A Rainbow of Clichés

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

2

A Rainbow of Clichés

It’s raining outside. A tympany of raindrops
drums rhythmically on roof and window.
Thunder rolls. Lightning flashes, lighting up the sky.
our lights flicker, but we don’t lose power.

“It never rains in the bars,” they say in Spain.
Yet it’s raining in my heart, a sad song,
raindrops, tear drops, my best friend,
tested for Lyme disease, now tested for Covid.

“It never rains unless it pours,” they say in Wales.
And here it comes again, that nineteenth session
of Covid nerves, heart fluttering, nostrils twitching,
that unmasked girl standing six inches behind me,

texting, all thumbs, totally absorbed in the medium
that delivers massage after massage, click here,
out from the empty spaces between her ears and into
the void beyond, bouncing from tower to tower,

small stones cast in a tranquil pond, rippling their way
to whatever eternity lies out there, external realities ignored,
enveloped in the smoke screen of the texting self,
mask-less, fearless, coughing, not covering her mouth.

Here come those clichés. ‘I’m all right, Jack.’ ‘It’s all
about me.’ ‘My life, my freedom to do what I want.’
“It ain’t the cough that carries you off, it’s the coffin
they carry you off in.” A coughing fit, fit for a coffin.

Better, I suppose, than World War One trench warfare,
when it’s over the top, and look: officers, chaplains, men,
the whole battalion, hanging from that old barbed wire.

Click on link below for Roger’s reading.
A Rainbow of Clichés

A Speaker Bespoken

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

7

A Speaker Bespoken

They asked him to speak at her funeral
but he never knew who she really was.
He only knew she loved the whisky bottle
more than she loved life. “What can I say?”
he asked. “Say that you loved her.” “I didn’t.”
“Say how much she loved you.” “She didn’t.
And she loved her bottle so much more.”

Should he say how he found her, soaked in urine,
covered in vomit, naked on the kitchen floor?
Should he describe the blend of alcohol and body
scents, her personal perfume, flooding the bedroom?
Should he repeat the four-letter words, and worse,
she used when he tried to stop her drinking?
Should he tell how she took her rings to town,
pawned them, and left the slips on the table
where he would find them? He paid her debts,
collected her rings, returned them. Should he tell
how she sold them again and again?
How she would play hunt the thimble,
round and round the house until she found
where he had hidden them, then took them,
and pawned them once more?

The chaplain shrugged. “Say what you want,
whatever you wish, but you have to speak.”
And speak he did, so choked up with emotion
that he broke down and cried and never a word
emerged from his mouth. An audience of chairs.
The few friends who attended also broke down
and hugged him, and said he had spoken volumes
and they had understood every single word.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

A Speaker Bespoken

And every valley

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

5

And Every Valley

And every valley shall be filled with coal.
And the miners will mine, growing old
before their time, with pneumoconiosis
a constant companion, and that dark spot
on the grey slide of the sidewalk a mining
souvenir coughed up from the depths
of lungs that so seldom saw the sun
and soaked themselves in the black dust
that cluttered, clogged, bent and twisted
those beautiful young bodies into ageing,
pipe-cleaner shapes, yellowed and inked
with nicotine and sorrows buried so deep,
a thousand, two thousand feet deep down,
and often so far out to sea that loved ones
knew their loved ones would never see
the white handkerchiefs waved, never
in surrender but in a butterfly prayer,
an offering, and a blessing that their men
would survive the shift and come back
to the surface and live again amidst family
and friends and always the fear, the pinched
-face, livid, living fear that such an ending
might never be the one on offer, but rather
the grimmer end of gas, or flame, or collapse,
with the pit wheels stopped, and the sirens
blaring, and the black crowds gathering, and
no canaries, no miners, singing in their cages.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

And every valley

Message

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

4

Message

Six in the morning.
The phone rings,
shatters our dreams.

A skeletal voice
at the other end announces
the name of the deceased
in ritual words, ending
with my condolences.

Five in the morning here,
nine in the morning over there.
Death at a distance,
three thousand miles
and four hours between us,
yet the phone call arrives
on time, instantaneous.

Your father, your mother, her mother,
gone, their absence heralded
by the police, a lawyer, a doctor,
a nurse practitioner,
an anonymous nurse,
someone you will never meet.

That call can come anytime.
While you are out in the car,
or in the garden, digging,
or maybe shovelling the snow.

And maybe that’s how death will come,
says Seamus Heaney, by telephone,
an unexpected call
from an unexpected caller.

The phone rings and your partner listens,
then hands over the receiver:
“It’s for you, my dear.”

