Fall

Mactaquac and geese at the head pond

Fall

Red leaves multiply on maple trees.
Bright berries staining a mountain ash.

One flower survives on the hollyhock,
its blaze of glorious blooms lost, faded
in a silence of dried seeds, absent bees.

Hummingbirds are now long gone. Geese
gather in great gaggles feasting on grass
before taking flight and soaring south.

I want to ask questions about their journey
but they mouth denial and waddle away
to paddle on grey waves when I approach.

Comment: With a temperature yesterday of 21 C (that’s plus 21 C) rafts of geese are still around. These photos are from earlier in the fall. I love the way several stand erect, looking at and for possible intruders, while others feed. Shared responsibilities. I guess we humans could learn a great deal from the geese, if only ‘we were not full of care / and had some time to stop, and stare’ (W. H. Davies, one of my favorite Welsh poets, the verses changed slightly and adapted to Mactaquac). Roedd hi’n y tywydd heulog a cynnes yfory / the weather was sunny and warm yesterday. What a joy to be able to write that in Welsh after so many years without the language.

Merry Sunshine

“The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la, bring promise of merry sunshine …” Gilbert and Sullivan, from The Mikado, if I remember correctly, and not at all anonymous like the Anonymous Bosch artist who painted this painting. Still, I like it, and it certainly lends a little bit of color to the pale cheeks of these walls.

“And we merrily dance and we sing, tr-la, as we welcome the promise they bring, tra-la, of a summer with roses and wine …” I can remember my grandfather singing that in the kitchen in Swansea. He would conduct with one hand, and encourage me to join in with the other. And I did. Merry days, they were, before the fire in winter and out in the greenhouse in early spring.

So, where have all the flowers gone? Gone with the grosbeaks, everyone. Which reminds me, I saw an Evening Grosbeak at the feeder this morning. The first one in years. There used to be several nesting nearby and they were regular visitors, as were the Gray Jays, aka Whisky Jacks, aka Gorbies, aka Ghosts of the Woods and all of them long, long gone.

Will they naw come back again? Who knows? The world is changing even as I sit at my window and watch it go by. February, March, April, May, June, and now July. The lock down has been lifted, but the fear of going unmasked in the great outdoors is still with us, as are the anonymous givers of the virus, a donation I do not want, and nor does anyone else, in their right minds, compus mentis, and not yet willing to on the anonymous ranks of the Gorbies, the Grosbeaks, the Swallows, and the other birds that have fled elsewhere, leaving our yard to the crows, the blue jays, the squirrels, the chipmunks, and the occasional more colorful visitors.

Spring Flowers
by
Anonymous Bosch

Kite

Kite Flying

So light, the kite,
a butterfly in flight.

Breeze battered,
sky-blue shattered.

Children stare
seeing the wing-shape
fluttering there
rising on flimsy air.

Diving, dipping,
nylon cord slipping,
finger-flesh ripping.

Here come others,
children and mothers.

Butterflies, bright,
ready for flight,
fighting wind-might:
a child’s delight.

I didn’t have photos of a kite.
I offer some humming birds instead.
Listen closely:
you can hear them hum.

Hot Water Duck

Canada Geese at Mactaquac

Hot Water Duck

The worst punishment of all was to be sent to bed early.  You climbed upstairs by candlelight, if you were lucky, or groped your way upwards in the dark, if you had been really bad. You entered the cold, dark, damp of the bedroom and punishment was not to have supper, and not to have a warm hot water bottle or a warm baked brick to keep you warm in bed. I loved that hot brick, baked in the oven or by the fireside, then wrapped up in a towel. Bricks and bottles: they banished damp from the bed and kept you warm for a while, or burned if the wrapping fell off. The hot water bottles: they were made of tin not rubber, and once, I remember a cast iron duck, that my grandmother baked in the oven, then wrapped in swaddling clothes, like a little baby. But if the grown-ups said you had been naughty, or nasty, or cheeky, or just plain wicked, then you were given nothing to keep you warm, and you lay in bed and shivered until you cried yourself to sleep.

