This Vessel in Which I Sail

This Vessel in which I Sail

Trapped in this fragile vessel with the pandemic
a passenger waiting to board, I drift from port to port,
looking for a haven, safe, to have and to hold me.

No harbour will let me dock. “No room at this inn,”
they say. “No haven here.” They wave me away.

Now I have no destination. Aimless, I float and every
where I go the message is: “No vacancy: no room at all.”

Unwanted, abandoned, I wander with wind and waves,
my only friends seals, porpoises, and whales.
I walk the whale road, leaving a frail, white wake behind.

Today there is no motion, no goal. What is there to achieve
but survival? Each day’s journey is sufficient unto itself.

This vessel has become a gulag now, a prison
camp where I exist just to survive. Each hour of each day
endless, boundless, like this shadowy, haunted sea.

Going Back

Going Back

Nothing will ever be
as it was before.
Time, like water,
like these people marching,
constantly flows.

It trickles through my fingers,
uncatchable,
unstoppable sand
filtering through
the hour glass’ waist.

You cannot walk
in the same river twice.
Water flows, currents shift,
rocks wear down,
banks crumble and fall.

However hard I try
I cannot recapture
that first, fine, careless rapture,
the touch of that first
drop of river water.

Kneeling by the river bank,
like St. Kevin and the Blackbird,
I cannot recall
the river’s name.

Lamentations

El Cristo de Carrizo

“Contemplate this crucifixion.
Each of your sins is a thorn
driven into His brow.

Each misdemeanor spears
the sacred side,
draws water and blood
from the open wound.

Your sinful deeds
drive nails anew
into hand and foot.

Christ lives in you.
Your misdeeds nail him
daily to the cross
He bears for you.

He hangs there,
open-eyed.

No death,
no resurrection,
just an everlasting suffering
from these nails
you daily drive.”

Comment: This poem is a very golden oldie. I wrote it in 1979 while walking the Camino de Santiago / the Road to St. James. I should add that this was long before it became fashionable to do so. I walked alone and, save for my thoughts, I was indeed very lonely. In fact, the long days walking, the solitude, got to me. I needed to talk, to meet people, and so, after long discussions with sundry people along the route, I determined to take the bus or the train to the main pilgrimage centres and to walk out from them in either direction. This allowed me to meet people, explore the towns with their churches, traditions, and museums, and to learn much more about the nature and art traditionally associated with the pilgrimage. In this fashion, I spent five days in Leon, two days in Hospital de Orbigo, a week in Astorga, another week in Ponferrada, and nearly two weeks in Santiago itself.

I wrote a collection of poems while I was studying the cities and the landscape. This particular poem is a summary of the conversation I had with the old priest, determined to convert me to Catholicism, who introduced me to the Cristo de Carrizo, in Leon.

In 1613, Francisco de Quevedo, the Spanish poet on whom I wrote my doctoral thesis (Toronto, 1975) wrote a collection of heartfelt mea maxima culpa poems dedicated to his aunt. It bore the title of El Heráclito Cristiano / The Christian Heraclitus.  This in turn was based on an earlier cycle of poems, Lamentaciones de Semana Santa / Lamentations of Holy Week (1601), which Quevedo appears to have written following the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

These spiritual exercises consist of a set of contemplations based on the Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis, in which the contemplator meditates on each of the moments of Christ’s torment and suffering leading up to his death by crucifixion at the end of Holy Week. The purpose of the exercises is to try and recreate in the mind of the contemplator the sufferings of Christ, to imagine his pain, and to feel his suffering at a personal level. This is an act not only of contemplation and contrition, but also of purification of mind and spirit.

This year, during Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday and the Resurrection), I attempted to follow in the footsteps of Quevedo and to contemplate the current world situation and my own specific situation, as influenced by the lock down in New Brunswick instigated on account of the Corona Virus pandemic.

Lamentations for Holy Week, then, is my attempt to examine myself and my own conscience at a time of great personal stress, a stress that I share with all those who are infirm, frail, in ill health, alone, and getting on in years. These are the people most affected by loneliness and the threat of the pandemic to our lives.

The Cristo de Carrizo is a hand-carved ivory cross, Mozarabic in origin. It shows Christ, on the cross, with his eyes open, looking at the viewer. Christ is not dead, in this crucifixion, but very much alive, and suffering. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Co-[vidi]-s

Co-[vidi]-s
17 March 2020

Time changed with the clocks
and my body clock
is no longer in sync
with the tick-tock chime
that denounces each hour.

Hours that used to wound
now threaten to kill.
They used to limp along,
but now they just rush by
and I, who used to run
from point to point,
now shuffle a step at a time.

Around us, the Covidis
thrives and flowers.
Wallflowers, violets,
we shrink into our homes,
board up the windows,
refuse to open doors.
We communicate by phone,
e-mail, messenger, Skype.

Give us enough rope
and we’ll survive a little while,
fearful, full of anguish,
yet also filled with hope.

Where’s Home?

Where’s Home?
by
Jan Fancy Hull

An Open Letter to Jan Hull

Right from the address on the envelope where you gifted me a knighthood, calling me Sir Roger, I was captivated by this package.

I opened it at the Beaver Pond in Mactaquac and started to read as Clare did her daily walk, widdershins round the pond. Alas, I missed the great blue heron flying. Ditto, the osprey and the kingfisher. I heard all about them later.

Only you, Jan, only you. You are truly unique. Your words jump off the page, lean across the table to me, and offer me bread and wine. I do hope that this book is the first of many. Your words brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart.

So many themes that touched me deeply. The loss of language and culture: in this case, French and Gaelic, in my own case Welsh, a forbidden language when I was growing up. It is only now, at an advanced age, that I have started to learn it. What memories it brings back.

