Standing in the sun, watching the leaves scuttling, skittering over the grass, listening to the trees, their dry tongues, chittering autumnal rumors of geese preparing to fly, their movements, as they gather, in accord with patterns hard-wired genetically into their minds.
Animate, they are, and more than that they are animated by ancestral spirits that grace grass and water, walking, delicate, between stark trees, calling, always calling ‘away, away’.
We too are called, called to follow the geese on their sky-way high-ways, where their arrow-heads point us all along the star paths of their migrant nocturnal ways.
Long gone, those good old days, dead and gone, their centers collapsed in on themselves unable to hold on to time’s hands circling the clock of ages, that timeless rock.
Beyond these days, long days when light will fail to enlighten, eyes will be dimmed, the burden will grow heavier and even more heavy with life lying in wait, to weigh us down, always lying, and the lies themselves more rocks added to the pile we must carry.
Carrying them is one thing. Rolling them up this endless hill only to have them roll down, again and again, forcing us to stoop once more, not to conquer, but merely to live our lives, to journey onwards, relentlessly, to endure from the beginning of the end until the last, and we must endure, will endure to the last.
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.