Dark Matter

You have to wonder
why this dusty piece of gravel,
falling through a corner of the cosmos,
holds so much magic, so much
life force. Others have wondered it
first of course, why all that dark space,
all those universes, and here of all places,
suddenly sunbirds and coral reefs,
waltzes and Matisse.
Surely, if it is an accident of the chaotic matter,
a coincidence of heat and electrons,
it is the most gorgeous,
the most outrageous mistake.

But even as I write these words
a streaky seed eater, feathers ruffled
from the morning rain, eyes a shining darkness,
lands on the chair beside me, dares me
to call her hollow bones, her pulsing heart,
an accident of cosmic rubble. She turns
her head in sympathy at all my ignorance,
my pitiable conviction that space is empty.
Can’t I see the darkest matter is, in fact,
the sparrow’s eye?

This Season, the Book, and a Poem

The rainy season has arrived. After so much drought, so much dust and heat and depleted reservoirs, the rain has finally come. Most days it begins late in the afternoon. The clouds gather, the sky darkens, the birds and the leaves get restless. Phil and I, without ever discussing it, have made a commitment to brewing tea when the clouds start moving in, getting to the porch with our mugs in time to watch the first drops fall. We sit there, mostly in silence, drinking hot milky tea and watching the water stream down the banana trees, move like a blur through the valley, soak into our thirsty yard. I suppose it’s a boring way to spend the afternoon, sitting still in our own yard, not talking, not much happening. And yet, I already feel like I’m watching it from some future lifetime—maybe we’ll be back in Canada, busy with teenagers or new jobs or navigating an empty nest— and we’ll say, “Do you remember when we used to spend our afternoons drinking tea on the porch and watching the rain?” This one ritual will define so much, will define better than anything else, maybe, this sweet season.


It’s been nearly two months now since Georgette went live and public on Amazon. Thank you so much to all of you who have bought it and read it and told your friends about it. I’ve been feeling quite vulnerable about it all, and also quite astounded by the response. So many of you have said such kind things, have told me how it made you laugh embarrassingly in public places or recounted the anecdotes that you can relate to all too well. This is exactly what I hoped that small book might do— that in sharing our imperfect story with honesty, others might love their own little life a bit more, might notice the quirky or beautiful moments in their own days, or if nothing else, might laugh a bit at all my failed attempts at perfect mothering. I’m still trying to figure out what my next step is with the book, how much effort I should put into marketing or spreading the word. I thought I’d approach bloggers with it, but have found that process more daunting than I’d expected. Any advice you have— or suggestions of bloggers you think might be interested in reading and reviewing it—would be warmly welcomed.


For those of you who have been reading Being Ilia, I’ve put a few new chapters up in the last weeks, which I don’t believe show up as new posts in your inbox, but are on the site if you look for them. I’m sorry that getting those chapters out has been such a long process. I’m amazed at those of you who are still faithfully following dear Illy’s misadventures.


And lastly, my gift to you, which was a gift to me from the wise and wonderful Karith, is a poem from the poet Eaven Boland. Hopefully many of you have been reading her for years, but if, like me, you were never introduced to her work, I think you’ll agree, we’ve been missing something important.

Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet
Eavan Boland, 1944

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city—

white paper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.


As always, thanks for being here.



If I could bring myself to believe—
without fear of self-absorption—
that what the mystics and poets say is true,
that the work which finds you happiest
is your great assignment of love,
is the calling that best shifts
the cosmic balances away from suffering,
then every morning I would find my way
to the winding circle of stones
under the eucalyptus trees.
I would bring a small broom, maybe a rake,
and I would tend to that labyrinth
with a monk’s devotion, clear leaves, carry twigs.
This would be my green and growing nunnery,
the weaverbirds and firefinches my holy sisters.
I would obey my vows with fervour,
with gravity. And then—if what they say is true—
creation would fly towards hope and wholeness,
buoyed by my singing heart.
What work has ever found me happier?
What work has summoned in you this secret song?

M is writing a novel, is passionate and committed. Every free moment that opens up she runs to the computer, dives back into her world of ghosts and empresses, translates French phrases, asks for help with spelling. I watch her devotion, jealous and amazed. Following all the advice of the best writers, she puts me to shame, has become my role model.

At the Indian Ocean, I watch Phil and the girls floating in the wide blue water. Their laughter carries across the wind, the sand, as they wrestle, splash, hold slimy sea cucumbers in their hands. There is no one else in sight, only their four dark silhouettes changing shape in the sparkling light.

We play volleyball in the living room with the red balloon J got from the dentist, set our dining room chairs in a long row to be the net, tease each other about our skills.

