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Surviving with Grace

Writings, Essays and Poetry from the

Carnegie Centre Writers Workshop

inspired by

Mairuth Sarsfield

Author of ‘No Crystal Stair’

Copyright: The Authors, June 2003
Published by: The Carnegie Learning Centre and
The Carnegie Public Library
401 Main Street,
Vancouver, BC Canada V6A 2T7

ISBN: 0-9733467-0-1

I Don't Care

by Leonard F. Blomskog

In here I don't have to care
I don't actually care anywhere
No one else cares why should they?
I don't care if they care anyway.
They say God cares as if I care
Your Mom cares from when and where
Is there a chance of a care from
Anywhere I say be fair
I'd be there.
Just out there is where
Where aware of nothing close.
The bottom perceives that I care
It comes close, finally comes near.
I'm held from lack of care
Stopped at the end of it all
There is a God of care, here
At the bottom
I know why a caged
bird cares.
This is the size of all the care
There is so much from here to there
I don't care is everywhere.
At last I really don't care.

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finidontcare.MP3 finidontcare.MP3

          by Gena Thompson

There are all kinds of cages.

One, we are each born into
And sometimes love it like a mother.
Later, we accept like a cigarette
A cage we build ourselves
Around our changing bodies
In ignorance of the fact that
It will constrict our lungs, make us cough,
Steal our voices and make us smell
Like cold burned logs.

Another cage is built outside these cages.
It comes from apprehensions
Born of wrong turns and bad decisions,
Frightful experiences and things we don't talk about
That terrorize us and we don't know why,
No more than we know to resist.

Is a person so different from a bird?
No wild thing will fly into a cage
And consent to live its like inside,
Waiting to be chosen. Wild things know
And are not tricked into taking the wrong path
Toward silence, danger and poor lovers.

The caged bird sings to spread its soul
And fly up and out into the airy gust
Searching above the hills for a current that leads
To a place where it knows it is free.

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Why the caged bird sings

by Luka

I am a small child singing

  • to break the monotony of vacuuming the house when everyone else my size is allowed to play
  • to dispel the clouds of anger, rage and impatience with injustice
  • to comfort myself.

    I am a young woman singing

  • to destroy the bars of authority posing as barriers
  • to obliterate the bigotry imposed and enforced by Catholic dogma
  • with my soul to reach God

    I am an adult singing

  • to expose fatal childhood and the cruel web of conditioning
  • to celebrate selfhood and seeing
  • to release joy
  • to detoxify my spirit
  • to massage my senses
  • to heal my soul
  • to communicate with all of life
  • to protect myself

      Singing to be free.

      Trapped within that embryonic envelope, joy floats, suspended, conceived in love. The muffled song of life tempts, beckons, and finally prods the soul to break through that dark silence and join the chorus.

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      by Theresa D Gray














                                                 . ELSE


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      I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

      by Lora Masotti

      I know why the caged bird sings
      I know why the caged bird sings.
      I know why the bird sits alone in the dark
      I know why the bird hops behind the bars
      Prevented from flying free
      Into the big big blue sky sings.
      I know why its tiny heart thumps wildly.
      Its heart beating so fast ready to bust
      Out of its chest.
      I hear the heartbeat racing erratic.
      Its heartbeat beat, my heartbeat the cosmic
      It hears its brothers sisters, kin in the wind.
      Nature pulses through its veins
      It swallows despair it cries out its pain
      It’s the universal moan the ohm of the universe
      It’s the song of slaves in shackles in the ships
      That stole them from Africa.
      It’s the sob of forgotten inmates in the prisons.
      It’s the sign from the invisible in psychiatric
      It’s the plea of the lonely in old age homes
      I’ve muffled my fear that cooed out my
      My song the bird’s song and our song it’s
      our lullaby.
      Soothe soothe our sorrow
      We croon
      I curse my learning disability, my lapse of memory.
      My terror of daily memory loss, the futility
      of remembering.
      Alzheimer’s relation hunting me down.
      I feel imprisoned by memory, always
      On the treadwell of repetition, review, relearning
      I feel betrayed by memory, my private jailer
      It robs me of intelligence, security, clarity.
      It makes me feel broken, unworthy of love.
      It makes me feel alone, no one understands.

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      The Song is the Message

      by Paul Wright

      The caged bird sings in order to survive. This survival instinct is the most basic and strongest instinct we have. It is sometimes manifested as species or group survival but usually as personal strength.

      The song takes many forms, writing and singing being the most common for the last few centuries. Prior to these times oral traditions, picto-graphs, painting and carving were used and are still in use today on a more limited scale. If there is a way to communicate a message the bird has probably used it to sing its song.

      The song is the message. Listen to the joy and hope I have. I was here, I never gave up hope, I never stopped singing. Part of the message is hope in the individual that partial immortality will come through the song continuing life after the body has died. At times the song is concerned with species or group survival. The message warns of danger or death to the group. The songs price being paid by the individual. Enslaved peoples use the song to keep group identity alive, knowing that bars and chains do not last forever.

