People of the Mist 1

IMG0137_1.jpg

People of the Mist
Oaxaca, Mexico

Prologue

 I saw my father this evening. I walked through the zócalo, opened the main cathedral doors, looked up, and there he stood, motionless. The lights shone on the engraved glass panels and illuminated him, as if he were some long passed saint come back to visit me. We stared at each other, but I couldn’t open my mouth to speak. The hairs on my neck stood on end and my hands shook. When I forced my mouth open, words stuck in my throat. He wore his best grey suit over a light blue shirt and a dark blue, hand woven tie. This was the outfit in which I had buried him.

Three old women, dressed in black, broke the spell. One stood in front of me and wouldn’t let me approach my father. She held a large bag of knitting in her hands and the wool spilled everywhere as she pushed me away. The second threatened me with a pair of scissors that she held in her left hand. The third shook a tailor’s measuring rod in my father’s face.  He nodded, smiled sadly, and they all turned their backs on me and hurried away out of the cathedral and into the square.

 I stood there in silence. Then, as the door snapped shut, I pulled it open and ran after them. The setting sun filled the square with shadows that whispered and moved this way and that, as if a whole village had come down from the hills to walk beneath the trees and dance in the rays of the dying sun. I stood on the cathedral steps and called out my father’s name, but I could see no sign of him among the cut and thrust of the shadowy crowd.

 I ran out into that crowd and pushed at insubstantial people who stood firm one moment and then melted away the next like clouds or thick mist. I came to a side street and saw real people, flesh and blood beings, a group of villagers grouped behind their band. I stopped as the village elder put a live match to the taper of the rocket he clutched between his thumb and forefinger. The taper caught on fire and as the rocket roared upwards the village band started to play a military march. Thus encouraged, the rocket clawed its way into the sky to explode with a loud knock on the door of the gods.

 Tired of grasping at shadows and afraid of this living phalanx of men marching towards me I went back to the cathedral and knelt at the altar of La Virgen de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca. Real wax candles stood before her altar, not tiny electric bulbs, as there are in some of the smaller churches. I put five pesos in the slot and lit a fresh candle from an ageing one that had started to sputter. For the first time in years I said a prayer, first for the soul I had saved from extinction by lighting my candle from his flame, then for my mother, then for the real father whom I had never known, and finally for the man I had just seen.

 Tim closed his journal, screwed the top back on his Mont Blanc pen, laid it on the table, put his head in his hands and sat there, thinking. Then he got up, went to the kitchen, opened his last bottle of Sol de Oaxaca, poured the quarter litre that remained of the mescal into a glass. Six wrinkled worms floated down through the yellow liquid wriggling as if they were live. He pulled them out with a spoon, popped them one by one into his mouth and swallowed them whole. They tasted of smoke and garlic but he knew they would bring him visions and dreams. Then he wrinkled his nose and swallowed the mescal in three fierce, burning gulps.

He coughed, blinked the tears from his eyes and went into the bedroom where he undressed and climbed into bed. The ceiling fan droned on and on like a large propeller on a long-distance flight. Sleep did not come easily, nor did dreams, in spite of the mescal. When the dreams did come, they built like thunder clouds and he entered them with fear and a strange kind of joyous expectancy.

Comment:
This is the prologue from my first novel, People of the Mist. Following in the footsteps of my two blogger role models, Meg Sorick and Mr. Cake, I will publish People of the Mist, chapter by chapter, on this blog, as I revise it. I am a poet, rather than a novelist, as you will see. Your comments will be welcome as I start this venture in the old year (2016) and plan to continue through the new (2017).

Contract: Flash Fiction

IMG_0178 3

Contract

The door to the Principal’s office opened just as Tammy approached, hurrying because she was late for class. Tom, her Department Head, stepped out and stood in her way.

“Tammy,” his tongue swiveled around his thin lips in nervous fashion. “I’m just talking with the Principal about your new contract. Come in,” he extended his arm and shepherded her towards the open door.

“Not now,” Tammy replied.  “I’m late for class. “Can’t it wait?”

“Strike while the iron’s hot,” Tom showed teeth yellowed from tobacco. “We’ve got a great deal for you. Come in, come in.”

