World Book Day

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World Book Day
23 April 2017

A word about World Book Day before it is over: April 23 is the death date of William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, and the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. While the dates are the same, the days are not. Spain used the Gregorian Calendar, but England used the Julian calendar, with the result that Cervantes died on the same date as Shakespeare, but ten days before him.

The connection between these dates was made in Catalonia in 1925 and it was there that the death of Cervantes was celebrated. Don Quixote, after all, decided to travel to Barcelona, rather than Zaragoza, in the second part of Don Quixote (1615). The link to the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (author of the Comentarios reales) linked two continents and three great, very original authors.  In 1995, UNESCO declared April 23 to be World Book and Copyright Day.

The conflict between the two calendars (Julian and Gregorian) also complicates the dates mentioned in the various ships engaged in the Spanish Armada that sailed for England in 1588. Battles took place on different day and different dates, according to the not always accurate logs of the two navies.

Two complicate things further, time at sea was very difficult to judge and candles, water clocks, sandglasses, and lanterns were all very unreliable and gave great differing times for the different actions that took place during the engagements.

In 1988, for the three hundredth anniversary of the event, instead of days and hours, the ships’ actions were logged into a computer along with the retro-calculated tidal tables. What emerged was a seaman’s account of time and tide in which actions were seen in the light of the actual sea environment. As a result, very different picture of that famous series of sea battles emerged.

An Old Man

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An Old Man and His Memories

Me and my broken-record memories,
like a vinyl disc going round and round
on the turn-table, and the needle stuck
in a groove, as I repeat myself endlessly
like any old man with his stories and jokes,
told and heard so often that his old lady
knows the endings before he clears his
throat to start the tale, and the ancient
mariner who lives in his brain stops
people in supermarket and street to tell
them, again and again, about life’s doldrums
where no winds blow and the ship is stuck,
like a gramophone needle in a one-track
groove, no moving air to fill the sails,
and life’s albatross lies heavy on this old
man’s neck, and bends his back so he leans
on his canes, and points with rubber-tipped
stick at the falling snow, never as thick and
heavy as it was in his youth, when he climbed
Mount Everest and ran a four minute mile,
though that’s about the time now for his
one hundred stumbled meters, as he leans
on a grocery cart, like other old men who
grin and wink and nod “Nice cart, eh lad?”
and back in those days, every game was won,
except when the ref was biased, and look:
he still walks lop-sided from that collection
of chips off the old family block that he carries
around, like a slow snail carries his house,
always on the move, from face to fearful face.

April Ducks

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April Ducks … in Spanish … Patos de abril. Patos … because the double two of 22 look like two little ducks … and April … that’s the month we’re in … so Patos de abril … the twenty-second of April, or 22 abril … aka todaythough you wouldn’t think so from the phototaken today … just a few minutes ago …

Nice weather for ducks we say when it’s raining. But what do we say when late snow falls and we have between 4 and 6 inches of fresh snow down on the ground … on April 22nd … and it’s meant to be spring … and yesterday everything was green … and this is meant to be a color photograph … would you believe it? … and yesterday that Mountain Ash was full of birds … a downy woodpecker, creepers, purple finches, American Goldfinches, chickadees … robins were patrolling up and down the garden and juncos gathered with the early morning mourning doves beneath the feeders to pick up fallen seeds …

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Patos de abril … and winter has returned … we know the snow can’t last too long … we hope the sun will emerge and take it all away … I was late changing my snow tires this year … was that an omen? … I go in on Monday and get them done … we haven’t changed the garage around yet … the snow-blower sits by the garage door … a lion in winter in waiting and ready to roar … soon we will banish him to the back of the garage and bring out the mowers … soon … but not just yet … and certainly not today …

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Patos de abril … our indoor geraniums have survived the winter and defy the snow … they are sure the sun will return and the snow will emigrate somewhere … we don’t care where … if only we could build a wall … a great, big, expensive wall to keep winter away … an enormous, gigantic wall … a beautiful wall that unwanted snow storms wouldn’t cross … a wonderful wall … for which, of course, someone else will pay …

Scarecrow

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Scarecrow

Flash Fiction
Friday, 21 April 2017

            Sometimes at night I hear nocturnal animals walking across the lawn outside my bedroom window. Intruders in the garden, they rattle the feeders, walk dark through the woods, and sometimes howl at the coyote moon. My heart pumps sudden blood, rapid, through my veins and toes and fingers twitch as I toss around, restless, in my bed.

            Below me, in the hall, the grandfather clock ticks the night away. I stitch myself up in my dreams, count the black sheep in the family, and iron old ghosts upon the ironing board until they are as flat as the white shirts we wore in boarding school on Sundays.

            If I close my eyes, they rise up before me, those Sunday shirts, flapping their arms, and mouthing their apologies for the sorry life they made me lead. No, I didn’t need to spend those days praying on my knees before the stations of the cross. Nor did I need to ask forgiveness for all the transgressions pulled from me, like teeth, in the weekly confessional.

