An Old Man

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An Old Man and His Memories

Me and my broken-record memories,
like a vinyl disc going round and round
on the turn-table, and the needle stuck
in a groove, as I repeat myself endlessly
like any old man with his stories and jokes,
told and heard so often that his old lady
knows the endings before he clears his
throat to start the tale, and the ancient
mariner who lives in his brain stops
people in supermarket and street to tell
them, again and again, about life’s doldrums
where no winds blow and the ship is stuck,
like a gramophone needle in a one-track
groove, no moving air to fill the sails,
and life’s albatross lies heavy on this old
man’s neck, and bends his back so he leans
on his canes, and points with rubber-tipped
stick at the falling snow, never as thick and
heavy as it was in his youth, when he climbed
Mount Everest and ran a four minute mile,
though that’s about the time now for his
one hundred stumbled meters, as he leans
on a grocery cart, like other old men who
grin and wink and nod “Nice cart, eh lad?”
and back in those days, every game was won,
except when the ref was biased, and look:
he still walks lop-sided from that collection
of chips off the old family block that he carries
around, like a slow snail carries his house,
always on the move, from face to fearful face.

Fall

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Fall

 Just one leaf
dropping from the tree
and the fall
a call of nature
and no freak chance of fate.

What throw of the dice
eliminates
Lady Luck?

None at all,
or so the poet says,
lying there,
indisposed,
his ribs cracked
hard against
the wooden boards
and his right foot
caught in such a way
that the hip slips
slightly from its socket
and try as he may
he cannot stand
but lies there
in the chill evening wind,
a lone leaf,
getting on in age,
plucked from his tree
and cast to the ground.

Comment: In light of my last fall, last Tuesday, this is a re-organization of an earlier poem also called Fall, available here. That particular fall took place in 2014. I stumbled and fell off a step on the back porch while I was trying to photograph a black bear that had wandered into our garden and was guzzling bird seed at the bird feeder. We saw this particular bear on half a dozen occasions. The poem was published in my poetry chapbook Triage (2015).

Sinister

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Sinister

What the left hand does
when the right hand doesn’t
know what it’s doing
is an attempt to re-pattern
the brain, to slow it down,
as the pencil spider-walks
its wandering way over the page
like my father’s did when,
stroke-stricken in the right hand,
he transferred his pencil to the left
and sought to-re-establish control
over tiny, manageable things,
and yes, he often cut himself
shaving, but he didn’t like beards
so he never gave in and shaved
every day, died fighting,
and did not go gentle,
and neither will I.

Comment: This is a very raw poem, in more senses than one. I fell over on Tuesday, on the back porch. One of the porch nails, forced up by the winter ice, caught in my open-toed sandal and over I went. My head had hit the deck before I even knew I was falling. It wasn’t as bad as the tumble I had when chasing the black bear and trying to photograph it, but this fall left me quite stunned. You can read about the fall HERE. The actual bruising, not the fictional ones, can be found in #3 of that sequence. I wrote the above poem, on Thursday evening, with my left hand, while my right hand was being iced. Funny how we think of one thing while doing another: I had visions of my father, stroke-stricken as I say, trying to write with his left hand. He fought so hard to do just the smallest things. Oh yes, I have a nice bump on my head, too, and as I told the chiropractor when I visited her later that Tuesday afternoon: “I think I have already had my back adjusted once today.” The other thought that comes to me: how slow we are to heal, once we pass a certain age, or, as my good friend Jan the Stoneist says, “an uncertain age.” With that latest fall, I have indeed entered into The Age of Uncertainty.

Crows

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Crows

 1

 “Your head’s bleeding.”
“I know.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing.”
“What do you mean, nothing? How did you get that cut on your head? Did you fall?”
“No.”
“What happened then?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“You have to talk about it. Tell me, or I can’t help you.”
The old man looks at the social worker.
“It was my wife. She hit me with the frying pan.”
“Why?”
“She wanted bacon and eggs and I wouldn’t cook them. So she hit me.”
“What! And what did you do?”
“Nothing. I couldn’t hit her back.
“I should hope not. Where is she now?”
“In hospital.”
“What on earth …. why is she in hospital”
“I wouldn’t hit her. So she stuck her hand in the door jamb and closed the door on her fingers. There was blood everywhere. I called the ambulance and they came and took her in.”
“You didn’t go with her? To get your head seen to?”
“Obviously not.”
“Why not?”
“I knew you were coming. I couldn’t leave the house empty. It was funny though …”
“What was?”
“The crow. He must have heard her scream. He came and perched on that windowsill, right there, and just sat, and looked through the window as she lay on the floor. Then, when the ambulance came, he flapped his wings and flew away.”

