Geese

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Geese

The arrowhead precedes its shaft and leads its feathers into night’s perfection. Summer catches flight and waves good-bye to Arcturus as an obsidian knife flashes black lightning across the icy threshold of a morbid sky. Darkness, swift and sudden, blots out each scattered scat of golden grain and swallows an iris of stars. Inverted, the Big Dipper hangs its question mark from the sky’s dark eyelid.

When daylight breaks cold sunshine over broken ground, the great white geese lay their burdens down by the riverside. Pristine as they drift to the land, flake by fluttering flake, they accumulate the colors of mud daub and anonymity as they grub food from the neat ploughed fields that march their earthen armies across the land. Fallen angels, they sprawl down from heaven and abandon eternity to adopt their waddling time-and-earthbound shapes.

Now, the afternoon gropes steadily to night. Some people have built fires; others read by candlelight. Geese litter the riverbanks with their mud-stained snowdrifts. Freshet mud besmirches them — or is it the black of midnight’s swift advance? The geese step on thin ice at civilization’s edge. Around them, the universe’s clock ticks slowly down. Who forced that scream through the needle’s eye? Night gathers its darkening robes and the seabed reaches its watery arms out towards a magnified moon.

Ghosts of departed constellations drown in the river. Pale planets scythed by moonlight bob phosphorescent on the flood. I walk on the beach sensing the flesh that bonds, the bones that scarcely bind, the shoulders and waist on which I hang my clothes. Now I stand nameless in a shimmer of moonlight and listen at the water’s edge to the whispering night. I catch the mutterings of snowflakes strung between the stars.

My dream stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps bright treasures in its tight-clenched fist. The moon hones its cutting edge into an ice-thin blade and the lone dove of my heart flaps in its trap of barren bone. Moonlight and starlight run their twin liquors, raw, within me. What will I bury beneath this year’s fallen leaves?

Puppet

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Puppet

Animated earth,
puppet of mud and blood,
my soul within you
feels soiled
by this pitiless sky.

On my back,
in the gutter,
I gaze upwards
at glittering stars.

Do they know
I’m down here?
And if they know,
do they look down
their astral noses
when they write
my horoscope,

my horror-scope
of late.

When daylight loses itself
in night’s dark weave,
what remains,
but souvenirs and dusty
photos of moments
I alone recall?

Memories cling like mud
to my match-stick frame,
and me in the gutter,
a man, right now,
in nothing else
but name.

People of the Mist 6

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7:15 AM

Tim turned the corner away from the church and on the next street a bitter sweet smell assaulted his nostrils. An old man stood vomiting into the gutter. Behind him, holding handkerchiefs to their faces with one hand and their white night-sticks with the other, two policemen prodded the wretch, pushing him onwards, out towards the city’s edge. A small crowd buzzed around him like a cloud of flies. He lurched forward and the policemen prodded him on again. He lurched forward, a stubborn donkey provoked by a stick. The people in the street parted like a bow wave from the ship-shock of his passing.

Stunned and vomiting, sick to the core, half-blind, stinking of the worst kind of cheap mescal, he lugged himself along his personal Via Crucis, step by painful step. When he fell, the policewomen closed in, kicking and tugging him back to his feet.

… quivering nostrils … the throat blazing with its desire for lemon and lime … the jag of the salt …  the chili’s burning flame … the healing kiss of the mescal …the harsh dried husk of the twisting worm … like grit between the teeth …

The old man stood there, nailed to the cross of the sidewalk, his arms hung out on the wind to dry. A scarecrow’s clothing would be cleaner than his clothes. A Guy Fawkes figure, rags and tatters leaked out from his flimsy frame.

… the sun hangs its tail-less kite in the sky … the moon dreams her way through the heavens … an old man washes his own brain … cleanses it of myth and memory … tries to drown himself in a dark river of tears … a sad hand rises from the waves to wave farewell … in the depths of the mescal a yellow worm glides like a shark to the bottom of the bottle …

The old man seemed to walk through shallow water with the millstone of the morning after tied round his neck, a personal millstone, made to measure and grinding exceeding small. If the wearer were to wander into deep water, then it would weigh him down and he would drown.

The street people taunted him, threatened to stand him in the stocks, to strip him down to his basic elements, the heart that beats, the lungs that breathe, the white flat rib-bones that can be scarred, like paper, with the wonder of words. They threatened to stretch him on an ancient altar. They shouted that his torso’s closed flesh was ripe for the sacrificial blade, his body bent backwards, his mind dreaming of the knife’s vertical descent and horizontal slash. People cheered as the policeman’s stick with a thunderous thump flashed white lightning and pierced the mist that lay thick on the vagrant’s mind.

