Scars

Los toros de Guisando, pre-Christian Celtic stone bulls, Avila, Spain.

Invisible Scars

            Our minds absorb words as blotting-paper soaks up ink. Phrases carve beehives deep in our inner circuits. No te preocupes / don’t worry. Yet tone and carry are different in each language and the comfort-blanket serenity of no te preocupes does not translate easily from Spanish to English. The verbal vibes are just not the same.
            Nor do the catcalls from the soccer, aimed equally at opponent and referee, and tumbling raucous from the stands where people sit. Shrill whistles sound in the bull ring: a matador who seems afraid to approach this particular bull for reasons only known to him, yet his shakiness visible to all who watch and understand what they are seeing.
            The Cordobés answers the telephone he places on the bull’s nose, yet fails to approach between the horns and his sword rebounds off bull bone: pincha hueso. Each one wounds, the last one kills. El Viti, stately, graceful, an elderly churchman proud of his vocation and always willing to perform to perfection the weekly ceremony of the sacrifice. The boos when the bull enters the ring, stumbles, and comes up lame and limping. The cheers that accompany the arrival of the seventh bull. The refusal to eat meat that has been slaughtered in the bullring, even though it is advertised outside the butcher’s: tenemos solomillo de toro de lidia / we have tenderloin steaks from fighting bulls. Bulls who have led the best of lives, fed on the tenderest pastures, watered by flowing streams. Bulls grown for slaughter and public sacrifice.

The real thing: young fighting bulls (novillos) on a bull farm in Salamanca, Spain.

            Guernica. The bull fight in the sand-filled square. Except it wasn’t a fight, it was more a circus. The slippery pig. The hens and chickens. The rabbits and hares. All the animals running scared. The animals released, one by one, and the spectators jumping into the ring, really a sand-filled square, one by one, and chasing down the animals, taking them home for dinner, if they could catch them.
            Then the bigger beasts. The mule, ferocious, jumping into the air, kicking four tormentors, one with each leg, and biting a fifth with his teeth. No fearful, clucking chicken this, nor the cow who came after with her padded horns. Participants moved more carefully now. She watched them from her querencia, the where she chose to fight, not die. She knelt, scraped off the rubber balls that covered her horns. Re-armed, she charged and the crowd scattered, all but one young kid, caught, falling to the ground, the cow standing over him, ready to gore again.
            Sixteen years old, an outsider, I jumped with others over the barrier, twisted this away and that, thumped the cow’s side, smelled her fury, her fear, the whole soured being that emanated from her. Together, we hustled her, bustled her, dragged her kicking, butting, from the ring, backwards, pulled by the tail.
            Visible scars of damaged animals. Scars of the participants. That young man who broke his leg. That old man, inebriated, stuffed with food and drink, who loosened his belt to move more freely. We watched as his pants slipped from his waist to fall around his knees and trap him, just as the cow charged. He survived but will bear the scars forever, some visible, many not.
            Long summer days, on the Sardinero, the Segunda Playa, playing soccer. Different rules, different skills, different swear words: I carry a dictionary tucked into my bathing trunks and refuse to play while I look up the words spat at me by my opponent. Good heavens, I think, is that anatomically possible? The ball bounces away on the hard, sand ridges. I chase it and steadily dehydrate under the hot sun. A sea-salt wind desiccates my body. My mouth fills with salt water when I swim out to retrieve the ball from the sparkling sea. My tongue sticks to the inside of my mouth. When I spit, I spit dry and everyone laughs. Now I am totally dry, shiver, and no longer sweat.
            On the way home, we get off the trolleybus early, at Jesús del Monasterio and enter the long string of bars that lead past Numancia towards Perines. Red wine in glasses, in porrones, with tapas and raciones to soak up the alcohol, morcilla, mariscos, callos, patatas bravas, wine consumed until our blotting-paper bodies are ready once more to sweat. Bread soaks up the wine that relieves the oil that now filters through our skins and who needs suntan lotion when the oil is inside us and bodies are oiled, well-oiled, from the inside out?
            These excursions are all male, just like the soccer teams. I have four friends and I know them by their nicknames and the way they play soccer. I also know them from the way they try to trick me and laugh at my mistakes, or the way they treat me as a human being and help me to understand this new world into which, sink or swim, I have been thrust. Total immersion in another culture does not come with a set of instructions and the rules of soccer change from grass field to beach sand. Pedro plays centre-half, loves heading the ball, even when it’s laden with sand. I watch him playing field hockey one day, out at La Albericia, and when a low shot heads for the corner of the goal, he dives and heads it away. They carry him off on a stretcher, blood everywhere, and you wonder if his scars will ever heal.
            Tennis on the clay courts, also at La Albericia. I play so slow but they play so fast. I learn top spin, side spin, back spin, cutting the racket beneath the ball and learning to bend it sideways off the clay that is not clay really, but a fine-packed Italian sand on which I can slide and glide, and commit to a shot running one way then turn and commit to another in the opposite direction. I try it on a hard court, after the immersion period ends, when I get home, and my foot sticks on the tarmac (or whatever that hard, non-slip surface is) and over I go, skinning my knees, creating more scars.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie reclaimed from the reject file. I remember the scenes so well, even though I have moved deliberately in the piece from Elanchove and Guernica (Basque Country) to Santander (now Cantabria). I got lucky and was able to attend a series of workshops on memoirs run by Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox. Taking his workshops, I realized that most of what I write is more akin to Creative Non-Fiction (CNF), rather then memoir, though much of what I write is rooted in memory. What thrills me in this style of writing is the rhythm that emerges, the word patterns I knit with my pen and a skein of ink, the remembered brightness of the Spanish sun, the sparkle of the waves, the warmth of a people, still grieving after their losses in a bitter civil war, their willingness to accept me, a foreigner, and take me to their hearts. The Other: we talk so much about The Other. But when we ourselves have been That Other, have been dependent on Other Others for food, drink, warmth, care, and love it is so much easier to understand what The Other is lacking and what we can give. Warmth, not scars; a hug, not a punch; open arms, not a fist… so easy to say. I have been there. I know. But can we, deep in our hearts, find it in ourselves to make the sacrifices for The Other that other others have made for us? Only time will tell.

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.