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Message

Ash Wednesday

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

3

Ash Wednesday

Each of the select will be marked with a seal,
ash on the on the chosen one’s forehead
signifying all grief and guilt consumed,
reduced to the ashes of this burnt-out sign.

Dust to dust and ashes to ashes, for of dust
are we made, and though the embers may glow
for a little while, that ash will soon grow cold.
Words are quick forgotten yet memories linger.

They wander among celestial fields of glory
where nimbuses of nebulae crab sideways
to claw-crack veiled mysteries in an effort,
often vain, to reveal them and lay them bare.

Bird song, far below, flickering fading,
luminous confusion of son et lumière,
infused with the ineffable joys of paradise
and time eternal, successive yet simultaneous.

Birds in the branches of the Tree of Life
gather its fruits with multitudinous song.

Forgotten offerings litter the hidden path,
trodden by the few wise men who in the world
did live. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh may not
be accepted. The offerings are we ourselves, for a
broken and a contrite heart will not be despised.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Ash Wednesday

Dark Angel

Meditations on Messiaen.
Quartet for the End of Time.

2

Dark Angel

He will come, the dark angel,
and will meet me face to face.

He will take all that I own,
for it is only temporary
and all my possessions are on loan.

My house, my wife, my car,
my daughter, my grand-child,
 my garden, my trees, my flowers,
They are not mine.
I do not possess them.

I only own this aching heart,
these ageing bones,
this death that has walked beside me,
step by step, every day
since the day I was born.

That indeed is mine,
and nobody else’s.
That is my sole possession.
That is the only thing I own.

Click here for Roger’s reading.
Scroll down to appropriate episode.
Dark Angel

Blood and White Wash

Blood and Whitewash
A Thursday Thought

2-September-2021

Blood and Whitewash is the title of this painting. It has a subtitle: My Plan of Attack.

The origins of the title, and hence of the painting, go back to the Goon Show, with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and of course / wrth gwrs, Harry Secombe, the Swansea Comedian and Master Singer. Away in boarding school back in the late fifties, one of my greatest pleasures was listening to the Goon Show on one of the dormitory’s transistor radios. As a teenager, I found the jokes and the accents incredibly funny. Still do. That’s why I painted this painting. Alas, it is silent, and you cannot hear the accents.

The following snippet of dialog occurred on one such Goon Show, I cannot remember which.

“What are we going to do?”
“Well, this is my plan of attack.”
“That’s not a tack, it’s a nail.”
“No it’s not. It’s a tack.”

So above you have my painting of My Plan of Attack, resurrected after all those years. I throw my mind back to the First World War.

The General:
“He’s a cheerful Cove,” said Jimmy to Jack,
as he walked to Arras with his pack on his back.
But he did for them both, with his plan of attack.

And there in essence is the history of the painting. First, the plan of attack, then the failure and the blood-letting, and then the white-washing of the whole history, a white-washing that turns failure into success, defeat into victory, and loss into gain. But in WWI, it was the poor Tommies who bore the burden, and all the other front line troops who obeyed orders, went blindly over the top, and charged unbroken wire with fixed bayonets.

“If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are,
If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are.
They’re hanging on the old barbed wire.”

Singing as they marched to their deaths, obeying orders, like sheep, and nipped on by the eternal sheep dogs. Things were so bad at Verdun that instead of singing, the men marched, bleating, like sheep. “Sheep unto the slaughter.” There was so much ill-feeling and rebellion in the face of orders and certain slaughter, that French regiments were decimated, one man in ten shot for mutiny, as they marched bleating, instead of singing, to their deaths.

“Oh, we’ll hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line,
have you any dirty washing, Mother dear?”

“Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” So, tell me, “where have all the young men gone, gone to graveyards everyone, when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”

And that, dear friends, is my thought for today: The History of My Plan of Attack. When, indeed, will we ever learn?

Man from Merthyr

Man from Merthyr

Memory loss punched holes in your head
and let in the dark, instead of the light.
Constellations faded from your sight,
erased by the arch-angel’s coal-dust wing.

 “I’m shrinking,” you said, the last time I saw you,
you, who had been taller, were now smaller than me.

 Tonight, when the harvest moon shines bright
and drowns the stars in its sea of light,
I will sit by my window and watch for your soul
as it rides its coal-fired rocket to eternity.

My eyes will be dry. I do not want pink runnels
running down this coal-miner’s unwashed face.
I’ll sing you a Welsh lullaby, to help you sleep.

“When the coal comes from the Rhondda
down the Merthyr-Taff Vale line,
when the coal comes from the Rhondda
I’ll be there.”

