Dreamcatcher

Dreamcatcher

In my dreams, I track the sails of drifting ships,
white moths fluttering before the wind.

I think I have caught them in overnight traps,
but they fly each morning in dawn’s forgiving light.

I give chase with pen and paper, fine butterfly nets
seeking wild thoughts waiting to be caught, then tamed.

I grasp at something just beyond my fingertips,
but I can’t quite remember what it is.

I wake up each morning unaware of where
I have been the night before.

Kite

Kite Flying

So light, the kite,
a butterfly in flight.

Breeze battered,
sky-blue shattered.

Children stare
seeing the wing-shape
fluttering there
rising on flimsy air.

Diving, dipping,
nylon cord slipping,
finger-flesh ripping.

Here come others,
children and mothers.

Butterflies, bright,
ready for flight,
fighting wind-might:
a child’s delight.

I didn’t have photos of a kite.
I offer some humming birds instead.
Listen closely:
you can hear them hum.

Fire and Flame

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Fire and Flame

1

The world is on fire.
Someone, somewhere
lit a match.
The world exploded.

A match in the lungs.
the whole world burning.

Someone, somewhere
sneezed into their sleeve.
the world collapsed
in a fit of coughing.

“It isn’t the cough
that carries you off,
it’s the coffin
they carry you off in,”
said the talking head,
scientific boffin.

2

Intelligence, give me
the exact name of things:
corona virus, vaccine,
air that’s pure,
drinkable water,
a new, fresh world
for my daughter
and her daughter.

I wish I could spare them
from all this slaughter.

Comment: The echoes in here are obvious to me, but to how many others? Octavio Paz strolls through the first stanza while Juan Ramón Jiménez patrols the second one. How many people read their poems now? Polvo seco de tesis doctoral / dry dust of a doctoral thesis, as my friend José María Valverde once wrote. He, too, passed and will all too soon be forgotten like the rest. And time: what is it? How does it function? Is it linear or circular and repetitive? It twists and turns, like we did last summer, but not like we’ll do this one. My old arthritic bones will allow me to twist no more. Vingt-et-un, quatre-vingt- et-un: twist and bust. Yet time flows by, like water under Le Pont Mirabeau and days blend into days. 79 days of lock down now, all voluntary, or is it 80? El tiempo aquí no tiene sentido / time is meaningless in here, as my friend and mentor, José Hierro wrote, so long ago. And yes, these memories linger on, as time lingers on, as life lies heavy around us, and time limps by with its lame, old feet, yet looking back, it has raced passed like a spring river in spate. And the leaves are back, and the flowers are coming up, and the spring birds and bees and butterflies are arriving … and, in spite of everything, perhaps even because of it, life is as lovely as it ever was. Keep safe, keep well!

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Triumphs

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Triumphs
Luis de Góngora

Waking to birdsong in the morning,
making it safely to the bathroom
without tripping on the rug in the hall,
shaving without cutting my face,

getting in and out of the shower
with neither a slip nor a fall,
drying those parts of the body
that are now so difficult to reach,

especially between my far-off toes,
pulling my shirt over wet and sticky
patches still damp from the shower,
negotiating each leg of my pants,

tugging the strings of the plastic sleeve
that helps my socks to glide onto my feet,
forcing swollen toes into under-size shoes,
hobbling to the top of the stairs,

lurching down them, cautiously,
one step at a time, on guard for the cat,
the edge of the steps, the worn patches
where my stick might catch or slip …
one more step, triumph, I’ve made it.

Comment: “Cada pie mal puesto es una caída, cada caída es un precipicio / Each ill- place footstep means a fall, every fall is a precipice.” Luis de Góngora (1561-1627). I have reached the age of fragility and futility: every day that passes without an accident or a fall is a triumph. I re-read Luis de Góngora with increasing pleasure, the Polifemo (1613), above all, but also the later poems about the difficulties of ageing. When I read them I realize that I am not alone, that others have aged before me, and then I think of Jorge Manrique dead at the age of 39. And what poems he wrote, as did Góngora with a whole poetry movement named after him.

As for the photo: young storks in Avila, Spain, ready to fly. The one at the top is bouncing up and down, waiting for the breeze to get under his wings and lift him to sun and stars. High in the sky above him, almost unseen, his parents wait, ready to swoop down and assist him when he gets lift off. Uncertain he may be in those first few triumphant wing strokes, but down they come, place their wings below his wings and show him how it’s done. For him, it is the world that awaits him.

For me, and people my age, the world shrinks, walls close in, the daily process of living becomes more difficult. My joy: not in the lift off, but in the painstaking processes, getting up, getting washed and shaved, getting dressed, going downstairs, the early morning taste of fresh-brewed coffee, each sip a pleasure … and out in the garden, spring robins calling, a phoebe whistling, rose-breasted nuthatches, American Goldfinches, and the wondrous joy of just being here, sitting in the sunshine, lapping up the warmth, and every moment of every day a triumph renewed.

