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.

Crosswords

Couldn’t find a picture of a cross-bill, so I found some genuine humming birds instead. Listen carefully: you can hear them hum.

Crosswords

I wander a vacant, black and white wonderland
of empty, accusing, crossword puzzle squares.
Most mornings, I sit at the kitchen table, head in hands,
puzzled by the news and the crossword puzzle’s clues.

Outside my window, crossbills squat on the feeder,
squabbling, heads turned sideways, blinking,

and winking sly eyes. A yellow-bellied sapsucker hops
over syrup-sticky squares. His hand-carved chess board

glistens as feasting flies swarm beneath the sun.

My own thoughts are rooted in a stark, new reality.
They walk wordless through threatening spaces where
unmasked people wander grey, concrete streets or walk
in shops, in the opposite direction to arrows,
painted on the floor to guide them.

Cross-words, cross-purposes:
why do some people obey the current laws
while others ignore them and risk their health
as well as the health of others by doing what
they damn well please, in spite of the scientists
who beg them to do otherwise?
Like the puzzle’s clues: I just don’t know.

Comment: Well, last year was a year like no other that I can remember. It is so easy to dismiss it as an aberration, but we shouldn’t do that. Hopefully next year will be better. But it might get worse. Let’s look on the bright side and hum along with the song the humming birds are humming: “Yesterday is history, today is still a mystery, but what a day it’s going to be tomorrow.” I still can’t workout how or why some shoppers just head up the shopping aisles, walking or pushing their carts in the wrong direction. Nor how they can stand for five minutes at a time choosing a breakfast cereal, one hand on the handle of their angled carts, another poking at the cereal boxes, and the aisle totally blocked. I also love the people who still handle every apple in the box before choosing just one of them. For apple you may substitute grapes, pears, avocadoes, tomatoes. Oh the joys of ageing in an age of skepticism and pandemic. Mind you: if life is, as Albert Camus always insisted, absurd, or if it is, as Calderon told us, nothing but a dream, I guess none of it matters anyway. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux / we must believe that Sisyphus is happy!

Merry Christmas

A forgotten child’s Christmas in Wales.

On the Outside Looking In

As I walked home, it started to snow. Not the pure white fluffy snow of a pretty Merry Christmas card, but the dodgy, slippery mixture of rain, snow, and ice pellets that turned the steep streets of Swansea into ice slides and traps for the elderly. I turned up the collar of my coat, bowed my head, and stuffed my hands into my pockets. Two houses before my own, I stopped in front of our neighbor’s house.
The window shone, a beacon in the gathering dark. I drew closer, pressed my nose against that window and looked in. A Christmas tree, decorated with lights, candles, more decorations, a fire burning on the hearth, two cats curled up warm before the fire, presents beneath the tree, stockings hanging from the mantelpiece. For a moment, my heart unfroze and I felt the spirit of Christmas. Then I thought of my own house. Cold and drafty. No lights, no decorations. No fire. The snowball snuggled back into my chest and refused to melt.
            When I got home, our house stood chill and empty. My parents were out at work and the fire had died. Nothing was ready for Christmas. I sat at the kitchen table, took out my sketch book and began to draw, then color. When my mother came home, I showed her my picture.
            “Very nice,” she said without looking up.
            “But mum, you haven’t really seen it.”
            She stared at the picture again. This time, she saw the Christmas tree and the lights, the cats before the fire, the candles burning on the mantelpiece, the decorations and the presents wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. But she never noticed the little boy standing outside the house in the falling sleet, cold and shivering, peering in through the window.

Comment: Everyone remembers Dylan Thomas’s story A Child’s Christmas in Wales, but not all Welsh Christmases are like that. This is the story of a forgotten child’s Christmas in Wales. It is a story about a latch-key kid, left alone at Christmas to fend for himself. I enclose the drawing he did and I dedicate the story to anyone who is alone this Covid-19 Christmas. Christmas spent on your own is not much fun. Looking through another’s window, from the cold street outside, is not much fun either. So, at this time of year, let us remember those who are lost and lonely, those who need a kindly smile and a helping hand, those who do not have the comfort of family and friends, a warm wood fire, or a cat or a dog to snuggle up to them, to lick them, and to wish them ‘all the best’ in the languages that all animals speak on Christmas Eve, and sometimes into Christmas Day. Phone a friend, nod to a neighbor, and may your Christmas season be filled with joy.

