With grace and courage Ann Elizabeth Carson looks to the past from the perspective of a contemporary feminist. A lively evocation of her aunts and their home in Cheltenham, Ontario reveals the rich and powerful ground for her own emerging sense of herself. As Toronto in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s comes to life in a rare blend of prose and poetry, Ann Elizabeth is caught unawares as the stories collectively uncover events that shaped her social-political outlook and reveal how our untold stories are inevitably woven into the fabric of our public lives. Laundry Lines: A Memoir in Stories and Poems is about the imperative to tell our stories for our survival, the complex emotional inheritance and painful undertow in families, the slow reconciliation with the blows and beauties meted out by life that comes with age, and the deep sensual salve offered by surrender to nature.
One unique feature of this book is Ann Elizabeth’s exploration of similarities between the unique coded language used by women and the one used by those working on the Underground Railway. The positioning of laundry on a line and particular quilted patterns were used to convey, for instance, whether a man/woman or a travel route was safe. Ann uses her skill as a long-time psychotherapist and writer to elucidate the role of women’s hidden language and how we communicate a rich subterranean world of emotion and knowledge subtly to one another.
“Ann Elizabeth Carson’s new collection, Laundry Lines, stories and poems, is as crisp as linens drying in the Manitoulin sunshine. A born storyteller Ann takes us on an extraordinary jaunt into history and poetry. She paints her experiences with an exquisite memory of places in Ontario from her youth to the present. By the end we have discovered more than her world, we have learned much about ourselves and who we will become. Ann’s writing is wise, compassionate and lyrical. Always in her work there is an enviable clarity and immeasurable strength.”
—Gianna Patriarca, story-teller and poet
“This is one of Canada’s voices, silenced for too long, that lived through the Robertson Davies era; the Morley Callaghan, Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Lawrence, Ethel Wilson and Anne Wilkinson years, now come to life in memoir and poetry. A rare combination of prose and poetry that returns to the experience of how women lived and were shaped by the 20th century. We do not have an array of widely published women poets prior to the 1960s. In Ann Elizabeth Carson’s Laundry Lines: Stories and Poems, we are able to witness how her language translates from one century to another into the new millennium.”
—Sonia Di Placido, poet, playwright, artist
“Looking back at the long laundry line of her life strung with memories Ann Elizabeth Carson’s book of poems and personal essays showcases stories strung juicy deep. Set in Cheltenham, Toronto and Manitoulin Island, Laundry Lines: Stories and Poems firmly rooted in the authors’ ‘mind cellar’ and focused on the moment, is visceral and sensuous, inviting a reader to open the ‘jewelled jars for every season preserved on mind shelves.’ This is the strong insistent voice of an elder who has some answers to offer and is not afraid to ask difficult questions.”
—Donna Langevin, poet, playright
“Ann Elizabeth Carson travels into her past to understand how her soul/person was shaped. She stumbles upon the various silences in her life: secrets and lies, stories of betrayal—even among trusted sisters—stories of loss and of enduring love. She breaks free from the wordless reticence that tied her and in a rare combination of visceral, sensuous prose and poetry, hangs out family secrets and cultural taboos to dry in Laundry Lines: A Memoir in Stories and Poems.”
—Jasmine D’Costa, author, Curry Is Thicker Than Water
We Must Tell Our Stories
We are born into a story. Layered threads woven deep
trail tracks on maps unread,
we gaze in wonder at what we are supposed to know.
We sleep through symbols, reluctant, yet challenged
to make them our own, grappling with what to keep,
or give away, as we meet our birthed-in story
always behind us, never forgotten. Earth-bound,
hidden or rearing up as needed, unforeseen,
while we gaze in wonder as what we are supposed to know
beckons — a hybrid flower opening to thick-fibred centuries,
threads of always has been, and a ready cache of seed
as we gaze in wonder at what we are supposed to know
about other stories yeasting; muffled murmurings
through time invite belief, disclose how differences leak
the story that gives us birth, may push us to speak
before the light goes out. Or else rejoin the motherlode
unknown. Listen. Hear the faint, waiting hums that heed
disembodied stories strung juicy deep, ours to be born into
when we gaze in wonder at the little we have come to know.
Monday morning is coffee smells and pulley squeaks
as my mother hangs clothes on two steel lines,
wooden pegs in a pouch on the line, the next peg
in her mouth — she could even talk around it.
First pinned are sheets and towels, then pants and skirts
pulled out to dangle over the tomato plants
at the back of the yard.
