Cave Paintings

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Cave Paintings
Cantabria

Who painted these pictures on the walls of night’s cave?
This grayish hand, fingers flexed, outlined in black soot,
that deer dancing, those bears, horses, bison, running?


Did they come from nowhere, plucked from nothing but
the artist’s memories of what he saw as the ice age faded
and heat and warmth returned to warm his world? Drawn
from life, without doubt. Unless these Neanderthals were
truly creating art from a literal vacuum with nothing new
invented since according to Picasso. And he should know.

Imagine them as sounds, as letters from distant relatives,
as colored vowels scored on the blocks of a child’s first
alphabet set. Sit and stare. Watch flames flitter over
sharp shapes. See life enter the drawings as flimsy
light flickers over the cave walls’ dips and bumps.

Once seen, never forgotten. Not just the paintings, but also
the clammy cave damp, the red hanky draped over a pocket torch
to imitate firelight, the drip of water, slow growth of limestone
deposits growing into stalagmite and stalactite. Such things
flit in and out of my mind like owls or bats, drop in on my sleep
wake me with predatory beaks and claws, calling for my skull’s shut
doors to open wide, to let them in, and to bring them back to life.

Comment: The picture comes from an ash-tray my parents bought at the Cuevas de Altamira, in Santillana del Mar (Cantabria, Santander as it was known then) in 1963. We visited many cave sites in Cantabria including Puente Viesgo, where we saw the sooty hands. Back then, the caves had only just been opened. At Altamira, a young lady came to greet us. We asked her if we might view the caves and she whistled loudly. Her husband came down from the fields where he was working. He took a large iron key from his pocket, opened a huge door set in the rock, and in we went. One light bulb illumined the inner chamber. Only a small segment had been dug out. We reclined on a rocky bank. He doused the electric light, took a torch from his pocket, and covered it with a red pocket handkerchief. He moved this back and forth to imitate firelight and immediately the whole wall came to life and the animals moved in the flickering light. Pure magic. Unforgettable. We were the only people there. Four of us. A few years later, you had to book an appointment and a place. Within six years, the caves were closed as the heat of human bodies raised the cave temperatures and caused the paintings to deteriorate. I was so fortunate, so privileged, to see those paintings in what was almost their pristine state. In 1991, I visited the facsimile of the caves built in Madrid. I paid my money, went in, sat down, and came out crying for all those things we had lost, for all that beauty that had been denied.

Daybreak at KIRA

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Daybreak

… early morning sunshine
creepy-crawly spider leg rays
climbing over window and wall
my bed-nest alive to light
not night’s star twinkle
but the sun’s egg breaking
its golden yolk
gilding sheet and pillow
billowing day dreams
through my still sleepy head …

… the word feast festering
gathering its inner glimpses
interior life of wind and wave
the elements laid out before me
my banquet of festivities
white the table cloth
golden the woodwork’s glow
mind and matter polished
and the sun show shimmering
its morning glory on garden and porch …

Comment: Not every day is the same, nor are the colors the same. Monet would watch the sun crossing the face of Rouen Cathedral. Every hour brought a different set of colours and a changed palette of impressions. No two mornings in the Red Room are the same. Each one presents a changed light, changing moments, changing impressions, but all (or almost all) are unforgettable. The poem, incidentally, can be found in One Small Corner. A Kingsbrae Chronicle (available at this link).

Comment: Another moment of magic: this is the morning of the partial eclipse (Thursday, 10 June, 2021). However, there’s enough cloud cover for me to have missed the actual moments of the eclipse. That said, the sun is all distorted and not at all clear, as it usually is when seen early from the Red Room, nor is it the same rich colors at all, so perhaps I did catch something worthwhile after all. More than worthwhile, this too is a magic moment.

Dawn at KIRA

Dawn at KIRA
The Red Room

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Dawn at KIRA

A fiery wedge, fierce beneath
black-capped clouds, alive
the firmament with light,
breaking its waves over woods,
waters, tranquil the bay, grey,
yellow-streaked, then blue,
the new day dawning,
driving night away,
false shadows fleeing.

To rock this new born babe,
to swaddle it in a cloak of cloud,
disguised for a moment its promise,
nature nurturing heart and mind,
filling the flesh with memory’s
instantaneous flash breaking its light
into the dark where no light shone,
fearful, the dream world,
gone now, dwindling, as day light
shafts its arrowed flight.

How thoughtful My Lady
 who placed me here,
at this desk,
at this window,
 at this moment of time.

Glorious, this day-break:
words no justice can do
to peace and light,
this early morning,
filtering sunlight
through the waking mind,
relighting the fires
within the heart,
and glory a word’s throw away
outside this window.

Comment: The poem dates from June, 2017, my first KIRA residency, and can be found in One Small Corner. A Kingsbrae Chronicle (available at this link). The photo, however, dates from this morning, Friday, 11 June 2021, and coincides with my second KIRA Residency. The early morning light in the Red Room is indeed glorious, and the room well deserves its name. The small table by the window overlooking Minister’s Island and Passamaquoddy Bay is a wonderful place for a writer who wishes to create nature imagery based on impressions of light and changing light.

