The spider plant spins out web after web, all knotted together, then ejected from the central nest.
One landed on my floor the other afternoon with an enormous clunk. A huge new set of offspring and roots ejected and sent on a journey of discovery to find a new home.
Mala madre / bad mother. Oaxacans have a curious way of naming their plants. I lived in an apartment above a courtyard filled with malas madres.
There was also A Bird of Paradise that nested in the same tree, a banana plant, in flower, a huge hibiscus, and such a variety of prize poinsettias that I could never get the varieties straight: red, white. cream, single and double-crowned.
In the powder room, downstairs, our hibiscus is about to break into winter blooms.
It is covered in spider mites. Every day, I hunt them down, squishing them whenever I can.
My daughter calls me cruel and a padre malo.
I say ‘no: it’s them or the hibiscus. You can’t have both.’
Stumps, yes. Firmly planted. Newly arrived at the wicket, I can now take my guard. Last man in with everything to play for.
“Middle and off. Please.” I hold the bat steady, upright, and the man in white nods his head, counts the coins, or stones, he has in his pocket and wonders when he can leave his post and go to tea.
I stand, there, right-handed, and the field adjusts. Then I change hands, keep the same guard, now middle and leg, and stare at the square leg, now a short leg who glares back fiercely.
The man in the white coat tut-tuts in despair. I know he knows this isn’t done. It’s just not cricket. But then, he’s not the one batting on a cloth untrue, with a twisted cue, while the bowlers bowl with elliptical balls.
The field changes over to a left-handed stance. I think about changing over again, but I’m sure there’d be an appeal: wasting time, a nasty crime at this stage of the game, though many do it.
First ball, a long-hop, and I clobber it for four. Three runs to win, four balls to bowl. I block the next ball. The one after is short. I cut it away past gully and call for two. I make it home safe but my partner is run out at the bowler’s end.
We lose by one run. “Serve you right,” says the man in the white coat, racing towards the pavilion for a pee before tea. “That just wasn’t cricket.”
I walk slowly back, stiff upper lip, ramrod straight bat, and no time at all for this sticky dog wicket.
Comment: I wonder how many of my followers will have understood a word of what I have written. Never mind. You can always enjoy the painting. Oh the mysteries of what used to be England’s national game and a wonderful source of metaphor and image. A double-header on the weekend. England vs the West Indies. I wonder if it will be that close?
My usual discipline has deserted me and, as a result, I have deserted my blog, abandoned it, gone absent without leave. It’s not that I am not creating: I am. I am just not posting. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I thought that, for a change, I would post some of my Pocket Paintings / Peintures de Poches. Maybe I will be inspired to write verse about them. Maybe not. We’ll see.
I raise my hand to heaven in fervent supplication: you sever it at the wrist.
I spread out my arms in despair: you take out a tape and measure me for a tailor-made, hand-crafted cross.
I step on my bathroom scales only to find that they have become the scales of your justice: I mourn every pound I have put on.
Where can I turn for solace when all around I see nothing but sorrow and tears?
Covid bears us all down. An albatross, it hangs around our necks and when we raise a hand, your knife is there to cut it off.
Who are you? What are you? Where are you when we need you? Why are you there judging us like this?
I look up at the sky. By day, a great cyclopean eye winks and blinks and tells me nothing. I look at the sky at night: a silver moon slides silently by.
Orion stalks away to the west. He leaves me restless, breathless, agape at all this beauty that I dare not reach out and grasp.
A great big thank you to Allan Hudson, editor of the South Branch Scribbler Blog. He e-mailed me on my birthday, last Sunday, and asked me if I had a story that he could use on his new blog page Short Stories from Around the World. These will be published every other Wednesday, starting today. I am very honoured and proud to be the author of the first story, One Goldfish, third place in the WFNB non-fiction award (2020), that opens the series. It was revised and reworked in the Advanced Writing Course, run by Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox fame. I would like to thank Brian and all my fellow participants who helped me rework the story. On Allan’s blog you will find links to other contributions from me. You will also find a series of featured authors, from New Brunswick, the Maritimes, Canada, and all around the world. Allan does a great job for us minor, struggling literary figures, not just for the greats. I encourage you to follow his blog and support him.
My painting (above) is entitled Ephemera. It shows a literary text semi-obliterated by various colors and devices. If we have learned anything from Covid it should be the fragility of life, the insubstantiality of existence, and the enormous powers of the natural world that surrounds us. My friends: take nothing for granted. Carpe Diem – seize the day – and “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may – for time it is a’flyin – and that poor flower blooming today – tomorrow may be dying.” This is Robert Herrick, of course. Here is my own version of the theme from The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature.
Winter’s chill lingers well into spring. I buy daffodils to encourage the sun to return and shine in the kitchen. Tight-clenched fists their buds, they sit on the table and I wait for them to open.
Grey clouds fill the sky. A distant sun lights up the land but doesn’t warm the earth nor melt the snow. The north wind chills body and soul, driving dry snow across our drive to settle in the garden.
The daffodils promise warmth, foretell the sun, predicting bright days to come. When they do, red squirrels spark at the feeder.
For ten long days the daffodils endure, bringing to vase and breakfast-table stored up sunshine and the silky softness of their golden gift.
Their scent grows stronger as they gather strength from sugared water. But now they begin to wither, their day almost done.
Dry and shriveled they stand this morning, paper-thin, brown, crisp to the touch, hanging their heads as oncoming death weighs them down.
