A Sacrifice to Mithras

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A Sacrifice to Mithras

“What is this sound?”
“It is your own death sighing,
groaning, growing
while you wait for it
to devour you.”

“What is this feeling”
“It is the itch of your own skin
wrinkling and shrinking,
preparing to wrap you
in the last clothes you’ll wear.”

“What is this taste?”
“It is the taste of your life,
bottled like summer wine
once sweet tasting,
now turning to vinegar.”

“What is this smell?”
“It is waste and decay,
the loss of all you knew
and of all that knew you.

“That carriage outside?”
It is the dark hearse
come to carry you
to your everlasting home.”

“Look on us in our darkness,
help us to seek and see the light.
Keep us strong, keep us brave.
Mithras, always a soldier,
help us to die aright.”

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Comment: I am re-reading Puck of Pook’s Hill (Rudyard Kipling). It was given to me for a Christmas present (1955) by my father’s younger brother, my Uncle Frank. His signature is there, on the fly leaf, and his hand writing is as I always remember it. As I write these words, I can still hear his voice. The Song to Mithras, on which this poem is based, can be found on page 191, my edition (MacMillan, 1955), as a prelude to The Winged Hats. Without these clues, the poem operates in another space, more personal and more morbid, perhaps. The rites to Mithras were associated with the sacrifice, at midnight, of the black bull. The upper photograph shows one of the Bulls of Guisando (Los Toros de Guisando), which have stood in the province of Avila, in Spain, since time immemorial. So old are they, that the Roman legions left their mark on them in Latin, as you can see from the photo, when they conquered Spain after the Carthaginian wars.  The lower photo shows fighting bulls on a bull farm in Salamanca, Spain. Born from generations of fighting stock, these animals have been bred for thousands of years to die in the bull ring, as the bulls dedicated to Mithras were bred to die in the Roman temples. This is not a defense of the cruelty of bullfighting or the sacrifice of animals. It is rather a statement regarding the longevity of cruelty, of sacrifice, of the natural flow that leads men and women from birth, through childhood, to maturity, and on to old age, and death. My father is long gone now, as is his younger brother. Who will have access to these memories of mine when I go? Who will remember my family when I am gone?

Fire and Flame

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Fire and Flame

1

The world is on fire.
Someone, somewhere
lit a match.
The world exploded.

A match in the lungs.
the whole world burning.

Someone, somewhere
sneezed into their sleeve.
the world collapsed
in a fit of coughing.

“It isn’t the cough
that carries you off,
it’s the coffin
they carry you off in,”
said the talking head,
scientific boffin.

2

Intelligence, give me
the exact name of things:
corona virus, vaccine,
air that’s pure,
drinkable water,
a new, fresh world
for my daughter
and her daughter.

I wish I could spare them
from all this slaughter.

Comment: The echoes in here are obvious to me, but to how many others? Octavio Paz strolls through the first stanza while Juan Ramón Jiménez patrols the second one. How many people read their poems now? Polvo seco de tesis doctoral / dry dust of a doctoral thesis, as my friend José María Valverde once wrote. He, too, passed and will all too soon be forgotten like the rest. And time: what is it? How does it function? Is it linear or circular and repetitive? It twists and turns, like we did last summer, but not like we’ll do this one. My old arthritic bones will allow me to twist no more. Vingt-et-un, quatre-vingt- et-un: twist and bust. Yet time flows by, like water under Le Pont Mirabeau and days blend into days. 79 days of lock down now, all voluntary, or is it 80? El tiempo aquí no tiene sentido / time is meaningless in here, as my friend and mentor, José Hierro wrote, so long ago. And yes, these memories linger on, as time lingers on, as life lies heavy around us, and time limps by with its lame, old feet, yet looking back, it has raced passed like a spring river in spate. And the leaves are back, and the flowers are coming up, and the spring birds and bees and butterflies are arriving … and, in spite of everything, perhaps even because of it, life is as lovely as it ever was. Keep safe, keep well!

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Empty Nest

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Emptiness
is an
Empty Nest

The wind at the window
scratches tiny notes.
I can no longer hear the tune
nor read the words.

Who walks beside me
as I pace my lonely path,
abandoned
in this empty house.

My self-portrait
stares back at me:
a splintered selfie,
framed in a sliver
of silvery glass.

Above me,
the monkey-faced moon,
that itinerant tinker,
walks a fractured way
over broken glass.

The knapsack on his back
is cobbled together
from a finery of cobwebs
and clumsy clouds.

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Bath Time

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Bath Time

              My grandfather took a bath once a year, On New Year’s Eve, so he could be ready, so he said, washed and clean, for the New Year. His bath day / birthday was a family event. If we wanted a bath, well the bath water didn’t stay hot for long in the bath-tub at the top of the house, under the rafters, so an old tin bath was dragged into the kitchen and a black, iron kettle was placed on the hob, and water was boiled. One by one, we were immersed, and scrubbed, to emerge pink and glossy. All this happened in the kitchen in front of the fireplace, where we sat up wrapped in bath-robes and blankets, drinking hot cocoa so we wouldn’t catch cold. But my grandfather took his bath at the top of the house, under the rafters, in the old chipped enamel tub with its lion-claw feet, water-stained sides, and its old brass taps. He walked up there fully clothed, walked into the bathroom, and shut the door behind him, drawing the bolt with a finality that shut us all out. He sang the great choruses from Aida, and Nabucco, and we imagined him, wallowing there, in the warm water, with all his clothes on, for it was hard to imagine my grandfather naked. Then, half an hour later, he would emerge, looking just like he did when he walked into the bathroom. We never heard the water running, nor did we hear it draining away. All we heard was the The Hebrew Slaves’ Chorus and my grandfather swinging his Blacksmith’s hammer as he battered at the New Year’s Anvil.

