Pills

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A four-legged Harlequin cluckless duck: that’s what I feel like some mornings. In Spain they say: dar tres pies al gato / to give the cat three legs. This means to complicate life, to screw things up … and yesterday, I screwed everything up. But, of course, but it wasn’t my fault. It never is my fault. How could it be my fault? Repeat after me: I am perfect, therefore it was not my fault. QED.

Pills: yup. I forgot to take them again. Sometimes I think if they were actually Pils (as in Pilsner, or should that be Pilsener?) I would always remember them. Maybe I should wash my morning pills down with a shot of Pilsener (or should that be Pilsner?). That way I might remember to remember them. I would certainly remember my morning Pils. Pils, Pilsner, Pilsener: what’s in a name? Well, according to the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) there are three classifications for Pilsners:  1 German Pilsner, 2.Bohemian Pilsener (note the extra E) and 3 Classic American Pilsner. As for my own Pills (or should that be Pils?), there are several medical classifications for them, but, of course, I always forget what they are.

There’s the pill for the back pain and the arthritic hip. I usually forget that one if the sun is shining and the sky is clear. Then there’s the one that eats away at bad cholesterol. I don’t often forget that one, as it’s the same shape and color as the two for high blood pressure, which I don’t have any longer as I rarely forget those pills. But when I do forget them, like I did yesterday, then I feel like the duck portrayed in the opening portrait.

But I’m forgetting myself … it’s never my fault. First I got up late because I didn’t fall asleep until early in the morning. Then, Molly Maid arrived while I was showering and wanted to clean the bathroom while I was in it. Not the most exciting prospect at my age. Then, when I had shooed them away, I was able to sneak out with a towel around me and actually get dressed. Then the telephone rang with an unrecognized number and I thought t was a robot call, so I left it to ring, but it was milady who was vacationing abroad so I picked up the phone and she talked for an hour. She left me with the promise that her friend would be calling me and two minutes after I put the phone down, that friend was on the phone, and that was another hour gone.

By this stage, Molly Maid is ready to perform their disappearing act, so I go to see them off, and breakfast has to be abandoned because it’s lunch time. So I make lunch, but I never take my pills with lunch and anyway, it’s snowing, and there might be rain later, but my arthritis isn’t plaguing me yet, so I really don’t need that particular pill, and the phone goes again. This message asks me to do something, so I do it. And the snow is falling and I don’t want to go out and plow the snow. Cold and boring. So I find something to do which is very, very important, but I like crossword puzzles. And the Brexit debate is on, so I follow that and wow, is that ever a mess. I think I’m screwed up until I listen to that lot: garbled garbage spoken with posh, plum in the mouth accents and imitation working-class foibles. Might as well be chewing straws and have their ears sticking out through ancient straw hats. Like donkeys.

So, by now tea-time is getting close and it’s time to think about eating, or blowing the snow, but the man next door has plowed out the end of the drive where the grader has left a ton of the stuff, and the man up the road is on the way down to help clear the rest, and he is travelling like a whirling dervish, and I limp down the corridor (or should that be corrida?) to say ‘hi!’ but he’s already turning the corner to the drive, so I limp to the garage to say ‘Hi and thank you!’ but he’s already half way up the drive on his way home, so I wave twice at his back and shout ‘thanks’ but he can’t hear me above the noise of the snow blower and he’s gone without seeing me, no eyes in the back of his head, I guess. So I wait till he gets home and I call him on the phone and we talk and I thank him. Then someone calls me and we talk. Then my daughter calls me and we talk.

And now it’s time for La-la-la-la-laCoronation Street, and I haven’t had any supper yet, and I know I have forgotten something, but I open my can of evening Pilsner (from Pilz, don’t go there) and I’ve forgotten something, but I don’t remember what it is and … what was I saying? Ah yes, no pills with my Pilsener and that’s what I forgot, and there they were this morning, lying on the table, and hopefully I won’t forget them today, but I haven’t had my breakfast yet and the cricket in Antigua will be starting soon and … oh dear … I know I’ve forgotten something. Ah yes, the clock, I’ve forgotten to wind the clock. But there’s something else and if you remember what it is, please let me know.

