Crow’s Feet

 

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Crow’s Feet

So many meanings, so many possibilities. I remember them round my grandmother’s eyes, wrinkles, laughter lines, crow’s feet. And then there are the real crows, sauntering, swaggering, two roadside hops, and take off. So bold, that sometimes they will stand there and defy you and your car, refusing to fly, but always leaving their footprints, crows’ feet in the snow.

We have a family of seven. They own our garden. Visit us every day. Check us out. Nothing like the whistle of the wind in their pinions as they sweep low over our roof, summer and winter, all year round. We belong to them, not them to us.

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Crows: such shadows, hovering  in our minds, casting their shadows over our lives and our deaths, for ‘the coward dies a thousand deaths, the hero dies but one’ and down, deep down, we are all cowards, in one way or another, and the crows await each one of our thousand deaths.

Eternity

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Eternity

Eternity: where can it be found? Not in these flowers that have already faded and gone. Where then? In mortal beings, condemned to dust? In wild words cast upon the wind? In friends and friendships, oh so perishable?

Oh where and oh where has my little dog gone?

Carved in Stone: that’s what people sometimes say … or it’s not carved in stone, as if words in stone lasted forever. They rarely do. Very little endures. Here today and gone tomorrow, or, like a stomach ache, gone with the wind.

Maybe the answer lies here, in this sequence I worked out a long time ago. Rock of Ages, cleft for me … oh where and oh where can we hide our mortality. Click on this link and you may have the answer. There again, you may not. Work it out for yourself: what are all  those anonymous marks, carved into stone and shadowed by a setting sun? If you know, please let me know. Quick now, before it’s too late, and we two too are gone.

 

Au Revoir

Au Revoir

Au Revoir

Commentary:

This construction (verbal and visual) dates back to my visits to Oaxaca, Mexico (1995-2001). So many friends, so many happy relationships, and then the world turned and I never went back. I remember doing yoga early in the morning on the azotea. Zopilote, the turkey vulture, wings motionless, flew high above the world, the sun lighting up his wings with its fiery flame. Zopilote, aka Trickster, the bird who stole fire from the gods and brought it back to earth so women could make men their morning chocolate over the old wood stoves or open fires. Or was that all a myth, fake news as some would say today when everything we touch is fake? So much has been lost, destroyed. So much beauty, verbal and visual, has been laid aside, destroyed, and forgotten. Au revoir, good-bye, will we ever see it again? Adieu, goodbye, we will never see it again, it’s gone for good. So much meaning in these brief French phrases, synonyms in English, yet carrying such different meanings in French.

Amarrada nuestra barca a otra ribera … Antono Machado wrote those words. We will awake one morning, he suggested, to find our boat moored on the other side of the river between life and death. And so we will. But in our daily lives, we try to ignore that fact. We seize the day, drowning our sorrows in a sea of forgetfulness: for tonight we’ll merry, merry be, we sing, but tomorrow we’ll be sober. Or will we? And nowadays, who cares anyway? As Seamus Heaney writes “my friends and neighbors, let it flow. We’ll be stood no rounds in eternity.”

Yesterday, I met a man in a wheel chair sitting outside the store where I was shopping. He asked me if I could spare some change and I told him I only carried plastic (true). Then next man who approached gave him a cigarette. My beloved was sitting in the car and I gave her a five dollar bill from the parking money and asked her to give it to the man in the wheel chair. So: how did we feel? Good for an act of charity? Bad for not responding immediately? Terrible that we see people living in poverty in a supposedly rich country? Fearful that one day the money would run out and that we too would be out there, begging for money, grateful for a cigarette, a hand out, a helping hand … happy for anything that would help postpone the inevitable end?

And then there was the bird that fell don the chimney and perished in the fireplace. We never even knew he was there until we found his feathers and his body, lifeless among cold ashes. So which is it to be: au revoir or adieu? Or even worse, the middle finger, the scowl, and the old ‘screw you’?

Dies Irae

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Dies irae

Nowhere has she found peace, save
in the dregs at the bottle’s bottom.
She solves life’s dilemmas with single
malt or grape’s blood fresh-plucked.

Doctors tell her that she must stop drinking,
not stoop to conquer yet another bottle.
The remedies they suggest will never suit her.
Family and friends lecture her in vain. 

