Striations

There are striations in my heart, so deep, a lizard could lie there, unseen, and wait for tomorrow’s sun. Timeless, the worm at the apple’s core waiting for its world to end. Seculae seculorum: the centuries rushing headlong. Matins: wide-eyed this owl hooting in the face of day. Somewhere, I remember a table spread for two. Breakfast. An open door. “Where are you going, dear?” Something bright has fled the world. The sun unfurls shadows. The blood whirls stars around the body. “It has gone.” she said. “The magic. I no longer tremble at your touch.” The silver birch wades at dawn’s bright edge. Somewhere, tight lips, a blaze of anger, a challenge spat in the wind’s taut face. High-pitched the rabbit’s grief in its silver snare. The midnight moon deep in a trance. If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.

Comment: This is the prose version, from Fundy Lines (2002). The prose version was based on an extract from a longer poem that first appeared in Though Lovers Be Lost (2000). Though Lovers Be Lost is also available on Amazon and Kindle.

Rats

Rats

Black clouds build over the Bristol Channel, threatening to cross the Severn from Ilfracombe to Brandy Cove and climb inland to rattle our windows and bounce rain off our corrugated roof.
            We run out to the lane, looking for the dog, calling his name. Hoping to get him in before he gets soaked. The rubbish dump outside the gate sits on a concrete stand and dominates the lane. Tall and stinky, the red-brick structure rustles with scavenging, skirmishing rats. Pinned to the dump, a hand-written notice: “Please do not light this dump.” We smile as we read it. Our neighbours will put a match to this dump, one dry night, on the way back from the pub.
            Kim, Nana’s Wire-haired Fox Terrier, spends his days at the dump in an effort to achieve his life’s desire: the elimination of every worrying, scurrying rat that ever inhabited the planet. When he tires of killing rats, he will bring their bodies home to the bungalow. Sometimes he lays them in rows outside the backdoor: rats, mice, field mice, voles. Sometimes he brings them inside and places them on the concrete base beneath the old cast-iron stove. Every day Kim sacrifices to my grandmother, his Gower Goddess, and lays the victims out on her altar.
            The rain is close. We run back down the lane to avoid the storm that is now upon us. Violent and short-lived, like so many summer storms in Wales, raindrops will thump against windows and roof. Lightning will flash, thunder roll its celestial drums, and the wind will whip its lash round the chimney. We sit at the table and sip hot cocoa. No sign of the dog.
            Later, when the storm has passed, we wander up to the lane, avoiding the deeper runnels of muddy water, and stepping from high point to stony high point. We scurry hurriedly past the dump and listen to the rats. They will survive for another night. Nobody will be able to light the dump after rain like that. Back in the field, we fill up the water can, take a handle each, and carry the precious liquid back to Gran.
            We walk to the back door. Our neighbor is standing there, crying.
            “I didn’t see him,” she stammers. “He ran out from the dump as I drove round the corner,” she points to Kim, laid out on the back step, his broken body wet and bloody, the last rat he would ever catch still clasped tightly in his jaws.

Sounds of Music

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Sounds of Music

Sounds of music everywhere, and in Cardiff now the black weir gurgles with laughter as you stride along. Gravel crunches in rhythm with your footsteps and the song birds invent new ways of singing their same old courting songs. Nesting birds pair up and sing about the joys of nesting. Beneath the trees, the Daffodils – Taffodils sway to the wood wind’s delicate fluting. A lace of golden lover’s hair, they curtain the sky above you as you climb the embankment, up and up, until the River Taff flows beneath you. Black and swift and deep and swollen with the last of the winter rains, the river surges along, its face freckled with sunshine.  The Taff, they say, cradles, as it murmurs its own sweet river song, the finest coal dust from the Rhondda Valleys and carries it out to be reborn in the sea. Here, in the river, fish and eels swim eyeless, so the fishermen say, as they gesticulate with brimming eyes and empty hands, weaving with hollow wind words mystical stories of the mythical salmon that were hooked, but lived to swim another day.

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Comment: A crazy cartoon with a stick man dancing to music that occurs just off the screen at the side of the page. He dances unseen, unheard, as the deer dance at midnight, on their hind legs, reaching for bitter berries wintering on the mountain ash, as the sunlight dances when speckled trout rise to snap at flies, as my heart dances when my beloved walks into the room and lights my world with a smile. Spring in Wales: so far ahead of us as we languish here, on Canada’s East coast, hoping that last night’s minus temperatures will stagger to zero and then surge upwards into plus and double plus. Meanwhile, the grey squirrel chases away the red squirrel who frightened away the chipmunk, my beloved’s pet chipmunk for whom she put out the early morning seed to comfort him on this fresh frosty morning with its chill wind dancing between still-barren trees.