Monkey and the Bean Counter

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Monkey and the Bean Counter

An acolyte in a charcoal suit runs by.
He neither stops nor speaks
but slips on slippery words
dripping from another monkey’s tongue.

This other monkey has eyes of asphalt,
a patented pewter soul,
ice water flowing in his veins.
“Hear no evil! See no evil! Speak no evil!”

The hatch of his mind is battened tightly down.
Nothing gets out nor in.
The acolyte’s fingers grasp at a khaki folder,
his manifesto for success.

Senior monkey stalks to his office
and turns on the radio.
His favorite music:
the clink of mounting money.

Disturb him at your peril:
this monkey is very important,
and very, very busy.
He’s also clever:
a real smarty.

First, he empties all the chocolate candies from the box
then he sorts them into little piles:
green with green, brown with brown,
blue with blue, red with red.

Then, like the Good Shepherd checking His flock,
he counts them again and again,
to ensure that none have been stolen
and not one has gone astray.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie, this time from Monkey Temple. I have updated it slightly so it won’t be exactly the same as it is in the printed text. Senior Monkey has, of course, built a bigger box into which he can place all his chocolate candies and tuck them away for ever and ever. I guess if he were a bull and not a monkey, he would have tucked them away for heifer and heifer. Such is the sad state of reality in the Monkey Temple. But if monkey were a bull, he would be living in the cow shed, not the Monkey Temple. Oh dear, oh dear: and oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive with fiction, flash fiction, creative non-fiction, and all the other sugar and spice which goes into the spinning of spider-webs and fairy tales. Speaking of which, did I ever tell you the story of the… well, maybe next time. So tune in again tomorrow. Same thyme, same plaice, and I’ll sing you a song of the fish in the sea… and a fishy tail that will be.

Milton Acorn and the Jack Pine

Milton Acorn and the Jack Pine

            I met Milton Acorn in the photocopying room of the university in which I taught. I didn’t know who he was, but I soon found out.
            “Oy! You,” he waved his strong, carpenter’s hands, and stabbed me with a gnarled index finger.
            “Are you Milton Acorn,” I asked. “The poet?”
            “Yup. Make this machine work.”
            “I’m meant to be taking you to lunch.”
            “Got this job to do first,” he pointed at the machine. “Turn it on.”
            I typed in my code and the copier leapt into life.
            “Now go away. I need to be alone.”

            A few minutes later, I returned to find him lying on the photocopier, eyes shut, face pressed against the glass. Lights flashed, the copier whirred, and a copy of his face emerged. He descended from the machine and added his face to the pile of photocopies that lay at his feet.
            “Tape,” he said. “I need tape,” he again stabbed me with his finger and held out his hand.
            “I’ll go and get some.”
            I went to my secretary’s office.
            “What the heck is he doing in there?” she asked.
            “I haven’t got a clue. But now he wants some Scotch tape,” I held out my hand and she handed me a roll of tape “Thanks,” I said.

            I gave Milton the tape and watched as he taped the copies together. He had photocopied his whole body, arms, legs, back sides, feet.
            “Me,” he said happily. “That’s me,”
            Triumphant, he showed me his work: a self-portrait, shadowy and cloudy, still warm, with him all whiskered and worn, smelling still of photocopying ink, unique, unmistakable, uncouth, unseemly, but the real Milton Acorn, a jack pine sonnet self-grown in his own poetic image.

Dog Daze

Street of Life or Death

Dog Daze

Memories deceive me with their remembered shows,
shapes shifting with a click of the magician’s fingers.
What magic lantern now slips its subtle slides

across night’s screen? Desperate I lap at salt-licks
of false hope that increase my thirst and drive me
deeper into thick, black, tumultuous clouds.

A pandemic storm lays waste to the days that dog my mind.
Carnivorous canicular, hydropic, it drinks me dry,
desiccates my dreams, gnaws me into nothingness.

At night a black dog hounds me, sends my head spinning,
makes me chase my own tail, round and round. It snaps at
dreams, shadows, memories that ghost through my mind.

Tarot Cards and Tea Leaves are lost in a Mad Hatter’s
illusion of a dormouse in a teapot in an unkempt tale.
Hunter home from the hill, I return to find my house
empty, my body devastated, my future a foretold mess.

