Yesterday

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Commentary:

Ocho Venado / Eight Deer is a legendary person who is described in the pre-Columbian Miztec códice known as the Zouche-Nuttall codex. He lived from 1063 to 1115, the date of the codex. The códice describes his life and conquests. I brought a facsimile copy of this códice home in 1995 and my beloved started reading it on Boxing Day. It took her two days to decipher the first page. One day for the second page and, by my birthday, she had read the whole thing. She inspired my love of the codices and they figure largely in my writings from that time, especially The Oaxacan Trilogy (Sun and Moon, Obsidian’s Edge, and Obsidian 22, the first two available on Amazon).

Eight Deer appears frequently in my poetry, partly because we have a family of deer, often as many as eight (!) that walk through our garden in Island View. The joining of the Canadian natural world with the Oaxacan historical and mythical world brings me great joy and it is wonderful to weave stories and poems where the two worlds mingle and become one. Hence the dream world of the prose poem that figures above. Chocolate beans, incidentally, were one of the cash currencies used in Oaxaca at the time of the arrival of Cortés and the Spanish. Oaxacan chocolate (xocotl) is something wonderful.

 

Eight Deer

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Eight Deer
(1113 AD)

eight deer visit
my garden each night
they raid my feeders
capture my birdseed
lusting for gold
anything to keep out
this winter cold

raccoons
leave claw-marks
grubbing for grubs
dug up like donuts
circled on my lawn

who captures whom
when the full moon
descends from the sky
walks among men
making them mad

death by snow plow
snow-melt and crows
Eight Deer emerges
his sacrificed body
preserved on this page
and in salt snow

Thursday Thoughts: Downsizing

 

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Thursday Thoughts
05 April 2018
Downsizing

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax,
of cabbages and kings,
and if the sea is boiling hot,
and whether books have wings.”

Downsizing: such a sad time. Over the last few weeks we have slowly and steadily packed seventeen boxes with a part of our precious book collection. We are giving it to the Harriet Irving Library at the University of New Brunswick, our local provincial university. The collection contains several specialist areas including Mexico, the State of Oaxaca, and five pre-Columbian Mixtec codices, the 1492-1992, quincentennial facsimile editions. Today the Mexico collection, minus the codices (which we will deliver later, by hand), departed.

Their departure has left an emptiness on our shelves and a sadness in our hearts. Old friends, they are. We sought for them in Oaxaca, chasing through old books stores, market places, state institutions, and the houses of friends. The result: a steady accumulation of literary gems. Clare, in particular, took a delight in the codices, learning first to read them, then to analyze them. Much of the Mexican collection centres on how to interpret these precious documents, one of which still bears the burn marks where a wise priest drew the manuscript codex from the Inquisitional flames and saved it for posterity.

When the Mexican collection settled down in the boxes, a little space remained and we filled one box with the first set of books from our Quevedo collection. This was La Perinola, the Revista de Investigación Quevediana. I lay awake most of the night agonizing on whether or not I should let this review series go. Then, at 4:00 am, I got up, put on my dressing gown, went downstairs and photographed the Perinola, in all its glory. When this was done. I returned to bed and was finally able to fall asleep.

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The Perinola meant (and still means) so much to me. I still remember the thrill of being asked to sit upon the consejo honorífico, the only Canadian scholar, and one of only two Anglophones to be so honoured, my external reader being the other. To read my name next to that of the external examiner for my doctoral thesis on the love-poetry of Francisco de Quevedo (University of Toronto, 1975) was, and still is, an extraordinary honour. I still get butterflies when I see my name attached to this review. The butterflies settled, bit by bit, as I realized that I could preserve my personal memories with a photo while donating the series to the greater glory of Quevedo Studies in the wider world of Hispanic Academia.

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Sun and Moon 3

 

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Sun and Moon 3

at midnight Serpent slithers through
a gap in the fence of my dream
he slides close to my shivering body
and lies there chill against my skin

his length – a sword without a scabbard
unscaleable wall of unblemished steel
severing all warmth

“Tomorrow,” he says, “I will take you to the sky.
But first, you must watch me dance.”

he twists in circles winding and unwinding
infinite loops and figures of eight
endless cat’s cradle of bottomless shape

sleep draws my feet deeper into quicksand
the night wind whispers me a head full of dreams

 

 

Sun and Moon 1

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Sun and Moon 1

Last week an old man squeezed the moon;
tonight, she’s a shrunken orange in the sky.

“Tell me, Moon:
when all the stars have been caught in my net,
what will I harvest?”

Silence descends a ladder of moonlight
bearing an offering of gift-wrapped stars.

“Wise Old Woman who lives in the sky:
what man tore your bones apart
and gave me your face?”

Dead leaves rush out through my eyes.
My hands stretch out before my face
and I wash them in moonlight.

“One day, I’ll climb to your silver palace
and steal all your secrets.”

Comment: Sun and Moon 2 (as sung by Cat Leblanc) is introduced and complemented by Sun and Moon 1. These are the first two poems in the ten poem title sequence of Sun and Moon. The eagle costumes, shown in the photo, belong to the original dance sequence from Sun and Moon as performed on Monte Albán.

Sun and Moon 2

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Sun and Moon 2

Eagle paints my eyes with daylight.
He offers to fly me to the sky.
His feathers trap sunshine in his pinions.
Morning is a rebozo draped over his plumage.

“My mother is blind,” says Eagle.
“Her sight: cold ashes in the fireplace.
Stripped of her dreams,
she wanders in darkness.
You must give her
the fire from your eyes!”

Tiger offers to carry me to the sky.
Flame speckles his pelt.
His eyes are two scorched blocks of charcoal.
“I will break the bread of your bones,” says Tiger,
“and warm myself on the fire of your blood!”

Serpent offers to bear me to the sky.
His scales are shards of emerald and ruby.
His serpent’s blood runs cold through his veins.
He weighs me in the twin dice of his eyes.

“Where I lead you must follow,” Serpent says.
“There is no other price.”

 

Comment: Here as promised are the words to yesterday’s song as composed and sung by my good friend Cat Leblanc. This is the second stanza from the ten poem title sequence of Sun and Moon. Here is the link.