Unhinged Condition

Unexplained on the wide sidewalk, the door stands upright with the aid of two wooden stands that grip its bottom rail a few scrapes above the absent threshold.

Though the door no longer opens or shuts, the stout pin of one hinge remains, partly encircled by a barrel of the same rusty vintage. Cracked layers of thick white paint on the panels accent the unhinged condition.

Without a hinge to hitch portal to solid frame, access to an interior is lost. For a hinge is the servant to movement. It facilitates welcomes and good-byes. It swings the dancers, defines transitions, provides an exit.

This displaced door reveals the crucial role of hinges, for entrance to beloved places relies on a connecting part so humble that its anatomy is rarely learned: leaf, knuckle, pin, sleeve. Visitors take the obedient swivel of doors for granted, assuming they can handle endless openings, hesitations, closings, and slams.

No longer a barrier between public street and private property, the door’s new context gives passersby the chance to pause and notice its value as an object divorced from human passage. Free from the press of admission and the drama of expulsion, it serves in a different way now.

With its superfluous locks and bolts on display, the unhinged door invites visions of access without traditional keys. For how might humanity evolve if restrictive concepts of ownership become unfastened from their jambs? How might we open ourselves without fear?

Insubstantial Chains of Self-Criticism

At nine o’clock in the morning, serrated leaves resting against the fence receive the signature of dark steel lines. With emboldened chains eclipsing the more delicate rows of veins, diamond shapes define the screen of the leaf-surface, imposing fence patterns on what should grow free.

But the fence’s shadow, looping and stamping itself at nine, will be gone by noon, leaving the victorious leaf unchained. After all, it never asked to be cast in a shadow play. Nor did the plant sign a lease with the barricade that straddles its roots. It only desires to rise from the soil in peace.

The tattoo of links is impermanent, for a seemingly solid fence in the morning becomes a shadow of itself as the day wanes. By psychological extension, shifting solar movements can suggest a hopeful metaphor: harmful habits that create barriers to happiness have the capacity to dissolve like so many shadow-chains. For example, the bruising self-criticism that overshadows confidence and disturbs inner peace may not be the iron-gray shackle of truth we assume.

If distorted thoughts are building a cage one steel rod of anxiety at a time, consider the power of one question, “Are these thoughts true?” Then take a deep breath and call chimeras out from their hiding places — behind benches of judgement, beneath shaming silences, under tongues that tsk-tsk on the regular — and watch them melt into phantoms with the passage of the sun. Challenge the cruelty that crushes self-love and reject the quelling projections of others. Above all, hold fast to what illuminates, such as visions of leaves that transform fences into natural trellises, limitless shelters that dapple and shine.

Memorial Collage and Poem for my Cousin Patrick Harvey Jones (1972-2019)

Cousin Pat’s Letter, Catherine Raine 2020

Not long before Pat died, he sent a card thanking me for a Christmas gift. The medication that he was taking caused his hands to shake, and it touched me that he still made time to write despite the difficulty. When composing Cousin Pat’s Letter, it seemed right that the piece should include an example of his handwriting, symbol of both his uniqueness and his suffering.

Detail from Cousin Pat’s Letter, Catherine Raine 2020
Detail from Cousin Pat’s Letter, Catherine Raine 2020

Many years ago, Pat collected antique glass bottles, so I fashioned a bottle shape from some handmade paper to provide a stem for his collage’s flower. Fragments of the thank-you letter became the petals.

Detail from Cousin Pat’s Letter, Catherine Raine 2020

In addition to glass-collecting, Pat enjoyed writing haiku. From 2002 to 2003, he composed almost two hundred three-line poems about cars, artists, coins, baseball, rock bands, and the antics of animals he observed from his window.

Born in Missouri,
Words and Phrases from Haikus by Patrick Jones
and Arranged by Catherine Raine, 2020

In the months after his death, I read all of the poems, and a number of words and phrases struck me as characteristic of Pat. Eventually, the gleaned words suggested themselves as a new poem, and I hope Pat would approve of how I arranged his lines to make this collaborative text. Like the memorial collage pictured above, Born in Missouri is devoted to remembering my cousin’s interests, creativity, and sense of humor. He died much too soon.

Treehouse Down (2020) with Recording by Sean McDermott

Hovering at the height of the telephone wires,

the man in a cherry bucket sheers a section of tall maple,

an aerial chef dispatching vertical stalks for the chipper.