Light breaks

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Light breaks

“Light breaks where no sun shines;
where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
push in their tides;
and, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
the things of light
file through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.”

Dylan Thomas, another Swansea boy, wrote those words a long time ago. I borrowed the phrase Broken Ghosts for the title of my second poetry book (Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1986) and I am proud of the links forged between Swansea and Island View, Wales and Canada, an earlier poetic generation and my own presence here among these trees covered as they are by winter’s falling snow.

Light is so important, especially here in winter’s dark where the nights are long. The sun’s warmth through the window, the distortion of light through glass and water, the presence of flowers amid the winter’s alternate brightness and gloom. Brightness of sunlight on flowers and of moonlight shifting across garden snow, cratered by the hoof marks of deer into a lunar landscape of shifting shadows.

Sometimes the ageing heart wallows in gloom. Those bedside shadows take on forbidding shapes  and Goya’s nightmarish figures rise out of the pinturas negras, the black paintings from the Quinta del Sordo, to walk again around my room. On nights like these, scarecrows arise from my past and their twigged fingers scratch at my face. They threaten with carrot noses and coal black eyes. They stump their thumping dance steps and send shivers coursing through my veins.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/jan/30/goya-black-paintings-prado-madrid-bicentennial-exhibition

“What is it?” I ask. “What do you want?” But though their mouths open and lips, teeth, and tongue flap into idle movement, no words emerge and I am left, a broken ghost, floundering in an internal sea, not of light, but of darkness. Downstairs I go, pursued by the clump of snowy feet, to sit at my desk and walk my fingers across the keys in search of comfort. I find it in these photos: sunshine on flowers, a light to lighten and enlighten the darkness stalking through my mind.

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Warmth and light: together they will dispel this frosty spell that freezes my brain and will not let me close my eyes and go back to sleep.

Birthdays

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Birthdays

Birthdays blithely march on, virtually unstoppable, goose-stepping through our lives. Milestones, they are markers that measure the maps of our lives,  engravers that carve another notch into our lives. And as we get older, each birthday brings, as its gift, not just another candle on the cake, but another ache, another pain, arthritis in a different joint, another reason to limp and walk with a stick, a decaying tooth, a filling that falls out, a few less hairs round that developing bald spot, a lessened desire to go out in the cold and dig that snow.

Snow: this year, it snowed on my birthday. Then when my friend’s birthday came round a few days later, it rained. My birthday was cold (-16 C). His was hot +7 C with 71 mms of rain and a flooded basement from which he had to remove his carpet. Then came the flash freeze and the mercury dropped to -17 C overnight. Birthday presents, birthday gifts, an accumulation of ailments and ills, of sorrow and woes, but among all this, the occasional revelation that makes everything worth living for. This year it was a Swarovski crystal pen that sparkles in the sun and brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. Then there came a lottery win, a whole $10.00, not much money, but a sign of good luck, and “loads better than a kick in the rear end from a duck in yellow gumboots standing on a brick”, as one of my good friends used to tell me.

Language: now that is also a gift. And how it changes from place to place. Knowing that I should be speaking French, not English, I spoke to my French friends in Spanish, with the occasional word of Welsh thrown in. At least it wasn’t English. Knowing I must console my Hispanic friend in Spanish, I wrote to him in French, a local dialect of chiac in fact. Well, at least it wasn’t English, and I only used two words of Welsh, wara teg: fair play. Old age plays such tricks on us. Just before my grandfather passed, he forgot all his English and spoke to us in Welsh and Italian. I guess he picked the latter up in WWI when he was stationed in Italy. He certainly was  a fair hand at Italian opera and knew many of the most famous arias by heart.

