So sad, the reunion.
Each year, fewer participants,
faces older, hair whiter
(if there’s any left)
hands shaking, not just shaken,
memories lost or at odds
with reality, multiple dreams
turning into nightmares.
So much lost, youth,
energy, confidence, contact,
turned in on themselves,
What really happened
all those years ago?
Nobody really wants to know.
Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
I buried myself in an ice-cube.
I dug in so deep that nobody
could find nor touch me.
“Hurt yourself,” I told myself,
so badly that nobody
will ever be able to hurt you
cutting off your nose
to spite your face,
in the foot, arm, or leg,
in so many ways,
and all clichés.
And me, alone,
everything cut off,
torn down, worn away,
visible, some days,
in this frozen land
Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
She’d been there.
She’d have walked
those waxed floors,
looked down at her feet
to see her face distorted
in the elbow-grease
of sheen and shine.
Alone, she was, all alone,
Tonight, on her birthday,
I feel the chill hand
of her sorrow
clutch my heart.
Who can reach in,
who can melt the iceberg
rising beneath my ribs?
Who can warm chilled bones,
charm lost feelings
back into throbbing life?
Gone, all gone,
lost, forgotten, forsaken,
on those same ice floes,
where she walked on thin ice,
with the darkest depths
calling out to her from far below.
Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor
Comment: My mother, had she lived, would have celebrated her 109th birthday. Watching Episode One of The Queen’s Gambit, I was overwhelmed by what my mother must have felt, all those years ago, when she lost another child. Did she actually feel and think in manner portrayed above? I’ll never know now.
Sixty years ago, in 1962, somewhere around today’s date, I left my public school – private school – boys’ boarding school and entered the real world as a free man. I was lost. They educated me to be part of a world that no longer existed, the world of walls, and boundaries, of lists and rules, of school reports and chains of authority, older boys > house monitors > prefects > head boy of house > head boy of school > masters > house masters > head master. That great chain of authority was to rule me for the rest of my life.
This is my clothing list. Six times a year I packed all items into my school trunk, 3 times to go to school and 3 times to go home. Six times a year I unpacked all items from my trunk, 3 times when I arrived at school and 3 times when I arrived home.
I still have my school reports signed by by teachers, initials only, and my father, full signature. He had to sign so that the teachers could ascertain that yes, he had read my school report and that no, I had not hidden it from him. The report is a disaster story. I look back on some of the comments and wonder what worlds, what different realities, were we living in? One verbal remark, made in class: “Why are you in the sixth form?” “I am going to university, sir.” “The only way you’ll go to university is on a train.”
I sent that gentleman my train ticket, but he didn’t choose to remember the comment, made to a fifteen year old boy.
I still carry them. So many of us do. Less than most, possibly, for us ne’er do wells and miscreants.
In the beginning was the word, and the word, maybe, may endure. I guess, maybe, one day we’ll find out.
The Auld Enemy
Divide and Conquer
They divided us into houses, Spartans and Trojans,
and encouraged us to compete with each other,
single combat, and then team against team,
house against house, eternal, internal civil war.
We divided ourselves into Cavaliers and Roundheads,
Monarchists and Parliamentarians, Protestants and Catholics,
and we continued those uncivil wars that marred the monarchy,
brought down the crown, and executed the Lord’s anointed.
We fought bitterly, tribe against tribe, religion against religion,
circumcised against uncircumcised, dorm against dorm,
class against class, territorial warfare. We defended our bounds,
bonding against all outsiders to guard each chosen ground.
With it came the denigration of the other. Not our class.
Scholarship boy. Wrong end of town. Wrong accent.
We don’t talk like that here. Speak the Queen’s English, you…
and here … we inserted the appropriate word of vilification.
Our wars never ended. We carried them from prep school
to junior school, to senior school, sometimes changing
sides as we changed schools or houses, always clinging
grimly to our best friends, protectors, and those we knew best.
After school, all those prejudices continued to hold us down,
haunted us through university, red-brick or inspired spires,
Trinity Oxford, Trinity Cambridge, or Trinity Dublin,
each gilded with the white sniff of snobbery that gelded us.
Alas, we carried them, piled in our intellectual rucksacks,
through university, into grad school, out into the wide world,
infinitely small minds based on prejudice and pride, continuing
our tribal warfare, unable to understand anything at all,
other than us or them, shoulder to shoulder, divide and conquer.
Comment: My thanks to Brian Henry for publishing this on Quick Brown Fox.
Sometimes at night I hear deer walking across the lawn outside my bedroom window. Intruders in the garden, they rattle the feeders then walk darkly into the woods. Sometimes a coyote howls at the fingernail moon and my heart pumps sudden blood, rapid, through my veins.
Below me, in the hall, the grandfather clock ticks the night away. I stitch myself up in my dreams, count the black sheep in the family, and iron old ghosts upon the ironing board until they are as flat as the white shirts we wore in boarding school on Sundays.
If I close my eyes, they rise up before me, those Sunday shirts, flapping their arms, and mouthing their apologies for the sorry life they made me lead. No, I didn’t need to spend those days praying on my knees before the stations of the cross. Nor did I need to ask forgiveness for all the transgressions pulled from me, like teeth, in the Friday confessional.