Wake up, sleepy heads, get out of bed and admire the sun as he starts his daily climb. He has left the underworld and his horses have started to draw his chariot on its daily trip up the sky. Look closely, and you can just see the hot breath of their efforts, up there, just above the sun.

Ginger Marcinkowski

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Ginger Marcinkowski
(KIRA, August, 2019)

“My walk each morning, rain or shine,
feathers my black galoshes with dewy grass.
There I would ramble through gated doors
that kept out the world and sealed in
my pen’s work for that day. 

I often found myself sidetracked,
exploring paths that led through flowerbeds,
and up to my favorite sculptures.
I paused to watch my fellow artists
as they focused on chosen subjects
unaware that I was eavesdropping. 

Then silently, I would steal away
along the well-trod path to my studio,
pausing long enough to greet the llamas
and baby goats. If I listen carefully
I can still hear their bleating. 

In wonder, every day, I climbed the steps
of wood that led to my studio, opened
the door, and turned to breathe in my good
fortune. “What a blessed woman you are,”
I would tell myself before taking my place
for hours on end at my desk, each moment,
each stroke of the pen, each letter added
to the growing lines on the page, a gift.”

Comment: I have been writing poems about the KIRA artists as part of my next poetry book, The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature. This is my KIRA2021 project. The Nature of Art is a revision and expansion of a poetry manuscript of the same name that placed second in the WFNB’s Alfred G. Bailey Award (2020). This poem appears in the section entitled Impressions of KIRA Artists. Currently this section contains eleven poems, but it is still under construction. This poem is interesting in that it is a ‘found’ poem, in the sense that Ginger wrote these words to me in an e-mail. I removed them, reordered them, polished them, and sent her back her own poem in her own words. What fun! This should help explain the use of inverted commas at beginning and end, for this poem is spoken in Ginger’s own words.

Cage of Flame

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Cage of Flame

Now you are a river flowing silver beneath the moon. High tide in the salt marsh: your body fills with shadow and light. I dip my hands in dappled water. Twin gulls, they float down stream, then perch on an ice-floe of half-remembered dreams. Eagle with a broken wing, why am I trapped in this cage of flame? When I turn my feathers to the sun, my back is striped with the black and white of a convict’s bars. Awake, I lie anchored by what pale visions fluttering on the horizon? White moths wing their snow storm through the night. A feathered shadow ghosts fingers towards my face. Butterflies stutter against a shuttered window. A candle flickers in the darkness and map in runes the ruins of my heart. Eye of the peacock, can you touch what I see when my eyelids close for the night? The black rock of the midnight sun rolled up the sky. Last night, the planet quivered beneath my body and I felt each footfall of a transient god. When will I be released from my daily bondage?

Oh dear, I no longer know whether I am writing poetry or prose. Maybe I should contact Survey Monkey and have a survey on the subject. Clearly the above is prose because it has no line breaks. But what happens when we do this?

Cage of Flame

Now you are a river flowing
silver beneath the moon.
High tide in the salt marsh:
your body fills with shadow and light.
I dip my hands in dappled water.

Eagle with a broken wing,
why am I trapped in this cage of flame?
When I turn my feathers to the sun,
my back is striped with the black
and white of a convict’s bars.

Awake, I lie anchored by what pale visions
fluttering on the horizon?
White moths wing their snow
storm through the night.
A feathered shadow ghosts
fingers towards my face.
Butterflies stutter against
a shuttered window.
A candle flickers in the darkness
and maps in runes the ruins of my heart.

Eye of the peacock,
can you touch what I see
when my eyelids close for the night?
The black rock of the midnight sun
rolled up the sky.

Last night, the planet quivered
beneath my body and I felt
each footfall of a transient god.
When will I be released
from my daily bondage?

Sure, it’s the same text. But is it? And what happens if we change the line breaks? Does the rhythm stay the same in both cases? It certainly does when I read it, but how about you? Poetry or prose? Tell me if you knows! And what’s the difference anyway if the words roll off your tongue and metaphors, mystery, and magic rule?

Cage of Flame can be found in my poetry collection Though Lovers Be Lost and also in Stars at Elbow and Foot (Selected Poems, 1979-2009). Both are available at this link.

Inquisitor

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Inquisitor

Inquisitor

He told me to read,
and plucked my left eye from its orbit.
He slashed the glowing globe of the other.
Knowledge leaked out, loose threads dangled.
He told me to speak and I squeezed dry dust
to spout a diet of Catechism and Confession.

He emptied my mind of poetry and history.
He destroyed the myths of my people.
He filled me with fantasies from a far-off land.
I live in a desert where people die of thirst,
yet he talked to me of a man who walked on water.

