Writing Memories 9

IMG_0425.JPG

 

Writing Memories  9

Module 4.1: Love in Old Age

We discussed love in old age, how it happens, how it continues, how it changes with age, how important it is. As usual, we began with a poem and, since Princess Squiffy, aka Vomit, features in the above photo, I will begin with a speech, or maybe it was a rant, I overheard when my beloved was away in Ottawa and I was talking to her on Skype. I knew the cat talked, but I didn’t know exactly what she was thinking until I heard this.

Poem 1:

In Absentia
Princess Squiffy

“I hear your voice, delicate, distant. I
run to the sound, jump on the table in
my usual spot by your plastic plaything.

You aren’t here. He is. I can hear you
talk. I stalk to his noise box and see a
shadow, moving, but I can’t make it out.

My muscles first tense, then stiffen. I sniff,
lean forward, but find no trace of female
smell. I cannot sense you. You call me by

my favorite names, mew at me, and I
respond. Shifting shadows, your haunting tones,
memories dancing to the music of

your absence. I can’t eat. I bristle when
he laughs. Where are you, my love? He doesn’t
care for me the way you do. I loathe him.”

Commentary: Since these are the cat’s words, not mine, I do not think it would be right to alter them in anyway. Therefore they must stand as they are. Oh dear. Meanwhile, we must contemplate the love we have for animals, so important as we age. And yes, I love my cat, and my dog, and my false, stuffed Koala Bear, and my old goat, even though I am well aware that yes, Goats do Roam.

Poem 2:

Lost
for my beloved

My body’s house has many rooms and you,
my love, are present in them all. I glimpse
your shadow in a mirror and feel your
breath brush my cheek when I open a door.

Where have you gone? I walk from room to room.
When I seek, I no longer find. When I
knock, nothing opens. Sometimes I am scared
to enter a room because I know you’re
in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.

Your voice, some days, breaks the silence, whispers
my name in the same old way. How can it
be true, my love, that you have gone, that you
have left me here alone? I count hours,
days, clutching dust motes, finding no solace
in salacious sunbeams and troubled dreams.

Commentary: I wrote this poem while my beloved was away in Ottawa, visiting our granddaughter. We Skyped regularly and it was during one of those Skyping sessions that the cat ranted the first poem. Love in old age takes many shapes, even for a poor little pussy cat. I guess I’ll just have to live with it.

Poem 3:

Le mot juste
for my beloved

Le mot juste, the exact word that sums it all up,
catches the essence of the thing painting it with care.

Seven colors stripe the rainbow sky, each with its name:
it seems so simple, but the world is changing every day.

Think color. Think blind. Think color blind. Imagine
the world we see reduced with failing eyes to grey scale.

Think flowers now, roses, daffodils, a hollyhock,
hydrangeas, hyacinths, hibiscus, poinsettia,

or the scent of early morning grass as it falls
beneath the blade. I look across the breakfast table

and see my wife of fifty years, a teenager reborn,
walking towards me in the café where we first met.

I search my mind for the words to describe her,
but I can no longer find le mot juste.

Commentary: What more can I say? I tried to rewrite this, but it is “so hard to recapture that first, fine, careless rapture” (Robert Browning). And I am many things, but certainly not a wise old thrush, singing each song twice over, though I wrote the above twice over, as you will see.

Le mot juste [Prose 1]:

Le mot juste
for my beloved

Le mot juste, the exact word that sums it all up, catches the essence of the thing painting it with care. Seven colors stripe the rainbow sky, each with its name: it seems so simple, but the world is changing every day. Think color. Think blind. Think color blind. Imagine the world we see reduced with failing eyes to grey scale. Think flowers now, roses, daffodils, a hollyhock, hydrangeas, hyacinths, hibiscus, poinsettia, or the scent of early morning grass as it falls beneath the blade. I look across the breakfast table and see my wife of fifty years, a teenager reborn, walking towards me in the café where we first met. I recall the café’s noise, the taste of the coffee, sugared, with cream, its bitter-sweet smell, the pink tip of her tongue testing her lipstick the hot, salt bite of melted butter on toasted crumpets. But when I search my mind for the words to describe her, I can no longer find le mot juste.

