Cats and Dogs

Cats and Dogs

I remember my mother and father fighting “like cats and dogs” as my grandparents used to say. Now, my grandparents had a cat. It was black and white and striped like a zebra. They called it Spot. My parents had a dog. It was an English Cocker Spaniel, gold in color, and off-spring to a famous sire. They called it  Wimpy but it was by no means a wimp and fought with everything in sight, especially the cat.

So when my father and mother fought and the family cat and dog fought, I thought, quite reasonably in my opinion, that dogs (with their short hair) were male and cats (with their long hair) were female, and that was the reason why they fought like cats and dogs. And “never the twain shall meet” as my grandparents used to say about my mother and father and the cat and the dog. I guess it was too early to learn about the birds and the bees when, young and all too innocent, I was learning about the cats and the dogs.

And of course it’s only natural that the twain should meet. My mother and my father, the cat and the dog, had to meet somewhere, didn’t they? How else would I be here? We weren’t the sort of family that practiced contraception by throwing stones at the storks to keep the babies away. But I could never work out why the cat always had female kittens while the dog had all-male off-spring. That was a bit too much for me, and nobody ever explained anything in those days.

And look, in spite of the differences between them, even cats and dogs can sometimes live together in peace. And opposites can and do attract, don’t they?

Bruised

Bruised

The clematis unfolds its flowers: bruised purple on the porch. Beneath the black and white hammers of ivory keys, old wounds crack open. A flight of feathered notes: this dead heart sacrificed on the lawn. I wash fresh stains from my fingers with the garden hose. The evening stretches out a shadow hand to squeeze my heart like an orange in its skin. Somewhere, the white throat sparrow trills its guillotine of vertical notes. I flap my hands in the air and they float like butterflies, amputated in sunlight’s net. The light fails fast. I hold up shorn stumps of flowers for the night wind to heal and a chickadee chants an afterlife built of spring branches.

Pressed between the pages of my waking dreams: a lingering scent; the death of last year’s delphiniums; the tall tree toppled in the yard; a crab apple flower; a shard of grass as sharp as glass, as brittle as a bitter, furred tongue at winter’s end.

I know for certain that a dog fox hunts for my heart. Vicious as a vixen, the dog fox digs deep at midnight, unearthing the dried peas I shifted from bowl to bowl to count the hours as I lay sick in bed. I sense a whimper at the window, the scratch of a paw. I watch a dead leaf settle down in a broken corner and it fills me with sudden silence. Midnight stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps dream-treasures in its tight-clenched fist.

The lone dove of my heart flaps in its trap of barren bone and my world is as small as a pea in a shrunken pod. Or is it a dried and blackened walnut in its wrinkled shell of overheating air? Sunset, last night, was a star-shell failing to fire. Swallows flew their evensong higher and higher, striving for that one last breath lapped from the dying lisp of day. Its last blush rode red on the clouds for no more than a second’s lustrous afterglow.

I lower defunct delphiniums, body after body, into their shallow graves. Night’s shadows weave illusions from earth’s old bones. Rock becomes putty, malleable in the  moonlight. Midnight readjusts her nocturnal robes and pulls bright stars from a top hat of darkness. Winged insects with human faces dance step by step with circling planets and clutter the owl’s path. Night swallows the swallows and creates more stars. The thin moon hones its cutting edge into an ice-cold blade.

Click here to listen to Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Bruised

Fake News

 Fake News

Sometimes at night I hear deer walking across the lawn outside my bedroom window. Intruders in the garden, they rattle the feeders then walk darkly into the woods. Sometimes a coyote howls at the fingernail moon and my heart pumps sudden blood, rapid, through my veins.

            Below me, in the hall, the grandfather clock ticks the night away. I stitch myself up in my dreams, count the black sheep in the family, and iron old ghosts upon the ironing board until they are as flat as the white shirts we wore in boarding school on Sundays.

            If I close my eyes, they rise up before me, those Sunday shirts, flapping their arms, and mouthing their apologies for the sorry life they made me lead. No, I didn’t need to spend those days praying on my knees before the stations of the cross. Nor did I need to ask forgiveness for all the transgressions pulled from me, like teeth, in the Friday confessional.

            Marooned in a catholic cul-de-sac, I walked round and around in rigid circles. An academic puppet, I was trapped in the squared circle of an endless syllogism. Who locked me into this labyrinth of shifting rooms where sticky cobwebs bound windows, doors, and lips? Why did the razor blade whisper a love song to the scars crisscrossing my treacherous wrist? Who sealed my lips and swore me to secrecy?

