Absence

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Absence

I left my father lying there
unable to look him in the eye;
I was his only living child,
but I never flew back to say goodbye.

My absence tore apart my heart.
I couldn’t face a hotel room,
no house, no friends, no family,
in the town I once called home.

I remembered my dad for a little while,
but then his face just fled.
Now I seek his smile in this photo,
but his eyes fill me with dread.

No life, no light, no focus,
nothing that I recall;
I look at him quite helplessly:
but he can’t see me at all.

 

This Fragile Light

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This fragile light
filtering through
the early-morning mind
filled as it still is
with night’s dark
shadowy dreams
their dance demonic
or perchance angelic
as light rises and falls
in time to the chest’s
frail tidal change
the ins and outs
of life-giving breath

Bright motes these birds
at the morning feeder
feathered friends
who visit daily
known by their song
their plumage
their ups and downs
as they dazzle and spark
breaking the day open
with their chorus of joy

Two Gnomes

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Two  Gnomes

Two small gnomes
have set up camp
in my lungs.

All night long
they play their squeeze
box, wheeze box concertinas,
never quite in unison.

Sometimes they stamp
their feet and dance.
Their wild night music
catches in my throat
and I cough up
unmusical songs
that splutter and choke.

An east wind blows
outside my window.
It whistles and groans
as it herds the stars
from left to right.

The stars chase
the westering moon.
The planets dance
to the rhythms
of the accordion music
playing in my chest.

Comment: Raw poem, raw sore throat. I wish this flu on nobody. And yes, I had my flu shot, so the flu bug probably mutated and created a version just for me. This is also an “I need sympathy poem” so, moan and groan … splutter and cough, breakfast’s ready and I’m off.

Silence

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Silence

Our conversation today:
a sun baked Roman aqueduct
dried up, no water.

In the bathroom,
brown sacking hangs
ragged on leaking pipes.

Our words are lifeless kites,
earthbound,
too heavy to rise.

Each sentence fills
with wasted movements
of lips, tongue, jaws and teeth

Enormous
barbed wire barriers
have grown between us.

Words and thoughts
hang like washing
pegged out on a windless day.

Dead soldiers
gone over the top,
their uniforms flapping
on unbroken wire.

Losing It

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Losing It

When you lose it,
whatever it is,
your fingers pick at seams,
hankies, skirts, shirts, jeans,
or strip a label from a bottle,
or crumble bread, or …

There are so many things
you can do,
personal things.

On the table:
a vacant cereal bowl,
a silver teaspoon in a saucer,
an empty teacup
returning your round
moon-face stare.

Comment: I would like to thank everyone who joined in this discussion today (blog, e-mail, and Facebook). The poem transcribed above is the final version, subject to later consideration of course. Earlier versions, with selected comments, are set out below.

1

Losing It

When you lose it
whatever it is
your fingers pick at seams
hankies skirts shirts jeans
or strip a label from a bottle
or crumble bread or

there are so many things
you can do
personal things

on the table
a vacant cereal bowl
a silver teaspoon in a saucer
an empty teacup
returning your round moon stare

your hands
twist and pull
your nails
click together

blunt needles knit
then unpick stitches
trying to unravel
then to repair
this ball of empty air

 Comment: This is a Golden Oldie. It dates from the final illness and passing of my mother, thirty years ago next month. When I wrote it, I wasn’t punctuating my poetry. Nowadays, I prefer punctuation as it guides the reader in terms of the rhythm and flow of words. Leaving it exactly as I wrote it means you, as reader, have to wrestle with the meaning, the order, the pauses, the rhythm. My guess is that this over-complicates the poem. However, it was a difficult time, so the poetry I wrote at that time was also difficult. I will be interested in any comments on the following question: to punctuate or not to punctuate?

Comment from Judy: An out there idea: what if  for Losing it – you ended poem with first stanza?
Reply from Roger: What if, indeed? Then it would need a tweak or two, something like this: the poem changes, but does it gain or lose?

2

Losing It

blunt needles knit
then unpick stitches
trying to unravel
then to repair
this ball of empty air

your hands
twist and pull
your nails
click together

your fingers
pick at seams
hankies skirts shirts jeans
or strip a label from a bottle
or crumble bread or

there are so many things
you can do
personal things

on the table before you
a vacant cereal bowl
a silver teaspoon in a sauce

an empty teacup
returning
your round moon stare

Comment from Jan: Play it again, this time with punctuation. This time I have returned to Judy’s original suggestion, and just placed the last stanza first. Then I have punctuated the poem. Revision and re-creation time: this is fun! I punctuated the above version, then cut it down to the first poem published at the start of this article. Tank you all for the help.

