Last Dance

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Last Dance

The shy lady in the corner,
body withered by cancer,
stands up to dance.

She bows to the band
then floats into movement.

Dancing alone she clings
to the empty air as she
once clung to her man.

Nymphs and shepherds play
sweet music at midnight in this
room turned sacred grove.

Her dance-steps are a draught
of joyous water from the fount
of eternal youth and lasting love.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie pulled out of the magic hat of a forgotten manuscript. Such a joy to rediscover these things. Draught is the English form of American draft, incidentally, as in draught cider. I hate how my spell-checker corrects my spelling, even when it is correct. Wednesday was dance night in the hospice. At seven o’clock a band would arrive and set up at one end of the dining room. Tables were cleared away and chairs placed in rows so that patients could sit and listen or move onto the dance space that awaited them. This one old lady, shy and very much worn down by her treatment, stood up when the last dance was called and floated in an ethereal space that was hers and hers alone. The other patients stood around in a circle and applauded as she danced  and the band played on and on until everyone was dancing and the room was filled with joy and forgetfulness. Such is human strength, even in the face of apparent and imminent disaster. Dance on, my friends, dance on.

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Heroes

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Heroes

In 1898, when Spain lost Cuba, they lost the last vestige of their world-wide Empire and were forced to turn back in on themselves. Miguel de Unamuno, along with other artists from the Generation of ’98, turned to the concept of intra-historiaHistoria / history means the great historical events, battles and conquests, kings and kingdoms (how male it all was!). Intra-historia / intra-history meant the every day lives that ordinary people led, lives that had remained basically unchanged for centuries, except when the men who made history rode through.
Do the small things in life: that’s all most of us can do and have done, throughout the centuries. And we are the true heroes, certainly of intra-history, you and I, and people like us, because we have worked all our lives at our daily tasks, we have brought up our children, we have made the small, micro-world which we inhabit into a better place. Intra-history is dedicated to the house-wives and the house-husbands, heroes all, who have done those small things in life, walked the dogs, fed the chickens, milked the cows, gone out to work, day after day, to put food on the table, delivered and brought up the children, looked after the sick, assisted the dying on their departure from this world, buried them, and given them peace. Heroes all, especially in these times of troubles, I salute you. 
Nurses, health care workers, pharmacists, ambulance drivers, supermarket workers who allow us to bring the food to the table, care-givers, cleaners, garbage men, street-workers, heroes all, I salute you. It is time the ‘little people’ reclaimed their world and took it back for the REAL people, the real heroes.
So, my heroes, be brave, battle on, and accept this floral tribute.
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Empty Nest

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Empty Nest

The wind at the window
scratches tiny notes.
I can no longer hear the tune
nor read the words.

Who walks beside me
as I pace my lonely path,
abandoned in this empty house.

My self-portrait
stares back at me:
a splintered selfie,
framed in a sliver
of silvery glass.

Above me,
a monkey moon,
that itinerant tinker,
walks a fractured way
over broken glass.

The knapsack on his back
is cobbled together
from cobwebs and clumsy
veils of drifting clouds.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie from that same throw-away manuscript that I discovered a couple of days ago. I wrote this one the year after my mother’s death. My father was in hospital and I had flown back to Wales to visit him. When I was not with him, I wandered alone in a large house, empty of people, but filled with memories. The whole experience was rather surreal, just like the imagery I conjured up to describe it. Early spring, but a cold one. After hospital visiting hours, I wandered an untidy house and an unkempt garden. My mother had departed. My father was on the way out. I was alone with a life-time of memories. “No hay pájaros en los nidos de antaño” wrote Cervantes in the Quixote. “There are no birds in last year’s nests.” With no brothers, no sisters, no close family, and no friends left in Wales, I found that out the hard way. Those days of wandering, ‘upstairs, downstairs, in my lady’s chamber,’ taught me that most difficult of lessons in the hardest of ways.

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Bleeding Heart

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Bleeding Heart

White moths
wing their snowstorm,
pale stars through the night.

