Sonia Saikaley

Author and Poet

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The Halloween Poem

Posted on 31 October, 2016 at 6:10

I don’t know when my dream was born. Maybe it was born when I wrote a poem about Halloween. The poem was part of a high school assignment. I can’t remember the title now nor any of the words. There was something about the Monster Mash, I think. Age has erased some of my memories. But I still have that dream.


We all have dreams.


My dream is as big as my big Lebanese family. Perhaps as messy as well like homemade baklava, oozing sweetness and toothaches. My parents, Lebanese immigrants, couldn’t read or write in English. They never told me to dream big, but expressed it in actions by coming to another country and starting all over. Maybe my mother had planted my dream inside of me when we were once one.


I could have died before I arrived in this land of glacial landscapes and towering maple trees. My mom had a difficult pregnancy when she carried me. Somehow the umbilical cord became entangled around my neck. Ah, this momentary lack of oxygen could explain a few things! Seriously, my eldest sisters recounted how the doctors saved me and how my mother was fairly ill afterwards, thus, prompting my father to bring over my maternal grandmother from Lebanon to care for us. Sito wasn’t used to Canadian winters, but she bundled herself up with layer upon layer and managed to find a way to live in a place that was so different from her own home. When my grandmother left, I screamed, “Mama! Mama!” I thought she was my mother and she was leaving me. My sisters said I cried like a baby at the airport. I was only one. Still a baby after all. That memory would end up in an unpublished novel stuffed in an old box in the basement. But my dream didn’t die like I didn’t die that day in the early seventies.


I don’t know how my dream of being a writer was born. Somehow I found my way to words. I remember the picture books in my pediatrician’s waiting room. Curious George was my favourite because my sisters often called me ‘monkey’ when I was growing up (I once climbed trees too!). I admired this adventurous little monkey. Then there was the public library where I roamed. I loved the musty books describing settings that were beyond the life I had in Ottawa. As a child, I read everything from Judy Blume to Mary Shelley, even read my sister’s Jackie Collins books and learned about the birds and bees with those erotic and hot scenes. When I was a teenager, I read Alice Walker, John Steinbeck, Margaret Laurence and J.D. Salinger. I don’t know how my dream of being a writer emerged, but it did. I wrote poems for my friends and we’d have a good laugh at the rhymes I’d come up with. I wish I still had my poem about Halloween. As part of this class assignment, we also had to read the poem out loud. For me, public speaking was a horrific experience, minus scary masks and fake blood. But when it was all over, my classmates clapped and cheered as if I were a rock star. Maybe my dream was born then. Throughout high school, I wrote poems and then after university, I ventured into the world of short stories. I submitted pieces to magazines without any success. Then slowly a poem or story would get published. Time passed. I took writing courses. More time passed. Months turned to years and soon I was on the cusp of turning forty without a book contract. Where was my dream? My dream seemed impossible. There were times I wanted to give up that dream that was as big as my big Lebanese family.


Then one day I saw this literary contest and made a deal with God. “God,” I begged. “I don’t know what to do. Please give me a sign. If I win this contest, I will keep writing. But if I don’t, is it okay if I give up?” My eyes stung with tears. I crossed my face and got up from my knees. Exhausted, I fell into a deep sleep.


The next day before the sun rose, I started writing about a young Lebanese man who had a dream. In pain, in tears, in hope, I wrote. The deadline was in three weeks. Somewhere along the years my dream unravelled. It happened slowly like the fraying of a sweater. My dream was now like cheap fabric. But cheap fabric could be mended, no? I wrote and wrote until I had a novella and met the contest’s deadline. I had no time to proofread. I slipped the manuscript in an envelope and sent it off.


Time passed. Leaves turned a brilliant scarlet. Halloween was a month away. An email appeared in my inbox. It was from a publisher in Toronto. When I read it, my eyes teared. I looked up and thanked God. I had made it.


Here’s to dreams! Happy Halloween, everyone!

 

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