Gastown

 

Gastown

 

            Rain, rain winter rain. Vancouver hell. I scream – Shanti! Does this mean I am weeping too? The dock is peopleless and depressing. The type writer clunks but I cannot tame my mind enough to be coherent. Five books on the go – reading Camus, French short stories, Chekhov, Hermann Hesse and Pablo Neruda.

            Rain, rain, winter rain. All day, every day, grey drizzling afternoon skies. Cobblestone roads where the welfare dreamers walk on and bury their eyes in leather hands which are buried in Scott-Mission coat pockets which are infested with another man’s memories and another life’s despairs and hopes. Just across the bridge are the beach and the yuppie-side of town. Just down the road is a park where so many starving, bony fingers feed their only meal to fat pigeons that your heart aches with love. You can see the mountains from the hotel window, but it does no good, because you know nothing’s for free and you’ll never reach those frosted heights because you just haven’t got the guts or the strength or the knowing.

            We are at the Gastown Lodge, I am nineteen and heading off for Europe in a month and my ulcer is eroding mercilessly away and my stool is beet red and my period has lasted 12 days now and my legs and my hands are turning pale purple and I have no money and there are woman-screams and knife-wound blood just outside my door and a blue budgie is flying terrorized in the hallway as two cocaine-snorting red-eyed son-of-a-bitches chase it out the window, and the manager runs up to my partially-open door, screaming – Don’t open it! For fuck’s sake keep out of it! The police are coming! Monday early morning.

            Monday late morning. And it happens again; the screams, the trail of fresh blood, the sirens…

            You are holding my hand. I am at the hospital and they have to go into my neck-vein to take a blood sample because I am so damn anemic, and you are still holding my hand even though the sight of a needle makes you want to vomit.

            We go home with five-years of potent ulcer medicine and you make me stir-fry for dinner and I throw it up and the cockroaches drown in the brownish mess while you take me into your room where your husband is sleeping and you play me a new and beautiful song.

            Every time I laugh, it hurts. But I like it better this way, being with you and your big, bright teeth, and your comforting smile and your motherly touch. I like it better than anything in the world, and I can’t tell you how much this means to me or how wonderful you are or how your kindness, our friendship has taught me more than any yogi-guru or Buddhist-religion or Gurdjiefff/Ouspensky philosophy or Krishnamurti-movie or Christian-priest ever has and probably ever will. I can’t tell you I am sorry for the future when I abandon you for these desperate dreams and walk a thousand worlds just to tell you we will never be the same again. I can’t thank you for the sense you knocked into me or for always remembering the root of our togetherness, and dragging me forward, beyond my self-doubt and spiritual shame…

            But back then, we were dancing in black Moroccan-dresses with all the lights off as we tossed the last of our meagre riches into the street below where the Westcost sky oozed and drooled its darkest rain on the lonely apostles of a shell-shocked god. And you would say

– We are on the edge. Be brave. We are swinging from a very thin branch, over a great gaping abyss. And all around us is music and tears, so dance. Though nobody gives two shits about our firework dreams, dance –

            Then you would say

–  Something about me likes this joint. You know, I’m sort of proud of being able to endure all this hell. Did I tell you? Just the day before you came some guy pushed his way into my room and tried to rape me. I broke a coke bottle and warded me off as he chased me around the bed, screaming something in another language that sounded so equally pitiful as it did vulgar that I got confused whether to feel sorry for the pathetic fool or just plain despise him. Before I could decide, the manager came and dragged him off to the police station –

            Then

– I lost my footprints, somewhere in a childhood awakening. From that point on, I could harm nothing, reject nothing, create or love nothing. Don’t you see? It’s because I needed the spider as much as I detested the sun. –

– It’s so cold and lawless on this side where I sit, beyond all common afflictions, above all shadows and below a laughing, bitter moon. Do you understand? Do you love me? Does anybody love me? Was I born to be dry, a thief unleashed among the naive and the generous? No, you don’t understand. One minute my hands are like ash, lame and lifeless, the next, they hold the power of a dozen angels. Was I born to be like lightning, a horsefish, silver and racing and shining like a jewel for the poor prisoners of the serious sea, who will never know the danger in being, totally, entirely free? –

– I cannot step outside my agony, my desperation for perfection; it stays like a swollen tattoo ironed to my skin, like a howling infant dangling from the tip of my tit with vice-grip strength. Sometimes I think I might explode just like a pretty rainbow bubble. Sometimes I think I might just disappear… have you ever felt that? –  You asked.

