Aubade

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Aubade

Driving in winter, early one morning,
from Island View
to the Georges Dumont Hospital in Moncton
for Cancer tests

1

The crows in the garden complain of the cold,
cawing from their look-out points
with short, sharp calls.

A life of ease they seem to live,
but when the mercury descends and water freezes
icy blinds inside our window panes and snow-
squalls bluster in from north and west,
who knows what’s best for those poor birds
aloft in their crow’s nest spars,
sailing snow’s seas,
steadfast in their skippering of wind-bent trees?

This Arctic cold is such
that neither man nor beast can love it much,
crouched close to whatever warmth there is,
shivering in the wind’s cold touch.

 2

 Yesterday, a dozen crows pecked at salt grains
scattered over this road.

A black-clad chorus, they rejoiced
when sunshine drew the white-tailed deer,
from winter depths of banked up snow.

Not long ago she was alive.
Now she lies stiff and broken.

Soon she’ll be picked up by workmen,
tossed into the back of their truck,
dumped, and forgotten.

What magic spell invokes what beginnings?
To what end do we prolong our days?
What myth, this fairy-tale I call my life?
Stars drift hidden through the sunny sky.

3

Driving home from the hospital,
bullied by fierce winds
on a snow-packed road,
I dream as I drive.

I envision a past
that never was, a future
that may never be.

As I hibernate in that past,
last summer’s flowers
flourish in my mind.

The car skids into a snow bank
and my world shakes in shock.

A thirty wheeler rumbles by:
there are so many ways to die.

Babs

Babs

It was March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

Babs held the cat in her arms. The vet slipped the needle into the shunt he had inserted into the animal’s paw and the tiny wind of life gusted from the cat’s fragile body. The struggle ceased. The cat’s head settled and her tongue protruded, just a little, in that beloved and well-known gesture. It was all over.

Babs had found that lump, hard, but smaller than a pea, on New Year’s Day. The next day, she carried the cat to the vet where they took blood samples and ran tests. The vet’s assistant called later that afternoon. A lymphoma, she said, small but deadly. Steroids might help. They would give the cat a 40% chance at a life that would get more difficult, in spite of any known treatment. The alternative was to bring her back in and put her down now, that very afternoon. Babs looked at the cat: highlights strayed through her fur and her bright eyes sparkled like sunshine on a lake.

Throughout January the steroids went in and the cat glistened and grew fat. At first, Babs saw no sign of the lump but by Robbie Burn’s Day it was back. Babs started to count the days: January 31, February 2. The lump grew larger.

Three years before, on Valentine’s day, Babs had salvaged the cat from the SPCA where she languished, abandoned in a cage. The cat was a stray, half feral, taken in from the streets and subject to who knows what sort of treatment and feeding in its infancy. Babs wondered if it was in those days of neglect that the cancerous seed took root? Or did those seeds come later, when the cat wandered the garden and fed off the wild life, mice and voles, and drank from the streams that flowed through the killing fields with their fertilizers, their weed killers, their nutrients, and their poisons?

“What are we doing to ourselves,” Babs wondered as she sat at the kitchen table and sipped a cup of tea. “Was my cat the canary in my coalmine, doomed to warn me of what’s to come? Will my own system be invaded then poisoned with cancerous growths? Will I be subject to that stumbling, downward road that leads in the end to an inevitable death?”

She lay awake that night alone in the bed wondering in what ways cancer might ravage her body. How long would chemotherapy keep her alive? Who would be there for her, who would hold and comfort her, who would slip that releasing needle into her veins when her time came?

Babs ran her fingers over her body as she imagined herself sliding day by day down that slippery slope that leads to the grave. Then she caught her breath, her heart raced, and her blood turned to ice as her fingers tripped against the colony of killers: three small hard lumps that nested in her soft breast.

Collateral Damage

And that’s not all they checked: a regular Spanish Inquisition. Post Covid-19 it has all fallen silent. Those doctors don’t call anymore.

Collateral Damage

Once a month, they used to stick
a needle in my arm and check my PSA,
cholesterol, and testosterone:
blood pressure rising, cholesterol high.

The doctors kept telling me
it was a level playing field
but every week they changed the rules
and twice a year they moved the goal-posts.

