Don’t Look Out

Don’t Look Out the Window

Don’t look out the window, you don’t want to
know what’s lying out there. Don’t look out.

Play ostrich. Place your head in the sand,
pretend there’s nothing there to worry you.
Pretend you can see the missing PPE,
the vanished masks, the surgical gloves,
the sanitized hand-wash that everybody needs.
Just don’t look out the window. Don’t look out.

Pretend there’s nothing out there. Deny that
nearly two million people are ill.
Deny that a hundred thousand have died,
not in vain, but from ignorance and vanity
 and a total denial of scientific truth.
Just don’t look out the window. Don’t look out.

Just look at these walls that surround you.
Smile back at the smiling faces, the nodding heads,
the puppet-string politicians who agree with
every piece of nonsense that issues, meaningless,
from empty mouths. Surround yourself with people
who believe what you believe, who think and do like you,
fellow narcissists and bullies, cheats and liars,
who have deceived and stolen, lied like you, to build
enormous fortunes while they have cheated on
their wives, gone bankrupt, and borrowed shady money
in questionable deals with shabby, foreign banks.
Don’t look out the window. Don’t look out.

All those employees know a bum deal
when they are on the sharp end of one.

But nobody speaks out and nobody,
but nobody, dares open those curtains
for fear of seeing that reborn beast,
its hour come at last,
slouching down the streets.
Close your eyes. Don’t look out the window.
Don’t look out.

Comment: I rarely comment on political events, let alone write poems about them. That said, I do not consider this poem to be a political statement. For me, the key to the poem can be found in the final five lines beginning with ‘for fear of seeing …’. I have explored inter-textuality before in these pages. I hope the reference to W. B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, is clear.

Keeping Score

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The Score

It’s the old conundrum:
you place one grain of wheat
on the chessboard’s first square,
two on the second,
four on the third.

And so on and so forth,
eight on the fourth,
sixteen on the fifth.
Now close your eyes
and make a wish:
“Let all these pandemic victims go.”

Alas, no.
You must sit and watch them grow:
32, 64, 128,
and that’s the first rank done.
Seven more marching ranks to go.

256, 512, 1014,
Lord above: how many more?
2028, 4056, 8112,
what on earth can people do?
Wash your hands, stay inside,
and hope your best friends
haven’t died.

Doubled again
that’s even more:
16 thousand 224.
Upon this rank
just one more square
sees 32 thousand
lying there.

How many more,
how many more,
and each death ringed
by family and friends.
This week it seems
death’s dance will never end.

Comment: La Calle de la Cruz / Street of the Cross, shown in the above photo, runs past the cathedral of Avila. It is also known locally as La Calle de la Vida y de la Muerte / the Street of Life and Death as it seems duels were sometimes fought there. It seemed an appropriate photo to accompany this poem which speaks of the seeming lottery, with its winning and losing tickets, in which we are all currently involved. The lower photo, incidentally, captures a stone mason’s mark carved into the face of the cathedral in Avila.

When writing the poem, I repeated the numbers naming them with their single digits, thus: 256, 512, 1014 becomes two five six, five one two, one oh one four (line 14). This allowed me to manage rhythm and rhyme. In my mind I always associate  rhyme with reason, but in this current pandemic, I can see very little reason. I guess, as I wrote in one of my earlier poems, ‘there are so many ways to die’. I just hope Corona Virus isn’t one of them. No, I don’t want to live forever, but hell no, I don’t want to die just yet! Keep safe, keep well!

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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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Finisterre

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Finisterre

Nothing left now but this pain in my heart.
It makes me think about ageing, growing old,
that unstoppable process of the body’s slow,
inevitable breaking down from all to nothing.

I should probably go to the doctor, but what
can she, will she do? She can’t stop the hands
on my body clock and lop ten or twenty years
from my life. Nor can her pills, lotions, potions

gift me with the long-sought magic of the Fountain
of Youth. The truth, unwelcome as it is, is that
the day I was born I took my first steps on the path
to death, my own death, an inescapable law

that tells me that body and spirit will be forced
apart, that the flesh will wither and perish,
and that the person the world and I know as
me will no longer be able to hold together.

Comment: Finisterre, the Pillars of Hercules, the Nec Plus Ultra beyond which there is nothing, Terra Incognita … that spot in Newfoundland where my friend, Dr. Leo Ferrari, who founded the Flat Earth Society, stood at the edge of the world and looked at the horrible void below him which ended in nothingness.

Nihilism is the point of view that suspends belief in any or all general aspects of human life, which are culturally accepted. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not exist at all. Nihilism may also take epistemological, ontological, or metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or reality does not actually exist.

The term is sometimes used in association with anomie  to explain the general mood of  despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence that one may develop upon realizing there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws.

Nihilism has also been described as conspicuous in or constitutive of certain historical periods. Many have called post-modernity  a nihilistic epoch and some religious theologians and figures of religious authority have asserted that post-modernity and many aspects of modernity, represent a rejection of theism, and that such rejection of theistic doctrine entails nihilism. All the above is borrowed shamelessly from this Wikipedia article on nihilism.

