San Pedro

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Looking back at my old photos from Oaxaca I am amazed at the contrasts between sun and shade, light and dark. I will never forget that ultimate glory: a sunbeam through a stained glass window, casting fragmented light.

San Pedro
Oaxaca

A single sunbeam descends.
Sharp blade of a heliocentric sword,
it shatters the chapel’s dark.
Fragmented light
stains me with glazed colors.

A pallid lily truncated
in the dawn’s pearly light,
Peter, the young widower,
kneels in prayer.

His head wears a halo.
His pilgrim palm
presses into the granite
forcing warming fingers
into a cradle of cold stone.

His flesh clings to
the statue’s marble hand.
A mingled maze:
marble and human veins.

Peter > petrus > piedra >
this church now a rock.

Daffodils

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Daffodils
(for my mother)

Light in dark
bright yellow stridence
shrill golden dog’s bark
to warn off death’s wolves
that freeze her blood

she dreaded night’s unease
the devil’s wintry anti-spring
life’s darkest sparks

 but loved the daffodils’
sunny March cadence
of brief piercing dance

Comment: A Golden Oldie. My mother loved daffodils and planted them all over the garden in Cardiff, Wales. They are the national flower of Wales and break into blossom just in time to welcome St. David on St. David’s Day, soon to be upon us, Dydd Dewi Sant.

Daffodils

Daffodils
A poem for the lady who brought some to us when Clare fell

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Daffodils in our garden, last year in Island View. We won’t see the live ones until May, at the earliest. I dream of them at night, tossing their heads in sprightly dance’, in Roath Park and Blackweir Gardens, Cardiff. They will be out now, all ready to welcome Dydd Dewi Sant on March 1.

Daffodils

For ten long days the daffodils
endured, bringing to vase and breakfast-
table stored up sunshine and the silky
softness of their golden gift.

Their scent grew stronger as they
gathered strength from the sugar
we placed in their water, but now
they have withered and their day’s done.

Dry and shriveled they stand paper-
thin and brown, crisp to the touch.
They hang their heads:
oncoming death weighs them down.

Angel Choir

Sunset at Ste. Luce. We wait for the choir to arrive. Take a deep breath: it will soon be here.

Angel Choir
(on seeing the Northern Lights at Ste. Luce-sur-mer)
Sonnet

Listen to the choristers with their red and green voices.
Light’s counterpoint flowering across this unexpected son et lumière,
we tremble with the sky fire’s crackle and roar.

Once upon another time, twinned with our heavenly wings,
we surely flew to those great heights and hovered in wonderment.
Now, wingless, our earthbound feet are rooted to the concrete.
If only our hearts could sprout new wings and soar upwards together.

The moon’s phosphorescent wake swims shimmering before us.
The lighthouse’s finger tingles up and down our spines.
Our bodies flow fire and blood till we crave light, and yet more light.
We fall silent, overwhelmed by the celestial response.

When the lights go out, hearts and souls are left empty.
Leaving the divine presence is a gut-wrenching misery.
Abandoned, hurt and grieving, we are left in darkness.

Comment: The Spanish mystics, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila, wrote, in the sixteenth-century, about the ‘dark night of the soul’. That dark night also arrives when the communion with the spiritual finishes and the communicants are left alone, in their loneliness, abandoned to their earthly selves. To leave the divine presence is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching misery. To turn from the marvels of nature can produce lesser, but still deeply moving feelings of grief and sadness. The secret is to preserve that joy and to carry it with us always, warm, in our hearts. Doing so makes the pain of separation much more bearable.

Croaking Angels

He knows the frogs are in there. He doesn’t need to hear them sing. But he loves to make them croak.

Croaking Angels

Their tunes are one note symphonies,
croaks of joy that move
their fellow frogs to ecstasy,
exhorting them to share
the splendors of ditch life,
in a springtime bonding
that will loft them skywards.

There’s an ancient magic
in this calling: water
and laughter, sunlight, warmth,
and all those joyous things
that fill the newborn spring.

