Push to Shove

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

3

Push to Shove

When push comes to shove, who stands
at one end of the gangplank, who at the other,
the shipboard one with a gun or a cutlass,
the other poised above circling sharks,
their grey triangular mini-sails threatening.

Can you hear the siren song emerging from
Davey Jones, waiting below, his locker door
open, as it has been so often before? Is this
fate or a fait accompli? Don’t ask me.

Let’s leave him there, the condemned man,
walking his plank, tied blindfold to his stake, seated
before the firing squad, standing on the crossing,
not quite ready to dance on a rope’s end, or riding
the tumbril to La Place de la Bastille, carrying
the time-bomb candle that will light him to bed.

Waiting, waiting, like them, we are all of us waiting,
in media res, waiting for push to come to shove.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Push to Shove

Calling It a Day

Calling it a Day

This auriferous sky, sewn with sharp sequins.
Is there a warp, a leaning towards meaning,
a lurch maybe towards the moon’s dark side?
Questions: knights-errant questing for answers.

Who planted our DNA into that first Garden?
Or did the garden fill us with its own seeds?
Why did those little plants take root and grow?
Why do they now wander everywhere, restless?

This auriferous sky, sewn with sharp sequins.
Is there a warp, a leaning towards meaning,
a lurch maybe towards the moon’s dark side?
Questions: knights-errant questing for answers.

Rampant feet patrol our castle’s heights
while we seek instant gratification, swift
possession, our fingers probe each passing
cloud, reaching for all, but grasping none.

A satellite glides its razor edge, slices
the night’s eye into pin pricks of light.
The moon balances her orange unicycle
on thin black lines, hills edged with trees.

Lesser incandescence of a departed sun,
that low, lone moon slowly climbs the sky.
Released from their earthbound burdens,
who knocks this night at heaven’s gate?

Here on the back porch, midnight slowly
covers me with its dark gray cape of grief.
My grief is your grief, your grief is mine, all
grief is one, why do we all then grieve in vain?

Patience

Thursday Thoughts
Patience

Patients must be patient.
The waiting-room
is where the doctor
makes them wait.

My father waited, patiently,
to see the specialist.
At the stroke of noon,
nurse told the waiting patients
not to wait patiently
and to all go home.

“Come back next week,” nurse said.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“The doctor,” she said,
“has a very important meeting.”

I hurried for a taxi.
My father on his Zimmer
followed slowly behind.
On the hospital steps
I met the doctor.

“Damnation!” he said,
into his cell phone.
“I’m going to be late
for that appointment.
I’ve left my golf clubs behind.”

Thursday Thoughts: I remember that day well. My father was due to visit the hospital for his appointment with the stroke specialist. I wanted to drive him there, but he insisted on waiting for the old folks’ ambulance. It was due at 9:00 am and his appointment was for 10:30 am. We waited patiently, watching the hands on the clock moving slowly round. 9:00 > 9:15 > 9:30 > 9:45. “I can drive you,” I said. My father shook his head: “If I don’t take the ambulance, they won’t come to pick me up again. They’ll say I have other means of transport.”

The ambulance / ambwlans (in Welsh) arrived just before 10:00 and dad was sure they’d make his appointment time. Except there were still empty seats and that meant more passengers to pick up. Used to the system, my father waited patiently while I got more and more frustrated. Finally, the ambulance was full and we made our way to the hospital, getting there about 10:45. “Run,” my father said, thrusting his appointment papers at me, “tell the nurse I’m on my way.” Run I did. When I got to the waiting room, I found it full of people with never a chair for my father to sit on. When he arrived, a younger patient offered him his seat and he flopped down into it.

Names rang out. Patients disappeared. Some returned to the waiting room, then walked out. Some didn’t return. At 11:15 my father demanded tea. I got him a cup. At 11:30, a man stood up and started to preach to his captive audience. “Does that every week,” dad muttered in my ear. “He’s mad.” “You can’t take it with you,” the preacher thundered. “There aren’t any pockets in shrouds.” People fiddled and looked uncomfortable. Most had teacups perched precariously on saucers, and some rattled them, whether in applause or anguish, I still don’t know.

Then at noon the nurse appeared and announced what you have read above. “Dr. XXX’s patients: you can all go now. Dr. XXX has an important appointment. Come back next week.” My dad pushed me. “Run,” he said. “Get a taxi. They’ll all be wanting one and by the time I get there there’ll be none left.” That was the only visit I made with my father to that particular hospital. I had so many questions to ask that specialist, but, alas, I never met him.

What I did learn was that patients must learn patience. Hospitals, like airlines, run to their own schedules. A sign should be placed above every hospital door. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Just a thought, nothing more. The delays in all our medical systems, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, have been disastrous for many people, especially the old. Missed appointments. Delayed and cancelled treatment. Long waits and delays. The medical staff have been placed in such stressful conditions. Many are finding it difficult to cope with their inability to fulfill their desires to help their patients. Many are so stressed out. Two of my own doctors have cried when talking to me. I think of it as Covid Collateral Damage, CCD, just like the Colony Collapse Disorder that wiped out our bee population a few years back. Now we are the bees and hospitals and nursing homes are the hives.

