A Cup of Yes

Tea cups (Sonia Nicholson photo)

A few years ago, a friend sent me a text inviting me to tea. But a typo changed “cup of tea” to “cup of yes”, and I’ve loved the phrase ever since.

When you tilt your gold-rimmed smile, lift the lid,
steam rises and an amber sea swirls deep
in the pot’s warm belly. I am tepid
but colour deepens the longer I steep.

There is an invitation in your eyes
I can’t decline. Pour me a cup of Yes
over roses growing wild across my
saucer. Not prim and proper but honest

as the leaves floating down. I take a sip
and burn, scalded cheeks fill with breath to blow
ripples across your surface. Puckered lips
frown, wait before dipping again below.

But your honeyed look sweetens me, stirs time,
slips my spoon in your cup and yours in mine.

eleven months

Snowy street scene, Victoria, British Columbia, 14 February 2021.

just one day is all I ask, to flit and flutter, free
from the everyday
tasks that have cluttered the past
eleven months

of masks and Have you washed your hands? and
temperature checks. You’re good to go – have fun.

everything is strange in the New Normal

and we march across the pool deck
goggles and suits in white laundry baskets
six feet apart and a splash of laughter echoes in the
cool space between fake palms,
half past nine flashes red and a disembodied voice break-
ing
up
whines Fifteen minutes left

in this holiday illusion we are slowly sinking
tricks of chutes and ladders only

one
way
down.

better to be frozen, hit with a dose of real

embrace the feeling of cracked lips, eyes water with
windchill -10. A weather warning? No, a call to slip
out, skate on flats iced-over, jump again in
pristine banks as if we were eight years old, not afraid
to fall, play, lose track of time for the right reasons
a season of
sore and
happy limbs.

just one day in the snow, to flit and flutter, free
as a million flakes
that we waited for the past
eleven months

Poetry Publishing News!

Well, this was a welcome surprise to come home to today, (especially since lately I’ve been caught up in the anxiety cycle of submitting my novel to agents and waiting for responses.) I’m excited to share that my poem “Faith” has been published in Time Of Singing, a journal of Christian poetry based in Pennsylvania. Visit their website for journal and subscription info, and to buy your own copy of Volume 47, Number 3 (Winter 2020/21)!

Time of Singing : A Journal of Christian Poetry, Volume 47, Number 3.
Table of contents.

Redux

As 2020 draws to a close, I have been thinking about the parallels between current times and the “Roaring Twenties” following WWI and the 1918 influenza pandemic. Just like then, we are living through a historical event that will be studied and written about one hundred years from now. Once all of us have received the vaccine, will we let loose like they did in the 1920s? Will it be empty and meaningless because collectively we will still be carrying so much trauma? And will future generations ignorantly look back on us with envy?

1920’s-style accessories (Sonia Nicholson photo)

The clock ticks, keeps time as we count — ten, nine —
winds down days of darkness to forget. Toss
the old year, spit out the last drops of wine
once sweet now bitter at the bottom. Lost

Generation, raise your glasses! Lipsticks
boldest rouge leave their mark overflowing.
We are drunk on sadness — eight, seven, six —
black frocks beaded fringe out of mothballs ring

in a new vintage. Cropped hair flying, we dance,
drawn to the light as dying moths — five, four,
three — to a flame. A meaningless romance
for a night, when music moves us to mourn.

Dizzying moments of pleasure and pain,
Future’s envy when — two, one — none remain.

Provenance Unknown: An Update

Altered photograph of Paris. (Original taken by Sonia Nicholson in 1995)

The year 2020 has been a Rubik’s Cube of emotion, an ever-changing combination of sadness, inspiration, confusion, anxiety, and connectedness. There have been days of merriment, days of not wanting to get out of bed, days of frustration. Sometimes the right squares aligned, and other times the colours were a contradictory jumble.

I have experienced all of these. But for me, 2020 has also been something more: the year I dedicated to writing my debut novel, Provenance Unknown. (This decision had been made long before the Covid shutdowns and quarantine.)

