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.

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.

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

Apocalypse When?

Apocalypse When?

A strange, milk-cloud sky, skimpy, with the sun
a pale, dimly-glowing disc and my pen scarce
casting a shadow as the nib limps over the page.

Out on the west coast, fires still range free and this
is the result, these high, thin clouds casting a spider
web cloak over the sun face and darkening the day.

The west coast: five or six hours by plane and three
whole days to get there by train, even longer by bus,
all chop and change with multiple stops.

The wind blew and the clouds came widdershins,
backwards across the continent. Today they reached
across the ocean to claw the sun from European skies.

It is indeed a small world after all. Isostasy:
you push the earth balloon in here, and it bulges
out over there in the place you least expected.

Now we are all interconnected in an intricate network
of a thousand ways and means. What does it all mean?
Ripples ruffle the beaver pond’s dark mirror.

The forest mutters wind-words, devious and cruel,
that I sense, but cannot understand. High in the sky
clouds turn into horsemen on plunging steeds.

Fear, fire, flood, foe, poverty, unemployment, pandemic,
crops destroyed and, waiting in the wings, threats of civil
unrest, the apocalypse, and a war to end all wars.

Comment: A week in bed, unable to sit, to write, to use the computer, except standing on one leg and typing with one finger. Unable to concentrate, to create, and now, after four visits to my medical team, acupuncture, manipulation, massage, finally that pinched nerve has stopped pinching and I can get back to writing. However, my thoughts are as grey as these clouds that dim the skies. I no longer know who or what or where I am. The world around me has turned sinister and I suffer.

The result: black thoughts, black poetry, red, flaming skies, and the knowledge that all is not well, neither with me, nor with our sick little planet. There is no Planet B and this one, like me, is suffering.

Premonitions and dark thoughts. I lie awake in bed each night, sleepless, hugging my Teddy Bear and my hot water bottle, aching, suffering, waiting for the dawn.

Lost

Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
are present in them all. I glimpse your shadow
in the mirror and your breath brushes my cheek

when I open the door. Where have you gone?
I walk from room to room, but when I seek,
I no longer find and nothing opens when I knock.

Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I am sure
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice breaks the silence

when you whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,
that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,

the days, embracing dust motes to find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.

Comment: Another golden oldie, polished, rewritten, and revised. Today is Clare’s birthday and fifty-five years ago today we got engaged, on her birthday, in Santander, Spain. I wrote this poem a couple of years ago when she was visiting our daughter and grand-daughter in Ottawa and I was left alone to look after the house. I will be including this poem in my new collection, All About Ageingin an age of pandemic, on which I am currently working.

My vision of absence and of the bereaved wandering, lost, the house the couple once shared, is sharpened in this age of pandemic in which we live. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered short term or long term effects from the pandemic. My premonitions and visions, my memories and dreams, reach out especially to those who have lost loved ones and who live in the daily reality of that loss.

Q & A

aka
The Street of Life and Death

Q & A

“What is this sound?”
It is your own death sighing,
groaning, growing
while you wait for it
to devour you.

“What is this feeling”
It is the itch of your own skin
wrinkling and shrinking,
preparing to wrap you
in the last clothes you’ll wear.

“What is this taste?”
It is the taste of your life,
bottled like summer wine
once sweet tasting,
now turning to vinegar.

“What is this smell?”
It is waste and decay,
the loss of all you knew
and of all that knew you.

“That carriage outside?”
It is the dark hearse
come to carry you
to your everlasting home.

Lament

Lament
for three brothers
dead before him

“Eric, Phillip, Peter:
why did you leave me?
Why did you,
where did you go?

Eric, Phillip, Peter:
you went out
through the door,
so silent,
didn’t even slam it,
why did you go?

Eric, Phillip, Peter:
I hardly even knew you,
the house, my life,  
so empty without you,
shadows so scary,
why did you leave me,
where did you go?

Eric, Phillip, Peter:
vacant and silent,
lonely the house,
such a big world
without you,
so full of menace,
so full of woe,
why did you leave me,
why did you go?”

“¡Qué será, será!”

“¡Qué será, será!”

In one room in my head
my mother’s mother
sits with me on her knee
at the kitchen table
playing patience.

Elsewhere, I stand on a stool
beside my father’s mother
helping her to mix the cake
she will later bake
in the coal-fired oven
of the black, cast iron stove.

My mother’s father
sits before the television.
He leans back in the chair,
raises his foot so he can’t see
the adverts on the screen,
and puts his fingers in his ears.

My father’s father lies in bed,
downstairs, in the middle room.
His dog lies beside him,
licking his hand.
We all wait for the death
that has haunted him
since he was gassed
in World War One.

