Weather or Not

Weather

We got an incredible one inch of rain in ten minutes last Friday evening. I got some wonderful photos and no, that is not my hand shaking.

In fact the weather in June has been most strange. The end of May saw four consecutive days at 32 C / 90 F. This was followed by four consecutive nights of frost. And then this devastating rainstorm on Friday evening.

Bird Feeder in Winter

Los Días de Noé / the days of Noah, as they say in Spanish. But our one inch of rain fell in just ten minutes and the wind was horrendous. Similar storms are called chubascos and I’ve also heard tromba.

Whatever: it was cold, dark, windy, and wet and 13,000 homes went without power.

Bird Feeder in Spring
(same angle)

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.

Dream

Fall Foliage

Dream

I dreamed last night
that angels lofted me
skywards and wrapped me
in cotton-wool clouds.

The nearest rainbow
was a helter-skelter
that returned me to earth
where I landed in
a pot of golden sunlight.

Red and yellow
were
my hands and face.
I stood rooted like
an autumn tree covered
in fall foliage with
no trace of winter’s woe.

“May this moment last
forever,” I murmured,
as the rainbow sparkled
and I rejoiced in
my many-colored coat.

Comment: I have noticed on several occasions that when I am reading a text, I change the wording on the page to a new wording that seems more in keeping with the rhythm of the moment. I see that I have done this here, more by accident than by plan. I have noticed this too when listening to Dylan Thomas’s recordings of his own verse. Each reading then becomes a new variant on the poem. In this case, I rather prefer the second variation, but I am not sure that I approve of the first one, nor nor do I approve of leaving words out. Naughty! I am afraid that I still haven’t developed the skill of reciting instead of reading my poems. I guess it will happen soon enough. In the meantime, I’ll just have to put up with these little flaws.

Dream … A poetry reading from One Small Corner
Fall Foliage in Island View

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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Plein Air

 

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Plein Air
(for Ruby Allan)

Plein air,”
she said, and I imagined her
sitting before the blank spread of a canvas,
a ship’s sail waiting for a sea-side breeze
to fill that empty space with color and mood.

What routes will her paintbrush take
as it wanders over the new world
lying before her?

Plein air, al fresco,
in garden and street,
before the shops and then
on headland and shore,
alone or accompanied,

with sea birds wading
and the gull’s cry echoing its sea of sound
as the sun sets in its bonfire of brightness
and throws light and shadow,
chiaro-oscuro,
all around.

Comment: The lead photo of Ruby Allan in her studio was taken in her KIRA studio in June, 2017, by my friend and fellow artist, the Peruvian pan-piper and flautist / flutist, Carlos Carty. The poem comes from my book, One Small Corner (2017), written in KIRA during my residency. It can be found on page 94 in the section entitled Artists.

In this poem I have tried to capture the idea of Ruby painting in the fresh air (plein air / al fresco) in St. Andrews-by-the-sea. Clearly, as you can see from the above photo, the sea is so important to this town, as are harbors and boats and the men that man and sail them. The light is important too as it changes throughout the day or with wind and weather. As you can see, Ruby’s paintings are filled with light and she catches those magic moments when the world seems to freeze and stand still. I try to imitate visual art when I write, and I try to fill my poetry with those magic moments as I create verbal pictures that seize the seconds and  hold them, even if it be for just a little while.

 

Bath Time

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Bath Time

              My grandfather took a bath once a year, On New Year’s Eve, so he could be ready, so he said, washed and clean, for the New Year. His bath day / birthday was a family event. If we wanted a bath, well the bath water didn’t stay hot for long in the bath-tub at the top of the house, under the rafters, so an old tin bath was dragged into the kitchen and a black, iron kettle was placed on the hob, and water was boiled. One by one, we were immersed, and scrubbed, to emerge pink and glossy. All this happened in the kitchen in front of the fireplace, where we sat up wrapped in bath-robes and blankets, drinking hot cocoa so we wouldn’t catch cold. But my grandfather took his bath at the top of the house, under the rafters, in the old chipped enamel tub with its lion-claw feet, water-stained sides, and its old brass taps. He walked up there fully clothed, walked into the bathroom, and shut the door behind him, drawing the bolt with a finality that shut us all out. He sang the great choruses from Aida, and Nabucco, and we imagined him, wallowing there, in the warm water, with all his clothes on, for it was hard to imagine my grandfather naked. Then, half an hour later, he would emerge, looking just like he did when he walked into the bathroom. We never heard the water running, nor did we hear it draining away. All we heard was the The Hebrew Slaves’ Chorus and my grandfather swinging his Blacksmith’s hammer as he battered at the New Year’s Anvil.

Comment: I didn’t have a photo of an old bath tub in my collection, so the lead picture is one of Geoff Slater’s murals: a buoy (pronounced ‘boy’ in Wales), taking a bath in the sea.  Let me know if you like these Welsh childhood memories, and I will keep adding to them. They are certainly fun to write and I find incredible the many ways in which memories surge as I am learning to speak Welsh. Each new chapter in my journey seems to start a new wave of thought.

Morning in Island View

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Morning in Island View

             Morning in Island View and I dream of warm lips rising from stone cold waters. Somewhere, the early sun floats petals across a lily pond. Framed among lilies, my beloved’s face drifts through a watery space. So sweet, her embodiment: she lies languid among the lilies, beside herself in bloom after bloom, each flower gigantic in its frame beneath a wooden footbridge.