… one quick swallow … then another … twin promises of summer’s sun and of hope’s renewal … each thimbleful of this mouth-burning treasure, drawing warmth into the gut forcing a tear drop from the eye … bringing oblivion …  

The old man soiled the newborn day by vomiting again and drenching the street in a paper bag reality of soiled clothes and running liquid. The street people closed in, creating a moving jail and the old man shivered with laughter and spread out his arms. His round wide eyes were those of an owl about to fly into the cockcrow sun face. Then the crowd drew too close and something snapped: he roared at the stabbing fingers and pissed at the people through the bars of his cage. A beam of sunlight picked him out and, for a moment, his eyes met Tim’s. They gazed into each other’s souls and a voice rang like a bell within Tim’s head: there too, but for the gift of the gods, go you.

The policemen again stepped towards the old man but a strong, dark figure appeared between the police and their victim.

Basta, enough,” El Brujo raised his hand and the officers backed away. “I will look after him.”

El Brujo turned to the old man, wrapped his arms around him, and hugged him tight.

“You must forgive them, brother,” he spoke in a loud voice so the crowd might hear him. “They know not what they do.”

“Come, come home with me,” El Brujo waved the crowd to one side and put his arm around the old man’s shoulder. “I will help you find what you seek.”

The crowd sighed and started to break up. El Brujo and the old man walked arm in arm down the street. The police officers followed them for a step or two but the crowd gathered in behind the pair and ahead of the police, blocking their way. With a shrug of their shoulders, the uniformed officers turned back. A voice in the crowd cried out:

“¡Viva El Brujo! Make way for our saint.”

… the medallion  awoke … it ticked back into life … warm around the neck of the wearer … it moved … a pendulum swaying … side to side … white lightning … a hammer blow falling … somewhere … falling … and the ground swelling up to shake itself out … an old man … an old dog with fleas … shaking …

Well aware of the warmth he carried against his chest Tim turned away from the street scene and walked towards the apartment he now called home.

Were you the one … Flash Fiction

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Were you the one …

… were you the one who awoke that morning at my side and heard with me the hammer blow fall on an echoing anvil in Oaxaca, in the central square when the rope slipped off the church bell and the priest and an altar boy, an acolyte dressed in black and white with a nut brown face, climbed into the church tower and when the priest said “now” the little boy struck the hammer against the bell’s anvil and “again” said the priest, and “again” and the cracked church bell lurched into its hourly cry of grief and morning, seven blows on the anvil, and a stray dog barked at those domestic birds whose beaks dug deep for the sun at dawn on our neighbor’s rooftop …and a cockerel cried out in the early morning, “cock-a-doodle doo, wake up you sleepy heads, wake up, do,” and the roosters found daylight buried in parched earth, and brought it skyward shining on their beaks, as thin cracks sprang out from the egg-shell sun like crazy paving as the yellow yolk of sunshine crept out from the cobbles down in the street and the Russian egg cup, doll after doll, unfolded daylight as the hammer’s silver spoon descended once more on this frail, egg shell world as our dreams shattered … and where now are those dreams of moonlight raked from a village pond as the orange spilled its life-blood to fill our crystalline goblets with its thick rich morning liquid as fierce and sweet as sunshine sacrificed on a branch and rain from a far-off cloud speckled the tree outside our window with radiance and a thousand rainbows all held in tiny diamonds that balanced and swayed at the branch’s edge then trickled and fell to form freckling pools between the cobblestones and even there the arco iris was multiplied, again and again, a thousand times … and the restaurant next door, with its semi-circular rainbow scarf and below it a painted deer on a decrepit wall, and Cuauthemoc was here, his burnt feet held to the fire that burns within us all, and that mangled man was nothing more than a string quartet of flesh and bone created from a ball of dough and baked in the oven in an earthenware dish with currants for eyes, a raisin for a belly button, lemon rind for a mouth, orange peel for hair, while the white bones stared stark naked from the burnt-out flesh at the end of his perished feet … and the man in the mirrored moon held up his hand to trap the wind as a falling leaf settled in the secret web between index finger and thumb and the cat’s cradle on his fingers bound us together like birds in a spun metal cage … the sparrow’s mighty choir chirped at the roof of the circus tent and animals ran wild all goosey, goosey gander, up and down, and nowhere can I now find my lady or her chamber, for they have gone, and with them went all hope, and hope being lost I ran in circles on the sand, my one foot dragging me inwards, and drawing me closer, ever closer to the rising tide, as night overwhelmed day, and dark soldiers invaded the shadowed beach, and where, oh where, did my little dog go, the dog I lost when he chased a seagull out into the bay and into the quicksand and he never came home and here I am alone in my loneliness wandering like a lost dog in ever-decreasing circles, round and round the central square, without you now, one step, two steps, and who will now tickle me under the chin with a buttercup, and who knows if I’ll ever eat butter again, as the tide climbs higher and the sea grass on the dunes is smooth and brown and cuts like glass with its withered, distorting mirrors of stark, staring eyes standing out in welcoming doorways with dark hands and even darker voices calling me in, again and again “are you looking for love, my love?” and yes, I am, I do seek love, I have always sought it, but I have sought it out in the open street, in the open square, in the fresh air, or indoors, where incense and candles burn, and the sun of god is nailed to his lump of wood or chained to his pillar and the Roman soldiers raise their whips to their lips and their kiss is the kiss of death, and I still search for love and my long lost dog as black eyes penetrate from the blackest paint where Satanic witches spoon salt soup between wrinkled lips, dark open holes for their mouths, and their eyes gouged pits in slatted, wooden faces, and they hover over the deaf man’s table in La Quinta del Sordo or stand shoulder to shoulder with Adam and Eve next door in Hieronymus Bosch’s bourgeois hell of furnace, flame, and factory, where the hot flesh catches fire as the feet are turned to the flame and Cuauthemoc burns, the whole world burns, and my soul catches fire as factories swarm with sparks of black imps, burning, dropping from the skies like fire-flies tumbling in a satanic dance, falling away from the heavenly meadow, lighting a way to the skies and the devil, too, is lost and bewildered, a Guy Fawkes impaled on his wooden stake at the bonfire’s tip and it’s November the Fifth, and the whole world is full of spinning star-sparks burning their Van Gogh holes through the black velvet fabric of the dark night of my still-suffering soul …