Monday Night Football:
a man in a black-and-white zebra shirt
held a whistle to his lips while another
threw a penalty flag. It came out of the tv
and fell flapping at my feet.
Someone on the field called a time out.

I haven’t seen my doctor for three years.
My urologist has been silent
for more than eighteen months.
It’s been two years since I last spoke
with my oncologist.

I have become collateral damage.
My body clock is ticking down.
I know I’m running out of time.

Comment: I know I am not the only one to have fallen between the cracks in the medical service. Nor will I be the last. I don’t want to cry ‘wolf!’ and yet I feel as though I have been completely rejected. A year after I recovered from my cancer, I received a survey asking me to assess my post-cancer treatment and services. I read it and cried. I did not even know that the services I was being asked to assess were even being offered. I had certainly received none of the follow-up services. “A law for the rich and a law for the poor” indeed. And so many cracks between so many floorboards with so many people falling through. This is not a rant: it is a warning that all of us must look out for ourselves. I can assure you that if you don’t care for yourself, nobody, but nobody, except for your nearest and dearest, will give a damn for you either.

Death by Devilry

Silence in the garden. A hawk perched nearby. There are so many ways to die.

Death by Devilry

Silence in the garden.
A hawk perched nearby.
There are so many ways to die.

A cerebral bleed, minor,
but enough to send him to hospital
and keep him there.

Cured, ready for release,
he would need extra care
and added attention.

The devil lived in the small print.
Too much attention needed now:
his care home wouldn’t care for him.

Back to the old folks ward he went.
There he lay, waiting for a vacancy
in a home that would really care.

One day, Covid came a-visiting,
stalked the ward that night, choosing
its victims: you, you, and her, and him.

What killed him?
A cerebral bleed, a minor stroke?
Or a major stroke from the devil’s pen?

Bold words, bare words,
a barren ward, another vacant place
around a Christmas table.

Comment: Sitting at the breakfast table, with an empty space before me, I penned these words. So tragic, so avoidable. Yet how many families have gone through something similar in the past twelve months? How many empty spaces are there, vacancies that will never again be filled? I look at today’s figures from the USA: 18,466,231 infected and 326,232 already perished, an increase of 227,998 and 3,338 since yesterday. I am reminded of the words of Pink Floyd: “Is there anybody out there?” Blas de Otero also echoes through my mind: “levanto las manos: tu me las cercenas” / I hold up my hands: you cut them off. And yet it is Christmas Eve and there is still the Christmas promise of joy, and hope, and a new year entering. Let us raise our hands in prayer: and let us pray they are not hacked off.

Some People

Some people leave indelible impressions
memorable moments impressed
on memory’s eye or clasped closely
to the butterfly heart caged in its chest
wings wildly beating as it strives for flight

some people cast shadows on snow
leave footprints light as flakes
as they walk across our waking dreams
or call on us in those midnight hours
when their image sears the drowsing mind

Some people set a fire in our hearts
allow us to see things out of sight
to write what we never thought to write
to reach out to the unreachable
to teach what we thought was unteachable

Stars in night’s silence they point the way
lead us on paths we never thought to tread
present us with a thread to lead us
through life’s labyrinths and out
from the darkness into bright light

Sometimes they cross the rainbow bridge
before we do and when they go we know
deep down in our hearts that they are there
just out of sight waiting for us ready
to welcome us when it’s our time to go

Lost

Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
are present in them all. I glimpse your shadow
in the mirror and your breath brushes my cheek

when I open the door. Where have you gone?
I walk from room to room, but when I seek,
I no longer find and nothing opens when I knock.

Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I am sure
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice breaks the silence

when 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.

Comment: Another golden oldie, polished, rewritten, and revised. Today is Clare’s birthday and fifty-five years ago today we got engaged, on her birthday, in Santander, Spain. I wrote this poem a couple of years ago when she was visiting our daughter and grand-daughter in Ottawa and I was left alone to look after the house. I will be including this poem in my new collection, All About Ageingin an age of pandemic, on which I am currently working.

My vision of absence and of the bereaved wandering, lost, the house the couple once shared, is sharpened in this age of pandemic in which we live. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered short term or long term effects from the pandemic. My premonitions and visions, my memories and dreams, reach out especially to those who have lost loved ones and who live in the daily reality of that loss.

