A Stone



Meditations on Messiaen.
Quartet for the End of Time.

1

A Stone

I cast a stone into the sea.
A round, flat stone,
it skipped from wave to wave
and refused to sink.

My heart sank within me
as I counted each bounce:
five, six, seven…
then the stone sank
bearing with it
my seven deadly sins
and I wept no more.

I, who have lost all that I had,
mother, father, brothers,
land of my birth,
I laid them all to rest
and I dried my tears,
forgot my fears,
and counted my blessings
as I walked, no longer alone,
along the shore.

Click on link below for Roger’s reading.

A Stone

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

Seize the day. Squeeze this moment tight.
Nothing before means anything. Everything
afterwards is merely hope and dream. 

A tiny child, you chased wind-blown leaves
trying to catch them before they hit the ground.
Elf parachutes you called them and trod with care

so as not to crush the fallen elves as they lay leaf-bound.
I stand here now, a scarecrow scarred with age,
arms held out, palms up, in the hope that a leaf

will descend, a fallen sparrow, and rest in my hand.
When one perches on my shoulder and another
graces my gray hair, my old heart pumps with joy.


Comment:
Coming soon to a garden near you!

Listen to the podcast
Carpe Diem

Dance of the Snow Flies

Dance of the Snow Flies

“When the snow flies…” they keep saying.
I have seen blackfly, felt them nesting in my hair,
picking painlessly at my scalp, until, next day,
the itching begins and the bites get scratched,
one after another, until they turn into scabs.

But I had never seen a snow fly, hard as I tried.
When the geese fly… yes, I have seen and wondered
at their spring invasion and their autumn retreat.
I have marveled too at the goslings’ rapid growth,
those golden fluff balls taking first to the water,
and then one day, suddenly, they rise in the air.

Last year, in a moment of madness, I stood beneath
Aurora Borealis and marveled at the sky’s flickering
colors. The light became sound and it was then,
astounded, I saw them dancing, those snow flies,
dancing me senseless, in their rainbows of light.

Listen to the podcast here.
Dance of the Snow Flies.


Comment: “La Poesía se explica sóla, si no, no se explica” — famous words by Pedro Salinas the great Spanish poet of the Generation of 1927, who taught at Johns Hopkins University. So, I will not attempt to explain my words. They stand for themselves, or not, as the case may be.

However, I will venture into the area of the cliché and the commonplace. People use so many phrases without thinking about what they mean. To examine the cliché and explore its meaning is a delight. What are snow flies? And what will they do when that moment of their release comes about? When the snow flies dance beneath the Northern Lights on a late fall night in New Brunswick, they become visible to the watchful human eye. And now you know what happens “when the snow flies… dance!”

A Theory of the Absurd

A Theory of the Absurd

I wonder what I’m doing here, so far from home, sitting
at the bar, with my beer before me, my face distorted
in half a dozen fairground mirrors, surrounded by
people half my age, or less, all smoking, cursing, using
foreign forms of meta-language, gestures I no longer recall:
the single finger on the nose, two fingers on the forehead,
the back of the hand rammed against the chin with a sort
of snort of disapproval. It’s way beyond my bedtime, yet
I am held here, captured, body and soul, by foreign rhythms,
unreal expectations of a daily ritual that runs on unbroken
cycles of time: morning brandy, pre-lunch wine and tapas,
home for the mid-day meal, a brief siesta, back to the café
for a post-prandial raising of spirits, more blanco, then back
to work at four and struggle on until seven or eight when
the bar routine begins again with pre-supper tapas and tinto.
Who am I? What am I? Where am I going? I wander, restless,
 streets and squares, enter other bars and restaurants, consume
verdejo, manzanilla, tinto de verano, the original and many
 falsifications, in corner bars, on patios, sampling liqueurs,
cognacs and coñac, Fundador, Carlos Quinto, Torres Diez,
sol y sombra, Cuarenta y Tres, pasteles con café quemado.
Time, comprehended in this new life-cycle, lacks meaning.
Time, in a cycle I have long abandoned, is meaningless too.

Survivors

Survivors

Last night’s rainstorm shrank the house.
We closed down rooms
and now the walls are closing in.
There’s so much we no longer use, nor visit,
so many rooms we no longer enter.

Almost all our friends downsized long ago.
We are the holdouts. We love it here
in this big house with its lawns and trees
and flowerbeds with bees’ balm, butterflies, birds,
and the yard abuzz with sunshine and bees.

