Memories deceive me with their remembered shows, shapes shifting with a click of the magician’s fingers. What magic lantern now slips its subtle slides
across night’s screen? Desperate I lap at salt-licks of false hope that increase my thirst and drive me deeper into thick, black, tumultuous clouds.
A pandemic storm lays waste to the days that dog my mind. Carnivorous canicular, hydropic, it drinks me dry, desiccates my dreams, gnaws me into nothingness.
At night a black dog hounds me, sends my head spinning, makes me chase my own tail, round and round. It snaps at dreams, shadows, memories that ghost through my mind.
Tarot Cards and Tea Leaves are lost in a Mad Hatter’s illusion of a dormouse in a teapot in an unkempt tale. Hunter home from the hill, I return to find my house empty, my body devastated, my future a foretold mess.
Comment: Tough days around us and even tougher ahead. Covid-19 in the schools and people I know, young and old, frightened and in quarantine as a result. People I know and members of my far-flung (thank you, Jennifer, for that long-lost word) family. Funerals to the right of me, funerals to the left of me, of friends I know, acquaintances I hardly know, and many more whom I’ll never know now. “Into the jaws of Covid-19 rode the gallant six hundred, all masked, many falling, fewer of them every minute of every day.” Gallows humor keeps me alive. Last night my favorite teddy bear went AWOL. I got up at 3:00 am and sent out a search party. Sharp eyes spotted the copper band I lost last week. It had been hiding under the pillow. Then, joy of joys, they spotted Teddy’s black velvet band, the one that ties up the hair that falls over his shoulder and gets up my nose and makes me sneeze. They hauled him out from under the bed. I picked up the phone and cancelled the 911 call before the masked men in their jackboots and their PPE could break down the door and strip search the house for a missing bear. Alas, dear Mabel: I would if I could but I am not able.” How those words resound in my ears. Left ear, right ear, and, like Davy Crockett, a wild front ear. I will not give in to morbidity. ‘He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.” I will survive for another day. Meanwhile, I’ll call for General Worthington, the fellow who can always make the enemy run. “Will you have a VC?” I said “Not me: I’d rather have a bottle of Worthington.” Alas, they don’t make it anymore. And Watney’s Daft Red Barrel has bitten the dust and gone the way of the dodo. And all my friends are in the doldrums, watching, as Admiral Brown abandons ship, mans the boats, and hauls away into fairer weather and cleaner waters. You say you do not understand? ‘Blessed are the poor in intellect, for they shall know peace in these troubled times.’
A Survivor from the Empress of Ireland Lights a CandleDuring the Old Latin Mass for the Dead Before the Main Altar at the Sanctuaire Sainte-Anne Pointe-au-Père
I am still afraid of fire: in principio erat verbum / in the beginning was the word.
I am still afraid of the loud voice of the match scratching its sudden flare, narrowing my pupils, enlarging the whites of my eyes:
et lux in tenebris lucet / and light shines in darkness.
Booming and blooming, igniting the soul’s dark night.
Voice of fire: et Deus erat verbum / and the Word was God.
Flourishing to nourishment, flames whispering on the flood: omnia per ipsum facta sunt / all things were made by Him.
Wool and water, this sodden safety blanket; and what of the cold plush of pliant teddy bear, the staring eyes of the doll:
et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt / and the darkness comprehended it not.
The lashes of their eyes bound together with salt water, they were doused in a silken mist: hic venit in testimonium / this served as a witness.
Still the patterns pierce my sleep, hauling me from my opaque dreams, holding my wrists in this sailor’s double clasp: non erat ille lux / he was not the light.
Oh! Curse these dumb waters rising! “Not a hair on your head shall be harmed!” he said, hauling my sister up by her hair only to find her staring eyes belonging to the already dead: et mundus eam non cognovit / and the world knew her not.
Night waters rising. The moon raising its pale thin lantern glow: et vidimus gloriam ejus / and we saw His glory shining forth upon the waters’ mirrored face.
Comment: I searched everywhere, but I could not find a copy of my poetry book Empress of Ireland. Nor could I find a file containing the poems. Lost, I searched everywhere yet again and then, on an old USB, I found the text of the chapbook M Press of Ire. The above poem comes from that chapbook. Empress of Ireland is available on KDP / Amazon. I had forgotten how much I loved the sequence.
I did the memory test today. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow I may not know where I am nor what is the day. Others have passed this way, none to my knowledge in my family. Sorrow gnaws the red bone of my heart. The lady at the doctor’s counter says she is seventy. Her bed-ridden mother, for whom she seeks medicinal solace is ninety-eight. Her mind, she says, is as sharp as a needle or a knife, or a blade of grass. What dreams, I wonder, flit through her head at night? Does she recall her child hood with its pigtails, the first young man she kissed, church on Sundays, the genders carefully segregated, driving there in the family horse and cart? Thunder rolls and shakes my world’s foundations; a storm watch, followed by storm warnings, walks across my tv screen. Lightning flashes. Aurora Borealis daubs the night sky north of Island View with its paint-box palette of light. Memories, according to the song, are they made of this. But what is this? Is it these shape-shifting, heart-stopping curtains of shimmering grace? Or is it those darker shadows cast by firelight on the smoky walls of a pre-historic Gower cave where my ancestors gnawed the half-cooked bones of the aurox and never ever dreamed of Jung’s racial memories as they communicate information from the unconscious to the conscious mind.
I have been a member of the Writers’ Foundation of New Brunswick for a long, long time. I am not a ‘founding member’, but I think I have been a member since around 1985, and I am sure I was a member in 1986, when Goose Lane Editions, Fredericton, published my second poetry collection, Broken Ghosts. I was most certainly a member in 1989 when my still-unpublished poetry manuscript Still Lives placed first in the Alfred G. Bailey poetry competition.