Marooned in a catholic cul-de-sac, I walked round and around in rigid circles. An academic puppet, I was trapped in the squared circle of an endless syllogism. Who locked me into this labyrinth of shifting rooms where sticky cobwebs bound windows, doors, and lips? Why did the razor blade whisper a love song to the scars crisscrossing my treacherous wrist? Who sealed my lips and swore me to secrecy?
A tramp with a three-legged dog, I slept beneath a pier at midnight and woke to the sound of the waves rolling up the summer beach. Once, I stole a deckchair, placed it at the edge of the sea, and told the tide to cease its climbing. The moon winked a knowing eye and the waves continued to rise. Toes and ankles grew wet with wonderment and I shivered at the thought of that rising tide that would sweep me away to what unknown end?
Last night I wrapped myself in a coward’s coat of many-colored dreams. My senses deceived me and I fell asleep in a sticky web spider-spun by that self-same moon that hid among the clouds and showed her face from time to time. My fragile fingers failed to unravel all those knots and lashings and I was a child again walking the balance beam that led from knowledge to doubt.
A thin line divides the shark from the whale and who knows what swims beneath the keel when the night is dark and the coracle slides sightless across the sea? I gather the loose ends of my life, weave them into a subtle thread, and make myself a life-line that will bind my bones and lash my soul to my body’s fragile craft.
We all have them somewhere,
we few, we few, we privileged few,
sent away to boarding school
before we even knew what was
tucked away in old school trunks,
or locked away, cobweb-covered,
in the dark recesses of parental minds.
This is my ‘back-to-school’ list.
It contains everything a young boy
needs, or can think of, when leaving home:
shoes, shoe polish, many brushes for shoes,
hair, clothes, teeth… everything: name tags,
shirts, socks, underpants, trousers,
jerseys, ties (of a quiet color),
sheets, pillow cases, hankies,
sports shirts (house and school),
pen, pencils, ink, blotting paper.
So many memories spring out
from this list, so many skeletons
shake their fists, or wag a finger, or wave,
hello, farewell, from that old trunk.
Look: the safety razor to shave
that first hint of hair on a juvenile face.
Bible and prayer book, too,
though I never used them.
Chalk on a blackboard.
Black, red, blue, green markers
on a white board.
Here comes the eraser.
The board is wiped clean,
or almost clean, figures,
letters, blurred, just about
ready for the next class.
This happens again and again.
Notes in a student’s book?
Memories of a lesson
in tedious boredom,
the teacher droning on and on.
that which passes from my notes
to your notes,
without going through anyone’s head.”
dry dust of a doctoral thesis.
“What color is the blackboard?”
“Last year, it was green, but
this year, the blackboard is white.”
What do we really see
when we look in the mirror?
Do we see our real selves
or do we see the sad distortions
of our diminishment?
The Fairground on the Recreation Field
in Swansea used to have a hall of mirrors.
You handed over your three-penny bit,
not the silver one your granny gave you
so you would have good luck always,
then you walk up the wooden stair,
and there you are, staring at yourself.
Fatter, thinner, shorter, taller,
a half-and-half version,
thinner at the top
and so much fatter at the bottom,
like those old Christmas figures
you could flick, but never roll over.
Giggle city: and hysterics ruled.
Or did they?
So sad to think that, back then,
I saw myself as I am now:
forehead larger, fatter one end,
thinner at the other
with shriveled shanks,
And the Fairground brain scan?
Well, it didn’t exist. Thank God.
What is there now within my skull?
Just a crackle of old, dead leaves,
a rat-filled attic of dried memories,
a sand-bag of half-forgotten thoughts.
I remember sitting there,
at the Slip on Swansea Sands,
with the summer ending,
thinking about going back to school,
watching the tide creep slowly in,
wondering what life was all about.
55-54 BCE. Julius Caesar visits Britain, but he doesn’t come as a sight-seeing tourist. When asked later about his trip across the channel, he replied with three little words that have echoed through the halls of history: veni, vidi, vici / I came, I saw, I conquered.
Filled with a desire to paint, I prepared a floral background. Overnight, those words came to mind: veni, vidi, vici. To them I added Alpha (the first letter of the Greek alphabet) and Omega (that alphabet’s last letter), these being the Greek letters currently being attached to the various variants of Covid-19. It being Sunday and me, having years ago sung in the choir of the ancient, 12th Century Anglican Church at King’s Stanley, I thought of the words of the old hymn “Omega and Alpha He”. Then, with a stroke or two of the pen, I added them to the painting.
Last, but not least, I added co- to -vidi to get co-vid-i. The painting was almost done. OMG-3 (OMG cubed in the painting) was the final touch and there you have it. The ultimate Covid-19 painting, or is it a poem? Whatever it is, it is a warning, or rather a series of warnings. (1) It is here. (2) It is real. (3) It is killing people. (4) We are currently at Omicron. (5) There’s still a long way to go to Omega. (6) It’s not over yet, not by a long way.
So my friends: keep well, keep safe, keep out of trouble, keep believing, and keep visiting this site! There’s something new here every so often. And once in a while it’s pretty and / or unique.