You asked,

– Have you ever hated yourself so much you couldn’t face to look in the mirror? Have you ever loved someone so much you thought, this must be a gift? Who am I? and the magic sought you out and you were consumed by an ideal and a speechless passion, and then one day you are on a subway train and you find those love-sick butterflies lying dead on your lap, and you pick them up one at a time and crunch their handsome leaf-wings between thumb and finger until nothing is left but you, but never you, never all of you, again? –

Allison Grayhurst © 1993

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Copyright © 2015 by Allison Grayhurst

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First published in CRASH- a litzine” under the titel “Kyle in the Sky”, 1993

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“Grayhurst’s poetry is a translucent, ethereal dream in which words push through the fog, always searching, struggling, and reaching for the powerful soul at its heart. Her work is vibrant and shockingly original,” Beach Holme Publishers.

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Jumana

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Jumana

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Part 1

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            Those crazy days waking up to suicides and promises of camping trips. I needed to feel some warmth in all those corners of metal and skin, but I was not ready. So I waited. Crouching against the morning’s first light, I waited.

            Great surges of compassion always left me feeling inadequate, that’s why I avoided them. I could never really distinguish the difference between love and interference. So I waited, looking for words, left with nothing but the wait.

            For a long time now my life has burned under the rule of imagination. I crumbled in that harsh reality, unable to bear its demand. Imagination! I cried – Where am I to follow you? Over the hills, burying my face in a bundle of daffodils? No, I could not. So I leaned backward to balance the weight of the shadow. I knew imagination was not strong enough to feel the ecstasy of love’s touch. The pierce of blindness lifted (so many times). Again, it was the inadequacy that remained with me every waking hour.

            Then one day, came a wonderful thing. Love. At first there was such a rarity in its touch. But after a while I understood it had always been there, it just needed a focus to make itself apparent. At first, I didn’t believe, so I tried for a weapon in hope of seeing a sharpness behind its hypnotic glare. But nothing came. Only silence, and a rhythm, resting far beneath.

            So I hid, trying to conceal the wars that were bottled up and contained deep within. Then just like that, amidst my confusion, love called to me . . . It’s not what you have, but how you receive it! And I saw.

            There, my live was (rich in the deepest of senses) and still I stood with turned eyes. I pushed everything aside to be but one thing, to be confusion. But when he came into my life, the dull hysteria simply vanished. I relaxed. There was no more ugliness hovering over my eyes, slowly peeling them blind. I felt a crackle of horror, then it was gone. The tremble ceased. In that moment with full force, came freedom.

             Like a slap on the ocean’s ground, it came, rippling a great tide. The twisted face of misery lost its value. It was a miracle . . . to actually be plagued by nothing. There was no struggle, only sight. Only love. The seams of existence cracked, and along with them, the skeleton’s life I held and named from vast experience. I was alone, without potential, without hesitation. The panic of the heart, the scream of inner deficiency, all of that, past.

            How can I explain? It was the last solution. There was nothing else. It was the breakdown. So I said my testimony: How I attempted for life with a series of convulsing shocks. How I sought stimulation more than anything else. I admitted it all. It was then I knew – insanity would never set me on fire, no matter how hot it burnt. It just went on burning, stuck between the lips, waiting.

            I suppose I have always been the lucky one. My strength never lay in endurance, but in change. Yes, I have been lucky.

            I scrambled to the surface, touching the fine exterior. He brought me that, the touch. I let a tear escape. There was no whimper, only that solitary tear. It was the last solution. It was the breakdown.

            He sang. Sensing me inside my most secret attempt to care, he sang. Over and over, singing. Leaving only a soft lullaby, there, tenderly to guide my way.