Tammy found herself face to face with the Principal.

“Tammy, my dear, we’re so proud of you,” the Principal flashed a row of crocodile teeth, two of them gold-capped. “I have some papers for you to sign.”

“But, I’m late for class and …”

“I know, don’t worry. This won’t take a moment,” Tom winked at her as he and the Principal led her towards a typewriter that sat on the desk with a blank page and two carbon copies inserted in it.

“Here, at the bottom of the page, just sign here,” Tom pointed.

“But it’s a blank page. I can’t sign a blank page,” Tammy stammered in response.

“You’ll see it when it’s typed and signed,” the Principal assured her. You can always change it later.”

“Can’t I come back after class?”

“I’m afraid not,” the Principal frowned. “I have an important meeting in half an hour, with the school board, and you’ll still be in class. This must be signed now if it’s to get board approval.”

“But you said … you said I’d only be here for a year …”

“We’re very pleased with you,” the Principal flashed the sunshine of his teeth. “We want to keep you here.”

“Very pleased,” said Tom. “This is a first class, independent school run, as you well know, on a non-profit basis. Only the children of the rich and privileged come here to study,” he paused. “And some of them come here because of you. That’s why I’m recommending you for this new and improved contract. I signed my first three-year contract this way, didn’t I?” he looked towards the Principal.

“You did indeed,” said the Principal. “And just look where you are now: Head of your Department.”

“A three-year contract …” Tammy blinked and ran her tongue over her lips. “I wasn’t expecting that. I thought a year … thank you … but …”

“No buts. Jobs are scarce nowadays, particularly in your field,” Tom looked at his watch. “Time’s getting on. You don’t want your students walking out of your class, do you? Here you are now: just sign here,” he handed her the pen he held in his hand.

“You’d better be quick,” the Principal said. “This offer may not be here tomorrow and … my goodness, look at the time. You are running late.”

“Sign,” Tom told her. “I signed and I never regretted it. Remember, we can always change the wording later.”

“Drop in after class,” the Principal smiled. “It will all be approved by then and you can read it and we’ll modify what you want.”

Tammy sighed and signed.

The Principal and the Department Head ushered her to the door.

“Hurry,” they exhorted. “Run. You don’t want to be late.”

Tammy ran to her class.

The two men watched her go. Then they went back into the office, shook hands, and grinned at each other.

Tammy never saw that contract. She stayed at the school for three more years, as she had promised, but in all that time she never got a pay raise and the not-for-profit school board never allowed her to join the employees’ health and pension plan.