So what does the next birthday mean and what does it bring? I look at Brexit, at Venezuela, at the United States, at the newly fledged and sadly reignited language dispute here in New Brunswick, and I am reminded of the coal man with his sack of coal  and: “cobbledy-cobbledy, down the hole”.  Or cobbledy-cobbledy into our Christmas stocking with those shining black nuggets. Or cobbledy-cobbledy into our next birthday parcel. Alas, as age increases, there is nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide. Inside the bed, perhaps, with the teddy bears, and the blankets pulled up over our heads? Inside a large brown paper bag, as the Goons on the BBC’s Goon Show would respectfully suggest? Under the bed, like the lunatic who is a little potty?

Hopefully, those next birthday presents will include a sense of humor, so we can laugh at our troubles and smile at our woes. It may contain a sense of second sight, so we can see the silver linings to all those seemingly black clouds. Or maybe just a transplanted backbone and the ability to stand up straight and withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or, there again, a large umbrella under which we can shelter from the rainstorms of life. Whatever: I wish us all well, all we who populate this world and love it and want to change it for the better for all, and not with the spider-webs of deceit that proclaim self-glory, self-profit, and reveal a renewed sense of privileged power filled with a glow of self-worth and temporal false glory.

Sleepless in Island View

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Sleepless in Island View

I thought nothing could be worse than my current financial situation, until I saw the government shut down in the States and realized how little some very special people earned per month. It’s hard to believe that a hard-hearted government deprived them of even that basic amount for five weeks. I still can’t understand the callous remarks and harsh words of the billionaires who determined that scenario of horror and scandal. “I can’t see why they are using food banks.” “For those on furlough, it’s just one big vacation with pay at the end of it.” “They don’t have to worry, they’ll get their money back.”

My own financial situation is very different. I am on a fixed retirement income that is much, much less than what I used to earn, but sufficient to keep me alive and well. No, I cannot afford Caribbean Cruises. Nor can I have long term winter stays in sunny climes, Mexico or Arizona, or some sultry-sunny palm-tree graced island set among golden sands in a ring of sapphire sea. Summer vacations are out and I haven’t taken a plane for five years or a summer vacation for four. More, as the stock exchange wobbles, my savings decrease. As my savings grow less, the price of food rises higher and our heating bills soar. As the cost of living rises higher, I have more difficulty making my income stretch to the end of each month. Inflation doesn’t help: prices go up, but my income stays the same or steadily diminishes. There is no way, short of winning the lottery, that I can replenish it. And yet still I am blessed, for I have reasonable health, food on the table, and enough (according to my financial adviser) to survive for a little while yet.

Sometimes I wake at night and cannot get back to sleep. Shadows visit me and bad dreams stretch just out of reach of my fingers. So many things might go wrong. So much is out of my control. So many people, friends, relations, colleagues, acquaintances are hurting in so many ways. I work with friends who are suffering with cancer. I stand by friends who are going through the pangs of divorce and separation. I witness the suffering of the survivor in long term marriages when one of the partners fails. These things gnaw away at the central roots of my being. What if …? I say and the shadows gather closer, chattering like sparrows and cawing like rooks and ravens.

Fear: so easy to sow, so hard to put the seeds back into the bag, especially when they have rooted.

I am lucky. I sleep with two Teddy Bears. One, the small one, bears the name of Ted. The other is called Hairy Fred. Ted is an old battered bear. He traveled with me when I used to travel and is a well-bred voyager. Hairy Fred is a more recent acquisition. A lady made him from an old fur coat and yes, he is very hairy. Ted wears a flashlight in his one ear and a clothes peg in the other. Don’t ask: don’t tell. When the night grows dark and a waning gibbous moon sweeps stars from the sky, these two teddies bring warmth and comfort. Beside my bed, Paddington Bear stands on guard. He can stay there. I am not having him in bed with his yellow Wellingtons and his Duffle coat. Besides which he is a rather hard teddy and not a soft one. Blueberry, Rose, and Pierre Bear sit on the cabinet. waiting their turn. When it gets cold and the north wind howls like a wanton wolf, one of them will get the invite and then we’ll have the perfect Three Bear or Four Bear or Five Bear Night. Until then, I may continue sleepless, in Island View.