      Solzhenitsyn uses the song to transport the listener. He is able to leave his cage, the listener taking his place, feeling as well as hearing the song. Anne Frank's song about life as an oppressed and hunted people was never heard until years after her death. Since that time millions of people have listened to her song. Nelson Mandela's song has so much joy, hope and light that his bars and chains have vanished. Now he sings of the joy, hope and light of the rebirth of his people. His song grows in strength, as do his people.

      The bird sings in order to share the joy, hope and light that exists in all of us. The song allows the listener to bask in the radiant light of the singer, if only for a moment. Now and then the song has so much joy, hope and light that bars and chains really do disappear.

      The song's message is: never give up hope, never stop singing.

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      I know why caged bird sings

      by ahjahla

      It likes to hear its own sound
      It gives meaning to its existence
      To understand that its nature is to sing,
      To vibrate a wave of signals that shine
      It's asking for its release

      It sings for all other birds to hear
      Come to my rescue and alleviate my fear
      I know that the bird's color is quite bright
      Its pitch squeaks clean in the air with delight

      Its wings flutter with energy while moving
      Loosely some feather floats away freely
      Because an answer will give meaning
      This little bird keeps on singing and singing…

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      by Aiden Sutton


      I know why the caged bird sings. He is unhappy with the way things are. It is a cry of hope for a better life. It is as if the bird is human and has human qualities like distress and unfulfilled desires. He is trying to find a way to experience the greater part of these experiences. So the bird prays for divine intervention to guide him in his path.


      Cage bird, cage bird sing for me
      then be happy and be free,

      Cage bird, cage bird cry for me
      take your solace and be with me.

      Cage bird, cage bird feel for me
      be aware and then set me free.

      Cage bird, cage bird pray for me
      then take your time and fly with me.

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      She Sings

      by Danielle Smyth

      There was once a little brown bird who was born in an ugly old cage. Its bars were dirty and tarnished, its seed and water hardly ever replenished. The little bird was always cold, hungry and lonely, but most of all, she was extremely sad. Because she never knew anything different, the little bird accepted that this was what her life was destined to be. Lullabies were her favorite songs and because she liked to sing, she sang them often. They brought much needed and welcome solace, and kept her from abandoning herself to utter despair.

      As the little bird grew, her dreams and thoughts grew also, and the cage became almost too cramped for her to move. She became insatiably curious and began to question everything. Most importantly, she wanted to know why the hell she had wings if she was born in a cage with nowhere to fly?

      She pondered this mystery as she stared at the bars of her cage, growing angrier and more frustrated with each passing day that brought no justifiable answer. And then one day, a new song came to her. From deep within her soul a battle chant rose, laden with conviction and clear in its message;

      "Old cage your bars are old and weak,
      You cannot hold me, my dreams I seek.
      I’ve learnt your secret, now I know,
      I will not stay, so let me go!"

      With the passion of her song to empower her, she struck at the closest bar with her lovely wing, and sang even louder as she triumphantly watched it crumble to dust on the floor of the cage.

      She was free……Hallelujah, she was free!

      And now, there is this beautiful, vibrant brown bird; not yet old, but no longer little. She still lives in the cage, although its bars are now golden and it’s no longer old and ugly. Instead, it is warm and inviting, furnished with all manner of eclectic treasures that are wonderful reflections of her character and life. The doorway is especially ornate, in memory of her epiphany and as a reminder that she is no longer imprisoned, but may come and go at her whim. This is her home, her personal place of refuge. The bars are there to protect, not confine.

      She has made it a magical place, this cage. For now it grows with her as she, herself, continues to grow; in knowledge, in experience and in strength. She need never feel unnecessarily bound or restricted again unless she so chooses and that is unlikely, for the joy of freedom is far too precious to surrender willingly.

      Inside and outside her cage, she sings. Everywhere she sings loud, clear and fearlessly. Her songs are full of gratitude; for all that she has, for all that see is, for all that she hopes to become. And when she encounters other birds who do not understand her songs, mistaking her happiness for naiveté or ignorance? She offers the gift of a smile, spreads her lovely brown wings and continues to sing.

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      Why the Caged Bird Sings

      by Leith Harris

      Clang, Crash, Bang…The relentless din of the chugging trains blends with the sirens, construction machines, car alarms, traffic, and disgruntled shouts of the cacophonous urban core. To the north, mountains loom majestically from across Burrard Inlet. The ocean laps rhythmically onto Crab Beach. But south of the tracks the gentle waves cannot be heard. The noise and debris of the city fills the air. Garbage is strewn and kicked about the asphalt. After 2:00 in the morning the bar hoppers have stopped blaring their music and slamming their doors. A silence so profound by contrast descends upon the Downtown Eastside broken only by the occasional train or siren. Just before the sun rises, pigeons, crows and seagulls begin to circle, chirping, calling, singing their freedom.