Were you the one … Flash Fiction

IMG_0240

Were you the one …

… were you the one who awoke that morning at my side and heard with me the hammer blow fall on an echoing anvil in Oaxaca, in the central square when the rope slipped off the church bell and the priest and an altar boy, an acolyte dressed in black and white with a nut brown face, climbed into the church tower and when the priest said “now” the little boy struck the hammer against the bell’s anvil and “again” said the priest, and “again” and the cracked church bell lurched into its hourly cry of grief and morning, seven blows on the anvil, and a stray dog barked at those domestic birds whose beaks dug deep for the sun at dawn on our neighbor’s rooftop …and a cockerel cried out in the early morning, “cock-a-doodle doo, wake up you sleepy heads, wake up, do,” and the roosters found daylight buried in parched earth, and brought it skyward shining on their beaks, as thin cracks sprang out from the egg-shell sun like crazy paving as the yellow yolk of sunshine crept out from the cobbles down in the street and the Russian egg cup, doll after doll, unfolded daylight as the hammer’s silver spoon descended once more on this frail, egg shell world as our dreams shattered … and where now are those dreams of moonlight raked from a village pond as the orange spilled its life-blood to fill our crystalline goblets with its thick rich morning liquid as fierce and sweet as sunshine sacrificed on a branch and rain from a far-off cloud speckled the tree outside our window with radiance and a thousand rainbows all held in tiny diamonds that balanced and swayed at the branch’s edge then trickled and fell to form freckling pools between the cobblestones and even there the arco iris was multiplied, again and again, a thousand times … and the restaurant next door, with its semi-circular rainbow scarf and below it a painted deer on a decrepit wall, and Cuauthemoc was here, his burnt feet held to the fire that burns within us all, and that mangled man was nothing more than a string quartet of flesh and bone created from a ball of dough and baked in the oven in an earthenware dish with currants for eyes, a raisin for a belly button, lemon rind for a mouth, orange peel for hair, while the white bones stared stark naked from the burnt-out flesh at the end of his perished feet … and the man in the mirrored moon held up his hand to trap the wind as a falling leaf settled in the secret web between index finger and thumb and the cat’s cradle on his fingers bound us together like birds in a spun metal cage … the sparrow’s mighty choir chirped at the roof of the circus tent and animals ran wild all goosey, goosey gander, up and down, and nowhere can I now find my lady or her chamber, for they have gone, and with them went all hope, and hope being lost I ran in circles on the sand, my one foot dragging me inwards, and drawing me closer, ever closer to the rising tide, as night overwhelmed day, and dark soldiers invaded the shadowed beach, and where, oh where, did my little dog go, the dog I lost when he chased a seagull out into the bay and into the quicksand and he never came home and here I am alone in my loneliness wandering like a lost dog in ever-decreasing circles, round and round the central square, without you now, one step, two steps, and who will now tickle me under the chin with a buttercup, and who knows if I’ll ever eat butter again, as the tide climbs higher and the sea grass on the dunes is smooth and brown and cuts like glass with its withered, distorting mirrors of stark, staring eyes standing out in welcoming doorways with dark hands and even darker voices calling me in, again and again “are you looking for love, my love?” and yes, I am, I do seek love, I have always sought it, but I have sought it out in the open street, in the open square, in the fresh air, or indoors, where incense and candles burn, and the sun of god is nailed to his lump of wood or chained to his pillar and the Roman soldiers raise their whips to their lips and their kiss is the kiss of death, and I still search for love and my long lost dog as black eyes penetrate from the blackest paint where Satanic witches spoon salt soup between wrinkled lips, dark open holes for their mouths, and their eyes gouged pits in slatted, wooden faces, and they hover over the deaf man’s table in La Quinta del Sordo or stand shoulder to shoulder with Adam and Eve next door in Hieronymus Bosch’s bourgeois hell of furnace, flame, and factory, where the hot flesh catches fire as the feet are turned to the flame and Cuauthemoc burns, the whole world burns, and my soul catches fire as factories swarm with sparks of black imps, burning, dropping from the skies like fire-flies tumbling in a satanic dance, falling away from the heavenly meadow, lighting a way to the skies and the devil, too, is lost and bewildered, a Guy Fawkes impaled on his wooden stake at the bonfire’s tip and it’s November the Fifth, and the whole world is full of spinning star-sparks burning their Van Gogh holes through the black velvet fabric of the dark night of my still-suffering soul …

Comment:
This is a re-write of what I posted earlier today. It is the same piece but it is slightly shorter, more polished, and better focused. It also now has a clearer narrative line with less jumping between metaphors and a cleaner, clearer sequence.

Tomorrow

DSC02478.jpg

Tomorrow

Tomorrow, early, my love, you’ll fly away. Today, all tense and stressed, your foot in the stirrup, as Cervantes would say, the anxiety of the journey on your back, you walk around the Beaver Pond where red and yellow leaves abound. I know you are hoping to see, once more before you leave, the Great Blue Heron that was here last week. Some ducks remain. I can see them standing on the water, flapping their wings, inflaming the wind, keeping themselves warm, not looking as if they really want to fly.

Alas, there are no beavers now. An abandoned lodge, the grass on its roof turning brown and dry,  lofts white sticks into the sky, but the waterways are clogging and the beaver have gone. Drowned tree trunks, beaver-gnawed and languishing, grow tiny clumps of grass and weed. Sometimes, they join together and form a miniature island that will grow at last into a grassland. The deserted lodge reminds me of our home, soon to be abandoned by the life and soul that animates it and keeps it alive. It will be sad and lonely living there without you. I know I will have the cat for company, but that’s not the same. I think I’m in charge of her, but I wonder sometimes if you’re leaving her in charge of me.