Spring

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Spring

Slow going
this snow going
but at least
it isn’t snowing

Snow forecast
on the weather show
but we know
it cannot last
now the equinox
is past

With a roll of drums
Easter comes
but friends and family
stay away

so all alone
and safe at home
we’ll spend
our Easter day

Everybody understands
how often we must
wash our hands
and all our friends
must safely stay
at least six feet away

Comment: They are difficult to see, these deer nesting at the bottom of our garden. There are at least three of them, all safely distanced, the clever little things. The poem was written as a challenge from a friend. More about that later. Keep safe, keep well, keep six feet apart, keep hoping! Spring will eventually come. The drawing below is by my friend, line artist Geoff Slater. It is one of my favourite illustrations, taken from Scarecrow.

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Easter Bunny

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Easter Bunny

I guess s/he came a couple of days early, but we didn’t think we’d get an early morning scene like this. Yesterday, the grass was starting to turn green, the deer were grazing the new tender shoots, the sun shone, and the world was warm and welcoming. I wonder if the Easter Bunny will be back on Sunday to hide those eggs all around the garden? There are certainly enough hiding places out there right now.

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This is the view from my chair at the breakfast table in the kitchen. I don’t how much snow we have down. They forecast anywhere between 8 and 10 inches (20-25 cms), but there could be more down than that. This is Easter weekend, Mr. or Mrs. Bunny. What do you think you are playing at? We cannot go to church, even though it’s Good Friday. We must stay six feet away from each other. We must walk alone through the snow, if we go out, and who will stoop to help a fallen child, let alone an old stubborn man, from a distance of two metres?

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And this is the view of the picnic table on the back porch. Dear Mr. or Mrs. Easter Bunny: didn’t you know that just yesterday we were planning to eat our Sunday breakfast out there in the sunny weather that was the delight and comfort of last week? We had our chairs out on that porch yesterday and we sat out there and read in our isolation, separate books, separate chairs, six feet apart. Mr. or Mrs. Bunny, I do hope you bring some nice chocolate eggs to the children this year, otherwise I might just recommend you for the annual party-pooper award because just look at you sitting all dry out there: you really make me mad, you mad March hare with your pop-eyed April stare.

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Comment: For any who think these photos are Golden Oldies, they aren’t. This is what we woke up to this morning, 10 April 2020.  Close to a foot of snow and trees leaning on the power lines. Luckily we didn’t lose power. But we fired up the insert, just in case.

Deer

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Deer
CV-19 Day 24

I woke up this morning, looked out of the window at a grey, sunless day, and saw this deer at the foot of the garden, abut 50 feet away. I couldn’t believe it. Thirty years we have lived in this house, and I have never seen a deer sleeping in the yard before. Well, it wasn’t sleeping. It’s eyes were open, the head was turning, and the ears flickered with every step I took. What a way to start the day.

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Then I did a double-take and blinked. What I thought was a rock, to the first deer’s left, was another deer, also lying down. I realized it wasn’t a rock when it wiggled its ears. Behind the first deer and above it, scarcely visible among the trees is a third deer. You’ll have to look hard to see it, but it’s there. I apologize for the qualities of the photos, but grey day, early morning light, and shooting threw fly netting at a well camouflaged deer does not guarantee high artistic quality, as you will understand.

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Actually, the third deer is more clearly visible in this photo. It also shows a little bit more of the late-winter / early spring landscape. Then, when I got downstairs, lo and behold, a fourth deer underneath the fir tree. From a lower angle, I could only just sight it through the bars of the porch.

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Again, my apologies: but what a morning … four deer, ‘nesting’ in the garden, where I have never seen deer before, except wandering through.

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Reyes

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Reyes

The Spanish Christmas comes on the Twelfth Day after our traditional Christmas: January 6, today. 32 years ago, we spent Reyes in Madrid. We arrived in time to see the Christmas Parade and what a sight that was, with the three Wise Men, los reyes magos, riding on their camels at the end of the parade. It had just snowed and the city, streets and squares, shone white.

It’s funny what we remember and how we remember it. “Mira, mira, mira!” “Look, look, look!” Then, in the distance, descending from the Puerta de Alacalá, the Three Wise Men. Behind us, a little boy screamed at his mother. “Don’t you want to see los tres reyes magos?” she asked him. “No,” he yelled. “I don’t believe in the three wise men. I want to go home and watch soccer on the telly!”

I wore a white sweater that evening. When I got back to the hotel, I discovered that every inch of sweater that had emerged from beneath my coat was now grey. Even the air was filthy and pollution lay in ambush everywhere. “Every time I cough, I get a mining souvenir,” Max Boyce used to sing. Well, after a couple of days in Madrid, I too was coughing up souvenirs, but they didn’t come from coal dust underground. They came from the very air I was breathing out in the city streets.

