Westbury White Horse

Chaos

Westbury White Horse

Winter in Somerset. No trains from Frome.
They sit in the engine sheds, boilers frozen.

Clare drives me to Westbury, in Wiltshire,
the neighboring county. She leaves me there

and I stand on a platform as white with snow
as Westbury White Horse towering above.

People arrive, flapping their arms, stamping
their feet, walking around trying to stay warm.

Finally, to shouts, cheers, and laughter, a train
arrives, its boiler successfully thawed. People

rush forward, open doors, claim their seats.
It’s a corridor, not a compartment train.

“Is this the eight-fifteen to Temple Meads?”
I ask the porter. “Nope,” he says. “That’ll

be arriving later.” “When?” “About ten
or eleven, I expect.” “What train is this?”

“Ah, now this is the six-thirty to Bristol.
Running about two hours late. Better be quick.

The guard’s waving his flag. She’s about to leave.”
I open a door, climb on the train.  All

the seats are taken. I stand in the corridor,
shivering, all the way to Temple Meads.

Railway Yards

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Railway Yards

The enemy came to bomb them. And they did. Tracks rooted out, twisted like spaghetti. Engine sheds burned down. Rolling stock ruined. Many children that year lived with the fear of thunder and lightning as Swansea, my home town, burned, in spite of the black out curtains and the air raid precautions. My father’s father lived by the railway yards. When I stayed with him overnight, the shuffle and clank of steam engines and the clatter of coal trucks scarred my dreams.

My mother’s father lived by the sea and each night the ebb and flow of the tides rocked me to sleep when I stayed in his house. I told the time by the tides and I knew every ship that entered and left Swansea Docks. Standing on the front step, with field glasses to sweep the bay, I could read the ships’ names, painted on bow or stern, and then check their movements in the local paper, the South Wales Evening Post.

Timetables: they ruled my life: time tables for the trains, tide tables for the ships.
When they drove me away to boarding school, I was far removed from the rail yards and the sea. I was now summoned by bells, my every activity chimed in by bell after bell. Bells: wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, be silent. Bells for each class, for the angelus, bells for dinner, supper, bed time, and baths. Bells on the altar as we knelt before tall candles that flickered light as the tinkling bells flicked sound across the chapel. The only escape from bells came during field games. No bells then, just whistles. But bells and whistles whittled the timetables of a carefully regulated working life.

When we moved from Swansea (Abertawe) to Cardiff (Caer Dydd), our new house also backed onto train tracks and railway yards. The rattle of rolling stock lulled me to sleep. Each day, I opened my eyes to the clash and clang of early-morning shunting. Each night, at exactly 3:10 a.m., the express train to London would rattle past my bedroom window and shake me awake as I lay in my bed. The one day I didn’t hear the train, I woke up anyway, listening for its sound. When silence stalked beneath the stars, I knew there had been an accident, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. Radio and newspapers, there was little television then, screamed the news, so many people dead and injured. We mourned for the unknown dead, just like we did in the mine disasters and the bombings.

Lights out at 9:30, prefects and house masters on patrol outside dormitory doors enforced the silence that ruled the night in those inland boarding schools that I was forced to inhabit. No trains, no ships, no tides, no rattling of rolling stock, no steam whistle, no salt smell of the incoming sea disturbed my dreams, just the snoring and whimpering of lonely little boys lost in their iron-frame beds and longing for the comforts of home.

Hummingbirds

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Breaking News:

A swarm of hummingbirds is attacking ripening tomatoes in Island View. They were first spotted by Princess Squiffy, our attack cat. Unfortunately, they were outside and she was inside, so she couldn’t get at them. and scare them away.

Further Development:

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Those hummingbirds must have been high on something: they were glowing and humming in the dark. Radio active tomatoes, perhaps? Or could this be a trick of the light or a joker’s hoax? Please post your answers in the comments section.

Conclusion:

Whatever: Princess Squiffy is not perturbed. David Suzuki, when consulted, said he had no opinion on the matter. Is that really David Suzuki? It looks like Foo Man Chew, to me.

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Ste. Luce-sur-mer

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Ste. Luce-sur-Mer
(1995 &1996)

marooned and listless
monarch of all he surveyed
this ancient sea-side crab
caught naked on a wave-wet beach

surrounded by thronging gulls
their powerful beaks
pulling at the carapace
half-buried in the sand

moment of truth
the second the oyster’s
protective vacuum breaks
the crab sucked from the sand

battered the scattered body
spread over crisp sheets
pillowed on mermaid-hair
claws that once clicked

silent now hushed
listen to the tide
watch the wind’s footprints
walking on warm summer sand

Think about it!

