This Carving

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This carving may be gently touched

It doesn’t act like a bear.
Its head bears a Cocker Spaniel’s short, sharp stop.
Its jaws are wedged in a grin.
Its tongue hangs still.
No saliva drops from its chin.
Motionless eyes.
This carving’s tame.
Children may sit safely on its back,
may stroke the mighty muscles.
It’s perfectly safe.
Woodworm, like moth, have left holes in its back.
More: many a crack ensures its tameness.
Its shoulders hunch.
Sixteen wooden claws chisel the concrete museum floor.
It’s nearer ear is chipped like my grandmother’s tea-cup.
There’s lots of room for slips between cups and this bear’s lips.
I can sense death’s closeness.
Suddenly, I know you’re in there, Bear,
alive, alert, angry, hungry.
I feel you move:
cold sweat covers my false, carved skin.

Friday Fiction: It’s Snowing

 

 

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Friday Fiction
It’s Snowing
20 April 2018

I wish it was fiction, but it isn’t. Friday, 20 April, 2018: clouds fill the sky, thick, fluffy clots drift down nodding at me as they pass my window. An inch of snow covers  grass, deck, pathways, lawn.

It’s snowing.

I check the weather forecast: +6C / 43F with light rain forecast for today. So much for the computer and the weather forecast. Look outside: snow is tumbling down, and it’s getting thicker. The blonde bimbo who waves her arms across the weather map with its bars and contours tells me it’s raining. She’s trapped indoors, in a tv studio, reading from a teleprinter. Wake up, lady, and smell the green tea. Then look out the window. But wrap up warmly … because it’s snowing.

Why is it snowing? Several reasons:

  1. I took my snow tires off the car last week: a sure sign it will snow.
  2. I got my hair cut yesterday: that always brings a change, for the worst in the weather, especially when I get a summer haircut, nice and short.
  3. To reassure me that my choice in coming to Canada was the correct one: I could have gone to Australia where my cousins are in danger of being burned out yet again by their third major bush fire in ten years. Here, it just snows. And snows. And so …

It’s snowing on April 20. This is personal. This is a personal attack on my humanity and sanity. I know: I chose to come here, to spend my life here, and I love it … but snow on April 20, when the tv bimbo is calling for rain and wet weather?

What will the robins do? Yesterday, they wandered in little groups all over the grass, chirping happily, singing for their suppers, pulling worms out of the brown earth as fast as they could go. Today, not a robin in sight. Not one.

But the crows are back: ubiquitous, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal, the seculae seculorum crows squat, feathers fluffed, beaks to the wind, hunkered down in skeletal trees, counting the snow flakes as the fall … caw … caw … caw …

Crows and snow: I think of school porridge, burning for breakfast.  I can’t shake off those memories. They haunt me at breakfast time. Porridge suddenly appears as if from nowhere. The smell of burning tickles my nose. My cereal plate fills with the  grinning face of porridge. It makes faces at me, nurdling and grimacing as I try to picture Corn Flakes, Rice Crispies, and Sugar Frosted Flakes, robins, not crows, green grass, not this bright, white table cloth spread on the lawn before me.

Oh for the sweetness of the robin’s song, the dawn chorus of a thousand songbirds lighting up the morning, sunlight on the grass … not a hope … forget it … look out of the window …

It’s snowing.

Wednesday Workshop: Vis Brevis

 

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Wednesday Workshop
18 April 2018
Vis Brevis

Rain. Persistent rain. Cornish mizzle that chills and wets. Basque chirrimirri penetrating flesh and bone. Low cloud blankets buildings, wraps itself round the windshield. Clings with the tenacity of Saran wrap. Visibility variable, now clear, now a muffler round the car’s headlights. Darkness gathered, still gathering. Lights moving, cars moving, the road moving, blending first with the lights then with the shadows, shape-shifting.

Down the hill now, out of the city lights, into the countryside. The road changing, patches and potholes, lights flickering in and out, darkness and light. Small animals of light, the potholes, shimmering, bumping by. Another pothole, moving, turning from side to side, a pothole with a ringed tail and two tiny eyes. A baby pothole, misses the front wheels, not the back. One dull, dry thump.

What were you doing there, in the middle of the road? Why alone? Why no mother, no brothers? Why so small? I didn’t mean to … I didn’t want to … Why me? Why now? If only …

Light breaks through the darkness clouding my mind. Memories: the driver on the road to Kincardine, chasing a jackrabbit, trapped in the headlights, a Belgian Hare, dodging down the middle of the country road. Laughing, the driver, with the joy of his hunt. Then: one dry thump. The car stopped, the hare, still twitching, held by its long ears, shown as a trophy at the car window, then thrown in the trunk. Memories: two lads in a half-ton, on a back road by Grand Lake. A sunny Sunday. Spotting the ground hog at the roadside. Driving at it with the truck. Swerving to hit it. The joy and laughter in their faces, looking back. One dry thump. The ground hog, front half viable, spine fractured, back legs paralyzed, dragging itself with its forearms to the roadside, dropping into the ditch.

