On the beach

On the beach

 

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Comment:

A daylight photo and a moonlit poem: I wonder how that came about? I guess we must have been beach-combing in the moonlight. It’s so long ago that I have forgotten the links between photo and poem. That said, Clare and I had spent a couple of weeks together in Santander (Spain) the previous summer, when we got engaged.

‘O bahía de Santander: tan bella bajo la luna’ / “oh Bay of Santander, so beautiful beneath the moon” as the Santander poet Gerardo Diego writes. And yes, Santander under a full moon: Mataleñas, the Segunda Playa, Jardines del Piquío, La Magdalena, the Bay of Santander itself, with Peña Cabarga in the background … there is something about beaches and midnight and moonlight which transcends the warmth of a summer’s day. It’s a sort of Midnight Magic that creates a madness of wonder in the blood. Imagine: all those silver fish, swimming their underwater roads, and rising to the surface, to ripple softly along the moon-path. Wander-lust / wonder-lust: sometimes buried words will not rise to the surface and those oh-so-precious moments of supreme poetry are lost among street lights, advertisements for this and that, street signs and the sort of stop signs that stop you and numb your mind into the dumb acceptance of daily reality: la vie quotidienne.

Memories: will they all vanish with us when we go? Of course they will. Many are fading now as we sit here at our desks, in our offices, before our computer screens. The grey screen hustle and bustle pushes memories, light and bright, back into the darkest corners. Where do I get off the bus, the train? Which number is it? Where is the office? Who am I meeting today and at what time? Did I shut the door behind me? Did I pack the children’s lunch? Did I let the cat out? And if so, out of which bag?

passionless not meaningless
the way I take your hand
tomorrow night not even we
will ever understand
the conflicts of this moonlit beach
the warmth of this sea-licked sand

PS. There, see, I told you I couldn’t read my own handwriting. Kiss / take; night / sand. Oh dear, the old grey cells are playing chess with my mind again: P-K4 / e2-e4 … whatever next? Well, I warned you!!!!

 

In the Cave

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In the Cave
(514-520 BC)

one goes on a journey
knows where one’s been

reality returning
one tells what one’s seen

shadows dancing
on night’s silver screen

verbal sketches
from where one’s been

speaking other languages
heard not seen

the more one speaks
the more others think
‘dream’

a dream for those
who’ve never been
where one’s been

 

Backstreets

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Backstreets

You go from the beaches turn away from the waters
and walk with your warder through this catholic prison,
through the streets of this city where innocents die
and the guilty confess to pitiless crimes
in hide-bound confessionals of dark white-washed churches
that strut in the streets and the heart-breaking alleys
with washing at windows and black widows waving
as you consciously wander through past sins and problems
forgetting remembering the squares with their fountains
with their saints and their statues in cold heartless marble,
with swords without edges and tongues sharp as grass
that cuts you with silence as it slips through your fingers
whilst bitter and bleeding you wander through labyrinths
of meaningless shortcuts leading to churches
and stationary statues that threaten with footsteps
until you come out at last to the light and the sea 

Commentary:
Another Golden Oldie, this time from my poetry book Broken Ghosts, published by Goose Lane (Fredericton, 1986). It dates from time spent in Spain (1969-1971) and recalls walking in tiny seaside towns along the north coast (Cantabria) without being specific to any single place, although Castro Urdiales, Comillas, Laredo, Santander, and Zarauz all conjure up similar visions and memories. A single sentence, the poem can be read in one breathless breath.

 

Torticollis

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Torticollis

A sudden crick of the neck and I am back in the chalet at Perines with Trini.

“Torticollis,” she says, raising a hand to her neck, except she says it in Spanish, ‘tortículis’.

She offers me tea, very English, from the Wedgewood tea pot I brought her, all those years ago. Beside her, the Pirate with the Parrot on his Shoulder, my Toby Jug, still stands on guard, and protects my memories.

Orphaned, I was, from England, abandoned on that Spanish shore, and left there all summer to learn the language. Trini taught me how to eat, speak, choose my books and my friends … she had lost a son, same age as me, just after the Civil War, and treated me like her son, returned, like the Prodigal Son I was to all who had sent me away from home to improve my lifestyle and my manners.

Wanted? Unwanted by my family? I wouldn’t know the difference.

In that far-of land, in time and space,  I only knew the loneliness of being lost, marooned in a foreign land, feeling my way, day by day, among foreigners, still foreign, although they took me into their homes and hearts and loved me as I had never been loved before.

Back home, drowsing  at the kitchen table, I doze into my dreams, only to be woken by that beloved voice.

Wistful, I turn my head and glance backwards into that past of sunshine and beaches, where the sun sparkled on hill, sand, and sea and the table cloth was spread on the family table, pure and white, with a dozen of us sitting, talking, smiling, drinking wine, that bottled sunshine that still adorns my dining room table.

“Trini? Is that you?”

Her name slips from my lips as I snap my head towards her voice. As I turn, I twist my neck and raising my hand to the sudden pain, I hear again that word: “¡Tortículis!”

Moonshine: FFF

 

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Moonshine
Flash Fiction Friday
Friday, 5 May 2017

Here, on the wharf, in Santander, I stand in the shadow cast by the Customs House and gaze at the moon path sketched out over the water. “Over the mountain, over the sea, that’s where my heart is longing to be.” I taste the bitter salt of homelessness and know that I will never belong in this world and that I will never find a place to call my own. Back home, I have a black and white television and a black and white dog. Here I have nothing. Back home, when I am home, I am a latch key kid. My parents leave for work at seven in the morning and my mother gets home about five every night. Those ten hours on my own are mine to do what I like with: but I must account for them. “What did you do today, dear?” And everything I say I do is checked. Did I make the beds? Did I do the laundry? Did I finish the ironing? Did I wash and dry the breakfast dishes? Did I clean the house from top to bottom?

Sometimes I strip and stand in front of the mirror in their bedroom and look at my naked body. It’s not much to look at. Once I stood there with the carving knife in my hand and deliberately cut myself across the ribs, just to feel the pain and watch the blood flow down. Other days I play cards against myself. That way one part of me always wins, but then the self I play against is always doomed to lose. Sometimes I wage battles with toy soldiers, moving them up and down across the carpet in front of the fire. Occasionally, I throw a soldier in the fire, just to watch him perish.

Sometimes I just sit on the back of the settee and press my forehead against the cool window. The rain is cold and cools the window pane. I know the sky is crying and sometimes I think I know why. I’ll go back to my boarding school soon. There, we are taught to be isolated and to live in isolation. The bullies will come and they will bully me. I have not grown much over the holidays and I know they will be even bigger, and even stronger, and even faster. I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to go back to that school. I don’t want to be bullied and abused. The masters cane me and the older boys beat me and the bullies force me to do things, unspeakable things, things that I don’t want to do. I have tried to run away but someone always brings me back and then they beat me for running away. “Don’t be a coward,” they say, “take it like a man.” And I do.

I look across the water. How beautiful is the Bay of Santander beneath the moon. I look up at the hills, at Peña Cabarga, at the hills from whence cometh my salvation. My grandfather walks towards me over the waves. He helps me choose stones and pebbles, helps me to fill my pockets with them. He takes me by the hand and gives me courage. He and I walk down the slip way, hand in hand, and then we walk out across the moon path and into the sea.