Comment:
This is a re-write of what I posted earlier today. It is the same piece but it is slightly shorter, more polished, and better focused. It also now has a clearer narrative line with less jumping between metaphors and a cleaner, clearer sequence.

Tomorrow

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Tomorrow

Tomorrow, early, my love, you’ll fly away. Today, all tense and stressed, your foot in the stirrup, as Cervantes would say, the anxiety of the journey on your back, you walk around the Beaver Pond where red and yellow leaves abound. I know you are hoping to see, once more before you leave, the Great Blue Heron that was here last week. Some ducks remain. I can see them standing on the water, flapping their wings, inflaming the wind, keeping themselves warm, not looking as if they really want to fly.

Alas, there are no beavers now. An abandoned lodge, the grass on its roof turning brown and dry,  lofts white sticks into the sky, but the waterways are clogging and the beaver have gone. Drowned tree trunks, beaver-gnawed and languishing, grow tiny clumps of grass and weed. Sometimes, they join together and form a miniature island that will grow at last into a grassland. The deserted lodge reminds me of our home, soon to be abandoned by the life and soul that animates it and keeps it alive. It will be sad and lonely living there without you. I know I will have the cat for company, but that’s not the same. I think I’m in charge of her, but I wonder sometimes if you’re leaving her in charge of me.

A thin grey woven webbing garlands one moribund tree. I don’t like tent worms or their equivalents. Every year we face a different invasion of this worm or that and the trees stand shocked by crawling creatures that infest their branches and build their silk cities up into the sky. I hate it when those dangling inhabitants, escaping from their cocoons, swing from low branches and twine silk threads around my face. Give me any day 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 the occasional visitors that wing up north on the wings of a summer storm. Do you recall the Indigo Bunting that perched in the Mountain Ash just outside our kitchen window? He had the look of a lost bird and his call was more a cry of help than a birdsong. You took such lovely photos of him as he sat there, looking this way, that way, anyway for the way he needed to go home … and those two cardinals, orange the one, bright red the other, standing beneath the feeder, so bright against the early snow.

The hunting hawks give everyone a fright. They perch on top of a power line pole then step off into space to alight, claws first, on some poor songbird trilling away, quite free from fear, his unfinished symphony of song. Claws first? I gaze again at the photo you took of the Sharp-shinned Hawk that settled on our porch that day it rained. Claws? The massive yellow talons are high grade weapons fit for any war. I pity the poor bird clasped in those claws and brought to earth or lifted high into the sky, a feast for the marauder.

It’s getting late, my love. You walk towards me out of the woods like some lost spirit returning to this earthly world from some spiritual sanctuary. The season is ending. Thanksgiving is close. It will soon be time for you to pack your bags and go. Three silent wishes for you my love: enjoy yourself; don’t forget me … and don’t stay away too long.

Comment:
This piece goes back to the Fall of 2016. Clare and I visited the Beaver Pond at Mactaquac the day before she left for Ottawa. I sat at a picnic table and watched her as she walked through the woods and around the pond. ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’: she didn’t want to leave me and I didn’t want her to go, yet we both knew how important it was for her to visit our grandchild for Thanksgiving. Time apart is good: it makes us realize how much we miss each other. For me, above all, it is a reminder of everything that gets done around the home without my ever noticing the care and love that is poured into each moment of every day. Having to provide that care and love for myself is an object lesson that makes me so thankful for the seemingly simple blessings Clare has brought to me throughout our married life …

Indigo Bunting, for Meg:

For you, Meg: photos, by Clare, of our second Indigo Bunting.

