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Borrowed Light

Borrowed Light

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Borrowed Light

143 página
1 hora
Jan 1, 2003


Weaving together complex layers of personal and political history, this collection of poems traces a Jewish family's path from 1930s Europe to 21st-century Canada. Recalling the delicate, enduring family bonds that have held fast through war and peacetime, these poems find lyric expression for the past century's traumas, large and small.{Guernica Editions}
Jan 1, 2003

Sobre el autor

Merle Nudelman is an award-winning poet, educator, and lawyer. She has published four books of poetry: Borrowed Light (2003), We, the Women (2006), The He We Knew (2010), and True as Moonlight (2014). Her first collection, Borrowed Light, won the 2004 Canadian Jewish Book Award for Poetry. Her poetry has been published in literary journals, anthologies, and zines. Her essays appear in Poetic Inquiries of Reflection and Renewal (2017) and in Poetic Inquiry: Enchantment of Place (forthcoming). She teaches memoir and poetry writing and gives workshops on healing through writing. She lives in Toronto.

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Borrowed Light - Merle Nudelman



After a short walk from home, I sat on my usual bench in High Park. I was dealing with personal crises on a number of levels.

Only about a month earlier I had cancelled my university teaching contract for the fall semester to handle a health problem. I knew that I could have, should have, managed both. After all, a ten-year teaching career is not easily jeopardized by a health issue, I told myself. Yet, combined with other setbacks I’d learned to manage over the years, this one brought me down. Not that I hadn’t been down before. I was on my third life, I’d often said. I took a drastic step. Was it cowardly? It felt like it at the time. In retrospect, I believe it was brave; at least I’d like to think that it was.

Shortly after undergoing surgery, I was seized by a frenzied need to write. The many unfinished stories and beginnings of novels and unedited poems I’d written over the years (while stealing time from marking exams, or tending to my family, my household and gardening chores — all enjoyed) now beckoned from the filing cabinets. For the first time in my life I owned a sliver of time that suddenly seemed my own, unclaimed, free to use in any way I wished.

On this day I was working on a novel I had begun writing in memory of my mother who had recently passed away. I had not made it to the funeral. Belgrade was still being bombed and commercial flights had been cancelled due to sanctions. What in the past would have been an eight-hour direct flight would now be a circuitous string of uncertain connections. I would not have made it in time for the funeral and would have missed at least a couple of weeks of teaching. I made the agonizing decision not to go. But guilt had set in like fog on a windless day.

A few years had gone by and some pages scribbled quickly here and there added up to a few chapters. As I descended into my memories, the dappled shade blending the vista before me with the visions from my past, I heard a voice call out.

Recording your precious thoughts, are you?

I looked up and saw an elderly gentleman holding a dog on a leash. He smiled, as if he knew something about me that I didn’t. Then, he announced that I was sitting on his favourite bench and asked if he could share it with me.

It is your special bench, I answered. No need to ask.

May I? he repeated kindly.

Of course, I said and slid to one side.

He sat down to my left and leaned into the backrest. He shuffled for a few seconds until he found that comfortable spot as if he was settling into his armchair, ready to watch a football game. He patted his dog and called her Princess, then offered her a snack and she ate it out of his hand.

For almost a minute we sat quietly, he looking across the park towards Grenadier Pond, and I trying to focus on my writing. The next moment we looked at each other and laughed. I felt as if I were sitting with an old friend and pretending not to know him, and going by his smile, I guessed that he might’ve thought the same.

So, what do you think of it? He asked.

Pardon? I said.

The inscription on the bench. What do you think of it?

I looked at him, baffled.

You did see the plaque, didn’t you? I thought that’s why you’re sitting here, recording your precious thoughts.

I must’ve looked dumbfounded.

It’s right there, behind you, he said.

I turned and read:

Of memory, images, and precious thoughts

That shall not die.

It was in memory of Claire.

He pointed to a young oak tree only a few steps in front of us and said that it used to have a dedication to the same woman, but it was no longer there. He got up and peeked around the base of the tree.

Vandalism, he said. It’s too bad people would do that. I’m just checking, in case the person brought it back. It happens, you know.