                                               

***

 

Part 2

 

 

            All my life I have known, anything I ever touched I would have to desert. Now the moon, nothing but a fluff of glimmering haze, teases me. Though the stars are hidden behind clouds, I know the sky has watchers. Don’t they know? An artist never seeks to love or be loved, an artist only seeks to fall in love.

            They always told me to be careful of the small things that enter if the mind is allowed its own movement. But it has never been that way with me. It was always God that snuck upon me when I wanted to be frivolous, or in the very least, personal. Now there is only pain throttling inside my mind: The fire of the solitary pulse. Immortality is just a stain, and the belief in it, just vanity. Humble me. Humble me enough so I can learn.

            Will I stand forever; without fear, just the wind making sparks where it shouldn’t? Now there is only space. I am thrown to nothing with nothing in hand. I am infested with the hollow. How wickedly it scratches further in. All the time, further in. And this is the paradox: As I widen, the possibilities of who I might be, narrow.

            I never cared much for all the things the world is made of. I am bigger than this, was my shout – I am bigger, and I refuse to participate. They forced me to feel all these things then told me to write them down. As if, only then, I have really felt them. My validity to this existence? My blackboard?

            The sky belches forth its loudest cry, screaming in its torment the Ache. Even the expression of intensity must change. Even intensity can get boring – like an indulgence.

            I am called out to face the paradox: I am not a writer. I am not a lover. I am not a kind one. I am none of those things people are. Each day I retreat further away from the world because I do not like the things it brings. That is not hard, but to have none of the treasures of solitude? That is hard. I have exhausted myself into the abyss. I have no surplus and no special thing to call my own. It sounds ridiculous, but I guess I’ve always know it would come down to this – desertion.

            But now, as I touch it, even the experience of pain is snatched from me. All I have ever touched has grown tough and haunted. What will they do when they find out? Will they kill? Will they . . . laugh? A lifetime seems to pass by in one single day.

            Why could I never rest? Why the inner explosion each day? I wonder, is this the great difference between monks and artists? Monks hand over their lives to God, it is surrender. But with artists . . . God steals their lives away from them?

 

***

 

Part 3

 

            This is my amazement. The cold walker licking the earth, spitting salvia and squandering God for one breath of pleasure. This is my amazement. The one who walks, bag in hand, smile on face, happiness on the tongue. This is my amazement. Those two out there, holding hands, talking in moderation and quiet tones. I see them wrinkled. I see them profound, at peace, and rocking. Sleep will overcome them. Sleep will prepare their death. Death will not be a violation on their lives. This is my amazement. Those who wipe catastrophe away with tears and eventual overcoming. I abandon you.         

            To breathe in. To breathe out. This is my addiction. I may squint but I will never perish. Is this a place where none can follow? Is this reality? Reality is isolating. God, what hangs furiously? What hangs triumphantly? I have seen him. I have touched the arrow. It makes me long. It makes me suffer. How can I leave things equal? How can I hold this love and not be made small? Will this love reduce me? Will it make me an amazement?

            I am the dropping that warms the bird’s wings into flight. So must I admit the criminal? Weigh me down. Nourish me. My soul is pressed against an illusion. My soul has no patience for these things. The world is afflicted and I don’t care. Weigh me down. My soul has fallen in love.

            They built a bridge, a gateway. Love, the great revealer. But now I cry out my claim: Loneliness, I can bear. Love, I cannot.

            I am listless. The pressure sticks. The pressure of prophecy. Who will bleed their name on the sidewalk? Who is it that calls me into this love? Can’t I save the world and despise it at once? Can’t I give them a new truth even if I am a virgin to the old? Why do I pass this gate? I detest the union of blood against blood. The flesh sticks. The flesh hangs on. I have seen. I have tasted humiliation. I have tasted, fleeing full force into the darkness, where others feared but I knew only safety. Tell me, who cannot receive? Am I one of those?

            My caution always took the form of risk. I knew I was strong enough for any collapse, but success would leave me shattered. Anything prolonged bores me. Why make me this arrow? This is my amazement.

            So much has been sacrificed for certainty. The need for a constant fierce movement has denied me so much of ordinary life. Flare not mystery – that is my salvation. My jaw cracks through my flesh and names me wild. My soul has fallen in love.