What this leads to is the danger of losing our faith in these troubled times. G. K. Chesterton wrote, a long time ago, in the century before last, that people who lost their faith were inclined to believe anything. Please, do not believe everything and anything you hear. For example, no, Leo, my friend, the world is not flat. And no, my beloved readers, drinking Chlorox or Drano will do you much more harm than good. In fact it may well turn you into the nihil [Latin for nothing] from which nihil-ism is formed.

More important: believe in life, in positivity, in the light that will shine through this darkness. Believe, as Our Lord Don Quixote [thank you, don Miguel de Unamuno, for that wonderful book, and thank you also for gifting us with your philosophy in The Tragic Sense of Life] believed that yes, we can see all of this through and that yes, we are the children of our deeds, and that yes, as my friend Pedro Calderón de la Barca told me a long time ago, obrar bien, to do only good, be the best that we can be, that’s what really matters in this vale of tears and shadows, this tv reality show that we call life.

Memory Loss

Time-Spirits

Memory Loss

A carton of eggs
abandoned in the supermarket.
Her cousin’s face, her daughter’s name,
the parking spot where she left the car.

Forgotten phone numbers.
Birthdays of family members
never remembered.

“What day is it today,” she asks,
for the third or fourth time.

Her programs no longer work.
Many files now inaccessible,
are written in coded jabberwocky.
I show her photos but to her they are
blank spaces, gaps in her photo album.

“I recognize your face,” she says to me,
but I can’t remember your name.”

Comment: Towards the end of her life, my grand-mother started to lose her memory. I penned this poem a long time ago, then recovered it from my poetry discards. Some years ago, a virus entered my computer system and destroyed many of my files. I had backed them up, but I never really accessed them all when I bought this new computer. Now, in this time of much sitting and screen viewing, when friends no longer knock on the door to share a cup of coffee or tea, time weighs heavy, and I can look at those old files again. This also what I have done with my chess, breaking out the first travelling chess set I bought back when I was nine or ten years old, and re-playing favorite games with its red and white pieces in their cardboard box. I haven’t played serious chess since I came to Canada and, as a result, I have forgotten the openings, mislaid the combative combinations of the middle game, and can now plot only the simplest of endings. This too, in its own way, is a sort of memory loss. Yet as I replay the Fischer-Spassky series of 1972, so much comes flooding back. Memory loss: some things do return, but as I age, I wonder if that other memory loss, the more fatal one, will one day grip me, as it gripped my grand-mother, and leave me damaged and un-repairable. I wake up some mornings, confused from sleep, and wonder whether this is what awaits us all.

Scorched Earth

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Scorched Earth

A scorch mark
still scars this woodland
where deer grazed
until spring grass
fed the flames
sown by an unknown hand.

RCMP
cars blocked
the lower road,
uniformed officers
directed us to detour
up and away.

Below us we could see
smoke, no flames,
two firetrucks.
The acridity of ash,
breeze-borne,
filtered through the car
making us cough.

No more will the deer
roam this particular place
until wounds are healed
and all trace of the fire,
like them, has fled.

Comment: Driving to the head pond at Mactaquac, a week or so ago, we met an RCMP roadblock and were diverted by the officers. We ascended Mactaquac heights, and came down the other side, rejoining the lower road which was blocked by another set of RCMP cars. It was the week after the shootings in Nova Scotia. All we could think of was the respect we have for the RCMP. The knowledge that, if someone drove a police cruiser, stolen or faked, and wore an RCMP uniform, stolen, faked, or genuine, and flagged us down, well, we would have had no doubts and we would have obeyed that person implicitly. This was apparently what happened in Nova Scotia when the gunman, dressed like an RCMP Officer, flagged some of his victims down, then shot them as they sat in their cars. I guess the wounds of forest and deer will heal more quickly than those of the victims’ families. Pax amorque / peace and love. 

Black Angel

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Black Angel

You cannot hide
when the black angel arrives
to knock on your door.

“Wait a minute!” you say,
“While I change my clothes
and comb my hair.”

But he 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 may know you are there,
but you can no longer see
your reflection in the mirror.

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Comment: Another Golden Oldie from the same dusty manuscript (as if e-files could get dusty), but a little bit more sinister, this one. As long as you can see your reflection and as long as your shadow is still clipped to your heels when the sun shines, you are probably all right. A friend of mine had a nasty turn the other night. He woke up with cramp at 3 in the morning, got out of bed to stretch, blacked out while he was stretching, and came round on the bedroom floor an hour later. It took him 10 minutes to roll over, perform a push up, get onto his knees, crawl to the chair, and pull himself upright. He climbed back into bed and forgot all about it until it was time for him to get up the next morning. Then he lay there worrying until the forces of nature forced him to his feet. Now he says he’s fine … he might be. I checked his shadow and it’s still there and when I talked with him on Messenger, he’d managed to shave.

Striations

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Striations

There are striations in my heart,
so deep,
a lizard could lie there,
unseen,
and wait for tomorrow’s sun.