Today, my emotion is pride. Despite all of the uncertainty this year, I have completed the manuscript and carried out my rounds of editing; now, the novel is in the hands of my beta readers. Writing a book was a twenty-five year old goal and no matter what the rest of 2020 brings, I have accomplished that. In the New Year I will start on the path to getting published. In the meantime, however, I am taking a well-deserved break — even if it is a short one.

Those who know me know that I won’t be able to stay away from writing for long. Once I’ve had a chance to recharge, I will go back to playing with shorter works for a while. (Poetry? Articles? Songs? Plays? It’s wide open!) Whatever I end up creating, I will of course post it here.

I also have most of the plot for a second novel rattling around in my head, and eventually it will demand to be written. I’m not sure how long I can keep it at bay so it may be sooner rather than later. We’ll see. Several times lately I have said that the stories control me rather than the other way around; I’m getting better at listening to them.

And I’m grateful that I can share them with you. Thank you for your encouragement and support over the past eleven months or so. I hope that when you read Provenance Unknown, it will at least partially pay back that debt.

I wish you a healthy, happy, and safe remainder of the year, and a fresh start in 2021.

Sonia

Autumn

We blinked, and suddenly it’s fall. I wrote this poem last autumn but kept it squirrelled away until now. I’m more drawn to writing poetry these days even though my focus is my novel; it offers a welcome break between chapters.

On the cusp of autumn, Central Saanich, British Columbia.
Sonia Nicholson photo.

when i doubt

the dimming light

caught in drops

like headlights in

eyes

cast down on a wet

black street,

my head lowers

into hands.

another west coast storm.

when i fear

your frosty night

feeling stops

breath frozen to your

touch

i resist tendril

fingers,

undoing fists

like knots.

a warmth in my darkness.

when i fall

during the fight

like a clock

i stumble exposed

out

to face you under

the oak,

a gust signals

the leaves.

green amber red and go.

when they take

their final flight

positions locked

on your orders they

jump

like swimmers in synch

perform,

with promises

to return.

sky bursting with applause.

when we meet

skin glowing bright

after a walk

in a warmer season

past

i remember our

pattern,

tempestuous

and dazzling.

a foghorn siren song.

Birthday (A Poem for Rose)

This week we celebrated my daughter’s birthday. While she was opening presents, I quickly wrote this poem as a simple but heartfelt gift to her.

Birthday cake. Sonia Nicholson photo.

Birthday (A Poem for Rose)

sweet, green girl
eyes round like peaches
rolling up to heaven
when you think I can’t see
you
(in the young, fresh grass)
sprouting, all limbs
gangly and beautiful
to carry
forward
strongly, boldly
your
secret wish
burning red
dancing
unpredictable
on
pillars of fire

Sharing Paper Hearts: A Follow Up

Paper hearts on a window, July 2020 (Sonia Nicholson photo)

Back on April 11 I posted my first attempt at song lyrics, Paper Hearts”. At the time I asked any musicians who might be interested in giving the tune a go to contact me. Honestly, my expectations were low, and the lack of any kind of initial response just confirmed that this was justified thinking. But much to my surprise and delight, a number of days later I received a message from a LinkedIn contact of mine in Ontario asking if he could pass the song along. My little lyrics then travelled to his colleague, and then to that person’s daughter. Eventually she sent me an email, and that contact has led us to today.

After a Zoom call and a few emails back and forth, a couple of months later the talented Victoria Bernardo sent me the link to a draft audio recording. I was absolutely blown away by what she had so generously and wonderfully produced, (and in her spare time at that!). To hear my words put to music was both humbling and empowering to me as a writer, and I am grateful to Victoria for agreeing to collaborate. And now today, I am so, so excited to announce that the final version will premiere on YouTube on Tuesday, July 28 at 2:00 pm Pacific Time (5:00 pm in Ontario)! Be sure to turn on the video reminder to catch it as soon as it launches.

This entire experience was unexpected to say the least and has left me with goosebumps on more than one occasion. To me, the real story here — and one that I will always treasure — is how two strangers, from completely different parts of the country, came together to create something beautiful out of a very strange time. As we continue to live through the Covid-19 pandemic, I hope that this song reminds you that we really are in this together, no matter where we live or whether we know each other or not. Stay safe, everyone.

Update: the story was picked up by CTV News Vancouver Island! This has been an experience that I will definitely always remember from this crazy year that is 2020.

