Events · On Writing · Parenting

The Roots of my Tongue – A Birthday Soliloquy

*I wrote this yesterday, May28, but couldn’t post it due to internet connection issues.*

Today is my birthday. On this day, it was a Sunday then, thirty-seven years ago, my mother, she was twenty-one then, was labouring me into this world. I was a small baby, long and skinny like a just-hatched bird, I am told. I’m more of a wild turkey now. Fuller, more feathery, louder and bolder. A wild turkey, indeed.

Today, instead of slipping through my mother’s birth canal, I rose before the sun to catch a plane that would lift me into the womb of the sky and fly me across the country to Winnipeg. To the city with a river so filled with blood they call it the Red River. That’s probably not the real reason, but I think it’s part of the definition even if no one says it out loud. No one but the writers. The poets.

I wrote in my journal as the plane streamed through the innocent sky over our massive country, the land waving long grass hellos, I wrote to myself – I suppose I should contemplate what this day means to me. It is my day of birth. Today I am thirty-seven years old. That’s three years from forty.

I wrote this after a long conversation with the gorgeous woman sitting beside me. We’d never met before but fell into conversation like our souls were meant to meet. I listened intently to her words as she used her manicured hands to help tell her stories. Her nails were round like a skittle lay beneath each one. Perfect wrinkles fell into the skin on her face from years of smiling and living. Intimate details she spilled like the coffee I dripped on my pullout tray. We talked about art and travel, about children and miscarriages, about family and death, and a mystery steam trunk filled with white mold. Her lips were pink, a blue hue covered the blanket of skin over her eyes. I’m sure she didn’t know a poet was drinking her up. Thirsty. Grateful.

When the flight landed, after I wrote in my journal…little to contemplate but the fate of my poor pounding ears about to be devastated by landing, we hugged like we were sisters and wished each other. Promised to stay connected.

I left the comfort and love of my home to fly across country and hang out with writers. With poets. With people who listen to the voices in their heads and pull them out, paint words on paper, on computer screens because, well, we have to. And we’re all initially shy for the gym for our word muscles is on paper, in our books, in our novels and poems and essays. And it takes an awkward moment to bring us together and ask…so what do you write?

We are storytelling children in grown-up skin costumes milling about and wanting to be heard…even when our stories are rooted in violence, hatred, ignorance – and the courage to write about them.

Gregory Scofield. He talked about the power of words. He talked about the relationship of numbers to bodies and blood and realities that make a river run red with blood. But his words, the ones that jumped into my field of silence were ‘the roots of my tongue’.

The roots of my tongue.

I don’t remember being born. Being pushed out a soft red canal into the arms of the woman I call mother. I do remember other things. I do remember where some roots began. Where some roots faded and dried. Where still other roots broke off in search of other soil. But what of the roots of my tongue?

Thirty-seven years I’ve breathed. Inhaled. Exhaled. Gulped and swallowed this life. Spit it out in thousands of pages. Some I share. Most I don’t.

On this day of my birth, I contemplate my role as a writer, knowing that ‘writer’ is synonymous with woman-who-is-compelled-to-tell-truths. Would that be my native name? Would I be brave enough to carry this definition onto the pages of my voice? Am I brave enough to find the roots of my tongue knowing that ‘roots’ is synonymous with stories-that-need-to-be-told?

Could I stand at the blood red foot of a river that flows in my veins and tells truths that are violent, hateful, ignorant – throw a rock of courage into the flat surface and catch poetry in the ripples that go on and on?

Aging is for poets to unravel the knotted, Griswald-family Christmas-vacation ball of lights-sized history that is our individual roots. The woman on the plane did it. She told me it took a year to go through all the history in her family home…days and days, hours and hours to sift and sort and burn and give the things and stories that pulse through our veins…even when we didn’t know it. Even if it’s the blood of a river, of a place, even if it’s a man standing at a podium unraveling the roots of his tongue…to show us that it can be done.

I contemplate the state of the roots of my tongue. I know in my soul they are cultivating in my family. Gripping the deep belly laugh of my son’s joy. Hanging on the monumental wisdom in my daughter’s eyes. Waltzing with the I-love-you trueness that is my soul connection to my hubby. Gleaming in the mischief of my puppy’s droopy eyes. There are no blood rivers here. I must tell myself that this is okay. Roots aren’t born to compete they’re born to strengthen, to nurture, to stand strong…even when I feel like I’m toppling over.

I write because the roots of my tongue cannot be silenced…even though I know I silence some of them. For now. I write because since the day I was born I was born to write. And my roots are so strong that I’m willing to fly away from my family to sit in a room of other trees, grappling with their roots, listening to a storm of courage that is raining on us to cultivate our power. As writers.

A-ho. Migwetch.


4 thoughts on “The Roots of my Tongue – A Birthday Soliloquy

  1. My god, Vanessa! You’re singing! An essay in poetry. Dang girl! How do you DO that? Loved reading it!


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