But now we are starting to throw things out.
Maybe we’ll move, next summer perhaps,
or maybe not. For now is the time of indecision.

Like friends of the same age,
we travel the lesser road of memory loss,
a name and a face here,
a date or phone number there.

Perhaps, when the time comes,
we will have forgotten how to move.
Meanwhile, the mandatory old man’s question:
‘where did I put my glasses?’

Why?

Why?

“Where are you going?” I ask again.
 “To see a man about a dog,” my father replies.
  “Why?” I ask.
  “Hair of the dog,” his voice ghosts through the rapidly closing crack as the front door shuts behind him.
  “Why?” I cry out.
 Years later I remember this episode. The mud nest nestles tight against a beam beneath our garage roof. Tiny yellow beaks flap ceaselessly open. Parent birds sit on a vantage point of electric cable, their beaks moving in silent encouragement. A sudden rush, a clamour of wing and claw, a small body thudding down a ladder of air to crash beak first on the concrete.
“Why?” I ask.
The age-old answer come back to me.
“Wye is a river. It flows through Ross-on-Wye and marks the boundary between England and Wales.”
The swallows perch on the rafters watching their fledgling as it struggles on the floor, the weakening wing flaps, the last slow kicks of the twitching legs.
“Why?” I ask.”
“Y is a crooked letter invented by the Green Man of Wye.”
“Why?” I repeat. “I want to know why.”
Silence hangs a question mark over the unsatisfied spaces of my questing mind.
A golden oldie. We would all like to know why. But there are no answers. Just riddles cast, like two trunk-less legs of stone, on the sands of time. Nothing beside remains. Yet still we ask the age old question: why? And still we receive the age-old answers from those ageing wise men who ruled our childhood and taught us everything they knew.
“Why?”
“Because.”

Comment:

Alas, we have lost our hollyhocks, not all of them, but most. They have been drowned in torrential rain, blown and bent, ravished by raging winds, and they have been scorched in a heat-warning scorched earth policy that left them and the garden all forlorn. As for the lawn, between chinch bug, crows, raccoons, and a surge in weeds and bugs, it is a desolation.

What is worse: they were so beautiful, those hollyhocks. Multi-coloured, stately, and tall. Hopefully, they will return next year. We do hope so. And equally hopefully next year will be a better year for them. And for you and me. Meanwhile, I savour the photos and mourn their loss. Meanwhile…

“Why?” I ask “Why?”

The answer echoes back across the years in well-known voices that have long been silenced.

“Because.”

Building on Sand

Building on Sand

Everywhere the afternoon gropes steadily to night.
Some people have built fires,
others read by candlelight.

Geese, drifts of snow their whiteness,
settle on the riverbank. They walk
on thin ice at civilization’s edge.
Around them, the universe’s clock
ticks slowly down.

Who forced that scream
through the needle’s eye?
Inverted, the Big Dipper,
hangs its question mark
from heaven’s dark eyelid.

Ghosts of departed constellations
stalk the sky. Pale stars bob
phosphorescent on the flood.

The flesh that bonds,
the bones that walk,
the shoulders and waist
on which I hang my clothes,
now they stand alone
and listen at the water’s edge
to the whispering trees.

They have caught the words
of snowflakes strung between the stars.
Moonlight is a liquor
running raw within them.

Comment: The verse version (above) is from Though Lover’s be Lost. The prose version (Below) is from Stars at Elbow and Foot.

Building on Sand

Everywhere the afternoon gropes steadily to night. Some people have built fires, others read by candlelight. Geese, drifts of snow their whiteness, settle on the riverbank. They walk on thin ice at civilization’s edge. Around them, the universe’s clock ticks slowly down. Who forced that scream through the needle’s eye? Inverted, the Big Dipper, hangs its question mark from heaven’s dark eyelid. Ghosts of departed constellations stalk the sky. Pale stars bob phosphorescent on the flood. The flesh that bonds, the bones that walk, the shoulders and waist on which I hang my clothes, now they stand alone and listen at the water’s edge to the whispering trees. They have caught the words of snowflakes strung between the stars. Moonlight is a liquor running raw within them.

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Rainbows

Rainbows

For my teenage daughter
who has just cried on my shoulder

not knowing which courses to take
nor what university to attend.
21 December 1991
12:50 pm.