The chunk of trunk falls to the sidewalk,

splintering the moment into a thousand perceived realities.

The sky-worker, one section down,

four more cuts to go before the break.

His co-worker below who feels the thud of dead wood

buzzing through his boots and grey hiking socks

all the way to his toes, soles, heels.

The startled squirrel that leaps with instinctive flair

from a truck to the trunk of an intact tree.

The papa two doors down from the amputated maple,

his baby fascinated by the moving shape

silhouetted against the morning sun

that makes the roaring beast chew the air.

A frail witness across the street

pausing in the task of sweeping her walk

to remember playing in the neighbour’s treehouse

that once rested on today’s fallen branches fifty years ago.

And in the house newly bereft of a steady shelter

a solitary woman stands sentinel,

long flowy curtains to one side,

nothing to hold back the rush of memories.

Like the day her father nailed the last plank

against the trunk, the ladder’s base

low enough for her, the youngest, to reach.

The crinkle of waxed paper that preserved sandwiches

packed for the children living out entire summer days

way up high in the branches with their comics, jacks, and fairy tales.

They would descend when the fathers returned from the munitions plant

 and the mothers called them to gather for dinner.

She turns away from the window,

wanting a reprieve from the present,

switches the kettle on, and cradles her favorite mug

against the inner curve of her shoulder.

The cabinet opens, shortbread biscuits inside.

The curtains fall back and summer subsides.

Cleveland Bus Terminal 3:30 am

This serious night that knows only waiting

wearies the line of us bound for Fort Wayne.

It slumps the postures,

turns luggage to chairs,

and makes a bed of the floor,

where a man dressed in scrubs

has stretched his length against a wall.

Head resting on the hard-ribbed shell of a suitcase,

the man’s casual waistband has fallen low

and prompts a woman to mutter,

A lot of people these days

are comfortable with their ass.

But the ass is forgotten

when headlights flash the gate open,

 and we jolt alert, tense as night lynxes

as our backs arch then straighten,

the smallest of muscles poised to hunt for a seat.

Within seconds of boarding,

we survey our chances,

calculate the odds of rejection,

and pounce on the first empty chair we see.

Claims staked and bags settled,

sixty-four strangers commit their souls  

for passage through Midwestern expanses beyond,

vast curved platter that once cupped an ancient sea

now gathering and immersing us in anonymous intimacy.

Soon the last of the dark folds itself into our dreaming minds

as we slumber upright past town after town,

and the sweet cadence of a Spanish lullaby

gently counters insistent beats

that leak from pulsing headphones near the back.

Individual snores rasp out here and there,

like the first kernels to punch the popcorn bag bigger.

And far ahead in the first row,

a small rectangle burns in the gloom,

action film inflaming an insomniac screen.

Drifting in and out of wakefulness,

we nod to the rows of tall highway lamps

that follow the loose curving lines of the highway,

hypnotizing us as we hurtle past.

The lamps unfurl, curl, whip left, sway right,

creating patterns like feathers being shuffled,

the tremble of tall prairie grasses before the storm,

bluestems tossed and sown by spinning wheels of chance.

Come seven o’clock, a deep veer in the bus shakes us awake,

signaling an exit that breaks the spell of endless highway.

Soon the chiming incantations of awakened phones

ring out like singing bowls

that circle and magnify an Indiana dawn.

Sleeping Bag Transfer

Ron Raine (1937-1995) on Midway Island in the late 1950’s

Dad, I’m giving your military sleeping bag to the Anglican Church of Canada. The last time you unrolled this large pocket for sleepy cadets and folded your tall frame into it, Eisenhower was president and your younger brother was still in high school.You were serving in the US Navy, whose officers were training you to become an air traffic controller. From Midway Island, you witnessed atomic testing in the Pacific, received a gooseberry pie in a package from home, and wrote long letters to your sweetheart.

Midway Island, late 1950’s

After you returned to civilian life, you kept this olive-green souvenir of your time at Midway’s Naval Air Facility, and after you died in 1995 the bedroll that once padded your barrack’s bunk remained unclaimed. It was stored away in a perpetual coil in my Missouri childhood home.

