“In the immense court of my memory…I come to meet myself.” Augustine of Hippo
“Things come apart easily when they have been held together with lies.” Dorothy Allison
“A change in the state of the psyche produces a change in the structure of the body.” Aristotle
“Nature is like parting a curtain; you go inside it.” Agnes Martin
From the introduction: “Just as a country can be the site of a battle, so too can the body be the scene of a crime.”
Closing scenes of a live performance at the Metropolitan Opera on a Saturday afternoon: The blood I am walking through is splattered over a black wooden floor…I watch as my feet move through rivulets of blood and grab clothing with both hands…not a second to waste…I leave the sounds of thousands of people applauding on the other side of the giant, gold curtain, and hang my dresser bag from a high rack in the wardrobe room…and return home to think. To the quiet.
Anything can trigger memories, a voice, a story, a smell, the sight of dripping blood….I leave the apartment and its electrical outlets and travel to an isolated retreat house at the suggestion of a friend. I’m told along the way that there’s something unique about the place, something positive, but not explainable.”
This is a very personal story by Newfoundland writer and artist Magie Dominic who has had essays and poetry published in anthologies and journals in several countries. She has exhibited artwork in Toronto and New York. Her book asks a question that is becoming more and more common today as individuals seek to heal from legacies of the past: “What is memory, and where is it stored in the body?”
Dominic’s arrival at the retreat is juxtaposed with her childhood memories of church at Saint Henry’s and attendance at the school associated with that church and the nuns who taught there but also inhabited the church on Sundays. Dominic’s father was Lebanese and Catholic; her mother was Scottish. She says it was her father’s “unshakeable belief, his rosary appearing for an hour every week, that led me on my search for churches in every city I ever lived in, ever spent more than a weekend in for the rest of my life.” She recalls her childhood in Newfoundland, rabbit carcasses in the kitchen on newsprint and thinks: ” pieces of those rabbits are inside me to this day. Wanting to escape. Wanting a chance to move away from a trap on a cold Newfoundland floor.”
The retreat house she has come to “is thought to hold special powers of energy. No one knows how to describe it, or what in fact it is. People think it might have something to do with ley lines, invisible lines of power, connecting holy areas around the world. That it may be aligned with a sacred place somewhere, but no one knows anything for certain.”
“My room is called The Queen of Peace Room. It’s written on a narrow wooden plaque on the wall above the dresser. Below it a small mirror, just big enough so I can see myself from the neck up. The rest of me, apparently, doesn’t exist here.”
“I light a candle in The Queen of Peace Room and make my usual altar on the bureau top – a thin blue scarf, pictures of angels, Gandhi, and Saint Dymphna, patron saint to keep one from going completely mad; a cardboard picture of Jiminy Cricket (a believer in faith and hope), and a Heikimer crystal.”
“I listen to the sounds of a bird, wind shifting leaves, the zing of crickets, and silence. Blue light spills across the bureau. This is the original magic.
Magic can’t be destroyed. That’s why it’s called magic. The soft tick of the travel clock blends with the sounds of the night.
I look through The Queen of Peace window until I fall asleep.”
This book is a journey and no words of mine can add to those of the author. So I will add a few more of those and close with them. You will know if this is something that speaks to you.
“The woman I am becoming at this complex of buildings has the complexities of at least four different voices thinking simultaneously. One of them, maybe all of them, wants to smile again. To walk to no place in particular and be home at no time especially. Wants to learn to speak without crying. A new voice is emerging. Inside me. And it’s moving with a speed torn from the wings of angels who’ve been standing around doing nothing. The body heals more rapidly than the mind. But with the right environment, they can heal together. A group of nuns in the woods have noticed me, and are responding.
All of the women had heard stories of abuse and violence. Nothing is unmentionable with them. They are like wings for one another and now they have included me. They speak about people they know, people who are trapped, and those who’ve moved away from terror.”
“Where have I been? Who have I been for half a century?”
“I feel like a snake removing its skin. Layer by layer by layer. Like an awkward package at a lost and found, waiting to be claimed. Wanting to be calm. The electronic bulletin board in my head wants to be turned off. No more images flashing. …
Thoughts and memories are lodged inside my cells. Some have been living there for almost half a century. I have to split myself in half…and allow all the poison to drain. In order to remove the pain, I have to first remove the memory. ”
“Trees are constantly bending towards the light. We can learn a lot from trees.”