Basil Bear Packs

Basil Bear Packs

            “You promised.”

            “I know I did.”

            “Then take me with you. I’m only small. I’ll fit in a pocket.”

            “All right: go and pack.”

            “What shall I pack?”

            “Don’t ask me. I don’t know. I’ve never travelled with a teddy bear before.”

            The conference is a strange one. There are no women present and only one person of color. Nobody speaks to him. When he reads, I am the only one to hear his paper. It’s actually quite good.

            I move from that session to the next one. The man sitting beside me opens his briefcase and tells me to look inside. I do. He has two pistols in there.

“Are you packing?” he asks me.

     “No,” I reply. “But I packed to come here. So did my guardian.”

“Guardian?” the man raises his eyebrows. “That’s cool: a body guard, eh? You need to pack round here. But a body guard is great. Where are you going tonight?”

I tell him.

“That’s a dangerous area of town. You’d both better be packing if you go down there.”

“Thanks for the advice,” I nod to him. “Are you going to the reception?”

“Yup,” he smiles. “I’ll see you there. And don’t forget to pack.”

“Well, Basil,” I see when I get back to the hotel room. “It looks like you’ll be going out with me tonight.”

“That’s great,” little Basil gives me a big teddy bear smile.

When I get to the reception, my friend from earlier is there. He nods at me and smiles at the bulge on the left side of my jacket.

“Good to see you’re packing. Can I have a look?”

“Sure,” I say and open my coat. Basil sits up, opens his eyes, and gives him a little wave. The man’s mouth falls open. He stares at me, wild-eyed.

“Ain’t nobody gonna tackle a mad man who’s carrying a teddy bear,” I say. “Now that’s really packing.”

He walks to the bar, orders a double-double and swallows it, Ker-Splosh.

“That’s telling him,” says Basil, snuggling back down in the warm beneath my armpit. “Hi-ho, Silver: let’s go out and get those gangsters.”

Comment: For Tiffany who understands the important things on the brighter side of life.

Clematis

Not clematis, but bruised clematis clouds.
I’ll keep looking.
Maybe I’ll find the real things.

The clematis unfolds 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 while 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 dream: 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 brittle as a bitter tongue at winter’s end. I know for sure that a dog fox hunts for my heart. Vicious as a vixen, the fox digs deep at midnight, unearthing the dried peas I shifted from bowl to bowl to measure time as I lay 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 the delphiniums, body after body, into their shallow graves. Night’s shadows weave illusions from earth’s old bones and 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 appear with the 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.

Now that’s a clematis bruise!

Babs

Babs

It was March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

Babs held the cat in her arms. The vet slipped the needle into the shunt he had inserted into the animal’s paw and the tiny wind of life gusted from the cat’s fragile body. The struggle ceased. The cat’s head settled and her tongue protruded, just a little, in that beloved and well-known gesture. It was all over.

Babs had found that lump, hard, but smaller than a pea, on New Year’s Day. The next day, she carried the cat to the vet where they took blood samples and ran tests. The vet’s assistant called later that afternoon. A lymphoma, she said, small but deadly. Steroids might help. They would give the cat a 40% chance at a life that would get more difficult, in spite of any known treatment. The alternative was to bring her back in and put her down now, that very afternoon. Babs looked at the cat: highlights strayed through her fur and her bright eyes sparkled like sunshine on a lake.

Throughout January the steroids went in and the cat glistened and grew fat. At first, Babs saw no sign of the lump but by Robbie Burn’s Day it was back. Babs started to count the days: January 31, February 2. The lump grew larger.

Three years before, on Valentine’s day, Babs had salvaged the cat from the SPCA where she languished, abandoned in a cage. The cat was a stray, half feral, taken in from the streets and subject to who knows what sort of treatment and feeding in its infancy. Babs wondered if it was in those days of neglect that the cancerous seed took root? Or did those seeds come later, when the cat wandered the garden and fed off the wild life, mice and voles, and drank from the streams that flowed through the killing fields with their fertilizers, their weed killers, their nutrients, and their poisons?

“What are we doing to ourselves,” Babs wondered as she sat at the kitchen table and sipped a cup of tea. “Was my cat the canary in my coalmine, doomed to warn me of what’s to come? Will my own system be invaded then poisoned with cancerous growths? Will I be subject to that stumbling, downward road that leads in the end to an inevitable death?”

She lay awake that night alone in the bed wondering in what ways cancer might ravage her body. How long would chemotherapy keep her alive? Who would be there for her, who would hold and comfort her, who would slip that releasing needle into her veins when her time came?

Babs ran her fingers over her body as she imagined herself sliding day by day down that slippery slope that leads to the grave. Then she caught her breath, her heart raced, and her blood turned to ice as her fingers tripped against the colony of killers: three small hard lumps that nested in her soft breast.

Teddies or Cats?

IMG_0015.JPG

Five reasons why a Teddy Bear is much better for you than a Kitty Cat.
I know, I know: cat lovers will go wild. They think cats are such lovely cuddly things. And they believe strongly that nobody can resist a warm, loving, darling, purring bundle of fur. Well, I can resist cats. And I can give you five good, sound, solid, 25 carat reasons why Teddy Bears beat Kitty Cats any day of the week.

One
Teddy Bears do not need to be fed on a regular basis. In fact, one piece of kibble will last a Teddy Bear for a very, very long time. And you can’t say the same for your cat. So less expense, no need to feed, don’t have to put that fresh water down every day, no constant fawning attention when hungry or just plain greedy, don’t have to worry about treading on the cat’s tail … In fact, a Teddy Bear wins out every time.