With you, my friend, shoulder to shoulder.
“With my golden pick and shovel, I’ll be there.”
Farewell, my friend, safe journey, sleep deep,
as deep as a Rhondda coal mine may you sleep.

Prostate

Prostate

Pictures and models.
1 Prostate: normal size and shape.
2 Prostate enlarged.
3 Prostate enormously enlarged.
4 Prostate lumpy, malformed,
          cancerous, and me prostrate.

Lumpy and treacherous:
a gross shape growing
its grossness within me.
Gross, but mine and a vital
part of my living body.

A mad world this, twisted
time and fairground mirrors
distorting everything, and me
grossed out by the mechanical
clockwork, tick-tock, snip-snap,
removing samples for some
lab to examine and test.

“Give them back!”
I want to scream.
I guess I’ll get them back
on Judgement Day,
when the body resurrects
and I am whole again,
warts, cancer, and all.

Meanwhile, the biopsy’s done.
I get up from the bed
and the nurse hands me a towel
so I won’t drown my sorrows
in my body blood, a crimson
tide, ample, thick, flowing red.

Comment: After a couple of phone calls, some e-mails, and some messages on Facebook, I realize that some of my friends are actually following this blog and reading it. Thank you for the care and attention you have shown me by writing or calling to inquire about my health. All is well. I visited my urologist yesterday for a regular check-up and sat there a little longer than usual, waiting. Never one to waste time, I studied the things in the office and discovered a model prostate over which I could run my fingers (I didn’t!). It showed the four stages of prostate enlargement and cancer development as outlined above. I had no paper with me, so I jotted down four poems on the back of the paper bag in which I carried the injection I would later receive. This poem was one of them. The reference to Judgement Day and the recovery of body parts comes from one of Quevedo’s Suen~os, El suen~o del infierno, I believe. Anyway, my apologies, if I have worried you. I am fine, thank you. However, as Quevedo also wrote, “The day I was born I took my first step on the road to death”. Alas, I too am one of Dylan Thomas’s ‘poor creatures, born to die,’ as are we all. If not now, when? Not too soon, I hope. Blessings and thanks to all who read this. Take care and stay healthy.

Big Hand / Small Hand

Big Hand / Small Hand

It’s late in my life, with the big hand stuck on the nine, at a quarter to some thing, and the small hand twitching its red-tipped needle of blood. Yesterday, the breakdown van called for my body and towed me to the doctor’s. “Cough!” she said. “Say ninety-nine! Now cough again!” All the while, cold hands probed my unprotected body. Bottoms up? Thumbs down? It’s hard to see that the wine glass stands a quarter full when seventy five per cent of the wine has gone and the empty bottle lies drained on the operating table. I sit in front of the mirror and examine the palpitating heart they have torn from my chest. Flesh of my flesh, it beats in my hand like an executioner’s drum. I hear the tumbril drawing near. My colleagues sharpen their knitting needles. My lungs are twin balls of wool knotted tight in my chest.

Variants

Not one of us knows when the skeleton in the limelight will peel off her gloves, doff her hat, lay down her white cane and use us as fuels for a different kind of fire. Grief lurks in the bracelet’s silver snare of aging hair. We kick for a while and struggle at dawn’s bright edge, we creatures conditioned by time and its impossibilities. What possible redemptions unfurl their shadowy shapes at the water’s edge? A dream angel, this owl singing wide-eyed like a moribund swan bordering on that one great leap upwards, preparing to vanish into thin air. Some say a table awaits on an unseen shore; others that a rowing boat is tied to the river bank, ready for us to row ourselves across. Who knows? Yesterday’s horoscopes sprinkle butterflies of news as the snow wraps us all in the arcane blanket of each new beginning.

Comment: It’s been a strange week. In spite of all my resolutions, I missed my Wednesday Workshop and my Thursday Thoughts. Never mind: the latter weren’t very pleasant anyway. It has been pouring with rain again, and, as the WWI song says “Back to bread and water, as I have done before,” except in this case, it’s pills and needles, and I get the first shot on Tuesday. Nothing to worry about. I’ve been there before. It’s all preventative. But the body-clock is ticking away and I am getting no older and people around me are drifting slowly away. One of the players I used to coach at rugby, an excellent prop forward, went AWOL on Wednesday, MIA, and I read about his passing yesterday in the obituary column of the local newspaper. 18 years younger than me. He might be gone, but his memory lingers on, strongly for me. I have been thinking about him and his family and their tragic loss. My heart goes out to them and I offer my condolences, but what can one do, other than sympathize, celebrate a life well-led, and accept that all of us, poor creatures, are born to die. And if not now, when?