The Medallion

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The Medallion (Solace 7, 8, & 9)

7

St. James, Santiago, the patron saint of Spain and of the Conquistadores. Pale, egg shell blue walls, darkness ruling inside the church. It will do so until the sun peeps in the stained- glass windows and awakens all the sleeping colours. I bow my head, then my knee, and kneel at the back. Ahead of me, I recognize some of my neighbours who concentrate on the gestures of the priest as he mumbles to himself before the altar.

The early morning shadows creep across the walls until a single beam of sunshine descends and shatters the altar into a thousand tiny chips of fragmented light. My hands are pallid butterflies fluttering in the sun’s rays and a rainbow halo adorns my head. I shift away from the sunbeam and move to the side-chapel dedicated to the statue of St. James.

… St. James the Moor-Slayer … Santiago Matamoros … he stands on the severed heads of the Moors he has killed … behind him hands tied behind their backs dusky skinned warriors march away into slavery … my eyes are level with those severed heads and I stare eyeball to eyeball at a decapitated Moor … beside the statue stands a photo of the Gate of Glory, la Puerta de la Gloria, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain … … generations of pilgrims have laid hands upon the Tree of Jesse, imprinting their fingers into the stone … human hands clasping rough granite in a search for comfort and warmth …

8

When I leave St. James, I find the witchdoctor squatting, in a trance. His fire burns low and a strong scent of copal rises from the coals, hangs heavy on the air, then slowly dissipates. I stop for a second to study El Brujo and the witch doctor speaks without opening his eyes.

“I spoke to your mother yesterday.”

“That’s nonsense,” I replied. “My mother’s dead.”

“What ails you, my son?”

“I’m not your son.”

“It’s a wise man knows his own father,” El Brujo opens his eyes. “One night, many years ago, Jaguar crept between your ribs and took your heart into his mouth. When he closed his jaws, your heart was as heavy as stone and Jaguar broke his tooth upon it. He cursed you and your heart remained a rock within your chest. At night, when you sleep, you dream of dust and ashes.”

“You speak in riddles,” I try to remain calm yet the words fan a sorrow within me that I thought had died a long time ago.

“Perhaps, but my words speak true.”

            … curses, stone, dust, ashes, broken heart, rock, heart in mouth … a marigold path, zopilote, high in the morning air, fire-red his wing-tips, and then an old stone bridge, a river below it with the snow floating down to be carried away by the current, three crones dancing on the steps of an orphanage, three beautiful ladies dancing on the temple steps, an old man, dead, then alive and walking in his burial clothes … hummingbirds dancing round the sun … red slashes of blood … tulips against a white-washed wall … an old man vanishing into a tomb … death’s face simmering in the moon’s dwindling pool …

“You must make a sacrifice, my friend.”

“I don’t do sacrifice, not like that boy this morning.”

“No, not like that,” El Brujo shakes his head. “You must sacrifice your beliefs and allow me to bless you.”

“I have no beliefs.”

“Even that is a belief.”

“Then I am sacrificing nothing.”

“If that is what you believe, it is so. Here: take this. It’s yours by right,” El Brujo offers me a medallion on a braided leather thong. “This is your mother’s gift to you.”

“You’re crazy. I told you: my mother’s dead. She didn’t leave me this.”

“I tell you that she did.”

“Did you know her?”

“I did.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You may believe what you want. But tell me, does the medallion call you?”

“I like it, yes. I can’t say it calls. How much?” I put my hand in my pocket.

9

“You do not have enough money to buy it, and if you did, you wouldn’t be the man I think you are. And in that case, I wouldn’t sell it to you,” his eyes took on a faraway look. “However, it comes from your mother and I promised your mother I’d give you this.”

            El Brujo’s eyes hold a power that disconcerts me. I lower my head to his fire and the copal makes my eyes water. I cough and my vision blurs. My lungs fill with perfume and El Brujo pushes me closer to the incense. I inhale deeply and break out in a sweat.

“You must wear this always. It will protect you,” El Brujo places the medallion round my neck. I place my hand upon it, feel its rough edges, and see through my tears that it is incomplete, for it has been broken in half. What remains shows half a cross with some broken roses where the crucified Christ would normally appear.

“But it’s broken.”

“Not broken, but divided. You must find the missing half.”

“Did my mother tell you that?”

“Your mother is dead.”

El Brujo lapses into silence and stares me down. Then he breaks into a weird, wailing chant, using a language that I do not know. As he sings, he leans forward and brushes my eyes with an eagle feather that he draws from his pocket.

“Now, you will be able to see.”