Rainbows go up and down.
Only you can say which way to go:
upwards to the heavens
or downwards to the earth below.

Rainbows are a promise
of ever sunnier skies.
We see them after rainstorms
or in tear-filled eyes.

There’s no shame in grief.
Every cloud has a silver lining
and rainbows gather round it
waiting for our mind’s refining.

Search for your rainbow.
Follow when it points the way.
But remember, when you fall
to earth, like you did today,

that always at the rainbow’s foot
there lies a pot of gold.
Well that’s what the Irish
Fairies say, or so I am told.

Big Hand / Small Hand

Big Hand / Small Hand

It’s late in my life, with the big hand stuck on the nine, at a quarter to some thing, and the small hand twitching its red-tipped needle of blood. Yesterday, the breakdown van called for my body and towed me to the doctor’s. “Cough!” she said. “Say ninety-nine! Now cough again!” All the while, cold hands probed my unprotected body. Bottoms up? Thumbs down? It’s hard to see that the wine glass stands a quarter full when seventy five per cent of the wine has gone and the empty bottle lies drained on the operating table. I sit in front of the mirror and examine the palpitating heart they have torn from my chest. Flesh of my flesh, it beats in my hand like an executioner’s drum. I hear the tumbril drawing near. My colleagues sharpen their knitting needles. My lungs are twin balls of wool knotted tight in my chest.

Variants

Not one of us knows when the skeleton in the limelight will peel off her gloves, doff her hat, lay down her white cane and use us as fuels for a different kind of fire. Grief lurks in the bracelet’s silver snare of aging hair. We kick for a while and struggle at dawn’s bright edge, we creatures conditioned by time and its impossibilities. What possible redemptions unfurl their shadowy shapes at the water’s edge? A dream angel, this owl singing wide-eyed like a moribund swan bordering on that one great leap upwards, preparing to vanish into thin air. Some say a table awaits on an unseen shore; others that a rowing boat is tied to the river bank, ready for us to row ourselves across. Who knows? Yesterday’s horoscopes sprinkle butterflies of news as the snow wraps us all in the arcane blanket of each new beginning.

Comment: It’s been a strange week. In spite of all my resolutions, I missed my Wednesday Workshop and my Thursday Thoughts. Never mind: the latter weren’t very pleasant anyway. It has been pouring with rain again, and, as the WWI song says “Back to bread and water, as I have done before,” except in this case, it’s pills and needles, and I get the first shot on Tuesday. Nothing to worry about. I’ve been there before. It’s all preventative. But the body-clock is ticking away and I am getting no older and people around me are drifting slowly away. One of the players I used to coach at rugby, an excellent prop forward, went AWOL on Wednesday, MIA, and I read about his passing yesterday in the obituary column of the local newspaper. 18 years younger than me. He might be gone, but his memory lingers on, strongly for me. I have been thinking about him and his family and their tragic loss. My heart goes out to them and I offer my condolences, but what can one do, other than sympathize, celebrate a life well-led, and accept that all of us, poor creatures, are born to die. And if not now, when?

Rainstorm in Granada

Not the Alhambra, but a blood red sky!

Rainstorm
Granada

 Black umbrellas burgeon beneath sudden rain.
Waterproof cloth opens to provide protection.
Churches fill with defenseless passersby.

The cigarettes they smoke flare shooting
stars through finger bars of flesh and bone.
After the rain, gypsy women flower in the street.

Carnations carve wounds in their sleek, oiled hair.
They offer good luck charms and fortune telling.

“Federico! Federico,” the gypsies cry out,
“tomorrow, the guards will take you from your cell.
They will drive you to the hills and shoot you dead.”

“Tonight,” Federico replies, “I’ll paint the city red.
And tomorrow… ” “Tomorrow,” the gypsies sigh,
“the Alhambra’s walls will run red with your blood.”

Comment: I have made some minor changes to the sonnet that was published in Iberian Interludes (available online at this link) The sonnet is a Golden Oldie, going back to our visit to Granada in 1986. I asked my pre-teenage daughter if she would like to go to a country where there was no snow in winter. She laughed at me. “Don’t be so silly, dad, there’s no such thing as a winter without snow.” We got to Madrid on January 5 and awoke to 3 inches of snow on January 6. “There, dad,” she said. “Told you so.” We took the train down to Granada and that year they had six inches of snow in the city center, for the first time in forty years! It also rained, and this is a poem about the Granada rain.

Iberian Interludes