Canada Geese and Fall Foliage at Mactaquac

Empty Nest

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Emptiness
is an
Empty Nest

The wind at the window
scratches tiny notes.
I can no longer hear the tune
nor read the words.

Who walks beside me
as I pace my lonely path,
abandoned
in this empty house.

My self-portrait
stares back at me:
a splintered selfie,
framed in a sliver
of silvery glass.

Above me,
the monkey-faced moon,
that itinerant tinker,
walks a fractured way
over broken glass.

The knapsack on his back
is cobbled together
from a finery of cobwebs
and clumsy clouds.

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Her Shadow

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Her Shadow

“Birds, birds,” she shrieked with delight.
“The drab one is a girl like you,” I told her,
“but the bright one is a little boy.”

“Yellow,” she cried again with joy, “Yellow.”
Tiny hands plucked at air, catching nothing.

I can still see her standing there, her nose,
all wet and runny.  She left damp, snot-stained
marks, a sort of signature, on the cold wet glass.

She’s long gone now, way back home, but still
the window stays unwashed and her shadow
often comes between me and the morning sun.

Triumphs

Avila 2007a 105 (2)

Triumphs
Luis de Góngora

Waking to birdsong in the morning,
making it safely to the bathroom
without tripping on the rug in the hall,
shaving without cutting my face,

getting in and out of the shower
with neither a slip nor a fall,
drying those parts of the body
that are now so difficult to reach,

especially between my far-off toes,
pulling my shirt over wet and sticky
patches still damp from the shower,
negotiating each leg of my pants,

tugging the strings of the plastic sleeve
that helps my socks to glide onto my feet,
forcing swollen toes into under-size shoes,
hobbling to the top of the stairs,

lurching down them, cautiously,
one step at a time, on guard for the cat,
the edge of the steps, the worn patches
where my stick might catch or slip …
one more step, triumph, I’ve made it.

Comment: “Cada pie mal puesto es una caída, cada caída es un precipicio / Each ill- place footstep means a fall, every fall is a precipice.” Luis de Góngora (1561-1627). I have reached the age of fragility and futility: every day that passes without an accident or a fall is a triumph. I re-read Luis de Góngora with increasing pleasure, the Polifemo (1613), above all, but also the later poems about the difficulties of ageing. When I read them I realize that I am not alone, that others have aged before me, and then I think of Jorge Manrique dead at the age of 39. And what poems he wrote, as did Góngora with a whole poetry movement named after him.

As for the photo: young storks in Avila, Spain, ready to fly. The one at the top is bouncing up and down, waiting for the breeze to get under his wings and lift him to sun and stars. High in the sky above him, almost unseen, his parents wait, ready to swoop down and assist him when he gets lift off. Uncertain he may be in those first few triumphant wing strokes, but down they come, place their wings below his wings and show him how it’s done. For him, it is the world that awaits him.

For me, and people my age, the world shrinks, walls close in, the daily process of living becomes more difficult. My joy: not in the lift off, but in the painstaking processes, getting up, getting washed and shaved, getting dressed, going downstairs, the early morning taste of fresh-brewed coffee, each sip a pleasure … and out in the garden, spring robins calling, a phoebe whistling, rose-breasted nuthatches, American Goldfinches, and the wondrous joy of just being here, sitting in the sunshine, lapping up the warmth, and every moment of every day a triumph renewed.

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Still Life with Hollyhock

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Still Life with Hollyhock
Geoff Slater

How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?

Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?

So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting
of a photo of a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.

A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead
nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.

Comment: I love the way language changes the way we look at life.  A still life painting becomes nature morte in French and naturaleza muerta in Spanish. Still life becomes dead nature. Fascinating. I also love the way in which the camera captures nature and the natural world. We think it is an accurate depiction, but really it isn’t necessarily that accurate. Filters, light and shadow, mood: they all fluctuate and sometimes we capture that which we never saw and sometimes that which we saw is never captured. Oh the subtle enigmas of creative art.