Later that week, we took the train out to the Casa del Campo to see those same three camels in the zoo. In the distance, the Guadarrama stood out clearly against the sky. The zoo welcomed us and we enjoyed breathing in the fresh air and seeing the animals in the wide open spaces behind the invisible bars that allowed us to view them in a more natural habitat.

Christmas / Reyes: a magic time for remembering things that seem to have vanished, yet that sneak up on you and shake you awake when you least expect it.

 

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Deer Dance

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Deer Dance

They came with the snow, of course. Last year there were seven, this year six of them sniffed their cautious way, step by step, into the yard. I looked out of the bedroom at 3:00 am, and there they were, standing beneath the mountain ash and reaching up to the lower branches to snaffle the berries. They also dug into the snow and ate the fruit that had fallen beneath the tree. The night was cold and dark. I didn’t want to risk the camera and have the flash or the laser beam frighten them so I just stood and watched.

Next morning, I wondered if it had all been a dream. Then I saw the dance-steps in the snow. They have been back a couple of times now and this morning Clare spotted seven, in the early morning light, ghosting their almost perfect camouflage through the trees. So now we have a couple of questions: are there two groups this year, one of six and one of seven? Or had the seventh deer from last year rejoined the group?

We think the group of six has larger deer while the group of seven has two seemingly smaller ones. But this may be a trick of moon light and shifting moon shadows. Climate change: the local deer at sixes and sevens. What would Ocho Venado, the Oaxacan / Mixtec King known as Eight Deer, think of it? Ah, a conundrum indeed. And when and if I work out any answers, I will let you know.

Old Pal

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Old Pal
It’s as easy as ‘Bob’s your uncle,’ as we say in Wales. Yet Bob is my uncle and life with him is never easy. On Saturdays I drive him to the local supermarket so he can purchase his groceries. He also buys cans of Old Pal dog food for Paddy, his ageing and eccentric Cocker Spaniel.
Bob always strips the labels off the cans he brings home. He trades them in for stamps so he can buy cigarettes and things. However, this stripping reduces the cans to bright, shiny aluminum canisters that sit together on the pantry shelf. He claims he knows in which order he stacks them, but I think he’s playing Russian Roulette, because he can’t tell the difference between soup, rice pudding, and dog food. They’re all locked in look-alike cans. Bob doesn’t care. His diet is a lottery anyway. He shoves the can’s contents into one end and as long as they come out the other, he’s happy.
“That’s what life is all about,” he tells me. “Munchies in and munchies out.”
            Bob’s quite happy with mushroom soup for lunch, or eating rice pudding. If he opens a mystery can and finds dog food in it, he just adds a spoonful of curry powder and heats it up on the stove. He stressed out about eating the meat in dog food when Mad Cow Disease hit Wales and consumers avoided beef, but his family doctor told him not to worry.
            “You’ll never get Mad Cow Disease from dog food,” the doctor told him.
“Why not?” Bob asked.
“Because dog food’s made from horse meat.  You can’t get Mad Cow Disease from a horse.
Bob loves dogs, but he hates Welsh Corgis. One day, he asked me to take him out for a drive. He put Paddy in the back seat, on an old blanket then patted him on the head before closing the car door.
I was already in the driving seat. I had taken the precaution of placing a plastic garbage bag over the passenger seat, in case Bob had an old man’s accident, but he told me not to worry.
“I’ll be all right. “I’ve got my Old Pal with me,” he pointed to the canvas bag at his feet. It rattled when he kicked it.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked Bob.
“Down the road,” he replied. “Let’s visit the Corgis.”
Down the road we went, driving happily, until Bob’s face came alive with joy.
“Turn right,” he cried. “There’s a Corgi down that street. Drive slowly now.”
I slowed down while Bob counted the houses.
“Stop,” he told me. “Now. Stop now.”
I stopped and Bob turned around and started slapping Paddy until the dog began to howl. Then Bob rolled down the window, pulled an empty can of Old Pal dog food from the canvas bag, unzipped his fly, stuck his old man’s magic screwdriver into it, and peed.
“The Corgi’s coming. He’s nearly here,” I could hear Bob’s chest wheezing.
“There he is,” Bob screeched with delight as a black-and-tan Corgi appeared at the gateway to the house. Bob whistled at the Corgi and, as the dog looked up, he threw the contents of the can … whoosh! … all over the dog. The Corgi jumped back, blinked, shook himself, and growled and snarled as the can drenched him in a sticky, smelly, golden shower.
“Take that, you dirty dog,” Bob cried. “Quick, drive away, now, before anyone sees us.”
I put the car into gear and accelerated away.
“This is so much fun. I’m so excited. I’m so excited I want to pee again,” Bob pulled a second empty can from the canvas bag. “Turn left. Third house up. Get ready, Paddy. There’s another Corgi on the way.”