Losing It

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Losing It
Island View

I searched for it everywhere: in the dry, dusty
pages of age-old books, in the spaces, white,
between words, in silences between bird songs,
in grey skies where raindrops formed into clouds,
in the pause between each cat’s paw of wind.

Nothing. I couldn’t find it. This morning
I searched for it in my shaving mirror.
I stirred the shiny film on my breakfast coffee
hunting for it. My Morning Glory lay open
on the operating table of my plate: nothing.

Mourning doves on the feeder called me by name.
The flicker drummed me a soothing rhythm.
I closed my eyes, dreamed of the river rising,
and found myself on an open beach. Homeless
hermit crab, I wandered listless, combing
seaweed, leaving fragile lines, footprints to
bear witness to my presence on this shore,
but as I looked for it, I knew I had lost it.

Comment: 
Forget-me-not. My father’s birthday. He would have been 108. Happy birthday, dad. I’m still wearing your watch.

Zeitgeist

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Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, translated as “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch.
Wikipedia 

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Poems for troubled times.

My current poems are deliberately cryptic. Each one is a mind game I am playing with you. I do not underestimate you. I have placed clues throughout each poem and if you follow the clues you will arrive at many of the poem’s hidden meanings. Some poems are more difficult than others, their meaning more recondite. Others seem very straightforward, yet still contain secrets.

This style of poetry has a long history going back to Anglo-Saxon riddles and way beyond, back into the mists of time. Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) and Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645) specialized in similar forms of recondite poetry, often based on metaphor and the juego alusivo-elusivo, the game of alluding to something while eluding the act of saying what it is. Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) and Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) also played this game, as did Octavio Paz (1914-1998) and many of the surrealist writers. In the works of all of these poets, the clues may rest in the poem or they may be found in a generic knowledge of the mythology of the poem’s exterior world.

Our world finds itself in an incredible mess right now. Somehow, we have to sort it out. We must pick our ways through the difficulties of these troubled times, as you must pick your way through the intricacies of these poems. Many of you will give up. Some of you, the chosen few, will make your way to the heart of each poem. Remember that images and metaphors tie past, present, and future together. Each word, each image offers a picture that reflects some of the shared realities with which we live.

Remember, as I said above: “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana). Otherwise expressed, in the words of T. S. Eliot: “Time present and time past / are both perhaps present in time future / and time future contained in time past” (Burnt Norton). The seeming anachronisms in my recent poems suggest that perhaps all time is ever-present and always one.

Stones (3 May 1808)

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Stones
(3 May 1808 AD)

stones once thrown
can never be brought back
nor words once spoken
nor the bullet
once released
from musket or gun

here lies who knows who
face down in the dust
shirt soaked in blood
body pierced with lead

nor water time nor love
can ever flow back
beneath that bridge

some kneel some pray
some raise their eyes
to uncaring skies
every one of them dies
shooters
those waiting to be shot

even the soldiers
reloading their guns
never understand
how time’s tide runs
ebbs and then flows
until everyone goes

this you
lying face down
on cobble stones
well know

 

Comment: 

The poem is drawn in part from the Goya painting of the shootings, El tres de mayo de 1808. The painting above is a close-up of Geoff Slater’s latest mural, still in progress, at Macadam Railway Station in New Brunswick. “If only the stones could speak, what stories they would tell.” This re-post was inspired by a visit to Seasons of the Witch on  Mr. Cake’s Cake or Death site with its images of Goya’s Black Paintings. So, we have a continuing Goya mini-Fest, May the Second and May the third.