The girls have started making perfume. They pick flowers, rosemary needles, mint leaves, crushing each combination into colourful pulp. They gather all their most beautiful containers and jewelry boxes, fill them with the murky water of their concoctions, label them with poetic names. We smell each sample, buy them with one shilling coins, dab their earthy scent on our wrists. Weeks later I find containers of old flower petals in the fridge, being preserved for another (forgotten) sale.

J wants to bake meringues, flavour them with rosewater and lemon. She moves carefully through the kitchen, but I am impatient as I wash dishes, wipe up spilled egg yolks, watch my morning slipping away. Tears slip into the dishwater, and I don’t know if they are my frustration or my guilt at being frustrated. Later we savour the meringues, perfect, pale yellow and pink.

I am driving with a friend after dark when we see an animal, a mongoose maybe, but longer and fatter than any mongoose we’ve seen, run across the road through the beams of our headlights. It has the rich black and white stripes of a zebra, moves like water low to the ground, disappears in the bushes. We are both stunned, stumble over the words to best describe the mysterious creature.

I reach to turn on the shower water and jump back when a tiny baby gecko, shorter than my thumb, drops from the tap and into the bath. I try to direct the water away from it so it can scramble to safety, but a moment later am distracted when another identical gecko jumps from the curtain above my head and narrowly misses my shoulder. I laugh at my tiny scurrying shower mates.

Quantum Zeno Effect

 in which a quantum state would decay if left alone, but does not decay because of its continuous observation.

I read about quantum mechanics
and am compelled to write poems—
the observer effect,
quantum zeno—
each more beautifully hinting
at the movements of my own heart
than any religious creed.
I find this blurred border
surprising, a newfound kinship
with a community of minds
I’ve never met.

When I pray to a spirit that I cannot see,
but that I imagine dancing
between me and the rest of the cosmos,
I ask her to hold my heart
in her continuous observation
to keep it from decay.
I bow down in my solitude,
begging for the gift of
Zeno’s merciful effect.


Georgette: Writing and Mothering in an Old French Cottage by [Penner Krymusa, Kirsten]

Georgette: Writing and Mothering in an Old French Cottage is a memoir about the summer our family lived in- you guessed it- an old French cottage. The summer was a few years ago, so those of you familiar with Nairobi these days will find some of the references baffling. (It really wasn’t that long ago that Lindt chocolate and pre-made spaghetti sauce didn’t exist on Nairobi shelves). But the bigger things- the joys and sorrows of parenting, the challenges of pretending to be a local in a foreign country, my embarrassing procrastination habits- these things are as true today as they were that bumbling, beautiful summer. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Purchase Georgette (or at least read a free sample) at amazon_logo_RGBAnd if you read it, please do let me (and the world) know what you think by leaving a review and telling your friends.

Many thanks. 


Prayer Flags

When I run out of prayers,
when the weight has become
too much–this weight of being
human, this experiment in
suffering–does God remember
all those prayers I said
when I was young, the claims
I made in youth groups,
around campfires, the reams
of holy words I wrote when
my babies were small,
or the grace whispered around
my mother’s pots of soup?

Did God gather those prayers,
like tattered squares of cloth,
in a basket by her side, ready
to pull them out now as she watches
my fragile thoughts, hears
so many nights of disappointed
silence, ready to string them
onto tender ribbon, prayer flags
to tether me still to her hands?

Truth telling

I am paralyzed by own search for meaning, by the need to draw out conclusions, maybe even (dare I say) truths from my words, my experiences, my stories. I walk over the damp cushiony dirt between the roots of trees with peeling bark, and at the same time I wonder what I could learn from trees, if there is a pattern in the growing of things, why I’m so lucky to afford this luxury in the first place, this walking and meaning-searching.

Which leads to the other paralysis, the one of my own privilege. I am so aware that everything about my life, the freedom to walk in safe green spaces, hours to sit at my computer and craft sentences, even my ruminating over the cost and responsibility of privilege, is somehow enmeshed with my rich, white, Canadian place in things. Knowing that I can tell my story only because someone else is unable to tell theirs, leaves me floundering, desperate to write, but paralyzed by the ability to do so.

All of these heady internal conversations, my analyses, guilt and defensiveness, they render me motionless even though I’ve spent decades pouring my life behind the imperative to write and tell stories. So I turn instead to the one truth that— I don’t think— can be denied. The facts of my experience. My uninterpreted life. I spend hours at this exercise, recording the details of my days, my young daughters’ words, movements, the flight of the birds above the tree line:

A sunbird lands on the ivy climbing up the stripy bark of the banana tree. Its feathers shimmer in the morning sunlight. It chirps, hops over to reach its curved beak into the open purple petals of the agapanthus. The flowers tremble with the bird’s deep drinking.