            A tramp with a three-legged dog, I slept beneath a pier at midnight and woke to the sound of the waves rolling up the summer beach. Once, I stole a deckchair, placed it at the edge of the sea, and told the tide to cease its climbing. The moon winked a knowing eye and the waves continued to rise. Toes and ankles grew wet with wonderment and I shivered at the thought of that rising tide that would sweep me away to what unknown end?

            Last night I wrapped myself in a coward’s coat of many-colored dreams. My senses deceived me and I fell asleep in a sticky web spider-spun by that self-same moon that hid among the clouds and showed her face from time to time. My fragile fingers failed to unravel all those knots and lashings and I was a child again walking the balance beam that led from knowledge to doubt.

            A thin line divides the shark from the whale and who knows what swims beneath the keel when the night is dark and the coracle slides sightless across the sea? I gather the loose ends of my life, weave them into a subtle thread, and make myself a life-line that will bind my bones and lash my soul to my body’s fragile craft.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Fake News

           

Teeth WFNB 5 March 2022

Teeth WFNB
5 March 2022
This is the story I was reading last night when Island View suffered its brief power outage and I was cut off from the WFNB Zoom reading. My apologies for the break in communications. First the text and then the live reading.

Lunchtime.
            I open a can of tom8to soup and heat it on the stove. I slice the remains of yesterday’s loaf of bread into one-inch cubes and fry them in olive oil and garlic. Tom8to soup with croutons. Then I put two slices of bread in the toaster. My father will only eat toast soaked in butter and layered with Marmite when he eats tomahto soup.
            “Lunch is ready,” I call out.
            The black American Cocker Spaniel, bought by my mother in a moment of madness, by telephone, unseen, camps in the kitchen. It nests at the far end of the table, by the stove, and defends its territory with warning growls and a snapping of yellowed teeth. I do my best to avoid the dog.
            “Dad, your lunch is ready,” I call out, a little bit louder. Dog, as my father calls it, growls and clatters its teeth. It has hidden a treasure in the folds of its old, gray comfort blanket, and guards it with the fierce, loving worry of a dragon protecting its golden hoard.
            My father enters the kitchen just as I place the soup on the table.
            “I’m not ready to eat,” my father growls. Put it back in the pot.”
            “What’s wrong, dad? I thought you were hungry.”
            “My teeth,” my father mumbles through a mouthful of pink gums. “I can’t find my teeth.”
            “Where on earth did you put them?”
            “I don’t know. If I knew where I’d put them, I wouldn’t have lost them.”
            My father circulates round the kitchen opening drawers, lifting saucepan lids, and shaking empty yogurt pots to see if they’ll offer up the rattling sound of lost teeth.
            “I can’t find them anywhere. I can’t eat lunch without my teeth.”
            “But it’s only soup, dad, tom8to soup.”
            “I don’t like tom8to soup. Your mother always made tomahto soup. Why can’t you be more like your mother?”
            “Sorry, dad. I’ll call it tomahto soup, if that will make you feel better. But it’s still made out of tom8toes.”
            “Don’t be so sarcastic. Help me find my teeth,” my father stomps towards the stove and Dog growls fiercely from its blanket as it guards its treasure.
            “Take that, you dirty dog,” my father pokes Dog in the ribs with his stick and Dog howls and spits out what it is chewing.
            “There they are,” my father’s voice trembles with excitement. He bends down, picks up his teeth, still hairy from the blanket and bubbly from Dog’s saliva, and pops them into his mouth. “That’s better,” he says, sitting down at the table. “Now I can enjoy my lunch.”

Click on this link for a ‘live’ reading of the story,
complete with Welsh accent.

One Goldfish

Ephemera

One Goldfish

A great big thank you to Allan Hudson, editor of the South Branch Scribbler Blog. He e-mailed me on my birthday, last Sunday, and asked me if I had a story that he could use on his new blog page Short Stories from Around the World. These will be published every other Wednesday, starting today. I am very honoured and proud to be the author of the first story, One Goldfish, third place in the WFNB non-fiction award (2020), that opens the series. It was revised and reworked in the Advanced Writing Course, run by Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox fame. I would like to thank Brian and all my fellow participants who helped me rework the story. On Allan’s blog you will find links to other contributions from me. You will also find a series of featured authors, from New Brunswick, the Maritimes, Canada, and all around the world. Allan does a great job for us minor, struggling literary figures, not just for the greats. I encourage you to follow his blog and support him.