The sending of indigenous children to residential schools: in my own case, starting at age six, I was sent away to a series of boarding schools and never escaped until I was 18 years old. Good-bye family and culture: hello loneliness and solitude.

The enforcement of religion, top down, with the vicious punishments that accompanied doubt, unbelief, or non-acceptance. The brutal separation from family, with the whole experience of reintegration into a now-become-foreign world, relocation, loss of roots and culture, the difficulties of not belonging to the new communities.

There is a brighter side too, and I will get to that another day. Meanwhile, congratulations on this book, Jan. May it be the first of many and a delight and revelation to all.

Dreamcatcher

Dreamcatcher

In my dreams, I track the sails of drifting ships,
white moths fluttering before the wind.

I think I have caught them in overnight traps,
but they fly each morning in dawn’s forgiving light.

I give chase with pen and paper, fine butterfly nets
seeking wild thoughts waiting to be caught, then tamed.

I grasp at something just beyond my fingertips,
but I can’t quite remember what it is.

I wake up each morning unaware of where
I have been the night before.

Can you tell me …

Painting by the very talented
line-painter, Geoff Slater

Can you tell me …

… why an incoming wave
is a flash of a handkerchief
an invasion of white water,
a hand at dockside waving good-bye?

… why each wave separates,
thrives for a little while,
then dies on the beach,
wrapped up in its lacy
shroud of foam?

… why errant stars fall,
leaving their constellations
to wander the world alone,
each shooting star, a child?

… why a mother abandons that child,
turns her back on her husband,
and looks silent at the wall?

… why, one night, that husband
walks out of his house,
and never returns?

Holly and Hock

Why, hello!

So, the holly hocks are back and this year we have some red ones to go with the lovely yellow ones that reseeded, in a different place, from last year. The red ones are very shy and are hidden away by the back steps where they are very hard to see.

I spy, with my little eye …

The red and green go well together. More a deep, blushing pink, I guess, with very dark centre. You can see the wood of the steps just behind them. I posted this yesterday, incidentally, but the computer munched it and I had to rewrite it today. It has been a slow time for me. The Corona-19 finally got to me, not in the physical sense, but mentally. As a result I have been feeling isolated, trapped, and a little bit depressed. Alas, there are many more like me suffering in today’s world. Luckily, the flowers help. As does the sunshine.

We’re back

Here are the new seeds from last year’s hollyhocks. They are similar in color, but much smaller this first season. They have also shifted location and I have been surprised at how many seedlings have sprouted and started to grow. Next year we may have a bumper crop.

Night Garden

And here we have a painting of the garden at night, flourishing without us, but beneath the stars. “The garden going on without us.” Given the current situation, I prefer the garden going on with us still here to watch it.

Ah would some power …

Ah, would some power

“Ah, would some power the giftie ge us / to see ourselves as others see us.” Robbie Burns, a Scottish Poet.

And sometimes I think the flowers would like to be seen as they see themselves, not as we see them with our imperfect eyes, not with the cataracts of the Elderly Monet, not with the blunted vision of many artists who have stopped, and sniffed, and bent their heads, and wondered at the colors that entered their paint brushes through the nostrils. Vision and reality: the photo versus the objects as we see and sense them. The reality versus our own version of it.

So who is this anonymous artist who delivers these visions to my blog and allows me to glimpse alternate realities that are so different to my realities. I think of Lorna Crozier, The Garden Going on Without Us. I think of Kingsbrae Gardens, at night, when the flowers are alone and talk only to themselves. I think of Monet at Giverny as his vision lessened and his instincts grew. Who are we? What are we? Do we see ourselves as others see us? Do others see what we see? Color, shade, light, hue … El ojo que ves no es ojo porque lo ves, es ojo porque te ve / the eye you see is not an eye because you see it, it is an eye because it sees you (Antonio Machado). Does the man or woman looking out at us from the television set see him or herself as we see them?

The night before last I sat alone in a hotel room. The television screen was much, much wider than it was high. All the facial images were greatly distorted. I didn’t recognize the people I saw, except by their voices. Who will distinguish the reality of the flowers, each by each and one by one, privatim et seriatim? Who will listen to their floral voices and call them by the names they have given themselves, rather than by their horticultural names?

Tell me, what reality do we see when we see the flowers? What reality do the flowers see when they see us? The anonymous painter who painted this picture that Geoff Slater, my anonymous friend, framed so nicely did not see those flowers the way that I saw those flowers. Why not? Why can’t I see like him (or her)? and why can’t she (or he) see like me?

Ah would some power …

Night Garden

Night Garden

Every trip to Kingsbrae Garden in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, opens my eyes to more beauty. Yesterday, I brought back this painting, Night Garden, and placed it on the wall by the garage door so I would see it regularly when entering and leaving the house. Alas, I caught the reflection from the window in the photo, but the night flowers and their colouring make up for any lapses in my amateur photography.

The painting is neither signed nor dated, so this night artist will have to remain anonymous for now. My friend Geoff Slater framed the painting but my photo does not do justice to the beauty and skill of the frame. My apologies. Alas, I must live with my inadequacies, but at least I am aware of them!

I spent a wonderful day in Kingbrae / KIRA, incidentally, chatting over a glass of wine with some exceptional local visual artists who are spending four weeks (June and July) in day residencies and working out of the artists’ studios at KIRA. Geoff Slater, the Director of Art at KIRA, led the conversations and I joined in, as did Alana, Ann, Simone, Stephanie, and Simone’s visiting friend, Renate. When artists gather at KIRA to discuss their art, the conversation is wide ranging and varies from the intensely personal to universal theories of creativity. Visiting KIRA is an experience like no other and one that I delight in every time I visit.