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And it is the same with the hollyhock, my hollyhock, Geoff’s hollyhock. At the top of the page is Geoff’s painting of my hollyhock. The above is a photo of my hollyhock. Which bloom did Geoff capture and reproduce in paint? Language: and what do I mean when I say ‘my hollyhock’? My indicates possession, ownership. How and in what way does one own a hollyhock? How does one possess a garden, a flower bed, a tree? Are they not free, living, beings with a life and maybe even a mind of their own? Does one hollyhock talk to another hollyhock as the trees are said to converse with the trees? Do the trees in the garden possess a soul and if they do, in what sense do they possess one? And what is a soul anyway? I guess it depends upon the church and creed to which you belong. Certainly the garden has a life of its own and we discover that every spring when the grass and flowers grow back and the dandelions return.

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Questions: dangerous things, questions. Several of the questions posed above could have landed me in an Inquisitional institute in Spain in the 1500’s and 1600’s. That is a frightening thought. Alas, the philosophy of all that is way too deep for this poor poet and apology for a philosopher. One thing I do know, though: I love the garden going on outside my window and it is a privilege to be allowed to watch it, admire it, and follow its progress as the sun returns and the draws the birds back with it.

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¡Vale! Hail and fare thee well.

Bird’s Nest

No.5 1948 Jackson Pollock.jpg

Bird’s Nest
Jackson Pollock No 5 (1948)

This bird’s nest starts with a startling tweet
that wins a trilled, thrilled response. A flutter
of heart-string wings, creator, viewer, join

with the creation. Thin threads of life mix
and match their tangled weave, existential
tapestry, fathered in a feathered nest.

World without end, this labyrinth without
an entry point, without a beginning,
with a spaghetti-thread middle that meets

not in a breath-catch of the mind, but in
a brush-flick of coloured rain, a cycle
recycled of circled paint, circular

in its circumnavigation, its square
eight by four-foot globe of a new world whirled
in stringy whorls, reinvented beauty

drawn haphazardly from the bicycle
tour de force of this artist’s inner mind.

Comment: In my latest poetry book entitled The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature, I explore the relationship between art and the natural world. I have always been fascinated by what we see, how we see it, and how it affects us. The tiny print above is scarcely representative of the eight by four-foot world that the artist creates, or re-creates. And what is modern art? Is it a re-creation of the world as we see and feel it or a representation of a new internal world glimpsed by the artist’s mind and hand-turned into a new reality, the work of art? I guess it depends on the artist, his or her way of life, the way they approach the macrocosm, and how they view the microcosm of their own inner lives.

Creation: such a lovely word. Such joy generated as we create something new, be it something verbal, visual, or tactile. For me, it is more a verbal world than a visual one. My forays into art are wonderful, enjoyable, but very personal and artistically limited, even though I love taking a line for a walk or allowing the marker to trace images on the page. Dreams and a dream world: we need them. Sometimes reality is too much for us and we have to shut out the noise of the world and, in Antonio Machado’s words, ‘saber estar solo entre la gente‘ / know how to walk alone among the crowd. The loneliness of the long-distance runner. The isolation of the loving heart trapped within its cage of flesh and bone. The solitude of the spring nest on the pillars at Long’s Creek, overlooking the head pond at Mactaquac, as it waits for its restless occupants to return from their long journey back to the north from the south and start the rebuilding process, each twig, each straw, a minor miracle. And then the hatching and the fledglings and the return flight south that gifts the empty nest such loneliness as it waits for the cycle to begin again once more.

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Rain

 

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Rain

rain
song-birds
trilling liquid notes
spring songs
flooding gardens

oh!
competitions
ritualistic rivalries
staking out territories
winter stalwarts
versus
nouveaux venus
with their summer wealth
of well-fed health

everyone competing
for their garden niche
males en garde
guarding each square inch
their earthly paradise
carved in my yard

Comment: They lit up the Mountain Ash as if it were a Christmas Tree, American Goldfinches, twenty-four of them. The rain ran down the window panes and all the photos blurred and distorted. One at each end of the garden, two robins sang. Two pair of Purple Finches, the bright male and the dowdy female, pecked beneath the feeder as the chickadees, siskens, and juncos flitted in and out. The red squirrel scattered the ones in the tree and the grey squirrel ran at and over the ones on the ground. Chaos. And the rain, rain, rain came down, down, until the garden was empty and birds and animals had taken shelter.