My Father

IMG_0137

My Father (Solace 1)

1

            I saw my father yesterday evening. I walked through the zócalo, opened the main cathedral doors and walked in. The doors closed behind me. I looked towards the main altar and there my father stood, motionless. The evening light shone through the engraved glass panels and illuminated him as if he were some long passed saint come back to visit me. We stared at each other, but I couldn’t open my mouth to speak. The hairs on my neck stood on end and my hands shook. When I forced my mouth open, words stuck in my throat. He wore his best grey suit over a light blue shirt and a dark blue, hand woven tie: the outfit in which I had buried him.

               Three old women, dressed in black, broke the spell. One stood in front of me and wouldn’t let me approach my father. She held a large bag of knitting in her hands and the wool spilled everywhere as she pushed me away. The second threatened me with a pair of scissors that she held in her left hand and stabbed towards my face. The third beat a tailor’s measuring rod against my father’s head.  He nodded, smiled sadly, and they all turned their backs on me and hurried away out of the cathedral and into the square.

               Just for a moment, I stood there in silence. Then I pulled the doors open and ran in pursuit of my father. The setting sun filled the square with shadows that whispered and moved this way and that, as if a whole village had come down from the hills to walk beneath the trees and dance in the rays of the dying sun. I stood on the cathedral steps and called out my father’s name, but I could see no sign of him among the cut and thrust of the shadowy crowd.

               I ran out into that crowd and pushed at insubstantial people who stood firm one moment and then melted away the next like clouds or thick mist. I came to a side street and saw real people, flesh and blood beings, a group of villagers gathered behind their band. I stopped and as I did the village elder put a live match to the taper of the rocket that he clutched between his thumb and forefinger. The taper caught on fire and the rocket soared upwards with a searing whoosh. The village band marched forward and started to play a traditional dance as the rocket clawed its way into the sky to explode with a loud knock on the door of the gods.

               Tired of grasping at shadows and afraid of this living phalanx of men that marched towards me I went back to the cathedral and knelt at the altar of La Virgen de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca. Real wax candles stood before her altar, not tiny electric lights, and I inserted five pesos in the slot, took a taper, and lit a fresh candle from an ageing one that had started to sputter. I knelt and, for the first time in years, I prayed. I prayed for the soul I had saved from extinction by lighting my candle from his flame. I prayed for my father and my mother and, above all, I prayed for myself.

               On the way home to my second-floor apartment where I live alone, I bought two litres of mescal, one to send me to sleep, and the other so I would survive the next morning.

The Yfory* Tower

IMG_1333 (2)

The Yfory* Tower

“Tomorrow never comes,” they told me,
because, by the time it gets here,
it’s already today.

All my tomorrows are woven into today’s
threads of mist that weave silk scarves
around the open-mouthed trees,
ensuring their silence

Silence, save for click of cat’s claws,
slither of pen over page, tapping of keys,
letters turned into words, words that worm
their way over the page, soundless, into my head.

Geese fly high, arrowing their way to the south.
Autumn is on the wing as days shorten.
Cold weather will be here tomorrow
even though they tell me that tomorrow never comes.

Beethoven rewrites the Fifth. I refuse to open the door
when the postmen knocks, bearing his fatal message.
I guess he’ll be back tomorrow, although they tell me
that tomorrow never comes.

Yfory*:
Yfory, the Ivory Tower, means tomorrow in Welsh.

F-f-f-all

IMG_1337 (2).JPG

F-f-f-all

Not as good as the real thing, but the best I can do in five minutes with a set of felt pens. I am bewildered by the presence of so many colors, sometimes on the same tree and there are not enough pencils in y pencil box to do anything other than approximate.

IMG_1287.JPG

The light is incredible. Sometimes the tree seems to have stored all the summer sunshine in its leaves and, rain or shine, the light comes pouring out to enlighten us.

IMG_1283.JPG

And those reflections … the Beaver Pond doubles the color, turning the trees upside down and fragmenting their foliage, this way, that way. Pointillistic at one point, impressionistic at another, almost never cubist, although we can sense tilting planes in this upside-down surreal world that leaves us snatching at each new imposed reality of color and light.

IMG_1329.JPG

Stand beneath the trees. Look up through those leaves. Watch the light raining down, glimpses of blue between the orange, red, yellow, green and tawny leaves. I don’t have enough names for their colors. Green: what is green, what does it mean? I can see it, feel it, crumple it between my fingers if I am quick enough to catch a falling leaf … but what is it exactly, and what does it mean?

IMG_1318 (2).JPG

Espejismo and doble espejismo: the viewing of the world through a mirror, understanding what is a shadow and taking it for the real thing. And here, the shock of each red leaf turned into a shark’s bite of blood within still waters. Two worlds really: the top half normal and the bottom half turned upside down, leaf turned to color and color turned to a crimson streak.

IMG_1318 (3).JPG

There, see, catch them quick before they are gone, these autumn northern lights, this floating aurora borealis, this word picture trapped in these oh-so clumsy, oh-so fragile, oh-so imperfect words. Perfection, imperfection, and words and pencils shuffled to create the unreality of an autumn dream.

 

 

On Editing

IMG_1095 (2).JPG

On Editing

Some editors are really very good. They take the initial idea of the artist and polish it, turning what was an average piece into a great one. Others are not so good and turn an average piece into an automatic rejection.
On my kitchen wall hangs a line-painting by Geoff Slater representing one of last year’s hollyhocks from my garden. He gave it to us as a Christmas present, and I am very proud of it. Finley loved it too. She followed with great glee the white line that starts and ends Geoff’s painting. Then she stared at me.

