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Deirdre Maultsaid is a writer based in Vancouver, Canada. Her writing is rich, and provocative.

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Poem: Washerwomen, Blessings

Washerwomen, Blessings

by Deirdre Maultsaid

From This crisis, these blessings: essays by Deirdre Maultsaid (Trafford Publishing)
First appeared in Canadian Woman Studies, Vol. 22, Summer, 2003

1.

I am a washerwoman standing on unstable ground.
I see all in its proper place: aquifer, granite, dust,
sideyard, water pump,
a basin full, my own brawny arms,
my washboard-abraded hands still wringing.
Work is its own reward.
Be careful: contemplation could bring grief.
The world is.
The world does not know me.

2.

Ada Williams says of her work, “The summer I was 15, I went up to Halifax and earned a few dollars. I found a job doing housework, where I had to wash a huge pile of clothes every day while the mistress sat and watched me. I stood it for one week, and left. She refused to pay me anything and was very angry. I went down to the waterfront and got on Cat Weston’s vessel and started for home…I walked down home in the thick fog, and went in the house just as Papa was having his breakfast. ‘I had to come home, Papa’, I said. ‘The work was so hard and I was homesick.’ ‘Come in child. Come in,’ he said. ‘We mine as well starve together.’ (Beth Light & Joy Parr, Editors, Canadian Women on the Move, 1867-1920, New Hogtown Press, 1983).

3.

In pioneer communities, washing clothes involved hauling water, a two day soak with vinegar or buttermilk to take out stains, rubbing the clothes vigorously on the washboard, boiling them and hanging them out to dry in all weather. Rumour has it that Frontiersmen took baths at the laundry and bathhouses, in the East Kootenay Mountains, in the early 1900’s, but would have to wait days for their clothes to dry. Women made their own lye out of wood ash and bones, or animal fat. Catherine Parr Trail, in The Backwoods of Canada said that the process of making soap was “mysterious” and a recipe that required a certain touch. How sweet the washerwoman with her Castile soap for the lace and her hard-working lye for the britches and rags and flannels.

4.

Statistics Canada has a study, Households unpaid work: measurement and valuation. Laundry is subject to public scrutiny.

5.

Last century, a bride was instructed in Mountain Life and Work to wash the clothes thus: “1. bild a fire in back yard to heat kettle of rain water. 2. set tubs so smoke won’t blow in eyes if wind is pert. 3. shave one hole cake soap in bilin water. 4. sort things, make three piles, one pile white, one cullord, one work britches and rags. 5. stur flour in cold water to smooth then thin down with bilin water. 6. rub dirty spots on bord, scrub hard,then bile. 7. rub cullord but don’t bile just rench and starch. 8. spred tee towels on grass; hang old rags on fence; pore rench water in flower bod; scrub porch with soapy water. 9. turn tubs upside down. 10. go put on clean dress, smooth hair with side combs, brew cup of tee, set and rest and rock a spell and count blessins.”

6.

What layered meaning in layered aprons.

7.

I perceive the world in its otherness,
its pulse, its it-ness,
its ellipses, waysides and vacancies,
broken shards and muscularity,
oh, its stomped thistles, its unrelenting waves of wheat,
its crammed up sweaty pioneer dread,
anguished tears in the outhouse.
What can I give?
I separate darks from whites.
I scour.
Sweeten.

8.

Henry David Thoreau, says in Walden “In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighbourhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me.”

9.

6:06 a.m., after the first load is sloshing in the washer, I walk along the familiar short piece of road, past the usual sight of the two men who unplug, then warm up their truck before heading to their shift at the lumber mill, past the same trailers with the all-year Christmas lights (red and green only), the same piles of real firewood and old lumber (second choice firewood), past the same grime and unloved gravel (no matter how sideways I look through my own snow-covered lashes at the new drifts that soften the view along the road), while I hear the undernourished dogs barking from the ends of their taut ropes, and hear the trucks from Alaska and Prince Rupert idling at the brake check, and I see the truckers relieving themselves into the ravine, where they carve the same caked snow, and the same barnacles of old ice, and then, I walk until I come—oh, the teeth-grinding lack of possibilities—to the familiar cul-de-sac turnaround, with its same road-salt-sickened pine trees, (dry and forgotten and carport-threatening), the same tedium of scruffy volunteer rosehips in the ditches, the boring lack of wildlife, and the silence of God.

