Joy & Love

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Joy & Love
(1936 – 1969 AD)

sunbathers sunbathe
swimmers don’t swim
except for one silly fool
in a clear patch of water
swept clean by the current
towed under by the undertow

swimmer fights back
goes against the flow
tires so swiftly
raises his arms
throws up goes under
comes up throws up

a beach ball thrown
misses the target
kicked with more accuracy
a soccer ball heavier
lands by his side
he grasps it hangs on
kicking more slowly

sun-bathers sprint
across sand to the shore
linked hands a life-line
reaching out through the waves
to rescue the swimmer
no longer fighting back

summer-sun kisses
resuscitation
sun-bathers victorious
this great chain of being
restoring humanity
sweet victory of man

Night Light

 

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Night Light
(1578 -1591 AD)

quiet now the house
staircase winds up
that wooden hill
to Bedfordshire
down to drop
into darkness
wait in peace
starlight will break
its light-waves
over your eyes
into your heart

owls in the gloom
round eyes gleaming
a who-knows-what
what watches
a godsend now
this light house light
its lightning lightening
enlightening

sudden comfort
this hand on my shoulder
these fingers in my hair
this midnight witch
bewitching

Swans

 

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Swans
(at the Vetch Field)

(circa 1950 AD)

White
their plumage
fierce eyes
folded angels’ wings
black-booted feet
paddling urgent
driving them on

skilled and silky
swift lunge
capable of breaking
leg or arm

all white ghosts
those swans
bodies and spirits
earthly dance done
long since gone
flown to the sky

anonymous
constellations spread
milky feathers
winged like swans

Comment:

The Vetch Field is where Swansea Town (now Swansea City) used to play their soccer. My father took me regularly to see the Swans play and, when young, I preferred the round ball game to the oval ball game. Swansea Town were always known as the Swans and the rugby team were always called the All Whites. No Ospreys and colored uniforms in those days and also no money in the rugby: everything was amateur. The inter-relationship of images in the poem above changes when the reader learns that the Vetch Field is also where the shroud-wrapped bodies of those prisoners who were hanged in nearby Swansea Jail were rumored to be buried. This may or may not be true, but be it myth or legend or plain falsehood, it gives added dimensions  to the imagery in this poem.

Samaritan

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Samaritan
(1890 AD)

I lived with him
he treated me well

to him
I was the other
yet he fed me
when I hungered
gave water
when I ran dry

I fell ill
he cared for me
nursed me back
to health

he taught me
his language
culture history
traditional skills

he loved me
never forced me
to forget myself
and be like him

he made me
what I am today
a discerner
between
light and dark
still the other

 

Mini-Mums

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Permit me to introduce you to my two Mexican mini-mums, in the market square in Oaxaca, with their mini-mums. They sell them at minimum price, a giveaway for tourists who arrive with the all-powerful dollar and yell and holler about how this year’s prices are so much higher than last year’s prices. The flower girls giggle and smile. They have heard it all before. They know where each of the prospective purchasers comes from. They now how they walk, talk, slur their words, cajole, bully, and offer absurd amounts of money, either much too much or much too little. Those tourists: they seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Meanwhile, in spit of appearances to the contrary, the cakes are on sale and the flowers are on sale, but the flower girls, Mano y Petate, and no, those are not their names, those things are definitely not for sale.  “Everything,” the tourists say, “has its price.” True, perhaps, in some circumstances. But people are not things and it’s brutally cruel to put a price on people. Occasionally, a tourist will recognize these girls. They are the ones who decorate the altar in the main cathedral in the square. They have also been known to sing, in Spanish, Latin, and Mixtec, along with their mother, before the high altar in Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, the church with more than six tons of gold and gold leaf layered throughout its magnificence, a true treasure of humanity and an internationally protected building. Once, though, a long time ago, God’s Dogs, as the Dominicans were then called, ran baying through the Valley of Oaxaca, gathering workers with promises of heaven and visions of paradise. The work, they said, was the Lord’s and the Lord wanted them, the people of the Valley of Oaxaca, to build this temple in his name. And here they would stay, under lock and key, until the Lord’s work was done. El Cristo de la Columna: Christ tied to the pillar, stripped to the waist, and flogged. This symbol stands in every church in Oaxaca, and all the People of the Valley of Oaxaca knows exactly what it means, fr it is the punishment meted out to those very people if they do not work hard enough, long enough, fast enough, at their vision of heaven, their taste of paradise, this building of the Church of a Lord who is not even theirs. The tourists marvel at the church, the gold, the paintings, the statues. They praise the mother and her children singing at the high altar: “what beautiful children, what beautiful voices.” But they know nothing about the blood, and the sweat, and the tears that went into the temple’s building.

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Sometimes

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Sometimes an image comes to us, out of nowhere, and we struggle to put it into words. Or else it comes as words, and we strive to put it into color and shape. And what if it is the scent of grass, or of apples, or of fresh cut hay? Mushrooms frying are so symbolic. I think of Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Nobody can recreate for me the smell of fresh laverbread, barra lawr, Welsh caviar, according to Richard Burton. And don’t talk about the Penclawdd cockle women, ever-present with the laverbread in the Swansea market I knew as a child.