            They made me a disciple of the rock. Now they bring me the wave. Now they bring the bridge into the outside world. Will I be filled with love just to know its torment?

            It is only brief. Like those, I will walk past, build my mountain, and then join its ground. Time outlives love. I have watched them in heavy labour. I have seen the course.

            No, your bridge is a faraway thing. I abandon.

 

***

 

Part 4

 

            What a difficult thing to gain back perspective. This is what I have come to discover: In the end even the most trusted of companions will fail you. Reality is isolating.

            I finally saw, my greatest fear was I wouldn’t get slaughtered. My greatest fear was that he would actually love me back. I never did have much tolerance for this thing called ‘joy’.

            But what calls me out? I know any true solitary person is never pathetic. Have I reached my threshold? Something passes over: Strokes of unexplainable depth; strokes of wonderment.

            Most of my life I have spent in preparation of love. My whole life has been nothing more than the re-assurance of my internal life. Every little thing out there was just the support-cast of my condition. I made this god with my every movement. This god, relied on me for its existence.

            My soul is lodged in discharge. My soul is radical, intolerant of worship, intolerant of love. Does deception live within the attitude of indifference? Is everything done in desperation, just the remnants of a lie? Does the door swing, swing, then let loose?

            My catalyst has always been force. But now they tell me – To burn is not enough. They tell me – Experience gives compassion. They tell me there is choice. They tell me – Your sensitivity is your strength. I tell them – But it’s killing me… They do not know. They do not understand.

 

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Part 5

 

            If say, the cold war of uncertainty could pass me now… How can happiness be accompanied by such danger? I know the deathly feel of his kindness. I know the power of joy. I know of requital.

            Lovers can rise above their separate worth, so gently, lovers in love. I cry to be let loose. I feel like a child pushed into a mood of weakness. The undercurrent. What has suffered? What has broken its paralysis?

            Behind the sun lies the moon’s cool shadow just waiting to be born. But here, in bright daylight, I blink.

            I am witch, not a prophet. A coiler, not a flyer. I want to wriggle in the undercurrent with warmth and delight. I want to fall into the second depth of water. I am not a novice. I have gained the rite of passage. I pant for the undercurrent. I want to move my hand through the flame, to cup it, to say – I have touched without possession. I have touched fire, and I smile, unscorched. I want to tell them.

            This is not grey wisdom, this is the ape revised. The ape worshipped for its own power of evolution. The ape stands apart from the human; it is its own miracle. It is an urging, a scraping into the second depth where life is beautiful, where there is rescue and paradox means completion, where the impossible is natural.

            My mouth is a bread crumb offering the last of my riches. What is the price? Paying is no longer the question. Paying has tripped and fallen on the gravedigger. Paying is abolished. Now the wind flows between us. No ladder. No sacrifice. Now God and I laugh freely.

            I say love is the ultimate danger, the only safety. I say love is what is on the fringe of a scream. Anything unbroken, and yet, still falling. That is love. Love is what rests in the undercurrent. Love is the virtue that stretches itself . . .

 

***

 

Part 6

 

            I have already heard the news. But what is this? The pluck? I know what I seek. I am thick and tearful, but I will last. And he will see me shine someday. He does not know, but I like the sun. I like the afternoon with nobody around. And even as the seasons move from one thing to another, time will vanish. And seeing the leaves fall, the snow drift, the birds sing, we will not be able to call it ‘God’. It will be a period when people take on a new approach. Never again powdered. Never again snapped. Say, whirlwind. Say, love.

            The night outside twitters grey and used. But I have asked for freshness. I smell him everywhere. Stirred and spontaneous, we will be again someday. But where is he now? Locked in some cubicle he calls ‘dark hole’? An artist’s definition: to live this life in service. Just to have him say – I know.

            I have touched my existence through his tongue. He had my whitest offer, my prayer (no matter how subtle) he contained it all.

            I do not want to recover from him. But my instinct is to exile and it is hard. He does not know, but I have friction pumping into my pores.

            Today I wrote him a letter and it went like this…

Dear love, you were my greatest maturity. You tormented me from behind. You were my remembering. I bow to your wind – o my dart!

