my professor laugh out loud. Details of the assignment and the first poem can be found here.


The teacher,
                        answering none of my questions
unfolds for me

a whole new world of questions.

11 November 2016

The Flame

Eight-and-a-half years ago, as I was driving around in my car listening to one of my CDs, I thought to myself, "If there is one person that I would like to see in concert more than any other musician, it is Leonard Cohen.  But that isn't going to happen because he is old and he doesn't tour."  When I got home that day and turned on my computer, a headline popped up that said, "Leonard Cohen Announces World Tour."

I had the opportunity to see him twice in concert - 2008 in Toronto and 2013 in Winnipeg; both memorable evenings.  Then yesterday evening, the news reached the world that Leonard Cohen had died.  I am thankful for everything that I have learned from Leonard Cohen.

This poem wasn't the next one I was planning to share; but in response to the events of the world this week - the US election results, the death of Leonard Cohen, and the death of one of my friends - here is my response.

(Information about the class assignment that this poem comes from can be found here.)

The Flame

Before the beginning, there was darkness
Then God said, “Let there be light.”
            And there was light.
A tiny flame
            flickering in the darkness
            flickering in the chaos
            flickering in the fear.
Shadows dancing.
What is hiding in those shadows?

The bard sings,
            “Magnified, sanctified / Be thy holy name.”
The bard sings,
            “Vilified, crucified / In the human frame.”
The bard sings,
            “We kill the flame.”[1]

Can we kill the flame?
Can our fear
        our chaos
        our darkness
                        overwhelm the light?

The light shines in the darkness
            and the darkness does not overcome it.

[1] Leonard Cohen, “You Want it Darker,” in You Want it Darker (Sony Music Entertainment, 2016), compact disc.

7 November 2016

The Invitation

I spent the weekend writing an essay about the Eucharist, so I thought that I would share this poem today.
(Information about the class assignment that this poem comes from can be found here.)

The Invitation

Nailed to the tree
arms stretched wide
“This is my body, broken for you.”

Blood and water mingle
from wounded side
“This is my blood, poured out for you.”

Face contorted in pain
love was crucified
“Eat this bread and live forever.”

Embracing the world
arms stretched wide
“It is finished.”

3 November 2016


Here's another poem from my recent class assignment.
(Information about the assignment as a whole, along with the first poem can be found here.)


The highway winds
            through northern Ontario bush
the hills still snow-covered
the lakes still frozen
the March landscape
            bearing scars of winter past.
Too soon for songbirds
too soon for flowers
too soon for unfurling leaves.
And yet.
And yet off on the distant hillside
the tree branches are thickening
            swelling in the sun’s new-found warmth
            engorged with life-giving sap

            proclaiming the resurrection to come.

2 November 2016


One of my classes this term had an artistic component - we had to engage the question that Jesus asks of Peter in the gospels, "Who do you say that I am?" using whatever artistic medium we wanted.  I handed in a short collection of poetry presenting a variety of images for Jesus Christ, and came to the conclusion that "Jesus Christ is more than the sum of the metaphors."

I will be sharing some of these short poems on this blog over the next little bit.  Here is one of my favourites:


How many nights now?
How long has it been since you slept?
            since I slept?
This red-faced screaming ball of humanity
            who has taken over my home
                                            my heart
                                            my life.
Why won’t you stop crying?
You aren’t hungry.
You aren’t wet.
You aren’t in pain.
Why can’t I soothe you?
I don’t know what I’m doing.
Where is your Owner’s Operating Manual?
Those angels and shepherds and magi,
            they were so eager to visit you
                        when you were born.
            Where are they now?
                        now that there are diapers to change.
                        now that there is laundry to do.
                        now that there are mouths to feed.
They sang of Peace on Earth.
How can there be Peace on Earth
            when there can’t even be
                        peace in this home?
Your tears are never going to end.
Let me just
            collapse in this chair
                        and share

                                    in your tears.