Commentary: No way, José. Great ideas, but they don’t cut it. Just stick to the original.

Poem 4:

Still
for my beloved

She moves more slowly up the slope, pushing
against the hill’s shallow grain. I know so
well her swaying grace of old, but now she
shuffles with the drag-foot limp of the aged,

and aged she has, like a good wine in an
oaken cask. Her beauty still lingers in
my memory, lodges in my mind and
still I see her as she was, and for me

still is, beautiful in body, mind … slim,
graceful, a joy to hold and behold. Her
eyes still sparkle and she bubbles still with

a champagne thrill that draws me to her, and
still she enhances each room she enters,
filling me, body, soul, with warmth and light.

Commentary: It is so difficult to watch other people age. It’s hard enough to work out what is happening in our own bodies and minds, but it is even harder to imagine what other people are going through. I look back on my grand parents, my parents, my own ageing process. Then there were cats, dogs, friends. I blinked twice and our daughter was suddenly entering middle age. My beloved and I have been together for fifty-eight years, fifty-three of them, married, here in Canada. So many memories. So much love. Sometimes words fail me. How can I say any more?

image5 (4)

Writing Memories 5

 

39948917_706398923049634_3046174897211441152_o (1)

A stitch in time

Banality, stupidity, or just old age: how did the knife slip from its intended path and end up slicing through my finger? Looking back, a year later, I seem to have lost the thrill of that shock. No sensation of pain. Blood oozed, squirted sluggishly, then flowed freely between the fleshy cliffs of the wound. I went to the fridge, took out an ice-cube. Blood all over the fridge door, the floor, dripping off my fingers. I went to the sink, ran the cold water, doused my hand in well water and ice. I could feel it then, a chaotic shrill pain, running through my hand in short, sharp electric shocks. I glanced at my little finger and saw white bone.

I tore a sheet from the paper towel roll: blotting paper to red ink. It sopped up the blood and overflowed in seconds. Another sheet. I bound it round the ice cube and tried, one-handed, to tighten my hanky round the paper. Impossible: the ice cube kept slipping. I looked at the floor: more blood. I looked at the telephone: neighbor? Police? Ambulance? I grabbed the hand towel, folded it in four, and bound it tightly round my hand, clutching the loose end in my fingers. I hurried to the door. Looking back, I saw a trail of blood spots and the cat, nose down, busy licking them up. Left hand held high to try and slow the bleeding, I drove to emergency.

Triage: the first nurse tossed the blood-soaked kitchen towel into the garbage can. “You won’t want this any more,” she grimaced. She took off my amateur dressings, and the blood started flowing again. “Are you on blood thinners?” “No.” You must have cut a vein.” “This will hurt,” she said, and sprayed some ‘stuff’ on my hand. It hurt. I tried not to wince. She tied my finger up tight, put my arm in a sling with the hand held high, and sent me back to the waiting room,

An overweight white male sat there, grinning at me. “Hurt?” he asked. “Yup.” “Much?” “It’s okay.” He stood up, put his hand in his jeans’ pocket, and turned his back on me. I could see the crack of his buttocks over the top of his pants. They bowed and bagged at the knees. He hoisted them up, the crack disappeared, the pants slipped back down, and the vertical crack smiled out at me again. “Here,” he showed me a packet, half concealed in his hand. “Try these. They’ll take away the pain.” “No thank you.” “They’re good. I take them. I get them off the street.” I took notebook and pen from my pocket and started to write. The guy shrugged, put whatever it was back in his pocket, and started to whistle.

The waiting room smells were different from the those of the triage room. In with the nurses, I had sensed their body warmth, their sweat at the end of a long day and at the beginning of an even longer night. I could feel energy, happiness, though I cannot explain what they smelled like. The air seemed to throb with positivity, good will, bustle, hope, and determination.  Perhaps it was the cleanliness, the medicinal smells, the disinfectants, the cotton swabs, the fresh, clean bandages, he sense of teamwork and companionship. It smelled and felt good in spite of the occasional unwholesome odor drifting out from the plastic bag where my blood-soaked hand-towel languished along with pads and bandages bearing witness to my loss of blood.