Moonlight swings its cheerful love lamp.
New leaves and buds are also known to sing.

Comment: This always makes me think of the croaking chorus from Aristophanes. I do hope all those wonderful ancient plays, songs, myths, and legends are not forgotten in our croaking frog chorus of modern jingoistic advertisements and propaganda. Ah well, what’s a source for the proper goose is probably a source for the proper gander. Who knows nowadays? What we do know is that spring is just around the corner. Warmth and the absence of snow will help change our lives. And yes, that croaking chorus will be back.

Black Angel

from an original painting by Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400-1464)

Black Angel

You cannot hide
when the black angel comes
and knocks on your door.

“Wait a minute,” you say,
“While I change my clothes
and comb my hair.”

But she is there before you,
in the clothes closet,
pulling your arm.
You move to the bathroom
to brush your teeth.

“Now,” says the angel.
Your eyes mist over.

You know you are there,
but you can no longer see
your reflection in the mirror.

Comment:

I first saw the Black Angel in Aldebarán’s cultural store in Ávila (2006). She sat there, in the shop window, along with several other angels, and I worshiped her from the distance of the street. Her image was taken from an original painting from Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400-1464). This was turned into a 3-D image and then converted into the statue I saw in the shop window.

I brought the statue back to Island View, placed it on the shelf above the fireplace, where it still rests, and wrote several poems on the theme of Angels. I gathered them together in a chapbook entitled All About Angels that I self-published in Fredericton in 2009. The chapbook was dedicated to Clare’s great-aunt, D. E. Witcombe who departed this world on October 15, 2008.

All About Angels was also based on a book of a similar title, Sobre los Ángeles, written by Rafael Albertí, one of the major poets of Spain’s Generation of 1927. I avoided the ambiguity of the Spanish title — Sobre (in Spanish) can mean Above or Beyond as well as About — by limiting my own title to All About Angels.

For Carl Jung, angels are the messengers sent to inform people of the state of their world. For me, they are also the wild creatures that inhabit the world around me and often take the form of chickadees, crows, mourning doves, woodpeckers, deer, foxes, chipmunks, the occasional bear, and other spiritual creatures. They can be best seen in those moments of solitude when we are most open to the natural world around us. Then, and sometimes only then, we can hear the urgent messages they bring.

Alebrijes

Alebrijes

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This is one of the first alebrijes I bought in the zocalo (main square) in Oaxaca. He has lost his ears and probably his tongue. They started falling out so we wrapped them up carefully and now we can’t find them. He’s still a happy chappy, hough, and has been in this house for a quarter of a century. Happy Birthday Alebrije!

     Alebrijes step out from dried wood and stand in the shower of paint that falls from the brush’s tip. Yellow flash of lightning, pointillistic rain, garish colors that mirror those of the códices. The carvings take the form of fantasy figures, anthropomorphic animals, and mythological creatures.
Sometimes one individual selects the wood, carves it, then covers it in paint. Occasionally an entire family takes part in the work of making the alebrije. One person collects the wood and prepares it for carving. Another carves and sands it. A third works on the undercoat, and a fourth applies the final patterns of paint.
The great debate: does the form in the wood reveal itself to the carver or do the carvers impose their own visions on the wood? In the case of the team, do the family members debate and come to a joint conclusion?
These thoughts, exchanged with wood-carvers in Oaxaca, have led to a series of interesting conversations. What exactly is creativity? Where does it come from? Do we, as artists, impose it upon our creations? Or do we merely observe and watch as new ideas float to the surface of our minds? How does the creative mind really function? And, by extension, how much of the sub-conscious creative sequence can be placed into words?

Alebrijes

 Are they half-grasped dreams
that wake, wide eyed, to a new day’s sun?

Or are they alive and thriving
when they fall from the tree?

Does the carver fish their color and shape
from his own interior sea,
or does he watch and wait for the spirit
to emerge from its wooden cocoon
to be reborn in a fiery block of color?

Daybreak:
in a secluded corner of my waking mind,
my neighbor’s dog greets the dawn with sparks
of bright colors born from his bark.

