Madeleine’s Letter/Our Responses

This text came with a physical object, a book Madeleine made and has invited us to help her fill.

Here is her book, titled LETTERING, which she describes as an attempt to write a letter to her deceased mother. Below the photo is the accompanying text she shared with us.

photo by Tom Quirk

photo by Tom Quirk

Here is Maddie’s text; below it are the responses some participants created. We’ll continue posting them as they arrive. You are also invited to respond!


The Room at the Turn of the Corner

Many years after my mother died, I went to visit her in the house where I had grown up. We sat on the edge of her bed and my mother told me that, all her life, she had disliked the furniture in this little room. But, she said, since passing on, her feeling for the desk, the bed and the faded, rosewood tables had changed. “Against my better judgment,” she said, “I find these pieces beautiful now.”

She was wearing a mauve dress that fell to her knees in narrow pleats, her hair was curled, and when she smiled, she looked intense and beautiful. She looked younger than the last time I had seen her.

“Are you in a hurry to get back?” she asked. “You could stay for lunch.”

“I would like that.”

Across the road, the rooftops were crowned with satellite dishes and silvery, reaching antennae. I could hear the stutter of  a car starting, a door slamming, the hum of a refridgerator.

“Your sister went to buy coffee,” my mother said. “She should be back any minute.”

I nodded. Everything in my mother’s bedroom—a room that no longer exists (when she died, all the furniture was given away. I had taken her files and papers to the recycling depot in Vancouver, where a worker had instructed me to upend them into a machine that crushed and shredded them, even her handwriting had disappeared. The house was sold)—was achingly familiar.

The traffic on this little street grew heavier, grew slower. Neighbours appeared, moving from window to window, then vanishing. My mother said I needed more sleep, she said my hair was too long, I should wear warmer clothes, eat more meat, and read less in bed. I asked her if she was happy and she smiled and said, “Oh, well, of course I’m happy,” and I wanted to tell her all the stories I had saved up, the things that had changed in my life, how deeply I had longed for her.

No one came to the door and my mother no longer seemed to expect anyone. Afternoon dissolved into evening and we sat by the windows in contemplative silence. I was hungry but no food appeared, and I understood that if I went outside the bedroom, if I tried to find the kitchen, I might be disappointed. I could not remember how I had entered this room, whether through the window or the door, or some other means. I did not know how this room attached to all the others through which I had passed, all my life, whether they were joined like the ribs of a skeleton or whether they floated in space, and it was only by chance that we had both passed this way again.

I wanted my mother to tell me about her existence but, as in life, she did not wish to talk about herself. Instead, she wanted to know what I had seen and done, she laughed at my jokes, she looked into my eyes as I tried to make light of the situation. The things we left unspoken grew high around us, solidifying like the walls of a house, sheltering the objects I could not let go of, this dress, this room, the familiar and the beloved.

“Go on,” she said, kindly. “It’s long past dinner time and you haven’t eaten all day.”

Before I left, she gave me a stack of clothes, and I accepted them in order to please her even though I did not need more socks or sweaters or skirts. Neither did she, of course. She said I had not let her down. Or, at least, these were the words I heard spoken, and that I held tightly, when she let go of my hand.


Responses from Thursdays Writing Collective


Two pieces from Anne Hopkinson


Finding Backbone


Hand to hand we lay it out,

unfold a book of folds

centred on the table among us,

and we lean in, drawn to the articulating

vertebrae of pages.

Her book is our spine

to support the brain and protect the heart,

a spine to hold us up and move us forward

as spines do for the body

so this one does for us, writers

at the end of circuits.

Her postcards tell the story of her mother

and now as words connect and messages click

Madeleine’s mother triggers our mothers,

as if they had sipped tea together and talked over the back fence.

Oh mothers, the zig-zag story of love has to be released

and we write it out,

pens on paper finding backbone.



Message from My Sister


Don’t tell me you’re waiting for love.

Hesitating, anticipating fate will dump some

first rate hunky blind date,

some good looking play mate

right on your sad-ass empty plate?

You could wait a lifetime.


Don’t tell me you’re saving it for love,

Slaving, and craving, but never misbehaving,

stuck in an upscale condo cave, cradle to grave,

thinking about the guy you already forgave,

he’ll come back sorry, pfffft, shockwave –

Never gonna happen.


Don’t tell me you’re hoping for love,

Moping, and coping on weekends of soft dope,

on a tightrope of booze, pills and horoscopes,

settling for a quick grope,

or a climb-down-the-ladder-of-love-and-elope kind of hope?

Uh-uh. Stop going to chick flicks.


Don’t tell me you were “just thinking” about love,

you’re drinking, and blinking away tears for some past lover,

some rinky-dink, living with his momma missing link,

some throwback cheap bastard

ratfink who hurt you bad?

He’s not worth it sis.


Listen, you don’t have to sink down,

shrink down, be afraid to strut your stuff,

keep your heart and lips shut.

Wear that hot pink gown,

We’ll hit the clubs in town,

Come on, meet me tonight at ten.



I love to write my possible sister

and hear her possible words,

she is …



Jan Tse

A Postcard Poem

2014 May 13, 2014


Hi Mother,


I know that you are no longer in this earth plain, but,


I still have a deep need to write to you;


to connect with you and to tell how much I have learned from you.