… an old woman dressed in black, pushes at a young man … colored threads hang out from her basket … they flap like flags in the single ray of sunshine that breaks into a million tiny sparks of fire … hummingbirds, tiny warriors, wing their dance around a sun that bears a man’s  face … a pair of scissors snips at the string that ties a child’s balloon to the earth and it floats away up into the air high above the cathedral tower … fire catches its wings and it flares like zopilote, the trickster, in the dawn’s early light … the cathedral spire is a notched measuring stick conducting the clouds as they dance and weave their patterns … within the prison of the sky … trenchant shadows, twisted dancers, old warrior kings bend themselves in and out of shape as they struggle to escape … an old man  wrings his hands, then vanishes …  a soap bubble floats away on the wind … a young girl stands on a bridge in winter … snow swirls and  draws a curtain around her body as she falls into the waters below … an old crone wrapped in rags carries a bundle of clothes to a set of steps and leaves it there …

            “The medallion vibrates, it’s heavy and warm.”

“It knows you.”

“What do you mean, ‘it knows me’?”

“Did you feel nothing? Did you see nothing?”

“I saw nothing,” I cough and clear my throat. “I saw nothing at all.”

El Brujo looks at me long and hard. He opens his mouth to speak, then shrugs his shoulders.

“Come, you have accepted the medallion your mother left you. Now accept my blessing.”

“Why?”

“Because I ask you to. Are you such a coward that you cannot accept a blessing from an old man? Here, kneel beside me,” El Brujo taps the ground at his side and, wondering what on earth I think I am doing, I kneel beside him.

Going, going …

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Going, going …

… and soon they’ll all be gone, save for the lucky ones that Clare gathers and sticks in pots to winter over in the house-warmth. Over the coming months, if you visit us, you’ll find these flowers in corners, on tables, in places that are touched by the low winter sun. Clare keeps lots of geraniums and they do winter over very well. She makes a selection of colors and then places them in sunlit spots. They bring color and light to the darkest days and help keep winter at bay. They are also great to photograph against snows and crows, and I often use their window reflections in my indoor photography.

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Here are some red and white geraniums getting their last touch of fall sunshine as they cling to the back porch.

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This little group await their fall prune. Clare will trim them down and then bring them in. They will be slightly dormant for a while and then start to flourish once again. By the time next spring comes round, they will be ready for their outdoor adventures, a day at a time, back in overnight, and nursed and nurtured until they are ready for their full summer blossom.

It’s Thanksgiving this weekend, so a Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may you all have flowers to brighten your life and bring you some beauty and peace.

 

 

So Sweet

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So Sweet

Withered I am
and soon will perish
I cherish this brief
last leaf-light bright
on tree and pond

Stark the flooded
trunks of beaver-
gnawed trees
their sails no
longer leaf-clad

Fall’s canvas
a paradise
for lost and lonely
philosopher-poets
tree-bright their light

Stored sunshine
aged in maple
birch forest oak
soaked up
in summer life
so brief so sweet

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So sad

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So Sad

It’s so sad to see the flowers passing. They lose their color, dry up, fade. Seed pods rattle. Squirrels carry away the sunflower heads. Birds migrate. Speaking of birds, we have not seen many this year. Crows, oh yes. We have been invaded by crows. And by Blue Jays. They nest in a neighbor’s yard and have been irregular visitors. While the crows are here every day, the blue jays come sweeping in, four and five at a time, shrieking loudly.

The woodpeckers have been regular visitors, downy and hairy. Not the Greater Pileated though. I have only seen one, very small, later this summer. The chickadees have been regulars, but we have seen very few sparrows and only a couple of mourning doves. No Eastern Phoebes, a few juncos, no Grosbeaks of any kind, Evening, Rose-breasted, or Pine. And scarcely a sign of swallows, martins, night jars, cat birds, cow birds … so many friends missing and passed on. Even the yellow-bellied sapsuckers seem to have neglected us. We had robins in earlier, but just passing through, an occasional American Goldfinch … very few hawks, no starlings … an occasional nuthatch …

I can remember the washing line with sixty to seventy mourning doves hoo-hoo-hooing away. This year: two. So, something is happening. Whatever it is, I don’t like it. Where have all the birds gone? 

A couple of years back. we hardly saw a bee. This year we had bees, and hummingbirds. We also had some wonderful butterflies, the like of which I haven’t seen before. Here’s one that Clare caught, sunbathing. Rear-view, it looks quite frightening. Great orange eyes. Colored fangs. Wonderful. I want our world to heal. I want to see these wonderful creatures returning to visit us. I live in hopes to see them … but, who knows? Have we passed the turning point already? Who knows?

On Editing

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On Editing

Some editors are really very good. They take the initial idea of the artist and polish it, turning what was an average piece into a great one. Others are not so good and turn an average piece into an automatic rejection.
On my kitchen wall hangs a line-painting by Geoff Slater representing one of last year’s hollyhocks from my garden. He gave it to us as a Christmas present, and I am very proud of it. Finley loved it too. She followed with great glee the white line that starts and ends Geoff’s painting. Then she stared at me.