Ephemera

My painting (above) is entitled Ephemera. It shows a literary text semi-obliterated by various colors and devices. If we have learned anything from Covid it should be the fragility of life, the insubstantiality of existence, and the enormous powers of the natural world that surrounds us. My friends: take nothing for granted. Carpe Diem – seize the day – and “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may – for time it is a’flyin – and that poor flower blooming today – tomorrow may be dying.” This is Robert Herrick, of course. Here is my own version of the theme from The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature.

Daffodils

Winter’s chill lingers well into spring.
I buy daffodils to encourage the sun
to return and shine in the kitchen.
Tight-clenched fists their buds, they sit
on the table and I wait for them to open.

Grey clouds fill the sky. A distant sun
lights up the land but doesn’t warm the earth
nor melt the snow. The north wind chills
body and soul, driving dry snow
across our drive to settle in the garden.

The daffodils promise warmth, foretell
the sun, predicting bright days to come.
When they do, red squirrels spark at the feeder.

For ten long days the daffodils endure, bringing
to vase and breakfast-table stored up sunshine
and the silky softness of their golden gift.

Their scent grows stronger as they gather
strength from sugared water. But now
they begin to wither, their day almost done.

Dry and shriveled they stand this morning,
paper-thin, brown, crisp to the touch, hanging
their heads as oncoming death weighs them down.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Daffodils

Lolly Lady

Lolly Lady

I guess if she were a boy she’d be a Lolly Laddy, or a Loblolly Laddy, depending on the circumstances. Did this one at 4:00 am when I was non compus mentis, whatever that means at that time of the morning. Just trying to keep from falling downstairs, I guess. I love the colors: violet for tranquility, red for strength and energy, yellow for clarity, and blue for feeling blue at that time of the morning.

I suppose, if I were Rimbaud, I would be able to write letters instead of colors. Alas, now I no longer know where to hang these things: I am running out of wall space. And frames. And nails. “A nail, a nail, my kingdom for a nail”… Richard III aka the Hunchback of Loblolly Alley. Mind you, I think his nail was detached from the shoe that fell from his horse. “To lose one horse is a tragedy. To lose two is careless.” Oscar Wilde on parenting.

I love the sparkles though. We have several sparklers and we keep them for the sad times when the world needs brightening, as it does all too often nowadays. The seasons roll on. The year is trickling by. I have decided to sleep under my duvet. It is certainly warm under there and the Teddy Bears really appreciate it. They want to hibernate, but I refuse to let them. If I let them hibernate the cat will be up on the bed, and we can’t have that, can we? Not me, and definitely not the bears. And here’s why not: Teddies or Cats? Click and you’ll find the answer. Or maybe you won’t. So try clicking here: Teddy Bears FFS. Oh dear, I think there’s a typo there: a Teddy Bear Typo. Never mind. I am sure you won’t mind.

I wouldn’t go down to the woods today, if I were you. And I think you know why! You shouldn’t go alone, either. But if you venture out, think twice about taking your teddies. They might run away to join the picnic and leave you all alone with the Night Bumps, the acorn throwers, the wild folk, and the Wood Chuck wood-chuckers.

Winking Night Bump

Winking Night Bump

If you have been following my blog for any length of time, you will know all about Night Bumps. Blueberry certainly knows all about them as we found out in Blueberry and the Night Bumps https://rogermoorepoet.com/2020/06/30/blueberry-and-the-night-bumps/

However, not all Night Bumps are nasty and this is a baby Winking Night Bump caught by the camera, or was it the paint brush, in the act of winking. I’d have written ‘red-handed’ but not all Night Bumps have hands. Some are just wormy squirmy wrigglers. And they can be the worst.

This isn’t what he really looks like, or is it a she? I cannot tell the difference. Well, not until they bump and grind anyway. Then they are like dentists’ drills. Sharp ones, blunt ones. Keeps you awake all night, they does, just thinking about ’em.

I don’t know what happened to the photo of the painting. But we all knows all about that too, don’t we, oh faithful followers of this faithless blog that sometimes arrives and sometimes doesn’t. Oh dear. Just look what happens when you look into the sunset. https://rogermoorepoet.com/2021/10/08/into-the-sunset/ It gets all distorted. Maybe I’ll have to have another go with the camera. A camera, a camera, my Night Bump for a camera. Or should that be ‘a camera for my Night Bump’.

Oh dear. This is getting out of hand. I’d better call for Blueberry. Oh, I forgot. He’s having his Sunday Siesta. No Nasty Night Bumps in action on a Sunday Afternoon, even if it is raining.

