This was a totally new experience: a poem written over a painting that linked visual to verbal. I tried several versions of the words and have come up with a better one… but, once the words are on the canvas, it’s so hard to change them. The spoken word, once loosed, can never be recalled.
Our New Brunswick leaves have gone already. We are looking at ships’ masts, sails unfurled, in an anchored harbor. Further south, Thanksgiving is here. My distant neighbors and friends are contemplating turkeys and family gatherings and all that is good about harvest festivals and the end of the productive year, the agriculturally productive year, that is. Below them, in Mexico, the land of four continuous harvests, growth continues.
The cycle of the seasons rolls on and on. In the British Isles Woodhenge has turned into Stonehenge. Four thousand five hundred years of history measured in stone circles, seasonal star and sun points, times for sowing and harvesting. Absolutely bewilderingly marvelous. More than 5,500 standing stone calendars can be found in those islands.
And here, in my painting, leaves, letters, words deliver a message of intertextuality. Change is upon us. We live with it, focus on it, describe it in words. Each letter, each word, is a leaf on the tree, falling or soon to fall.
Catch them if you can.
Catch them while you can.
Autumn Leaves. Don’t grieve. Close the door when she is gone.
Who has seen the early spring wind drifting its thought-clouds across the grass, moving shadows over the lawn’s green, thrusting spikes.
Sometimes, I speak my thoughts aloud, hoping that nobody can hear or see them as they leave migratory footsteps across my mind.
Autumn now and I watch the wind twist leaves from the tree. Yellow and red, they flee from me. I do not understand their reluctance to stay, their urge to tear away and leave. The birds must leave for they cannot bear the cold, cannot stay without food.
At night, when I close the garage door, I sing hymns to the trees and to him who always hears. Each note forms like a pea in the pod of my throat and launches itself skywards, migrating upwards, in a feathered flock that celebrates in songs.
Words, migrant birds, their flight unplanned, will not stay still, will neither perch, nor gather, nor feed from the outstretched hand.
Late fall with falling leaves, trees stripped wind-blown bare, and winter drawing close.
The huntsman, the archer, the Cerne Abbas Giant, Hercules and his club walking high in the sky, a dog forever at their heels, ever faithful, ever true. Star-jewels line his belt, where the star-sword swings, the bow, and all his magnificence displayed before us. Bow down before him and rejoice.
The year is turning, or has turned and we are turning with it. Back to our pasts, on to our futures, or else we stand here, gazing skywards, our feet mired in the present, minds locked, nowhere to go.
For the first twenty-two years of my life Thanksgiving held no meaning, no life, no substance, no form, nothing familiar, nothing special to hold my attention.
When I emigrated to Canada my cousins changed all that with an invitation to visit them in Kincardine for Thanksgiving.
Turkey on the table, colored table napkins, and a family gathered, arms outstretched, to make me welcome.
We were all surprised at how alike we looked. “Like Cousin George, in Vancouver,” they said. “Like Cousin Elsie in Revelstoke.” “Like my mother’s mother, back home in Swansea,” I said.
They told me how the Second World War had brought the family back together on these special holidays: Christmas in Wales for the Canadian boys or Thanksgiving in Winnipeg for the Welsh boys learning to fly.
That Thanksgiving, the old family names turned to photographs: snaps of my mother’s wedding, my grandmother holding me, age three, on her knee.
And finally, as a special Thanksgiving gift, a long-distance call to Britain and Clare on the telephone saying “Yes,” she would come to Canada, and “yes,” she would marry me.
And I remember crying all the way from Kincardine to Toronto, and that was my first Thanksgiving in Canada.
Comment: A Golden Oldie, indeed. This poem is from my collection Secret Gardens. The secret love poems I write to Clare. It was published on our Silver Wedding Anniversary, 24 December 1991. It is a pleasure to re-publish it here for Thanksgiving, 2021. Now what am I going to do for 24 December 2021?
“I left her by the gate to the Beaver Pond at 2:38. It takes her twenty minutes to walk around the circuit. I always check my watch. Then I know when I can expect her back. In exactly eight minutes, she comes out of the woods and I can see her at the end of the boardwalk. I park the car in a spot from which I can watch her and wave to her. Today, I didn’t see her come out of the woods. It’s the radiation for prostate cancer … it’s left my bowels weak. I had to go to the bathroom … so I turned the car engine on … it was 2:44 … about two minutes before she was due to appear on the boardwalk … yesterday, a Great Blue Heron stood fishing in the pond … he flew when he saw her … a great crack of the wings … but today, the heron wasn’t there … just ducks … they flapped their wings, stood on the water, you know, the way they do, and scattered from the spot where she should have appeared … she walks very quietly, tip-toe, you know … she likes watching the heron and the ducks … she doesn’t like to frighten them … I don’t know what to think … I had to go … it was urgent … so I turned the car around and drove to the nearest bathroom … about one hundred yards away … I was in there … I don’t know … about five minutes … I didn’t check my watch … it’s dark in there … no electricity …besides, between hobbling on my sticks, praying to God to help me to hold on, opening and closing the door, struggling to get my pants down without soiling them …and then I drove back to the picnic tables … and waited … and waited …and she never appeared. I haven’t seen her since … she’s gone missing … I fear the worst … “
On the other end of the phone, a long silence, some heavy breathing, then:
“We’ll file a missing person’s report.”
