Saturday 27 February 2010


If I should die tomorrow
there would be many sorrows
but the deeper print
of my name
would carry you through
the pain

And if you should hear me laugh
I am only playing a game
Hold on, hold on, to the centre
until I find my way again.

I posted part of this poem before, in May last year while I was still battling it out in hospital. I am re-posting it with a new verse, for my blogfriend Renee, whose battle with Stage 4 Inflammatory Breast Cancer, has been described by the doctors as the beginning of the end. Awful phrase. Renee would scoff at it, if she felt more like herself. It is an extraordinary experience to have one's life touched so deeply by a stranger impossible to meet in this lifetime. But she has left her print upon me, the deepest imprint of her name. Renee. Find your way, Renee.

Friday 19 February 2010

Deye mon gen mon

Beyond mountains, there are mountains
Haitian proverb

In 2003, Tracy Kidder published a book titled 'Mountains Beyond Mountains': the Quest of Dr Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World'. Despite my years of prolific reading, I rarely recommend books. I am one of those who believes that books find us through some alchemy of their own. I am making an exception here. Read 'Mountains beyond Mountains'! It is the challenging and moving biography of Dr Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist and compassion incarnate, as told by Kidder, who travelled with, observed, argued tentatively and finally deeply admired and felt blessed by 'the fates that allowed my paths to cross his.' Farmer found himself in Haiti in 1983, still pre-med, and has never really left. The poverty, human rights abuse, relentless political and structural violence, the horror of multi-drug resistant TB and the HIV-AIDS epidemiology, are extraodinarily lit with humanity - that gift that is spectacularly our own.

This is a picture of Dr Paul Farmer attending to one of his patients in Cange, central Haiti. I love the challenging, almost mutinous look on the little girl's face. She seems to be saying, "Ah oui? So you think you can save me?" And I like the corresponding seriousness of Paul Farmer's expression. "I'm trying cherie." But, despite her pretty lacy top, and the silver hoops in her ears, she looks tired, a little dejected. Does she have TB? More than likely. HIV-AIDS as well?

Kidder writes:
'In Haiti, we'd had a conversation about his daughter. A month after she was born, a woman had come to Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health) suffering from eclampsia. It is a disease of pregnancy, of mysterious origin, found preponderantly among poor women. It leads to protein in the urine, hypertension, seizures, and sometimes death, for both mother and child. The treatment is magnesium sulfate and delivery of the child. The clinic was very busy. Farmer was rushing around trying to get the treatment started. He could hear the heartbeat. He later recalled, "The mother was seizing. I said, Hurry!" Everything was going okay. Then the baby was born, and it was dead. A full-term, beautiful baby, and I started to weep. I had to excuse myself and go outside. I wondered, What's going on? Then I realised I was crying because of Catherine." He had imagined her in the place of the still-born child. "So you love your own child more than these kids?" he asked himself. He answered himself, "Look, all the great religious traditions of the world say, Love thy neighbour as thyself. My answer is, I'm sorry, I can't, but I'm gonna keep on trying." (p212-3)
These are the last lines of the book:
'Haiti was still bleeding away, like its topsoil. But there were some spots of hope. The Red Cross had announced plans to establish a transfusion post at Zanmi Lasante. Nearly twenty years since Farmer had watched a woman die in Leogane for lack of a transfusion, and he finally had a blood bank that could serve the central plateau, a source of blood that patients wouldn't have to pay for. "No more weeping over blood," he wrote to me.' (p301)

Just as Kidder felt all those years ago, so do I thank the fates that brought this inspiring being into my field of awareness. I am blessed with my own medical opthalmologist and glaucoma surgeon who save my sight, my consultants and registrars who make the latest monoclonal infusions available to me; but it is the pioneering work of doctors like Paul Farmer that gives me a kind of inner radiance, a faith beyond faith to believe that mountains beyond mountains can and will be healed.

Sunday 14 February 2010


Dreams are made of these
sights on the Waterfront

The Vancouver Sun
is setting
on Canada Place
and the sea
looks rained on.

China and Japan are
in a city of happenings
and lights are aglow
on Grouse Mountain.

Winding past the Maple Leaf Store
the smell of blueberries
and Douglas firs
brings me home.

Today is Valentine's Day, and a love poem is due; mine is to the healing spirits of the city of Vancouver. I visited in 2002 and my impression from arrival at the airport to discovering Frida Kahlo at the Van Art Gallery and Zora Neale Hurston at the Van Public Library, to the oldest trees on botanic walks in Stanley Park, the city simply enveloped me in a halo of perfection, a presence that I can only long to experience again. Winter Olympics are in full swing now, despite tragedies and from across the waters my friend Jo at A Majority of Two has delightfully sent me a parcel of Olympic 2010 souvenirs. A beautiful glass/ceramic Inukshuk, a pen carved in the shape of a Canadian Mounty, and a silver keyring. Jo, thankyou so so much for your thoughtful gifts. The Inukshuk sits on my highest shelf far from its Arctic home, where once it would have marked the threshold of the spiritual landscape of the Inummariit, 'the people who knew how to survive on the land living in a traditional way'. Some inuksuit were built to serve as message centres. They could indicate, for example, dangerous places, the depth of snow, the direction of the mainland from an island where seals or fish could be taken. These inuksuit were designed to be messages fixed in time and space. Others were personal notes left on the landscape -- perhaps for a wife to follow her husband at a later date, or as an expression of grief marking the place where a loved one perished.
The traditional meaning of the inukshuk is 'Someone was here' or 'You are on the right path'.
What could be more romantic on Valentine's Day, than these timeless messages of fidelity, faith and hope?

Images of Inukshuk via flickr, travelblog and lodestar

Friday 5 February 2010

Girl with a Red Balloon

Late served food
for a single
girl about town
welcomes you
with open arms
Bursts on your tongue
in an explosion
of red chilli love
and wasabi charms;

Tempura thrills,
and the space
finds itself easily
and metaphorically

I wrote this at the Dojo noodle bar in town. Sometimes a girl needs to eat alone, and know the smiling face in the front glass window is her own. I am always passing by the weavings of others' lives, but from time to time I slide myself in to the picture, and taste the tastes through the looking glass. Back in hospital after the weekend for part two of the monoclonals, and I know I will be thinking of that sweet chilli dip and hot horseradish that are exploding on someone else's tongue.

Image: Stencil graffiti by Banksy