Outside in the waiting room: a different world. A sense of boredom and hopelessness filled the air. Bodies slept slumped over in chairs. The room smelt of stale sweat, dank clothes. An old man, isolated in the corner, reeked of urine. Some sipped coffee as they waited their turn, its bitter acidic odor similar to that of morning drinks on an overnight transatlantic flight with the same sour stench of too many bodies cooped up in too small a space. Sandwich wrappers and discarded gum packets littered the floor and rustled when disturbed by shuffling feet. Distant babble of nurses and attendants. A TV high on the wall tuned to the 24-hour news on CBC muttered its words quietly from on high. One lady had brought an orange with her and, as she peeled it, its bitter-sweet perfume made my mouth water and I was forced to swallow my own saliva.

Luck was with me and I didn’t have to wait long. A nurse called my name and her arm swept me into another surgery where a young man washed his hands, dried them on a paper towel, and encouraged me to sit down. He took my hand, placed it flat on the table between us, and began stripping off the dressings. When he came to the last one, I started to bleed again. “This should have stopped,” he said. “Tell me about it,” I replied. His eyes sparkled. “I’m sorry, he said, “but this will hurt a little bit. I am going to have to freeze your finger before I sew it up.” “Do it,” I said. He opened a sterilized packet, took out a needle, shoved it into a small bottle. “You’ll feel a little twinge, but the needle carries its own anesthetic, and it won’t take long to bite.” It didn’t. I flinched at first, but by the time he pushed the needle into my finger a second time, I couldn’t feel a thing.

He peeled back the skin, began dabbing and squeezing, and quizzed me again about anticoagulants. He chatted away, happy as a budgie on a perch, and I soon warmed to him. “This might hurt,” he said, as he inserted the needle, and threaded my laceration with a thin, blue thread that he knotted, then snipped. But it didn’t hurt. I couldn’t feel a thing at all. “Is your anti-tetanus up to date?” “I don’t know.” “This might be the tough one,” he said, referring to the third needle. It wasn’t.

I walked out of the hospital and drove home, elated. When I opened the door, I looked for bloodstains on the floor. Not one. The thin, pink, sand-paper rasp of the cat’s tongue had cleaned them all up. And there she sat, in the middle of the corridor, eyes glowing, licking her paw, waiting for me.

Commentary: I revisited Triage once again. My memories, a year later, are clearer, yet more distant. Have I managed to capture that experience in A Stitch in Time? I very much doubt it. So what have I captured? I just don’t know. What I do know is that the whole process of remembering, rewriting, re-configuring has been fascinating. That original setting down in words has been the starting point for four different departures, four different journeys back into the past. One of them took place last Sunday, verbally, as I was recounting the experience to those who were with me in the Saint John Free Library. Memory: what does it mean? How do we change it? How does it change us? Are our memories ‘real’, in the sense that they are accurate and permanent, or do they change as we age and color them, sometimes with a rose-tinted hue, sometimes with the deepest shades of grey and black? I cannot answer those questions. I do not have that particular skill set. But I can ask them of myself and I can set them before other writers so that they, too, may set out on similar journeys and enjoy themselves and their past as I am doing.

IMG_0290

Love me

IMG_0290.JPG

Love me …  love my cat. I think she’s bemused by the sudden smell of all those flowers. She didn’t like the snow yesterday, either. Hands up all those who did. Ah yes, all the students and teachers who had their tenth snow day. No wonder the internet was so crowded all day long. It wasn’t that easy to get on and off but it was so easy to lose the connections. Speaking of connections, yet another circular debate is going round and round the Brexit roundabout in London today. That’s London, England, not London, Ontario. Oh the sea, oh the sea, thank God it still flows between Brexit and me. You’ve got to love it though, especially on St. Valentine’s Day: all those basket cases putting all their eggs into one little Brexit basket. They remind me of a set of Oaxacan donkeys, blinkered and blindfolded, walking round all day in circles, trying to grind the maguey or to draw water from an artesian well (una noria). It’s a thankless task at the best of times, but an incredibly tiring one when there’s a drought and a dearth of clear-thinking and intelligence. Round and round and round they goes, and when they’ll stop, nobody knows. Wow, I’m glad I got that off my chest: now I can enjoy Valentine’s Day with my beloved and my cat. As for Valentine’s Day: say it with flowers.

