Keeping Score

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The Score

It’s the old conundrum:
you place one grain of wheat
on the chessboard’s first square,
two on the second,
four on the third.

And so on and so forth,
eight on the fourth,
sixteen on the fifth.
Now close your eyes
and make a wish:
“Let all these pandemic victims go.”

Alas, no.
You must sit and watch them grow:
32, 64, 128,
and that’s the first rank done.
Seven more marching ranks to go.

256, 512, 1014,
Lord above: how many more?
2028, 4056, 8112,
what on earth can people do?
Wash your hands, stay inside,
and hope your best friends
haven’t died.

Doubled again
that’s even more:
16 thousand 224.
Upon this rank
just one more square
sees 32 thousand
lying there.

How many more,
how many more,
and each death ringed
by family and friends.
This week it seems
death’s dance will never end.

Comment: La Calle de la Cruz / Street of the Cross, shown in the above photo, runs past the cathedral of Avila. It is also known locally as La Calle de la Vida y de la Muerte / the Street of Life and Death as it seems duels were sometimes fought there. It seemed an appropriate photo to accompany this poem which speaks of the seeming lottery, with its winning and losing tickets, in which we are all currently involved. The lower photo, incidentally, captures a stone mason’s mark carved into the face of the cathedral in Avila.

When writing the poem, I repeated the numbers naming them with their single digits, thus: 256, 512, 1014 becomes two five six, five one two, one oh one four (line 14). This allowed me to manage rhythm and rhyme. In my mind I always associate  rhyme with reason, but in this current pandemic, I can see very little reason. I guess, as I wrote in one of my earlier poems, ‘there are so many ways to die’. I just hope Corona Virus isn’t one of them. No, I don’t want to live forever, but hell no, I don’t want to die just yet! Keep safe, keep well!

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Pots and Pans

 

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Pots and Pans
St. Teresa of Ávila

A dusty highway. This woman riding
side-saddle on a hard, wooden seat, eyes
turned heavenward for inspiration. Frail,

fragile, she has never been strong, yet has
had enough strength, shoe-less, not soul-less,
to create her order of Discalced Carmelites

and found a hundred convents, safe havens
where woman can live in poverty, peace,
and prayer. Snow falls in high mountain passes.

Rivers rush downhill in springtime spate.
Mules rebel against cold waters. Bed bugs
bite … her God created them, so she suffers

in silence their indignities. Wounded heart
and soul, often doubting, faith always backing
her thoughts, words, deeds, she believes,

and that belief, as strong as this mule, as
solid as the San José corner-stone she laid.
She knows all too well that God often walks

and works his wonders for her faithful nuns
in convent kitchens cooking and washing
doing the small things, among pots and pans.

Comment:También anda Dios en la cocina entre las pucheras / God also walks in the kitchen among the pots and pans.” St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). It’s funny how, in times of stress, the little things in life come back back to haunt and help us. I have written of St. David, “Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd / do the little things in life,” and here is St. Theresa of Avila saying more or less the same thing, nearly a thousand years later, this time in Spanish, not in Welsh. Intertextuality: in this way, I am able to talk, through my eyes, with Dewi Sant and Santa Teresa. And, through me, you too can indulge in this saintly dialog.

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In my blog post, Triumphs, I wrote about how doing the little things in life can be so rewarding and so important for us as we age. No, I will never climb Mount Everest, but climbing up the stairs to my bedroom every night is, for me, a journey to the roof of my world and every ascent is a personal triumph, as is a safe descent each morning. I will never compete in a marathon, even though, back in my youth, I raced over ten miles and completed a half marathon. None of that now matters. What does matter is that I get my daily walk around the house, around the garden, around the block. My Olympic Goal is not to “own the podium”, a phrase I have always found slightly odious, but to win my daily wrestle with myself to just get my exercise done. Do the little things in life. In these troubled times, routine is important. Belief is important. Doing the little things that keep us alive is of paramount importance. And here’s a photo of a magnificent stork, in Avila, doing the little things in life.

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The Rain in Spain

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The Rain in Spain

The rain in Spain
stays mainly on the plain.
Except it doesn’t.

