‘Posthumous gathering of paths’

The Tao of Taro
by Taro Zion Joy

Victoria: FriesenPress, 2022
$16.49  /  9781039148666

Reviewed by Linda Rogers

*

Peter Pan refused to grow up, and he gathered lost boys, a band. Who knows what happened to them, their bugles, and drums? Taro Zion Joy, his name embracing the brackets that defined but never constrained his boy being, was an enigma to some, maybe a prophet, and to others a tremor that threatened the natural order.

That was his muse and his music.

His family have now gathered Taro’s vibrant writing and photos in a collection that is equally legend and treasure box, so that we might learn and enjoy a life of risk-taking with purpose.

The arrival of this posthumous gathering of paths, verged and converged in alternating zones of rapture and punishment, proves to be a revelation, reflections of the enigmatic Biblical text from which his time on Earth took inspiration.

His mother reveals her son’s name came to her in a vision and was never grounded in empirical reality (like Rusty for a redhead), the soil he came from, or the pillows where he laid his head. From the time he was a small child with his bed in a woodshed, Taro was the “other” who could not sit still in a chair.

“…Taro Joy began the memoir that ended in his death by drowning…”

Toward the end of his time on or above or beneath the world as we know it, Taro Joy began the memoir that ended in his death by drowning, a mythic conclusion to a life with a surreal script.

When he went to jail after a misadventure in apparent religious practice that transgressed the rules of civil society, and in anticipation of the struggles inside and outside the walls of his prison, he and Ed, his friend and fellow traveller, lifted garbage bags filled with water and transformed their boyish shapes into figures no man or circumstance could bring down, as if that were even possible.

This is a humorous scenario in the adventure of a performance artist, but to one mother who had packed his belongings in garbage bags and locked him out of her house to protect her own children from his influence, it is a searing reminder of how and when boys are lost. We never know and this book seeks to instruct us.

Taro’s mother explains his tutorial shenanigans. He was diagnosed as dyslexic. How often are we as teachers and parents confronted with behaviour and influences, bad apples and good, and teachers passing judgement? Then as now neurodiversity, including conditions like dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, challenges the status quo, as did the creator of this book, his story filled with magic and heartbreak.

Reading the prose and faith infused poems in his book of joy and sorrow, we experience the revelations of a lateral mind constrained by the politics of dogma. Thou shalt not wander off prescribed moves, including conventional phonics and wooden seats.

Ed, his jailmate and companion in random studies of the metaphysics of chemical and philosophical questing, another beautiful mind, went to jail with him for transporting forbidden plants. Even though they evaded the vengeance of Hell’s Angels, Ed, the philosopher, eventually smashed into a telephone pole with the police is pursuit, and Taro, the poet, transcended breath, a practice he had already challenged and survived in the troubled waters of several continents.

Taro Zion Joy. Courtesy Facebook

Outside the parameters of convention, the neurodiverse hand us definitions of ourselves; where we begin and end and how we are all formline creatures of spirit; and Taro is generous in describing his many rapture rehearsals. This one, his near drowning in the Thompson River, near Hell’s Gate where it intersects with the Fraser, is a perfect description of the near-death experience:

At first, of course, there was the fear and
regret of going before my time, but then,
as lungs began to fill, in-utero memories
of breathing liquid. The brain starts to shut
down in panic response; a beautiful peace
comes over the soul, with quick acceptance
that one’s final moments have come. The
lights I was moving toward seemed
predictable yet sanctified. Then, the sound
of a million angels clapping at my arrival
brought me back from my perfect ascent
to heaven.

The writer frames this moment and many others in the sensory equivalence of shared experience. “Angels clapping,” yes, we all struggle to describe the glorious sound of the brain shutting down.

There is a word, “genius,” that literally, syllable by syllable, describes the act of human connection, the gift that separates the one from the many, a gene that links the “I” to the “us.”

Someone who fits that description, a friend of Taro Joy, says the tragedy of his life was not the testing of boundaries that undermined his safety but the restless questing that interrupted vital connection and silenced his prophecy. He did have the gift. The writing in this book is all stunning description of the moments where phenomenal and spiritual lives intersect: the seed of an artist.

There is much to learn from this candid autobiography by a performer who rarely let the mask slip, the last time when he drowned in a calm pool, a mystery when he had survived so many perilous adventures in rivers of life.

He got it right. The sound is of capture and release, angels clapping underwater as that vital element embraces and eludes us.

The Tao of Taro is, in the end, a cautionary tale in many parts: a lesson for educators and parents who dismiss the gifts of neurodiverse individuals, lateral thinkers with breathtaking courage and capacity for creative thinking, wanderers who discover freedom requires safety parameters, and to all who need to understand that tolerance is an essential component of civility.

The name Taro Zion Joy came to his mother in a dream, it’s tao, not always a clear path, straining at the boundaries of definition as its meaning expands and contracts in the waves moving across the beautiful cover painting by artist Miles Lowry.

Taro plus T was a deck of cards explicating a journey determined by choices and chance, Zion his holy component of prophecy, the natural and pharmaceutical gathering of radiance, and Joy the golden door where his mind adjusted to the transition of body to spirit, where genius faltered then assumed the trajectory of faith, where Blake’s rebel angels wait.

“I have felt both a rebel angel storming Heaven and a warrior fighting back the rebel angels that threaten my universe,” he wrote.

A rebel angel took him from the daughter and family he loved as he tested himself one final time. Since Taro Zion Joy repeatedly described the literal meaning of peace, we can hope the angels of consanguinity are still putting their hands together as water moves through them in the eternally aimless path of wuji, tao.

From Burning Down Libraries:

A deep hole might suffice,
but I would see this library we built, burn,
so that some smoke might escape
so that some part of this
might ascend.

*

Linda Rogers

Linda Rogers, Canadian People’s poet, is currently assembling stories about Chief Tony Hunt, another questor. [Editor’s note: Linda Rogers has recently reviewed an omnibus review of poetry (by Shaun Robinson, Carellin Brooks, Jen Currin, David Ly, Zoe Landale, Gennie Gunn, Joseph Dandurand, Kristina Bresnen, Dale Tracy, and Karen Enns) as well as books by Heather Menzies, Brandi Bird, Leslie Gentile, David Bouchard & Kristy Cameron, Karen Whetung & Lindsay Delaronde, and Julie Flett for The British Columbia Review.]

*

The British Columbia Review


Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie


Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

One comment on “‘Posthumous gathering of paths’

  1. Glad to see this review of Taro Zion Joy’s book. I knew Taro from the time he was about two years old. His mother, Penny Joy, and I were close friends in London, England and Formentera, Spain in the late Sixties. Penny and Taro came to Canada via a trans continental train trip from Montreal with me in 1972. I also knew his father, Allan Zion, in Paris and Formentera. Penny sent me an copy of Taro’s Tao when it was first published; I thought it was terrific.

    So: a note to say that Zion is also Taro’s correct surname, as is Joy. — Joan Haggerty

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