Thursday Thoughts: Fear

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Thursday Thoughts
10 May 2018
Fear

Tomorrow I drive to Quispamsis to give a writers’ workshop on Fear. How do I tell the participants that I am afraid? I am afraid of the journey there by road. I am afraid of stray moose and deer, fleeing from the flooding, and standing, frightened, by the roadside, ready to panic and run at the car. I am afraid of getting lost, of losing my way, of being stranded in unknown streets with no outlet, no exit, no easy way home.

How do I tell them I am afraid of them. I am afraid of their knowledge. Many of them will know more than me. They are all unknown quantities, blank faces at present, with tumble dryer minds full of churning ideas, ideas that I have never had nor met. I am frightened. I have it in my head to call in sick, to say I am no longer available, to say I cannot come to orchestrate the music that I myself composed.

Stage fright, I suppose, these pre-conference  nerves that battered me all last night with their owls’ wings, leaving me sleepless, turning and tossing, cringing at my own lack of everything that I will tell them they should have.

Fear: a black monster that hides beneath the bed. I dare not leave arm or hand above the blankets in case the monster emerges and bites off the hand that feeds it with more fears. Fear: the shadow in the corner, looming over the bed, shaking me by the shoulder as I lie there, tormented. Fear: the jaws that bite, the claws that snatch, the hand that holds me by the ear or the scruff of the neck and drags me back into a shadowy past where monsters dwell and flicker in the candlelight, growing larger as I walk down white-washed halls.

Enough, no more: I am just as afraid now as I was before. Sleepless tonight, too tired tomorrow to care, I will leave early, hope for the best, wind my way carefully through deer strewn roads and perilous paths. When I get lost, and I probably will, I will ask the way. And all the time I’ll sing my favorite travel song: ‘I know where I’m going’ … even if I don’t.

Thursday Thoughts: On Water

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Thursday Thoughts
03 May 2018
On Water

In the seventy-fourth year of my life,
sitting on the car in Mactaquac Park,
waiting for my wife to walk down the slope
to where I’m writing, a warm wind today,
sunshine, the river still rising, more rain
called for tonight, another inch or more,
that’s twenty to thirty millimeters,
you can hear from here the restless waters
powering the dam’s dynamos, creating
great creamy waves to wash over coffee
colored waters fathered upriver with
their splintered debris wafted from waters
still gathering strength in the north where snow
melts steadily while the stormy sky builds
clouds, and weathermen forecast thunderstorms
yet to descend and overflow our streams:
sitting safely I fear for those downstream
who deal with flooded basements, water pumps,
animals in distress, destruction come,
no sanctuary save in flight, wood, mortar,
brick promising no safety, no respite
from rising waters and eternal rain.

Commentary:

In the great flood of 1973, we lived on the Woodstock Road in Fredericton. We watched the river waters rising. Luckily they stopped on the other side of the road from where we were living and didn’t cross the road. This year we live out of town on the other side of the hill away from the river. Each time we drive into town we see the river waters and measure how they rise. Our hearts go out to those folk who are forced to evacuate their homes. We find it hard to believe that the waters are now at the levels they reached in 1973 and may, in some places, exceed those levels by a meter or more.

Next weekend, Word Spring, the spring meeting of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, is scheduled to take place in Quispamsis. Yesterday, the people of Quispamsis found themselves on flood alert and were told to prepare for instant evacuation. It rained last night and more rain is expected. While it may not rain here in Island View, the catchment area of the St. John River, the Rhine of North America, is enormous. Any rain falling in the north of the province may affect the river. The snow is still melting from the deep woods and clear cutting along the river banks has, according to some, affected the ground’s ability to retain water.

All in all, a difficult situation and one that is forecast to last for another week or ten days. More details can be found here:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/homes-cottages-flooded-1.4645225?cmp=news-digests-new-brunswick

Downsizing

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Downsizing

a double sword
this clearing out
of odds and ends

the library diminishing
book by book
so many memories
slipped between the covers
dust-bound now
yet springing so quickly
back to life

sorrowful not sweet
these multiple partings
from people I will never see again
save in my dreams

I think of book burnings
so many heroes
going up in flames
fire their beginnings
fire their ends

fire the means of forging
the Omega and Alpha
of the book world
that surrounds us

fire encircling us
death’s bone fires
consuming us
outside and in

Butterflies

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Butterflies

We raise our hands: you sever them at the wrist.
We spread out our arms: you measure us for a cross.
Where do we turn? Our fingers bleed from scratching
our skulls in bewilderment. They catch on the thorns
you so thoughtfully provided. Stigmata? No, you haven’t
nailed us yet. Great barbed hooks penetrate our bellies,
inflaming our guts. Like live bait, threaded to tempt Leviathan,
we squirm. Like butterflies prepared for your chloroform jar,
we tremble. Your collector’s pin is poised: we await the final thrust
that will skewer our bodies and frame us under glass for ever.

