Spotify: Remember to scroll down to the appropriate audio episode.
Driving at Night
Once upon a time, my hair was brown and curly, but now it’s straight and as white as this drifting snow clogging the windshield.
I smooth down my hair with my fingers: swollen knuckles, crooked joints. I burn with feverish thoughts yet cold blood shivers through my arteries.
Headlights blind me in my good eye. The other one’s useless when I drive at night. It’s a long time since I last saw, let alone touched, my toes. Putting on my socks or tying my shoelace is a morning no-no.
Short of breath, of agility, with no ability to climb up stairs: I stop to catch my breath, pause, and shudder with despair.
What happened to my youth? Where did my childhood go?
Spotify: Remember to scroll down to the appropriate audio episode.
Time A Theory of the Absurd
I wonder what I’m doing here, so far from home, sitting at the bar, with my beer before me, my face distorted in half a dozen fairground mirrors, surrounded by people half my age, or less, all smoking, cursing, using foreign forms of meta-language, gestures I no longer recall: the single finger on the nose, two fingers on the forehead, the back of the hand rammed against the chin with a sort of snort of disapproval. It’s way beyond my bedtime, yet I am held here, captured, body and soul, by foreign rhythms, unreal expectations of a daily ritual that runs on unbroken cycles of time: morning brandy, pre-lunch wine and tapas, home for the mid-day meal, a brief siesta, back to the café for a post-prandial raising of spirits, more blanco, then back to work at four and struggle on until seven or eight when the bar routine begins again with pre-supper tapas and tinto. Time, comprehended in this new life-cycle, lacks meaning. Time, in a cycle I have long abandoned, is absurd as well.
Angel Choir (on seeing the Northern Lights at Ste. Luce-sur-mer) Sonnet
Listen to the choristers with their red and green voices. Light’s counterpoint flowering across this unexpected son et lumière, we tremble with the sky fire’s crackle and roar.
Once upon another time, twinned with our heavenly wings, we surely flew to those great heights and hovered in wonderment. Now, wingless, our earthbound feet are rooted to the concrete. If only our hearts could sprout new wings and soar upwards together.
The moon’s phosphorescent wake swims shimmering before us. The lighthouse’s finger tingles up and down our spines. Our bodies flow fire and blood till we crave light, and yet more light. We fall silent, overwhelmed by the celestial response.
When the lights go out, hearts and souls are left empty. Leaving the divine presence is a gut-wrenching misery. Abandoned, hurt and grieving, we are left in darkness.
Comment: The Spanish mystics, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila, wrote, in the sixteenth-century, about the ‘dark night of the soul’. That dark night also arrives when the communion with the spiritual finishes and the communicants are left alone, in their loneliness, abandoned to their earthly selves. To leave the divine presence is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching misery. To turn from the marvels of nature can produce lesser, but still deeply moving feelings of grief and sadness. The secret is to preserve that joy and to carry it with us always, warm, in our hearts. Doing so makes the pain of separation much more bearable.
You cannot hide when the black angel comes and knocks on your door.
“Wait a minute,” you say, “While I change my clothes and comb my hair.”
But she is there before you, in the clothes closet, pulling your arm. You move to the bathroom to brush your teeth.
“Now,” says the angel. Your eyes mist over.
You know you are there, but you can no longer see your reflection in the mirror.
I first saw the Black Angel in Aldebarán’s cultural store in Ávila (2006). She sat there, in the shop window, along with several other angels, and I worshiped her from the distance of the street. Her image was taken from an original painting from Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400-1464). This was turned into a 3-D image and then converted into the statue I saw in the shop window.
I brought the statue back to Island View, placed it on the shelf above the fireplace, where it still rests, and wrote several poems on the theme of Angels. I gathered them together in a chapbook entitled All About Angels that I self-published in Fredericton in 2009. The chapbook was dedicated to Clare’s great-aunt, D. E. Witcombe who departed this world on October 15, 2008.
All About Angels was also based on a book of a similar title, Sobre los Ángeles, written by Rafael Albertí, one of the major poets of Spain’s Generation of 1927. I avoided the ambiguity of the Spanish title — Sobre (in Spanish) can mean Above or Beyond as well as About — by limiting my own title to All About Angels.
For Carl Jung, angels are the messengers sent to inform people of the state of their world. For me, they are also the wild creatures that inhabit the world around me and often take the form of chickadees, crows, mourning doves, woodpeckers, deer, foxes, chipmunks, the occasional bear, and other spiritual creatures. They can be best seen in those moments of solitude when we are most open to the natural world around us. Then, and sometimes only then, we can hear the urgent messages they bring.
