Basil Bear Packs

Basil Bear Packs

            “You promised.”

            “I know I did.”

            “Then take me with you. I’m only small. I’ll fit in a pocket.”

            “All right: go and pack.”

            “What shall I pack?”

            “Don’t ask me. I don’t know. I’ve never travelled with a teddy bear before.”

            The conference is a strange one. There are no women present and only one person of color. Nobody speaks to him. When he reads, I am the only one to hear his paper. It’s actually quite good.

            I move from that session to the next one. The man sitting beside me opens his briefcase and tells me to look inside. I do. He has two pistols in there.

“Are you packing?” he asks me.

     “No,” I reply. “But I packed to come here. So did my guardian.”

“Guardian?” the man raises his eyebrows. “That’s cool: a body guard, eh? You need to pack round here. But a body guard is great. Where are you going tonight?”

I tell him.

“That’s a dangerous area of town. You’d both better be packing if you go down there.”

“Thanks for the advice,” I nod to him. “Are you going to the reception?”

“Yup,” he smiles. “I’ll see you there. And don’t forget to pack.”

“Well, Basil,” I see when I get back to the hotel room. “It looks like you’ll be going out with me tonight.”

“That’s great,” little Basil gives me a big teddy bear smile.

When I get to the reception, my friend from earlier is there. He nods at me and smiles at the bulge on the left side of my jacket.

“Good to see you’re packing. Can I have a look?”

“Sure,” I say and open my coat. Basil sits up, opens his eyes, and gives him a little wave. The man’s mouth falls open. He stares at me, wild-eyed.

“Ain’t nobody gonna tackle a mad man who’s carrying a teddy bear,” I say. “Now that’s really packing.”

He walks to the bar, orders a double-double and swallows it, Ker-Splosh.

“That’s telling him,” says Basil, snuggling back down in the warm beneath my armpit. “Hi-ho, Silver: let’s go out and get those gangsters.”

Comment: For Tiffany who understands the important things on the brighter side of life.

Golden Angel


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Golden Angel

He stands beneath guardian trees,
his saffron garments glossed with gold.

Hands cupped, body bent,
he softly swells as he dips
beneath sun and rain.

He speaks to me:
wild prophet from an ancestral book
that I believed in when I was a child,
but no longer read or understand.

I try to interpret the aroma of his lips,
his slow, small growth of gesture.

His winged words are traps
tripping my tongue, clipping my wings,
preventing me from flight.

Shape-shifter, she changes before my eyes
and takes on her earthly disguise.

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Covid-19

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Covid-19

In bed, you turn your back to me,
pushing me away, even in sleep.
I only seek warmth and comfort.

Blankets don’t touch the cold I feel,
deep in my body. I reach out to you,
but you’re locked in your dreams.

A grunt or two, a muffled snore, a half-
-whistling sound, sometimes, a cry.
Last night you shouted “Help!” out loud.

I hauled you back from some black pit
where sharp-clawed devils clutched you
and tried to snatch you away from me.

Today, it’s my turn to call for help.
I face a horizon filled with darkening clouds.
They refuse to go away and weigh me down.

Fear of the Fence

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Fear of the Fence

Our conversation this morning:
a sun-dried Roman aqueduct
no longer capable of carrying water.

I envision brown sacking
winter-lagged around leaking pipes,
and me a little Dutch boy stemming
the damage, a finger in life’s dyke.

Each sentence is a wasted
movement of lips, tongue, teeth.
Our words are motionless kites,
earthbound, too heavy to rise.

Dead soldiers, gone over the top,
my thoughts hang like washing
pegged out on the Siegfried Line
on a windless day in WWI.

I have grown afraid of this barbed-wire
fence growing daily between us.

Comment: The penultimate verse is from a WWI song that my grandfather taught me in the kitchen, back home in Wales, when I was a child. “I’m going to hang out my washing on the Siegfried Line. Have you any dirty washing, mother dear.” The words of such songs have stayed with me and recur in my poems from time to time.

