On Learning Welsh

IMG_1238 (2).JPG

On Learning Welsh
            Here I sit, an old man now, in front of my computer, learning at last my mother tongue, Welsh. English is the language of the invaders, the mine-owners, the men who own the steel works and foundries, and who rule this land with a fist of coal inside an iron glove. Welsh is the tongue of farmers and fishermen, of the villagers who live on the hills and tend the sheep and plant potatoes in tiny small holdings where only the fittest children survive.
My mother’s father was the last of us to speak Welsh. It was banned in our house because it was bad for the kids. In a working-class household, Welsh, be it language or accent, was a barrier to success. And success came from imitating your English betters, and climbing upwards, like a vine, or Jack on his beanstalk, until you achieved the impossible and talked and looked and dressed like them.
Sitting here, I have discovered the beauty of simple words, not so much their meaning as their sound, the way they flow, the poetry of remembered rhythms:
Cwmrhydyceirw, the Valley of the Leaping Stag, though legend has it that ceirw was really cwrw, and cwrw is beer, and its real name was the Valley of the Brown Stream Frothing like Beer.
Words have their own music, even if you cannot pronounce them properly: Mae hi’n bwrw glaw nawr yn Abertawe / it’s raining now in Swansea. Mae’r tywydd yn waeth heddiw / the weather’s worse today. Bydd hi’n dwym ddydd Llun / it will be warm on Monday. Why, oh why, in Wales, do we always talk about the weather?
Place names also have their own magic: Llantrisant, Llandaff, Dinas Powis, Gelligaer, Abertawe, Cas Newydd, Pen-y-bont … Meaning changes when you switch from one language to another:  gwyraig ty / a housewife, gwr ty / a househusband, a concept of equality that has ruled Welsh lives since Julius Caesar invaded Albion, coming from Gaul with his legions in 55 BC.
            Un deg chwech, dau deg saith, tri deg wyth, naw deg naw … The photographer asks me to speak in English, then in French, then in Spanish, then in Latin, and lastly in Welsh. He checks the memory card in his camera and looks puzzled.
“You put on a new face each time you speak a different language,” he tells me. “Look, this is when you spoke French.” He shows me the photo and yes, I look happy.
“And this is when you spoke Latin.” He holds out the camera and I see myself on the screen. I look ever so grim. English, French, Spanish, Latin, Spanish, and Welsh: all different and each language is a new a map carved into my face.  Am I a clown, then, a comedian, a chameleon to wear so many masks and to slip so easily from one to another? Which, then, is my language and where is the Old Red Sandstone from Wales into which I can carve my memories and my dreams? More important, which of those many tongues will shape my story as I sculpt each letter of my tale?

Hummingbirds

IMG_1237 (2).JPG

Breaking News:

A swarm of hummingbirds is attacking ripening tomatoes in Island View. They were first spotted by Princess Squiffy, our attack cat. Unfortunately, they were outside and she was inside, so she couldn’t get at them. and scare them away.

Further Development:

IMG_1243.JPG

Those hummingbirds must have been high on something: they were glowing and humming in the dark. Radio active tomatoes, perhaps? Or could this be a trick of the light or a joker’s hoax? Please post your answers in the comments section.

Conclusion:

Whatever: Princess Squiffy is not perturbed. David Suzuki, when consulted, said he had no opinion on the matter. Is that really David Suzuki? It looks like Foo Man Chew, to me.

IMG_1063 (2).JPG

Invisible Scars

 