J wakes early, slides silently down the hall in white soft cotton pajamas, sniffles in the silence. She sits down beside me, wipes her nose with an old baby washcloth, reads a fairy book in the dim light before dawn.

The girls squeeze into the bath tub, scrub dirt from their foreheads and feet. P makes soup in a cupcake lining and bows as she serves it to me. Water splashes on the floor as J makes explosions with a small shampoo tube.

A brown hadada ibis struts across the lawn.It pecks at the grass with its preposterous beak, watches me with a round leery eye. I remember when M was two and stood at the back door talking to the ibises, loud, screeching. They answered her with their caws just like she assumed they would.

Today we argue. About new cars versus old, about where to sit at the dinner table, about how to argue. We each retreat to nurse our wounds, emerge cautiously from bedrooms and books, try again, argue again. I go to bed early and wait for morning.

I write these stories, the truth of my days, with relief and gratitude, but still with an underpinning of fear. Even the facts of one’s life can be judged. They may have happened but that doesn’t mean they should have happened. Maybe we are too insular, insulated, shouldn’t spend so much time safe in our four walls, doors shut, suffering ignored. We have our own pain of course, our own suffering even, but it doesn’t touch the bigger broader sufferings, the ones named war and rape and racism and abuse and famine and incarceration. Those stories are theoretical to us, at least now, sad and sorrowing stories, but abstract.

The trail of slug slime on the sidewalk, the sharp smell of the first rain, the arguments over Lego, these are the concrete experiences of our bodies, our breath. I don’t know how to hold all of it, how to tell my own stories without devaluing others. I want to search for meaning but am afraid I must relinquish that privilege to other voices who have not yet experienced that luxury.

I am a writer afraid of writing. I hold my small truths in my hand like wounded butterflies, sad and unsure what to do next, willing them to fly.

A War Story

There is a story from Vietnam
about monks
kneeling in a still room
when the soldiers arrive,
kick in the door I think,
point guns, shout.
All that violence
slashed into all that peace.
And the monks,
they don’t flinch.
They don’t open their eyes, startle,
grab each other’s arms or
look to their leader.
They keep sitting there, silent,
noticing their in breath,
their out breath.
I think of those monks every night
when I hear a loud sound in the street
and my heart races and my eyes
flash open and I’m already
planning how quickly I can get
to my babies, where we could hide
if needed.
I think of them in the morning
when I read the news,
and during the day when panic pushes
through the spaces around my lungs.
I carry them with me
through my tense and worried days,
these monks,
breathing the same air as soldiers,
their stillness a foreign language
I cannot decipher.

J and P use a turquoise skateboard as their main mode of daily transportation in the house, from the stairs to the table, from the entrance to the couch. They roll back and forth, calm, nonchalant, like mannequins on a conveyor belt. I wince when it bangs into the sliding glass doors, narrowly misses the violin, but am proud of their confidence, their poise.

Something is happening with the sunbirds. There are so many around the house, diving from plant to plant, swooping in through the doors. Phil remarks that at everyone window of the house there is a sunbird flapping its metallic blue wings, chirping loudly as though desperate to be let in. We don’t know why they want to come in so badly, what has shifted in their population or our yard to attract so many. One flies in through the open door, lands on the back of a chair, then hops to each piece of furniture, observing us. It decides its work is done and glides out through the front door. We laugh, baffled, try to remember how miraculous it is, that curved beak, those shimmering feathers.

P walks down the hallway an hour after her bedtime, holding a pink stuffed pig. She walks into the darkened guest room for a few seconds then comes to the living room and announces that she can’t find it, has been looking everywhere. I realize she is asleep, caught up in a dream search for an object she can’t quite articulate. I ask her if she wants help finding her bed. She nods and wipes her blond wispy hair from her face. I tuck her back in under her down comforter, covered in hearts, smile at this glimpse into her private dreams.

M recites Shakespeare, practices writing in cuneiform, teaches us songs in Spanish. She is discovering so many ways of speaking, comes alive with so many possibilities, ways of voicing the ideas teeming in her head. She carries a music stand outside, sings songs from old musicals to the birds.

The girls practice gymnastics in the yard on two old tattered mattresses. They blare Disney songs from speakers, choreograph elaborate routines long after the sun has set. Phil and I are called to be the audience, shine headlamps on them like spotlights.