Rain

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Rain

Parched, the dry brown grass,
taut the earth, tighter than a drum.
Footsteps echo a rhythmic, hollow sound:
marimba music with death tones.
No joy in the barefoot beat of heel and toe.

For months now, no rain has fallen.
The fire crackle is feared in the forest.
Elsewhere, trees catch and the woodlots blaze.
What good are showers, dry thunder clouds,
building, always building, but never releasing
the surging tide that this commonwealth needs?

We yearn for a thick blanket of cloud to gift us
with the long, slow soak of an English spring.
The grass speaks out with its many tongues,
each as sharp as a blade, and calls for rain,
for liquid to pour down from the sky and end
the dryness of drought. We need to fill the wells,
to let the streams overflow with the bounty of water.
We need the green, green grass: not this baked,
bare, arid crunch and crumble of taut brown earth.

Dreams

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Dreams

Sometimes, when we dream
there is neither time nor space:
all things are ever before us.

That child’s swing in the orchard
suspended from the apple tree,
primroses and bluebells
at the garden’s edge, delicate
their dance in morning’s light.

That old woman in the kitchen,
humming her morning hymn
as she bakes the breakfast bread.
That old man in the evening,
scything weed and dry grass.

Time’s fragility dwells ever
in our bones, not our minds.
Though dreams fade fast
with morning’s light, our day-
dreams will rule the day,
and we can still dream
those other dreams, at night.

Bird Flu

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Bird Flu

Silent the mountain ash
burdened beneath berries
burnished from yellow
to orange but where are
the birds who bounce
and chirrup and chirp
silent now their domain
the bird flu gripping
at fountain and feeder
and stilled their voices
gone their brightness
banished from this garden
that suffers now in silence
butterflies adorn the cones
and bees bumble in bees’ balm
but where oh where have
our beloved birds gone
chickadee and phoebe
sparrow and goldfinch
robin blue jay and nuthatch
gone gone gone all gone
and only the family of crows
young and old croak on and on

Return to KIRA: Thursday Thoughts

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Return to KIRA
Thursday Thoughts
27 July 2017

“You cannot step in the same river twice,” according to Heraclitus. And he was perfectly correct. Yesterday I returned to KIRA. But it wasn’t the same. How could it have been?

Geoff, Hanna, and Cherry met me at the door. Geoff shook my hand, Hanna gave me a big hug, and Cherry pushed her wet nose into my crotch. Some things don’t change and one of them is a favorite doggy’s greeting. Mary sat at her desk just inside the door and she got a big hug too.

One Small Corner, the book that I wrote while at KIRA in June was in my hand. I had a signed copy for each of them. They also had a present for Clare and I: lunch at the Garden Café, courtesy of KIRA and a trip there on KIRA’s latest acquisition, a new golf cart, driven by Hanna. We were early for our lunch booking and Geoff suggested a quick tour of the gardens since Clare hadn’t seen them.

We all climbed into the Golf Cart, Mary and Hanna in front, and Geoff, Clare and I on the back seat, looking back as KIRA slowly vanished behind us. Another quote: “History,” said Marshall Macluhan, “is like looking at the past through the rear-view mirror of a rapidly advancing car.” This is a wonderful metaphor for my feelings at the time.

I had just met the young lady who had inherited my room, the Red Room, and my studio, #1. Neither the room nor the studio belonged to me anymore. They were now closed spaces, occupied by another. It didn’t hurt. It didn’t drive a spear through my still suffering heart. It did, however, underline that the waters of the stream had moved on and were not the same.

The gardens had changed too. Gone were the splendiferous rhododendrons of June, present were the multitudinous colors of Late July. The tiniest alpaca, born just before I left at the end of June, was now a sturdy one month old, larger and much more self-contained. Moe was a month older too as he sat on the roof of his shelter and nickered away at the world in general. Our lunch table was reserved for 12:30 and we would see them all later, parading on the lawn.

The gardens were fuller now than they were in June: more flowers, more blossoms, more color, more people, more children, more hazards for Hanna to slow for as we made our way back to the Garden Café, past the Sensitivity Garden and the Therapy Garden, past the Labyrinth and the Maze, past the Dutch Windmill, past all those magnificent sculptures … new sculptures had appeared … the blue piano wasn’t there earlier … this month’s artist had erected a new piece in the Secret Garden … change was all around me … and I viewed it from the backward-facing seat of a slowly advancing Golf Cart.