Monumental Madness

 

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Monumental Madness

                  A long time ago, at Niagara Falls, I dressed in yellow oilskins, walked behind a tumbling wall of water, and knew I was close to the edge. Back outside, everything changed and beside that brightness of grass and rock, water screamed like shorn hair as it tore down the precipice. Have you been there? Have you walked to the end of the world, stood at the edge and peered into the starless, foam-speckled darkness that beckons below?

                  The deed leaves a bleakness dangling at the end of your wrist. Silent, you fear to dip your toes into an icy bucket of fire. Sun through dark clouds: a candle illuminating the scene. You cannot see your breath, but you know that it hangs there on the air before you. A spider web of smoke strings its impenetrable cloak between you and reality.

                  An animal urge to surge and run makes your muscles twitch but your feet are trapped in sand as crazy glue binds your limbs and banishes flight. Beads of sweat pearl on the upper lip and below the eyes. There is a melting at the temples’ edges where the short hairs tense and prickle. Now your back is on fire. Sparks fly from your hair as you prepare, Roman Candle in this unlit bonfire’s gloom, to explore a subterranean cave of unknowing.

                  The walls around you slowly congeal and your sweat flows thick then dries.  Your toes sink back into their frosty oblivion. There is no movement from your knees down. Your fingers stiffen and arthritis steals movement from inflamed joints. A voice inside your head tells you to punch the emergency numbers on your frozen cell phone, but wisdom is drowned in the mind’s dark urgings and your fingers cannot respond. You sense that this will not bring the beginning of the end. It will be the continuing of the same, torment without end, until a century of centuries stands in your mind like a single day. Eternity stretches before you with its long, dark, endless winter night: no stars, no sun, no moon, no spark, no hope, just this eternal cold that suspends all motion.

                  Within you, an animal rages carnivorous against the bone bars of its cage. It can see you; it can sense you; it can smell the atoms of fear that rise from between your toes and flow out of your armpits. Your own nostrils flare and stiffen and you too can smell that fear; you can taste the bestial desire that flesh holds for fresh torn flesh. A black velvet band binds your eyes and pulls itself tighter and closer across your chest. Your heart is a stone thrown into an icy pond. Down, it plunges, down and down, and as it descends it bumps the bodies of other beings locked there in the deep pool of your chest.

                  Somewhere in this Arctic night there is a shuffle of white pads. Sleek feet move across the snow. The polar bear’s snuffle is a whimper of hope that the end will come swiftly in the bright light of midnight descending, all red in tooth and claw. You shiver. You bite your hand. You quench your chattering teeth and hope they do not wake the nightmare. Yet still you sense it drawing close with an acquiescent dragging of slow feet.

                  The illusion, the dream, the nightmare, the chimera, the dragon that dwells in the depths, the ice cold sucker of souls that emerges in a sudden gasp of bated breath, the red hot air that flees from the anthracite when the door of the dream world flies open and the devil dances on the hot coals of his promised hell and condemns your ice to melt in those sinister flames.

                  Your pale face floats through the gloom: yellowed teeth, frail lips curved, a Cupid’s bow that will shoot sweet darts of poisoned love, dry mouth, desiccated words, sounds that form into sinister sequences, their meanings misunderstood, false hope dangling by its neck from a choking rope, the bare words pacing, naked bears across a chain of dancing memories strung out like good times, past and dead, and dangling stiff from their skeletal chains.

                  Your flightless fancies flit through a darkness of despair, as awkward as auks, as clumsy as penguins stranded in zoo cages far from their native seas, as meaningless as the dodos, as dead as the ashes lying cold beneath the crematorium’s fire.

                  A sudden bucket clatters down the well. But there is no water. This ice will not melt. These desert sands may burn your feet but they will not warm your glacial heart. The manner of your third or fourth coming brings forth no nourishment.

                  A mirror grows from a spider web on the wall. Face to face, the present and past are ambulant tenses that foretell no conditional. There is no future, let alone a future perfect. A dislocation of infinitives stretches into the infinity of an invisible futurity.

                  To be: and now you are permitted to see the depth to which you will descend. Now you see yourself sinking lower and there is only one exit. A rope and a beam appear before you; a tin of Ant Trap; the silver tusk of an open razor; that bottle of pills; that steering wheel, one twitch of which will veer you into the path of that passing truck; that bridge which crosses into the fog and ends half way across the river; the mystery and madness of that final plunge into an even longer night.

                  Or not to be: lips move and promise an end to heat and cold. Here, they say, is darkness without memory; here is sleep bereft alike of nightmare and dream; here is oblivion; here is the cessation of strife and struggle; here is peace.

                  If you take that step, you leave your present hell and enter into another hell leaving behind you family and friends to suffer without you in their own living hell.

Driving at Night

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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
that clogs 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:

what happened
to my youth?

Where did
my childhood
go?