Tongue-Tied

 

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Tongue-Tied
(2 May 1808 AD)

bottle tops unscrewed
tighter than the tightest
oyster refusing to open
pointed knife and scissors

plastic this many layered
onion-skin’s pliant defiance
waging its guerrilla war
against arthritic fingers

words tongue-twisted
damning dark mouths
white picket fences
midnight the faces
lightning the teeth

felonious figures
grimy with grimaces
Mother Hubbard’s
cupboard empty hearts

robin redbreasts
battering heads wings legs
against stony cobbles
if only stones could speak
what stories they would tell
this city this sunny square
anywhere

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Comment:

El dos de mayo, 1808, marks the start of the Spanish War of Independence. The people of Madrid rose up against Napoleon’s Mamelukes and Goya painted that encounter in his Dos de Mayo. On the third of May, 1808, Goya also bore witness to the shootings when Napoleon’s troops took hostages and shot them. Two great and wonderful paintings which we can celebrate today and tomorrow. Also well worth a visit, today and tomorrow, is Mr. Cake’s Cake or Death site with his blog on Seasons of Witches and his introduction to Goya’s Black Paintings. Another site that merits serious attention is Geoff Slater’s art site.

Macadam: Before & After

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Macadam: Before & After

Yesterday, I traveled to Macadam Railway Station to spend a day with two of my friends, Geoff Slater (artist) and Jessi Green (writer). Geoff is painting a mural for the historic building. It depicts an incident from WWI in which Canadian Railway Engineers and troops rebuilt a railway bridge in Northern France that had been destroyed by the enemy. When I arrived in Macadam, Geoff took Jessi and I to see the then current state of his painting (as shown above, Before). After lunch, Jessi and I would discuss sundry writing topics, including when, ho, and what to revise, as well as our various writing  projects while Geoff continued with his painting.

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On the wall opposite the mural hangs a plaque dedicated to the memory of those Canadian Railway Engineers, probably the best in the world at the time, who made such reconstruction possible. The juxtaposition of mural and plaque make a fitting tribute to the role of the railway in WWI. The Macadam Railway Station is a protected historical site and a work of art in itself . What a pleasure it was to visit there as an invited guest.

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This is the dining room and immediately below you will see photos of the beautiful working bureau, over a hundred years old, and the grandmother clock that hangs on the wall beside the bureau.

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During the afternoon, we were blessed by the arrival of a train. In many ways, it was a ghost train, hauling with it so many memories of the past when railways ruled and train travel was ubiquitous.

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Before leaving, we paid our respects to Geoff’s painting. He had been busy on the top right corner of the mural and had completed the insertion of the military personnel who were working on the new trestle bridge built to replace the one that had been destroyed. All in all, this was a fabulous day in which art, photography, memory, writing, planning all played a part. Some photos to end with: first of all, a selfie entitled Selfie with Coal Scuttle and wow, did that bring back some childhood memories; and then a close up of Geoff’s work for that afternoon Men on the Bridge. I will end by saying that Macadam Railway Station is a ‘must-see’ visit for all train enthusiasts as well as for the train generation who wish to maintain their links with that past.

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Method & Madness

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Method and Madness
(1729 & 1955-1962 AD)

his dawn chorus voice
woke the wilderness
shook bread down from heaven
to be cast on wild waters

Frocester’s old barn
scything and tithing
Gloucester a stomping ground
walking and biking
wherever he can

a dearly beloved
moved into sundry places
a town mice wandering open fields
harvesting blackberries and apples
gleaning summer seeds
storing them now a country mouse
ready for winter’s dead dreams

he collected dusty parchments
stitched old leaves together
a many-colored coat he made
amid autumn’s sheaves

words fell like rain
formed lines on each page
turned into tunes
that bolstered his heart
marched him steadily onward
mad from stage to raging age

Comment: This is the revision of my previous poem. Any comments on either version gratefully accepted.

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By Any Other Name

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By Any Other Name
hortus conclusus
(1430-1432 AD)

don’t let them know
your origins your secrets
hide who and what you are
unholy ghosts will prowl
wild dogs will howl

sister-spouse
a garden enclosed
walled behind whose house
anonymous flowers
roses in abundance
set amongst thorns

sealed-up this fountain now
its well run dry
dead leaves in the bowl
shrunken petals
echoes of children’s voices
their faces hidden
among last year’s leaves

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