Shirts and blouses next, collars down
so shoulders dry without a mark. Underwear
(never bras!) hang close to the house, almost hidden
behind the vine-covered breakfast room wall.
Socks line up just so, toes point in one direction
(The days the heels and toes face each
other is a sure sign of trouble brewing.)
Rainy day lines criss-cross the open basement beams
over a hand-cranked mangle, steamy laundry tubs
and perspiring (not sweaty) mothers.
We kids peer in the neighbour’s window
to an identical scene, rest chins on the sill at driveway level,
yellow boots and knobby knees leave dry patches
on the pavement, along with the news from our side
kids were out in all weather
as long as they were together
Sheets hang blinding white in sunny winter rows,
dry stiff as boards, crack down the middle in a perfect
fold. My sister and I snicker
at the ossified pajama legs and other unseemly juttings.
We carry them under our arms into the house
to thaw over radiators.
The smell of frost and sunshine lingers
as they droop to the floor.
Waitressing to earn my university fees
between meals, I help the laundress string
long rows of flopping sheets
behind Monhegan’s Island Inn. Out of sight
of strolling guests the ropes stretch — salt would rust metal.
Long beach towels brush the grass,
their coloured curves, white fringed borders mirror
ocean waves that glint and foam along the shore.
I beg a corner of the line for uniforms, socks and “smalls”
hard to dry in my small dorm room.
Newly wed, our below-ground city apartment
boasts no green or cellar spaces. A tangle of ropes
stretched on a wooden frame in the bathtub
behind closed doors collapses without warning
under the weight of dripping hand-wrung garments.
Celebrating our eagerly awaited intimacy and freedom,
who cares? Until the baby came. I learned to drive
an old English mini, baby buckled in beside laundry
heaped high in the back seat.
I rattle up Spadina’s red cobbles to new machines
beside my mother’s basement laundry tubs.
Wash three loads, hang out, take in, hang out,
fold and fold and fold, catch up on family news,
neighbourhood gossip. Grandma and baby play,
cook a second-helping-of-meat dinner. Good trade.
A new baby on the way. We look
for a new home where children can play
And parents claim a toy-free corner. Find a hot little
down-payment-boosted house from parental pockets.
A big garden backs onto a stream (for now),
suburban women chat across fences, laundry placed
neat on “roundabouts.”
Plastic lines in four-square metal frames,
placed carefully for the wind to find drying room,
quiver with diapers, sleepers (two sizes now),
man shirts (collars down) in every straight-edged garden.
Back to the city (I said it was more children
a third is imminent) but no libraries or book stores,
no trees or art galleries, drove me crazy.
A creaky old house on a shady curved street. A washer
and dryer. No clothes shall hang below in the basement,
no roundabouts allowed in city gardens. We work
behind shiny painted doors. I never liked the neighbourhood.
No children peered in the windows.
The relief of Haliburton summers! Ropes strung on branches
between trees, sag under bathing suits, towels speckled with pollen,
insects fly into them, snagged unawares in the dappled sun.
We travel through two lakes and up the river to town
in the big dory once a week.
Sheets, machine-dried while we shop, are piled
beside bulging bags as four small chins drip ice cream
down their shirts. Lake smells
scent the beds for a night or two.
A marriage behind me with 22 years to sort:
what to keep, what else to leave behind? Move on
to a small detached, a friendly front verandah,
with two steel lines strung garden length from porch
by John, the youngest one,
the other children on their own. I dream
new gardens, hang a weekly laundry
with plastic pegs from the pouch on the line,
talk around the one in my mouth as new neighbours
air the week’s news.
Children grown — a stacked town-house,
a stacked washer/dryer in a cupboard,
the shower rod my laundry line for “hang to dry.”
Socks droop over water heater pipes,
sweaters on a towel drape over the toilet seat,
or lie flat in the bathtub.
On a good day
clothes dangle over chairs and plastic-covered metal rods,
the old wood drying rack re-incarnated, out of sight
behind the gate and the climbing hydrangea
in my patio haven. Until
John’s spring-time death. Scoured to the marrow, stripped
root and branch, flesh folds carefully over fragile bone.
anywhere spreads everywhere endlessly ahead.
I take refuge
in the land and lakes of The Manitoulin,
stretch out on grass, rock or dock. Floating on the water
suspended between earth and sky, I watch a contrail
cleave the entrails of gunpowder clouds.
What origin propels? What path re-orients a destination?
When the light has changed colour, the horizon
disappeared and the world is unrecognizable.
I write to hear my heart, to feel my breath
salvage body and mind
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