War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

the christmas rounds

whiteout. from my suite in the Sylvia I can barely see street lights. no ocean visible for all the snow. this morning, I saw someone cross-country ski down the beach. later, someone snowshoed. Vancouver under winter. how strange and wonderful. better this than my birthday hurricane of two years ago. 10,000 trees downed in Stanley Park. this year, only a blackout and a blizzard. the gift of the December baby. I ate cake by woodfire and candle.

the night I returned to the west coast from the garrison, I had a message from a friend. she told me to look outside my window. that my birthday present was to be found there. I saw a freshly dug garden bed. variegated wallflowers, violas, and three new rose bushes. everything mulched and watered in and planted beautifully.

“they’re apricot coloured roses,” Lyndy told me. “they are called Compassion. I chose them because I thought they are perfect for your work with the soldiers.

I was stunned. I am asked so often about what I am trying to do with this project, and I launch into the long-winded explanations that can be heard in my radio interviews… witness, looking for the thread of history, listening to the bigger story, trying to find the humane in the place of darkness, distilling the greater…etc. etc… and here my friend had nailed it with a single word, Compassion, and had planted a bed with it. a bed that will not flower for another six months. just as my work may not flower for many, many years… (if it flowers at all… only time will tell).

and I’m here in Vancouver for the Christmas rounds… family, friends, shared food, shared drink, some laughter, a few tears… for my family mourns still and we can’t help but notice the two missing faces of our young ones lost at sea who no longer laugh and sing and chatter and feast with us…

and everyone I meet this Christmas season is interested in what I’m doing. has dozens of questions. what is a soldier? what kind of person becomes a soldier? am I afraid?

and I show a few pictures from Shilo, from Wainwright, and they laugh at my pink scarf under my frag vest and helmet as I sit in the gunner’s turret of a LAV. and they try and understand what it is I am doing… but then, what is a poet anyway and how in the hell did one end up in this family( and no one has ever quite been sure where to peg me in this family of mine)… and what on earth is she doing with the infantry?

meanwhile, outside, the snow falls and falls on the cedar coast. the gulls take shelter. my dogs learn sled dog technique. people are cheery despite the fish tail driving. and the bed outside my window at home, filled with Compassion, sleeps soundly under the insulation of snow. waits patiently for thaw. the spring to come.
for its chance to flower.

5 Comments (Closed)

Alex VanderWoude

Compassion is good, and I gather this is what you feel for these brave soldiers. But what do the soldiers feel? I suspect a mixture of anticipation, excitement, fear, and maybe resolve. Perhaps after a deployment they might feel compassion too, for the long-suffering people of Afghanistan, and anger on their behalf. Hopefully you’ll have the chance to be with them (all of them) after they get back.

I do not know anybody in the military, so I rely on you to help me understand. (But don’t worry too much, it’s not only you — I’m not trying to add to your burdens!)

Dec 23 2008 · 09:54


thank you Alex for your comments and questions. what do the soldiers think? there are as many answers to this as there are soldiers… having said that, it is a rare soldier who does not look forward to doing the job for which they have trained … and while deployment is hard on families, the soldiers seem eager to put their skills to work, whether that be clearing minefields, engineering, protecting, supplying, building, and yes, even fighting…

I suppose their greatest wish is that we enjoy the life we have here in Canada, and that ultimately, their work will make a difference… these are the things the soldiers tell me.

Dec 23 2008 · 18:05

Alex VanderWoude

In my view, their work does make a difference. Unfortunately, too many of our fellow citizens take for granted the results of their sacrifice (and the sacrifices of those who went before them). Too many seem to believe that peaceful prosperity such as we have enjoyed these last few generations is the norm; the lightest reading of history demonstrates that it is rather the rare exception. I hope that our boys (and girls) at the sharp end do not get too frustrated by the stupid things some of us believe and say. There are those of us who recognize what they give for what it is.

Anyway, I don’t mean to hijack the comment thread with my ranting. Thank you, smsteele, for doing this. I hope it does bear fruit, although considering how it goes for most artists you’ll probably have to die before your work will be properly appreciated. Sigh.

Merry Christmas.

Dec 24 2008 · 09:25


Alex, let’s hope your last statement doesn’t come too soon! in any case, artists don’t do what they do because of fame or fortune, we do it because we have no choice… ultimately, only time will tell whether or not our words, our images, our music, our dance will last… ultimately, it’s all we have… all the best and Merry Christmas to you… enjoy as we are meant to do…

Dec 24 2008 · 17:30

katherine jane

sms, first Happy Birthday!

Second, I’m grateful for what you are doing, helping to make the soldier’s life present to most of us who haven’t a clue who they are or what it is they do. You’re bringing a profound human touch to their lives and their mission. For that, your mission, many thanks.

Next year, Afghanistan! Go well the road, sms. Your apricot coloured Compassion roses will be growing …

Dec 26 2008 · 08:55

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled the christmas rounds. It was posted here on December 21, 2008.


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