“You will find her, won’t you? I love her, you know. I must find her. I want to know what’s happened … ” the old man wiped the corner of his right eye with the knuckle of the index finger of his left hand. He coughed and cleared his throat.
“Twenty years younger than you, you said?”
“Yes,” the old man nodded.
“Well, sir: we’ve already started our investigation. We’ll do our best to find her. We’ll contact you as soon as anything turns up.”
The police officer put down the phone and the circuit clicked out.
“What the hell you gonna do?”
“Not me … us.”
“Okay … us then … well … what the hell we gonna do?”
“You tell me. We got her on video. She walked out the other exit, by the park HQ, straight into the arms of the Deputy Police Commissioner. She’s twenty years younger than her husband and her husband’s got the sort of cancer that’s killed his sex life. Cancer? And the Deputy Commissioner’s the one who’s waiting for her? What the hell do you think we’re gonna do?”
Comment The Beaver Pond at Mactaquac is a beautiful place to be, all year round. We love it in summer and fall and Anne Stillwell-Leblanc (< click on link for website) has captured the stillness and silence of the place in the above engraving. As I have become less mobile, so I have sent Clare cantering around the pond to enjoy the beauty we used to enjoy together. Meanwhile, I sit in the car and watch for Clare’s regular appearances through the trees and on the footbridge. As I sit, I write. Sometimes it is journal style, sometimes poetry, and occasionally a short story, like this one.
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 of the porch 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: And don’t forget the family of crows, sitting in the tree, giving me the eye. watching every movement. I half expected them to flap down on to the balcony, and take a closer look, but when I started to move, it was game over, Rover, and they all cawed and flew away.
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Vets A Thursday Thought
I met her unexpectedly in a restaurant in St. George. I was masked, but she knew me right away. She hadn’t changed. How could she have? She is as she is. Straight forward, upright, honest, true to her words and her values. Ex-military. A United Nations Peace-Keeper. A Blue Beret. World traveller to some of the roughest, toughest, ugliest, craziest spots. Everywhere she went, she helped keep the peace.
She came back home to find out what she already knew: that rural New Brunswick was as wild as anywhere she had been. She was anonymous, here, was just another number in a book, a casualty in a nameless war of attrition after which the winners rewrite the history of events, twisting them this way, that way to suit themselves and their own instincts and interests.
“Best of the best,” I wrote in the book I gave her. Fortuitous, it was, finding her again, finding that copy close to hand, reserved for her alone. That book and this poem are my tribute to her for her courage, her fortitude, and her strength of will. They are also a tribute to her role in making the world a safer place in which others, less fortunate, can create, without fear, their lives.
Comment: There is very little more to be said. Each former soldier is an individual with a history and personality of their own. This is my tribute to a very good friend who served her country and the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces with pride and distinction. Mary Jones, I, an academic, a writer, and a non-combatant, salute you for all the positive values which you have brought into this sometimes troubled world of ours. You and your well-being are in my Thursday Thoughts.
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Painting the School Outing Beaver Pond, Mactaquac
The yellow of the school bus is easy, but what colors do you give the rain of school kids descending? And how do you portray their energy, their noise, the tones of French and English? What colors are their vowels, their consonants, their high-pitched voices?
You can sketch their orderly rows as they snack on the top-hat magic pulled out of backpacks. But it’s not so easy to paint the pop of Pepsi cans, the scent of chocolate bars, or the crackle of chips released from packets and popped into mouths.
Running round after lunch, they drive the wild birds wild with their unorganized games of tag, their impromptu dances, their three-legged races, their winners and losers, their joys and sorrows. Fishing nets are produced from nowhere. Girls, boys wander to water’s edge in search of prey: incipient frogs, newts, tadpoles, bullheads, but how do you paint the wet and wriggle of them?
Try painting this. Whistles sound. Kids regroup. The bus reloads and goes. Now paint the silence. Sketch the tranquility of woods, bird-calls back, of the beaver pond with its lilies stretching their green necks skywards towards a pale blue sky where cotton clouds cluster together in celestial flocks. A pastoral scene, this painter’s paradise.
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A Farewell to Charms
Early tomorrow, my love, you’ll fly away. Today, you’ll walk around the Beaver Pond where red and yellow leaves abound. A thin grey
webbing garlands one dead tree. I’m not too fond of tent worms. I hate them when they swing from low branches. Give me a fresh green frond
caught by the morning sun in early spring or else bright autumn leaves so soon to fall. I love American Goldfinches when they sing
that last departing song. I love most of all those occasional visitors: do you recall that bright blue Indigo Bunting with his “I’m-a-lost-bird” call?
The hunting hawks give everyone a fright. They perch on top of a garden tree then step off into space to claw-first alight
on some poor songbird trilling away, quite free from fear, his unfinished symphony of song. It’s getting late, my love. You walk towards me out of the woods. I’ll end this poem with a plea: don’t forget me … and don’t stay away too long.