A thin grey woven webbing garlands one moribund tree. I don’t like tent worms or their equivalents. Every year we face a different invasion of this worm or that and the trees stand shocked by crawling creatures that infest their branches and build their silk cities up into the sky. I hate it when those dangling inhabitants, escaping from their cocoons, swing from low branches and twine silk threads around my face. Give me any day a fresh green frond caught by the morning sun in early spring, or else bright autumn leaves so soon to fall.

I love American Goldfinches when they sing that last departing song. I love most of all the occasional visitors that wing up north on the wings of a summer storm. Do you recall the Indigo Bunting that perched in the Mountain Ash just outside our kitchen window? He had the look of a lost bird and his call was more a cry of help than a birdsong. You took such lovely photos of him as he sat there, looking this way, that way, anyway for the way he needed to go home … and those two cardinals, orange the one, bright red the other, standing beneath the feeder, so bright against the early snow.

The hunting hawks give everyone a fright. They perch on top of a power line pole then step off into space to alight, claws first, on some poor songbird trilling away, quite free from fear, his unfinished symphony of song. Claws first? I gaze again at the photo you took of the Sharp-shinned Hawk that settled on our porch that day it rained. Claws? The massive yellow talons are high grade weapons fit for any war. I pity the poor bird clasped in those claws and brought to earth or lifted high into the sky, a feast for the marauder.

It’s getting late, my love. You walk towards me out of the woods like some lost spirit returning to this earthly world from some spiritual sanctuary. The season is ending. Thanksgiving is close. It will soon be time for you to pack your bags and go. Three silent wishes for you my love: enjoy yourself; don’t forget me … and don’t stay away too long.

Comment:
This piece goes back to the Fall of 2016. Clare and I visited the Beaver Pond at Mactaquac the day before she left for Ottawa. I sat at a picnic table and watched her as she walked through the woods and around the pond. ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’: she didn’t want to leave me and I didn’t want her to go, yet we both knew how important it was for her to visit our grandchild for Thanksgiving. Time apart is good: it makes us realize how much we miss each other. For me, above all, it is a reminder of everything that gets done around the home without my ever noticing the care and love that is poured into each moment of every day. Having to provide that care and love for myself is an object lesson that makes me so thankful for the seemingly simple blessings Clare has brought to me throughout our married life …

Indigo Bunting, for Meg:

For you, Meg: photos, by Clare, of our second Indigo Bunting.

IMG_0206.jpg

He’s rather handsome. We usually get them in from the States following a strong south wind or  a summer storm.

IMG_0207.jpg

Great Blue Heron, for Tanya:

He was right over the garden: beautiful. We don’t often see them up here as we are on the far side of the hill from the river. Must have been raiding a neighbor’s goldfish pond.

 

IMG_0231.jpg

Terza Rima

img_0188
Terza Rima
 Apologia pro verbum meum
Dear followers of my WordPress Blog: sometimes
I write what I do not mean to write
and say what I do not mean to say. Rhymes
make things clearer, for I puzzle what I might
say, and plan ahead so an awkward word
doesn’t intrude. Words, birds in flight,
bright as postage stamps across the absurd
white snow of a page or a digital screen:
when I think about it, I assume about a third
of what I say, I really mean. Who has seen
the early morning wind drifting our thought cloud
across trees and lawn, shadows cast on green
leaves of grass as we think our thoughts aloud,
each thought a pea in a pod, as some we clasp
between finger and thumb while others crowd,
and the loud, uneasy word slips from our grasp
to wound or injure or otherwise to hurt and maim.
It’s not my aim to do this. My word is not an asp
or a viper or a screw to be driven. I lay no claim
to hurt and yet sometimes a word slips sideways
and does not say what I mean it to say. I aim
to please, to tease, to provoke, in so many ways
and yet I often hurt where no hurt is intended.
If I have done you wrong and my word displays
unintended ends, forgive me: let all rifts be mended.
Comment:
Terza Rima was, for a long time, the chosen verse form for letters and epistles: the epistolary form, in fact. The rhyme scheme is very flexible and easy to maintain and the syllable count is also relatively easy. As for the length of the letter, well, that is entirely up to the writer. The one that I have chosen here has seven tercets and ends in a quatrain. The quatrain is a standard “stitch up” with which to end. I have used the epistolary form on many occasions, especially when sending postcards and letters to friends. Add it to your poetic arsenal. You will not regret doing so.