Water Peragua Water seeks its final solution as it slips from cupped hands. Does it remember when the earth was without form and darkness was upon the face of the deep? The waters under heaven were gathered into one place and the firmament appeared.
Light was divided from darkness and with the beginning of light came The Word, and words, and the world … … the world of water in which I was carried until the waters broke and the life sustaining substance drained away throwing me from dark to light.
The valley’s parched throat longs for water, born free, yet everywhere imprisoned: in chains, in bottles, in tins, in jars, in frozen cubes, its captive essence staring out with grief filled eyes.
A young boy on a tricycle bears a dozen prison cells, each with forty captives: forty fresh clean litres of water. “¡Agua!¡Peragua!” he calls. “¡Super Agua!”
He holds out his hand for money and invites me to pay a ransom, to set these prisoners free.
Real water yearns to be released, to be set free from its captivity, to trickle out of the corner of your mouth, to drip from your chin, to seek sanctuary in the ground.
Real water slips through your hair and leaves you squeaky clean. It is a mirage of palm trees upon burning sand.
It is the hot sun dragging its blood red tongue across the sky and panting for water like a great big thirsty dog.
Comment: More and more competitions, publishers, and magazines are asking for ‘original material, not previously published, or self-published, even on your own blog.’ So what is a poet to do? Put up fresh material, and it is illegible for entry elsewhere. Recycle and revise old material? Now that might work. Click on the link above for the original version of this post! And yes, it has been previously published on these ages!
“Sábete, Sancho, … Todas estas borrascas que nos suceden son señales de que presto ha de serenar el tiempo y han de sucedernos bien las cosas, porque no es posible que el mal ni el bien sean durables, y de aquí se sigue que, habiendo durado mucho el mal, el bien está ya cerca.” Miguel de Cervantes : Don Quixote de la Mancha.
“Know this, Sancho, … All these squalls that beset us are signs that the weather will soon clear up and better things will come to us, because it isn’t possible for good or ill to endure, and from here it follows that, these ills having lasted so long, good times are now close.” My translation.
Comment: This quote was sent to me by Marina, my close friend from Avila, with whom I have maintained contact, even though it is now twelve full years (2008-2020) since we last saw each other and talked, except on Messenger. Break ups and lost and absent friends and families: it seems to be the story of my life. And how could it be otherwise when one is a migrant who emigrates and immigrates and passes on and through, rarely resting in the same place for long? I guess it is also the story of the Intelligentsia: those whose learning and understanding and life experience moves them out from one place and into many others. Cualquier tiempo pasado fue mejor / any time from the past was better. Hiraeth: the knowledge that the past is lost, save in our minds, and can never be recovered, even though sometimes we wish so badly to do so. The Intelligentsia: always dissatisfied, both with the past which they can never recreate and which they view through the pink lens of nostalgia and with the present which is never as beautiful as that pastel pink past, that in reality probably never existed. Toda la vida es un sueño y los sueños sueños son / The whole of life is a dream and dreams are just dreams, and nothing more (Calderon de la Barca).
I have been a member of the Writers’ Foundation of New Brunswick for a long, long time. I am not a ‘founding member’, but I think I have been a member since around 1985, and I am sure I was a member in 1986, when Goose Lane Editions, Fredericton, published my second poetry collection, Broken Ghosts. I was most certainly a member in 1989 when my still-unpublished poetry manuscript Still Lives placed first in the Alfred G. Bailey poetry competition.
In the years between 1985-1986-1989 and 2020, I have never received a hand-written communication from any member of the WFNB Board, other than an official communication of one kind or another. Imagine, then, my surprise, when the above postcard, inserted in a hand-addressed envelope, arrived in my mail box yesterday. I was truly amazed and very grateful to the president who wrote these kind words to me. Amidst the panic and the pandemic, it is so nice to be remembered and in such a thoughtful way. Madam President: thank you so much for reaching out to me with this verbal gesture. And yes, you can count on my support for yourself and our Writers’ Federation, I hope for a long, long time to come.
I was in two minds whether to post this or not. However, I wish to emphasize several things: the importance of reaching out, the importance of continuing to believe in ourselves and our creative talents during these difficult times, the necessity of creating alternate communities and of supporting each other as much as possible, the need to avoid total isolation and to maintain human contact in different ways when the physical things — meeting, touching, holding, direct dialog — and the normal activities and relationships of healthy human beings are denied to us, and last, but by no means least, the need to encourage each other and to offer comfort and recognition whenever and wherever possible.