Charles Baudelaire

A butterfly perches on Les Fleurs du Mal.

Charles Baudelaire

He walks past the Jesuit Church
where the shoe-shine boys store
polish, brushes, and chairs overnight.
He walks past the wrought-iron bench
where the gay guys sit, caressing,
asking the unsuspecting to join them.

Nobody asks Charles for a match,
for a drink, for charity, for a walk
down the alley to a cheap hotel.

The witch doctor is the one who stops
the hands on all the clocks at midnight.
He’s the one who leaves this place,
and returns to this place, all places being one.
The witch doctor sees little things
that other men don’t see. He reaches out
and flicks a fly from Charles’s nose.
“I too have lost my way,” it sighs.

Charles thinks he knows who he is,
but sometimes he wonders when he shaves,
rasping the razor across his chin’s dry husks.
The witch doctor, his lookalike, his twin,
stares back at him from the bathroom mirror.
Three witches dance on the waning soap dish.
One spins the yarn, one measures the cloth,
one wields the knife, that will one day sever
the thread of all poor creatures born to die.

Oh hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère.

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

Old man looks out of his window.
Falling leaves twist like they did in his childhood.
They spread bronzed carpets across the lawn.
His granddaughter stands by the flowerbed,
squeezing fall’s last blossoms,
turning them into perfume.

Dandelions clutter Old Man’s lawn.
Last summer he lost the strength and will
to stoop down and root them out.
In dreams, Old Man’s spirit tries to escape
and wander through celestial pastures.
For a moment, stars shine brighter
as a new spark adorns the sky.

Walking through the Aurora Borealis,
he understands the way to weave rainbows
from ribbons of color and floating light.
Old Man knows he must share this knowledge.
One day he will share his secret with this child.

Man from Merthyr

Man from Merthyr

 Memory loss punched holes in your head
and let in the dark, instead of the light.
Constellations faded from your sight,
erased by the arch-angel’s coal-dust wing.

 “I’m shrinking,” you said, the last time I saw you,
you, who had been taller, were now smaller than me.

 Tonight, when the harvest moon shines bright
and drowns the stars in its sea of light,
I will sit by my window and watch for your soul
as it rockets its way to eternity.

My eyes will be dry. I do not want pink runnels
running down this coal-miner’s unwashed face.
I’ll sing you this lullaby, to help you sleep.

“When the coal comes from the Rhondda
down the Merthyr-Taff Vale line,
when the coal comes from the Rhondda
I’ll be there,” with you, shoulder to shoulder.
Farewell, my friend, sleep safe, sleep deep.

Time

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Time
A Theory of the Absurd

I wonder what I’m doing here, so far from home, sitting
at the bar, with my beer before me, my face distorted
in half a dozen fairground mirrors, surrounded by
people half my age, or less, all smoking, cursing, using
foreign forms of meta-language, gestures I no longer recall:
the single finger on the nose, two fingers on the forehead,
the back of the hand rammed against the chin with a sort
of snort of disapproval. It’s way beyond my bedtime, yet
I am held here, captured, body and soul, by foreign rhythms,
unreal expectations of a daily ritual that runs on unbroken
cycles of time: morning brandy, pre-lunch wine and tapas,
home for the mid-day meal, a brief siesta, back to the café
for a post-prandial raising of spirits, more blanco, then back
to work at four and struggle on until seven or eight when
the bar routine begins again with pre-supper tapas and tinto.
Time, comprehended in this new life-cycle, lacks meaning.
Time, in a cycle I have long abandoned, is absurd as well.

Fun in Fundy

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Fundy

Salt on the sea wind sifts raucous gulls in packs,
breeze beneath wings, searching for something
to scavenge. Seaweed. The tidemark filled with
longing. A grey sea crests and rises. Staring eyes:
stark simplicity of that seal’s head filling the bay.
Next day, his body stretched dead on the beach.

The river runs rocky beneath the covered bridge.
Campers have created first nation’s rock people,
heaping stone upon stone. At low tide, on the dried
river bed, there is no easy way to say no. White foam

horses stamp and foam in the sea farrier’s forge. Cold
winds blow at Cape Enrage. Wolfe Point sees late
gales transform the beach: the sandbar carved:
a Thanksgiving turkey, stripped to bare rib bone.