 

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Part 7

 

            From the very first sight of him, I made him my friend. All my life I have tried to live by more than survival. These were the motions of insanity.

            Tuck me in the undercurrent where life is scarcely visible.

            They thrust us into a corner. Into the sullen mystery, and brought us presents too: a warm slice of death; a toy for safe keeping in our tougher hours of pain. What are we to do? We have no discipline, only hunger.

            Equality was pressing hard into the places I left open. I said – let me fall into you. I said – you trample on forsaken ground and that is why I love you. As soft as a broken limb.

            And I saw him like a hard knot resting in my throat. And I wanted to yell out. And I wanted to hold him close. But once (only once) and it’s gone forever. Against the movement. Against the cry. Isn’t love always the same love?

            There was not much to forgive, just to turn on the lights. He did not run away. I know, he just ran.

 

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Part 8

 

            No one can touch as I coil away, secretly pleading for him to follow. No one can make amendments. Smile or curse, I smoulder alone. Solitude never lacks company, only commitment.

            Darkness sliced the worst of possibilities. But now, let me move my strength to this parable: What are the possibilities? Because he has failed me, has the whole thing been pointless? I commend his honesty, not his fear.

            I said – Fine. It is because I understood. But maybe that was the betrayal – Fine, I understand.

            My hands! Soon I will crush my skull between them crying out – Dedication! When I was in my room he told me – Swim, do not squirm. Do not squirm, bite down. But the force inside the squirm… didn’t he know?

            At seven o’clock tomorrow morning we’ll go looking for our tribe. I can picture it now, arm and arm, waiting for the street lights to go off, waiting for our god to come back home.

            These are my possibilities – reject of collapse. Every wisp of revolt has passed under my skin, and I multiplied. It was the striving, that was my psychology. Didn’t he know? I strove and nothing more. I have tasted love. I have tasted betrayal; walking down lone dark streets, praying to my god to make it home. Is this what I deserve, all wrapped up in fire and cloth, beating my head against my hands? Is this what I deserve, pounding on hardened walls, softly?

 

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Part 9

 

            I long hid in the ocean’s core chanting for people to pass. I was free to dominate. I was free to escape. I knew my condition. I hid, I plotted. I killed my loneliness. I served my brightest star. My personal sun. In my cave, I was capable of ambition.

            Then they called out to me – Marriage. I heard the echo of belief. In my darkness prowled an intruder. I longed to rouse his temper, to find, to destroy, him. But he had patience. He whispered. So I consented and asked for only one thing, a quick death. I cried – I am not a monk, I am a human being. I made the wind rise. I pierced my own wound.

            But my sun did not know how to die. Once my sun, now my enemy. It was godlike. It was innocent. It must be overthrown. But how? When he has walked away? Why give me the vision then demand me to desert it?

            They showed me a ghost. My lover was a phantom and still they said – Follow him. How was I to revolt, lay down my solitary flag for a phantom? Was I to defend a kingdom that vanished the moment it was touched? They asked me to invade. They asked me – one who is weary, one who has never tasted soil. So I defeated my sun and was rewarded with dust. Not even my sun’s own ashes, just the dirt of another world – that was my prize. They handed me sand and said – Now build. Now construct.

            My sun would not forgive. It sentenced me a traitor. Such bright things do know forgiveness. To it, every moment is immortal. It does not pass, but remains. My sun lives outside of forgiveness. It banished me. It must be overthrown.

            Again, I was deceived into the taking up of arms. Again, I was made a ploy, a heretic for a cause I only glimpsed and never chose. It struck me down.      

            Never again will I stand tiptoe on the face of the earth and dream of my strength. I am such a tiny thing, struck, stuck.

            In the name of this riddle, exhausted, I decline. Now show me: What are my instructions?

            “To live without him.

            And still, even harder,

            to love without him.”

           

***

 

Part 10

 

            He left me a monument, something I promise to carry, no matter where the journey leads. I spent my life pivoting on God – that has been my only relationship. Maybe in knowing him, I found a cause. Maybe, I am blessed.