Charles Baudelaire

A butterfly perches on Les Fleurs du Mal.

Charles Baudelaire

He walks past the Jesuit Church
where the shoe-shine boys store
polish, brushes, and chairs overnight.
He walks past the wrought-iron bench
where the gay guys sit, caressing,
asking the unsuspecting to join them.

Nobody asks Charles for a match,
for a drink, for charity, for a walk
down the alley to a cheap hotel.

The witch doctor is the one who stops
the hands on all the clocks at midnight.
He’s the one who leaves this place,
and returns to this place, all places being one.
The witch doctor sees little things
that other men don’t see. He reaches out
and flicks a fly from Charles’s nose.
“I too have lost my way,” it sighs.

Charles thinks he knows who he is,
but sometimes he wonders when he shaves,
rasping the razor across his chin’s dry husks.
The witch doctor, his lookalike, his twin,
stares back at him from the bathroom mirror.
Three witches dance on the waning soap dish.
One spins the yarn, one measures the cloth,
one wields the knife, that will one day sever
the thread of all poor creatures born to die.

Oh hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère.

Northern Lights

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Northern Lights

Old man looks out of his window.
Falling leaves twist like they did in his childhood.
They spread bronzed carpets across the lawn.
His granddaughter stands by the flowerbed,
squeezing fall’s last blossoms,
turning them into perfume.

Dandelions clutter Old Man’s lawn.
Last summer he lost the strength and will
to stoop down and root them out.
In dreams, Old Man’s spirit tries to escape
and wander through celestial pastures.
For a moment, stars shine brighter
as a new spark adorns the sky.

Walking through the Aurora Borealis,
he understands the way to weave rainbows
from ribbons of color and floating light.
Old Man knows he must share this knowledge.
One day he will share his secret with this child.

Man from Merthyr

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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 rockets its way 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 this 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, shoulder to shoulder.
Farewell, my friend, sleep safe, sleep deep.

Memory

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Memory

Marigolds, Oaxacan flowers
grown to guide the dead,
leave so many memories at my door.

Milk bottles placed on the concrete step:
every morning, sparrows peck holes
in the silver tops to drink the cream.

Memory:
its once open door
now slowly closes.

Keys no longer turn in the lock.
Sleep gathers in forgotten rooms,
falling like dust on silken flowers.

Shadows double themselves in the mirror:
recycled shades carve the shower’s glass.

Wary of shade and flame I bathe beneath
a dust-laden beam of sunlight.

Motes in my mind:
flesh and blood chessmen
playing their game
on checkered boards of day and night.

Fate Accompli

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Fate Accompli

Life begins with the glow-worm of a match.
Luciérniga, Lucifer, the bringers of light.
Sun-flames flicker on the weaver’s fingers,
lighting day’s candle, bringing an end to night.

The shuttle clatters away, plotting our fate.
Tiny, we await our doom on the maker’s loom.
Wooden teeth braid each of the threads
the mid-wife will tie when she cuts the knot.

Three witches stand beside the newborn’s cradle.
One spins the yarn, one measures the thread,
the third one wields the journey-ending knife.

Infants, we walk, unwitting, our planks of fire.
We cast star-crossed shadows on cave walls.
Three witches smile as false omens forge our fate.

Mountain Ash

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Mountain Ash

Honey sweet bark drilled by beaks
bleeds the rowan’s life away.
Who do we kill: bird or tree?

Decision made, the sap-suckers,
claws trapped in sackcloth, fluff
their feathers, leave their feast.

Red beads on the mountain ash:
a rosary of bright berries.

Bitter on the tongue, sunset’s
first flourish tinting my dream.

Midnight gnaws at the moon.
Its white skull drifts, a stone knife,
sharpened, in the sky’s iron hand.

At shadowed garden’s shallow
edge, the sorbus aucuparia bends,
its spirit walking night’s waters.