Dad at the U.S. Navy Training Center, San Diego in 1957 and as a TWA executive in the 1960’s

Not long after the 20th century spiraled into the current one, the sleeping bag was unearthed from the depths of storage and given to me. Upon completion of its passage from Missouri to Ontario, it continued its dormant, unfurled existence. Out of active service for 61 years, it didn’t seem likely to ever be called up again, and if the pandemic had not struck, it might have lain in limbo for another decade or two.

1957 or 1958

But today your Navy sleeping gear is needed again, recommissioned by the Community Director of a downtown Toronto church. He recently requested emergency donations of sleeping bags, water, and hygiene items for people who have pitched their tents against the sheltering bricks of the Church of the Holy Trinity.

So I plucked your bedroll from its dusty cupboard and ran it through the washer and dryer. Then I carefully spun it around itself — a ritual winding prior to resurrection into practical relevance — before bundling it into a large Foody World bag for transport.

On the designated donation day, I arrived fifteen minutes before the doors of Trinity opened. To pass the time, I walked the nearby labyrinth with a loaded dolly that trailed behind like an unsteady pilgrim who carted your sleeping sack, a case of bottled water, hand sanitizer, and a blanket.

As I twisted and turned according to the guidelines of an ancient pattern, I meditated on the evolving, looping journey of the sleeping bag — from Midway Island to the Midwest, United States to Canada, Cold War to global pandemic, Navy to non-military encampment, father to daughter, car trunk to dolly, labyrinth to arched door.

Midway Island, late 1950’s

In the gentle maze of my mind’s centre, images related to the transfer of ownership appear: my father is in the sleeping bag, 21 years old and having just seen the ocean for the first time, and now it’s 2020 and a new person is snuggling into the bedding, someone who needs it.

Dad, I see your spirit in the sleeping bag gift. I remember how you volunteered as a job counselor at a local shelter and as a listener for a cancer hotline. I still see you in acts of service and care, the unrolling of a temporary bed, its careful placement in a tent, a shelter during a time of pain. If you could send a message to your brother or sister in sleep, I believe it might go like this:

Mid 1980’s

Take this donation with my blessing and heartfelt prayers for your well-being. May it provide a protective layer between you and the hard ground below as well as the cold air above.

Like you, I have known struggle. I fought a cold war, lived with epilepsy, and battled for my very life, surviving two bouts of cancer before the third one got me. I was vulnerable. I was scared. I often felt alone. But suffering passes. You keep smiling. You keep making jokes.

May this old but sturdy bedroll of mine help you sleep through the night, giving you strength to face the morning. May it contain some of my optimism, fight, and love to match yours. May it not let you down.

Sleep well, dear comrade, and may sanctuary enfold you always.

Be warm. Be well. Be safe.

Be at peace.

Bath Bombs at Last

Putting bath-bomb enjoyment on hold for six months does not rate highly as an example of noteworthy sacrifice during a pandemic. However, from March to August of this year, it made me sad every time I saw the lovely non-violent bombs (a Christmas present from my sister-in-law) languishing in the bathroom cabinet.

Without access to a spacious lounging bath at home, I usually count on hotel rooms with tubs to provide ideal conditions for foamy immersion in swirls of moisturizing colour. During this unreliable year of ordinary expectations dashed, travel restrictions grounded my bath bombs on the shelf, turning them into symbols of the luxurious freedoms that I had previously indulged in without a thought.

On July 31st, Ontario entered Stage 3 of re-opening from lockdown, and I celebrated by planning a trip within the province, vowing, “I must not take this privilege for granted ever again!” The chosen destination was Bancroft, and I booked a motel for five days near the end of August.

When the day of the road trip arrived, I carefully packed the four bath bombs that had remained inactive for so long. Upon settling into the motel, excursions to Silent Lake Provincial Park, Papineau Lake, Egan Chutes, and downtown Bancroft took place in the days that followed, and evenings were devoted to long soaking sessions in playful combinations of fizzing blues, purples, yellows, and pinks.

On the last day of the holiday, bittersweet satisfaction accompanied the ceremonial dropping of the fourth unexploded bathing-device in the tub (indigo with gold stars) before fully packing up for departure. Never had I appreciated with such fervour the deferred pleasure of travel, motel life, and a return to decadent bathing.

Mechanics of Forgiveness (2019)

Neither smooth nor automatic,

the mechanics of forgiveness

clank fist-first into the soil

broken by a rusty plow

that moves so slowly

it strains to finish the first row.

Forgiveness is not a miracle.

