Courbet

Courbet
(1944 AD)

a deep moist cave
moss-grown cavernous
casting from night to day

synchronous memories
ascent descent blood scent
ejection rejection

tumbling down falling
insidious angel
no room at the inn
trapped no escape

Hieronymus Bosch
black-winged devils
cloud tormented
descending
anonymous red skies

factory and furnace
foundering foundries
mysterious birth myth
turned into lies

virgin berth
borne with tweezers
untouched the channel
from dark to light

Hengistbury Head

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Hengistbury Head

safe haven for Hengist
beached his hoard
long ships drawn up
in inner waters
black now their beams
bright then with whale oil

shield wall turned earthen
ditch and rampart
sea-walled for safety
inside camp-fires
heart beat of  invaders
sword upon shield

riding and raiding
out into the country
rich gut of churches
abbeys and monasteries
golden the candles
fireworks the crosses

warning bells ringing
the pagan among them
Roma Dea fallen
Romulus and Remus
England now burning

SNAFU 2

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SNAFU 2

            I drive to the hospital through falling snow. No wheel-chair parking when I get there. Damn. Not a walking-stick person hobbling towards a car in a wheel-chair space and nobody sitting in a car, exercising the engine, reverse lights glowing. That means  a normal parking spot. Unless I drive round again and take a second look. I do just that. SFA. Nothing doing. The usual SNAFU.

            I drive to the normal person’s lot, stop at the gate, lower the window, stick my arm out, but I can’t reach the button that will give me a ticket and raise the barrier. Behind me, the impatient parkers are a nose away from my rear bumper. Nothing doing. Arms too short. I open the door. Seat belt holds me back. Someone toots. I undo the seat belt. Lean out. Push button. Take ticket. Ticket falls onto ground. The gate opens. I get out of car. Slip on ice. Fall to knees. Cling on to car door with one hand. Grab for ticket with other. More people toot. I give them a one finger salute. Fall back into car. Finally drive through gate.

“Round and round and round I goes.
Where will I park? No one knows.”

            Vast car park. Not a parking spot in sight. On the third circuit, someone un-parks right in front of me. I drive straight in to the vacated spot. Too fast. Car skids on ice. Oh no! Close, but no contact. Thank God. I’ve now got a spot about 100 metres from the hospital entrance. 100 metres. I used to run that distance in 10.07 seconds. With snow underfoot, even with my stick, I’ll be lucky to walk it in under five minutes. Drat. I am already late for my appointment.

            I hobble to the foot of the steps and arrive there just as two large women, faces covered and dressed in voluminous head to foot robes start to walk down. They are arm in arm and enormous. One has a hand on the right-hand rail, the other a hand on the left. Together they take up the whole stairway. I wait for them to descend the twelve steps. They start to descend, then stop three steps from the bottom and engage in animated conversation. “He also serves who only stands and waits.” And waits. And waits. When they finish talking, they descend the final steps and the one on the right swings her arm and shoulder, nearly knocking me down. I lurch forward, grab the hand-rail to save myself from falling, and move slowly upwards. I hold the rail in my left hand, my stick in my right, and climb one step at a time, always the right leg first. Heart thumps in chest. Arteries surge. My head pounds. 12-11-10 … 3-2-1 …zero. I am at the top. I’ve made it.

            I start to cross the road. Half-ton hell bent to park in now vacant wheel-chair spot nearly runs me over. I recoil. Start to fall. Get a grip with my stick. Lurch a little. And salute the driver. He doesn’t even turn his head. Bastard. Balance regained, I get to the hospital door. Young boy holds it open for me. “Thank you,” I say. “You’re welcome, grandpa,” he smiles. I hobble down the hall. Punch a simpler machine to get my number. Wayne Gretzky. Number 99. My luck has changed. The board shows #98. I am next.

            Humorless, the lady who calls my number. Bad-tempered. Cold her little cabin. “Hello, bonjour,” she says and I reply in French. Grim glance. Speaks to me in English. Goes through the gears. “Have you fasted?” “No.” “Why not?” “They didn’t tell me to.” It’s here on the computer,” she stabs the screen with an angry digit. “It wasn’t on my piece of paper.” She checks the paper, sniffs, and tut-tuts. “You should have fasted.” My middle finger itches. “Can you pee in a bottle?” “I can try.” “Try hard.” “Wouldn’t it be better if I tried soft?” I get vicious, filthy look. “None of that or I’ll call the supervisor.” I read out loud the notice on her desk: Do not place samples on counter. “What do you think I am?” I ask. “A travelling salesman?” “Eh? What’s that?” “Nothing,” I mutter. She rumbles round, produces the usual plastic bottle and a see-through bag. “We need a sample. You know how to take a urine test?” “Of course I do, I studied all last night, didn’t I?” She grunts. I grunt back. I pick up my papers and my little gifts. And off I go to perform pee-pee.

