Today, I’m trading in my cherry blossom tree for a new, old one. Outside our West End apartment windows, there’s a cherry blossom tree that’s tentatively blooming from its upper branches. It’s been the inspiration behind several poems as well as hundreds of mornings where I’ve been enchanted by squirrels galumphing about on its outermost branches and hummingbirds meditating within its pink potential. “You’re like one of those squirrels,” my girlfriend tells me, adding to our home’s ecology of wonder, the centre of which is a cherry blossom tree.
I’m sitting in my workstation nook by the window working from home today – starting a poem on rain, adding to my first Mennonite magic realist story, emailing here and there for various writerly commitments – and then tonight I’ll be moving some of my clothes, books, and one pillow into the Joy Kogawa House where I’ll be the writer-in-residence for two months. There’s a cherry blossom tree in the backyard. It was the inspiration for much of Joy Kogawa’s writing and in an interview in 2008 Kogawa stated, “It’s the tree, more than anything else, that grips me. It’s as if it has a message written upon it, that everything we’ve gone through in life is known.”
If one tree can bear a message, two can have a conversation about messages and signs that blossom, visibly and invisibly. I can’t believe my good fortune to be doing my first residency at the Joy Kogawa House. I will be living not only in Joy Kogawa’s childhood home, which has provided her and countless Canadians with so much inspiration, but I will also be living blocks away from where my mother lived in the late 1930s. My mother’s parents were both Mennonite refugees who, a decade earlier, had fled the violence of Russia that had taken an untold number of their loved ones. In Canada, they met and started a new life. I look forward to living amidst the rhythms of the house and the outermost rhymes of the neighbourhood.
This is my privilege in my promise to write.
Kevin Spenst is writer-in-residence from January 1 to February 28, 2019. Please watch for details of writing workshops to be scheduled during this time. We’re pleased to host Kevin as our resident writer. Welcome, Kevin!