Legend tells of the man who met Death in Cairo. Death looked surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Fear filled the man. He ran, packed his bags, left Cairo with its vision of Death. Travelled to Bagdad. Met there with Death, who welcomed him. “Why were you surprised to see me in Cairo?” the man asked. “Because we had a meeting here in Bagdad, tonight,” Death replied. “And I didn’t know if you’d show up.”

“Every morning, at day break,
oh Lord, this little prayer I make,
that thou wilt keep thy watchful eye,
on all poor creatures born to die.”

Dylan Thomas wrote those words in his poetry play for radio, Under Milkwood. All poor creatures born to die. That’s us. That’s you and me. We don’t know how, or why, or where, or when. And it doesn’t matter. That’s the whole point: it doesn’t matter. Our death is born with us, walks with us, lives inside us, and one day will take us, each of us, we poor creatures born to die. What matters is that we live while we can, rejoice while we can, thrive while we can, think while we can, write while we can …

Enlightenment came last night, at the darkest, wettest of times. It followed me home and crept with me into my bed. I thought of all the creatures found each spring morning, their lives cut short at night along the sides of our New Brunswick roads: deer, porcupine, squirrels, groundhogs, foxes, domestic and feral cats, dogs, skunks, and yes, one, very special, baby raccoon, a tiny raccoon, so small as to be almost invisible in chirimirri, mizzle, and mist.

His spirit came to me in the under-blanket dark, wrapped itself warm around me, and brought me comfort. “You too,” he whispered. “You too. But not just yet. My work is done. I can go now. But you still have lots of work to do. Remember: Vis brevis, ars longa,”  his raccoon spirit nuzzled me and I reached out and patted him. Then both of us settled down to dream our different dreams of a life and death that is surely nothing but a game of touch and go.

 

 

 

Monkey Teaches Sunday School

 

 

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Monkey Teaches Sunday School on Mondays
(With apologies to Pavlov and his dogs)

Younger monkeys e-mail elder monkey
and expect an answer within two minutes.
Elder monkey drools and writes right back.

He is turned on by the bells and
whistles of his computer.
“Woof! Woof!”
His handlers hand him a biscuit.

Elder monkey has grown to appreciate
tension and abuse:
the systematic beatings,
the shit and foul words hurled at his head.

The working conditions in his temple
kennel are overcrowded.
Elder monkey is overworked.

Yet he has managed to survive,
to stay alive and fight
what he once believed was the good fight.

Now he no longer knows:
nor does he drool anymore
when bells and whistles sound
and his handlers bait him with
an occasional, half-price biscuit.

Catching and Caging

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Catching, caging, and making them sing

We track them through their courting ceremonies

hunt them down by the noise they make

clutch them tight between anxious fingers

We weave glass jails

sentence them one by one to green imprisonment

At day’s end we ferry them to city apartments

incarcerate them like canaries in their cages

and wait for them to sing

At first they are silent in this strange environment

we feed them with bread dipped in brandy and wine

and sooner or later they sing in their captivity

Now they will not eat

they await the liquor that burns them

into fiery tongues of song

Our midnights are haunted by their spirituals

 

Restoration

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Restoration

Before you restore
the river’s name,
you must first
restore the river.

Strip it of its many dams,
drain the head pond,
bring back
the long-lost salmon
so they can spawn again.

Restore the forests.
Stop clear-cutting:
let the trees grow back.

Create anew a wilderness
where moose and deer,
porcupine and bear,
can wander at will.

The wilderness
a wilderness again.

Except it never was
a wilderness,
until the white man
came.

 

Bear

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Bear

This carving’s tame.
Children may sit
safely on its back.
They may stroke
the mighty muscles.

Its jaws are wedged in a grin.
Its red tongue hangs still.
No saliva drops from its chin.
Marble glass eyes.

Woodworm, like moth,
have left holes in its back.
More: many a crack
ensures its tameness.

Its shoulders hunch.
Sixteen claws
probe the concrete
museum floor.

Its nearer ear
bears small chips like
my grandmother’s tea-set.

There’s lots of room
for slips between cups
and this bear’s lips.

I can sense
death’s closeness
when I smell its breath.
I feel it move
beneath my hand.

I know you’re in there,
Bear,
alive, alert, angry, hungry.

Cold sweat covers
my false, carved skin.