Dec 312010

Here, yes, oh yes, two New Year’s poems by David Helwig, lines from which should be repeated at midnight and can/should be burned into your minds henceforth: “…every one of the dead lived, and every instant of their time rang like this, ours, now.”

David’s work has graced these pages from nearly the beginning (nigh on a year now–the NC first anniversary is January 11), including his poems “La Rentrée” and “Stars” and his lovely translation of Chekhov’s short story “About Love.” I am never sure whether or not to reintroduce people here again and again. Many of you know who David is–old friend, prolific writer of everything, Order of Canada, founding editor of Best Canadian Stories, new dog owner, generous contributor to Numéro Cinq. The rest of you read the new poems and look at his earlier pieces. These poems happen to coincide with the very recent arrival in my mail box of David’s latest book, a collection called Mystery Stories.

Happy New Year!



Impromptus for the New Year: December 2010
By David Helwig


In a brilliant patchwork of greens, moss, lichen, leaf
shed brightness on the damply haunted winter day.
Thin black twigs prick the dimly opalescent sky
over a gloom of woods where the roaming black dog

yips and flushes a snowshoe hare, white in phase with
the cycle of the year’s darkening, useless pale
winter fur in desperate flight across the un-
seasonable snowless landscape, grey trunks, branches,

conifers hung with grey-green strands of old man’s beard.
A sodden winter too is an incarnation,
where tremors of time occur, scant, slack, offering
what is least likely to burn, a flame in damp wood.

All vision shivers in the accidental gaps
of early twilight on this narrow long path,
as the black dog races out of sight. Silence, like
a pause in music, offers stillness and resolve.

We have posed calendars against infinity,
the major and minor scales and counterpoint,
that law of two remaining two, being one.
It is said that the wise travel to map their return.

Detail defies the approach of incoherence,
like our numbering of days. Moss, trees, lichen
recite a winter creed: every one of the dead lived,
and every instant of their time rang like this, ours, now.


Morning sunlight falls on the eventual snow,
and the dog stirs, black upon white, in the maze
of thin spruce, the path tracked and retracked by the night’s
dance of hares, and my old legs climb over a fallen trunk.

How many generations long is a long life?
Do we count by decades or some definition
of attitude? Has love a new way of being?
You are, she said, better at questions than answers.

Blown snow and bright ice, the young trees bend low
under the weight of it. A fox has left fresh tracks.
To be wild is to be hungry, short-lived, cold, wet,
breeding desperately to salvage the species.

Ask the young to explain. The lively black puppy
leads me through the new snow of her world, obeys,
though she can outrun me on any footing.
The cold wind sings in the bright air all around us.

—David Helwig

Dec 302010

Numéro Cinq‘s own prize-winning rondeau writer Anna Maria Johnson (and current VCFA student) preached a sermon a week ago last Sunday and posted the text on her blog The Martian (at the top of which is the photo of her amazing novel-in-a-box). I was under the impression the sermon was a dying form and now they seem to be cropping up everywhere. This one is lovely. Have a read and compare with sermons by John Ekman and Hilary Mullins on NC. The sermon is a nonfiction form, obviously meant to be delivered as a speech, thus often brimming with rhetorical devices, recursive structures and memorable sentences. A sermon is also organically structured around a theme and a set of biblical quotations, one from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament (device of inter-textual reference). Contrast with the related form of the VCFA graduate lecture of which there are examples in the NC Student Resources section.


On Sunday I preached my first full-length sermon. In celebration of Advent, Community Mennonite Church asked me to speak about Mary the mother of Jesus. The texts were from Luke 1: 26-56 and Micah 5:2-5a.

via Meditation on Mary, for Advent | The Martian.

And here is a link to a post about the first recorded sermon in America.

Dec 292010


Here’s a lovely, exotic What it’s like living here essay from Renee Giovarelli who graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts last summer. Renee travels the world for an NGO involved in reforming land and property rights. But she also writes urgent, passionate essays about the places she visits. Her essay “The Bad Malaria Shot,” which she presented at her graduate reading in the summer, was a finalist for the Wasafiri 2010 New Writing Prize. Renee is one of those students I’ll always regret not having had the privilege of working with.


What it’s like living here

from Renee Giovarelli in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan


The Apartment

I don’t notice what it’s like living here when I’m here.  I sit down to write about place, and I only recall conversations.

I’m at a small wooden blue built-in table in someone else’s apartment kitchen.  The kitchen is small but bright, full of the high-desert sun.  Sitting here, writing, with no kids, no husband, no groceries to buy, bills to pay, dogs to feed and walk, bird cages to clean, I am a different person.  I will only live in this apartment for three weeks.  But while I’m here, I will work, I will write, and I will spend time with friends.  I will not juggle anything else—only those three things.

When I come to Bishkek to work, I live in someone else’s apartment—never the same apartment, it depends on who, in the network of friends and relatives of my co-workers, needs the money.  This time I’m on the fifth floor of a Soviet-style building, which could be any building in the city—no elevators, uneven stairs, the smell of cooking mutton in the stairwell.

For these three weeks, the owner and her family have moved in with a relative in the same complex–one building over.  There are three buildings, all five stories high, all facing a common yard.  The yard is dirt with a swing-set and a few benches.

“It’s not going to be that clean,” Zina says.  “They’re Kyrgyz.”

Zina’s Kyrgyz but she calls herself a marginal.  She blames the uncleanliness on the Kyrgyz’ nomadic ways.  Zina is my interpreter and friend.  She found this apartment for me.  The apartment belongs to someone she knows, but the connection is never made clear.  I will pay forty dollars a night to stay here, and after three weeks, the owner will have enough money to take care of her large extended family for months.  The owner will owe Zina a favor—the Kyrgyz accounting system Zina calls it.

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