Looking back, that morning spent waiting with my father, was a lesson in what old age has in store for us Golden Oldies as we age. Patience: as patients, we must learn patience. And remember, as Bette Davis once said “Old age is not for cissies.” And those are my thoughts for today!

Building on Sand

Building on Sand

Everywhere the afternoon gropes steadily to night.
Some people have built fires,
others read by candlelight.

Geese, drifts of snow their whiteness,
settle on the riverbank. They walk
on thin ice at civilization’s edge.
Around them, the universe’s clock
ticks slowly down.

Who forced that scream
through the needle’s eye?
Inverted, the Big Dipper,
hangs its question mark
from heaven’s dark eyelid.

Ghosts of departed constellations
stalk the sky. Pale stars bob
phosphorescent on the flood.

The flesh that bonds,
the bones that walk,
the shoulders and waist
on which I hang my clothes,
now they stand alone
and listen at the water’s edge
to the whispering trees.

They have caught the words
of snowflakes strung between the stars.
Moonlight is a liquor
running raw within them.

Comment: The verse version (above) is from Though Lover’s be Lost. The prose version (Below) is from Stars at Elbow and Foot.

Building on Sand

Everywhere the afternoon gropes steadily to night. Some people have built fires, others read by candlelight. Geese, drifts of snow their whiteness, settle on the riverbank. They walk on thin ice at civilization’s edge. Around them, the universe’s clock ticks slowly down. Who forced that scream through the needle’s eye? Inverted, the Big Dipper, hangs its question mark from heaven’s dark eyelid. Ghosts of departed constellations stalk the sky. Pale stars bob phosphorescent on the flood. The flesh that bonds, the bones that walk, the shoulders and waist on which I hang my clothes, now they stand alone and listen at the water’s edge to the whispering trees. They have caught the words of snowflakes strung between the stars. Moonlight is a liquor running raw within them.

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The Messenger

The Messenger

Clarity is essential now: the cycle of seasons, the will and willingness to change. Nothing can alter this flow: rain and river, pond and sea, the moon pull of the tide. Each half-truth glimpsed through the helmet’s slotted visor as we charge in the lists, knee against knee, spear against spear, knight against knight. On the shore at the earth’s edge, a new planet mapped in miniature: each grain of sand, a speck of dust, light upon the palm, yet the whole beach, in unison, weighing us up, weighting us down. This world, immanent, renascent, growing more solid through its thinning veil of mist. Freckled the water, as the wild man sculls towards us, over the waves, over the sand, a fisher of what kind of men? Was he without guilt, he who cast that first stone? The pond’s water-mask, reconfigures in ever-widening circles traveling who knows where to lap at an unseen shore. Light bends like a reed; liquid are the letters dancing, distorted, on speckled waters and the white sand undulating under the rising waves.

Comment: So this is the messenger, and what now is the message? And who or what do we believe? And why should we believe it? Better by far, say some, to bury our heads in the sand and to pretend to be unaware, uncaring about all that is going on around us. Why worry about what we cannot change? Just let it be. But not all people think that way. And, unfortunately, not all people think. I do. But I am beginning to think that I am one of the few who does think. And not only that, I think I am getting out of step with the world around me. Yes, I know the Spanish saying: “in the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is king”. I am neither blind, nor one-eyed, nor am I a king, nor a king-maker. More than anything, I think I am an anarchist ant!

Monkey Meets an Anarchist Ant
Memories of El Camino de Santiago

The anarchist ant is dressed in black.
He has a little red base-ball cap worn
backwards on his head.

His eyes are fiery coals.
“Phooey!” He says. “It’s folly
to go with the flow.” so he turns
his back on his companions
and marches in the other direction.

Some ants call him a fool.
The Ant Police try to turn him.

The Ant Police try to turn him.
The Thought Police try
to make him change his mind.

Others, in blind obedience
to a thwarted, intolerant authority,
first bully him, then beat him,
then bite him till he’s dead.

Big Hand / Small Hand

Big Hand / Small Hand

It’s late in my life, with the big hand stuck on the nine, at a quarter to some thing, and the small hand twitching its red-tipped needle of blood. Yesterday, the breakdown van called for my body and towed me to the doctor’s. “Cough!” she said. “Say ninety-nine! Now cough again!” All the while, cold hands probed my unprotected body. Bottoms up? Thumbs down? It’s hard to see that the wine glass stands a quarter full when seventy five per cent of the wine has gone and the empty bottle lies drained on the operating table. I sit in front of the mirror and examine the palpitating heart they have torn from my chest. Flesh of my flesh, it beats in my hand like an executioner’s drum. I hear the tumbril drawing near. My colleagues sharpen their knitting needles. My lungs are twin balls of wool knotted tight in my chest.