Now that’s a bit different. Well, shiver me timbers. And I bet I can do better than that. “Pieces of silver! Pieces of eight!” And all hands to the Naval Volunteer. Ship-shape and Bristol Fashion down on the docks that are no longer docks, not down by St. Mary’s on the Quay. “Aye aye, skipper.” And look out for that black patch. Whisky is the life of man. But rum rules at the Admiral Benbow. And everyone must eventually pay on the nails. Unless they gets dispensation from the Green ‘Un on a Satterday Nite. But watch out for those wheelbarrows tumbling down Christmas Steps during Rag Week. And thee must bist recall: it’s never safe in this aerial, especially under a tiny little ‘aat that like.

Dancing Bananas

Dancing Bananas

“The only difference between a madman and me is that I am not mad,” Salvador Dali. It is a great honor to borrow his words and to be able to make the same declaration: the only difference between a madman and me is that I am not mad.

Mikhail Bakhtin: carnival, the world turned upside down, the world going bananas and those bananas dancing, as you can see in the painting above. It is a mad moment frozen in the still time of paint. And why shouldn’t bananas dance? Some one out there will remember Thunder Bay, 1981: ‘you just have to go bananas’ and the bananas duly appeared at half time instead of the oranges. Saint John, 1985: same thing.

And now the dancing bananas have emerged once more to fill your minds with pleasure and your hearts with joy. Go, bananas, go. Bananas-a-go-go. Way to go, bananas. And I tell you, given the current state of society, going bananas is the only way to go. So, in the next election, I shall form the Banana Party and we can all stand firmly, shoulder to shoulder and shout “Oh, Mighty Banana!” and “Go, Bananas!”

Ah yes, and my next painting? Maybe it will be Banana Custard or Banana Splits, not that I have ever done the splits!

Hot Line to God

     

Hot Line To God

What would you do if you had a hot line direct to God? What would you say? You wouldn’t need to punch in a number, he’d be right there, at the other end of the line when you picked up the phone. Hello, is that you, God? Yes, I am who I am. Would you then give your name? It’s me, John. I know. How do you know? Have you got one of those little screens that tells you who’s calling? No. I’m omniscient. You’d pause a little at this point, wouldn’t you? What would you say next? What’s omniscient? I am. But what does omniscient mean? It means I am God. I know everything. That would make you think.
            So, would you ask for definitions, like you just did, or would you move in another direction? Like this. So you know why I’m calling, then? Of course. Wow, that’s another conversation stopper. If he knows why you’re calling, why did you call in the first place? To ask him something? It’s sunny here. What’s the weather like where you are? The same as always. How’s that exactly? Heavenly. Maybe this conversation isn’t going the way you thought it might. You could try again. Well, if you know why I am calling, what are you going to do about it? Nothing. Why not? Free will. But you’ve got to do something. Why? Because I think you should. Are you omniscient? No. Then why should I do what you think I should do? Because… because
            And there you are. On the telephone to God. Left speechless. Perhaps you wonder if the phone’s been hacked. You go ahead and ask him. Has this phone been hacked? No. Are you really God? Yes. And this is your direct line? Yes. Can you prove you are God? Of course. Will you prove it to me? No. Don’t you have a code word or something that proves who you are? No. What about a security number? No. So how can I believe what you say? Either you will or else you won’t. But what if you’re a con artist, an evil genius, a thief who wants to lead me astray? Some have said I am just that. What? Who? Throughout the ages, there have been doubters. There have? Of course. But I’m not a doubter. Then why are you asking these questions? If you’re omniscient, you know why I am worried. I do. So what are you going to do about it? Nothing. Why not? Not free will again?
            Knock and it will open, seek and you will find. You mean I called you to hear those words? You will hear them if you want to. Some have ears and do not hear. But you could do something about that? What do you have in mind? The churches are empty. Make people go to church on Sunday. On Sunday? Only on Sunday? What about Friday, or Saturday? What about the other days of the week? You’re all powerful. What would you advise? Advise? I don’t give advice. Or orders. I have given people free will. They can choose what they want to do. If they want to go to the mosque, the synagogue, the church, they may find me there. There again, they may not. Some have eyes and cannot see. These would walk right past me and even if I hung there on the cross and winked at them, they’d never recognize me.
            You find it frustrating, eh? It’s like a Socratic Dialog where you only get to answer yes, or no, or three bags full. How persistent are you? Will you keep going? What other direction would you like to take? If the weather’s heavenly where he is, perhaps he’s in heaven. Why not ask him if he ever leaves heaven? Do you ever leave heaven? No. Why not? I am ubiquitous. What does that mean? It means I am everywhere. The people who really seek me can find me anywhere they look. I don’t understand. You’re not omniscient. But how can you be in two places at once? If I am everywhere, as I am, heaven travels with me, wherever I go. So I could find you anywhere I looked? If you knew how to look properly, you would. Others did. Where did others find you? John the Baptist found me in the wilderness. St. Francis of Assisi found me among the flowers and the plants, the flora and the fauna. As did St. John of the Cross. St. Teresa of Avila was slightly more mundane. She found me walking in the kitchen among the pots and pans. 
            Where should I look for you? How would I know? Because you’re omniscient. But I gave you free will. I cannot tell you how to use it. If I did, it wouldn’t be free. Couldn’t you give me a little hint? Not one. Why not? Because a hint from me would be the Word of God. And I am tired of being carried down from the mountaintop with my words carved in stone, only for the misguided to twist them out of shape and give them alternative meanings. People do that? Of course. That’s why so many no longer go to church on Sundays. Where do they go? Some of the good ones go out into the woods and contemplate the snow in winter, the leaves in summer and fall, and they find me there. Others work in the kitchen, or at their knitting, and they find me among the pots and pans, or between their stitches. Still others find me in the crossword puzzle, or the Sudoku, or in one of those brief moments when, alone, they close their eyes, breathe deep, listen to their bodies, and find that I am there within them.
            You are within us? Deus est in nobis. Meaning? God is in us. So I don’t need a telephone with a direct line to you. Not at all. And remember, telephone lines are dangerous. They can always be hacked. Now I’m confused. Sorry. Must go. There’s an emergency on the other line.
            You hear the click on the other end of the line as the phone goes down. You are overcome by a tsunami of sorrow and grief, a tidal wave of loneliness and abandonment sweeps you away and you cry out in your anguish that which you have never heard or spoken before, the words of the twenty-second psalm or of Christ on the Cross: Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?