Comment: Tough days around us and even tougher ahead. Covid-19 in the schools and people I know, young and old, frightened and in quarantine as a result. People I know and members of my far-flung (thank you, Jennifer, for that long-lost word) family. Funerals to the right of me, funerals to the left of me, of friends I know, acquaintances I hardly know, and many more whom I’ll never know now. “Into the jaws of Covid-19 rode the gallant six hundred, all masked, many falling, fewer of them every minute of every day.” Gallows humor keeps me alive. Last night my favorite teddy bear went AWOL. I got up at 3:00 am and sent out a search party. Sharp eyes spotted the copper band I lost last week. It had been hiding under the pillow. Then, joy of joys, they spotted Teddy’s black velvet band, the one that ties up the hair that falls over his shoulder and gets up my nose and makes me sneeze. They hauled him out from under the bed. I picked up the phone and cancelled the 911 call before the masked men in their jackboots and their PPE could break down the door and strip search the house for a missing bear. Alas, dear Mabel: I would if I could but I am not able.” How those words resound in my ears. Left ear, right ear, and, like Davy Crockett, a wild front ear. I will not give in to morbidity. ‘He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.” I will survive for another day. Meanwhile, I’ll call for General Worthington, the fellow who can always make the enemy run. “Will you have a VC?” I said “Not me: I’d rather have a bottle of Worthington.” Alas, they don’t make it anymore. And Watney’s Daft Red Barrel has bitten the dust and gone the way of the dodo. And all my friends are in the doldrums, watching, as Admiral Brown abandons ship, mans the boats, and hauls away into fairer weather and cleaner waters. You say you do not understand? ‘Blessed are the poor in intellect, for they shall know peace in these troubled times.’

The truth goes marching on.

Memories

Memories

I did the memory test today. It’s hard to believe
that tomorrow I may not know where I am
nor what is the day. Others have passed this way,
none to my knowledge in my family. Sorrow gnaws
the red bone of my heart. The lady at the doctor’s
counter says she is seventy. Her bed-ridden mother,
for whom she seeks medicinal solace is ninety-eight.
Her mind, she says, is as sharp as a needle or a knife,
 or a blade of grass. What dreams, I wonder, flit
through her head at night? Does she recall her child
hood with its pigtails, the first young man she kissed,
church on Sundays, the genders carefully segregated,
driving there in the family horse and cart? Thunder rolls
and shakes my world’s foundations; a storm watch,
followed by storm warnings, walks across my tv screen.
Lightning flashes. Aurora Borealis daubs the night sky
north of Island View with its paint-box palette of light.
Memories, according to the song, are they made of this.
But what is this? Is it these shape-shifting, heart-stopping
curtains of shimmering grace? Or is it those darker
shadows cast by firelight on the smoky walls
of a pre-historic Gower cave where my ancestors gnawed
the half-cooked bones of the aurox and never ever
dreamed of Jung’s racial memories as they communicate
information from the unconscious to the conscious mind.

Empty Head

           

Empty Head

I sat in class, head in hands, avoiding eye contact. I hoped the priest wouldn’t point me out, call on me, nominate me with a finger, but to no avail. He called my name.

“You have sixty seconds to speak about,” he paused, then produced the rabbit from the hat. “Matches. Come along, stand up, sixty seconds, starting,” he watched the second hand go round on the classroom clock, then counted down: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …” waved his hand, and shouted: “Start now!”

            Images flashed through my head: matches: cricket matches, boxing matches, rugby matches, soccer matches, chess matches, matches to light the burners on the gas stove, the oven, to light the fire in the fireplace … matches, matchsticks, Match Box toys, Dinky toys, toys for little boys, toys for big boys …

            “Fifteen seconds have gone … you have forty-five remaining.”

            “When I think about matches, I think about …”

            … the first spring day in the bungalow, our summer home. The rooms are cold and damp after the winter and nobody has been here since last year. We lay a fire in the grate, but the wood is damp, as is the old newspaper we gather from our last visit. We search for sugar to aid the blaze that we hope to start, but the sugar bowl is empty. We go to the stove. Cold, winter ashes crowd the fire bowl. We scrape them together in a desperate search for charcoal remains …  but we find nothing. We move to the oil-fired lamps and oil stoves. Matches dragged across soggy sandpaper fail to spark …

            “Come along, boy. We haven’t got all day. You’ve got thirty seconds left.”