Names float through my mind: the butcher, the baker, the candle-stick maker, the man who wanted me to become a professional boxer, the man who wanted me to article with him to become an accountant, the day I wanted to leave school to article to be a lawyer. Were they just dreams? Or were they colored balloons, floated into the atmosphere, with multiple strings attached? And what does it matter now, forty, fifty, sixty years later, when life has been lived, and all those pasts have been condensed into a single tune, that recalls what I was then, what I am now, what I did, and all of it music played on a squeeze-box accordeon by a man who knew everything about me, past and present, and made his knowledge of my life his PhD thesis, dry, dusty, and so academic and biased, and yet his gateway to eternity’s Hall of Fame.

The little lady who lives above us looks on. Does she judge us or just take all that knowledge in and retain a rigid silence? Who knows? Who’ll ever know? And what about us? Are we just corporal ships sailing through a sea of silence surrounded by who knows what reefs and perils? And deep down, does it really matter, any of it? And anyway, who cares?

Today I met a former colleague. She scowled at me and lisped my name. I gave her a two-fingered flick of acknowledgement and turned away without speaking. What did I matter to her or her to me? Did the ice she used to store in her knickers actually melt when she saw me? Did she know me for who and what I am? Do I, did I, give a damn? How many fingers do you see, I wondered? Five? Three? One? And what does that one finger mean, standing out like a lighthouse on a lonely headland above a dangerous reef?

My Madonna of Grief, wrapped in her shawl of uncertainty, drifts through a cloud of unknowing and doesn’t give a damn, one way or another. My Lady of the Discalced Carmelites plods on through rain and snow, feet soaked or frozen, love and warmth in her heart, her foundations ever before her, her soul ghosting above the stupendous stupidities of this stultifying life.

Oh to fly with the angels, to float above the fog and fury of our daily lives, to rise and grasp the meaning of stars, planets, constellations, to hear the eternal music that binds the universe, to become one with the music of the spheres and their song of songs.

 

Xmas Baby

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Xmas Baby

Plural, it should be plural really, Christmas Babies. In Oaxaca, Mexico, the cribs lie empty, awaiting the miracle of the Christmas birth. All the cribs, everywhere, in the main square, in the cathedral, in the shop windows, in the schools, in the houses, the homes, the hallways, the bed-rooms. How can the baby be lying in the crib throughout December, when he isn’t born until midnight on the 24th? All those empty cribs, all those foster mothers and fathers, in waiting, so to speak.

Joyous times, full of expectation. The piñatas swinging from the flat roofs of the azoteas, and the puppet masters pulling the strings as the young children, blind-folded, take turns swinging with stick or baseball bat, trying their best to break the papier-mâché and release the Christmas goodies from their shattered container. There are many kinds of birth, and re-birth. Such joyous expectations. So many ups and downs as the clubs are swung and the piñatas are raised and lowered. Then, the lucky strike, and the silver-paper-wrapped treasure trove falls to the ground and the children dive in and collect their long-awaited goodies. Such joy. Such merriment. Such great expectations, and so seldom deceived.

Meanwhile, in the zócalo, the central square, the balloon lady sits in her  castle surrounded by the technicolor splendor of her plastic walls waiting for the children who will arrive, coins in hand, to purchase her wares and take them on their wind-walk through the square. How wonderful to see them, aerial dogs sky-walking with proud owners tethered to the ground below. How sad to see the child’s face as the occasional balloon seeks freedom in the blue sky above the cathedral towers. What pleasure to see the joy restored as another balloon replaces that first one.

Last night, they set fire to the castillos and waves of firework and flame flooded down church walls as rockets climbed to the sky to knock on heaven’s door and demand that the gods wake up and not forget their people rejoicing here in the streets below. Yes, the gods, for Oaxaca is still a pagan land where the old gods roam and devil and angels mingle on the cathedral steps with the witch doctor who lights his fire, burns his copal, and worships the old gods in the good old ways that never perished, in spite of the attention paid to them by the priests of the Spanish Inquisition. They hang on, the old gods, the old customs, the old Mixtec calendars, in barber shops and craft stores and you can purchase them in the market place or in the secret stores where mescal is brewed in the centuries’ old way and the yellow worms wiggle and glisten as they sink to the bottom of the bottle where they lie in wait to sink their hallucogenic teeth into the minds of  unsuspecting tourists.

Today, however, is Christmas Day. The baby is born. The cribs are filled with his little image. Some shops have a live child, with his mother and father standing there, waving, showing their baby off to the worshiping crowd who cluster, mouths open, at the window. Marimbas play. Village bands march. The State Orchestra warms up. What joy in the land, this Christmas morning as, back home in Merrie Olde England, all the bells are ringing and across the frosty meadows, carillon carols ring out loud and clear.