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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.

Lost

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Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
rule over them all. Your shadow dances on walls.
in mirrors, and your breath brushes my cheek

every time I open doors or windows. That silly cat
looks for you and hisses when I bring her kibble.
I walk from room to room, but when I seek you,

you are no longer here. I knock, nothing opens.
Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I know
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.

Sometimes your voice’s echo breaks the silence.
You whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,

that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,
the days, embracing dust motes to find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.

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Comment: A Golden Oldie. I wrote this some time ago while my beloved was in Ottawa visiting our daughter. Separation is such a strange thing: an absence, yes, but also a presence in the tiniest details and the most unsuspected moments. And then there is the dream world where things join together, and then fall apart. This poem has so much more meaning in a time like this when so many people are separated and can no longer be together. Time … I have written about it before … passes. Hopefully, families and friends will be reunited once more, the sooner the better. In the meantime, we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. Chadwch eich fydd / Keep your faith, as St. David, the patron saint of Wales is said to have said circa 500, byddwch lawen / be joyful, and gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bwywd / do the little things in life.

Butterflies

 

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Butterflies

“Poetry gives permanence to the temporal forms of the self.”
Miguel de Unamuno.

… butterflies … temporal forms … fluttering …
existing for one sweet day … they perch … spread
their wings … fan us with their beauty … flourish …
catch our attention … then caught by a gust
tear their wings on a thorn … and perish … blink
your eye and they are gone … yet reborn … they
cluster and gather in dusty ditches …
congregate on bees’ balm … smother Black-Eyed
Susan and Cape Daisy … shimmer in shade …
butterflies by day … fireflies by night …
terrestrial stars floating in their forest
firmament … dark tamarack … black oak … bird’s
eye maple … silver birch … impermanence
surrounds us … dances beneath stars … sings with
robins … echoes the owl’s haunting cry …
eternity held briefly in our hands …
then escaping like water or sand … black
words on white paper capturing nothing …
… my dialog … my time … my place … butterflies …

Comment: This is another golden oldie that gains in meaning day by day as the lock down continues. Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) was a respected academic, philosopher novelist, essay writer, story-teller and powerful poet. He is probably most famous internationally for the philosophy he espoused in The Tragic Sense of Life. Other works of his include Our Lord Don Quixote and Niebla / Mist. The photo shows one of the butterflies that adorn the garden by my kitchen window each summer.

CV-19 Week 3 Day 2

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CV-19 Week 3 Day 2
Reading in Multiples

Legend tells us that Francisco de Quevedo possessed a revolving book stand-cum-lectern. He placed this on his table at meal times and he would have four books open at the same time, moving rapidly in his reading from one to another. I have always liked this idea. As a result, I am now doing something similar.

I began by taking out Don Quixote, which I am once again reading in Spanish. The adventures of our Ingenious Gentleman are a delight and this time, the slowness of my 28th reading of the 1605 text allows me to taste every word, to roll the syllables round the tongue, and to savor every word. With CV-19 on the loose, there are no deadlines, no use by dates, and nothing to prevent me from delaying the full enjoyment of each word of the text. Equally important, there is no class preparation, no waiting audience, just me, an old man now, following the thoughts and adventures of an old man as written by an old man, Miguel de Cervantes, way back when.

I have the Collected Poems of Phillip Larkin on the table beside me. What a different world. What depth of insight and observation. What a bearing of witness to the follies and foibles of an England that I left behind so long ago, much of it vanished now, along with the old choir stalls and the hedgerows, the cuckoos and the skylarks. I read and re-read The Old Fools and realize just how close I am to that cliff edge, that precipice, that Alpine peak, beneath which I shelter and seek succour. Then I turn to This be the Verse and I start to laugh at this portrayal of middle-class parental pretensions. This is Larkin’s open wit, but his sly wit, like that of Cervantes, but more bitter, creeps up on you and catches you unawares, unless you know how and where to look for it.

At my left elbow, Juan Ramón Jiménez’s Platero y yo awaits my attention. No children’s book this, but a wonderfully poetic recounting of a poet’s observations of Moguer, a small seaside town in Andalusia. This too is a book to read slowly, to savour, to taste each word, each story. This too is prose poetry at its best. Cervantes wrote that ‘epic poetry can be written in prose’ / la épica también puede escribirse en prosa‘. JRJ might equally well have written that ‘poetry can also be written in prose’ … an edict that I have tried to follow in my own writing.