In the years between 1985-1986-1989 and 2020, I have never received a hand-written communication from any member of the WFNB Board, other than an official communication of one kind or another. Imagine, then, my surprise, when the above postcard, inserted in a hand-addressed envelope, arrived in my mail box yesterday. I was truly amazed and very grateful to the president who wrote these kind words to me. Amidst the panic and the pandemic, it is so nice to be remembered and in such a thoughtful way. Madam President: thank you so much for reaching out to me with this verbal gesture. And yes, you can count on my support for yourself and our Writers’ Federation, I hope for a long, long time to come.
I was in two minds whether to post this or not. However, I wish to emphasize several things: the importance of reaching out, the importance of continuing to believe in ourselves and our creative talents during these difficult times, the necessity of creating alternate communities and of supporting each other as much as possible, the need to avoid total isolation and to maintain human contact in different ways when the physical things — meeting, touching, holding, direct dialog — and the normal activities and relationships of healthy human beings are denied to us, and last, but by no means least, the need to encourage each other and to offer comfort and recognition whenever and wherever possible.
November on the Berryfield: duck weather, we call it, with the rain pouring down and the watchers standing on WWI duckboards, chilled their fingers, eyes blinking against the wind.
West Country clay turns rugby boots into leaden counterweights. Hands stuck in pockets, the railway carriage where we changed is a distant memory. The only reality, this wet clay holding us back.
Mouldy and muddy, our rugby jerseys are all the same and it’s hard to distinguish friend from foe.
Trench warfare, we think, as the two packs strain, a Roman tortoise, sixteen bodies, thirty-two legs, crabbing from side to side as they seek a perfection that will never be found on a day like today.
Rain shrouds the goalposts and the scrum half’s kick is a yard too far from clumsy, chilled fingers as they scrabble in vain at this soap-bubble nightmare we call a rugby ball. Worn-out legs churn through mud that clutches like an octopus at feet and ankles.
Running rhythms are lost. Wet clay fingers hold us back. Grey ghosts of ancient alumni raise up our hearts, help us to haul our opponents’ tired bodies down.
Comment: Just rediscovered this, revised it, and now I am posting it again. The Berryfield is where I played my school rugby. If anyone remembers the Berryfield, or actually played there, by all means drop me a line. That West Country clay mud was the devil. Heavy and clinging, it grew on your boots until they became as heavy as diver’s boots and gradually weighed you down. It was worse for the opposition than for us. We, at least, were accustomed to it. It was even worse for the cross-country runners and I have never forgotten those ploughed clay fields.
To be Welsh on Sunday (This prose poem should be read out loud, fast, and in a single breath!)
To be Welsh on Sunday in a dry area of Wales is to wish, for the only time in your life, that you were English and civilized, and that you had a car or a bike and could drive or pedal to your heart’s desire, the county next door, wet on Sundays, where the pubs never shut and the bar is a paradise of elbows in your ribs and the dark liquids flow, not warm, not cold, just right, and family and friends are there beside you shoulder to shoulder, with the old ones sitting indoors by the fire in winter or outdoors in summer, at a picnic table under the trees or beneath an umbrella that says Seven Up and Pepsi (though nobody drinks them) and the umbrella is a sunshade on an evening like this when the sun is still high and the children tumble on the grass playing soccer and cricket and it’s “Watch your beer, Da!” as the gymnasts vault over the family dog till it hides beneath the table and snores and twitches until “Time, Gentlemen, please!” and the nightmare is upon us as the old school bell, ship’s bell, rings out its brass warning and people leave the Travellers’ Rest, the Ffynnon Wen, The Ty Coch, The Antelope, The Butcher’s, The Deri, The White Rose, The Con Club, the Plough and Harrow, The Flora, The Woodville, The Pant Mawr, The Cow and Snuffers — God bless them all, I knew them in my prime.
Comment: I wonder how many other ‘serious drinkers’ or ‘amateurs’ remember these pubs and clubs. And, oh yes, there were so many more. The Mexico Fountain, The Tennis Court, The Old Market Tavern, The New Market Tavern, The Load of Hay, all those many colored dragons: green, black, blue … the Three Lamps, the Cricketers, the Villiers Arms, the Birchgrove Arms, the Rose and Shamrock, several Red Dragons, the Church, the Black Swan, I can’t remember how many different Georges, and Kings’ Heads, the Vine Tree, the Sun, the Oak tree, the Penguin, the Naval Volunteer, the Quadrant, the Coronation Tap, the Mauretania, The White Horse, the Black Horse, the Old Grey Mare … so many memories, and all deniable, and I’ll never forget the Wheelbarrow Race (ask me about it), nor Pickety Witch, one of those pubs at which I never stopped!
I chose each book, held it in my hands for one last time, then placed it peacefully in its new resting place. Old friends, they were … I broke that friendship and set my friends free to fulfill their promised afterlife on another reader’s shelves.
Mind to mind, though they had lived five hundred years ago, I strove to engage them in lively conversation, Bakhtinian dialogs within our time and space, and that space my basement library.
I loved to hear their lilting speech, to listen to their wisdom with open eyes and mind. I answered them with words I quickly pencilled on each page.
One day, a man arrived from the university. He carried them away in a delivery truck and they were borne to a wider world.
If you see on, bless it, read it, cherish it. Blind now my eyes that devoured their words. Deaf now my ears that heard the dead, for I can listen no more.
Note:“Escucho con mis ojos a los Muertos / I listen with my eyes to the words of the dead.” Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645)
With thanks to Nicholas Wermuth, who was kind enough to comment and help me revise and restructure this poem.