Time Folds

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Time Folds

Time folds … itself in two or three. A rubber omelet clock, it vanishes over the white water adventure rocks, bending and sliding, folding and unfolding. Riding the waves is ungainly, unseemly. We hang on to ropes, clock edges, reach for outstretched hands, count seconds, minutes, hours, search for meaning …

Further downstream, men and women dance on the bridge at Avignon. Now there are two popes and each one castigates the other, hurling verbal darts, well sharpened, that pierce the thickest of skins. The bridge across the river stands unfinished. It stretches stone hands out towards the other side, but the further shore is distant and the bridge’s fretwork abandons its quest.

Where do we find meaning when seconds, minutes, hours slip down the stream paddled along beside all those hours lost from the clock? Omnia vulnerant, ultima necat: they all wound, but the last one kills. At what time will that final hour suddenly loom and sling its ultimate stone, shoot its outrageous final arrow? Jove’s thunderbolt, sudden, from a cloudless sky? Life’s lead-tipped slingshot and all that we love turned suddenly to hatred? A tremble of the ground beneath our feet? Kangaroos and Koalas burn, setting even more bush ablaze and the smoke from those fires reaches out, out, out, across the bush, across the cities, across the Tasman, across the Atlantic. New Zealand has become the land of the long pink cloud.  Now South America is gifted its grey, smoky monsters of grasping hands, those insubstantial nightmares of our childhood dreams, reaching in from the dark to pluck us from our sleep.

On the unfinished bridge at Avignon, the people still dance. In their papal palaces, the partisan popes still hurl the insults of their hit and missiles. Somewhere, close, was it in the future or will it be in the past, the Black Death lurks, waiting its moment. The Great Fires of London sizzle and stench from 1666 to 1941 while religious partisans burn each others’ homes. The Spanish flu invades the trenches and kills more men than the war will ever manage.

Turn your face to the wall, my darlings, as the gentlemen go by. But what do they bear in their hands, those gentlemen, in their minds, those unsubtle warriors of a crazy game that leads us onward, merrily, merrily, not so gently, down what stream, over what waterfall, and into which of the many perils that lie in wait?

Ephemera

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Ephemera

‘The day I was born, I took my first step on the path to death.’ Thus spoke Francisco de Quevedo, the Spanish poet born in 1580, died in 1645. “Am I going to die, Father?” “We’re all going to die, Patrick. We just don’t know how, where, or when.” This from the Sharpe’s Rifles Series. I can’t remember which show, but I remember the scene.

Ephemera / ephemeral: butterflies on a rock, on a flower, in a summer garden, blown away in a puff of wind. And that’s what we all are. “For whether we last the night, or no, / I’m sure is only touch and go.” Dylan Thomas: Under Milkwood. Or under Idlewood, Island View, as I like to rewrite it.

“Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” / “Where are lost year’s snows?” François Villon.  “No hay pájaros en los nidos de antaño”“There are no birds in last year’s nests.” Miguel de Cervantes.

One of my friends, twenty-five years younger than me, wrote to me today speaking of how fragile he felt. Another friend wrote me last week, mid-forties, going into another round of cancer. How long do we have? How do we face our individual end? How do we pass through that door that opens for us, and each one of us alone? I have no answers. I remember pushing my father in a wheelchair around the cancer ward. I remember sitting with my mother, needles inserted in her arm, her arm a sunset of bruises.

Where do we go? What will become of us? What will we do when the dandelion clock runs down and that last puff of wind bows us into eternity? Horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours. These words come from the old Roman sundial. I first read them in a children’s book: The Puppy Who Lost his Wag. Does anyone remember that book? Or was it just an ephemeral publication, lost in the tides of time? Villon, Cervantes, and anonymous author … pobres poetas de hoy: polvo seco de tesis doctoraltoday’s poor poets: dry dust of a doctoral thesis. (José María Valverde, a very good friend).