10.

Female nature is a truth hiding its own invention. Women’s work is not natural, but becomes a burnt stew, a short walk on stolen time, a forgotten dishcloth on the clothesline.

11.

Assemble a decoration, a tiara, a clothespin animal of words;
hang out a long line of white laundry.
Sweeten this scene.
Wring this out.
Judge the sloshing and sluicing before
it judges you.
Count blessins.

12.

Think of all the pioneer girls I miss.
Think of how they please me with their frippery.
Don’t they make lace with such devotion?
Such white patterns
of closure and convergence and conformity.
Girls finish tasks; they have crafts and rituals that will not bend, will not break, that are doubled and comforting and encircling.
Inside out bags for the clothespegs
Lists of detergent, pitiless soap, bleach, cleaner.
May they clean away the anguish.
Think of all the girls who pass.
Hold onto the jump rope.
Hold onto the fringe of your friend’s skirt.
Hold onto the hair of that girl next to you in your naked dream.
The lace cannot comfort you,
only language,
only the protein of love,
only the horizon toward which you run, strong-thighed,
boots thrown down in a wet coulee, apron gone,
stockings discarded for a fox nest,
garter belt ripped off and still flying into the blue.

A pioneer trail.
Monday wash day.
Count Blessins.

13.

The world does not know me.
No pine tree sympathizes,
its scent a purposeful balm.
I wash.
The clothes will flap in the breeze.
The sheets make a schooner on a bay of golden sheaves.
So?
I see and walk on.

14.

This is not my contemplation.
I do not spiritually
attune myself
to the irreducible
complexity
in each droplet of water.
The world is where I left it: clean, sullied,
sorted,
unsorted,
with its tired cracked ice,
unblessed knuckles, random water sprays,
sometimes, sometimes footloose giddy grooming.

The thistles grow, the lace becomes yellowed, even if I do not reflect.
What do I know?
What do I know that I know?
Be careful of what I see in my knowing,
with its soured rationality,
deadened intuition.

How fragile are we, how will we endure, how storied and truthful is the world, is this drop of water.
Scoured is silence.
My soliloquy.

15.

All washing is servile.
All reliance is slavery.
Is all suffused with Nature’s power?
Contemplation is a social practice that claims: God is here if we listen.
I hear the rustle as the fox sniffs the girl’s apron.
I hear the waves lapping.
Everything that rises.
All that knows.
I am all that knows.
Women are a sea of power,
not the long-suffering
points of power’s application
against us.
We are not the rags to be wrung.
Water, we rise.

16.

Make my human experience break beyond my skin.
The world travels on its moist blue arc; the bay glows; the sheets flutter.
I inhale.
The girls have washed so many linens.
Make me thank them.
Bless their rough hands.
Only.
Hold.

The End

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Poem: Cures

By
Deirdre Maultsaid

Angel, darling, you have such wakefulness, pacing with your burnt tallow, passing another anniversary watching the clock hands stroke away meaning. I know: all shall perish. Look. There is the shadow of God, the disenchantment of the world, the sharp tools of those who wish to be amputated, to exalt their fake sick and sick love, to tell the stories that end one way. Don’t cry until your heart breaks. Down on your knees disease wants you; the thick poisoned green thorns, the black maw, the spreading red sponge of its truth. There are no songs with its name. It is a profane day when you lie there prodded by the unknowing. Never forget: nothing else so enthralls but the possibility of orgasm. In Barcelona, find the Museu of de L’ Erotica, for there is your saviour—an 8-foot tall sandalwood copy of a Thai phallic amulet. Hug it. Imagine the sacred pulse. Sex is the holy warrior against the unnameable. Find him. Tell him to lean in. Beg him to press his thigh there and cure you. Offer one perfect breast, your wings, all that you have, your face, a testament.
Audio here: http://deirdremaultsaid.com/audio-deirdre-maultsaid-author-vancouver/