            Silence fills the room. It is broken by the childhood sniggers and chuckles of long-forgotten classmates who never became friends My cheeks grow red. I start, stammer, and stop.

            … we leave the bungalow. Go next door to where our neighbours winter over. We knock on the door. “Can you lend us a match?” we ask, holding out our hands. Mrs. Williams beams at us. “A match,” she says. “First time in after the winter?” We nod. “I thought so. Saw you arriving. Wondered why you hadn’t come earlier. The weather’s been nice. Here: I can do much better than a match.”  She moves over to the fireplace, picks up the little coal shovel, scoops up a generous portion of her fire, heaps on another lump, then two, of fresh coal, and “Here you are,” she says. “Just put it in the fireplace and add some wood and coal. This can be your first fire. Here, you’d better have some matches too.” “Thank you, Mrs. Williams,” we say. “No problem,” she replies. “It’s good to see you back. It’s been lonely here this winter without you.”

            “Time’s up,” the priest says. “That’s sixty seconds of silence and you can hardly find a word to say on a simple subject. Are you stupid or what?

            My face turns red and I suffer the hot, burning cheeks of childhood shame.

Comment:

This is a theme to which I have returned on many occasions. Click on the link to see the original post. https://rogermoorepoet.com/2016/05/page/2/

The Unexamined Life

The Unexamined Life

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Socrates.

A philosopher’s life’s based on thinking,
and drinking, and thinking about drinking,
and thinking while drinking,
and drinking while thinking,
and thinking about thinking when drinking.

He gazes on and on at his navel,
every day for as long as he is able,
and talks to his wife
about trouble and strife
and the problems they have to unravel.

But all is not doom and gloom
when a philosopher enters the room,
though none can debunk
the size of the trunk
of the elephant stuck in the room.

As for me, I am caring and giving,
and although I work hard for my living,
I’d willingly share
with a friend in despair
half my cloak and a third of my living.

“The unlived life is not worth examining.”
Pseudo-Socrates.

“Join the army,” that philosopher said.
“There’s no life like it,” he said.
“You get very few thanks
when you’re in the front ranks,
but it’s better than walking round dead.”

The Champion

The Champion

There I was, in dreamland, half-asleep,
leaning on my cart, when this phantom drifted
towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry.”

I woke up from my dream, looked at the ghost,
tall, skeletal, thin, cavernous eyes, cheekbones
protruding, gaps in the teeth, grey face drawn.

“Sorry!” My reply was automatic. I looked
at him again. “I only carry plastic.” The excuse
limped heavily across the air between us.

I saw something in his eyes, I knew not what.
As I walked away, I added one hundred pound
of muscle to his frame. He had played hard.

I remembered him holding up the Maritime Cup.
But I couldn’t remember his name. I pushed
my cart all over the store searching for him.

At the ATM I withdrew cash I could give him.
I would tell him he had dropped it. I could invite
him to the snack bar, buy him a meal and more.

I could tell him to buy what he needed and meet
me at the check out. I could add his purchases
to my bill. I looked everywhere. Nor sight, nor sign.

One opportunity. That’s all we get. Miss it, blow
the match. Grasp it, hold it tight, we’re champions.

Comment: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Or my sister’s?” Here and now we are living with realities that we have rarely faced before. Not everyone has kept their jobs. Some are indeed living out on the streets, helpless, homeless, panhandling, hoping. Right now they are lucky. Sunny, warm, hot … though sometimes too hot. At least it isn’t 40 below and freezing their butts off. So what do we do? Turn a blind eye? Say we are sorry? Suddenly recognize an old friend, turn quickly away before he recognizes us, and burn ever afterwards with shame?

I cannot answer for you. I can only answer for myself. I am ashamed of my slick answers, my throwaway negatives, my disguised barbs. “Go get a job.” There are no jobs, or very few anyway, Covid-19 has seen to that. “Do something useful, can’t you?” There’s very little they can do, and seemingly there’s very little can be done for them. “Go home!” They have no homes to go to.

So what are the alternatives? Love? Charity? Comprehension? Embracing their situation? Understanding? How can we understand, you and I, who sit before the computer screen, the cell phone, or the I Pad, scanning this in comfort? Think about it: there, out into the street, but for some good luck, and the grace of God, go you and I. Think about it. Now do you understand?