My waking dream: dark angels with butterfly bodies,
their inverted wings spread over my head to keep me warm.
In the town square, the local artist plucks dreams
from my head and paints them on carved wood.

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Our house iguana: he is not an alebrije, but is made out of painted metal foil, carved first, and then decorated. He’s the one who guards the front door and falls upon unwanted intruders when they least expect it. Never stay home alone without one, or two, or more. But watch out if you have too many and they get hungry.

Sympathetic Magic

Nunca llueve en los bares: it never rains in the bars.

Sympathetic Magic

“Rain, we need rain.”
The bruja whirls her rain stick.
Rain drops patter one by one,
then fall faster and faster
until her bamboo sky fills
with the sound of rushing water.

An autumnal whirl of sun-dried cactus
beats against its wooden prison walls.
Heavenwards, zopilotes float
beneath gathering clouds.
Rain falls in a wisdom of pearls
cast now before us.

Scales fall from my eyes.
They land on the marimbas,
dry beneath bar arches
where wild music sounds,
half-tame rhythms,
sympathetic music
like this rainstorm released
by the bruja‘s magic hand.

Comment: Bruja: witch, witch doctor; Oro de Oaxaca: mescal, the good stuff; Zopilote: Trickster, the turkey vulture who steals fire from the gods, omnipresent in Oaxaca; Marimbas: a tuned set of bamboo instruments. But you knew all that!

Flight of Fancy

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Luck, sometimes, just being in the right place at the right time. One step, two steps, and up he went and look at those footsteps. His flight, a step of faith, two steps of faith, and away he goes, fait accompli. Another golden oldie. I do love rediscovering them. The photos, too.

Flight of Fancy

Just by chance, I caught this cormorant.
“Behind you, quick,” said Clare.
I turned and ‘Click!’

Such a miracle:
the first steps of flight
taken over water.
That first step heavy,
the second one lighter,
and the third one
scarcely a paint brush
pocking the waves.

The need to take flight
lies deep within me.
Fleeing from what?
Running towards what?
Who knows?

All I know is that the future
lies to the right of this photo
and the past lies to the left,
and I don’t know
the meaning of either.

But I do remember the words
of Antonio Machado:
‘Caminante, no hay camino,
sólo hay estela sobre la mar.’

“traveler, there is no road,
just a wake across life’s sea.”

Comment: I revised this poem a few minutes ago and cut it down to its essentials. If you want to read the original and check the revisions, click on this link to the earlier poem. Any comments on the rewrite and the revision process would be welcome.

Special Angels

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Another golden oldie and, with the snow fallen and my back aching, it does sometimes feel like it’s an uphill battle. There are always angels at the roadside, though, and some have called and offered to help. Thank you, special angels.

Sometimes the road seems uphill all the way. Lungs burn. Breath comes hot and hard and chunky in the throat. Legs hang heavy, muscles will not obey the owner’s instructions.

Consult the operating manual: “Take a break,” it says. “Rest now. Don’t push too hard.” But to rest is to give in, to come to an abrupt halt, or to drift backwards down the hill.

What stubborn streak is painted so deep in us that it shouts ‘never surrender’ when our most urgent need seems to be to throw in the towel? Is it the urge to get to the top, to see the lower lands stretched out below us? Or is it the mantra of fight the good fight?

Many things can drive us on: a need, a desire, a whim, an urge, or merely a refusal to stop fighting. Some of us will never give up. We will never lie down and curl up in a corner, a dead leaf to be blown hither and thither by the cold night wind.

Look carefully: there are no drugs, no needles, in the biker’s uniform. There is no small accessory motor hidden in the back wheel to help when times get hard.

The mouth is open, the eyes are set on the target, the legs still move, the sun still shines, and three smiling heart-shaped faces cheer the cyclist on.

Who can they be, these three angels at the road side, who can they be? Yet they are there and we are here and the bike is there and the hill is there and sometimes … yes, sometimes, the road IS uphill all the way.

But we keep the pedals turning and we don’t get off our bikes … and that’s life.