It falls on the Basque Country,
the Province of Santander,
now known as Cantabria,
on Asturias and on Galicia.

In Galicia, a native brown bear
has been seen after an absence
of one hundred and fifty years.

La Costa Verde, the Green Coast,
boasts dairy cattle, lush grass,
the best milk, butter and cheese.

Beyond these green hills,
over the Escudo and up to Burgos,
you find Spain’s meseta,
a tableland in a rain shadow area,
a veritable plain,
arid, dusty, dry,
a plain in Spain
that sees and feels no rain.

Comment: Un chubasco … a heavy downpour building on the meseta outside Avila. These severe rainstorms come out of nowhere. High winds, heavy rains, they drench you and the countryside in a matter of seconds and they go as suddenly as they come. However, the normal pattern of weather is dry and dusty. And no, the rain in Spain does NOT stay mainly on the plain. In Santander, on the Green Coast, la Costa verde, they have a saying: En Santander, en el verano, / no dejes el paraguas de la mano In Santander, in summer, never let your umbrella leave your hand. And its true: rain is constant and comes in from nowhere. They have other sayings, equally as efficacious, like Nunca llueve en los bares / it never rains in the bars. I miss Avila. I miss Santander and the Basque Country. I miss my childhood vacations, spent in Spain. But when they tell you that “The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain” … well, just don’t believe them. Check, double-check, and then check again. As they sing in Newfoundland, about sailors and sailing ships, “A sailor ain’t a sailor ain’t a sailor anymore.” Nor, my friends, is the truth. Cum grano salis: take everything you hear with a large pinch of salt!

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Eternity

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Eternity

Eternity: where can it be found? Not in these flowers that have already faded and gone. Where then? In mortal beings, condemned to dust? In wild words cast upon the wind? In friends and friendships, oh so perishable?

Oh where and oh where has my little dog gone?

Carved in Stone: that’s what people sometimes say … or it’s not carved in stone, as if words in stone lasted forever. They rarely do. Very little endures. Here today and gone tomorrow, or, like a stomach ache, gone with the wind.

Maybe the answer lies here, in this sequence I worked out a long time ago. Rock of Ages, cleft for me … oh where and oh where can we hide our mortality. Click on this link and you may have the answer. There again, you may not. Work it out for yourself: what are all  those anonymous marks, carved into stone and shadowed by a setting sun? If you know, please let me know. Quick now, before it’s too late, and we two too are gone.

 

Trinity

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Kingsbrae 22.4
22 June 2017

Trinity

A coming together of cultures,
these three statues, placed
equidistant, an equilateral
triangle, all things being
equal and none more equal
than others; three brothers;
mother, father, child; father,
son, and holy ghost: no women
there; perhaps three founding
cultures: English, French, and
Indigenous,  in alphabetical
order; and there they stand,
face to face to face,
a triangulation, in profile,
silhouetted, sharing positive
and negative space; and, at the dead
center of their union, at the spot
where all is still and nothing moves,
a living space, that takes away
your breath when you breathe
in air and light and sun and
a renewed hope; then faith runs
tingling round your body with
joy and life and love reborn.

Petroglyphs

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Un Verraco
a Celtic Stone Bull
One of the four
Toros de Guisando
700 BCE (?)

Kingsbrae 6.3
6 June 2017

Petroglyphs
&
Other Myths

(for Elise)

Writing on rock,
the words carved in stone,
imposed on earth’s bones,
sentenced for meaning.

This wise woman,
gifted with second sight,
looks deep in the rock
where stone spirits dwell,
sees with unearthly eyes
the stone soul in its residence.

She carves and shapes,
plucks out rare beauty
holding it up
for those of us who have eyes,
but cannot see.

Gentle her fingers,
harsh the rock,
troublesome the birth
that is beauty
drawn from the entrails
of our earth.

Proud mother,
birthing the soul-stone
from its amniotic
sea of rock.

Comment: The four Toros de Guisando are pre-Christian stone bulls, carved by the Vettones, the local Celtic tribe of the Spanish Province of Avila, north-west of Madrid. The Vettones carved sheep, pigs, and horses as well as stone bulls. The carvings were probably used as route markers, land markers, and markers for pasturage rights. In addition, they are often associated with burials and deaths and may have been used as grave markers. There are many such carvings in the Province of Avila, and the squares, streets, and parks of the capital city abound with them.

