le revenant

“Now is the yellow season.”

“During a Lunar Eclipse conscious concerns overcome unconscious drives and the 3D overrides the Dream Time. Of course, it’s not really possible to stifle, squelch, hold back, deny, or suppress the unconscious for very long without experiencing a psychosis of some kind.”

Scorpio Sun meets Taurus Moon in opposition. October 28th, late. Tonight, there is a total eclipse of the moon. It is not at first visible. But as the night progresses, overcast clouds scatter, scudding across the mackerel sky, blown by a strong westerly. In a long cotton nightdress, I lie back for the spectacle on a long white deck chair. The full moon is revealed momentarily just at the height of the eclipse. A silver rim, a palimpsest of its usual silver dish. At first, I think it is covered by cloud, but the earth shadow remains on the moon face like a bruise that won’t go away. Earth hides reflected light. I too am without reflection down below. No mirror but immersed, watching my own silvered, slivered shadow cast on the lawn chair. The eyes play tricks.

The full moon seemed to be oblique. The colours astonish: red swirls on the bottom and complementary green on top, curving round. Rose-red flashes along the rim of the moon. Brightness edges away the shadow, gently persistently pushing it back to the right. The clouds disperse; a planet appears in the sky just above the moon. We are edging toward Halloween and I drift into preparatory dream …

My literary cousins have invited us over for a seminar on ghosts. We crowd into the cramped living room of a cabin. They tell me in hushed tones that their mother has just died. I hadn’t known my aunt was ill but she’s a great age. Is that her, stretched out on the draped kitchen table they’ve fixed up as her bier? Her face is hidden by the grey cobweb of shroud but I recognize the sharp outline of her nose. I choose a seat on the sofa where I can observe the corpse opposite. To my surprise, the poets Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier grin at me from couches across the room. They are both making notes on poetics for the occasion. At the podium, the professors take turns in an animated, pedantic discussion that focuses more on city waterfront than on the ghosts that were supposed to be their subject.

Scanning the cabin, I spot only one ghost on site, and he’s a desiccated old mummy hanging in a wall cabinet like a worn, discarded suit. There’s no time for any other speeches but the ongoing drone of professors when the service is abruptly over. Even now, as we walk past the zoo to our cars, my relations are still vying for our attention, boasting with civic pride about the proposed new developments in their city. Lorna waves goodbye as we head off in different directions to our respective towns.

In the dream, I’m disappointed because I’d come prepared to talk about my encounter with ghosts. After reading Bram Stoker when ill at 14 with a high fever, I’d hallucinated. For three days running, at 4 p.m., when my temperature was highest, a black cloud would roll out from the electrical outlet outside my bedroom. The cloud would rise and condense into a tall figure in evening dress, riding on a wave of blood that threatened to engulf me. Impervious to the scarlet roll of the breaker, Dracula rode toward me, intent, his imperious eyebrows furrowed. No gentleman, he. But before he got to me, I’d fainted.

Now is the yellow season. Mists and mellow fruitfulness, vibrant against the persistent green.

By morning, the October yard is golden with teardrop birch leaves and the heart-shaped redbud. The unknown yellow flowers, something between a sunflower and a bolted lettuce flower, continue to bud and blossom. The bees are encouraged, returning for more and more, but slowing under the weight of pollen and the cold. Goldfinches sway on the forlorn and desiccated stalks, seeking the last black seeds from sunflower heads. Late goldenrod rise determined to flower in this unprecedented warmth. Even the surprised forsythia blossoms along the new branches, fooled by the slight frost a few weeks back into thinking this is spring. As does the careless primrose, with its circlet of magenta around a golden centre. And the last daisy, day’s eye. Give me your answer, do.

We have shifted along the spectrum toward light, despite the darkening days. September was the entire spread of red, with its roses, fuchsia, chenille plant, and morning glories. A generosity of geraniums. Tomatoes and peppers began to blush. Firm tomatillos burst their lantern skin alongside a passion mix of osteospermum. And early Christmas cactus bursts against the deep splendid coleus, the extravagance of hibiscus. Now is the yellow season. Mists and mellow fruitfulness, vibrant against the persistent green.