We had lunch in the shade beneath the apple tree. I looked around for Carlos, certain that he and his shadow were both close by … but I could hear no pipes. I spoke to Clare in Spanish, just to hear that language once again, but Carlos still didn’t appear. How could he? The river had flowed on and he was back with his family in Brazil.

Friends dropped in at the table to chat: Brad, Tim, Stefan, Mikah …lunch came and went speeded on by reminiscences and plans. After lunch, we visited the exhibition put on in the Garden Café by the latest group of resident artists. We admired the pencil drawings, loved the paper-maker and her art, and were wowed by the rug hooking and the photographs …

I thought of our own exhibition, held in the same place in June. We had our paintings, courtesy of Anne and Ruby, our sculptures, thanks to Elise, but the silence of July’s exhibition had been broken by the sounds of Carlos’s pipes and the viva voce reading of my own poetry. We were not a silent group, but a noisy, head-banging, drum-beating, piping, singing set of selfie-videophiles … the river had flowed on.

Ghosts of our voices clung to the back porch when we returned to KIRA. Hanna and Mary returned to their duties. Geoff, too, had things to accomplish. We met with two more of the new resident artists and complimented them on their skills. Then we slipped silently away to join the river of traffic that flowed down Water Street and up and away and back again to Island View.

Yes, I enjoyed myself. Yes, I will return again in August for I have promised to do that. But each trip will be different and no two trips will ever be the same, for old man river … well …he just keeps flowing along …

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Losing Weight

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Losing Weight

First, you must study Nature.
It will make you aware that trees
lose weight by shedding in the fall
their useless leaves. Do they ever
grieve you wonder, when winter
winds strip twig and branch?

That dog who owns your heart,
he sheds his coat and shakes
away both water and fleas.
Dogs can lose weight
whenever they please.

Don’t bother to diet.
Step fully clothed
on the bathroom scales
and weight yourself.
Step off, and shed your clothes,
leaves, twigs, branch, and fleas.
Then naked to the world
step on the scales and weigh again.

I bet you’ve lose a pound or two.
Believe me … and try it.

True Love

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True Love

Her voice in the night
drags me from my dreams.
But it is not her voice:
she has gone back home
leaving Clare and I alone.

Our sleeping rhythms have changed
and we wake each other up
when we unexpectedly touch
or startle at the voices in our dreams.

True love is so much more
than an exchange of rings
or a holding of hands,
especially when our lives
are no longer ruled by hormones,
and they’re taken over
by rebellious glands.

Feathered Kangaroo

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This is a photo of a Feathered Kangaroo
water hopping on PEI, Canada.

Feathered Kangaroo!

A long time ago, still wrapped in the stifling chrysalis of academia, a friend of mine tried to flutter her immanent butterfly wings by making a joke at a very serious conference. She was delivering a paper on one of my favorite Spanish poets, in which she examined the sundry variants of a sonnet that the poet first wrote in 1603, then re-wrote in 1613, revised again in 1627-28, and revised a couple more times before its final revision in 1643, about two years before his death (1645).

At the end of her paper, she was caught off-balance when faced by an apparently serious question from the audience “Did the poet make any more revisions after 1645?” In an effort at humor, she replied, “Well, actually, no. But when they were carrying his body to the church for the funeral, he popped his head out of the coffin and proclaimed in a loud voice ‘Hell, no, I won’t go. I haven’t finished revising the poem yet.’”

This off-hand academic pseudo-joke was greeted with a babble of excited voices and an elderly fellow scholar clapped his hands, exclaimed “Wonderful!” and, in the ensuing silence, asked her what documentary evidence she had for this astonishing revelation, hitherto unknown to the academic world. If she was off-balance before, she was clearly reeling at this stage: a punch-drunk amateur academic swaying before the hypnotic fists of Dr. Muhamad Ali. She smiled sweetly, said she would produce the proper evidence at the appropriate time, and left the podium.