There is something about the texture of their stonework, especially on a warm summer’s day. Place your hand upon them and they seem to be filled with a secret life, flowing like blood beneath the stone’s surface. Graffiti were plentiful in the Roman Empire, and here the pre-Roman Celtic carvings were defaced by one of the Roman legions as they passed through. The following video will give some idea of the bulls. Alas, there was no orchestral music when I visited the bulls: we were surrounded by a stony silence.

Skeleton in the Cupboard: Flash Fiction

 

Skeleton

Skeleton in the Cupboard

Spring sunshine and I pull out my old summer coat, the one with its pockets stuffed full of memories and dreams. It hides all winter in the clothes cupboard and I free it each spring with the melting snow and the tiny tongues of grass that push through the winter debris that covers the lawn in early April.

Battered and bruised, its elbows discolored where the dry cleaner’s chemicals left disfiguring splodges, it has served me for twelve long summers. It is my constant warm-weather companion, hanging on my arm, my shoulders, gracing me with its comforting presence. Everywhere I travelled for the last twelve years, it has accompanied me.

It is shabby now and grubby. Wine from the bars in El Rincón, El Rastro, El Portalón, Casa Guillermo and many other landmarks have fallen upon it. Octopus, squid rings, mussels, clams, shrimp, goose barnacles, and various types of omelet have left their marks upon it. The English language, with its fish and chips, its bangers and mash, and its sosi, jegg and chips, all bourgeois meals, can never do justice to the pure poetry of Spanish tapas whose names roll off the tongue: pulpo, calamares, mejillones, almejas a la marinera, gambas a la plancha, percebes, tortillas españolas y vegetales. Here I spot a golden stain from riñones al jerez and there a black one from calamares en su tinta.

Weathered by wind and rain, this coat has climbed El Zapatero and walked with the transhumance herds up and down the old Roman road of the Puerto del Pico. It has followed the Ruta de la Plata, the silver trail that led from South America to Sevilla and up the Silver Road past Ávila to Madrid. It has walked through the house in El Barco de Ávila and seen the kitchen where they tore down a wall and found a walled up library, just like the one described by Miguel de Cervantes in the Quixote. It held books proscribed by the Spanish Inquisition that had been hidden away since 1556. It has walked through Piedrahita, San Miguel de Corneja, and Villatoro. It has walked the streets and squares of St. Teresa’s walled city of Ávila on multiple occasions and knelt with me, in prayer, before many a saint on many an altar.

It kept me warm in the hills around Gredos when the mists dropped suddenly down and turned warm day into freezing night. It accompanied me to the Monasterio de Yuste, where the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the Fifth, retired to live out his days in prayer. It visited the spice towns of La Vera, and ventured into Garganta de Olla, to walk those ancient streets with me. It walked with me in the birthplace of St. John of the Cross and entered with me the depths of the earth where the verdejo is stored in huge oak barrels deep below the town of La Seca.

This old coat keeps its secrets. It remembers the moon hanging its lantern above the battlements on the Paseo del Rastro. We wandered there, she and I, arm in arm, entranced by the shadows that danced on the Medieval walls. When she shivered, I wrapped her in that coat and still it holds the perfumes of her body, the warm touch of her skin, the enchantment of those magic nights when the world stood still and we lay alone at its centre. Oh, and that green stain, there, at the back: that’s where I lay my coat on the grass in the little park under the walls by El Puerto de San Vicente, the one where the lovers go, late at night, beneath the trees, to be together in their loneliness …

Comment: A long time after posting this story, enlightenment knocked at my door. The new cartoon that I had used to illustrate My Old Coat was called Skeleton. Surely, I thought to myself, given the story’s ending, Skeleton in the Cupboard would make a better title. And it would. And I have changed it. A little bit of serendipity at a time (+3C outside the week after Easter) when I need some sunshine in my life. Any comments on the use (or overuse) of Spanish in this story would be very welcome. Best wishes to all my faithful (and unfaithful) readers.