            I envision her as she was, this lily who will toil not, nor spin, and who sighs with the morning breeze that ripples her smiling countenance into a thousand fragments. She lies cushioned amid the lily pads, a work of wonder in a liquid impression of fragmented light.

            Fortune rattles its poker dice and they fall haphazardly, here and there, wherever they will. Once thrown, like the spoken word that can never be recalled, they lie there, still on the table’s green baize. They fall, but not by chance and chance itself blossoms with their falling. Like Venus born from the waves, my beloved rises from the waters, born in a conjurer’s trick of blossom turned flesh and pulled from the stream’s dark sleeve to flash her mysterious magic in a thicket of flowering water.

            Now, I see her everywhere: a model in a window, languid in a pavement puddle where raindrops ripple her eyes, couched among the floating clouds as evening steals color from the day. Dusk’s shadows draw their curtains across street and square and now she becomes my lily of the lamplight and I frame her anew in the streetlight’s afterglow, night’s figment dreamed alive beneath distant stars. I walk with her, hand in hand, at noon, when the cathedral wears its strawberry suit, and again in the late afternoon when a blueberry blush descends with bells.

            One evening, in a fit of hope, or is it despair, when my heart pants for a cooling stream, I tread the lily pad path across the pond’s untroubled waters. Dark bells ring out their jug-o-rum chorus as I seek the light of her countenance. Dusk is a violent bruise, scoured purple and red across the waters as I try to become one with my lady of the lake.

            I still don’t know what drew me out. But when I emerged, I sensed that all had changed and that nothing had changed more than I had, the viewer, that once-young man, now old and arthritic, typing away, one finger at a time, battering my key-board to recreate the wanderlust of those day-dreams wrought sous le Pont Mirabeau, along the banks where the Seine flows, or up by the bouqinistes where bridges span the river, words bounce off the page, and painted lilies in the Marché aux Fleurs bewitch the viewer with a staring madness that mirrors pondweed and drifting hair. Now my beloved’s face floats through the cathedral’s eye that ripples in the river. I see the great rose window of Notre Dame, and I seek her once again in those dark waters where she holds out her hands, a place mat for my un-drowned heart.

The Journey

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The Journey

I sense the rust in her mind’s clockwork
clogging her brain, slowing down thought.

I watch her search for words, stumbling through
sentences.  “Wind up the flowers,” she says
handing me the key for the grandfather clock.

When she says “water the clock” I receive
the plastic watering-can meant for the flowers.

Fellow travelers, we journey side by side on life’s
train. I watch her as she looks out of the window
at the passing countryside with its tiny stations.

She frets as she clasps her weak hand in her strong
one and I realize she’s worried because she no longer
knows when, where, or how the journey will end.

Comment: I wrote this originally in memory of my grandmother. However, as I have been involved in the rediscovering / revision / rewriting of older poems, I have come to realize that, as our visions change,  our poems become more accessible to a wider audience. In other words, given what is happening right now with the pandemic, none of us know when, where, or how the journey will end. This leads directly into the twin themes of the fragility of life and the nature of memory. What do we remember? Why do we remember a particular incident? Did it happen just as we remember it or have we already doctored our memories, re-creating them, so to speak.

I have a clear memory of seeing Sir Frank Worral batting at St. Helen’s in Swansea, when I was about 11 years old. A close friend of mine, an outstanding cricketing historian, checked the details in Wisden and told me that Frank Worral wasn’t playing in that match, so I couldn’t have seen him batting. And then there was Sir Everton de Courcy Weekes: I swear a saw him score a century at Bristol, yet, again according to my friend who checked the records, he only got fifty in that game! Games: what mind games the mind plays with us as we age. So, do I go with the fantasy land of my memories in which much has been (re)-invented? Or do I go with the world of truth and checkable reality? As an academic, I lived in the latter world: research, check, double check, avoid expressing personal opinions, facts, facts, facts, and exact dates. As an ageing poet, I would much rather live in that former world where truth and reality march hand in hand with fairy-tale and fiction, a little bit of one and a smattering of both.

How far is from fairy-tale and fiction to the dream world we inhabit at night? Just a short step, I reckon. Sometimes I remember my dreams and write them down when I wake up. Sometimes they vanish and I can only recall some vague feelings of joy and anguish. And what is life, that fragile, dream-like reality? Is it really a dream, as Segismundo tells us in Calderón’s La Vida es Sueño? Or is it a real world? And if it is real, do we create that reality or do we dream it? And if we dream it, do we sleep walk, sleep talk, sweet talk our way through it? Or do we portray it just like it really is, with no creativity, just a factual repeat of reality as we know it?

¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño,
porque toda la vida es un sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
a shadow, a fiction,
and the greatest good is small,
because life is a dream,
and dreams are nothing
but dreams, after all.

 

Her Shadow

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Her Shadow

“Birds, birds,” she shrieked with delight.
“The drab one is a girl like you,” I told her,
“but the bright one is a little boy.”

“Yellow,” she cried again with joy, “Yellow.”
Tiny hands plucked at air, catching nothing.

I can still see her standing there, her nose,
all wet and runny.  She left damp, snot-stained
marks, a sort of signature, on the cold wet glass.

She’s long gone now, way back home, but still
the window stays unwashed and her shadow
often comes between me and the morning sun.

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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