Claustrophobia

IMG_0291.jpg

Claustrophobia

“I’ve got to get out of here.”
“Why?”
“I can’t breathe.”
“Where are we going?”
“Anywhere.”
“Are we going to Gran’s?”
“Why not? Yes. Pack your bag.”
“What about Dad?”
“What about him?”
“Aren’t you going to tell him where we’re going?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“Because he doesn’t care. If he cared, he’d be here.”
“Maybe he’s had an accident?”
“He didn’t have one last night, or the night before. He just doesn’t care.”
“We can’t just go …”
“We can.”

She called a cab and when it came, they turned the lights out in the house, and shut the front door behind them. Then they got into the cab. The cabbie turned to her and spoke over his shoulder.

“Merry Christmas, and where would you be going, Ma’am?”
“The station.”
“Bus or train?”
“I don’t care. They’re both the same.”

The cabbie shrugged and pulled away from the kerb. The bus station was closer and that’s where the cabbie left them. Mother and son stood there for a moment, under the station lights, looking at the coaches that squatted there, parked in regular lines. Then, mother and son, they walked into the ticket office.

“What time does the next bus leave?”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Home.”
“Where’s home?”
“Swansea.”
“The next bus for Swansea leaves in twenty minutes.”
“We’ll take it.”
“Single or return?”
“Single. Two tickets.”
“You should buy a return ticket; it’s cheaper.”
“We’re not coming back. Not this time.”
“How old’s the boy?”
“Seven.”
“He can travel half price.”
“One and a half then, singles.”

It was December 23rd, her own mother’s birthday. Mother and son sat together on the dark, empty bus. The cold seats chilled them as they waited  in silence. The boy looked out the window and coughed.

“Will Grampy be there to meet us?”
“No.”
“Doesn’t he know we’re coming?”
“No.”
“Does granny know?”
“No.”
“Mum, why are we going?”
“It’s granny’s birthday today. We’re going to give her a surprise.”

Two hours later, the bus deposited them in Swansea. The night had filled with heavy clouds and promised snow.

“Can we take a cab. mum?”
“There’s none here. We’ll have to walk.”

They walked side by side down the well-known streets. Christmas lights adorned the shops and they walked through alternate pools of light and darkness.

“Mum, I’m tired.”
“Give me your bag. We’re nearly there.”
“But mum …”
“I can carry both. Hold on to my arm.”

They kept on walking. After a while, they stopped beneath the streetlight outside the old family home and looked up into the street light’s glow. The first snow-flakes danced down.

“Can we go in now, mum? I want to see Gran and Gramps.”
“You go in. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

She watched her son climb the steps to the front door. He lifted the old brass knocker and banged it down. After a moment, the front light came on and the door opened a crack. She stood beneath the street lamp, inhaling, taking the chill air deep into her lungs. She felt the tight bands in her chest start to loosen. For the first time since this time last year, she felt free

Warning to the reader:
Raw material, still under revision, and probably needs lots of revising. I look forward to your comments. In some ways, this is my take on A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Not quite how Dylan Thomas saw it; more a sort of … well, you work it out for yourself!

Fifty Years

IMG_0146 3.jpg

24 December 1966 – 24 December 2016

This what all those poems were leading up to:
Clare and I, married for fifty years today,
unbelievable.

Share the joy with us.
Blessings to all.

Roger and Clare.

“Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day” from The Mikado

Goodrich Castle

I thought I had felt everything worth feeling
until I looked on Goodrich Castle and explored
with you its walls and towers and labyrinth
of inter-connecting corridors and rooms.

Do you recall the way its old stone bones
thrust out from that pelvis of red bedrock?
Civil War tore down its curtain walls,
fired its stables, drove horses and people mad

with fear. Sometimes at night fate mans
the pumps of my blood and sends alarums
surging through my arteries. No. I don’t want

to die before you. I don’t want to leave you
here, alone, defenseless, besieged by memories
that gnaw at you and devour your days, like flames.