Riding Miss Betsy

Her steel body squeaked unnervingly as we bounced along the uneven pavement. My hands, gripping the short, ribbed handlebars, struggled unsuccessfully to keep the oversized front wheel from wobbling. The man who lives at the top of the block looked up from his weeding, amused. I had regularly watched him breeze up the hill during his two-wheeled commute and as far as I could tell he had never broken a sweat. Clearly he was one of the many experienced members of the Victoria cycling community. Clearly I was not. Someone in a more sensible state of mind might have questioned the decision to start a relationship with an old bike. Perspiration enveloped me and started to absorb into my clothing. My legs ached as I extended muscles that were long out of use. I was unsteady. Even still, I just wanted to ride.

Quarantine has made some of us do crazy things that we would never have considered in the “before times”, like cutting our own hair or making a yeast starter. For me, I was suddenly drawn to the romanticism of a vintage bicycle. In my imagination I pictured the 1920s colour advertisements showing beautiful couples on an outing and smiling side by side. The scenes were literally works of art. And since the implementation of closures and restrictions a few weeks ago, more and more families had been passing by my front window, happily taking over streets relieved of traffic. Not once before had I considered this mode of transportation; it had simply never crossed my mind. Going to work meant getting into my car or walking. But unexpectedly, pleasantly, the idea of biking became as comfortable as the Brooks saddle seat that I would soon be sliding onto.

The wheels began to turn. I started to search used sites for my dream bicycle: a mint-condition vintage cruiser popping in turquoise or red, complete with rattan basket and chrome bell. I quickly learned, however, that I was not the only one who was suddenly browsing the “cycling” category online. The best deals were snapped up right away. I was left to choose from rather expensive, fancy models, or rusted out castaways that might only be useful for parts. Determined to find something that would fit both my grand vision and my small budget, I combed through the listings every day, sending those that caught my eye to the only expert that I had direct access to: my teenager. He was a serious cyclist who for years had urged me to get my feet on the pedals. During the first two-weeks of lock-down, he had even taught his younger sister to ride without training wheels. Now it was time for him to help me. I sent him photo after photo, and, being the impatient person that I am, began to lose hope. That is, until I found her.

She was a 1972 green Raleigh cruiser with a bum back tire, and she hadn’t been ridden in probably 30 years. I was nervous. This seemed like more than I could take on given my limited, no, non-existent knowledge of the subject. Other than being vintage and a cruiser, she wasn’t quite what I had pictured. But she was pretty — she had personality, I could just tell — and the price was right. Convinced by my son to reply to the seller, I set up a viewing. The next day we made our way through the narrow back streets of Fernwood, work gloves at the ready, to get a good look. Half an hour later we hauled her away, back wheel locked by loose rubber; we had to move fast before I could change my mind. The diminutive green lady was flawed and a little worn, just wanting to be free in the world again. I could relate. I told myself that we would get along fabulously.

But first, she needed a name. I polled my friends for suggestions. Initially the theme was green, to match her colour. Olive? Too boring. Oscar? Too grouchy. Green Giant? Too big. Green Bean? Just no. Nothing fit. From there I ditched the paint cue in order to open up the possibilities, but still they seemed unsatisfactory. I wanted to get this right, but I didn’t know her well enough yet to make a decision so the best option was to wait. Much to my disappointment, she remained temporarily nameless. Besides, I was becoming antsy. All at once I was eight years old again, anxious to get over my fears and find my balance. I hadn’t ridden since I was a kid so it was like starting from scratch. So the focus shifted to getting the bicycle up and running. It was time to take her out on the road, even if I didn’t know what to call her.

The journey was not at all smooth. The old girl was grumpy — I guess we had that in common, too — so I tried sending her out for a little pampering. A new tube and some chain lubricant put her in a much better mood. Other fixes weren’t so easy; I’m fairly certain that some may never be resolved. I am still stuck riding in a middle gear because a) the vintage gear-shifting lever requires more coordination than I have at present, and b) I’m convinced she doesn’t want to make it too easy for me to get up all of the hills in our neighbourhood. And the squeaking? In the short time that we’ve had together, she has made it clear that her constant metallic music is staying on the travel playlist. But in exchange, she endures my beginner signalling and awkward manoeuvring and safely gets me to and from my destination. We’re learning to accept each other, defects and all.