Angel with dove
Photo by Chris Schmidt

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Poem ” Shine on, you moons of Jupiter ” was published at The Puritan

“All I have is sniper thinking;
I am calling out from between the rocks…”

Read poem here
Author notes on the poem at the Town Crier blog here

 

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Poem: If Nostalgia Were Religion

If Nostalgia were religion

By

Deirdre Maultsaid

Originally published in Contemporary Verse 2: 33(3), 2011

I would return to that time,
to see my mother, a giddy señora,
holding aloft a baked globe of rare black clay,
standing among bowls all tilted to her kind of heaven,
my brother and sister duned up, wan and thirsty, under the cactus,
my mother’s own black hair, dusty,
her hands honouring a craft
as she always honoured and adorned it.

My mother pointing to a yellow bird in a cage
trilled “high up in banana tree”
so the song was a skirl in my mind.

Oh, so this is joy—
its silly lady heart,
its canary beauty,
its serendipity.

What about that steep street–
the mist and green hills beyond,
the mine, the vein, the lifting, the promise
the rings and bangles a banquet
and a medallion which held the world entire
in its melody and filigree?

Then, I did not think of the mine
as a place
and its people,
of the watchful eyes between two black planks of hair
on a mule passing.

Now I am relieved by beauty and remember
how they adorn my likeness
how they wait for me.

Pray to me
for the innocence of faith,
unadorning,
adoring,
decorated only in my light.

I would go back to skittering along the beige sand
beside skipping kid legs
under the banners of jacarandas,
breathing a lip-searing wind
from the Atlas Mountains.

I did not think then
of the desert as a place,
and its people
the sky a promise
waiting.

Under the jacaranda
in the heat,
I remembered the mist, the hillside,
then my mother’s joy
still a silver song
cooling my left heart,
singing in my right.

I can minister thus with—
beauty
its immanence,
its polish—
my mother’s crafts coming my way
a pot of pansies, her piano, her glissando.

On a dimming spring Sunday
with the skipping legs
now a man’s
over the couch arm,
I am at a polished table
the medallion 30 years against my heart.

My soul is filigreed with memory
with overblown purple trees
love claimed, birds singing.

Holy is here
where I am
where they wait,
people and places,
where every tassel is stunning silver
every bird is yellow.
I only have to say it:
let in my divine light;
oh, so this is joy.

Jacaranda tree

Photo by Hedwig Storch

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Poem: Cousin to the Light

Santiago Matamoros  

By
Deirdre Maultsaid

As the mist rises on the stony path
we take our bearing on the golden bell tower
gathering, ensouling,
the heather our diviner.

We tell our dreamy story.
I am a pilgrim collecting souls; she is a pilgrim
you are there too, gathering light
a story telling its own story
travellers on The Way, such brightness round.

We are on a long granite promenade,
wet and glittering
tears of light, those baby stars,
the last journey to Campus Stellae.

We pass under and in.
She kneels at the altar and presses her lips
to his jewelled cloak,
waits for me to bow to this cousin.

Then, a miracle:
black takes me, black as itself
I bite the halo; taste metal and am gone.

I step on barefoot prophets to reach and then
I grab the stars and put them in my jet box,
swoop down the golden arcade, airborne,
my torque a message, thrumming at my throat
through a colonnade,
up over the cathedral battlements.

The headland at the end of the world beckons,
old promises, the cold ocean winds
the weird waves coming.

I topple an oak and the love-promising yews
into the black azebache cist living and breathing
one more baby to cry, shorn, lonely, wakeful
into the black, as dark as the inside of the tomb,

as dark as the truth that it has always been empty,
dark as the empty cistern at the hilltop settlement
now filling
now filling up, mineral and fresh, as I fly
the mystical power of the azabache beckoning rain.

Into the gathering dark, I place
what was sacred
my babies, all babies
the stories told
all the celestial hope.

Into the black that both darkens and helps see
I place even you, especially you.