“What are you doing?”
“I’m writing a story.”
“What’s it about?”
“A thin red line.”
“Oh!”

A little bit later, I saw my pens and pencils strewn across the table. My sketch book lay open and I noticed that an editor had edited some of my work. My thin red line had morphed from illusion to reality and there it lay, twisting in and out of the tangled web I had created the day before. Clearly, my average creation needed the touch of a four year old editor and apprentice line-drawer to move from average to genius.

Oh the joy and creativity of a four year old! It took Picasso nearly fifty years to learn to draw like that again. And here’s another painting by this prodigious four year old. I got this one for Christmas last year, too. Alas, it is not signed.

“Don’t you want to add some more?” My daughter asked her daughter.
“No. It’s finished.”
And so have I.

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Springle Dance

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Springle Dance

I guess the title comes from Tolkien where the Hobbits begin an energetic dance at Bilbo’s Party. Or something like that. Mine is a Fall Girl Dance. The hand on the right points to the poor misshapen heart as it moves between fall leaves and colorful dancing sprites and spirits that help it on its way. Where is it going? Who knows where the autumn leaves go once they leave the tree? The bodies fall to the ground, obviously. We rake them into dry, crisp piles and our children and grand-children dive into those leaf-piles, scattering them everywhere so we have to rake them up again. Think of them, the children, as forming leaf angels, a bit like snow angels, but, like the broken heart, a great deal more fragmented.

Try as I might with camera and photo shop, the colors are never quite what they were when I splashed them haphazardly, like September rain and wind-blown leaves, across the page. But life is like that: memories are discolored and distorted, old photos turn sepia, old folk turn white and grey and wrinkled and fragile, like withered leaves from the tree of life. And this is life, real life. We live it every day. Each dream, a flower, each moment a leaf, and every moment the only one we ever truly experience.

So savor those moments, both the good and the bad. They are yours and nobody else’s. Your like is what happens to you. Sometimes it is bitter with salt and vinegar and lemon juice. Sometimes it is toxic and poisonous. But it is yours. It is your chalice to drain as you stand in the garden, feeling betrayed. Like it or not, this is you. Then there are the dream moments: sugar and spice and everything nice. On those days, when the sun shines, it’s away with slugs and snails, and puppy-dog tails and hello hollow world, I see you for what you are and I welcome you for what you are. And yes, you can meet with triumph and disaster, and you can treat those two impostors just the same. You are more powerful than the forces around you. Centre yourself. Find yourself. Heal your broken heart as it wanders among the springle dancers sent to bring you peace and comfort.

Look for your self. Find your self. Be your self. You and your self are stronger than any woes that may beset you. Seek the light … and you will find it.

On the beach

On the beach

 

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Comment:

A daylight photo and a moonlit poem: I wonder how that came about? I guess we must have been beach-combing in the moonlight. It’s so long ago that I have forgotten the links between photo and poem. That said, Clare and I had spent a couple of weeks together in Santander (Spain) the previous summer, when we got engaged.

‘O bahía de Santander: tan bella bajo la luna’ / “oh Bay of Santander, so beautiful beneath the moon” as the Santander poet Gerardo Diego writes. And yes, Santander under a full moon: Mataleñas, the Segunda Playa, Jardines del Piquío, La Magdalena, the Bay of Santander itself, with Peña Cabarga in the background … there is something about beaches and midnight and moonlight which transcends the warmth of a summer’s day. It’s a sort of Midnight Magic that creates a madness of wonder in the blood. Imagine: all those silver fish, swimming their underwater roads, and rising to the surface, to ripple softly along the moon-path. Wander-lust / wonder-lust: sometimes buried words will not rise to the surface and those oh-so-precious moments of supreme poetry are lost among street lights, advertisements for this and that, street signs and the sort of stop signs that stop you and numb your mind into the dumb acceptance of daily reality: la vie quotidienne.

Memories: will they all vanish with us when we go? Of course they will. Many are fading now as we sit here at our desks, in our offices, before our computer screens. The grey screen hustle and bustle pushes memories, light and bright, back into the darkest corners. Where do I get off the bus, the train? Which number is it? Where is the office? Who am I meeting today and at what time? Did I shut the door behind me? Did I pack the children’s lunch? Did I let the cat out? And if so, out of which bag?

passionless not meaningless
the way I take your hand
tomorrow night not even we
will ever understand
the conflicts of this moonlit beach
the warmth of this sea-licked sand

PS. There, see, I told you I couldn’t read my own handwriting. Kiss / take; night / sand. Oh dear, the old grey cells are playing chess with my mind again: P-K4 / e2-e4 … whatever next? Well, I warned you!!!!