A candle flickers in the darkness.
Hands reach out to grasp me.
A feathered shadow flies
frail fingers across my face.

Butterflies
stutter their eye-lash kisses
against closed cheeks.

Awake,
I lie anchored by what pale visions
fluttering on the horizon?

Eye of the peacock,
can you touch what I see
when my eyelids close?

Black rock of the midnight sun,
blocking this day’s dark cave,
when will I be released
from my daily bondage?

Last night, the planet
quivered beneath my body
as I felt each footfall of a transient god
who mapped in runes
the ruins of my bleeding heart.

 

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Comment: Another Golden Oldie, also dug out from the rejection / dejection of striations. I tinkered with it this morning. Funny what a shift in structure and a twitching of the metaphors will do. New lamps for old: indeed, and why not? We are not just writers, we are re-writers and some thoughts can be reworked to rise again in the shadows of the adopted children that are our poems. This bleeding heart plant vanished a couple of years ago. We dug up the flowerbed, inserted a rockery, and watched and waited. After two years, the bleeding heart plant resurrected itself from within the stones. Survival, renewal, faith, hope: key words nowadays. Who locked that plant down? Who let it rise up again? When we have gone, how will our gardens get on without us? Very well, in all probability, but they may be more of a tangled garden than a cultivated one. And what’s wrong with a tangled garden? Why, nothing at all, my friends, absolutely nothing at all.

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Striations

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Striations

There are striations in my heart,
so deep,
a lizard could lie there,
unseen,
and wait for tomorrow’s sun.

Timeless:
this worm at the apple’s core
waiting for its world to end.

 Seculae seculorum:
the centuries rushing headlong.

Matins:
wide-eyed this owl
hooting in the face of day.

Somewhere,
I remember
a table spread for two.
Breakfast:
an open door,
a window that overlooks
a balcony and a garden.

“Where are you going, dear?”

  Something bright has fled the world.
The sun unfurls shadows.
The blood whirls stars around the body.

“It has gone,” she said.
“The magic.
I no longer tremble
at your touch.”

Comment: A real Golden Oldie. The lizard, it’s probably an iguana, came originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, and now sits over the door on the front porch. I had to bend his tail to get him into my carrying bag, poor thing. I found this poem in my poetry discards file, though what it was doing in there is a mystery to me. I think I discarded the longer manuscript in which it was included. Never mind, I have re-found, rediscovered it and it merits a place here, on my blog, along with the iguana. Byddwch lawen: rejoice and be glad.

Lost

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Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
rule over them all. Your shadow dances on walls.
in mirrors, and your breath brushes my cheek

every time I open doors or windows. That silly cat
looks for you and hisses when I bring her kibble.
I walk from room to room, but when I seek you,

you are no longer here. I knock, nothing opens.
Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I know
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.

Sometimes your voice’s echo breaks the silence.
You whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,

that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,
the days, embracing dust motes to find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.

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Comment: A Golden Oldie. I wrote this some time ago while my beloved was in Ottawa visiting our daughter. Separation is such a strange thing: an absence, yes, but also a presence in the tiniest details and the most unsuspected moments. And then there is the dream world where things join together, and then fall apart. This poem has so much more meaning in a time like this when so many people are separated and can no longer be together. Time … I have written about it before … passes. Hopefully, families and friends will be reunited once more, the sooner the better. In the meantime, we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. Chadwch eich fydd / Keep your faith, as St. David, the patron saint of Wales is said to have said circa 500, byddwch lawen / be joyful, and gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bwywd / do the little things in life.