I know you were born in the war years and never had a formal education.


I used to feel ashamed to have a mom who is illiterate;


I am happy to report to you that, I no longer feel ashamed about that,


In fact I no longer feel ashamed pretty much about anything nowadays,


And have stop apologizing for being who I am, and what I am.


Darryl is twenty-three years now, and have applied for the PhD program at UCL.


You would have been very proud of him.


( will tell you that later.)


I have started my round the world trip – The one I promised my self before I got married – I am


going to X,Y,Z……


I also, am on a secret mission to find my first true one –


I want, and have a deep need to connect with that part of my life;


where love was possible;


Wish you were here with me;


In a way you’re with me;


As you live within me –


I shall keep you posted.


Love with all my heart.


Your daughter,




From Jerimie Marion, who read this with Madeleine at SFU

Dear Spring,

I’m enthused and excited by the return of your golden yellow aura. You’ll be happy to know the lawns and Ferrell patches of grass are splattered with dandelions, the air is filled with intoxicating scents that sensually, stealthily, sound off, converting neural pathways into earthly experiences of ecstasy eradicating the effects of the long arduous winter months of a wet west coast. Cherry blossoms capitulate, their visceral reminder that spring you are here. Resurgence of life, and love, feelings in full bloom. The days are brighter and friendlier. Although this awakening is most welcoming senses perceive the underlying sacred sacrificial selfishness of our human sickness that which continues to choke the air I breathe. I’ve noticed the tops of trees being cut off. Spruce no more than 30 feet. The last of the great cedars left, urban sprawl took their breath. 300 feet no more, now haunted by saplings and post modernism war, systematically the taking down of nature, or the natural spirit of the land. There are men and women paid to continue this justified slaughter by preprogrammed messages almost as robotic as their delivery. They say power lines; they say building maintenance, say anything but monopoly. So they say general up keep around existing structures. What about the structure of nature? I’m left wondering how far we’ve gone in our continual consumer consumption in this maddening mass of modernity, because we continue to clear cut our oxygen filters only to wipe our mouths and asses with this “buy” product. We are all the by-products of wayside weariness perpetually pampering our pleasures. Oh Dear Mother they’re driving drills into the heart of you.  Those fragile rock frackers, trucking crudely rude resources calmly over precious sacred land, There is no jazz in their coal train. Our water ways are in the wake of money hungry wacko’s with little or no regard for the health and safety of plant, or animal, or human. Being. Still not all of us are seeing. Environmental laws gutted, catastrophe underplayed, our humanity is being swept under the proverbial rug. Media savvy Mongols mishmash the truth into an intoxicating soup most of us wish not to stomach. How many more generations will surrender to this tide? An insane asylum roller coaster ride. With its up’s and down’s, roundabout, its loopy tea loo’s, a few turbulent upside downs for good measure, only to peter out near the end of the track. Never coming to full realization instead the empty car now pulls back around to the start with a load of fresh new unsuspecting consumers. A sign reads “Welcome to Life” I merely ask what truth will you buy?


Sincerely, Jerimie Marion


Molly Ancel 


elbows up, fingers stretched elegantly along sleek metal

air blows through pursed lips

melodies spiral up

through cracks and concrete ceilings

filling the small house

with sounds of discipline and joy

but then a note slips

and those who listen are reminded that loneliness sometimes sounds like b minor



The soundscape is defined by

words as sharp as knives

that fly across the table and draw blood

pooling it drip drips down

like water its levels rise

lapping at toes and ankles


she stares across the table

at silence and sunken eyes


the soundscape is heavy

its weight she feels on her mouth

the cause of all this blood

awfully difficult to wash out


the soundscape is now loud

the tearing of familial fabric discernible as

sobs escape wounded lips


to block it out

hitch a ride along the airways

wind covering ears


safe travels,

kiss kiss


Letter to My Lovely Childhood

I see you lingering right outside, the bright side of my otherwise dark mind. Come inside where it is warm! But if not, I understand. I too prefer the cold sunshine to the warm darkness.

I’m sure I would remember you fondly if I remembered you at all, but alas, we cannot have everything we wish! I always knew if I regarded you too preciously you might disappear when I needed you most.

Always yours,



On Letters

Ecuador was a practice in being alone, being undesired. My partners and I regarded one another with barely concealed contempt, and I could communicate only slightly with the people whose community we had so naively landed in. Andean thunderstorms quickly became metaphors for the conflicts occurring within my mind, body, and heart.

Letters were the only form of communication by which our families could reach us, albeit weeks or even months after their initial send dates. Towards the middle of our stay we received letters from our families. I received birthday cards, and brightly illustrated letters from friends. I also received a letter from my mother. Multiple pages on blank white paper. Handwriting like mine, a mix of cursive and print.

Her words caressed and comforted me. They forgave me for my rootlessness. Her words created in me both a sense of permanent separation and simultaneous feeling of longing so strong I thought I might shatter in the contradiction.

Inside her letter she had attached a poem by Khalil Gibran, from The Prophet. It goes “your children are not your children…” As she released me from my childhood I cried and cried, imagining that if I cried enough I might revert back to some default where I was coddled by my own clouded eyes.

This is why I am wary of those who say letters have faded into obscurity. There is no replacement for the lessons carried in envelopes.


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