Black Death

Black Death
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Outside my window
horizontal hail
rain blown sideways
surgical the wind
dismembering trees
uprooting the weakest
flattening the strong
rages the storm

Who am I
the one who abhorred thee
who now adores thee
and kneels before thee
in grief and pain

Death’s Dance before me
each street filled
with skeletal horrors
bare bones dancing
naked beneath a star-
spangled sky

‘No thought is born in me
which has not “Death”
engraved upon it.’

Michelangelo

Limbo Dancing

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Limbo Dancing

Yesterday I went limbo dancing
in the bedroom mirror.
Lower and lower I danced
until I fell into the mirror
and became my reflection.

Rough were the waters.
I know how to swim, but
I thought I would drown,
except the light was too shallow
and my feet touched bottom
when I let down my wheels.

I swam on and in
looking for a deserted island
on which to build
my idle, sandcastle dreams.

Two people said they saw
my reflection swimming,
a goldfish in a silver space.

They said I stared back at them
with circles of longing
ringing my eyes, but I laughed
when they said they had seen me,
for when I looked in the mirror
that reflected the mirror,
I saw myself limbo dancing,
stranded between
heaven and hell
in a dance hall called Virus
where I drank Corona.

Whose eyes watch me now
as my video goes viral
and I twist and I dance
in a fantasy land
filled with sweet nothings.

Rain

 

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Rain

rain
song-birds
trilling liquid notes
spring songs
flooding gardens

oh!
competitions
ritualistic rivalries
staking out territories
winter stalwarts
versus
nouveaux venus
with their summer wealth
of well-fed health

everyone competing
for their garden niche
males en garde
guarding each square inch
their earthly paradise
carved in my yard

Comment: They lit up the Mountain Ash as if it were a Christmas Tree, American Goldfinches, twenty-four of them. The rain ran down the window panes and all the photos blurred and distorted. One at each end of the garden, two robins sang. Two pair of Purple Finches, the bright male and the dowdy female, pecked beneath the feeder as the chickadees, siskens, and juncos flitted in and out. The red squirrel scattered the ones in the tree and the grey squirrel ran at and over the ones on the ground. Chaos. And the rain, rain, rain came down, down, until the garden was empty and birds and animals had taken shelter.

 

 

 

 

Biopsy

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Biopsy

Driving home
from the hospital
after the biopsy,
thinking of the indignities
inflicted on my body,
cold, exploratory fingers,
the insertions,
the ardent desire
to say
“Enough,
no more!”

Oh God,
I am so cold.

Fierce winds
push me
along a snow-packed road.

I dream of sunshine
of summer flowers,

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of chipmunks and squirrels,
of bird seed scattered
so others may survive.

I dream of five deer
walking at midnight
through my garden.

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Magic,
their shadows
under moonlight
on the snow.

I skid into a snow bank
and my world shakes in shock.

A thirty-wheeler slithers by:
there are so many ways to die.

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Comment: Was it really only five years ago that I wrote those lines? I hadn’t even started this blog back then. So much melted snow, so much water under so many bridges. I look back at my journal and read that on April 1, 2020, in the USA, there were 3,800 dead from Covidis and 300,000 people affected. This morning, when I got up, those figures were higher, much higher: 63,019 dead and 1,070,032 affected. What a difference a month makes, let alone five years.

Affected, such a silly word when each individual person that these figures represent is, or was, a living, thinking, loving, human being, with an extended network of family and friends, each one of whom is in turn affected by the loss or sickness of a group member, be it a brother, a child, a sister, a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, or just a friend …  just a friend, another silly thing to say, as if just friends were not important, collateral damage, so to speak … and now, throughout our world, in macrocosm and in microcosm, we are, each one of us affected, in one way or another. Here in New Brunswick, Canada, we wash our hands, we wear masks, we stay home as much as possible, we maintain distancing when we go out on essential errands … I know it is different in other parts of Canada, and of the world, but we are all affected, and some so much more than others.

So, wherever you are, whoever you are, be strong, be brave, dance when and if you can, sing to yourself, sing for your family and friends, reach out to others, and above all take care of each other and survive. 