            The stalls are empty. I walk right into one. Hang stick on door. Free hands. Open bottle. Strain. Nothing. Man comes in whistling and washes hands. Running water. Miraculous. Pee-pee flows. Bottle overflows and I soak hands and fly. Shit. Well at least I don’t have to perform that trick. Yet. No plastic potty and accouterments this time round. I grab stick. Move to the washbasin. Wash hands. Go to door. Press the automatic door button. The door doesn’t open. I pull again, harder. Nothing. I hang my stick and my bottle on the automatic door button and pull the door with both hands …

“Doors marked ‘Pull’ reduce the speed,
of those who ‘Push’ before they read.”

            The man on the other side of the door stops pulling and pushes hard, very hard, just as I pull, hard, very hard. Door flies open. I topple over backwards, hit my head on the floor, and see multiple stars. I have just enough time to wish I’d brought my plastic potty before my world turns smelly, then black.

Three Deer

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We spotted them very late and by the time I had found my camera they had walked past the kitchen window and my only shot of them was through the bars of the back porch. Not a great photo, but better than nothing. We see them regularly in the winter, but usually at dawn of dusk. We have never before seen them at mid-day, not that we are looking for them ‘out of hours’ so to speak.

We speculated on why they were there, what they were looking for, but we could come up with no answers. Hungry? But this was an early snowfall and there would be plenty of food out there. Confused, perhaps, as were were, by the early snow? That is a possibility, but we’ll never know for sure. What I do know is that they haven’t been back. With the snow down they would leave tracks, but we have seen no tracks in the snow.

Maybe, without the photo, I would have forgotten about the and thought that maybe I was mistaken. But I have photographic evidence and no, it isn’t photo-shopped or forged. In spite of all my doubts and misgivings, they were there, in the early snow of Snovember. They passed through the garden last night for their first nocturnal visit. I heard a cough and a snuffle at the feeders, but didn’t get out of my warm bed to take a peek. This morning, they had snaffled all the seeds in the bird feeders and they left tracks leading up from the trees, then back into the woods again. The chickadees had a rough time of it as there was very little breakfast for them, early this morning. We have re-filled the feeders now, and life goes on.

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Here is a link to an earlier blog post that contains more pictures of deer in the yard.
Five Deer.

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Naval Gazing

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Naval Gazing

Of course I haven’t spelled it incorrectly. Just look at those three ships, not to mention the ‘bell-bottom blues’ jeans my alter ego wears in this apology for a selfie. And yes, of course, the protagonist is navel gazing, too. We all do it from time to time. We have to. We need to know who we are and what we are all about. As Cesar Vallejo wrote, a long time ago: “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no s锑there are setbacks in our lives, I don’t know.’ How do we deal with these sudden setbacks? That depends on each of us: our background, our culture, our ability to bounce back from nowhere and nothing to set ourselves upon the true path again. Man is stronger than he thinks he is, while woman is even stronger than man. Strength: it exists in many forms and holds many meanings. Sure, it means the amount of weight we can lift. But it also means the amount of weight and cares we can carry and how long we can carry them for. And that is where women are so strong.

Every so often, we must all navel gaze. We must look at ourselves, not in the mirror, but in the depths that live within us. I am in navel gazing mode right now. To a certain extent, I have lost my way and I feel very strongly I must find it again. So I sit and think and look inside myself and search and wait with great patience for the light to arrive and  enlighten me once more. It will come. I am sure of that.

Yesterday

Yesterday, a lovely lady read me
my biopsy results.

She poured a bitter drink
into a poisoned chalice
and offered it to me.

It was my personal Gethsemane,
a cup from which I was forced to drink.

I sat there in silence, sipping it in.
Darkness wrapped its shawl
around my shoulders.

‘Step by step,’ she cautioned me,
‘it’s like walking on stepping stones.’

I opened my eyes, but I could no longer see
the far side of the stream.

This poem opens my book A Cancer Chronicle (available on Amazon). It refers to the moment, three years ago, when my urologist confirmed that indeed I had prostate cancer and that, yes, it needed treatment. “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”. The cartoon, I hesitate to call it a painting, was completed on the ninth day of September, two months after my treatment ended. I sat in the kitchen at home, looking out at the mountain ash, watching the birds as they swarmed the tree in search of nutritious berries. Then I made the cartoon. I called it Naval Gazing. I might just as well have called it  “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”.

How we deal with  such golpes / setbacks / blows defines us as human beings. I have spent much time recently encouraging others, and they must all remain anonymous, to confront their demons, call them out, and overcome them in as fair a fight as is possible. Today, I too sit in the dark, watching the snow fall, watching the birds scurrying to and from in search of sustenance. I too am searching, once again, for meaning, for light, for the energy to continue. It will come. When it does, I will embrace it with both hands and start all over again, picking up life’s threads from where I left them. Then, once again, I will see the far side of the stream.

Yesterday is the opening poem in my book A Cancer Chronicle. It is available on Amazon.

Yesterday
audio recording

Westminster Chimes

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Westminster Chimes

Not all clock towers and churches ring out with Westminster Chimes, and that is particularly true of churches where the carillons are so distinctive and those who toll the bells are so unique. That said, the Westminster Chimes are probably the most famous in the world: 4 sets of 4 notes, striking on the full hour, followed by the clock tower striking the hour itself. The build up is basic: 4 notes for the quarter hour, eight notes for the half hour, 12 for the three-quarters, and 16 before the hour strikes.

