First Snow

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First Snow

Lying in bed
on a snowy morning
with the first flakes
fast falling,
can you follow
the rag-tag-and-bobtail
drift of snow thoughts?

Filled with sparrow, siskin,
chickadee and finch,
the now leafless tree
stands outlined in the yard:
black skeleton,
white wind-drift.

A scarecrow
with many arms,
it braces against
these feathered weights
that settle
like colored snow.

Warning: raw poem.

I rarely let any of my writing out while it is still raw. These words will undoubtedly change, the snow will settle, the birds will fly away, a crow and a blue jay will startle the smaller species, the sun may come out, the wind may get up, and so may I. In addition, the poem, like the birds in the tree may or may not survive. The tree itself chose to surrender to a family of yellow-bellied sap-suckers and they changed into a chess board of small square holes that leaked the tree’s life blood throughout the summer. Perhaps the tree won’t survive. Well, I know it won’t survive for ever, but perhaps its life will be even shorter, curtailed by those ravenous little beaks.

Whatever: I have taken a risk by sharing early, and we will see how you, my readers and fellow bloggers, rise to the bait. Perhaps you will encourage me to place more early verse online. Perhaps not. Hopefully, you’ll click and make some comments: we’ll soon see.

Baby Angel

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Baby Angel

yesterday a baby angel
lay dead beside the road
the trees
caught their breath

the air stood still
a red fox
tore from the woods
a runaway leaf
so quick so silent
a shadow across the road
melting away to hide in the forest

I can still see the occupants of the stricken car
standing with their cell phones in their hands
punching urgent numbers

the mother deer’s dead eyes
gazed at them from inside the windshield
shock had rounded the driver’s snow white
lips into an O for Operator

Dream of Oaxaca

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Dream of Oaxaca

I can bring you a Bird of Paradise, but I cannot bring you the sounds and smells of Oaxaca. The pungent odour of the first drops of rain falling into dry dust, the tang of waxen candles burning in the cathedral’s dark, the high notes sung at the altar by the old woman, dressed in black, who sings each day, on her knees, before the golden images in Santo Domingo: these sounds and smells defy any words I can pen. Nor can I place on the page the bustle of the abastos, the bickering of rooftop goats, the barking and growling of the dogs who patrol the azoteas at head-height and snap at your ears.  Other things escape me: the salty taste of sweat, the heat and heaviness of the midday sun as its hammer falls vertical from the sky, the sandpaper touch of hand-hewn stone, cobbles hard beneath the feet, the visual impact of the revolutionary bullet holes still scarring the church where Benito Juárez got married and reminding the tourists that violence in Mexico is never far away. The silk smooth threads that run through the vendor’s carpets contrast violently with the harsh sharp tares still lodged in hand carded wool. Colors and scents: coffees and chocolates blending and blended in the open air-market, the spice stall with a hundred different kinds of peppers, the golden yellow flower of the gourd — flor de calabaza — as it floats on the surface of spiced soup or lolls luxurious upon Oaxacan cheese or tortilla and quesadilla. Such things are the substance of daily reality: I remember them well, but I cannot gift you with their taste, nor their smell, nor their sound. At night, strings of fireworks hang down the cathedral’s towers and, at the spark of a match, these castillos as they call them, burn. Cataracts of light flicker and flow as rockets claw upwards into the sky to knock on the doors of the slumbering gods. A bull’s head, attached to a wooden frame, bears fireworks that crackle and spurt fire as the bull charges at the gathered crowd. Sparks char cotton and wool, young girls shriek and flee, a striped, carved tiger emerges sparkling from the shadows and his eyes light up with another set of fires … But there is always something missing from these words. How much can I describe? How much am I forced to leave out? How close can I get to an imagined reality that is more imagined than real, more creation than memory? I live in a world that has forgotten poetry. I live in a world that has laid aside the great myths and replaced them with a media that misleads and falsifies. I live in a world in which the power and glory of words is used not to delight and educate, but to manipulate. I live in a treacherous world of lies and deceit, the world of Descartes’s evil genius, for not everything is as it seems to be and the people have been misled. But this world of ours is old, and older, darker powers than ours still dwell on this earth: a pinch of salt thrown over the shoulder, index finger and thumb pinched into a magic circle that wards off the evil eye, the traditional hunchback – el jorobado –, carved from jade, who packs our cares and troubles into his hump and carries them away … as I have been carried away, on this tide of creation that ebbs and flows, a virtual sea, a wave of autumn leaves that washes up to my door, then falls asleep, golden, brown, peaceful in the vacuum that is left by the wind’s sudden absence. So, for a while, after you have read these words, avoid all shadows, do not step on the black lines that divide sidewalk and pavement into squares, do not crush the elf’s dry bones hidden in a fallen leaf, avoid black cats, make sure the crow flies on the correct side of the road …  then find a quiet corner of the street where the leaves dance to the wind’s tune, and fall asleep to re-create your own life in dreams.