SD 16

Invisible Scars

            Our minds absorb words as blotting-paper soaks up ink. Phrases carve beehives deep in our inner circuits. No te preocupes / don’t worry. Yet tone and carry are different in each language and the comfort-blanket serenity of no te preocupes does not translate.
Nor do the catcalls from the soccer, aimed equally at opponent and referee, and tumbling raucous from the stands where people sit. Shrill whistles sound in the bull ring: a matador who seems afraid to approach this particular bull for reasons only known to him, yet his shakiness visible to all who watch and understand what they are seeing.
The Cordobés answers the telephone he places on the bull’s nose, yet fails to approach between the horns and his sword rebounds off bull bone: pincha hueso. Each one wounds, the last one kills. El Viti, stately, graceful, an elderly churchman proud of his vocation and always willing to perform to perfection the weekly ceremony of the sacrifice. The boos when the bull enters the ring, stumbles, and comes up lame and limping. The cheers that accompany the arrival of the seventh bull. The refusal to eat meat that has been slaughtered in the bullring, even though it is advertised outside the butcher’s: tenemos solomillo de toro de lidia / we have tenderloin steaks from fighting bulls. Bulls who have led the best of lives, fed on the tenderest pastures by flowing streams. Bulls grown for slaughter and public sacrifice.
Guernica. The bull fight in the sand-filled square. Except it wasn’t a fight, it was more a circus. The slippery pig. The hens and chickens. The rabbits and hares. All the animals running scared. The animals released, one by one, and the spectators jumping into the ring, really a square, one by one, and chasing down the animals, taking them home for dinner, if they could catch them.
Then the bigger beasts. The mule, ferocious, jumping into the air, kicking four tormentors, one with each leg, and biting a fifth with his teeth. No fearful, clucking chicken this, nor the cow who came after with her padded horns. Participants moved more carefully now. She watched them from her querencia the place where she chose to fight to the death. She knelt, scraped off the rubber balls that covered her horns. Re-armed, she charged and the crowd scattered, all but one young kid, caught, fallen to the ground, the cow standing over him, ready to gore again.
Sixteen years old, an outsider, I jumped with others over the barrier, twisted this away and that, thumped the cow’s side, smelled her fury, her fear, the whole soured being that emanated from her. Together, we hustled her, bustled her, dragged her kicking, butting, from the ring, backwards, pulled by the tail.
Visible scars of damaged animals. Scars of the participants. That young man who broke his leg. That old man, inebriated, stuffed with food and drink, who loosened his belt to move more freely. We watched as his pants slipped from his waist to fall around his knees and trap him, just as the cow charged. He survived but will bear the scars forever, some visible, many not.
Long summer days, on the Sardinero, the Segunda Playa, playing soccer. Different rules, different skills, different swear words: I carry a dictionary tucked into my bathing trunks and refuse to play while I look up the words spat at me by my opponent. Good heavens, I think, is that anatomically possible? The ball bounces away on the hard, sand ridges. I chase it and steadily dehydrate under the hot sun. A sea-salt wind desiccates my body. My mouth fills with salt water when I swim out to retrieve the ball from the sparkling sea. My tongue sticks to the inside of my mouth. When I spit, I spit dry and everyone laughs. Now I am totally dry, shiver, and no longer sweat. Now I am no longer my self, but I’ll never be one of them.

 

Ste. Luce-sur-mer

PEI + bockle 2008 059.jpg

Ste. Luce-sur-Mer
(1995 &1996)

marooned and listless
monarch of all he surveyed
this ancient sea-side crab
caught naked on a wave-wet beach

surrounded by thronging gulls
their powerful beaks
pulling at the carapace
half-buried in the sand

moment of truth
the second the oyster’s
protective vacuum breaks
the crab sucked from the sand

battered the scattered body
spread over crisp sheets
pillowed on mermaid-hair
claws that once clicked

silent now hushed
listen to the tide
watch the wind’s footprints
walking on warm summer sand

St. Patrick

Empress 314 (2).jpg

St. Patrick

At Tara Manor, a long way from the Emerald Isle,
bold deer emerge at night to nibble the Hosta
Lilies and desecrate lawn and flowerbeds. They
arrive all curious, ears twitching, tails raised,

a wonder for some, a plague for others, culled,
last year, to no effect, with mothers giving birth
this spring to triplets and twins. Dead in a ditch

they resemble the Irish Elk, raised from damp,
peat bogs, or long-dead moose, white rib-cages
air-filled, ghosts galloping down Ghost Road.

He didn’t establish aquaculture. Salmon,
bringers of Celtic wisdom, spirit beings not
to be confused with commercial products,
but repositories of knowledge, swimming

Wikipedias to be consulted like oracles and
relied upon in difficult times. Where now do
we go to trust the truth, CNN, Fox News, CBC,
The Daily Gleaner, The Telegraph-Journal?

Commentary:

Yesterday’s post  https://rogermoorepoet.com/2019/08/26/think-about-it/  started a dialog about whom do we trust for information and how and why do we trust them. Today’s poem continues the same theme, but in a different format and with very different words and intent. Traditional wisdom, and the time to think things out carefully, is lost, save among the indigenous. Our times demand speed, hurry, instant decisions, merciless schedules f do, do, do, and little time for think, think, think.