Now there is a running, shuddering glittering light above and below.
The box lid will not close
on these souls
on you,
your radiance
apparelled in rain.

End

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Poem: Mercy

By
Deirdre Maultsaid

You could be a true God’s whore.
You could be a Flirty Fish, showing the love,
witnessing, and winning others into the kingdom.

You could halve a pear and paint a still life–bronze and ovoid.
You could haul the slow way down Chuckanut Drive,
the winding highway reminding you
to never eat again for the sorrow and sparks inside,
ending because of the fervorless man,
the blank pear of his face,
how he hurts you, how stolid is the world.

You could be winding down the highway,
debating
and still end up in a concrete
stand-alone clinic
in a newly treed
wayside in Bellingham.
This is America.
All roads lead here.

In the clinic, while watching lozenges of afternoon light on the floor,
you are made ordinary and yourself again.

You could stop at every gas station
and feel the worry,
but you are crossing the border to a new country.

You are picking stars.

You are tasting the fruit.

Avoid moral absolutes.
Think of Polish women invaded.
What if you still had to witness and keep it, to keep him in?
Does that make you God’s whore creating an emblem of his love
or God’s pear,
or just one more vale of tears extinguishing the closest star?

A slogan does not carry you far
along a lonesome highway: “Every child wanted.”
A slogan doesn’t strengthen you
at the lecture of a thought leader.

You stand in a row of friends outside
while across the parking lot
frothing, fervored, mean, insane,
they shout: “Thou shalt not kill”.

There are police
everywhere in their navy, billyclubbed truth.
Your friends are shouting back, “You shalt not kill women”.
You are in their arms.
A phalanx of navy, jet-packed and sinewy,
a phalanx of spitters, God’s whores,
and a phalanx of confused friends.

So, this is democracy–
the sweet, clean, full repertoire of solutions to our problems.
Moral creole and no mercy: the music of our times.

You could say it:
dead is when there is no
brain wave; alive
is when there is.
The end and the beginning.

Put the pear halves back together.

You are not asked to solve it.

You could, but everyone is shouting,
and you are thinking of the Pacific waves,
grey and glazed, running beside the highway
when you were
and were not part of our social shame.

You think only of the painting you have not finished
–a woman turned away,
walking toward a low moon.

The painting is a moral absolute.
The woman the moon the magic.
How you loathe it.
Be merciless.
Why not paint her with milk wasted,
dripping on the sand or paint her splayed out.
Paint some rock gargoyles sitting in judgement,
their tongues out, their troll twisted faces.

Paint her alone making impossible choices,
her morality
only a clean,
sweet
knife halving.

Paint her alone,
taller than any rocks,
caressing stars.

Paint her as you could never be:
gallant, caring for you,
reaching across history for your virtue.

 

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Poem “Exodus” was published at Pif

“It is not all ripe oranges delicious mangoes…” –> read poem

 

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E-book: Ashes of Her Shelter Available for eBook Readers

Set on the West Coast of Canada in the 70’s and 80’s, The Ashes of Her Shelter is a lyrical novel, with “home” as a strong motif, about the bond between  sisters, told from the unreliable viewpoint of an activist, Christine, who  loves with a twisted loyalty her conventional sister Leigh-Anne. Christine by  accident leads Leigh-Anne into danger and fails to protect her from bad  relationships with men.

Download from Smashwords onto a variety of  ebook readers like Kindle, Kobo and Sony. Can also buy it directly from barnesandnoble.com, and Diesel E-Books. Read it online or as a PDF from Smashwords or here.

Excerpt:

“Although it was hard for Christine to accept, Vince changed everything between Christine and Leigh-Anne. Christine had already been half-crazed with what she felt for her beautiful and talented sister—a fanatical kind of love, with its hot misunderstandings, its burning green explosions, and its urge to both shield and wound the beloved. On the night Christine first met Vince (the avant-garde artist, the avant-garde double boyfriend), she was not imagining who she wanted to protect and who she wanted to hurt.”

See also Testimonials, or Buy/Read Now. (Free except for admin. fee).

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