Take These Chains

 

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The Great Chain of Being … Happy

The Great Chain of Being, a concept applied to Medieval Literature by Arthur Lovejoy, suggested that all beings are related in hierarchical structures that link them from top to bottom in an ordered chain. I have always liked that idea and see myself as one among many voices, past, present, and hopefully future that feel and write about the joys of living on this wonderful planet that we inhabit. This thought immediately poses the question: do we write from joy or sorrow? Obviously, it depends upon the individual. Equally obviously, we can write from joy at one stage of our career and from sorrow in another stage.

Antonio Machado phrased it this way: En el corazón tenía / la espina de una pasión. / Logré arrancármela un día: / ya no siento el corazón. I felt in my heart a thorn of passion. One day I managed to pluck it out. Now I no longer feel my heart. Machado is a seemingly simple poet, but that simplicity is oh-so difficult to translate and imitate. So: what happens if we write from that interior passion and then, one day, we wake up and the passion has gone? Good question. Some people stop writing. Others take to drawing. Others take photographs. In my case, I have sat in a south facing window just gazing at the sunshine reflected off the snow and pottering through my favorite poets.

Francisco de Aldana is one of my favorites and I am drawn to reflect on these lines: Hallo, en fin, que ser muerto en la memoria / del mundo es lo mejor que en él se asconde, / pues es la paga dél muerte y olvido. I finally discover that to be dead in the world’s memory is best of all, since the world’s wages are death and forgetfulness. While these words will seem gloomy to some, to me they express the joys of retirement, the wonders of just sitting and looking out of the window, the escape from the necessity to produce, to achieve, to be ambitious, to grow a career, to drive myself on and on. “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” Words of wisdom from the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies.

When I sit and stare, I also think, observe, and remember. And I see things I have never seen before: how light changes the world, how sunshine falls on the petals of flowers, how texture is changed by changing light, how light slips through the fingers like water or sand. The end result is an inner peace that accepts things for what they are and the world for what it is.

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In my privileged case, and I realize just how lucky I am and how fortunate I have been, I have grown to appreciate the tiny things, the small achievements. And small things now satisfy me: the completion of a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw, the nature of light, the beauty of an orange, peeled and tasted, its life blood still fresh upon my fingers and gracing the air, words prancing in lines and chains across a page, the dance of shadow on wall.

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Wise old bird

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Wise old bird

What do you say when you have nothing to say?

The owl he was a wise old bird,
the more he spoke, the less he heard,
the more he heard, the less he spoke, :
there never was such a wise old bloke.

I look out of the window and watch the snow accumulate. We have set out seed for the chickadees and errant wild birds who fly in and out and and never think about us. So cold, these days, even colder these nights. We have it a fire and keep it burning. We hope it will ward off the frost demons who wait outside our windows, grinding their icy teeth.

Yesterday, in the middle of the storm, the crows descended and danced upon our snow. Snow dance, crow dance, a ‘we don’t really want to know’ dance.

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Do they survive on the crusts we bestow upon them when the crusts grow stale? I really don’t know. Cold weather charity. Christmas charity. A turkey at every table, once a year, and three hundred and sixty days without enough food to eat … my conscience: can it be as clean as the white, crisp snow when I go three hundred and sixty days without thinking about those in need until prompted to do so by a radio show?

I look out at the falling snow. My iceberg garden is a fresh blank page on which I can write whatever I want to write. Right now I have nothing to say. My interior crow has lost his tongue and can neither twitter nor tweet. He is lost within the white wilderness that fills his interior mind. My crow, he is a wise old bird … I think he will think about his next tweet …