Clare sits at the computer,
following the figures
that track the pandemic.
I sit here watching her,
humming softly to myself:
“¡Qué será, será!”


Daffodils

Daffodils

These daffodils were not painted by an unknown painter, but by a painter whose paintings are unknown. There is a subtle difference. There is also something sweet abut covering a blank space with color and shape, even if the hand is unsteady and the eye unsure. This painting is also unframed and belongs in a photograph album or a long-forgotten painting book.

“Fair daffodils, we weep to see thee.” Indeed we do, for they are so transient lasting but a week, or less, cut and placed on the table in a vase of water. So sad to watch them as they stiffen, turn slowly brown, dry up, and then hang their heads in the shame of old age. We are not so dissimilar, those daffodils and me. This photo will capture me forever, or until it is erased, because a photo isn’t a photo anymore. That painting will capture those daffodils too, for little while, until my subscription to the blog runs out and I forget to renew it.

“Poor daffodils, we weep to see you.” But weep not for us, they tell me. Our day is done. Our life is fulfilled. We have brought beauty and scent, however brief, and we have given light to enlighten your days and joy to light up your heart. And that, I guess, is the message. “Gather you daffodils while you may, for Father Time is flying. And those sweet blooms you pluck today, tomorrow will be dying.”

Thus it is during the Corona Virus 19 pandemic, and thus it was during the Spanish Flu, the Black Death, and all the other plagues that have come to bring understanding and make us see reason. Our lives are as short as the lives of flowers. Seize your life, hold it in both hands, admire it, enjoy it, make the most of the mall things, for they are often, like the smiles of small children and the daffodil’s golden glow, the most important things of all.

After the Lecture

After the Lecture

After I delivered the lecture at London University, as it was back then, I caught the tube and descended at Paddington station. While waiting for the train back to Cardiff, I sat in the station bar and ordered a pint of beer and a Cornish pasty. An older man wearing a sweater and jeans asked if he could join me. I didn’t say ‘yes’ but he sat down anyway and straight away began to talk.
            I paid no attention to him until he rolled up his sleeve and showed me the collection of scars that ran crisscross, hard and welted, over his left wrist.
            “Failed attempts,” he said. “But I’ll get it right next time. “I wouldn’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. If you want to kill yourself, you must do it this way,” he reached across the table and picked up the knife I had used to cut my pasty. He pulled out a dirty hanky and wiped the knife in it. Then he laid the blade not cross-wise but parallel to the artery in his wrist. “And you must dig deep, first time, and at a slight angle.”
            “I’ve got to go,” I told him as a tinny voice came over the Tannoy. “That’s my train.” I stood up, leaving the remains of my pint and my pasty on the table.
            I got to the door of the station bar and looked back. Then I watched as my table companion finished my pasty and reached across the table to claim the remains of my beer.
            “Quite the lecture,” I thought. “Good job I didn’t spit in the glass.” Then I realized that both my day’s lectures had been effective, in one way or another.

Black Death

Black Death
1438

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

Don’t Look Out

Don’t Look Out the Window

Don’t look out the window, you don’t want to
know what’s lying out there. Don’t look out.

Play ostrich. Place your head in the sand,
pretend there’s nothing there to worry you.
Pretend you can see the missing PPE,
the vanished masks, the surgical gloves,
the sanitized hand-wash that everybody needs.
Just don’t look out the window. Don’t look out.

Pretend there’s nothing out there. Deny that
nearly two million people are ill.
Deny that a hundred thousand have died,
not in vain, but from ignorance and vanity
 and a total denial of scientific truth.
Just don’t look out the window. Don’t look out.

Just look at these walls that surround you.
Smile back at the smiling faces, the nodding heads,
the puppet-string politicians who agree with
every piece of nonsense that issues, meaningless,
from empty mouths. Surround yourself with people
who believe what you believe, who think and do like you,
fellow narcissists and bullies, cheats and liars,
who have deceived and stolen, lied like you, to build
enormous fortunes while they have cheated on
their wives, gone bankrupt, and borrowed shady money
in questionable deals with shabby, foreign banks.
Don’t look out the window. Don’t look out.

All those employees know a bum deal
when they are on the sharp end of one.

But nobody speaks out and nobody,
but nobody, dares open those curtains
for fear of seeing that reborn beast,
its hour come at last,
slouching down the streets.
Close your eyes. Don’t look out the window.
Don’t look out.

Comment: I rarely comment on political events, let alone write poems about them. That said, I do not consider this poem to be a political statement. For me, the key to the poem can be found in the final five lines beginning with ‘for fear of seeing …’. I have explored inter-textuality before in these pages. I hope the reference to W. B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, is clear.