On all sides, as stubborn as stucco,
the prison walls listened and learned.
I counted the years with feeble scratches:
one, five, two, three.

For an hour each day the sun shone on my face,
for an hour at night the moon kept me company.
Broken worlds lay shattered inside me.
Dust gathered in my people’s ancient dictionary.

My heart was like a spring sowing
withering in my chest
It longed for the witch doctor’s magic,
for the healing slash of wind and rain.

The Inquisitor told me to write down our history:
I wrote … how his church … had come … to save us.

Inquisitor was also a requested reading last Saturday. My promise, to put it up on the blog, with a reading in my own voice is now fulfilled. I love this poem: it speaks volumes about the Catholic Church in Oaxaca and the relationship of the Dominicans with the local people, aboriginals all and inhabitants of the Valley of Oaxaca for at least 10,000 years. The numbers represent the approximate date, 1523, of the arrival of the Conquistadores in Oaxaca, about three years after the fall of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, now Mexico City. The poem, Inquisitor, can be found in Sun and Moon and also in Stars at Elbow and Foot, both available through this link.

Stars at Elbow and Foot

Stars at Elbow and Foot

Stars at Elbow and Foot
(Selected Poems,1979-2009)
is now available online at the following link:

Purchase
Stars at Elbow and Foot

“These poems reveal an impressive tenderness and have a very great variety.
The ceaseless radiation of sublime ideas is perceptible in these poems.”

“A poetry book is a dream you hold in your hands.”

Saturday at KIRA

Early morning sun through mist.

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Saturday at KIRA

Visitors Day at KIRA and the artists work in their studios showing their methods and techniques to visitors from the local community and further afield. The mist disappears very quickly and we are left with sunshine and warmth. A good day for sitting out on the porch and waiting for guests.

View from my book table.

I sit behind my table on the porch at KIRA, making notes in my journal and waiting for the advent of guests. I have no plans other than to sit ad write. If people arrive and wish to engage me in conversation, that will be great. It will be even better if they pick up a book, open it, choose a poem or a passage of prose, and allow me to read it to them. They can follow the text while I read. When people do arrive, they look first at the covers of the saddle-stitch books and chapbooks. Many comment on the wonderful pencil sketches that Geoff provided for them. A couple are drawn to the bright colors and cartoons of the larger books. Title and cover combine together to persuade each visitor to pickup a book and start to read it.

Visitor’s view of the book table.

This is more or less what guests and visitors see when they approach the book table. You have to imagine me, the poet, sitting behind that table, masked if I do not know the guests, unmasked and at a safe distance if I do. I find it difficult to read out loud with the mask on. It is much easier, mask off.

I promised one guest, alas, I have forgotten her name, that I would post a poem and a voice recording of it, here on my blog, so that she and her friends could hear me read. This is the poem I read to her. I do hope she is able to locate my blog and follow this up. Here is the poem, from Sun and Moon. Poems from Oaxaca.

Santo Domingo
Worshipping Gaia before the great altar
in Santo Domingo

If the goddess is not carried in your heart
like a warm loaf in a paper bag beneath your shirt
you will never discover her hiding place

she does not sip ambrosia from these golden flowers
nor does she climb this vine to her heavenly throne
nor does she sit on this ceiling frowning down

in spite of the sunshine trapped in all this gold
the church is cold and overwhelming
tourists come with cameras not the people with their prayers

my only warmth and comfort
not in this god who bids the lily gilded
but in that quieter voice that speaks within me

and brings me light amidst all this darkness
and brings me poverty amidst all this wealth

I will post some of the other poems that I read on the porch over the next few days. Meanwhile, be patient with me. I feel that I am all off-balance, trapped between two worlds, part of me is away in KIRA and part of me is home in Island View. I find it difficult to work on my KIRA2021 project, a rewrite of The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature. This manuscript placed second in the WFNB’s Alfred G. Bailey poetry award in 2020. Since then, I have been revising it and adding to it, with KIRA2021 in mind. However, creating and posting seem to be two conflicting skills right now. The need to express (open blogging) and the need to create (secretive and non-sharing). I hope this helps to explain my irregular postings and my absences from this blog.

Color and Shape

Shaky hands @ 4:30 am

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Color and Shape

Waking up to an early morning sky
that leaves eyes and mind stained
with raspberry juice and blueberries.
Night’s vain shadows flee, leaving
behind a certain something,
a residue of resonance resounding
down half-aware corridors
unconscious of what they are seeing,
unaware of the beauty they have seen.
Misty the memories, slipping , sliding
into the oblivion of falling back to sleep
only to wake to another world,
gray scale now, a tissue of cloud and mist
and something mysterious, sensed,
but not grasped, by searching fingers.

Hard to believe it’s the same room,
the same window, the same camera,
the same day, the same scene. Clarity,
perhaps, but lost the mystery, the nature
of that wild rainbow world blessing
my waking moments, coloring my dreams,
my rapidly dissolving dreams.