Et ego in Arcadia vixi / and I in Arcadia have lived. It is, and has been, a wonderful life. I feel the sands of time trickling though my fingers. I feel the waters running dry in Antonio Machado’s  clepsidra / his water clock. And I am not afraid. I rejoice in who I am and what I have been. My puppy dog life has regained its wag and the sun shines on my sundial.

 

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Reyes

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Reyes

The Spanish Christmas comes on the Twelfth Day after our traditional Christmas: January 6, today. 32 years ago, we spent Reyes in Madrid. We arrived in time to see the Christmas Parade and what a sight that was, with the three Wise Men, los reyes magos, riding on their camels at the end of the parade. It had just snowed and the city, streets and squares, shone white.

It’s funny what we remember and how we remember it. “Mira, mira, mira!” “Look, look, look!” Then, in the distance, descending from the Puerta de Alacalá, the Three Wise Men. Behind us, a little boy screamed at his mother. “Don’t you want to see los tres reyes magos?” she asked him. “No,” he yelled. “I don’t believe in the three wise men. I want to go home and watch soccer on the telly!”

I wore a white sweater that evening. When I got back to the hotel, I discovered that every inch of sweater that had emerged from beneath my coat was now grey. Even the air was filthy and pollution lay in ambush everywhere. “Every time I cough, I get a mining souvenir,” Max Boyce used to sing. Well, after a couple of days in Madrid, I too was coughing up souvenirs, but they didn’t come from coal dust underground. They came from the very air I was breathing out in the city streets.

Later that week, we took the train out to the Casa del Campo to see those same three camels in the zoo. In the distance, the Guadarrama stood out clearly against the sky. The zoo welcomed us and we enjoyed breathing in the fresh air and seeing the animals in the wide open spaces behind the invisible bars that allowed us to view them in a more natural habitat.

Christmas / Reyes: a magic time for remembering things that seem to have vanished, yet that sneak up on you and shake you awake when you least expect it.

 

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Butterflies

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Butterflies

Here today and gone tomorrow. Ephemeral. Like all of us ‘poor creatures, born to die’ (as Dylan Thomas once wrote in Under Milkwood). It seems strange to look back on last summer’s photos and to remember that yes, they were here, those butterflies. Outside the window. Perching on the flowers. Showing their varied colors. Alive. Vibrant. Raising and lowering their wings.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I wore a grey suit and lived in a concrete, four-walled cell that they called an office, I was asked if I would edit a new journal for one of the institutions with which I was involved. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘That would be great.’ ‘We’ll need you to submit a title and a theme,’ they said. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Of course I will.’

I thought about many things: titles, themes, topics, writers … Then I thought about other journals with which I had been involved in various capacities. Then I considered walking in the footsteps of the Journal of Higher Education with all of its cutting-edge articles and high-powered inspiration. I breathed a sigh of frustration, then of relief. ‘Got it,’ I said, and the Journal of Lower Expectations was born.

Alas, it was a butterfly that never spread its wings. ‘Your services will not be needed,’ came the curt reply when I submitted the title.

Think about it: a couple of years back, there were no bees in the garden: CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). Last year, there were no birds. The feeders stood empty, and bird flu was the cry on everyone’s lips and the plague on every bird’s beak. Ephemeral. Butterflies on a rock. Australia burns and people are rescued from the beaches where they have taken refuge in the sea. Everyone, everywhere, now needs to live with lower expectations.

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Butterflies and birds and bees: will they be back next summer? Who knows? I certainly don’t. But then, I am a true agnostic. I have no scientific background worth speaking of and neither ax no knife to grind on this topic. I genuinely do not know where we are heading. But I believe least those who protest most, especially when they bluster and bluff and try to pull the cocoon of disbelief over my eyes by shouting loudly their point of view. I have eyes. I can see, even if there are no butterflies, birds, or bees to be seen. Alas: I can still see and suffer their absence.

Please
will ye no come back again?”
Poor kangaroos, kookaburras, koalas,
wallabies and platypus ducks.

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We will miss you so much if you any of you,
let alone all of you,
along with the butterflies, birds, and bees,
go AWOL.