It is work to be done

and redone as the seasons cycle.

It requires the engagement of gears,

calls for the mallet, the shovel, the hoe

to smash resistant brick

and stony clods of dirt

with the energy locked

into coils of resentment.

Muscular labour turns the wheel,

pulls up the choking nettles,

and digs a clearing for rain,

for seedlings,

for tenderness to grow.

Say yes to this employment.

Grab the tools from the shed.


Thistle Seeds of Kindness (2020)

A single fluffy nipple detaches itself

from the bed of its closely-nestled siblings

and rises free to ride a forest updraft,

sail the length of three trees,

and land in the crook of a sister thistle.

Flight so miraculously matter of fact,

the work of gossamer gliders

that carry their freight of weighty seeds,

trusting the wind to lift and distribute them.

Ghost stars that surrender to be drifted,

flung into the future,

they commit to move beyond limits,

beyond expected life-spans,

and beyond the hope of praise or reward.

Without guarantee of fulfillment,

the feathery travelers are like wishes

blown from hushed candles to the palms of gods,

cotton lyres tuned to spiritual chords

that reach the ears of exquisite listeners.

So also, when the smallest compassionate action

leaves the nest of our minds

and vaults into the loom of the world,

connective strands weave a furrow

for the sowing of kinship and love.

Like the time the guest met a grieving daughter

at her cousin’s wedding and said,

“My older brother was your dad’s friend forty years ago,

and I used to tag along with this teenage crowd.

Your dad showed me how to dribble and shoot a basketball,

taking the time to coach me when the others didn’t bother.

I never forgot that.”

No matter how worn from the telling,

threads spun from memories of empathy

go home smiling into the unknown,

illuminated pilgrims with the power

to comfort a yet unborn daughter

whose father lives again in the story

of a kindness that defies death

and returns to bless the living.

For a legacy can be borne lightly through the air —

almost weightless —

but land with the density of possibilities,

such as the seeding of guarded blossoms

by aerial beings with no ability to steer,

zen pilots who abandon all control.

As for the daughter at the wedding,

she is too old to conceive a child,

but her heart still connects to the open fields

where compassionate deeds

land silently with the sweet rain today

but echo with grateful harvest for generations.

May the beloved descendants

one day trumpet the creation of heaven on Earth.

May they transform narrow conceptions of family

to cultivate wide communities whose deep bonds testify,

We are all of love-bearing age.

Sidewalk Glacier (2019)

The slick gray humps —

shadows of glorious glacial whales of old —

have ebbed from cycles of freeze and thaw and rain

to create islands of receding winter.

From January to March,

these masses have shrunk,

slunk much lower to the edges

of the sidewalk by the cinema.

Saturated with soot and exhaust,

the sullen ice-beasts resist the warmer air

and clutch at soggy remnants of broken

plastic spoons, cigarettes, and coffee cup lids.

The time to release caution

and rejoice in change

has not yet arrived,

for the evidence of a harsh season

still lies in gritty drifts on the ground.

Spring is not to be fully trusted

because she has not unlocked herself from this long winter.

Nevertheless, let us witness

how this reticent mistress has lifted

the curled edges of sidewalk ice

so that currents of rippling melt-water lift the floes,

stirring hopes we guard like hungry seeds.

Ragged (2020)

What’s left of me is ragged lace,

more absence than presence,

gnawed upon but not consumed.

I forbid you to pity me.

If you impose sympathy

with those I’m sorry for you eyes,

tart disdain will salt your gaze.

Instead, reach below O poor leaf!

to ask yourself ‘Where am I torn?’

‘Who would recognize me if they knew

how fragile the web is that holds my flesh together?’

Once you have opened the gate

that isolates my suffering from yours,

I will accept empathy from you.

But only then, mind.

I might even tell you about the time

I believed romance meant total surrender.

And you can describe the trusted beloved

who professed support but undermined from within.

As we share stories side by side on the forest floor,

let’s strengthen our arteries together,

arching them upward without apology,

neither holding the heartstrings hostage

nor concealing our corporate wounds.

Farlinger Ravine Loop Poem (2017)

Meet me at Farlinger Ravine,

Ravine west of Kennedy Road by the Dollarama,

Dollarama that conceals the lost banks of Taylor Massey Creek,

Creek that is witnessed from this rusty bridge.

