In his book The Way to Rainy Mountain, N. Scott Momaday writes, “Once looked at the moon and caught sight of a strange thing. A cricket had perched upon the handrail, only a few inches away from me. My line of vision was such that the creature filled the moon like a fossil. It had gone there, I thought, to live and die, for there, of all places, was its small definition made whole and eternal. A warm wind rose up and purled like the longing within me.”
This image so enthralled me when I first read it that eventually it became an epigraph to Bindy’s Moon, my new release from Thistledown Press, which owes a great deal to my Prairie Messenger readers and editors. For the past 15 years I’ve been privileged to explore my inclinations in Kitchen Table columns, and I discovered long ago that this is just the kind of hospitality St. Peter’s Abbey has shown to the arts ever since it was founded in 1903 as the first Benedictine Abbey in Canada.
I have learned, too — in writing as in life — that outgrowing an old mythology intellectually is a first (and in hindsight relatively easy) step, but bearing its emotional freight is another matter. The “Bindy” for whom this new book is named grew up with me speaking an ethnically Mennonite and religiously fundamentalist tongue. Despite its anathemas (or because of them), this language became a strop on which our thoughts were keened, for Bindy until he died and for me still to this day.
Arthur Miller says writing is a way of synthesizing all of one’s insides. Bindy’s Moon is a sort of philosophical tussle with William Blake’s “old Nobodaddy” throughout the year of my close cousin and soul-brother’s dying. Partly, the book is a confession (that scary bipolar genre, scorned at the newsstand and extolled in St. Augustine), but also, perhaps, a kind of repentance of my former uses of language in wordy careers as a minister, counsellor and university instructor.
Among the many joys that writing holds, the greatest is when the words you start out with take their own ways and lead you beyond anything you meant to say. What may have been intended as a grumble can turn into a piece of humour (who knows how), or even into a release of long-held grudges. This is the miracle of discovering what lies beyond the purview of one’s own small propaganda. Although Bindy’s Moon was in the making before 1999 when I was invited to write for the Prairie Messenger, many of its sections began in these columns, which held their full share of such surprises.
“At night,” Rumi says, “I open the window and ask the moon to come and press its face against mine. Breathe into me . . . Close the language-door and open the love-window, the moon won’t use the door, only the window.”
This is another thanks to readers and editors who have let me “play in my corner of the sandbox,” as the Coen Brothers once said accepting an Oscar. I want to extend a warm invitation to you to a soiree for the launch of Bindy’s Moon on May 7, 8:00 p.m. at The Bassment, 202 — 4th Avenue North, Saskatoon. Details available at http://www.saskatoonjazzsociety.com/2015/01/words-music-series-lloyd-ratzlaff-book-launch-bindys-moon/
Ratzlaff is the author of three books of literary non-fiction published by Thistledown Press: The Crow Who Tampered With Time (2002), Backwater Mystic Blues (2006), and Bindy’s Moon (2015); and editor of Seeing it Through, an anthology of seniors’ writings published by READ Saskatoon. Formerly a minister, counsellor and university instructor, he now makes his living as a writer in Saskatoon.