            Marooned in a catholic cul-de-sac, I went around and around in rigid circles like an academic puppet trapped in the squared circle of an endless syllogism. Who locked me into this labyrinth of shifting rooms where sticky cobwebs bind windows, doors, and lips? Why does the razor blade whisper a love song to the scars crisscrossing my treacherous wrist? Who sealed my lips and swore me to secrecy?  And why?

            A tramp with a three-legged dog, I sleep beneath a pier at midnight and watch the waves rolling up the summer beach to catch me out. Sometimes I steal a deckchair, place it at the edge of the sea and bid the tide to cease its climb. The moon winks a knowing eye and the waves continue to rise. Toes and ankles grow wet with wonderment and I shiver at the thought of that rising tide that will sweep me away to what unknown end?

            Last night I wrapped myself in a coward’s coat of many-colored dreams. My senses deceived me and I fell asleep in a sticky web spider-spun by that self-same moon that hid among the clouds and showed her face from time to time. My fragile fingers failed to unravel all those knots and lashings and I was a child again walking the balance beam that led from doubt to knowledge.

            A thin line divides the shark from the whale and who knows what swims beneath the keel when the night is dark and the coracle slides sightless across the sea? I gathered the loose ends of my life, wove them into a subtle thread, and made myself a life-line that would bind my bones and lash my soul to my body’s fragile craft.

            What could I possibly have dreamed as I paraded the promenade a stone’s throw from the barracuda? I crossed my fingers and the beggar at the gate rolled up his sleeves and bore witness to my penitential wounds.

            “How many times,” he asked, “can you pay those thirty silver pence? Don’t they lie heavy on your eyes and heavier on your heart?”

            “Indeed they do,” I answered. “Yet the debt must be paid, but I don’t know how, and where, and when, and to whom?”

            Carnivorous was the carnival he promised and he turned my small world upside down. With coals for eyes and a carrot nose, a scarecrow descended and devoured my town in a clash of flashing teeth. Beneath the waves, the conga stamped its sudden feet of flame. A sea parrot scraped its red and yellow beak against a rainbow of crusty, feathered rage. I awoke to the dog’s sudden tongue in my mouth: an invasion of salt, saliva, and wet, crumbling biscuit.

            That night I opened a bottle of Scotch and drained it dry. I took no prisoners. Around me, the dead and dying licked their wounds as they sank lifeless to the bottom of the glass.

            “Hickory-dickory-dock,” said the mouse as he ran up the grand-father clock. But that particular clock stopped long ago, at midnight, when the Queen of Hearts tied a dead rat to the pendulum, the house slipped sideways, and my heart was filled with woe.

            This morning, fresh snow. The garden basks white beneath pale sunshine. The back porch bears no footprints. The raccoon has abandoned me and chipmunk and squirrel have turned their backs. Today, the scarecrow will scare those nightmare crows away and not a memory will survive to haunt my waking dreams.

Chaos

Chaos

Chaos

Chaos theory:
it states that we don’t know
what we’re doing and
it wouldn’t really matter
anyway, even if we did,
because life lacks meaning,
chance rules, and Lady Luck
with her lusty locks attached
to her forehead and she,
all bald and hairless
from behind, must be caught
as she arrives, because later
is much too late, and when past,
she’s gone for good and
our good luck’s gone with her,
and we’re left for ever,
sitting there, head in hands,
bemoaning all that milk spilled
before we ever had a chance
to actually taste it.

 

Naming Names

Another good article from Meg Sorick. NB Don’t forget the local telephone directory …

Meg Sorick, Writer

How do you choose a name for a character?  Some of my characters’ names came from deceased relatives, old family friends, and a particularly useful website:  behindthename.com.  Since names fall in and out of popularity throughout the years, one way to name your character realistically is to see what names were popular for the year in which they were born. That’s what this website can tell you –the most common names given to the children of that age.

For choosing surnames, I carefully watched film and TV show credits, paid attention to the last names of athletes, people in the news and even place names. Detective Jack Staley, for example, arose from – Jack: a consistently strong male name (think Jack Kennedy, Jack Ryan, Jack Reacher, Jack Bauer) and Staley which I borrowed from former Philadelphia Eagles’ running back Duce Staley. (Also giving it a Philly connection). Maya Kaminsky is…

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Spring

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Spring

Winter whiteness slowing now,
and the tide that full bore crashed
white waves against our house
receding to garden’s foot where
warm roots wait their waking.

But winter still stalks the land
and April brings snow, more snow,
as if there will never be an end
to these waves of whiteness,
thinner, trimmer, true, but
unwelcome as spring days grow
longer and sunrise beckons
ever more early with crow
and Blue Jay breaking the morning’s peace
into raucous pieces
as they bounce from branch to branch …

.. and brown the earth, and barren,
and bare, the robins finding no food
and flying on, while the passerines
just call and pass us by, finches at the feeder,
purple and gold, yet singing no songs,
and the robins, hop-along casualties
of this long delayed spring that promises,
but never comes …