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He’s rather handsome. We usually get them in from the States following a strong south wind or  a summer storm.

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Great Blue Heron, for Tanya:

He was right over the garden: beautiful. We don’t often see them up here as we are on the far side of the hill from the river. Must have been raiding a neighbor’s goldfish pond.

 

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Claustrophobia

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Claustrophobia

“I’ve got to get out of here.”
“Why?”
“I can’t breathe.”
“Where are we going?”
“Anywhere.”
“Are we going to Gran’s?”
“Why not? Yes. Pack your bag.”
“What about Dad?”
“What about him?”
“Aren’t you going to tell him where we’re going?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“Because he doesn’t care. If he cared, he’d be here.”
“Maybe he’s had an accident?”
“He didn’t have one last night, or the night before. He just doesn’t care.”
“We can’t just go …”
“We can.”

She called a cab and when it came, they turned the lights out in the house, and shut the front door behind them. Then they got into the cab. The cabbie turned to her and spoke over his shoulder.

“Merry Christmas, and where would you be going, Ma’am?”
“The station.”
“Bus or train?”
“I don’t care. They’re both the same.”

The cabbie shrugged and pulled away from the kerb. The bus station was closer and that’s where the cabbie left them. Mother and son stood there for a moment, under the station lights, looking at the coaches that squatted there, parked in regular lines. Then, mother and son, they walked into the ticket office.

“What time does the next bus leave?”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Home.”
“Where’s home?”
“Swansea.”
“The next bus for Swansea leaves in twenty minutes.”
“We’ll take it.”
“Single or return?”
“Single. Two tickets.”
“You should buy a return ticket; it’s cheaper.”
“We’re not coming back. Not this time.”
“How old’s the boy?”
“Seven.”
“He can travel half price.”
“One and a half then, singles.”

It was December 23rd, her own mother’s birthday. Mother and son sat together on the dark, empty bus. The cold seats chilled them as they waited  in silence. The boy looked out the window and coughed.

“Will Grampy be there to meet us?”
“No.”
“Doesn’t he know we’re coming?”
“No.”
“Does granny know?”
“No.”
“Mum, why are we going?”
“It’s granny’s birthday today. We’re going to give her a surprise.”

Two hours later, the bus deposited them in Swansea. The night had filled with heavy clouds and promised snow.

“Can we take a cab. mum?”
“There’s none here. We’ll have to walk.”

They walked side by side down the well-known streets. Christmas lights adorned the shops and they walked through alternate pools of light and darkness.

“Mum, I’m tired.”
“Give me your bag. We’re nearly there.”
“But mum …”
“I can carry both. Hold on to my arm.”

They kept on walking. After a while, they stopped beneath the streetlight outside the old family home and looked up into the street light’s glow. The first snow-flakes danced down.

“Can we go in now, mum? I want to see Gran and Gramps.”
“You go in. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

She watched her son climb the steps to the front door. He lifted the old brass knocker and banged it down. After a moment, the front light came on and the door opened a crack. She stood beneath the street lamp, inhaling, taking the chill air deep into her lungs. She felt the tight bands in her chest start to loosen. For the first time since this time last year, she felt free

Warning to the reader:
Raw material, still under revision, and probably needs lots of revising. I look forward to your comments. In some ways, this is my take on A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Not quite how Dylan Thomas saw it; more a sort of … well, you work it out for yourself!

First Snow

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First Snow

Lying in bed
on a snowy morning
with the first flakes
fast falling,
can you follow
the rag-tag-and-bobtail
drift of snow thoughts?

Filled with sparrow, siskin,
chickadee and finch,
the now leafless tree
stands outlined in the yard:
black skeleton,
white wind-drift.

A scarecrow
with many arms,
it braces against
these feathered weights
that settle
like colored snow.

Warning: raw poem.

I rarely let any of my writing out while it is still raw. These words will undoubtedly change, the snow will settle, the birds will fly away, a crow and a blue jay will startle the smaller species, the sun may come out, the wind may get up, and so may I. In addition, the poem, like the birds in the tree may or may not survive. The tree itself chose to surrender to a family of yellow-bellied sap-suckers and they changed into a chess board of small square holes that leaked the tree’s life blood throughout the summer. Perhaps the tree won’t survive. Well, I know it won’t survive for ever, but perhaps its life will be even shorter, curtailed by those ravenous little beaks.

Whatever: I have taken a risk by sharing early, and we will see how you, my readers and fellow bloggers, rise to the bait. Perhaps you will encourage me to place more early verse online. Perhaps not. Hopefully, you’ll click and make some comments: we’ll soon see.