Click here to listen to Roger’s reading.

Hot Line to God

Pianissimo

Pianissimo


            You sit at the piano, my old piano, still extant in my father’s house, yet soon to be given away, though we don’t know that yet. It’s an upright, iron-frame Bechstein, a piano that I was given when I was the same age as you are now. Handel’s Largo, the Harmonious Blacksmith, hours and hours of scales. They locked me in the front room, my mum and dad, and there I stayed for an hour, two hours, or more. I came to hate music. As soon as I could, I gave up the piano, I rejected piano practice, I turned my face away from the discipline of the lock up.
            Now, I listen to you. Your untaught fingers tickle the black keys, then the white keys, one after another. You are six years old. You’ve never had a lesson, but you have music in your blood and some residual instinct latches on to rhythm and sound. Your fingers are long and supple and your touch is light, so much lighter than mine used to be, and now, on the deep bass notes of the left hand, your stronger hand, you pound away, awakening the dark ghosts of soul music that pour through my memories awakening echoes in this piano.
            I think of you as a jazz musician. Thelonius Monk, perhaps, a tinkle here, a light touch there, now a chord or two, inexplicable, and who would want to explain. It is a joy to sit here, to see your smile of absolute absorption. Mood music you call it, and today your moods are as dark as the shadows that tug at my heart, and as light as the sunlight that floats through the windows and makes the dust motes sparkle. It also frames a halo round your head. You hum to yourself as the morning sunshine fragments into colored gems and you sculpt your rainbow of sound.
            “Stop that noise. You’re driving me mad,” your grandfather, my father, stumbles into the room. He has taken his last cigarette out of the packet and the white cylinder hangs down from his lips, like an extraneous chalk outcrop hanging from the lip of an errant teacher. He pats his pockets. “Where are my matches? Has anyone seen my matches?”
            “They’re on the table in the kitchen,” I reply. “Where you always put them.”
            “I thought I left them in here,” my father leans on his stick then turns and stumbles out of the living room and into the kitchen.
            You hop off the piano stool, take the matches from your pocket, and carefully place them on the arm of your grandfather’s favorite chair.
            “Sssssh!” you say, putting a finger on your lips. Then you skip back to the piano and start playing pianissimo on high notes that float like tiny raindrops of sound produced by miniscule angels.          
            Your grandfather returns, glances round the room, spots the match box, and pounces upon it, a caged tiger finally served his red meat.
            “That’s funny,” he mutters. “They weren’t there a moment ago.” He takes out a match, strikes it, lights up his cigarette, inhales a lungful of smoke, then exhales it in a great locomotive puff of cloud. He grimaces at you through a haze of smoke.
            “There’s nice music you’re playing.”
            Your young lungs, unaccustomed to a house of smokers, can’t cope with this thin, grey, choking cigarette waste. You stop playing, put a hand over your mouth, and start to gag.

Listen to the Podcast here:
Pianissimo