And that afternoon as we flew back home, wind whipping through spokes and hair, we both travelled back in time 30 years. We didn’t notice any stares from strangers. We didn’t feel any soreness in our bodies. We moved in tandem with the rhythmic movements of the ride and for the rest of the descent forgot everything else. That was the moment that I finally knew who she was. That was when I truly met Betsy.

Paper Hearts

This is my first song, inspired by current circumstances and by the signs of hope that I’ve been seeing on my daily walks around the neighbourhood. I’m a writer and not a musician, though, so if someone would like to put my words to music, please get in touch. I would love to be able to hear the song.

Paper hearts in the window, 11 April 2020 (Sonia Nicholson photo)

A big black cloud keeps hanging over us
And we’re afraid that the storm will come
The only thing to do is hunker down
And stay away from everyone

Heroes pass outside against the wind
In the cold and risking it all
To save us from the tempest raging
To save us from ourselves

This is our time to be kind, to be calm, to be safe
Side by side as one but not face to face

We’re in this together though we’re far apart
Sharing our love through the window with paper hearts
Our light shines so much brighter when the sky is dark
One day we’ll meet again and make a fresh start
Until then we’ll fill the world with paper hearts

The forecast shows no end in sight
And it’s getting hard to be alone
But the only way to do our part
Is to change the way of life we know

This is our time to be kind, to be calm, to be safe
Side by side as one but not face to face

We’re in this together though we’re far apart
Sharing our love through the window with paper hearts
Our light shines so much brighter when the sky is dark
One day we’ll meet again and make a fresh start
Until then we’ll fill the world with paper hearts

It only takes one wanderer to stir up the rain and snow
But with our paper hearts we’ll remind them the place to be is home

We’re in this together though we’re far apart
Sharing our love through the window with paper hearts
Our light shines so much brighter when the sky is dark
One day we’ll meet again and make a fresh start
Until then we’ll fill the world with paper hearts

Let’s fill the whole world with paper hearts

Living the In-Between

It’s been a while! Since my last post, I have been busy writing poetry and submitting to various publications; working on a novel (my big project for 2020 and the main reason why you won’t see too many posts this year!); and meeting once a month with a small, supportive group of writers. Here is my latest poem, which has been submitted to the Canadian magazine Living Hyphen for consideration in their next issue on the theme of “Across Generations”. (Don’t worry, their guidelines say that it’s ok for work to be previously published as long as the writer retains all rights.) You may have noticed that the poem title is the same as my website title, but this time it has an entirely different meaning.


Blossoms in Sidney, British Columbia, February 2020 (Sonia Nicholson photo)

I live between the last and the next,
One foot in a place familiar but strange
Where roots run deep and twisted
And branches long,
One foot forward on this land
Where I was planted,
Grafted to bloom.

I am called the first generation,
A label to wear like a brass plaque.
But “first” is too lofty a term for
Low-hanging fruit,
When I hear tales of growing crops,
Of playing the accordion in their shade,
Of crossing oceans.

I want to know them, the ones that
came before. To search their faces
And find my Roman nose and
Obsessive mind.
To know their dreams, their reasons
For seeking, in hopes of finding mine.
To touch their soil.

I feel their weight in my veins,
Their fragilities and fortitudes
Carried in their leaves, the
Saudade* — longing —
Running thick through the trunk
Of our collective memory, reaching,
Always reaching,

Down.

*Saudade (noun, Portuguese): a deep personal state of longing, yearning, nostalgia for a person or thing that is absent.

The Last Stand

I recently entered the Greater Victoria Public Library Tiny Stories Contest, in which submissions must be 420 characters. Quite a challenge! Though I wasn’t selected as a finalist, I was really pleased with my tiny story.


An army advances, machines of mass destruction taking aim. Their targets face them in silence, standing tall and awaiting their fate with a quiet dignity and sadness. They do not fight but fall one by one, gentle giants cut down in battle on the land where they were rooted. Their final moments go unheard over the shouting engines. We do not wait to move in and clear the carnage; tomorrow, work begins on the new road.