Commentary:
Another Golden Oldie, also from Broken Ghosts (Goose Lane, 1986). I have changed the line lengths slightly, from the original. I also altered one word in the last line. I often read this poem round about Good Friday. It presents me with the threatening menace of an end to everything we know and love, eternal butterflies, framed forever, without the joy of resurrection.

Apologia

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Apologia pro vita mea
(for Ana)

          Late last night, I opened Alistair Macleod’s book The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and I re-read the first story. I was soon dabbing my eyes with a tissue and blowing my nose.

This morning, I want to destroy everything I have written. I know I don’t possess the verbal and emotional genius of the great writers and I sense that I cannot write like them. Graduate school taught me to be passive, not active, and to write impersonally, choking every emotion when I write. Academia also taught me how to kiss and how to run away with my thirty silver pence. “Never challenge the status quo,” my professors told me. “Learn the rules and disobey them at your peril.”

But here, in this private space where I create and re-create, there are no rules. The enemy is not clear any more and the fight is not one of black against white. It is rather a choice between diminishing shades of grey, and all cats are grey in the gathering dark that storms against my closing mind. Should I destroy all my writing? I won’t be the first to do so; nor would I be the last. And I won’t be the first or the last to destroy myself either. Intellectual, academic, and creative suicide: as total as the suicide of the flesh.

I carry on my back the names of those who have gone on before me as if they were a pile of heavy stones packed into a rucksack that I carry up a steep hill, day after day, only to find myself, next morning, starting at the bottom once again. But this is not the point: the point is that if I cannot write like the great writers, how can I write?

I think of Mikhail Bakhtin and his cronotopos, man’s dialog with his time and his place. I have no roots, no memories, and that is where my stories must start: in the loss of self, the loss of place, the loss of everything. I was uprooted at an early age, soon lost my foundations, and only survival mattered.

I look at the first page of one of my manuscripts. My writing manifesto is clear before me: “And this is how I remember my childhood,” I read. “Flashes of fragmented memory frozen like those black and white publicity photos I saw as a child in the local cinema. If I hold the scene long enough in my mind, it flourishes and the figures speak and come back to life.”

I am aware of the words of T. S. Eliot that “every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it” (East Coker).

Are these stories an exercise in creativity or are they a remembrance of things past? How accurate is memory? Do we recall things just as they happened? Or do we weave new fancies? In other words, are my inner photographs real photographs or have they already been tinted and tainted by the heavy hand of creativity and falseness?

The truth is that I can no longer tell fact from fiction. Perhaps it was all a dream, a nightmare, rather, something that I just imagined. And perhaps every word of it is true.

I no longer know.

Last Rites: FFF

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Last Rites
Flash Fiction Friday
11 August 2017  

The employee gazed around his empty office. Tomorrow he would leave the work environment in which he spent his entire adult life. He turned out the lights, closed the door behind him, and walked down the stairway to the exit for the last time.

He took the long, solitary walk to the spot where he had parked his car. In the car park, he fondly kissed his wife’s photo and said a quiet farewell to his beloved daughter. Then, he climbed into his car, started it, and began the short drive home.

Later, at the inquest, the driver of the gravel truck swore he had no chance to avoid the head on collision.

“One moment the road was clear, the next this car was heading straight at me,” he paused and blew his nose. “There was nothing I could do.”

“Yes, sir,” the police officer stared back at the coroner. “I was the first investigating officer on the scene,” he glanced down at his note-book. “And yes, I can assure you that the car driver was not wearing his seat-belt.”

“He loved his work,” his wife testified, fingers twisting the white handkerchief that stood stark against her black dress. “There must have been something wrong with the car. He would never have left me alone like this.”

“A wonderful dad,” his daughter said. “He loved me, and the grand-children. He had so much to live for. It was a terrible accident.”

“Unhappy with his retirement?” queried the employee’s Department Head. “I don’t know what you are trying to imply. Nobody forced him into retirement: he made that decision himself. He seemed very happy with it. We all knew he was out of touch and not up to date with his research anymore. That’s why he chose to retire. He told me all that when he came to see me to tell me he was retiring. His decision to retire had nothing to do with me.”

The employee’s DH raised his eyes heavenwards and gazed at the ceiling.

Out of sight, in the safety of the witness box, he rubbed his hands together, again and again, as if he were washing them.

Comment:

It’s been so long since I last wrote and posted an FFF (Flash Fiction Friday). It feels good to be back writing prose. And yes, the last two FFFs were on May 5, 2017, Moonshine, and April 28, 2017, Crocodile Tears.

So much water under the bridge and so glad to start getting back to my creative blogging schedule.