Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Please. Listen.

Day 4
The 12 Days of Christmas at the DI

He sits in the hall. His body hunched over the love of his life. Holding her tenderly in his arms. He strokes her long neck, his fingers light. His touch soft. He stares at her lovingly. Coaxes her to sing.

Once upon a time he had another love. A woman who carried his name. "She was the boss," he quips. "Lesson learned. Move on." He smiles. "Now, the guitar is my boss."

Now his days are spent with this new mistress. His guitar. She's melodious and deep. A part of him. Carrier of his soul. Keeper of his hopes and dreams. He forever murmurs to her. "No. That's not right." "Try this." "Yes. Yes. Much better." "There. That's it. Like this." And the notes trip over the strings. Fall from his fingertips. Leap into the air. He nods his head. His cheek pressed against the worn wood of the guitar's rounded shoulder.

He wrote of his guitar recently in a response to a poem by Langston Hughes, Dreams.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Langston Hughes

He encountered Langston's poem during a writer's workshop Margot Van Sluytman was holding in the multi-purpose room on the sixth floor of the shelter.

"I don't write," he'd told me when I encouraged him to go. "I'm a guitar man." Like John Harris, "Guitar Man", my hearing can be selective. I didn't listen to his excuses. Neither did Margo. He went to the workshop. And fell in love. With Margot. With the words of Langston Hughes. With words posed next to each other like a beautiful melody. A counterpoint to the sonorous sounds of his guitar. Invisible feelings dancing in the air.

If I may be so bold
As to say silence is gold(en)
What is its opposite?

One note or many in perfect conjunction
May not fulfill our rambunctious function.

I hear, here, a tear and a fear
And purposeful reflection.

Ambient air with plush vibrations
Instrumentally piques some inner sensations.

This longing for oneness
and some sort of sense of commitment to art and public events
makes me write my dream in transient air
not knowing the feelings I may have put there.

The guitar is my lifeblood, for right or for wrong

Please listen, please listen,
for this is my song.
John Harris. November 2009

Tucked in an alcove of the Hygiene area, sitting beside a mop and bucket, John's guitar has poured forth its soothing grace beside the hum of the washers and dryers. It fills the air of the hallway outside the Wild Rose Studio on the 6th floor of the shelter. It adds grace to art shows and countless number of events the DI holds throughout the year. And always, John guides the notes with controlled movements. He willingly shares his gift with TV crews and reporters. With visitors and donors. With school groups and church groups who come to lend a hand or simply to learn about what it means to be a part of Canada's largest homeless shelter.

He is a man of deep humour. Of deep thoughts. Of deep notes rising forth from his guitar.

His wish this year is simple. A box of guitar strings would be nice he says. "One set doesn't last me long." A good book. A gift card to Walmart where he would have the freedom to buy what he needs.


There isn't much of it at a shelter. What there is John fills with the amazing sounds that rise from his guitar and fill the air with good tidings of joy. A gift of music for all mankind.

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