Knowledge

Knowledge

“Knowledge: that which passes
from my notes to your notes
without going through anyone’s head.”

aka
Filling empty heads.”

I came here a beggar, begging bowl
in hand, begging for knowledge,
at the seat of all knowledge,
from the hands of those who knew.

They fed me, taught me,
brought me into knowledge,
as they knew it, but I yearned
for more, so much more.

I found it, one morning,
in my morning mirror, shaving.
I looked into my own eyes and asked:
“What are you teaching?”

My answer: words and empty words,
formulae handed down to me
over generations of people
who thought they thought because
they repeated what others had thought.

This was not what I sought.
Then, and only then, did I look
into the eyes of those I taught,
those who sought knowledge from me,
in all my worthlessness,
and I asked them what did they need,
what did they want to know,
and why did they want this knowledge.

Then I asked them how I could help them
to attain that knowledge for themselves
and to use it to construct their own lives,
on their own, without interference and shame
as I had never done.

Then, and only then, did I know
I had become a teacher in the true sense
of the word, and that together with me,
my students had learned to teach themselves
multiple ways in which to grow.

Listen to Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Knowledge

Losing Language

Losing Language

To lose your language
is to lose your dignity and your muse.

It’s to lose the power of self-expression
and to frustrate the longing soul
that flutters like a butterfly
striving to reach for the beauty of light
yet frustrated by the weight
of its now useless wings
unable to rise.

So much the soul sees at night,
wandering in dreams among the stars.
Memories of former rooms
where the old inhabitants still dwell,
shadows among the shadows,
some still gifted with limited
powers of speech,
but others, tongue-tied and silent,
and our chatter reduced
to a net of butterfly buzz words.

Oh for the freedom of flight,
for the liberty of my language found anew
and capable still of shaping and recreating
the world of silence in which I now live.

Based on a Welsh Poem by Harri Webb
Colli iaith a cholli urddas.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Losing Language

Sound of Absence

Sound of Absence

It’s a lonely walk round the animal park,
the petting zoo with its animated young,
goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas, all of them
greedy and alert, ears pricked, eyes open,
munching away, hand-fed by the visitors.

Only the wind moves the swings today.
We walk in silence, but don’t stay long.
That little body that swung the swings,
those little feet that raced from place
to place at such a bewildering pace…

they are not here. We watched them board
the plane, fly up into the sky, head west
and home, and now we, the old folk,
abandoned, hold hands, and walk alone.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Sound of Absence


Portrait of Moo

Moo by Fin

Finley has left. She has left me with a selection of her art and instructions to ‘show it to the world’. S o, here we have the Portrait of Moo by Fin. I guess many of you don’t know who Moo is, but don’t worry about it, neither do I and Fin has been busy for three weeks, trying to work it out for herself. Oh dear – what can the matter be? Finish the song for yourself, if you remember it in any of its many versions.

Meanwhile, I go back to my old friend, Robbie Burns, with whom I spoke only yesterday. He spoke to me through my eyes and, as I sat there talking, I digested his words of wisdom: “Ah would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” The giftie gie us is, as you well know, the Scottish dialect for what comes out in Standard English as the gift give us.

So that’s how Fin sees Moo. When I next meet him, if he cares to show up chez nous, I will show him Fin’s portrait and ask him what he thinks. Until then, his identity – and I am assuming he is a he not a she – must remain a mystery as mysterous as this mysterious painting that appeared on my desk.

Redemption

Redemption

I had no paper with me in the car
and wrote this on a bottle redemption slip.

Redemption:
that’s what I seek
and some days it seeks me.
A double need this need to redeem
and be redeemed. A double need too
this god I need, the god who needs me.

Lonely he will be without me,
and I without him.
Knock and the door will open.
Seek and ye shall find.

I look and, yes, he’s there,
him within me and me within him.

This redemption slip is all I need:
empty bottles on the one hand,
my empty heart on the other,
both now redeemed.

All of this while I sit in the car.
outside Wendy’s or outside Taco Bell,
sitting quite still and ready to wait,
not knowing my upcoming fate.

Listen to Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Redemption.

Floribundia

Floribundia

Words grow like flowers, invasive, cruel, beautiful, cutting, and when cut, they wither and fade, just like flowers. Catch them while you can, I say. Catch them, hold them tight, press them to you heart, for time is voracious and will soon devour them, swallowing them down in the black holes of forgetfulness, carelessness, and memory loss. Shine a light on your words. Underline them, grace them with stars, think about them, carefully. And remember, the word once spoken or written can never, ever be recalled.

Joy of Light

I wait for words to descend, soft, peaceful.
They brush my mind with the soft touch of a grey
jay’s wings. When they refuse to come, I know
that silence is golden. Sunshine spreads its early
morning light, upwards, under the blinds, into
my room and my eyelashes radiate its rainbow.