This bridge where I loll at the rail and examine,

examine the sticky burrs on my mittens,

mittens that spell “Lover” on my knuckles,

knuckles that soften with warmth as the sun rises,

rises to lavish its image on the stream.

Stream of Farlinger where youths from the shelter,

they shelter under maples, entwine limbs on fallen logs,

logs that block the narrow path to the culvert.

This culvert that thunders in storms, eases the stink of sewage,

sewage that swirls over submerged shopping carts,

carts from Giant Tiger, condoms, and Tim Hortons cups,

cups whose rims did not win.

Win next spring, maybe, but today ice curls at the edges of flow,

flow of water that plays with the sun’s colours,

colours of frozen glass in red, purple, and silver,

silver that polishes the depths of Farlinger Ravine.

Partly Frozen: Leaf’s Lament

A screen of ice has pinned my body to a puddle.

Caught between the surface and the depths,

my fluted edges have been numbed and blurred,

robbing me of external definition.

The blessed sun has melted my face to visibility,

fooling viewers with its tawny cheer.

In fact, the roots of my smile do not reach the deepest veins,

which await the body’s liberation

from the clutches of cold fear.

Testifying to repressed power,

iced etchings trace the shapes of submerged wings,

wavy carvings that design their whims

as they skate on the very surface they groove.

The stem lives in contradiction;

part of it captured in ice

but the tail released from confinement.

Not gripped by the dark blue crystals,

nor defined by white scratches,

this licensed grace heartens,

strengthens desire for freedom

to be lifted whole from this chill bed.

Hopeful of return to movement,

the blood irrigates polar and temperate veins alike

whether I believe in restoration or not.

If I desire to be more fully alive,

I must warm and be warmed —

fueling faith in winter’s end.

Celebrating the Seasons: Haikus by Ellen Jaffe in Response to Photographs by Catherine Raine

Taylor Massey Creek (2017)

Tree branches, blue sky

reflected in melting ice —  

winter hieroglyphics.

Wexford Woods (2017)

Fractal patterns,

webs of connection,

forest’s neurons awake.

Port Union Waterfront (2020)

Branches stretching out

over cold morning waves

sunlight glints on stones.

Lord Roberts Woods (2017)

Bluebells in spring,

spring into life,

forest wakes in mute beauty.

Taylor Creek Trail (2020)

Reeds stand sentinel,

green and straight against a wavy background —

one moment in a changing world.

Taylor Creek Trail (2020)

Cormorant on a stump,

its shadowy image

echoed in still water —

listening, watching, waiting for a sign.

Banks of Highland Creek (2020)

Wildflowers nestling

by a fallen fence — sweet colour

on this spring morning.

Morning Glory, 2020

Tilting its delicate head

the morning glory listens

to the world’s song . . . and silence.

Tree Shelter in North York (2020)

Tree-shapes sheltering

this quiet forest clearing —

a splash of sunlight.

Wilket Creek, 2018

Sparkling light in the darkness

shower of stars


down to earth.

Fall in Ottawa (2018)

Dewdrops on a leaf,

red, yellow, dark purple

expanded moments, radiant.

Montréal‘s Mount Royal (2019)

Profusion of golden leaves

reflections in the stream —

The world is a narrow bridge

we need to cross.

(Note: italicized words from Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav)

The Saint of the Lake (2017) with Recording by Sean Mc Dermott

The saint of the lake sits high in a sequoia

that grows from an ait kissed by mild waves.

Alone yet expansive, the art of silence

presses the holy woman’s heart between two ferns,

releasing notes of dried clover, cornflower, and marigold.

Rain begins and the saint stirs, prays and praises

the blessèd cover of a thick branch overhead,

its tough bark more waterproof than a nimbus.

Though distance obscures the hermit’s face,

one brown palm is visible against the green.

Cupping the rainfall has awakened her birthing sense,

and she is listening to the tadpoles’ legs emerging,

the fox lining her den with leaves for the coming kits,

and the egg-teeth of baby finches tapping their shells into openness,

their long embryonic wait almost at an end.

When the creased cup of the saint’s hand overflows,

she empties its reservoir with a dancing turn of the wrist.

Backing closer to the tree’s broad column,

she gathers heels into the thighs’ shelter

and circles warm knees with her arms.

Breathing into the curled nest of a compassionate self,

she sleeps in Love, heartbeats lapping in sync

with the lake’s gentle rhymes deep below.