A Street Named Faithful

The art & literature magazine ArtAscent had a call for submissions on the theme of “Home”. I submitted the poem below based on my year living in Victoria. You can read the poem that was just recently published in the mag here. I’m also including it below as, unfortunately, the photograph that inspired the piece was not published with it, and I think it helps the poem make sense.

A Street Named Faithful

Tucked between ocean and city

you’re hard to find

and not that faithful

with faded blue skin

and chipped front tooth

how could I walk by each day and believe in you?

 

Even when set in concrete

raised eyebrows and question marks follow your name

because you’re not a place

yet I knew where I was with you

 

Carrying heavy bags of groceries

past the Victorian house on your corner

my soles walking the rhythms of your concrete

wishing you weren’t so long

 

Rainy mornings you felt my canvas shoes

the sharp point of my umbrella

poking the crevices

testing the depth of your foundation

 

My first greeting when I left the house

and the word calling me back

you let me know I was safe

home on a street named Faithful

 

If a streetcar named Desire

takes me away in my youth

in my old age

I will return to you

 

Cracked and peeling

when my colour has faded

and I have my own chipped front tooth

to find time and erosion

left their marks

but couldn’t erase you

 

© Charlene Kwiatkowski

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To the Island

My less frequent posts as of late have been in part due to a vacation I took to Vancouver Island. I like to call it my “To the Island” trip as a take-off on Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

She felt… how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.

I visited several small towns along the east coast that I’ve never been to before, including Crofton, Ladysmith, Duncan, and then up to Nanaimo and down to Victoria (which I have been to before since I lived there as a grad student).

I’m not one for small towns, but I concede there is a certain charm to them when visiting. I was pleasantly surprised at the plethora of used bookstores and vintage/consignment clothing shops in a number of places. Aaron Espe captures the small town life in this song:



And I’ve tried to capture some photos that, even if they don’t exactly characterize the town, at least characterize my experience of that particular town:

Ladysmith

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There’s only one main street running through Ladysmith. It hosted the town’s annual “show and shine.”

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If that wasn’t rural enough, I was about to get even more country by staying on this picturesque farm on the outskirts of town.

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A day lounging at the beach, petting goats, and walking the boardwalk around Crofton’s harbour.

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Duncan

The town doesn’t look like much from the highway, but once you turn off and actually get into the downtown area, it has some really quaint spots. Duncan is also known as “The City of Totems.” Apparently there’s over 80.

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Home of Nanaimo bars and Diana Krall. Lovely, colourful harbour city.

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Victoria

I took the least amount of pictures here, probably because I took so many when I lived in this city. In any case, I love visiting this old “home” and running the ocean route along Dallas Road I used to do as a student.

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Pico Iyer says we carry many versions of home inside of us and I think that is very true. Sometimes we may even call a place home that we’ve never lived in but dream of living in, because we spend just as much time thinking about it. I had never thought about that until he said it, but it made sense. Vancouver was home to me long before I moved there. So, where is home for you? Small town, big city? Both?

Here’s the TED talk if you have fifteen minutes:

Home

My Dad recently asked me as he dropped me off at the ferry terminal to travel back to Victoria from Vancouver, “Do you feel like you’re leaving home or going home?”

Home. That word’s been on my mind lately as I’ve just set up a new home in Victoria. Yet where I grew up is still home and where I did my undergraduate degree is home too.

It’s strange how fluid the concept of home is. We can carry multiple versions of home around with us, and they don’t have to cancel each other out.

I see home as a tension between leaving and returning. It’s the starting point, the place you leave to step out and make your own place in the world. But it’s also the reference point by which to measure how far you’ve gone, how you’ve changed, what you’ve learned, and what you’re bringing back.

There’s one painting that I think brilliantly captures this tension of home as an in-between space of coming and going. I attended a conference at Carleton in 2009 where David Jarraway from the University of Ottawa talked about the representations of home in Canadian and American Literature. And I remember being struck by this image he showed:

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth

Unlike a lot of other paintings depicting the American homestead, Jarraway said that it unusually shows the subject – Christina –  looking back towards home, the object of her gaze, rather than away. She isn’t sitting on a threshold dreaming of what lies beyond, like this one:

Christina has left home, and yet she looks back. Her whole body is bent towards home, not just her gaze. She’s reaching for it. Sometimes it takes distance to get a proper reading or sighting of home. (I should also note that Christina was Wyeth’s neighbour who suffered from polio, resulting in her inability to walk).

Through art, Wyeth has created a language in all the empty space between Christina and her home – a language of longing. As Jalaluddin Rumi says, “All language is a longing for home.”

To me, this painting is not so much about Christina or her home even though it’s called “Christina’s World.” It’s about the space in-between, the gap between us and the object of our longing, and all the ground that covers.

In answer to my Dad’s question, both.