Variants

Not one of us knows when the skeleton in the limelight will peel off her gloves, doff her hat, lay down her white cane and use us as fuels for a different kind of fire. Grief lurks in the bracelet’s silver snare of aging hair. We kick for a while and struggle at dawn’s bright edge, we creatures conditioned by time and its impossibilities. What possible redemptions unfurl their shadowy shapes at the water’s edge? A dream angel, this owl singing wide-eyed like a moribund swan bordering on that one great leap upwards, preparing to vanish into thin air. Some say a table awaits on an unseen shore; others that a rowing boat is tied to the river bank, ready for us to row ourselves across. Who knows? Yesterday’s horoscopes sprinkle butterflies of news as the snow wraps us all in the arcane blanket of each new beginning.

Comment: It’s been a strange week. In spite of all my resolutions, I missed my Wednesday Workshop and my Thursday Thoughts. Never mind: the latter weren’t very pleasant anyway. It has been pouring with rain again, and, as the WWI song says “Back to bread and water, as I have done before,” except in this case, it’s pills and needles, and I get the first shot on Tuesday. Nothing to worry about. I’ve been there before. It’s all preventative. But the body-clock is ticking away and I am getting no older and people around me are drifting slowly away. One of the players I used to coach at rugby, an excellent prop forward, went AWOL on Wednesday, MIA, and I read about his passing yesterday in the obituary column of the local newspaper. 18 years younger than me. He might be gone, but his memory lingers on, strongly for me. I have been thinking about him and his family and their tragic loss. My heart goes out to them and I offer my condolences, but what can one do, other than sympathize, celebrate a life well-led, and accept that all of us, poor creatures, are born to die. And if not now, when?

Stars at Elbow and Foot

Stars at Elbow and Foot

Stars at Elbow and Foot
(Selected Poems,1979-2009)
is now available online at the following link:

Purchase
Stars at Elbow and Foot

“These poems reveal an impressive tenderness and have a very great variety.
The ceaseless radiation of sublime ideas is perceptible in these poems.”

“A poetry book is a dream you hold in your hands.”

Stars at Elbow and Foot

Stars at Elbow and Foot

I retuned from the Red Room at KIRA to spend the weekend at home with Clare and this is what was waiting for me in the garage: a large parcel with books! So, we opened it and, to our delight, a constellation of stars emerged to bless us with their light and wisdom.

So, here I am, standing before the only island in Island View, with the first two copies of Stars at Elbow and Foot (Selected Poems, 1979-2009) out of the box and in my hands. Delightful. As soon as I have the purchasing details, I will place them online.

With regard to this collection, some thanks are due. First to my editor, Dr. Karunesh Kumar Agarwal who always does such a fine job in editing and publishing what I send him. Second to Allison Calvern who helped me choose, order, and revise the collection. Allison has always been such a strong supporter of writing, first here in Fredericton, and now in Ottawa. My thanks and best wishes go out to her. Third, to Chuck Bowie who told me with no uncertainty that THIS was the cover painting, and forget the others! Fourth, to Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox who reached out to me one day, when my writing spirits were at low tide, and refilled my spiritual glass with encouragement and enthusiasm. Fifth, to all the readers and commentators on my blog and on Facebook. Your ticks are so important. Your comments are so welcome. Thank you all. Sixth, to the multitude of friends and editors who have encouraged me and my work, supported me, and pushed me to push myself further. Writing is a lonely task. We writers rely on others for so many things: support, advice, encouragement, and occasionally for the bus fares that help us stay on that writing bus and to never get off until we reach our destination.

Brandy Cove

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Brandy Cove

I remember teaching my granny
how to climb the steep slope
from the beach to the headland.

“It’s easy, gran,” I said. “Look!”
I leaped from tussock to tussock,
up the path, each patch of grass
a stepping stone leading me upwards.

She stood there, below me,
breathing hard, her left hand
held against her chest,
just beneath her heart.

“Wait for me,” she said, panting.
“I’m catching my breath.”
I ran back down, then held out
my hand to help her.
It was so long ago,
but I remember it well.

Who now will hold out
a helping hand
as I age, pause, hand on heart,
to catch my own breath,
as I climb, not a steep cliff path,
but the stairs up to bed?

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Freedom

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Freedom

We are all so lonely,
locked in our cardboard castles,
no view beyond the battlements,
save for the wild lands, the forest,
from which the enemy might come.

Wild beasts, we cage ourselves
in our isolation and bang our heads
on the bars we built to protect us.

Sometimes, at night, we ascend
to the topmost turret to observe
the stars that dance above us,
tracing our lives in their errant ways.

And is this freedom, this night sky,
with its wayward planets, trapped
in their overnight dance and weaving
our futures, for ever and ever, amen?