IMG_0294.JPG

Here are the geranium, a little bit winter-struck, still red-hearted and perky in the post-storm sunshine. I always marvel at how they  settle down, go all green-leafed, then start to blossom again: a miracle of love and kindhearted attention.

IMG_0296.JPG

And here’s Don Quixote keeping vigil just behind the carnations. Oh Brexiteers, he stands on guard for thee. He’s very quiet though. Not sure about anything, except the need to guard the flowers from fear, fire, and foe. He’s a good man, is Alonso Quijano el Bueno. He doesn’t round round in circles and lose sleep over uncounted and uncountable, slaughtered sheep. Speaking of which, the Welsh are campaigning for Welsh Lamb. They do not wish their products to be labelled with the Union Jack, but with the Red Dragon of Wales, Y Draigg Coch Cymraig. I hope I’ve got that right: it’s been so long. Meanwhile, speaking of love, Northern Ireland is talking divorce from the UK and a renewed marriage with the south. Scotland is talking love-talk with the Europeans and muttering about separation (was it really 1606?) from the Union. And Plaid Cymru is once again flexing it’s separation muscles. For how much longer, in the current state of division, will we be able to talk of a United Kingdom? Valentine’s Day: it’s best to be off with the old love before you are on with the new. Yet there’s mucho flirting going on between many possible future partners, even while undying love is being spouted across the various negotiating tables. The Queen of Hearts rules on Valentine’s Day: “Off with their heads!” Oh dear, whatever will the little caterpillar say, let alone Malice in Blunderland?

And the cat came back. Thank heavens. I cannot imagine Valentine’s Day without some flowers, my beloved, the cat, and a great deal of love and understanding. May the joys of red flowers and open hearts (not the surgical kind) be with you this day, and may you find a ray of sunshine to sit in for the rest of what still promises to be a stormy and snow-filled winter.

IMG_0293.JPG

 

Cat & Janies

IMG_0245.JPG

Cat & Janies

Everybody needs a cat to keep them honest. Dogs are cynics. Cats, on the other paw, are born manipulators. Princess Squiffy, seen here, is intent on the red squirrel that is eating seed just to the left, outside of the picture. PS is trying to hypnotize it, draw it close. If it comes near she will pounce and scare the ‘bejabers’ out of the poor squirrel.

Behind the cat are three blossoms from Clare’s geranium collection. Clare salvages the best geraniums each fall, re-pots them, and keeps them indoors throughout the winter. They bring us joy and color whenever they blossom and are as bright as male cardinals against the snow. We have a pair of cardinals who visit regularly, but hungry, prowling neighborhood pussy cats are often on patrol, so the cardinals are very wary and do not hang around for long. I can’t say I blame them. I don’t mind the blood red reflection of the geraniums on the snow. I am adverse to the blood-red of real blood.

Speaking of which, as I grow old and my skin becomes drier and more like parchment, I find I cut myself much more easily than I used to. This morning I pumped gas into the car. The air was cold, my hands were cold, my skin was taut. I noticed nothing until I got inside the gas station to pay. I had blood all over my hands from a half-inch crack in the skin of my right index finger. I do not know how it happened. But there it was. The young girl in the gas station was excellent and cleaned and patched me up in no time at all. She was very nice to me. I felt lucky. So I bought three lottery tickets. Within five days we’ll find out whether I was lucky or not.