Thought Police

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Thought Police

Why are they always men,
these blue-clad figures
who wear our dreams like badges
and stare into our eyes,
bright lights behind them,
as they check our numbers
and make us count from one to ten
and up and down again.

Be warned:
you can’t walk in the street
without seeing a curtain
flicker at a window;
unseen lips repeat your words
as they wander,
stray cats and dogs,
from house to house.

Walls have watchful eyes
and lusting ears
that clutch each wayward thought
reporting it to people
who have our best interests at heart,
or so they say.

Don’t look up
but there’s someone
leaning over you,
reading these words right now.

Questions

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Questions

I hear her voice, delicate, distant and I run to the sound, jump on the table, and sit in my usual spot just beside her play thing, but she isn’t there. He’s there, damn it, talking away on that little black thing with buttons. I can see him, smell him. I hate him, his other sex perfumes, his heavy-footed shuffle, his loud voice, his walking-sticks. I run when he approaches, run and hide myself away, making myself small, fitting under furniture where he can’t get at me, trying new places, new spaces …

Downstairs in the basement is good. He has problems with the stairs – shuffle, shuffle, clump, clump – and I get plenty of warning. Not that he ever comes downstairs to the basement. There’s nothing down here for him and I can sit here and snooze and dream and wait for my darling to come back. She will come back. I know she’ll come back. I know she’ll never abandon me, like she’s abandoned him. I am faithful, I can wait.

Besides which, I am training him. It takes time, but he’s beginning to understand that he must do things my way now. I chat him up for food and whisk myself around his legs and down comes the kibble, like manna from heaven. He often spills the food, so I get extra bits, nipping in quickly while he searches for a broom or a dustpan, or that noisy sucking thing I hate so much. That’s not just him, I run when she uses it too: it hurts my ears. And my feelings: I think they’re shooing me away because they don’t want me near. Not that I want to be near him, oh no.

I stay away from the upstairs and the bedroom while he’s here alone. Sometimes we meet on the stairs when I have completed my ablutions, but I give a little shimmy and scoot and leave him star-struck and stranded. He’s just not quick enough. He’s not cruel, mind. He doesn’t kick me or hit me with his stick or anything like that. I just don’t like men. I remember that other man, the one that beat me before she came to the place with all the other cats and cages and took me home. I think all men are like that first man, if you give them the chance, and I’m not giving this one a chance, not until I’ve trained him properly. And he isn’t trained yet. I wonder how long I’ve got?

There he is, hanging on to that little black thing, and when he stops talking, I can hear her beloved voice. It’s distant and a little bit tinny, with a sort of echo, and there are other sounds in the background that I can’t quite make out, but it’s her, I’d know her anywhere, and I whimper and scratch, and he puts down a hand in my direction, but he doesn’t tempt me, and then he holds that black thing down and she calls me by my favorite names and I sit there, silent, and gaze into space, remembering her touch, her gaze, her hand upon my neck, my back … no, I won’t let him that near me, not yet.

Yesterday, he sat at her place by the table and turned the picture machine on. Then shadows appeared and her voice came out of the machine. The shadows moved and played and people chatted back and forth and I didn’t understand it, I just didn’t understand. My whiskers stiffened and I sat there and bristled. The machine was warm and I snuggled up to it, behind the flat piece, where I could listen but he couldn’t quite touch me, even though he stretched out his hand. And she called my name, again and again, but I didn’t move, I just sat there and sat there, waiting.

Then I came to the front of the machine where the shadows danced and her voice was stronger. A shadow, I couldn’t make it out, then her voice again, my whiskers stiffened, I leant forward and sniffed, but no smell, it was her voice, and the shadow shifted the way she does, but they had no smell, and scentless, I could not really sense her, I bristled and she called me, called me by my favorite names, and mewed, I mewed back.

