Early Bird

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This is the first painting I ever did on canvas. Kingsbrae held their painting session for children in June 2017, and I joined in with the five and six year olds. It was such wonderful fun. They slapped the paint onto the canvas with unbounded joy. It was hard not to be joyful with them. Many of them expressed curiosity about my painting: “What is it?” then later “What are they saying to each other?” The conversation between bird and worm (or whatever it is) was of incredible importance to them. I thought of it as my “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet” moment. Now that’s confidence for you.

My strange accent, slowly developing as mid-Atlantic Welsh, with a touch of West Country English and a dab of Upper Canadian and a touch of New Brunswick also fascinated them. “Where are you from?” “Fredericton.” “No. Where are you really from?” “Island View, New Brunswick.” “No. Where were you from before that?” The questions continued until they had ascertained that indeed, I was not a Canadian, a real Canadian, even though I was in Toronto in 1967 to see the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup. 1967: that’s 51 years ago, and I still support the Maple Leafs and I still have my strange overseas accent. “You’re weird,” they told me. “I’ve been in Canada a lot longer than you,” I told them. “Where did you grow up?” They asked. I silenced them with my answer: “I don’t think I have yet.”

Happy paint-splashers, we dabbed on and on in alternating mirth and silence. Some left the table and walked away. Geoff collected our paintings and left them to dry. Later that day, we hung this painting on the wall in the KIRA dining room. It sat there for several days and nobody noticed it. Alas, a hawk-eyed young lady finally spotted it the first night she came over for dinner and “What is that?” she asked, pointing at my painting. Bold and italics combined cannot reproduce the scorn and disdain rolled up in the single word: that. I remember the butler in a country house in Somerset removing with a pair of tongs the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker from the weekend newspapers left on the doorstep. He, too, was very disdainful.

I also remember the tone of an Old Etonian, well he said he was an Old Etonian and had a rasping, high-pitched nasality that made him sound the part. This jolly goof fellow summed me up at a dinner party one night in Toronto when I first came to Canada: “Oh, you’re Welsh.” The grate of his voice was the scrape of a stick removing a dog turd from a shoe. “No,” I said. “Irish, actually.” I used my broadest Welsh accent. “My family is Irish Catholic not Capel Cymraig / Welsh Chapel. Moore is an Irish name. Llewellyn ad Jones are Welsh names. I am not called Llewellyn or Jones.”

And this reminds me of my father, standing in the elevator in a posh hotel in Bordeaux, when three Irishmen walked in. They scanned him for a moment, and then one said, in the broadest of Southern Irish brogues: “T’is the map of Ireland written all over your face.” “Yes,” says my father in his thick, Welsh accent, “I am Irish. But I was born in England.” And that brings me back to my painting. Is it the early bird that catches the worm or the late worm that gets caught by the bird? And which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Ah, the beauty of children. They accept, often without judgement and often without speculation and I love their readiness to befriend the growing child within the old man as he ages. They may not hold doctorates in philosophy, but by golly they are true philosophers in their finest moments. And then of course, they go to school to learn how to behave … and may the good Lord have mercy on them.

Love at First Sight

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Love
… sometimes comes at first sight

A teenage apprentice with a little plastic badge
bearing her name asked me to reveal my birthdate.
This apparently confirmed that I knew who I was,
so she bound my arm with a thick rubber thong.

My veins swelled up, long thin leeches, slowly fattening.
She told me to make a fist and pouted as she probed
with slender fingers, feeling in vain for a fresh vein
from which to extract, then bottle the necessary blood.

I watched my body’s sap pumping out in tiny, sad spurts
driven by that tired flesh-and-blood machine known as
my heart. Drip by febrile drip my blood accumulated.
The young girl smiled with youth’s perfect lips and teeth.

My heart was a time-bomb ticking beneath her fingers.
I dreamed for an instant of walking upright and free,
a stranger in the paradise of a long-promised land.

Then she handed me my gifts: a throw-away plastic potty,
three disposable spatulas, and an air-dry sample card,
with written instructions, date stamped, bearing my name.

On the Cat Walk

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On the Cat Walk

The cat stalks by, her tail held high,
a paint brush trying to paint the sky.
Nose in the air, she doesn’t care,
I guess she’ll acknowledge me by and by.

She’s neat, so neat, on her tiny feet,
moving swiftly, fast and sweet,
heading for her kibble treat
which she always stops to eat.

Some day I’d like to be a cat,
sitting quietly on my mat,
or lying by the open door,
watching chipmunks on the floor,

stuffing their cheeks with seeds galore:
who could ever ask for more?
A reality show on live tv
specially made for my cat and me.

Cat

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Cat

The other day, upon the stair
I met a cat who wasn’t there.