2

He moves in closer then he tries to head butt me. I sense it coming, but I’m not quick enough to avoid the blow. It glances off the side of my head and I feel skin break, blood flow.
I step back.
He moves in again and this time throws a punch, a roundhouse swing with his right hand. I catch his wrist, pull him off balance, turn my body, spin on my heel, drag him across my outstretched leg: Tai Otoshi. He doesn’t know how to break fall, and I throw him down heavily, rather than lowering him. Then, I drop with him and, as his head rebounds off the floor, I slam my elbow into his nose and mouth.
He is now bleeding worse than me.
I leave him lying there.
As I walk away, two crows fly into a nearby tree and, heads cocked to one side, stare at him as he lies there.

3

My open-toed sandal catches on one of the nails that the ice forces up through the wood and I hit my head heavily on the back porch even before I realize I am falling.
I put my hand to my head and my fingers come back sticky and wet.
I lie there, stunned, groaning.
A crow flies in, perches in the nearest tree, and sits there, watching me. He caws. Two other crows join him. And then two more. A family of five. I watch them watching me.
Everything hurts. I try to roll over, but cannot.
The first crow flies towards the porch and lands on the balustrade where he sits, head cocked to one side, staring at me.
I slide slowly across the wood. The splinters are sharp. The nails stick up and catch in my clothes.
The crow on the balustrade caws and a second one flaps in and lands feet first, claws outstretched, to join him.
This spurs me into renewed action. I slither awkward across the boards, roll over on to my tummy by the picnic table, and force myself to do a push up. Then I grasp the seat of the picnic table and haul my aching body to the Hail Mary praying position.
I shriek, once, as my body returns to the almost vertical.
The crows flap their wings and fly away.

4

My father once told me how, during police training, a man burst into the classroom, grabbed the lecturer by the lapels of his coat, and tried to head butt him. The lecturer struggled with his assailant. Curses and blasphemies rose high as the two men rocked back and forth locked in combat.
“Stay there. Don’t move,” the lecturer screamed at the class. “I’ll handle this.”
The young recruits froze in their seats.
The intruder left as quickly as he came, cursing, and leaving the lecturer seething. The lecturer took a deep breath, regained his composure, and turned to the class.
“Write down what you have just seen,” he said. “I’ll need you all as witnesses. Use your own words. Don’t talk to anyone.”
There were thirty young recruits in the room and twenty-four different versions of the event.

Love Poem @ 70

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Love Poem @ 70

1
We walk on tiptoe round the garden,
peeling free the sunlight cloud by cloud.

Sometimes, the heart is a sacrifice of feathers,
bound with blood to an ornate altar.

Petrus:
this rock cold against my chest.
Piedra:
centuries of stone carvings
come alive in your face.

If our arms were to meet
around these columns
of sun-warmed flesh and stone,
what would become of us?

2
Beneath my skin, the woad
flows as blue as this evening sky.
Your skin is bronzed
in the warmth of my gaze.

Yellow light bends
low in the fields below us,
each darkening pool
a warrior fallen
beneath time’s scythe.

The moon paints a delicate circle.
Its great round eye opens out
above the rooftops,
a cathedral window
opening on the sky.

Tonight it bears
the wisp of an eye lid
carved from  cloud.

Your teeth are diadems of whiteness
aglow in your face.

We tie shadows to our heels
and dance in triumph
to the village music
sounding in street and square.

3
Daylight bends itself round rock
and turns into shadow.
We flourish in blocks of flickering flames.

Dreaming new selves from roots and branches,
we clasp each creation with greedy fingers.

Dark angel bodies with butterfly wings,
our shadows have eloped together.
They sit side by side holding hands
at a table in the central square.

4
Church bells gild the barrio’s rooftops.
Our fingers reach to the skies and hold back light.
We draw shadow blinds to shut out the sun.
Night fills us with stars and a sudden sadness.

We dream ourselves together in a silent movie,
closed flesh woven from cobwebs
lies open to a tongue-slash of madness.

The neighbor’s dog wakes up on the azotea.
He barks bright colors as dawn declares day
and windows and balconies welcome the sun.

Can anyone see the dew-fresh flowers
growing from our tangled limbs?

Your fingers sew a padlock on my lips:
We listen to the crackle of the rising sun.

Frog Lake

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FROG LAKE
THE OPERA

Frogs chant spring love song from pond to ditch.
Their tunes are one note symphonies,
croaks of joy that move other frogs to ecstasy.

Boy frogs seek girl frogs, encouraging them to share
the splendours of ditch life, pond life,
in a pairing whose springtime union will employ
frog song to spawn still more singers.

There’s joy in this calling, croaking, creating;
and where there’s joy, there’s laughter, love,
happiness, light, sun, brightness, flowing water:
everything frogs associate with spring.

Every night the frowning silence of frozen stars
wings deeper into memory. Spring moonlight
swings its cheerful love lamp. Earth also sings.

Sun and Moon 10

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Sun and Moon 10

Sun thrusts his fierce face
through night’s dark window
his voice booms out like a golden gong

“What have you done with my child?

curled and flaming his orange corona
head lucent with a coronet of radiance and fire
his eyes sweep night beneath day’s rug

New Moon pales and fades in a corner
Serpent escapes through a crack in the wall