Empty Head

           

Empty Head

I sat in class, head in hands, avoiding eye contact. I hoped the priest wouldn’t point me out, call on me, nominate me with a finger, but to no avail. He called my name.

“You have sixty seconds to speak about,” he paused, then produced the rabbit from the hat. “Matches. Come along, stand up, sixty seconds, starting,” he watched the second hand go round on the classroom clock, then counted down: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …” waved his hand, and shouted: “Start now!”

            Images flashed through my head: matches: cricket matches, boxing matches, rugby matches, soccer matches, chess matches, matches to light the burners on the gas stove, the oven, to light the fire in the fireplace … matches, matchsticks, Match Box toys, Dinky toys, toys for little boys, toys for big boys …

            “Fifteen seconds have gone … you have forty-five remaining.”

            “When I think about matches, I think about …”

            … the first spring day in the bungalow, our summer home. The rooms are cold and damp after the winter and nobody has been here since last year. We lay a fire in the grate, but the wood is damp, as is the old newspaper we gather from our last visit. We search for sugar to aid the blaze that we hope to start, but the sugar bowl is empty. We go to the stove. Cold, winter ashes crowd the fire bowl. We scrape them together in a desperate search for charcoal remains …  but we find nothing. We move to the oil-fired lamps and oil stoves. Matches dragged across soggy sandpaper fail to spark …

            “Come along, boy. We haven’t got all day. You’ve got thirty seconds left.”

            Silence fills the room. It is broken by the childhood sniggers and chuckles of long-forgotten classmates who never became friends My cheeks grow red. I start, stammer, and stop.

            … we leave the bungalow. Go next door to where our neighbours winter over. We knock on the door. “Can you lend us a match?” we ask, holding out our hands. Mrs. Williams beams at us. “A match,” she says. “First time in after the winter?” We nod. “I thought so. Saw you arriving. Wondered why you hadn’t come earlier. The weather’s been nice. Here: I can do much better than a match.”  She moves over to the fireplace, picks up the little coal shovel, scoops up a generous portion of her fire, heaps on another lump, then two, of fresh coal, and “Here you are,” she says. “Just put it in the fireplace and add some wood and coal. This can be your first fire. Here, you’d better have some matches too.” “Thank you, Mrs. Williams,” we say. “No problem,” she replies. “It’s good to see you back. It’s been lonely here this winter without you.”

            “Time’s up,” the priest says. “That’s sixty seconds of silence and you can hardly find a word to say on a simple subject. Are you stupid or what?

            My face turns red and I suffer the hot, burning cheeks of childhood shame.

Comment:

This is a theme to which I have returned on many occasions. Click on the link to see the original post. https://rogermoorepoet.com/2016/05/page/2/

Autumn

Autumn
and all that jazz

1

Slow last drag of summer’s sad trombone
sliding its airs between stark, naked trees.

Golden memories float face down in tranquil
waters, life and the summer drained away.

A voice, her voice, ripples across the pond,
echoes over drowned and mirrored leaves.

2

Grey the sky, white the birch trees:
Narcissus kneeling, dark waters flooding.

Tumble-dried by this autumn sky,
leaf words falling, still her voice echoes.

3

Tintinnabulation: a tin-pan alley of leaves
blown against windscreen and car windows.

I, who a grief ago sat here watching her walk,
now sit here alone, waiting for her return.

4

I who am nothing know nothing, save that I
am a burnt-out ember, cold, in a grey-ash grate.

A grating of old bones, these hips and knees,
and if I fall, sweet heart, please love me more.

5

Here endeth today’s lesson: that of the fall,
the fall of all things finally into deep water.

Fall, fall asleep to the rhythmic leaf beat
that summons us all to our appointed end.

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.”

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.

Impressions

Impressions
Early Morning Mass

A single sunbeam:
sharp blade of a heliocentric sword,
it shatters the chapel’s dark.

Fragmented light
speckles white-washed walls.

The priest’s face:
a pallid lily truncated
in the dawn’s pearly light.

A wanderer kneels and prays.
A halo of sunshine
runs a ring around her head.

Her flesh now clutches
a statue’s marble hand.

Her pilgrim palm
presses into granite
forcing warm fingers
into cold stone.

Her veins
weave a warm spell
over frosted rock.

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.

Chance Encounter

Chance Encounter
Overheard one night at the bar

“Meeting her, unexpected,
with another man, that night,
and me, with another woman,
all four of us looking
bemused by what the other
had chosen in each
others absence

… time suspended …

and the halted, faltering
politeness of a nod,
a handshake, ships
passing in the night,
signs and signals
no longer recognized.”

Water

Water

Here, in Island View, my lawn’s parched grass
longs for water, long-promised but never drawing near.
Do my flowers remember when the earth slept without form
and darkness lay upon the face of the deep?

The waters under heaven gathered into one place.
When they separated, the firmament appeared.
Light sprang apart from darkness
and with the beginning of light came the word,
more words, and then the world …

… my own world of water in which my mother
carried me until her waters broke
and the life sustaining substance drained away
throwing me from dark to light.

In Oaxaca, water was born free, yet everywhere
lies imprisoned in bottles, in jars, in frozen cubes,
its captive essence staring out with grief-filled eyes.

A young boy on a tricycle pedals the streets
with a dozen prison cells, each with forty captives:
forty fresh clean litres of drinkable water. He holds
out his hand for money and invites the villagers
to pay a ransom, to set these prisoners free.

Real water yearns to be released, to be spontaneous,
to trickle out of the corner of your mouth,
to drip from your chin, and fall to the ground.

It is a mirage of palm trees upon burning sand.
It is the hot sun dragging its blood red tongue across the sky
and panting for water like a great big thirsty dog.

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.