She wasn’t there again today.
I wish that cat would come and play.

Her body length is long and thin,
and so is her bewhiskered grin.

She never ever stops to play.
she wasn’t there again today.

I’m being very, very good.
I wash her bowl and give her food

and she cleans her bowl of every dish,
eggs and bacon, cheese and fish,

but never ever stops to play.
She wasn’t there again today.

That cat builds castles, tall and neat.
I see the prints of her little feet.

Her kitty litter fills up fast.
I clean it when I’m walking past.

But she never ever stops to play
and wasn’t there again today.

I put nice cat food in her bowl,
but I never saw her, poor lost soul.

I’m sure she’s only teasing me,
never, ever pleasing me,

I want to hug her and to play,
but she wasn’t there again today.

Funny Old World

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Funny Old World

It’s a funny old world,
this word-world of mine,
where one day
I am whirled off my feet
and the next
my feet seem to be set
in concrete.

Meaning?

I throw the question out,
a bone to the dog,
sun-flower seeds for the chipmunks,
but there’s no reply.

Only the crows,
black-winged monarchs
destined to wear
a weighty crown,
cry out their anguish,
longing for the day
when they’ll rule again.

Age of Spillage

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Age of Spillage

Fingers turn to butter, permit cups to slip,
flying saucers to take off, stall, and crash.

Broken bodies rest in peace and pieces
on kitchen floor, waiting to be swept up.

Worse: bottle tops refuse to open.
Plastic wrapping, flagrant in its

defiance, wages its guerrilla war
against ageing, in-articulated

arthritic fingers. So many slips, so
many precious things all liable to

fall and break. So hard to bend and pick them
up, even with my new mechanical claw.

Bistro FFF

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Friday Flash Fiction
20 July 2018

Bistro 

LJ sat at a table in a dark corner of the Bistro. He held a plastic bag in his hands and moved what looked like dried brown fava beans, one by one, through his fingers. A priest at prayer, his lips moved in a silent mantra as he counted the beans:  “… twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine.”

Robin and Will watched him closely, looking for the tell-tale signs that would announce LJ’s return to his former life.

Same-sex couples danced through the Bistro. They avoided this one corner that formed an oasis of severity amidst the gaiety and noise of Carnival celebrations.

“How much does he remember?” Robin looked at Will. Will shrugged and the two men exchanged worried glances.

A whooping conga of men dressed in garish, feathered costumes that revealed more than they concealed, approached the table where the three friends sat. The conga came to a stop in front of them.

“Now what have we here?” The leader asked. He turned to his followers flashing a white, toothy smile.

“Let’s see what you’ve got, darling,” he reached towards LJ’s plastic bag.

“Don’t touch him,” said Robin, rising to his feet.

Three large men broke away from the line and two grasped Robin while the third put his arms on Will’s shoulders and held him in his chair.

“I’m warning you,” Robin said.

“Shut it,” said the leader.

LJ closed the plastic bag that held the twenty-nine fava beans and put it in is breast pocket, next to his heart.

“Don’t put them away, darling, they look delicious,” the leader grinned his enormous grin. He was a big man, not tall, but broad and heavy. “Give them to me, I want to eat one. C’mon, I’ll just pop it in my mouth and suck it.”

The Conga crowd roared their approval.

LJ got to his feet. He was a small man, but wiry. The night-fighter, they had called him. He was the one who slipped out at night through enemy lines and knifed the sentries. One hand over their mouths, one hand on his knife, all sounds extinguished till they relaxed, lifeless, then that one quick twist of the knife and the ear-lobe severed as the dead man was lowered to the floor.

“Wanna dance?” The conga leader wiggled his hips and ran his tongue over his lips, then puckered a little kiss.

LJ’s face turned red, the veins engorged, and his eyes stood out. Nobody saw him move, nobody ever saw LJ move. He grasped the Conga leader’s windpipe with his left hand and drew him forward until they were locked eyeball to eyeball. LJ’s night-fighter knife lay flat across the man’s jugular.

“LJ, no,” Robin screamed. “Not number thirty.”

LJ kept staring at the man he held. His knife disappeared.

“You’re not worthy,” he said, leering into the Conga leader’s purpling face. “You’d dishonor them.”

Will and Robin breathed a sigh of relief.

Comment: Bistro is the title story in a collection of short stories and flash fiction. Bistro, the book, was one of three finalists (and the only self-published book) in the New Brunswick Book Awards (Fiction, 2017). Bistro (the collection) is available on Amazon. The sound recording below is my own reading of the story and the opening cartoon, Belle Bottom Naval Gazing,  is the picture on the cover of Bistro, the book. It is also my own work.