Thursday Night Football

Thursday Night Football

Once a month, they stick
a needle in my arm and check my PSA,
cholesterol, and testosterone:
blood pressure rising, cholesterol high,
body clock ticking down.

The doctor keeps telling me
it’s a level playing field
but every week he changes the rules
and twice a year he moves the goal-posts.

A man in a black-and-white zebra shirt
holds a whistle to his lips while another
throws a flag. It comes out of the tv
and falls flapping at my feet.

Yes, I’m living in the Red Zone
and the clock’s ticking down.

Black Death

Black Death
1438

Outside my window
horizontal hail
rain blown sideways
surgical the wind
dismembering trees
uprooting the weakest
flattening the strong
rages the storm

Who am I
the one who abhorred thee
who now adores thee
and kneels before thee
in grief and pain

Death’s Dance before me
each street filled
with skeletal horrors
bare bones dancing
naked beneath a star-
spangled sky

‘No thought is born in me
which has not “Death”
engraved upon it.’

Michelangelo

Time Flies

mistec4

Time Flies

… bends like a boomerang,
flies too rapidly away,
limps back to the hand.

Endless this shuffle of unmarked
days dropping off the calendar,
extinct so many animals
that exited Noah’s Ark.

Hands stop on the clock.
The pendulum swings:
time and tide stand still,
do not move.

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

The print in my grandma’s house:
seemingly moving seas,
sails swelled out,
the ship stays firm in its frame.

Our garden fills with birds
and squirrels, light and dark.
Morning ablutions: each day
a twin of the day before.

The TV screen fills up its washbasin:
tired, shadow faces boring us
with endless wit and wisdom.

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

Avila 2007a 102

Comment: The top photograph shows the year 1555 marked in standard figures and in glyphs from the Mixtec calendar (Oaxaca, Mexico). … time flies you can’t they fly too fast … This is a conundrum from the General Knowledge Paper in the school leaving exams (1961). Punctuate this sentence: time flies you can’t they fly too fast … Proposed answer: Time flies? You can’t. They fly too fast!”  I seem to believe there were about ten of these on that paper. However, never trust your memory.

The second photograph shows fledgling storks in Avila, Spain, trying to fledge, to fly, to leave their nests. Some will succeed earlier than others. Those who do not manage to fly, who are not brave enough to leave their nests, will sit there. After a while, their parents will not feed them. And then they must fly or starve. Sometimes, time flies. Sometimes, time sits on its hands and the clock hands refuse to move. Think: time enjoying yourself (it just flows by). Think: time in the dentist’s chair with a root canal, time lying prone having an anal biopsy for prostrate cancer, time spent, those everlasting ten minutes, while a cataract is being removed and a new lens is inserted.

Oh yes, time is flexible. Not only is it flexible, it is insistent, inexorable, unstoppable. Those clocks tick on, whether we are awake or asleep. The seconds lull us with their security, the minutes lull us with their monotony, hours lull us with their harmony, days faze us, daze us … hours: each one wounds, the last one kills. Time marches on. We can rewrite the past (revisionism), but we cannot relive it, except in our dreams.

Avila 2007a 150

 Doors close.
We can never go back.

Angel

IMG_0257

Angel

I thought for a moment that, yes,
I was an angel and I was dancing
on a pinhead with so many other
angels, and all of us butterflies
spreading our wings with their peacock
eyes radiant with joy and tears spark
-ling in time to the music that wanders
up and down and around with inscrutable
figures held spell bound in a magic moment
… and I still feel that pulsing in my head,
that swept up, heart stopping sensation
when the heavens opened and the eternal
choir raised us up from the earth, all
earthbound connections severed and all
of us held safe in an Almighty hand.

Comment: an old poem this, from 2015, when I was in Moncton at the Auberge Monsignor Henri Cormier. It was not the easiest of times. However, there was music and dancing every week. The band would start playing, and the room would slowly fill with  men and women. The bravest would dance first and then, slowly, others would join in, all our woes forgotten in an up lifting moment of movement. The ladies: high necklines, head scarves; the gentlemen: some moving slowly, all doing their best.

For a while, I felt warm and safe, protected somehow in a fantasy world where, just for one evening a week, all troubles were forgotten and we could all be normal again in spite of our suffering. That moment together with the warmth and comforting friendship of my fellow sufferers still stays with me.