Rebuilding

The possibilities of loss didn’t include this uprooting,
this stripping away and removing of bricks
that once stood solid inside my walls and now,
await rebuilding of home in a new land.

Once I took for granted the knowing—
the words I spoke, the songs I sang,
the simplicity of cobblestones beneath my feet,
but now, the Self has been called to question
in this vastness that tastes of salt from coast to coast;

where language, like a hard-boiled egg
fills my mouth and my tongue swells
with the effort of unfamiliar;
where each night I cry myself to sleep
and dream of having stayed behind,

like in another dimension where
every decision gives birth
to an alternate Universe—
where I remain intact.

And still I wake to the screech of magpies
outside our walk-up apartment
where I share a double mattress with my sister and
tell my parents again and again I don’t believe
the evils of communism, the dangers of conformity, and
beg them to please send me back.

In my face they exalt this land of opportunity,
where freedom is working twelve hours shifts
at the coal mine, and waxing floors
in the Provincial Court of Alberta
from four to midnight.

My body creates a phantom illness
that keeps me home from school,
away from the snickers of Junior High girls

who make fun of my silence and
my second-hand clothes.

I eat rye bread smothered thick with honey and
compose long letters in the Czech I know.
I write notes to myself, collect the pain
of displacement like precious gems, examining
each one for lines and cracks and depth of colour
like an archaeologist in search of the Me
who remains.

~ Judy Walker

I am a first generation Canadian – a modern settler of the New World. My family arrived from Europe not by boat, but by plane 30 years ago and has grafted itself onto this vast land. I married the English language, while Czech remains my lover. I feed my passion for words in both languages. I’ve lived in Edmonton for the past 24 years and devote my life to my children, my husband and writing (not always in that order). I’ve had an essay published in the Globe and Mail and “Hola Senor, Hola Senora” and “Rebuilding” are my first published poems. I am currently working on a memoir of my first years in Canada as an teenaged immigrant.

“Rebuilding” is much closer to my heart. It took 29 years to materialize on the page and when it did, it took only a short while to write. While writing, I became a girl of 13, a new immigrant in Canada. A born and raised communist, I could not conceptualize freedom, did not share the overwhelming desire for freedom that prompted my parents to leave their homeland behind. I wrote the piece to reconnect with that part of me which was silenced when we arrived in Canada. The silence lived inside me for 30 years, without words. Through the poem, I succeeded in drawing out the child and at last, giving her a voice.

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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