Dead birds sacrificed so I can walk here in comfort,
my anorak stuffed with their plundered plumage.

Memory

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Memory

Marigolds, Oaxacan flowers
grown to guide the dead,
leave so many memories at my door.

Milk bottles placed on the concrete step:
every morning, sparrows peck holes
in the silver tops to drink the cream.

Memory:
its once open door
now slowly closes.

Keys no longer turn in the lock.
Sleep gathers in forgotten rooms,
falling like dust on silken flowers.

Shadows double themselves in the mirror:
recycled shades carve the shower’s glass.

Wary of shade and flame I bathe beneath
a dust-laden beam of sunlight.

Motes in my mind:
flesh and blood chessmen
playing their game
on checkered boards of day and night.

Fate Accompli

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Fate Accompli

Life begins with the glow-worm of a match.
Luciérniga, Lucifer, the bringers of light.
Sun-flames flicker on the weaver’s fingers,
lighting day’s candle, bringing an end to night.

The shuttle clatters away, plotting our fate.
Tiny, we await our doom on the maker’s loom.
Wooden teeth braid each of the threads
the mid-wife will tie when she cuts the knot.

Three witches stand beside the newborn’s cradle.
One spins the yarn, one measures the thread,
the third one wields the journey-ending knife.

Infants, we walk, unwitting, our planks of fire.
We cast star-crossed shadows on cave walls.
Three witches smile as false omens forge our fate.

Ruins of the Heart

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Ruins of the Heart

Dusty paths meander under drifting clouds.
A worn-out, shadow rag, this ruined land.

An old man with a sly-eyed dog herds thin cows.
Threatened, I stoop and gather stones.

Moving targets, the dog, a shadow of dust
on burial mounds, wind-stirred with weeds.

Abandoned in this wilderness, a wild thorn
thrusts a spear through my derelict heart.

A rag-bag my own body, stitched together
with threads of long-forgotten tales.

Fear sets nightmare shadows dancing,
skeletons come alive on sculpted graves.

Carved faces, a woman, courted by men.
Which one captured her flowering heart?

Who pierced it with an arrow? Who scarred
her name letter by letter on this stone?

That first rock, freed from my fingers,
strikes hard on the canine’s cowardly frame,
setting earth’s shadows free to flee.

Mountain Ash

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Mountain Ash

Honey sweet bark drilled by beaks
bleeds the rowan’s life away.
Who do we kill: bird or tree?

Decision made, the sap-suckers,
claws trapped in sackcloth, fluff
their feathers, leave their feast.

Red beads on the mountain ash:
a rosary of bright berries.

Bitter on the tongue, sunset’s
first flourish tinting my dream.

Midnight gnaws at the moon.
Its white skull drifts, a stone knife,
sharpened, in the sky’s iron hand.

At shadowed garden’s shallow
edge, the sorbus aucuparia bends,
its spirit walking night’s waters.

Nochebuena

IMG0034_1.jpg
Poinsettia is called nochebuena in Oaxaca.
It also means ‘Christmas Eve’ in Spanish.

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Nochebuena

Nochebuena / Christmas Eve:
last year, a star fell down the chimney
and landed on the poinsettia.
The cat and the dog stood up to deliver
new versions of their Christmas vision.
Birch bark: ghosts on the snow bank turned
white in the moonlight as they danced,
so slender and so bright.

This year an obsidian knife
hacks through my mind
slicing it into two uneven pieces.
Snowflakes invade its split personality.
Thin ice spreads across glacial fires.
Incarcerated birds sing deep in my rib cage.
A child’s world: with its lost toys lies
buried beneath fresh snow.

Tears freeze in my eyes,
drip from my eyelashes,
and fall to the earth as stars.
Soon I will be an enormous sunflower,
trapped in this wet clay rag of a body.

If I sit here in silence
will the world, like a garden
growing wild, go on without me?
The flowers in my yard close
their mouths and refuse to answer.