*

My first-born was conceived at midnight on another Halloween, after a party in 1969. The first month I was off the pill. As sperm trickled into my womb, I lay in the darkness and in that haze of sleepy satiety saw. A cloud descended, a cloud of children’s voices, milling, excited, clambering. A cumulus of little faces, inchoate, coming into form, coming into perspective, children appearing suddenly after a great treat. One little being was the most persistent, determined to present himself first. The others dropped back, lost their form, slipped, returned to cloud. Triumphantly, the winner declared himself, named himself, chose me as his home. Flushed with victory, his cherubic cheeks reddening. I saw this boy again, two years later, incarnated as my son. He realized himself as a toddler just as he had appeared at his conception, as form took hold.

This tadpole swam in me, nothing but a black dot. The tadpole flourished, developed limbs. A small toad explored my innards as its own private pond. I watched from up in my head, fascinated and somewhat horrified at this invasion. The toad stopped wandering, settled into my womb, curved into a ball and concentrated on growing. Would I never know privacy again? During the day, I taught rock music lyrics to bemused tech kids who until then had no interest in English. Night was given over to swelling. Growth comes at night, and I grew; the fetus grew. Swelling with pride, I became belly. Belly became me. Two heartbeats in me now. And then, as we watched Woodstock, the kick. Not just a kick, a drumbeat rocking to the percussion of Country Joe and the Fish.

Because of the size of the fetus, the doctor proclaimed it would be due the first of July. I waited throughout the summer, our first in the suburbs. Steam lifting off the balcony railing. Our first summer off the ground, in a high-rise. In those innocent days, a high-rise was an eyrie, the height of sophistication. We settled into domesticity. I wore a loose Moroccan djellaba and wallowed like a whale. My belly continued to expand in the heat like an overripe tomato. Thirty pounds of belly, and my arms and legs still skinny. We painted the spare bedroom for the baby. We painted my academic cousin’s wicker bassinet. We entertained bachelor friends, who stayed too long.

Hovering on the ceiling, I watched with mild compassion the woman below writhe in a white hospital gown, her sheet twisted.

I was 25. I thought I was ready. Married, educated, well-travelled. Ready for the next stage. And the urge was in me. My husband accommodated. Neither of us had any conception of parenthood. There were few books on the topic in 1970, aside from my mother’s Dr. Spock. None of our friends had children. But we nested. My belly pulled my intellect into its own wisdom, its will more focused than mine, which seemed to have melted in the heat. I waited placidly. Hormones suffused my mind. I dreamed of toadlets, amphibian babies swimming through my veins, through “hysteria,” the original wandering womb. Wondering when, wondering if and how.

In hospital, I rode out the contracting waves for 36 hours. When the contractions were so close they were one crest and trough, ongoing, I left my body to float out the top of my perspiring head. Hovering on the ceiling, I watched with mild compassion the woman below writhe in a white hospital gown, her sheet twisted. Not waving but drowning. It was a long weekend and my doctor was away playing golf. When he returned, I was induced. My son was reluctantly induced into the world.

I recognize him, this revenant. A summer baby, born in Leo, way past due, but once out, bursting to engage us with outstretched arms. Plump and bursting, baby Joy, baby Life, first-born. My Syrian friend Hassan tells me that if I were Muslim, I would now be called by my son’s name. My honorific would be my role: Mother of the First-born. Out of respect, because I have delivered the son, the centre of the world. Holding this child, I believe it. He drains my milk, sucks so eagerly that my nipples are raw and bleeding. Blood and milk trickle down from the corner of his mouth, separately, red and white. He sleeps in the cradle of my arms, satiated. The world is his womb these August days so hot neither of us can tell inside from out. We are outside in. I have known him beyond time. And I watch with the decades as he unfolds.

Penn Kemp is a poet and playwright from London, Ontario, and that city’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Her book of poetry, Local Heroes, will be published by Insomniac Press in Spring 2018. Her latest works are two plays celebrating local hero and explorer, Teresa Harris, produced in 2017 and published by Playwrights Guild of Canada. Books published in 2016 are Barbaric Cultural Practice and two anthologies edited, Women and Multimedia and Performing Women.

3 Comments

Katerina Vaughan Fretwell

marvellous and magickal, dear Penn! My daughter also laboured for 36 hours to birth Zane. Katerina Fretwell

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