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My heart and these words go out to you: Byddwch lawen a chadwch eich ffyd a gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd / be joyful, keep your faith, and do the small things in life as Dewi Sant, St. David of Wales, a real person, is said to have said, almost 1500 years ago.

Last Dance

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Last Dance

The shy lady in the corner,
body withered by cancer,
stands up to dance.

She bows to the band
then floats into movement.

Dancing alone she clings
to the empty air as she
once clung to her man.

Nymphs and shepherds play
sweet music at midnight in this
room turned sacred grove.

Her dance-steps are a draught
of joyous water from the fount
of eternal youth and lasting love.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie pulled out of the magic hat of a forgotten manuscript. Such a joy to rediscover these things. Draught is the English form of American draft, incidentally, as in draught cider. I hate how my spell-checker corrects my spelling, even when it is correct. Wednesday was dance night in the hospice. At seven o’clock a band would arrive and set up at one end of the dining room. Tables were cleared away and chairs placed in rows so that patients could sit and listen or move onto the dance space that awaited them. This one old lady, shy and very much worn down by her treatment, stood up when the last dance was called and floated in an ethereal space that was hers and hers alone. The other patients stood around in a circle and applauded as she danced  and the band played on and on until everyone was dancing and the room was filled with joy and forgetfulness. Such is human strength, even in the face of apparent and imminent disaster. Dance on, my friends, dance on.

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Doing Time

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Doing Time

Time bends like a boomerang,
flies away,
comes flying back to
the thrower’s hand.

Endless this shuffle.
Unmarked days
drop off the calendar.

Hands stop on the clock.
The pendulum
swings back and forth
but nothing else moves.

‘As idle as a painted ship
upon a painted ocean.’

Yet the seas seem to move,
the winds seem to blow,
the sails seem to swell,
while our garden
fills with birds
and squirrels,
light and dark.

Morning ablutions.
Each day is a twin
of the day before.
Like wise each week.

The TV screen fills up
its washbasin of tired
looking faces bore us
with their endless wisdom.

Time hands heavy:
an albatross around the neck,
or an emu, an ostrich,
a flightless dodo,
an overweight bumble bee,
too heavy to fly.

Comment: An interesting article that I read today suggests that the lock down is bending time out of shape and that we need to adapt our minds and our body clocks to a new temporal reality. Seconds hang heavy. Days present the same routine. The routine makes the divisions between each day seem irrelevant. This is what my Spanish friend and teacher, the poet José Hierro, meant when he wrote about his time in jail as a political prisoner after the Spanish Civil War: “El tiempo aquí no tiene sentido” / time in here has no meaning.

A similar effect is noticed by those of us who were imprisoned in boarding schools from an early age. The first day back, we draw a railway train at the beginning of a long track and we number each day from the beginning of term. Then we cross off the days, one by one. Often, before the first week is even over, we forget about counting the days: they are all the same, lookalikes with a rhythmic similarity that sends us to sleep as routine takes over and we sleepwalk through life.

How important is time? How important is it to distinguish Monday from Wednesday, Friday from Thursday, this Saturday from a week on Sunday? It becomes less and less important. The TV chatters on and on. The shows we follow illuminate our days. I turn on the radio at five on Friday for Cross Country Check Up, which airs on Sunday. I go without breakfast and don’t even notice that I haven’t eaten. I make a cup of coffee and it sits there on the table with the cup of tea that I forgot to drink this morning. Each time I take my tablets, I write that fact down so that later in the day, I can check that I have actually taken them. The notes mount up and the bottles of tablets run down. Each mandarin orange has a tiny key and I wind those oranges up so they will go tick-tock as I eat them. My Teddy Bear has an alarm clock between his legs and a flashlight in his ear so that I can tell the time on cloudy nights when I can no longer see the Platonic dance of the rotating stars.

Southern Platform

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Comment: The wind that whistles through Island View today carries snowflakes and ice pellets that pitter-patter across the window. The wind brought in clouds, grey wisps of drapery that curtained the sky. When the wind falls silent, the trees continue to wave and thereby fan the air into action and the wind starts up again. Yellow sunshine, warmth, the sun in Mexico, in Oaxaca, in Monte Alban where the danzantes dance in stone and my friends and I wander at will among sunshine and shadow. On grey days like these when I crave the sun, I conjure images of Oaxaca, its warmth and its mysteries of mescal, that early-morning spinner of inner myths, word music, and magic metaphors.

