"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, June 1, 2015

Lifting Yesterday — Supplement — Chapter 7: A trip to Brazil

Chapter Seven covers the time in Bishop’s life from when she arrived in Brazil to her death. I felt far less confident writing about Bishop’s experiences in Brazil than anywhere else. What did I know about Brazil? But one of the things I did see in her letters, memoirs and poems written in and about Brazil was that her earliest years resurfaced and echoed in her experiences there. When I finally went to Brazil, even though for only a brief visit, I could see instantly why that place, seemingly so far from Nova Scotia and New England, resonated with her and reminded her of her childhood.

I can’t imagine that I would ever have gone to Brazil were it not for Elizabeth Bishop. And for Brett Millier who so kindly invited me to be part of the panel she was setting up for the Bishop conference that took place in Ouro Prêto in 1999. Brett wrote a wonderful letter of support which helped me secure travel funding from the Province of Nova Scotia. Though now over fifteen years ago, I still have vivid memories of that trip, and occasionally still tell stories about it. Going there was an honour and privilege for which I will always be grateful.

In Ouro Prêto, I stayed at the Pousada Casa Grande, a pleasant little inn on the road to Mariana, not all that far from Bishop’s “Casa Mariana.” Here is the view from the window of my room with Itacolomy in the distance.
We attended a garden party at Casa Mariana where we all took photos of each other (it was long before “selfies” existed!). Here is a photo of me with Laura Menides (my room mate during that trip, on the left) and our dear friend Michiru Tsubura (centre). Michiru presented the most delightful “musical biography” of Elizabeth Bishop in the gorgeous baroque opera house in this astonishing city.
After the conference many of us went to see Lota’s house at Samambaia near Petropolis, and, of course, Bishop’s studio there. Many things astonished me on this trip (I suspect I was in a state of  constant astonishment, like Bishop’s state of “constant re-adjustment,” for the entire time), but the massive granite escarpment soaring above the grounds of the house at Samambaia was astonishingly breathtaking.
There were many grand moments (the beach in Rio, for example), but some of the most memorable were the tiny, often brief encounters with something (for example, coming upon a white horse standing quietly on a cobbled street in Tiradentes, early in the morning when the mist was heavy and everything was still). One of the most memorable moments for me was seeing a small sculpture done by Aleijadinho of a mother and child reading. It was in a glass case in a museum in Mariana and it cut right through my astonishment and spoke about the way we are all connected. It triggered a little poem.
Mother and child reading
(after a sculpture by Aleijadinho)

for Susan Kerslake

The silence in the pause between words
held forever in the grain. The dark wood
still and moving in the same moment
not of Revelation but realization
repeated day after day; the turn of the page,
the cut of the chisel. Who were they?
Why this moment? when breath is quiet
and meaning gentle. So much hidden purpose
carved lovingly in the hands. Two figures
fused, formed by the delight of life,
by the compulsion of mind and heart.
Two figures part of a lifelong leap of faith.
Two centuries and more, and then
my eyes startled by a warm sienna
gesture, texture raw and lucent.
I can only hold this magic in my mind,
carry it like a day-dream. Then fold
their durable embrace into the silence
between my words.

1 comment:

  1. This photo and poem are lovely. May I link to them from my blogs? http://thnidu.livejournal.com, http://thnidu.dreamwidth.org/