And this has been a dialog with my time and my place. But what is time? A river flowing? A long line leading from my beginning to my end? Alpha and Omega? An instant held between finger and thumb and so swiftly forgotten? A dream I dream when I am awake or asleep? And which is my real dream, waking or sleeping, sleeping or lying awake?
And what is my place? This house in which I now live? The garden I watch from my kitchen window? My town? This forested area where I think I belong? My county? My province? My region? And how do I relate to my “time” or my “place” to this being called “Roger”, this dream-Roger who dreams this post-amniotic ocean of life in which he now drifts? I dream I am male yet when I read Carl Jung I learn that a large part of me is female. I always thought I was masculine / macho / male, yet when a large part of me is feminine / hembra / female, I am no longer sure what I am. And how much does it matter?
I have ten fingers yet I use only two to type. Two fingers manipulate twenty-six letters, selecting some, rejecting others, making careless mistakes, organizing and reorganizing, shuffling all those verbal cards. I turn this black-and-white keyboard world upside down when I think my subversive thoughts and type them onto the computer screen and then print them out on what starts as a snow-white page that slowly fills with ant-size letters. Time and place, male and female: I lay on my side in hospital and the young urologist shot me full of female hormones so my prostrate cancer would not take over my inner organs and destroy my life. Place and time: I lie awake at night and shape disturbing dreams, dreams I have never before dreamed of dreaming.
Some nights I sense the end is drawing near. I fear it. In my beginning is my end. Beginning and end: both belong to me as do time and space, so central to the story of my life. For life will continue with or without me even if I am not there to bear witness. But I have been here, and parts of my story will remain embedded in the mind of each and every one of those who knew me and heard me speak.
Beethoven took the Fifth and rewrote it in his own image. I want to rewrite my life. I want my youth to return. I want to be young and athletic and lithe … I do not want to be this old man with a stick who bends double when he walks and sticks a blue sticker in the windscreen of his car.
I want to refuse to open the door when the postman knocks to deliver my mail. I know that soon he will bring me that registered letter, for which I must sign, with that last fatal message, the subpoena from which there is no appeal. I guess that like the snow and the wild geese, he’ll be back tomorrow, or the next day, in spite of those voices telling me that tomorrow never comes. And so, on an unusually Odd Sunday in a bar they once called Corked, or at another table in another wine bar with a different name, raise a glass to me when I am gone and leave an empty glass on the table for me. If you do, I promise I’ll be there.
Comments: This, as promised, is the final chapter from On Being Welsh. Chronotopos is Bakhtin’s theory that all our writing is a dialog with our time (chronos) and our place (topos). “Know me, know my time and place.” When we discover and explore our time and place we begin to understand ourselves and our roles in life. Then we can start rethinking who and what we are, what we have been, what we want to be, what we need to do in order to change. But first, we must know ourselves, for without self-knowledge, we are ships adrift, floating rudderless on a rising sea, or driven by the forceful wind of others into places where we may not wish to go. My friends, I raise a glass to you, filled, alas, with orange juice, because it is breakfast time, here in Island View, on the first Sunday, damp and cold and wet of 2022.
Only the winners write the history of their conquests, only the winners. Am I a winner, then? Of course I am. I’m writing this aren’t I? Therefore, ipso facto, I am a winner. This means that although they trashed and thrashed me, they never broke me nor was I a loser. I survived. And in that world in which I lived, surviving without surrendering was a victory in itself. But this is no tale of a hero, of bloody deeds, of a great victory. It is a survivor’s tale. So, if I won, then they lost, and who knows now how the losers felt, history’s non-winners, their slates wiped clean now, their names anonymous, erased from my story, not carved in stone nor impressed into steel. What’s in a name? The Red Wings, the Black Hawks, the Braves, the Algonquins? Whose heart lies broken and buried at Wounded Knee? Why does the Wolastoq rise in the Notre Dame mountains and flow down through unceded land to the City of Fredericton that noble daughter of the woods, and on to the city of Saint John on Fundy Bay? Why Wolastoq, Notre Dame, Fredericton, Saint John? “Sticks and stones will break my bones, yet names will never hurt me.” But what if I am called Nemo and have no other name? No-name man, no-name woman, no-name child, no language to call my own, no culture, no history, except the one that others wrote and forced me to believe or the innocent who causes me to rebel
“Grandpa,” she says, climbing on my knee. “Tell me a story. Please.” “Once upon a time,” I begin. “There was this little girl …” She wriggles and giggles. “What was her name?” “I don’t know.” “Yes, you do.” “Don’t.” “Do.” “Was it me? Am I that little girl?” “You can be if you want.” “I want. How does my story end?” “I don’t know. You’ve only just started it.”
So, write your poems, write your stories, write your childhood, write your memories, write what you know, invent what you don’t know. You can’t remember your name? Give yourself a new one. You have forgotten your myths? Create new ones. You have forgotten your language? Seek and you will find, and when you have found, learn your language again, a word at a time, phrase by phrase, word-picture by word-picture, until you have renewed your world and your place in it. Let your ancestors stride through your veins again and again to stand in the spotlight that you shine upon them. Restriction, extinction, suppression of the weakest and poorest, survival of the fittest … You, you who are reading this, you who have survived, you can count yourself among the strongest and the bravest. Now name yourself for who and what you are. Pick up your pen and write. Lazarus I name you: step out from your living tomb, step out from your kennel-cave. Pick up your bed and walk and talk, and write your own story. And remember the words of Oscar Wilde, “Tell your own tale, and be yourself, my friend, because everyone else is taken.”