“What are you doing?”
“I’m writing a story.”
“What’s it about?”
“A thin red line.”
“Oh!”

A little bit later, I saw my pens and pencils strewn across the table. My sketch book lay open and I noticed that an editor had edited some of my work. My thin red line had morphed from illusion to reality and there it lay, twisting in and out of the tangled web I had created the day before. Clearly, my average creation needed the touch of a four year old editor and apprentice line-drawer to move from average to genius.

Oh the joy and creativity of a four year old! It took Picasso nearly fifty years to learn to draw like that again. And here’s another painting by this prodigious four year old. I got this one for Christmas last year, too. Alas, it is not signed.

“Don’t you want to add some more?” My daughter asked her daughter.
“No. It’s finished.”
And so have I.

IMG_0228 (2)

 

 

On the beach

On the beach

 

IMG_0564 (2)

IMG_0565 (2)

Comment:

A daylight photo and a moonlit poem: I wonder how that came about? I guess we must have been beach-combing in the moonlight. It’s so long ago that I have forgotten the links between photo and poem. That said, Clare and I had spent a couple of weeks together in Santander (Spain) the previous summer, when we got engaged.

‘O bahía de Santander: tan bella bajo la luna’ / “oh Bay of Santander, so beautiful beneath the moon” as the Santander poet Gerardo Diego writes. And yes, Santander under a full moon: Mataleñas, the Segunda Playa, Jardines del Piquío, La Magdalena, the Bay of Santander itself, with Peña Cabarga in the background … there is something about beaches and midnight and moonlight which transcends the warmth of a summer’s day. It’s a sort of Midnight Magic that creates a madness of wonder in the blood. Imagine: all those silver fish, swimming their underwater roads, and rising to the surface, to ripple softly along the moon-path. Wander-lust / wonder-lust: sometimes buried words will not rise to the surface and those oh-so-precious moments of supreme poetry are lost among street lights, advertisements for this and that, street signs and the sort of stop signs that stop you and numb your mind into the dumb acceptance of daily reality: la vie quotidienne.

Memories: will they all vanish with us when we go? Of course they will. Many are fading now as we sit here at our desks, in our offices, before our computer screens. The grey screen hustle and bustle pushes memories, light and bright, back into the darkest corners. Where do I get off the bus, the train? Which number is it? Where is the office? Who am I meeting today and at what time? Did I shut the door behind me? Did I pack the children’s lunch? Did I let the cat out? And if so, out of which bag?

passionless not meaningless
the way I take your hand
tomorrow night not even we
will ever understand
the conflicts of this moonlit beach
the warmth of this sea-licked sand

PS. There, see, I told you I couldn’t read my own handwriting. Kiss / take; night / sand. Oh dear, the old grey cells are playing chess with my mind again: P-K4 / e2-e4 … whatever next? Well, I warned you!!!!

 

Here

jLwRzd1BSwOGRYRVEcPwSA_thumb_2891.jpg

 

RrcBUdIhRESRs2CwUmEmJA_thumb_2892.jpg

Comment:

Another photo and poem from this early series (1966) while I still lived in the UK. Like Cervantes, I always wanted to be a poet. Like him, I may always be disappointed by my poetry. However, my beloved has never disappointed me.
This photo was taken at Dodman’s Point, close to where the Spanish Armada was first sighted in 1588. Dodman’s Point / Dead Man’s Point.
In 1988, a computer ran all the tides and all the times of the Armada’s progression up the English Channel, all based on those tides and the annotations of them in the sometimes seemingly haphazard English and the Spanish logs. Seemingly haphazard: because in spite of telling the time by water clocks (clepsidras) and marked candles, and in spite of the ten day calendar difference, and in spite of all the other different differences, these were real sailors and they lived and died according to the tides, the tides that the computer can track, all the way back to 1588, even as it can track the stars and their original positions when Stonehenge was first built in 3500 BCE.
I have stood on the temple mounds in Oaxaca. I have visited Maiden Castle. I have walked on Hengistbury Head and lain in the scrapes of the reindeer people. We underestimate the intelligence of our ancestors and, by extension, of many indigenous people, at our peril. And we over-estimate our own abilities as we destroy the very world in which we live.

bpnichol

IMG_1002 (2)

The day I met bpnichol

I picked him up at Freddy airport,
drove him home for lunch, Clare’s
home made Lasagna, discussed
on the phone. He wasn’t Vegan

Tousled, tangled hair, mangled maps,
Toronto streets and squares drummed
up with coded words wrapped in magic,
he signed my copy of his Martyrology.

His saintly street speech spoke like
grid-locked gears grinding on downtown
city streets, one step at a time, where no
apocalyptic horsemen ever rode.
Oh, the root, toot, hoot, flurry, scurry,
sounds simmering, spurring them on.

After lunch, we drove to the Beaver
Pond in Mactaquac. Swallows dipped
and dived, wetting their beaks. Crows
perched on barren ship mast tree-trunks
stripped of all foliage, coughing warnings.

Strong wing-pulse of the flying osprey
homing to the nest. A great blue heron
walked silent, stilting its grey way through
cool, green shade and shallow waters.

A wordy wilderness tumbled wild from
our questing minds. Images grew starry
flowers. Magic metaphors mushroomed
along tangled New Brunswick trails. No
trace of tarmac and Toronto, the big city.

Comment:

bp was a Toronto poet, still is in my books.
Hence the blue jay.
A good friend.
I miss him.