            I walk in silence. Freedom has only shown me its face when I yielded. Healing happens in layers. No more relapses. No more jagged movements. Retrograding is for the stars, not for the soul.

            I made my spirit a swamp. I encroached, I devoured. Then they came, found me with my delicacies and made me an outcast. It was the only way.

            I long lived on the doorstep, sucking in what wasn’t mine. I was induced by the smell of my prey. I loved its illness. I became pregnant with its sick flavour. But now, my soul relies on something different. Now my soul is devoted.

            There is nothing that threatens me now. My solitude is not a threat. To know him still stings, but just like that, in layers, it will ripen into something yet unnamed. Have I been given my last chance? Still I lay, wondering.

            Two massive waves colliding, that was what I knew. Then love passed my way, telling me of fantastic things. Telling me – Unless you believe in magic, your life will be empty of it. Telling me of a place where I belong, where the rigid eye does not accuse and nothing resigns itself to being foul and scabby, and yet, is foul and scabby. A place where pity has vanished.

            All things must be complete when they unite. People must not tempt with the lukewarm, it is only unsatisfying. To touch everything with only half ourselves, that is the human destruction. That is what is subtle and disastrous. We always tempt with the half-made. We are not willing to make room for ‘the full’. It is the doctrine of pleasure, the doctrine of war.

            I know of capacity. I now know of potential. I hear the chants of my tribe. For a long time we have been separated. We ramble only because we have lost our language. Centuries have made us foreign. But we will be delivered. The hunger will deliver. And when it does, we will be delivered from it, never to hunger again.

            There is inability in being born just an artist. Will they call me outgrown? Will they crack me and name me inaudible? In the end, I wonder.

            How strange it is to be a soul on this earth. How strange it is to finally know: After all the shaking of bars, I was never captured. How strange it is to know, and then to lose, love.

 

***

 

Part 11

 

            The answer, I wanted to say. But I grew numb mute in this understanding. And I fell. I fell to my knees in ceaseless wonder. I fell in love.

            This news is all I have.

            He must have been an angel, an angel who could avoid the storm, who could dodge raindrops. But now his mission has passed. There, look out on the street, it is him walking, running away. Say, love. Say, remarkable!

 

            I was never converted. I was only stretched.

 

            ***

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Copyright © 1989 by Allison Grayhurst

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Jumana was published in 1989 by The Plowman, written by Allison Grayhurst under the pseudonym of Jocelyn Kain. This is a revised version of what originally appeared in print.

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Published in “Poetry Life & Times” April 2017

  

http://www.artvilla.com/plt/jumana-a-prose-narrative-poem-by-allison-grayhurst/

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Reviews below of Allison Grayhurst’s chapbook “Jumana” were published in the “The Plowman – A Journal of International Poetry” 1989:

“After reading Jocelyn Kain’s Before The Dawn, I was so impressed by her unique talent that my expectations were high when Jumana came along. It is difficult to describe Jumana. Sometimes it is reminiscent of a long soliloquy, and at other times, the impression is that Kain has used patches of her finest poetic lines and strung them together in order to create prose, then at other times, Jumana has the flavour of a personal memoir. There are times when her personal obsessions are laid bare before our prying eyes, and Kain titillates and seduces us. There are often times when this work creeps fairly close to the boarders of sanity and insanity.  Clearly, her voice is strong and passionate. She often grabs hold and confesses. Kain’s poetry is among the finest I have read, her being a master of imagery,” poet Bernadette Dyer.

“The images in Jumana, this excellent book of story-prose, are intense and provocative. They are often disturbing, but only because some of us may find we are able to position ourselves in Kain’s experience and reality. Which is, in fact, the goal and purpose of good writing. There is little doubt that these ten segments are autobiographical and with startling insight, Kain shares the depth of her vision along a journey of self-exploration. Her words are catharsis for the lonely, the sad, the uncertain, anyone, everyone. Only one who has endured great pain, bordering perhaps on the brink of madness, and emerged triumphant, can articulate such intensity while exploring the inner paths of heart and soul, too often veiled from public view. Definitely well worth a read,” poet Melody-Ann McCarthy-Smith.

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