He continued walking a few paces up the hill.

There was an old stump here for many years, he said. It had a stone with a bronze plaque and the same name. I always wondered if it was a different Claire.

He patted the grass with his foot.

It’s not here any longer. There must be a story to all this.

I passed my hand over the inscription. I had been doing exactly that — recording my memories. But there was more to this message. The words that should have evoked a sense of sentimentality for a few moments and drifted away instead sank deeply into my mind. They spoke to me of my own doubts, of the changes I was undergoing, of the conflicting feelings within me, as if my whole life had been one gigantic oxymoron: pieces disjointed, unfulfilling, unresolved.

And now, it was being told to me. Strangely, it somehow seemed right. It pointed to a broader meaning, the big picture. I wasn’t sure what that was, yet suddenly I felt light-hearted. It didn’t seem to matter that only a short while ago I felt out of place here on this bench, on a weekday when I should have been in the classroom, or marking papers, or at home doing other useful things responsible people did. None of it mattered any longer.

Gordon Munro, he said and offered his hand. That’s with a ‘u’, not like most others. He spelled it out for me.

Gordie, he said. Everybody calls me Gordie.

Bianca, I said.

There are some well known artists by the name of Bianca, he said in a tone that was more a question. Lady Bianca. You must’ve heard of her. Bianca Thornton, a famous blues singer. Oakland’s finest. Beautiful! You know of her?

I shrugged my shoulders.

And there are others. Let me see… you must know of some.

Shakespeare’s bad girl is one I know of, I replied, and we both laughed.

I peered into his eyes for a moment longer than was polite. I couldn’t turn away — his dark pupils were encircled by a blue ring.

You noticed, didn’t you? he exclaimed, catching me off guard. I fumbled for words and before I could think of what to say, he continued: The blue in my eyes comes from a Native tribe, Micmac, I was told. My grandmother came from Bear River in Nova Scotia. She was of mixed race: black, Micmac, and perhaps white. Which meant her family’d been in the area for a long time.

He opened his eyes wide and offered me a closer look. I peered, now unafraid of being caught staring.

She married my grandfather, James Munro, and they moved to Weymouth, and later Yarmouth.

I shrugged my shoulders and gave him a questioning look.

That’s in Nova Scotia. I was born there. From what my family told me, Grandfather James was probably a former slave from Baltimore. He would’ve been freed by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Wow! I exclaimed. What a family history! For a moment I felt as if I were in a lecture hall. Details of so long ago — dates, names — poured out with such urgency and precision it seemed as if he were reciting a report on a monumental event that had just occurred the day before. The milestones of history suddenly seemed so immediate that I felt part of them. I was struck by the passion and enthusiasm through which they were brought to life by a person who simply happened to sit on a park bench next to me.

You’re still looking at my eyes, aren’t you? he said, chuckling. Many people are surprised.

Yes, they’re most unusual, I said. They’re… navy.

He laughed. Navy, did you say? Definitely the right word.

I beg your pardon, I said.

Well, I just happen to have been the first black Canadian to enter the Royal Canadian Navy! Not long after the Second World War.

He fed another snack to Princess. She gave a low growl and he told me that she had arthritis.

I was eighteen when I applied, he said. "Went to Halifax, had my interview, passed the tests. All of them. Then went back home and waited. Five months went by. They called others who wrote the test with me; a few friends from Yarmouth, some from towns nearby. I knew they didn’t want me because I was black. So I wrote a letter and threatened to tell the Halifax Chronicle. I got a reply — a letter of acceptance. I reported on June 29, 1948, in Halifax."

A sudden gust picked up the loose sheets of paper on my lap and scattered them around the bench. We ran after them, reclaiming them from the piles of fallen leaves swirling about us.

He pointed to the lake in the distance beyond the Gardiner Expressway. This is a very special spot here. Even on a hot, muggy day, the breeze from the lake, from the pond, passes over this bench.

I nodded and stuffed the notes in my bag.

I used to live in the area, just north of here, Bloor and Runnymede, he said. "We sold our house, moved to an apartment at Eglinton and Royal York. I still come to

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