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

Gazunda

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.

Diagnosis

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Diagnosis
(sonnet)

Diagnosed with a terminal illness
called life, I know it will end in death.
For more than seventy years, that end
has lived within me, walked beside me,
sat at my bedside, and shared my sheets.

We have shared so many things: laughter,
joy, victory, defeat, the soul’s dark night,
the winding ways of fortune’s labyrinth.
When cancer called, we faced it together,
and life won out for a little while longer.

Hand in hand, we are together again,
our ménage à trois, engaged in a three
-legged race, blindfolded, unsure of who,
what, why, where, and especially when.

Night Thoughts

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Night Thoughts
(for Tanya Cliff)

The weight of the weather
with its dark clouds pushing
down on my shoulders
bends me to its omnipotent will.

I know my back doesn’t have
the power to lift up my heart
and soar above such heavy clouds.

I need a chariot of fire …
yet the clouds are so strong,
and the light is so weak
it won’t break through,
except in sudden flashes.

I hear the creak of sodden wheels.
Clouds blinker the lightning
as thunder crashes through my brain.

I listen to the pouring down of rain
and pull the bed sheets over my head.

B’Day

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B’Day
(for Mr. Cake)

Buy a balloon.
Make sure the color is bright.
Fill it with all your sorrows,
then let it take flight.

Look: up and away it goes
and all your sorrows go with it.
You’ll feel much better now.

Buy yourself a party hat
and a birthday cake.
So what if it’s not your birthday.
It’s always someone’s birthday.

Don’t forget the candles.
Take a match and light them.
Now let your cares go up in smoke.

Dreams

Balloon lady

Dreams

On a day like today, with heavy rain depressing the damp washing as it clings to Clare’s clothesline, I do not have the heart to write. I do not want my own weather-bound summer sadness to arrive at your heart and make you sad. Today, then, I will place a happier dream before you and invite you into the mysterious yet joyous world created by the balloon lady who lives in a plastic castle in the main square in Oaxaca. From here, she sells dreams to young children who purchase her colored balloons on their birthdays.

Release your sadness, she tells them. Let it rise into the skies and sail beyond the clouds that surround you. May your tears and fears take delight in the silver linings that fill the sky and may they find sunshine as they climb to their heart’s desire, the sunny lands beyond today’s clouds.