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Commentary:

Climate change, is it real or is it a hoax? Do we believe the scientific facts or do we follow the propagandistic myth makers? Your choice. The issue has become so clouded by the religious and the anti-religious who stress belief above fact. It reminds me of the religious wars of the sixteenth century: believers, true believers, non-believers, un-believers disbelievers, all summed up in atheists, agnostics, gnostics, and true believers. But believers in what, and in which, and in where, and in why, and in whom?

I am not a scientist: I am a linguist, an analyzer of language. I do not know the rights and wrongs of maths and science. But I do know the difference between Stork and Butter, or Talk and Mutter, as David Frost (the original) once said in TWTWTW (That was The Week That Was — remember that? If you do, you are as old, or older than I am! And you probably didn’t live in this geographical region). I have never played poker. But I have studied languages, more than most people have and I know from body language when the speaker is bluffing, throwing up Aunt Sallies (remember them? Rhetoric 100), Straw Men, or Pestilential Pancakes.

Bluster and Bluff. Emotion not argument. Lies not truth. Think about it. Listen carefully. Make up your own mind. But please: move beyond twits, twitter, and tweets. Move beyond bewitching personae. Move beyond the casual joke, the witty epigram and read beyond the grade nine press and the flagrant advertisements. If you can’t, and if you are trapped in the comic art of the rhetoritician’s net, please consider upgrading your knowledge, your studies, and your education.

Our well ran dry a summer ago. Think about it. I did. Deeply. Our neighbors wells have also run dry. Think about it. I have lived here for thirty years. Never before have we seen a water shortage. Think about it. I thought about it. Luckily, in our case, it was a problem with the pump. $200 for a new control panel and a couple of adjustments, not $12,000 for a new well and an even deeper dip into the diminishing aquifer.

Lucky, lucky, lucky: but for how much longer?
Think about it!

 

Full House

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Full House

Full house: echoing footsteps, shadows,
everywhere, a litter of toys, crayons,
colored pages, jigsaw puzzles, Barbie
and Ken found at the back of a shelf.

Memories: pinned to the fridge, found
in strange places, an almond on my chair,
a drawing in my notebook, a message,
unintelligible, scrawled on shopping lists.

That peremptory voice calls my name
and I drag myself from sleep, only to know
it was a dream, netted up from slumber’s
dark midnight sea. I drift off again and

see her again, opening the bedroom door,
calling, calling, ever present in voice,
song, and dervish dance, such energy,
round and round, bouncing on my bed,

rolling the exercise ball across the floor,
oblivious to danger, harm, the perils of
unbalancing, stumbling, slipping, falling,
aware of the need for sticking plaster

comforts littering thighs, knees, calves,
feet arms, elbows, where ever instant
attention calls for instant, urgent treatment.
I will always remember the ambushes

that rolled off the tongue, phrases way
beyond the skills of a four-year old. What
if her mother is a lawyer, the youngster
shouldn’t control that sort of language.

She remembered so much from her last
visit. We thought she would have forgotten
us, but no, she remembered where almost
everything was hidden, out of sight but

no longer out of reach. Just a little bit taller,
stronger, more determined, faster, so fast
and loud we could not keep up. This morning
I awoke to the silence of an empty house.

Rolling Stones

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Rolling Stones

I have counted down the days, hours, minutes,
one by one, each tock of my grandfather clock
linked in pen and ink chains of endless words.

From arrival to departure, time’s fickle finger has
pointed me onwards into my future or backwards
into a delusional past that never was as I recall it.

Packed bags, backpacks crammed full of snacks,
ammunition against the hunger wars soon to be
upon them, they commence their long journey home.

Grown ups, some in their second childhood, bemoan
ties that bind, tides that rip us apart, tearing hearts,
swinging us in and out as, cockle-shell heroes, we man

our coracles and consult wide-ranging horoscopes that
never fail to comfort, the future’s wild words, written
in pitiless skies to guide and inspire all earthly creatures

born into sadness and death. No heroes in this house.
Just two old people, grey-haired, broken, contemplating
this soon to be silent home, knowing the Rolling Stones

were right, that rocks in motion don’t gather no moss,
that each lost moment is a finger-nail torn from flesh,
that today of all days could verily be ‘the last time’.

Commentary: Here for such a little while and gone already. Two years since they were here and two more years before they come back again. The silence is overwhelming. Only CNN with its endless cacophony breaks into the conscious mind, though that mind is unconscious now of words and their meanings. Images of emptiness, empty nests, this empty nest, these empty nests fill the vacancy of space. The heart is a black hole in the chest, sucking everything out of the light and into that dark, vacant space.

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