It’s wonderful to be around young people. So much bounce, so much energy. So much joie de vivre. Mind you, our granddaughter wears us out in no time at all. I guess I’ve earned peace, rest, comfort, and relatively easy living in my retirement, mon âge d’or, just like Princess Squiffy. She’s a house cat, incidentally. She can look at that bountiful banquet of squirrel and bird, but she cannot reach out and touch. She can merely make the window rattle as she charges the sliding door. She reminds me of the Pelican, whose beak can hold more than her belly can. Except in her case, especially with the birds, it’s more like her eyes behold more than her belly can. Whatever I do, I don’t want a kitty smorgasborg, nor do I want to turn the bird feeder into a pussy cat feeder.

Speaking of pussy cats and how they belong in houses, here’s one of my favorite short poems from Guillaume Apollinaire: Le chat (1911).

Je souhaite dans ma maison :
Une femme ayant sa raison,
Un chat passant parmi les livres,
Des amis en toute saison
Sans lesquels je ne peux pas vivre.

I searched for the text online, as I had mislaid my own collection of his poetry. By the
way, Apollinaire is one of the few poets (English, French, Spanish, or Other), whose
poems I did not give away during the ‘Grand Clean Out’. The little drop down offered to
translate this page for me and, for once, I clicked it. Here’s their rendition of the poem.

The cat

I wish in my house:
A woman having her reason,
A cat passing among the books,
Friends in any season
Without which I can not live.

 Now all I need to ‘make my day’ is a poem about Geraniums, and I know exactly where to find one.

 

Advent Calendars

IMG_0068.JPG

Advent Calendars

We have multiple Advent Calendars. Some are online, others are religious, and yet others, like the one pictured above, are forest scenes with Santa, courtesy of my daughter and Playmobile. We particularly like this one. Each day, from December 1 to December 24, we get a different set of pieces to add to the background. Then, on December 25, Santa arrives ad we keep him around, usually until the New Year, sometimes until Reyes, the Spanish and Mexican Christmas, on January 6.

Every morning, Clare opens the large Playmobile Box and adds the day’s pieces to the scene. Bit by bit, the scene grows until everyone is present in the same forest glade they have inhabited for many years now. Every year, I search for new animals, and they live in the scene next door, cats and dogs and kittens and puppies, all watched over by a framed photo (2001) of my favorite dog: Tigger.

No, the spirit of Christmas doesn’t reside in a cardboard box and its plastic figurines. Rather it resides in happy memories (horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours) and in the new memories, usually very happy, that we create each year. Clare is a sun-watcher. Each day, she calls out the minutes as the days lengthen, post-mid-winter, and the earth tilts slowly back into spring, then summer. We also watch the sun shadow creeping up the wall (pre-Christmas) and then slowly back down again, post-Christmas, into the New Year, Reyes, and my birthday.

Christmas visitors in our plastic Christmas forest scene are joined by real visitors in the world outside. Deer walk up to the bird feeders by night and squirrels (red and grey), chipmunks, and a variety of birds feed there by day. By night we also get raccoons and the occasional fox. By day, our neighbors’ thin, predatory cats tinkle their Christmas bells, and patrol the garden in search of their Christmas dinners. Every year, we watch the splendor of birds at the feeder and hope that the cats go hungry for now, to be filled later in the safety of their own feline dishes safe indoors.

Lost

img_0137

Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
walk through them all. Your shadow dances on walls,
in mirrors, and your breath brushes my cheek

every time I open doors or windows. That silly cat
looks for you and hisses when I bring her kibble.
I move from room to room, but when I seek you,

you are no longer here. I knock, nothing opens.
Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I know
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.

Sometimes your voice seems to break the silence.
You whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,

that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,
the days, embracing dust motes. I find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.

Comment: Regular visitors to this blog will probably recognize this poem. It is a rewrite of an earlier one, also bearing the title Lost (click here for earlier post). I rewrote, or rather, reorganized the structure of the poem, added some words, and subtracted others. I did this earlier this summer while Clare was in Ottawa visiting our daughter and grand-daughter. And yes, I missed her. I always do when she in not present or I am away. Comments on either version will be welcome, particularly if you prefer one version over the other.