The Unexamined Life

The Unexamined Life

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Socrates.

A philosopher’s life’s based on thinking,
and drinking, and thinking about drinking,
and thinking while drinking,
and drinking while thinking,
and thinking about thinking when drinking.

He gazes on and on at his navel,
every day for as long as he is able,
and talks to his wife
about trouble and strife
and the problems they have to unravel.

But all is not doom and gloom
when a philosopher enters the room,
though none can debunk
the size of the trunk
of the elephant stuck in the room.

As for me, I am caring and giving,
and although I work hard for my living,
I’d willingly share
with a friend in despair
half my cloak and a third of my living.

“The unlived life is not worth examining.”
Pseudo-Socrates.

“Join the army,” that philosopher said.
“There’s no life like it,” he said.
“You get very few thanks
when you’re in the front ranks,
but it’s better than walking round dead.”

Dreamer

Dreamer

A once-upon-a-time god struts past the table where I drowse.
Once I stole his nose, breaking it from a sacred statue.
Now I watch it cross the square: a proud beak nailed to a face.

Casting shadows on the cobbles, zopilote flies over the square.
I caught him once, dozing on a local bus filled with love-birds:
he begged me to fold his wings and let him sleep forever.

The balloon lady sits in the square selling tins of liquid soap.
Released from school, the children charm my days
blowing colored bubbles that seek freedom in the skies.

Eight Deer, eight years old, sets out on his conquests.
Nine Wind gives birth to his people, releasing them
from their underworld prison by carving a door in a tree .

Faces crowd the trees above me, as long-dead friends
come back to life, chattering like sparrows in the branches.
Roosting time and their voices slip slowly into silence.

Sometimes, at midnight, they scratch at the window
in my head and tumble through my half-awake mind.
They need me, these dreams, for I bring them to life.
Without me, the dreamer, they would surely fade and die.

Striations

There are striations in my heart, so deep, a lizard could lie there, unseen, and wait for tomorrow’s sun. Timeless, the worm at the apple’s core waiting for its world to end. Seculae seculorum: the centuries rushing headlong. Matins: wide-eyed this owl hooting in the face of day. Somewhere, I remember a table spread for two. Breakfast. An open door. “Where are you going, dear?” Something bright has fled the world. The sun unfurls shadows. The blood whirls stars around the body. “It has gone.” she said. “The magic. I no longer tremble at your touch.” The silver birch wades at dawn’s bright edge. Somewhere, tight lips, a blaze of anger, a challenge spat in the wind’s taut face. High-pitched the rabbit’s grief in its silver snare. The midnight moon deep in a trance. If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.

Comment: This is the prose version, from Fundy Lines (2002). The prose version was based on an extract from a longer poem that first appeared in Though Lovers Be Lost (2000). Though Lovers Be Lost is also available on Amazon and Kindle.

Pilgrim

Pilgrim
Oaxaca, Mexico

Outside the church,
a boy pierces his lips
with a cactus thorn.

The witch doctor
catches the warm blood
in a shining bowl.

He blesses the  girl
who kneels before him.

On her head she carries
a basket filled with flowers
and heavy stones.
He sprinkles it
with her brother’s blood.

All day she will walk with
this basket on her head
until evening’s shadows
finally weigh her down.

Cobbles clatter beneath her clogs.

When the stones grow tongues,
will they speak the languages
in which she dreams?

Comment: Revisiting and revising some earlier poems. The early version can be found here. The original poem comes from the collection Obsidian’s Edge, which can be found on Amazon.

Dreams

Dreams

All my former lives gather at night
thrusting their way forward
into the half-light of my drowsy mind.

Alive and thriving, they descend
from midnight’s tree of knowledge
and besiege me with grasping fingers.

Do my dreams fish these colors and shapes
from my own interior seas?

Or do they watch and wait for these spirits
to emerge from sleep’s cocoon
and be reborn in fiery blocks of color?

My neighbor’s dog greets the dawn
barking bright sparks of color
into secluded corners of my waking mind.

I dream dark angels with butterfly bodies,
their inverted wings spread over my head.

Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams

Amnesia fades in these amniotic
waters, moving in time to the water pump’s
heart beat. I close my eyes. Nothing is the same.

Do I drift dreamily or dreamily drift?
The tub’s rose-petals bring garden memories:
primrose, bluebells, cowslips, daffodils dancing

sprightly in Blackweir Gardens or Roath Park,
beside the lake or along the gravel paths
where we used to bike, so many years ago.

Photos float before me, pictures of moments
I alone recall. Spring in Paris, the trees
breaking buds along the Champs-Élysées.

Santander in summer, walking the Piquío,
Segunda Playa, beneath the jacarandas.
Winter in Wales, up in Snowdonia where,

on a Relay Run to Tipperary,
I ran down a valley between high hills,
on a freezing night, with only the stars

to keep me company along a ribbon
of road. Autumn in Mactaquac. An orgy
of gaudily painted trees, leaves floating

on this first chill wind, to perch like sparrows,
on my beloved’s hair. The look in her eyes
as I catch a falling leaf and put it in
her pocket to save it for another day.

Angel Choir

Angel Choir
(on seeing the Northern Lights at Ste. Luce-sur-mer)

listen to the choristers with their red and green voices
light’s counterpoint flowering across this unexpected son et lumière
we tremble with the sky fire’s crackle and roar

once upon another time twinned in our heavenly bodies
we surely flew to those great heights and hovered in wonderment
now our earthbound feet are rooted to the concrete
if only our hearts could sprout new wings and soar upwards together

the moon’s phosphorescent wake swims shimmering before us
the lighthouse’s fingers tingle up and down our spines
our bodies flow fire and blood till we crave light and yet more light

when the lights go out we are left in darkness
our hearts fill with dreams of what might have been

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.

Going Back

Going Back

Nothing will ever be
as it was before.
Time, like water,
like these people marching,
constantly flows.

It trickles through my fingers,
uncatchable,
unstoppable sand
filtering through
the hour glass’ waist.

You cannot walk
in the same river twice.
Water flows, currents shift,
rocks wear down,
banks crumble and fall.

However hard I try
I cannot recapture
that first, fine, careless rapture,
the touch of that first
drop of river water.

Kneeling by the river bank,
like St. Kevin and the Blackbird,
I cannot recall
the river’s name.