With my angel

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… with my angel …

            … with my angel … face to face … the one I have carried within me since the day I was born … the black-one … winged like a crow … the one that hovers over me as I lie asleep … the one who wraps me in his feathered wings when I am alone and chilled by the world around me … the one who flaps with me on his back when I can walk no further … the one who creates the single set of footprints that plod their path through the badlands when I can walk no more …

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… ‘the truth’ my black angel says to me … I say ‘he’ but he is a powerful spirit, not sexed in anyway I know it … and yet I think of him as ‘he’ …awesome in the tiny reflection he sometimes allows me to glimpse of his power and glory … for, like Rilke, I could not bear meeting his whole angelic being face to face … as I cannot bear the sun, not by day, and not in eclipse … not even with smoked glass … when earthly values turn upside down and earth takes on a new reality … wild birds and bank swallows roosting at three in the afternoon … and that fierce heat draining from the summer sky … I remember it well … and the dog whimpering as a portion of the angel’s wing erased the sun until an umber midnight ruled … a simple phenomenon, the papers said … the moon coming between the earth and the sun …but magic … pure magic … to we who stood on the shore at Skinner’s Pond and sensed the majesty of the universe … more powerful than anything we could imagine … and the dog … taking no comfort from its human gods … whimpering at our feet …
… I saw a single feather floating down and knew my angel had placed himself between me and all that glory … to protect me … to save me from myself … and I saw that snowflake of an angel feather bleached from black to white by some small trick of the sunlight … and knowledge filled me … and for a moment I felt the glory … the magnificence … and there are no words for that slow filling up with want and desire as light filters from the sky and the body fills with darkness … and I was so afraid … afraid of myself … of where I had been … of where I was … of what I might return to … of my lost shadow … snipped from my heels …
… I don’t know how I heard my angel’s words … ‘the time of truth is upon you’ … ‘all you have ever been is behind you now’ … ‘naked you stand here on this shore … like the grains of sand on this beach … your days are numbered by the only one who counts’ … I heard the sound of roosting wings … but I heard and saw nothing more … I felt only midnight’s cold when the chill enters the body and the soul is sore afraid …
… ‘it is the law’ my angel said … I saw a second feather fall … ‘and the law says man must fail … his spirit must leave its mortal shell and fly back to the light’ … ‘blood will cease to flow … the heart will no longer beat … the spirit must accept and go’ … ‘do not assume… nobody knows what lies in wait’ … ‘blind acceptance … the only way … now …  in this twilight hour …  now when you are blind … only the blind shall receive the gift of sight’ … ‘all you have … your wife … your house … your car … your child … everything you think of as yours … I own … and on that day … I will claim it from you and take it for my own … now I can say no more’ …
… the sea-wind rose with a sigh and one by one night’s shadows fled … the moon’s brief circle sped from the sun … light returned, a drop at a time, sunshine flowing from a heavenly clepsydra filled with light …
… birds ceased to circle … a stray dog saw a sea-gull and chased it back to sea … and the sun … source of all goodness … was once again a golden coin floating in the sky …
… on my shoulder a feather perched … a whisper of warmth wrapped its protective cloak around my shoulders … for a moment, just a moment, I knew I was the apple of my angel’s eye … and I hoped and still hope that one day I might meet him again and understand …

Comment: An article on Marcus Aurelius in this morning’s paper made me think of this piece that I wrote, way back when, in the days when I was studying Francisco de Quevedo and the Neo-Stoic movement, courtesy of my good friend and colleague Henry Ettinghausen. “The day we were born we took our first steps on the road to death,” Quevedo wrote in one of his poems. With my angel is my own Neo-Neo-Stoic attempt to come face to face with that very personal reality, one which we all face, and to stare it down, eyeball to eyeball. Alas, in these troubled times, we must confront the knowledge that troubled times have been here before, that other generations have suffered them, and luckily, other generations have survived. We wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t. As another good friend, of mine Victor Hendricken, wrote on this blog just yesterday: “We continue to live on between inhale and exhale; we continue to live on between intake and exhaust, food and faeces. And in this time of self-isolation, we still abide by many of the same personal rules, including morning ablutions, setting and shutting off the alarm. Chin up, old boy. This too shall pass.” I found these words from Victor very comforting. With friendship, solid advice, and the ability to learn from those who have gone before us how to confront difficult times, this too shall pass.