Last night I awoke at 3:15, just in time to hear the hall clock strike the quarter. The initial sounds lost themselves in the mist of sleep and I only caught the last two notes clearly, hence the bell tower of Ste. Luce-sur-mer, above, partly disguised by the St. Lawrence river mists. Doze mode, I guess, and I heard the notes at half past, then again at a quarter to, and finally the hour. I wonder how many remember the rhyme that the clock chimes? I repeat it every night as I lie awake, listening: 1/4: All through this hour, 1/2 All through this hour, be by my side, 3/4 All through this hour, be by my side, and with thy power, 4/4 All through this hour, be by my side, and with thy power,  my footsteps guide.

Dozing through the night is a funny thing and the mists of sleep walk through one’s head in many forms. Often, I count the chimes, only to find that it is not three o’ clock, but four or five. The mists have crept into my head and I was sleeping when I thought I was waking and 1 and 2 and 3 are not always followed by four and I wonder if there is a life-lesson in there somewhere that will help us through this current upside-down world of carnival and topsy-turvy pan et circenses, predicted by Juvenal in his satires. The Wikipedia definition of the second-century phrase is fascinating: “In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy,  but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace— by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).” O tempora! O mores! (Cicero).

Sometimes we have to take steps backwards through time to fully understand the meaning of our own times. In the meantime, we can look out of the window, here in Island View, and see the ruins of the summer garden, slowly crumbling before our eyes. Then we can quote again, this time from Samuel,  ‘Ichabod, Ichabod, the Glory has departed.’

 

Cooking

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Cooking

My Welsh grandmother, not my Irish one, taught me how to cook. At the time, I was the only grandchild. Whenever she cooked and I was in the house, she would take me into the kitchen, stand me on a stool by the gas stove, and encourage me to stir as the mixtures swirled and bubbled in pan or pot. I also helped her shell the peas, slice the carrots, whatever. When the preparation was ready, she would set aside a small portion that was mine. This might be a cake in the oven, a pair of biscuits shaped awkwardly by my own hand, or a small side pot of soup. “There’s nobody else,” she would whisper to me. “The old ways will die if I don’t teach you.” She was the one who taught me the exact moment when Welsh Cakes were ready to be molded, and there’s only one way to learn: place your hands in the mix. The right texture, as they say in the cookbooks, is ‘fine grain sand’ but you have to experience it to be certain what those words really mean.

I was a latch-key kid, as they now call them. Both my parents worked all day, leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning and not returning until 4 or 5 at night. Being able to cook meant that I never starved and I remember cooking soups, Cawl Mamgu among others, at a very early age. When I started traveling to France and Spain, I often ended up in various kitchens where I listened to the women as they prepared the food. Language and cooking went hand in hand and I learned how to roast coffee beans in a cast-iron frying pan, how to vary my range of soups, how to prepare casseroles, how to scramble eggs the continental way.

When I studied in Santander, Spain, my landlady left me, every night, one onion, one potato, and one egg. This was for the Spanish omelette that I ate most evenings. She cooked the first one for me, supervised me as I cooked the second one, and then abandoned me to my own devices. I often heard her snoring as I lit the gas, warmed the pan, and started to prepare my tortilla española. I still make Spanish omelettes, and they are delicious, but here in Canada they are never quite the same as they were in Spain. The ingredients look the same, olive oil, egg, salt and pepper, potatoes and onions … but the eggs are not Spanish free-range eggs from country hens and the oil, the potatoes, the onions, the salt … everything looks the same, but tastes vastly different.

Two days ago I bought a pound of fresh hake, merluza in Spanish. I cooked it in butter, half poached, half-sautéed. We ate half that night. Next day, I struggled with my thoughts: should I make fish cakes from the rest of the fish, or should I make a fish soup / sopa de pescado? Fish soup won. I put some truffle flavored olive oil into the frying pan, sliced small a tomato fresh from the garden, added a finely chopped onion, spiced it with sea salt, and added a small pinch of pimentón picante / hot Spanish paprika from La Vega in Spain. I let this simmer for a few minutes, then added some sherry. Into this mixture I put the rest of the hake together with the butter sauce that remained from the night before. The dish looked inviting, was very colorful, but appeared to be small and insufficient for the hungry eyes that followed the process. I added four large shrimp, sliced into four pieces each, a large scallop, thinly sliced, and sufficient water to thin the gathered liquids. Then I chopped up some sugar peas and added them as well. My sopa de pescado had undergone a sea change and become a sopa de mariscos / a sea food soup. The colors amazed: reds, yellows, oranges, and touches of green. On the spur of the moment, I named it New Brunswick Autumn Foliage. I tested it regularly as it simmered and it was ready when the sea food was done. Delicious.

I don’t know when my grandmother was born, or where, other than somewhere in Wales. I celebrate her birthday every time I cook something special, and my last two meals were very special. I don’t know where you are, Nana. You left us a long time ago. But wherever you are, thank you so much for the gifts you gave me. And Nana, I love you. You have traveled with me from Wales to Canada, and I celebrate you and your birthday every time I cook.