Light from the rose window in Chartres
once spread its spectrum over my hands,
and I rejoiced in the glory of its speckled glow.
I spread my fingers before my face and marveled
at the suit of lights clothing my body. In such
splendour mortal things like words cease to flow.

Words are inadequate. They cannot express what I feel
when I breathe in color and light and my heart
expands into an everlasting rose, as red as dawn,
as bright as a blushing sunrise over Minister’s Island.
Flowers burst into bloom. A sense of immanent beauty
fills me as light, and warmth, and joy disperse night’s gloom.

Click to hear Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Floribundia & Joy of Light


A Rub of the Green

A Rub of the Green

A child among timeworn men, I learn traditional songs, if ever there’s going to be a life hereafter, with the correct words, no messing about with watered down lyrics, for back in the Emerald Isle ‘they’re hanging men and women for the wearing of the green’. I listen as all the ageless grievances are aired yet again by the exiles who parade around the family kitchen.
            I study the old ways and practice songs and tales from Ireland until they become familiar. As for those men, I met them in later life, at my mother’s funeral, knowing I had never really known them or understood them, those uncles and cousins, realizing that my family had split apart a long time ago down religious and racial lines. Yet I still sensed our closeness and recognized the familiar map of Ireland drawn in their ageing faces.
            Their Weltanschauung was Irish Catholic while mine was Anglo-Welsh, tinged with Methodism. Each new school I attended introduced me to a new faith and eventually I believed in none of them. I became an outcast, standing on the outside, looking in. I often wonder what the early immigrants to Canada the French and English, Irish and Scottish, when they first came here. What did they see and, conversely, how were those people seen, and by whom? Who now will tell those stories and bring those early cultures back to life?
            Today, I sit on the shore at Indian Point and listen to the silence. I wait for the wind’s whisper as it whisks all footprints from the sand. I hear the song of the sea as it rises and falls. In my mind’s eye, I watch the rocks as they slowly crumble and I repeat the song of the stones as they grind together, metamorphosing unhurriedly into sand.
            It takes a juggler to hold all this ancient world together especially when the old nests are empty and the birds have all flown. Wave foam slips into a single footprint abandoned in the mud and sand. All around me there are tales to tell and songs to sing. Some of them are even mine.
            I often think about an immigrant’s first foot-print, a lone print on an empty beach, waiting to be swept away by the rising tide.  Man Friday, perhaps. Or was it Man Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday … Man Saturday is best. But it’s never on a Sunday, so Man Sunday is as impossible as Woman Sunday, for the sadness of our memories exiles our better halves, our better two-thirds, our better three-quarters.
            All around us, there are songs to sing, stories to tell, words to repeat, wordless moments to recreate. “Patience and shuffle the cards,” Cervantes wrote. “Distinguish between all those false sirens, your one true voice.” That’s Antonio Machado. Find your own star and follow it. That might even be me, though it’s probably in the I Ching or the Daily Horoscope.
            The nests were all empty. The birds had flown. Who wants to live alone in a jack pine crow’s nest hotel in the Land of his Fathers where nobody knows him, where he doesn’t speak the language, and where he now feels ill at ease? The last time I visited the UK, I sat on the English side of the Severn Bridge, drinking a cup of tea, but I couldn’t cross that bridge, and I couldn’t stay in a htoel, in the Land of my birth, where I no longer knew anyone.
            Not that Wales was ever the Land of my Fathers, for my father was born in England, and my grandfather in Ireland. The Land of my Mother, perhaps, for she was actually born there. But the Land of my Mother never appears in any national anthem, and Mother is always singular while apparently a man can have more than one father, depending I suppose on the rub of the green.

Cloud of Unknowing

Cloud of Unknowing

Sometimes the yearning heart
wraps itself in a cloud of unknowing.
Then come doubts and fears and a sense
of being alone and abandoned,
adrift on a rising sea, with night
drawing nigh and no horizon in sight.

But, at the centre of that cloud
that aching heart still thirsts
for cool water to soothe and cure
the ills of an internal world
that seeks a lighthouse on a shore
yet finally finds that light within itself,
and then is safe, and lost no more.

Fin on Swing

Fin on Swing

So, how do you get movement into a two-dimensional space? How do you get the to and fro, the up and down, the legs out front, the hair out back? And there are so many things missing. The alpacas watching. The goats guzzling. The peacock making whatever noise a peacock makes. Oh dear, I forgot all of those things. But then, I was never a great artist – just a dabbler in line and color, in sorrow and joy, but joy and happiness, shape and color, emotions above all. And when childhood meets second childhood – then there is joy and laughter and swings that go faster.