But I couldn’t smell her, and there was no sense of touch … is this the hell all pussy cats will suffer … shadows on a screen, a haunting voice, memories shifting and dancing, no touch, no hugs, no sense of smell … and nothing solid … just shadows and absence … and a sense of chill … forever and forever?

Absence Makes the Heart: Flash Fiction

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Absence makes the heart
Flash Fiction

 Time on my hands: so precious these moments alone, with my wife gone away to visit our daughter and our grand-daughter. I didn’t want her to leave me here alone. But I thought she needed the break, the space, and I also thought the women needed time together without the troublesome presence of a man. So many ideas flow back and forth when the man isn’t present, ideas that women share and debate, female anxieties that they will not discuss in front of the male, questions of children and development, teething and first words, actions and reactions, left-handedness and right-handedness, backwards and forwards skills that they will not discuss with the same comfort if the man is there.

I miss her. The sun filters through the kitchen and the autumn leaves store up sunlight like an old precious wine before they fall. Wine: I sip slowly at this bottle filled with life and sunshine, bottled sunshine they call it in Spain, sol embotellado, and I know that although I am alone, my friends are there, at the end of the telephone line. I can call them if I need them and anyway, they call me often or drop in once or twice a day to make sure I am okay. If I walk around the block or knock on their doors I know I will be greeted with warmth, an arm around the shoulder, the offer of a meal.

Thanksgiving is near. I already have two invitations for dinner and another lady, much lonelier than I am, has offered to buy the Thanksgiving food, bring it round, and cook it for me. She will also clean up after wards and leave the house cleaner than when she arrived. Can you believe it? I get company, companionship, and no, they are not the same thing, a cooked meal, and a house clean all together. It’s like winning the lottery.

But really, I prefer this solitude, my adventures with the cat, my slow stroll, not through the autumn woods, but through the leaves of this book. I like exploring my own mind, linking myself now to the self I was when I first read these pages and yes, there have been crises, and there will always be crises, and this is not a crisis, not yet anyway.

I remember when I was in boarding school. First day back from the holidays, I would draw a railway engine, and a train track, and I would number the days until the holidays came around again. For the first few days, I would cross off each day. Then, one day, as the new routine took control of my mind, I would forget to do so and the days would all blend into each other.

The new routine: get up earlier than usual. Go down and feed the cat. Make sure the cat had water. Change the kitty litter and make sure that her litter box is clean. Hoover around the litter box and pick up all the spilled litter. Place used litter in the garbage. Put the cat garbage on one side ready for Monday morning when the garbage men come around. Finish with the cat. Wash hands carefully. Then wash them again.

Downstairs I go. I put the kettle on and debate what I shall have for breakfast. Tea or coffee? Cereal or eggs? Muffins or toast? Breakfast for one is so simple. I take the easy route. Green tea with honey, no milk, no sugar. Some yogurt. Some grapes.

I sip my tea and thumb the pages of Carl Jung’s book, The Undiscovered Self.  I love her and miss her so much, but I am glad she has gone. Her absence allows me to re-discover my own presence. I learn about myself once more. I remember who I am and what I am and how I survive when I am on my own, abandoned, set adrift to fend for myself.

I get up from the breakfast table, look around the house, and find my Teddy Bear. The cat will not come near me, so Teddy it is. I set him on the table next to me and tell him all my news. Then I tell him what is happening on the news. Together, we sit and wait for the phone to ring. If she doesn’t call soon, I’ll call her myself. But not yet, not just yet: I’m still discovering my undiscovered self.

Maritormes

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Merry Tormes

Men of La Mancha

“Carters and peasants
found me soft to the touch.

I’ve had my fill of everything,
save money, youth, power, fame …
yet pleasure brings its own reward.

I never treasured money
more than the sweet caress,
flesh on treasured flesh.

Better a trellised bed
with horsehair blankets
than that bed of sour, dry earth
where I will one day lie.

Come:
let us strike a bargain,
for when midnight strikes
there’s no one prettier than I
for that is the hour of my greatest
power.

Lead me then to where
I can get your full attention.

But keep me far from madmen
who call me outlandish names:
virgin, maiden, sweet and chaste …

 … all foreign to my every intention.”