Later, sharing drinky-poos with some fellow scholars, I listened to her as she made excuses for her strange sense of humor and I smiled as explained the situation to them. They were not amused. “You, madam, are an acknowledged expert in your field,” one of them told her. “Your fellow academics trust you and believe you when you make such statements. You must be very careful about what you say.”

Feahered Kangaroo, indeed, water-hopping on PEI!

Now I must make an apology on my own behalf. Alas, if you read the blog item I posted recently, you might be puzzled by the Gazunda tree. I am forced to admit there is no such thing, to the best of my knowledge, as a Gazunda tree, not in the main square in Oaxaca, nor anywhere else in the world. Of course, when it rains people have been known to go under certain trees to use them as an umbrella and thus to take shelter from the rain, but this is the full extent of the origin of the name: the tourist or the golfer or the walker or whatever goes under (say it fast — Gazunda) the tree when it rains. There is nothing more to the Gazunda tree than that little joke.

And this brings us to a really serious series of questions: how do we know things are true? How do we establish the truth of a statement? Why do we believe some people and not others, some facts and not others? How do we choose between a series of alternate truths all of them presented as factual realities when, in actual fact, not all of them are true? This leads us on to the basic foundations on which our knowledge is built: how do we distinguish between scientifically established facts, and hearsay, and gossip if we are ignorant of basic scientific knowledge and principles?

To this we must add the triple increases that threaten us. These are (1) the increase in the availability of real scientific knowledge that bombards us every day with fresh facts and new information; (2) the increase in sources of information and the easy access to those sources; (3) the fact that many of these sources, far too many in my opinion, present us with a fictional or heavily biased version of a pseudo- or alternate truth. And yes, in light of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we are indeed entitled to question the existence and indeed the very meaning of these words: alternate truths.

These considerations seem modern and up to date, but of course they are not. They can be found in Miguel de Cervantes’s novel, Don Quixote (Part One, 1605, and Part Two 1615). They are present throughout the meta-theater created by playwrights like Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), who set similar dilemmas of truth and fiction in, for example, his play La Vida es Sueño (Life is a Dream) as well as in the twelve plays he wrote based on Cervantes’s masterpiece. They are also present in the writings of some of the philosophers of the day. This is exemplified in the following passage that comes, I think, from René Descartes:

“There is no earth, no heaven, no extended body, no magnitude, no place and that nonetheless I perceive these things and they seem good to me. And this is the most harrowing possibility of all, that our world is commanded by a deity who deceives humanity and we cannot avoid being misled for there may be systematic deception and then all is lost. And even the most reliable information is dubious, for we may be faced with an evil genius who is deceiving us and then there can be no reassurance in the foundations of our knowledge.”

“There can be no reassurance in the foundations of our knowledge.” These are chilling words and present us with the unfortunate fact that unless we ourselves, each one of us, to the best of our abilities search out the absolute truth about all we hear, say, and do, we are indeed lost and we must wander in the dark with no light to guide us. ‘A sad life this, when beneath the axe, we have no time to check our facts.’ So: hie thee to Wikipedia, or Google the infamous Feathered Kangaroo. Or you can take my photo and the words accompanying it for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The choice, my friends, is yours.

Gazunda

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Gazunda
for John Sutherland

John and I were talking about the rare Gazunda tree the other afternoon. I had forgotten that I had indeed written abut the Gazunda trees that flourish in the zócalo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca is a magic place, full of mystery and myth and the myth of the Gazunda tree is not well known outside the confines of the city. I was so pleased to discover this account, written many years ago, when I first became associated with the Escuela de Idiomas attached to the Unversidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO).

Much remains to be written about my experiences in Oaxaca and I hope to have a collection of prose poems completed fairly soon. They are golden oldies, but like many golden oldies, they are also golden goodies. The Gazunda trees are very welcome when it rains, but they should be avoided, for obvious reasons, during thunder and lightning storms. Then, nobody Gazunda them. By the way, if you do visit the zócalo in Oaxaca, or anywhere else in Mexico, after heavy (or light) rain, be sure to test the seat of your chair before you sit in it. If you don’t, you will soon find out why all the waiters and waitresses have that open, friendly smile the tourists love so much.