She knows she will not live forever,
that one day a higher power will call.
So she opens another bottle of Scotch,
just a drop before she goes. She falls

to the floor, and lies asleep. Three still
born babies cover her with their love
to keep her warm. “Sleep well,” they say,
“you’ll find greater peace in eternity.”

Commentary: Another poem that was not easy to write. The last line is a tribute to Seamus Heaney and his poem, Yellow Bittern, the inspiration for this one. “You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity.” In the literary theory of Intertextuality, texts talk to texts and a series of interlaced textual dialogs move across time and space. Hablo con mis ojos a los muertos, I speak through my eyes with the dead, as Francisco de Quevedo said in the 17th century. He was reading Seneca, another great writer born in Spain, when he wrote those words.
I restructured this poem three times. I began, following Seamus Heaney, with the first person singular [I]. Then I changed it to the second person singular [you], but you, in English, can never approximate to the intimacy of tu [versus vous] in French, or the multiplicity of [versus usted, vosotros, vosotras, ustedes} in Spanish. Finally I settled on the third person and settled on she [rather than he]. I guess when  a woman loses three children, she is entitled to lose herself in a bottle of Scotch and shut out the world.

Rhondda Fawr

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Rhondda Fawr

To be Welsh on the coalfield
is to speak the language of steel and coal,
with an accent that grates like anthracite ‑‑
no plum in the mouth for us; no polish,
just spit and phlegm that cut through dust and grit,
pit‑head elocution lessons hacked from the coal‑face.

We sing arias and deep, rolling hymns
that surge from suffering and the eternal longing
for a light that never shines underground
where we live our lives and no owners roam.

Here “gas” and “fall” mean violent death
and the creaking of the pine pit‑prop is a song‑bird
suddenly silent in its cage warning of danger
soon to be upon us…

… words and music stop in our throats
as up above us the sad crowds gather.

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Hospital

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Hospital
McAdam Railway Station #9

“I was here the day they
took the hospital away.
I gave some writing workshops.
Teachers upset, students in tears,

everywhere, fear and despair.
‘I was born in that hospital.’
‘My grandfather died there.’
‘Where will my child be born?’

I helped them write down
their memories and fears,
their hopes and dreams.
My lesson plans vanished.

How could they survive
when life’s rising tide
broke all bulwarks,
flooded open hearts.

A wounded community,
diminished by its loss,
they took me into their hearts.
Their loneliness wrapped me.

They wrote down memories.
Tears stained every page.”

Comment: This is one of my memories of being in McAdam. I was invited to run a series of writing workshops there, under the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick  (WFNB) WiSP (Writers in Schools Program). I arrived there the week the announcement was made that the local hospital would close. I remember all too well the effect that this announcement had on the local community and I have tried to express that anger, sorrow, despair, fear, resentment in the above poem. More than anything, I felt the sorrow and despair of students and teachers. It is so easy to make an executive decision, at a distance, to rip the beating heart out of a living community on financial grounds. It is so difficult to revive the patient after the act of removal. What amazes me about McAdam is the effort hat volunteers are making to rebuild their town. Their words and deeds are truly impressive: as impressive as their magnificent railway station, now declared a national heritage site.

Defenestration

 

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Defenestration
McAdam Railway Station 4

“When I first walked
by that tiny window,
right up there,
on the third floor,
I wanted to go up to it,
to stand there, to look out.

There was a young girl,
went up there one morning,
opened the window,
and threw herself out.

She must have been desperate.
Rejected by her lover,
who knows what state she was in.”

Defenestration?
It’s a funny word,
I had to look it up.

It’s from the Latin:
de means out from,
fenestra is the window,
fenêtre in French.

“She just opened the window
and threw herself out.”

Comment:  Geoff, in his role as tour guide, took Clare up to the third floor, showed her this window, and told her the story of the young girl who had jumped out, killing herself in the process. Clare said she was fascinated by the story and felt an urgent desire to stand there, and look out of the window. I am so glad she didn’t feel the need to throw herself out. Oral tradition: I love the way stories are passed from mouth to mouth, changing slightly all the while. Why did the young woman kill herself? Was she pregnant? We can only speculate and I guess we’ll never know for certain.