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Photo: Derek Mellon/Apt613 Flickr pool.

Creative Sunday: Coming and Going by Zarah Maria Willow

By Apartment613 on February 21, 2021

I decide not to let another Spring day come and go as I watch—through my bedroom window—the sun set itself on fire and gently put itself out. The city begins to stir as the cold lets go of its hold on us. We emerge enlivened under clear blue skies while the river thaws and floods in again. People shed their armour and come out to play in the parks and sit greedily under the sun. I am jealous of those people always moving about. I wonder, do they feel this thing? I think about who I might tell—confirming I am alone—feeling this thing, like heat rising at the center of my chest again, I ignore it.

Getting up feels like the force of water rushing over stone, softly carving its path. I am going for a bike ride. I wonder, will I get anywhere? I grab a bag and place a blanket, a black pen and my journal inside. The journal is blue like the sea with silver filigree threaded on top. There is a simple red ribbon that falls from the seam and two silver clasps on the side to keep all of my secrets safely together. This journal was a birthday gift, back when Spring began. I haven’t been able to bring myself to write in it. I wonder if I’m afraid I will write too much?

This neighbourhood is beautiful. Vanier held such a bad reputation when I was born here, as the river thawed in March of ‘97. At the time, my family had lived in subsidized housing on Prince Albert Street. Is that where I learned what undesirable feels like? We left when I was just a baby. I wonder how many of my memories of that time come from old picture books we so often forget about?

I moved back here to be closer to the University. I take the Adàwe Bridge over the river and into Sandy Hill most days. I am struck by the sound of the water, the patterns made by the coursing of the current, the way this park feels so familiar. I’ve lived in Ottawa my entire life, but I fell in love with the city standing over this flowing body of water.

My bike is a vintage red Norco I named Ruby and ride obnoxiously around the city. Pink headphones on, singing out loud, hands-free as my afro dances in the wind. I know better, but recklessness is one of the only things I can feel right now.

Pink headphones on, singing out loud, hands-free as my afro dances in the wind. I know better, but recklessness is one of the only things I can feel right now.

I make my way to Major’s Hill Park and find a secluded space in the grass to lay my blanket under the sun. The park is full of those people, always moving about. They are gathered under the shade of the trees. They are walking their dogs and taking pictures of the flowers. They are playing with frisbees. I am watching all of these people. I know no one is looking, yet I feel exposed.

Sat with my legs out in front of me, I stretch out the tension in my back. I am always twisting and turning and contorting myself in all different directions. The pain never leaves, it just travels somewhere else. Is that what it is to be a Black woman, I wonder; always carrying so much of what goes unsaid? Choking on shallow breaths and cravings for something deeper.

We so often forget that feelings are things collected and passed down. How might we, me and all of these other people, begin to move through our collective pain? We try to contain everything, but never understand the things we hold onto so tightly. Clinging always feels like you’re on the verge of falling.

I take the journal and the pen from my bag. I open the clasps and slide the ribbon softly between my fingers. I write.

Thursday May 24, 2018

Lay in the park
The sun ablaze
Behind the Parliament
I am thinking, again,
That I do not know who I am.

a void of self,
which is one of the very many reasons why

I am depressed.
And it seems like such a simple problem to have,
Compared to all the problems one could have
It is as if, yes

I am alive, and yet

I am dying.

Placing the ribbon back gently, I close the journal tightly. I spread myself, my back to the ground, out across the blanket. I think about what it might feel like to be at peace in one’s mind.

The sunlight is so hot, darkening my brown skin; I am at home under the grace of the sun. How are we, all of these people and myself, meant to feel? I am overwhelmed by the thought, as the warmth fills every inch of my being. I am full of light. I think this must be what elation feels like. I fall asleep to the sound of life buzzing around me and the birds singing sweetly.

* * *

I am awoken by the ringing bells of the basilica. Shade has crept up on me as the sun begins to rest. Another day has come and gone. The people have come and gone. Some are standing staring out over the water, others walking along the paths. How many times have I been here before and then left? I pack my things away and grab Ruby. I believe I will return here, under the sun, again. I count 21 yellow tulips dancing together as I ride east, the moon peeking through the clouds.

Zarah Maria Willow is an Ottawa-born multidisciplinary artist: poet, writer and storyteller. Visit her Instagram @zarahxbarberpoet to experience more of her work.