Timeless:
this worm at the apple’s core
waiting for its world to end.

 Seculae seculorum:
the centuries rushing headlong.

Matins:
wide-eyed this owl
hooting in the face of day.

Somewhere,
I remember
a table spread for two.
Breakfast:
an open door,
a window that overlooks
a balcony and a garden.

“Where are you going, dear?”

  Something bright has fled the world.
The sun unfurls shadows.
The blood whirls stars around the body.

“It has gone,” she said.
“The magic.
I no longer tremble
at your touch.”

Comment: A real Golden Oldie. The lizard, it’s probably an iguana, came originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, and now sits over the door on the front porch. I had to bend his tail to get him into my carrying bag, poor thing. I found this poem in my poetry discards file, though what it was doing in there is a mystery to me. I think I discarded the longer manuscript in which it was included. Never mind, I have re-found, rediscovered it and it merits a place here, on my blog, along with the iguana. Byddwch lawen: rejoice and be glad.

Doing Time

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Doing Time

Time bends like a boomerang,
flies away,
comes flying back to
the thrower’s hand.

Endless this shuffle.
Unmarked days
drop off the calendar.

Hands stop on the clock.
The pendulum
swings back and forth
but nothing else moves.

‘As idle as a painted ship
upon a painted ocean.’

Yet the seas seem to move,
the winds seem to blow,
the sails seem to swell,
while our garden
fills with birds
and squirrels,
light and dark.

Morning ablutions.
Each day is a twin
of the day before.
Like wise each week.

The TV screen fills up
its washbasin of tired
looking faces bore us
with their endless wisdom.

Time hands heavy:
an albatross around the neck,
or an emu, an ostrich,
a flightless dodo,
an overweight bumble bee,
too heavy to fly.

Comment: An interesting article that I read today suggests that the lock down is bending time out of shape and that we need to adapt our minds and our body clocks to a new temporal reality. Seconds hang heavy. Days present the same routine. The routine makes the divisions between each day seem irrelevant. This is what my Spanish friend and teacher, the poet José Hierro, meant when he wrote about his time in jail as a political prisoner after the Spanish Civil War: “El tiempo aquí no tiene sentido” / time in here has no meaning.

A similar effect is noticed by those of us who were imprisoned in boarding schools from an early age. The first day back, we draw a railway train at the beginning of a long track and we number each day from the beginning of term. Then we cross off the days, one by one. Often, before the first week is even over, we forget about counting the days: they are all the same, lookalikes with a rhythmic similarity that sends us to sleep as routine takes over and we sleepwalk through life.

How important is time? How important is it to distinguish Monday from Wednesday, Friday from Thursday, this Saturday from a week on Sunday? It becomes less and less important. The TV chatters on and on. The shows we follow illuminate our days. I turn on the radio at five on Friday for Cross Country Check Up, which airs on Sunday. I go without breakfast and don’t even notice that I haven’t eaten. I make a cup of coffee and it sits there on the table with the cup of tea that I forgot to drink this morning. Each time I take my tablets, I write that fact down so that later in the day, I can check that I have actually taken them. The notes mount up and the bottles of tablets run down. Each mandarin orange has a tiny key and I wind those oranges up so they will go tick-tock as I eat them. My Teddy Bear has an alarm clock between his legs and a flashlight in his ear so that I can tell the time on cloudy nights when I can no longer see the Platonic dance of the rotating stars.

Garbage Day

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Garbage Day
(1789 AD)

all the dustbins
dancing down the street
trying no doubt to achieve
a spring time copulation
so they can give birth
to even more dustbins

you can’t have a revolution
without dustbins
dusty … dusty … filthy
dusty dustbins
a sadistic way to look at
dustbins full of sawdust
heading off down the street
between potholes
and blowing bins
a right Danse Macabre
conducted by
St. Vitus

me sitting there knitting
Montreal Canadians
this Red Cap
I keep flying high

even though I stand
upon Gibraltar’s Rock so fair
not to mention Paris
the Place de la Bastille
with tumbrils rattling

Old Moll in a Moll’s Cap
toothless fairy
at a Goblin Party
watch out
for toad s’tools
[sick this poem
this joke

and all that’s in it]

Comment: A wonderful drawing by my friend, line painter Geoff Slater. The poem, of course, represents the garbage in (and out of) the garbage can. 1789 is the date of the French Revolution. I found this poem in my discard file, so it was one of those that didn’t make it anywhere. Maybe it shouldn’t have made it here either. But it takes all sorts to make a world and Geoff’s red dustbin reminds me of the red caps knitted by the old women beneath the scaffold and the guillotine. Funny things, guillotines: invent them and they drop on you when you fall out of favor. There are so many allusions in this poem that I am ashamed to say I remember them all, and not all of them are pleasant. Mind you, few things are pleasant nowadays and remember: it is better to leave your dustbins out to roam the streets and be plundered by the crows and swept away by the high winds than to leave them festering and smelling bad and all cooped up in the locked down garage.