Published July 2015
Why hadn’t doctors warned us, three women in our early fifties, to expect this particularly puzzling change at menopause? Suddenly, and separately, we all embarked on playing the cello. None of us had any musical background apart from a few childhood years of piano lessons, two of us profess tin ears, and all of us enjoy no more than a rudimentary appreciation of classical music.
Men’s midlife crises appear to end in heartbroken separations or snazzy cars; for women I’ve known, it’s depression or watercolours. Whatever the over-the-hill emotions, the hormones, the needs—to express freedom, to realize something more in yourself before you die as your friends have now started to, or simply to do something different—why the cello?
The cello is a difficult instrument to learn. There are no frets on the neck that guide your fingers to create the right notes. The sounds produced by the bow, even on an open string, can veer too easily into those of a mournful bovine. Bowvine. When other friends learned I had taken up the cello, they extolled its deep, intimate sound; they spoke of Jacqueline du Pré, Mstislav Rostropovich and Yo-Yo Ma. But had they ever heard a beginner?
In answer to the question, “why the cello,” comes the old saw (if you’ll excuse the allusion in relation to a middle-aged, novice cellist) suggesting the desire to have something big between the legs. This snide laugh comes from non-cellists. The cello does have a wonderful physicality, and then there’s the energy needed to play it, but I doubt any of us beginners, as we tune up or tighten our bowstrings, are fantasizing about sex with a sick bull or cow. On a good day, though, we are immersed in the kind of stirring rush felt by anyone playing a musical instrument.
Drawing Lines (excerpt)
My feet itch. I attack the rough skin with an oval of pumice until there is a slimy coating on the stone’s surface and the bathwater turns beige with dead skin cells. But it makes no difference. As soon as I lie back in the tub, they itch again.
There is a knock at the bathroom door. “Yes?” I call out.
“How long are you going to be in there?” Kaitlyn’s voice is, as usual, aggressive.
“I’m going out. I need to get ready.” It’s nine forty-five on a school night. I steady myself for the fight with my daughter that I know is coming.
My clothes smell of a mix of dust and bacon grease—the odours of a day spent cleaning and making spaghetti carbonara from scratch, which nobody praised. The second-floor hallway is dark. Carrie is at a friend’s. Her bedroom light is off. Ian is in his office reworking our finances in the gray light of his computer screen. The master bedroom door is almost closed, not for privacy but because it is a mess—I haven’t made the bed in days. And Kaitlyn’s bedroom door is shut, as always, because she shuts herself off from us.
Outside Ian’s office, I hover. He must know I’m here. The hardwood floorboards in our old house creak and groan at each step. There was a time when he would have been attuned to the potential privacy a moment like this offered—would have pulled me into the screen-lit room to kiss me deeply and run his hands over my breasts. To tease. To promise something better. But now, when I call out, “Do you want anything—some tea?” he answers, “No, thanks, but I’ll make you one.” He is unfailingly polite and believes that he is coping with the market rollercoaster that has derailed all our accounts. But I want him to scream and swear at bankers and financial managers, like I do. I want him to stop counting as friends the brokers and lawyers that we know.
Whitehorse to Kathmandu (excerpt)
A woman is playing the Sanskrit chant, om mani padme hum, on a hand-held radio, weaving a basket out of bamboo. I sing the chant to myself, quietly, so my guide, Bhimsem, can’t hear. I’m sure I’m getting it wrong, but the music has found a place in my rhythm. It’s day ten. I’m walking through a village in the Himalayas that looks the same as the last village. Yaks are shitting on the trail and children are hauling buckets of water from the stream. A few kilometres back a donkey herder was splayed on his stomach half way down a steep bank. Bhimsem slowed down and whispered “dead” in my ear. I wanted to stop and stare but Bhimsem kept walking down the trail in his Nike tracksuit as if nothing had changed.
My pants are too big for me now. I hold them up with a white silk prayer scarf, threaded through my belt loops and tied in a double knot. The first few days were the hardest. My head throbbed from the altitude. When we hit 4,000 metres my nose started to bleed. The food gave me diarrhea. I tried to focus on the mountains. That’s why you go to Nepal, to be humbled by the enormity of them, or something.
We leave the village by suspension bridge into a forest of rhododendron bushes. I’m relieved to smell something sweet. A young girl runs down the trail in a school uniform. She stops, mumbles under her breath, her eyes lowered. Her mother has told her to say Namaste to white people. We press our hands together and bow our heads. She skips past us. I expected stillness when I came to Nepal, but I was wrong. The land is crowded. There is a feeling that someone is lurking around every corner: a child, a farmer, a Sherpa.
Most days I hike with my head down, headphones on, wondering why I thought being lost in a foreign culture would make me feel better, when really it makes me miss Henri more. I take pictures of images I’ve seen in the guidebook: steaming cups of tea, prayer flags, children with chubby cheeks, then fall back into my mind. I don’t want Henri, I need him. Yesterday I didn’t need him, but I wanted him.
There are moments when my mind slows. I look up and actually see where I am. Tonight I’ll bathe by pouring a cold bucket of water over my head. I’ll walk for five hours tomorrow. Pour another bucket of water. Maybe by the time I leave the mountains I’ll be clean.
Nicole Haldoupis, Stephanie McKechnie Editors’ Note • Lorette C. Luzajic Artist Statement
very first poetry contest
first place Sara-Jane Gloutnez Jared and Luann Part 2 • first runner-up Trevor Steven Abes Oh, Just Browsing • second runner-up JM Francheteau From Detroit • judge George Elliott Clarke
Roxy Hearn Old Spaces • Jann Everard Drawing Lines
Miriam Clavir Cello-pause • Meaghan Hackinen Highway to Neverland • Nadine Sander-Green Whitehorse to Kathmandu • Cullene Bryant Jezebel and the Swans
Alexandra Pasian What the Locals Know • CEE Heels to the ceiling #2 (October, 1979) • Laurie Mackie Going Nowhere Fast • sarah duignan two poems • Sugar le Fae two poems • JC Bouchard Rip • O’Helloron Come on Up • Karen Quevillon Some Theoretical Considerations on Reading Dorothy Livesay’s Poetry • Trevor Steven Abes two poems • kate lahey two poems • Hannah Brown two poems • Ben Gallagher Children and Alzheimer’s and Tides • Emily Ursuliak Jason’s Christening • Erin Emily Ann Vance Lungs • Emma Lou Beckett End Up • Léa Taranto two poems