For my more serious reading, I am dipping into the late Roger Scruton’s A Short History of Modern Philosophy (from Descartes to Wittgenstein). This is heavier reading, in some senses, yet the parallels between Descartes philosophical observations and Cervantes’s literary ones are well worth considering, for Cervantes often offers the practical where Descartes puts forward the theoretical.

I will be adding more titles to my reading as I progress. Needless to say, I am also wandering through the labyrinth of my own earlier writings, and they are so much fun to revisit too. I will add more on this topic, as our enforced enclosure progresses.

Comment: These visitors came to my garden last summer. It is a delight to offer my photographs of them as a counter to CV-19 for these butterflies symbolize the brevity and the beauty of our lives. Butterflies on a rock: poetry and literature in Canada, and even more fragile in these times of utmost fragility. Keep well, keep safe, and keep in touch with your loved ones by telephone, Skype, Messenger, e-mail, and keep everything safe.

CV-19 Week 3 Day 1

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CV-19 Week 3 Day 1

So, yes, I am starting the third week of my self-imposed isolation. I am also in the first week of an imposed provincial State of Emergency. What I was doing willingly before, self-isolation, has now become law, self-isolation by edict.

It seems a minor change, but it isn’t. Whereas before I was happy not to go out, now the very prohibition makes me want to go out. Yes: I now want to be out there, wandering the now-empty streets, shopping in the now-closed stores, and visiting the newly locked and barred bars and restaurants.

This situation reminds me of the word-games we used to play as children in which you were given a word which you mustn’t use and then you discovered that you really, really wanted to use it, simply because you had been told not to. One such banned word, in my childhood, was bloody. All the grown-ups used it, but it was forbidden to the little children. Bloody hell, we thought. Or bloody nice weather, we said to friends of our own age. Then, if our parents caught us using the forbidden word, out came the carbolic soap and it was mouth wash time again. Yuck: I have never forgotten the taste and smell of that carbolic soap.

We devised schemes for getting round the prohibition. I guess children of all ages devise schemes for breaking down prohibitions. That’s why so many soldiers in WWI used to ‘break out of barracks’ as they resisted the imposition of nightly curfews with their locks and keys. “Oh we’re breaking out of barracks,” they would sing, “as we have done before.” Then came the other verses. “Take his name and take his number.” “Up before the CO.” “Forty days in prison.” Back to bread and water, as we have done before.”

So, when my mother took us to the butcher’s shop one day, we were all primed. “Look at all that bloody meat” we cried out , shrieking with laughter and rolling all over the saw-dusted floor. My mother was furious, but we were spared her wrath as the butcher, and his other customers, found it so amusing.

But CV-19 (Corona Virus \ Covidis 19) is not so funny and the punishments are much more drastic than a simple carbolic soap mouth wash session. That said, the itch to break the prohibition is so much stronger now that the law is provincially enforced and not self-imposed. That said, these are rules well worth following. Nobody wants to catch this and, much more important, nobody wants to be responsible for passing it on to somebody else, especially if that somebody else is in the target range for a serious, perhaps fatal, bout with the virus.

Funny old world, eh? And some funny old people living in it.

Wannabe a Creator

 

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Wannabe a Creator?

            Not everyone can be a creator, not because they cannot create, but because they do not believe in the powers of creation, the strength of the tsunami, of that tidal wave that sweeps us creators away and drives us into the blackened spaces of our inner minds where a dark sun shines its coal black light and shadows dance their will o’the wisp dance and lead us on and on until we have caught our dreams, squeezed them dry of their nothingness, and turned them into the stuff of an actuality filled with new life, a new reality, a new creation, something that is really ours, yet that will only truly live outside ourselves.
We gaze at each new creation for a moment, in astonishment, then position it in its cradle of reeds, place it in the running river, push it out into midstream and eyes, filled with tears, we wish it ‘god speed’ and send it spinning on its way to who knows where? Our hearts fill with hope as we watch it float away to make its own life, sink or swim, on this sea of sorrows, where someone, downstream, may bend to the waters and speak the magic words and tell a tale, our tale, their tale, or whatever they then deem the new tale to be.
Now, in our time of trouble, is the opportunity to dig deep, to mine our unconscious, to discover and re-discover our innate creativity. Take out that note-book, that pencil. Find that old sketch-book. Bring tat camera back to life. Above all, take the time to be yourself, to remember who and what you are, to re-discover your self and, wherever possible, take this opportunity, for it is an opportunity, to build the new self, the one you still wish to be. There are no greater mortal creators than those people who can create themselves anew. Now is the time to dream ourselves a new and better reality. Now is the time to drop the wannabe and to become a true creator.

Comment: I am taking the time now to multi-task my reading. This means starting and restarting several books at once and then shuffling the readings and pausing a while as I contemplate the pages. More on this tomorrow. Join me then.