What is this life, if full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” The Newport / Cas Newydd (Wales) poet |W. H. Davies expressed this well in his poem Leisure, full version here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leisure_(poem)  Stop the world, I want to get off. Many have made the request, few have managed it. Yet all of us feel, at one stage or another, the need to ‘get away from it all’. So, what are you going to do about it? Do you even have five minutes to sit down and think … answers to be written on rice paer, folded neatly, and floated out to sea in a pea green boat manned (if that’s the right word) by an owl and a pussy cat.

IMG_0790 (2)

DIY Fridge Magnets

 

IMG_1197 (2)

DIY Fridge Magnets

Tired of your old fridge magnets? Worn out by dire warnings, by political slogans, by advertisements from unwanted people for even less wanted things? Join the club! I set it up yesterday: The DIY Fridge Magnet Recycling Club.

IMG_1203 (2).JPG

Take that old magnetic advertisement for ‘who-knows-what’. If you don’t like the original photo, strip it off, some peel away with great ease. Others can be coloured over. In harder circumstances, you must stick  new painting surface over the old one. I use Crazy Glue for this quite simply because, yes, I know it’s a craze idea, and yes, crazy ideas not only work, they make and save money. When you have your new surface, paint away. I have used acrylic paints but I now use marker pens. Who cares? I’m crazy anyway. Who needs selfies? Here’s a self portrait, as stuck on my fridge. Crazy eh? Now you know exactly what I mean.

IMG_1202 (3)

Ghosts

IMG_1055 (2)

Ghosts

My grandfather would wheeze, then cough, as he leaned on the old black dresser in the Welsh kitchen with its vast, cast iron fireplace. “As black as the hobs of hell,” he would say, and “as warm as our kitchen.” It was full of nooks and crannies where pasties and pies could stay warm, soup cauldrons could hang from iron chains, and copper kettles could whistle wild tunes and call us all to endless cups of tea. Sergeant-major tea: so strong and filled with so much sugar that a tea-spoon could stand upright and never fall over. Gassed in the First World War, my grandfather was always out of breath and each time he coughed, he brought up a tiny part of his lungs. “One day,” he announced between wheezes, “there’ll be nothing left.”
Twice a day, my grandfather would roll up the newspaper and brandish it like a conductor’s baton. The first time would be when I came home from school and it was time to do my homework. The second time would be after supper when it was time for me to go to bed. Each time he rolled up that newspaper, he would tap it gently on the dresser to get my attention, and then he would speak those famous words: “Let battle commence.” I would fight to escape to the street to play with my friends. I would fight to stay on my feet and I never, never wanted to go to bed. I hated to be entrenched alone, upstairs, in the cold shadows of that ghostly no-boys-land where I could hear mice and rats scuffling behind the dugout walls and smell the sour smells of old age and illness that stalked my dreams.
“Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire,” my grandfather would sing, conducting with his baton and pointing to the stairs. I was never afraid of him. He was dark, strong, tall, and very gentle, a great man in his own right, one of those tall men who would always stoop to help a little child. If I was too troublesome, he would start to cough. And if he started to cough, the pink phlegm would come and he’d spit it into the red and blue polka-dot handkerchief he always carried. The pink phlegm caused consternation and in the ensuing panic, I would bolt for the stairs, go up to my room, undress, put on my pajamas, and bury myself in the vast double bed I shared with my grandmother. My grandfather’s bed was in the middle room downstairs. I didn’t realize then, as I do now, that he could no longer climb those stairs up which I scuttled.
After a while, I left of my grandfather’s house and went back to live with my father. One day, my grandfather, as he prophesied, coughed too much and that was the end of him. After the funeral, my father took me back to see my grandmother. Aunties and uncles, cousins, family friends that I didn’t know, neighbors known and unknown, spilled over the house in an invasion of tears and grief. After the friends had gone, my father and I decided to leave and the family gathered on the doorstep to wave us goodbye. I waved back to them all. “Goodbye,” I shouted. “Goodbye aunties, goodbye uncles, goodbye grandmother.” I paused. My grandfather stood there waving to me. “Look: there he is. I knew he couldn’t have gone.” I pointed and waved. “Goodbye grandfather!”
“Don’t be stupid. He’s not there,” my father said. “He’s dead.”
“I can see him,” I said. “He’s there. I can see him.”
“He’s not there. He’s dead.” Tears ran down my father’s face.
Sitting here, writing these words, I can still  see my grandfather, standing on that doorstep, waving goodbye. And I can still feel my father’s long dead, shadowy hands reach down, grab me by the shoulders and shake me, shake me, shake me, until I too am crying and the ghosts of my milk teeth are again rattling in my head.

 

IMG_1063 (2).JPG