A haunting melody on a laptop that enhances the Arts and Crafts room at Chez Doris, a women’s day shelter on Chomedey Street, becomes ever more insistent, rising to a crescendo toward the end. Open five days a week, nearly a hundred women arrive at its door every day.
I am teaching a journaling and poetry workshop sponsored by Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters (VSEAL) making literature accessible in schools and shelters. Bustling kitchen. Sounds of Garde-Manger food truck, clothing room. Bed and shower who need it. How can this be in a city surrounded by food? Workers, volunteers, social work students doing stage. Guard at the door.
Narrow labyrinth paths that fret memories: a homeless woman, I am a mother on a bus, who sees a woman and says to herself, it is my daughter.
You might not know me, but I am famous. Impresaria in Montreal. For a decade and a half, I am interviewed by local university press and radio, by television crews filming my reading series at the McGill ghetto Yellow Door. But my daily life didn’t change much. I write, I read, I teach, publish poetry. I sit and write all day in silence. And I am the Youth Protection court ordered supervisor for my mentally ill divorced eldest daughter, Marisa, when she is visiting with her three young children at my downtown studio. Oil, gouache, canvas, easel, gesso, music and storytelling runs in the genes.
My daughter under public curatorship protection living at a Douglas Hospital psychiatric foster home. The outsider. The uninvited. Relentless fatigue of chronic immune system disease, pulmonary sarcoidosis. Nervous system seizures, psychiatric disorders— dementia, depression, psychosis. Does it really matter what she wears? Glazed hazel eyes look at you with innocence. Ambling painfully slow towards a coffee shop. A prey for unsavoury people. A young-old crone on psych medications that has nothing to do with a woman’s body for seduction. Radiant bride who once wore white taffeta and lace veil anchored by a floral crown.
Her home was comfortable, but her childhood unhappy. The trauma of domestic violence and the privations that Marisa and her three siblings suffered. If my calling as an advocate against oppression is a wake-up call for me, my relationship with my daughter is a chance to tune in, pay attention. We are not alone with our secret of defining ourselves as survivors. Both of us resident at different times at Auberge Transition for battered women.
Today at Chez Doris, I lead the first of four workshops. I succeed in inviting a few women to journal, write postcards, create art, poems. Share their stories. Anna wearing her winter coat inside, creates an Egyptian relief: paint applied to dried plaster. Writes her name in hieroglyphs. Smudges the plaster a light ochre. Cracks it to make it look old. She is a real artist and she doesn’t even know it, I say to myself. My daughter is also an artist and doesn’t paint anymore.
I put finishing touches on my own relief, write my name in hieroglyphs: Ilona.
This story was first published November 2014 by Canada Writes Challenges:
“Stories of Belonging” shortlist: adult category.
Claude Monet Snow Scene at Argenteuil / Rue sous la neige, Argenteuil – Wikimedia Public Domain
Guest Author Bio
Ilona Martonfi lives in Montreal, Canada. Editor, creative writing teacher, author of two poetry books, Blue Poppy, (Coracle 2009.) Black Grass, (Broken Rules 2012). Forthcoming, The Snow Kimono (Inanna, 2015). Publishes in zines and anthologies. Producer of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. QWF 2010 Community Award.
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