      But in those darkest hours just before dawn, caged birds sing. Ranters rant. Would be preachers preach (often on Sunday mornings). Usually old men speaking various languages, they curse the government, their landlords, ex-wives or life in general. The occasional bag lady squeals pearls of wisdom. The venomous diatribes are often funny before the repetition becomes irritating.

      One of those early mornings a young woman sat sobbing on the debris strewn sidewalk. From a place so deep, a plaintiff cry pierced through the sobs…

      "They took my baby away." Again and again, each time more painfully she repeated "They took my baby away." Her voice shivered, resonated, trembled and shook as though everything inside her was fighting to get out. The pigeons, crows, seagulls, a few hawks and then an eagle swooped and circled above her wailing with her.

      I know why the caged bird sings
      She dreams of freedom yet to come
      She sees the joy and wants some
      She sings as she fluffs her wings

      I know why the caged bird sings
      She's been robbed, she's losing hope
      How is she going to cope?
      She sings to the bars she clings
      I know why the caged bird sings
      She's trapped and she's poor.
      She can't soar anymore.
      She sings of the pain this brings
      I know why the caged bird sings
      Fear has dug a hole in her soul.
      She feels so old and so cold.
      She sings of the horror of things.

      I know why the caged bird sings.
      They took my baby away
      They took my baby away
      She sings and sobs, sobs and sings

      The free flapping wings and squawking calls of the birds blended with her cries into a song.

      She stopped weeping and looked up at the birds circling so close. The sun was rising. A bird dropping splashed warmly on her forehead. She smiled through her tears and remembered her granny saying that a bird shitting on you was good luck. The knot in her body unwound. The trembling calmed. Wiping her forehead, she rose to her feet. Clutching her tiny abdomen she called out, in a strong steady voice, to the birds… "They won’t get this one".

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      I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

      by Irene Schmidt

      There is a reason for everything that happens in life. This morning I just missed a bus and enjoyed the space for myself when a beautiful lone eagle kept circling above me. After such a hectic week I felt as if someone was watching over me.

      It is a miracle that the caged bird sings, despite the fact he has a terrible existence. How can this exploited creature keep on singing when he continually beats his wing on the cruel bars and pain throbs in the old scars?

      Imagine how the bird feels when he is caged up and sees nature in all of its splendor on the outside. The bright sun shines, the soft wind stirring and the river flowing would make him feel more confined.

      There are many kinds of prisons such as poverty, homelessness, human rights violations, family violence, bullying, racial discrimination and anger.

      In Vancouver and other communities across British Columbia there is a prison of poverty. One does not need bars to be in jail. The hot school lunches the mothers fought so hard to obtain are in jeopardy.

      Last Tuesday evening Marlene Trick took a group of us to the Museum of Anthropology. We left Carnegie at 6:00 pm on our latest adventure. When we entered the museum, we went to see the pottery from around the world. Next we toured the aboriginal displays. I was by the Museum weaving and Bill Reid’s carvings. The Museum of Anthropology has a very special meaning for me because one of my graduation ceremonies took place there. The Humanities 102 course was a wonderful experience, Debra Charlie made me feel overwhelmed with joy when she presented me with a beautiful eagle feather in a radiant red cover.

      While we were visiting the museum I saw one of the activists involved in the Child Poverty Action Committee. We had many battles under the Social Credit government, but at least they backed down when we went to Victoria to protest the intended fifty-dollar welfare cut for single mothers.

      Our M.L.A.’S introduced the mothers who were in their constituencies. Emery Barnes (one of our role models) introduced Wayne and I. The Socred M.L.A.’S grunted like pigs when the single mothers were introduced and showed a great deal of disrespect. My son Wayne was only twelve years old at the time and he later asked, "Why can’t we talk back?" Wayne was use to being able to speak at the Carnegie Town Hall meetings.

      Heidi said that she became involved with the Child Poverty Action Committee because she just recently arrived from Sweden and every child there received a hot lunch. Yet in Vancouver, many inner city children were going to school hungry. The Vancouver School Board representatives were extremely rude to us, however we managed to be persistent and won out in the end. We realized the children needed a good breakfast as well and volunteered to do so in our own communities. I took part in this particular program at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House.

      The Liberal government has cut the Social Assistance rates and funds are cut for inner city schools. This means hungry children who are unable to study. It is extremely cruel to do this to the future generation.

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      Why the caged bird sings

      by William Mucikowsky

      [A day is a massive testimony to the creation of the universe. The caged bird rejoices as the beauties of the universe which were created by God unfold before him. He also laments because his bondage prevents his full enjoyment of God’s universe.]

      The caged bird sings for joy as the rays of the sun pierce the black of the night.

      He also laments that he cannot feel the sun’s rays upon plumage.

      The caged bird sings as the puddles of rainwater are soaked up by the grass, trees, bushes and flowers.

      He also laments, because he wishes to splatter the waters with his feet and wings.

      The caged bird sings for joy in harmony with the gentle rustling of the branches in the morning breeze.

      He also laments because he wishes to clutch onto and sway with the trees in motion.

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