Sounds of Music

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Sounds of Music

Sounds of music everywhere, and in Cardiff now the black weir gurgles with laughter as you stride along. Gravel crunches in rhythm with your footsteps and the song birds invent new ways of singing their same old courting songs. Nesting birds pair up and sing about the joys of nesting. Beneath the trees, the Daffodils – Taffodils sway to the wood wind’s delicate fluting. A lace of golden lover’s hair, they curtain the sky above you as you climb the embankment, up and up, until the River Taff flows beneath you. Black and swift and deep and swollen with the last of the winter rains, the river surges along, its face freckled with sunshine.  The Taff, they say, cradles, as it murmurs its own sweet river song, the finest coal dust from the Rhondda Valleys and carries it out to be reborn in the sea. Here, in the river, fish and eels swim eyeless, so the fishermen say, as they gesticulate with brimming eyes and empty hands, weaving with hollow wind words mystical stories of the mythical salmon that were hooked, but lived to swim another day.

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Comment: A crazy cartoon with a stick man dancing to music that occurs just off the screen at the side of the page. He dances unseen, unheard, as the deer dance at midnight, on their hind legs, reaching for bitter berries wintering on the mountain ash, as the sunlight dances when speckled trout rise to snap at flies, as my heart dances when my beloved walks into the room and lights my world with a smile. Spring in Wales: so far ahead of us as we languish here, on Canada’s East coast, hoping that last night’s minus temperatures will stagger to zero and then surge upwards into plus and double plus. Meanwhile, the grey squirrel chases away the red squirrel who frightened away the chipmunk, my beloved’s pet chipmunk for whom she put out the early morning seed to comfort him on this fresh frosty morning with its chill wind dancing between still-barren trees.

Hope

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Hope

Faith, hope, and charity
help us see with much more clarity.

We have faith in a vaccine cure,
though when it will happen,
we can’t be sure.

Charity comes from the rank and file
serving in supermarkets with a smile,
doctors and nurses work the day round.
On night shifts too, they can be found.

The garbage men, patrolling the street,
keeping homes and gardens neat,
tidy, clean and rubbish free,
helping to restore our sanity.

Police and army play their part
keeping us six feet apart,
doing the work we cannot do,
helping all not just the few.

Essential people, women and men,
bringing life back to normal again.

Comment: Many thanks to line painter Geoff Slater for this wonderful drawing from Scarecrow, one of my favorites. Scarecrow is a joint production between Geoff and I, with his drawings illustrating my story. This is the moment when Scarecrow dares to dream and hope that he will soon find and dance with his own beloved. Even in this current world of stress and sorrow, we are still allowed to have our hopes and dreams. Dream on my friends. Hope on. Hopefully this nightmare will soon be over.

Angel

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Angel

I thought for a moment that, yes,
I was an angel and I was dancing
on a pinhead with so many other
angels, and all of us butterflies
spreading our wings with their peacock
eyes radiant with joy and tears spark
-ling in time to the music that wanders
up and down and around with inscrutable
figures held spell bound in a magic moment
… and I still feel that pulsing in my head,
that swept up, heart stopping sensation
when the heavens opened and the eternal
choir raised us up from the earth, all
earthbound connections severed and all
of us held safe in an Almighty hand.

Comment: an old poem this, from 2015, when I was in Moncton at the Auberge Monsignor Henri Cormier. It was not the easiest of times. However, there was music and dancing every week. The band would start playing, and the room would slowly fill with  men and women. The bravest would dance first and then, slowly, others would join in, all our woes forgotten in an up lifting moment of movement. The ladies: high necklines, head scarves; the gentlemen: some moving slowly, all doing their best.

For a while, I felt warm and safe, protected somehow in a fantasy world where, just for one evening a week, all troubles were forgotten and we could all be normal again in spite of our suffering. That moment together with the warmth and comforting friendship of my fellow sufferers still stays with me.