Comment: I didn’t have a photo of an old bath tub in my collection, so the lead picture is one of Geoff Slater’s murals: a buoy (pronounced ‘boy’ in Wales), taking a bath in the sea.  Let me know if you like these Welsh childhood memories, and I will keep adding to them. They are certainly fun to write and I find incredible the many ways in which memories surge as I am learning to speak Welsh. Each new chapter in my journey seems to start a new wave of thought.

Lamplighter

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Gas Lamps

When I was very young, a long time ago, in Swansea, many of our streets still had gas lamps.  The lamp-lighter would appear in winter around three or three-thirty to light those lamps. I remember him walking up the street with his long pole over his shoulder, moving from lamp to lamp. We had one outside our front door. He would turn on the gas, then light the lamp from the lighted wick at the end of his pole.  Sometimes he carried a ladder with him. Then, every so often, when the lamp needed tending, he would climb the ladder and adjust the wick. These gas lights were not very bright but they stood out like light houses between stretches of darkness and we would walk from pool to glowing pool, as if they were stepping stones leading us up the hill to home. We all knew the lamplighter and he would often wave to us as we sat in the front room window to watch him walk by. We rarely saw him in the mornings when he came back to turn off the lamps. We were all tucked safely into our beds. I remember that I wanted to be lamplighter. Later I realized that there are many ways to light a lamp and spread brightness through the world. When I grew up, I became teacher, a coach, a faculty adviser, a mentor, a creator, and those roles allowed me to establish myself as a lighter of a very different set of lamps.

 

 

Wet Welsh Rain

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Wet Welsh Rain

              Day after day, rain, drives in over Singleton Park and Swansea Bay. It claws its clouded way, shroud clad in grey cloud, up Rhyddings Park Road, through Brynmill, and up to the Uplands and Sketty, as it was then, now Sgetti. In those days, the rain got everywhere. It swirled around ankles and knees wetting everything below the hem of the raincoat. Umbrellas kept the shoulders dry. But when the wind blew, and gamp and brolly turned inside out, and people looked as though they were duelling with the wind, and threatening to poke each other’s eyes out, then a good soaking was sometimes better and safer and, in the worst of the rain and the wind, the gamps and brollies came down.  As for the puddles: they were everywhere. You walked in them, whether you wanted to or not, and your leather shoes turned into a pulp that let in water. Socks slopped around your feet, wetter than soggy blotting paper aka blotch [hands up if you remember blotch!]. Heads down, we faced the wind, draped around bus stops, waiting for buses that never came singly, but only in threes after much long suffering. Wind like a whiplash drove the rain before it and everywhere, woolen scarves turned into wet wash cloths and woolen gloves became underwater rain-sodden mittens.

Comment: As Tropical Storm Arthur gathers in the North Atlantic, we would do well to remember the good old days of summer holidays in Wales when it rained every day, bob dydd, during the whole two-week vacation. But did it really rain back then? Who remembers now? I seem to remember it was sunny every day, especially when the cricket was suspended with the words Rain Stopped Play displayed across the television screen. Ant the lunch time cricket scores: what joy to listen to them and to discover one day, as I listened on my illicit radio hidden in my school dormitory,  that play had been stopped because of “piddles on the putch, sorry, I mean puddles on the pitch” [hands up if you remember that announcement!]. I am sorry to say that particular radio announcer did not stay in his job for long. A great pity: I found him rather amusing.

We would do well, too, to recall the twelve days without electric power that followed Hurricane Arthur, back in 2014 [hands up if you remember Hurricane Arthur!]. Alas and alack: how accurate are our memories? And did all of those things really happen? As the street vendors and newspaper vendors [hands up if you remember paper boys!] used to cry out on street corners “Echo, Echo, South Wales Echo: Read all about it” or “Post, Evening Post, South Wales Evening Post, read all about it!” The South Wales Echo and the South Wales Evening Post hands up if you remember them … Oh those were the days … or were they? … click here and read all about it!

 

 

 

 

Limbo Dancing

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Limbo Dancing

Yesterday I went limbo dancing
in the bedroom mirror.
Lower and lower I danced
until I fell into the mirror
and became my reflection.

Rough were the waters.
I know how to swim, but
I thought I would drown,
except the light was too shallow
and my feet touched bottom
when I let down my wheels.

I swam on and in
looking for a deserted island
on which to build
my idle, sandcastle dreams.

Two people said they saw
my reflection swimming,
a goldfish in a silver space.

They said I stared back at them
with circles of longing
ringing my eyes, but I laughed
when they said they had seen me,
for when I looked in the mirror
that reflected the mirror,
I saw myself limbo dancing,
stranded between
heaven and hell
in a dance hall called Virus
where I drank Corona.

Whose eyes watch me now
as my video goes viral
and I twist and I dance
in a fantasy land
filled with sweet nothings.