Two
“Don’t mention cleaning out the kitty litter.  Promise?”
“I promise. I won’t mention it.”
“Word of honor?”
“Word of honor. Fresh Walnut and all that.”
“You just mentioned it.”
“Mentioned what?”
“The kitty litter.”
“I didn’t.”
“You did: you said ‘Fresh walnut.’”
“So?”
“So that’s what keeps the kitty litter from smelling.”
“Does it smell much?”
“Quite a bit. I hate cleaning it out.”
“Why?”
“It’s so smelly, filthy, grainy, lumpy, stinking …”
“So, why do you do it, then? What you need is a nice, clean, environmentally friendly Teddy Bear. There’s no cleaning up after a Teddy Bear. Who’s ever heard of Teddy Bear Litter?”
“You said you wouldn’t mention it.”
“Mention what?”
“Kitty litter.”
“I didn’t, you did.”

Three
Teddy Bears don’t have off-spring. You don’t need to neuter them, and they don’t need taking to the vet. Nor did they sit and wait in family groups for their photos to be taken. What we have below is a fake photo placed there by the unscrupulous enemy for their own pro-cat propaganda purposes.

Empress 048.jpg

Four
Teddy Bears are very obedient. If you tell a Teddy Bear to “sit” or to “stay”. He does so. Immediately. And he stays where you put him. There’s no clash of wills and egos, no conflict at all. Teddy Bears are easily trained and very obedient. Also, they don’t want to go out in the garden and wander beneath the bushes to shriek and whine when the moon is full. Now, if you have cats and you want them to sit and stay still, you must give them something to watch or to play with. Chipmunks and garden birds aren’t cheap, you know, and they are less trainable than cats. How long do you think it takes to train a chipmunk to just sit there quietly to entertain your cat? Especially when it’s being hissed at and the cat is bouncing the window with anguish? Also, Teddy Bears don’t climb on furniture, nor do they break ornaments, nor sink their claws into your hair as you pass beneath them, nor do they drop on you, unexpectedly, from great heights.

Five
Five and finally, when there’s a moth, a fly, or a mosquito on the ceiling at night, you can’t train your kitty cat to fly into the air and snatch it off the ceiling. But as for Teddy: grab him by one leg, preferably the back one; give him his commands “Ready, Teddy, Go!” and hurl him skywards. With a little practice, he’ll nail that nocturnal buzzing monster every time.

No: all things considered — and I promise I won’t mention, you know what, that little box the cat sits in — there’s nothing better than a Teddy Bear. Wise, silent, friendly, cuddly, obedient, friendly (did I say that?), needs no training, always there when needed, waits patiently for you when you’re away, never stalks off with tail in air, never gets out and hides in the garden where you can’t find him, adorable, cuddly (did I say that already?) … Give me a Teddy Bear anytime.

Click this link for original post and more photos:
https://rogermoorepoet.com/2016/05/01/teddy-bears-and-kitty-cats/.

Striations

IMG_0299.jpg
The iguana that guards the front door of our house. At night he comes alive, goes round on patrol, checking and securing everything and everybody. Beware the jaws that bite, the claws that clutch!

Striations

There are striations in my heart, so deep, a lizard could lie there, unseen, and wait for tomorrow’s sun. Timeless, the worm at the apple’s core waiting for its world to end. Seculae seculorum: the centuries rushing headlong. Matins: wide-eyed this owl hooting in the face of day. Somewhere, I remember a table spread for two. Breakfast. An open door. “Where are you going, dear?” Something bright has fled the world. The sun unfurls shadows. The blood whirls stars around the body. “It has gone.” she said. “The magic. I no longer tremble at your touch.” The silver birch wades at dawn’s bright edge. Somewhere, tight lips, a blaze of anger, a challenge spat in the wind’s taut face. High-pitched the rabbit’s grief in its silver snare. The midnight moon deep in a trance. If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.

Comment: a fitting ending for the month of February: ubi sunt? Where have all those days gone: Ou sont les neiges d’antan?

Why?

Different bird, same question: why? This one is from one of the beaches on the road to North Cape, PEI. Why, indeed?

Why?

In the mud nest jammed tight against the garage roof,
tiny yellow beaks flap ceaselessly open.

The parents sit on a vantage point of electric cable,
mouths moving in silent encouragement.

A sudden rush, a clamour of wing and claw,
a small body thudding down a ladder of air
to crash beak first on the concrete.
  “Why?”

 “Wye is a river.
      It flows through Ross-on-Wye
      and marks the boundary
      between England and Wales.”

And the swallows perch on the rafters
watching their fledgling
as it struggles on the floor:
the weakening wings,
the last slow kicks of the twitching legs.
“Why?”

“Y is a crooked letter
     invented by the Green Man of Wye.”

Comment: This is the original poem, written back in the eighties, wow, that’s forty years ago. I included it in my first poetry chapbook, Idlewood (published, 1991). It was a slim volume, dark green color, typed and photocopied, very humble, but MINE! A couple of years ago I wrote a prose poem, sort of flash fiction, in one of my Welsh sequences and included the story as part of the text. It came to me as a memory yesterday morning, and I posted it on Facebook. Here now is the story. Hopefully, you have just read the poem: I hope you liked it but, as I know all too well, de gustibus non est disputandum. I would like to know if you prefer the poetry to the prose. Please let me know, pretty please?

Why?

“Where are you going?” I ask. “To see a man about a dog,” my father replies. “Why?” I ask. “Hair of the dog,” his voice ghosts through the rapidly closing crack as the front door shuts behind him. “Why?” I cry out. I recall the mud nest jammed tight against our garage roof. Tiny yellow beaks flap ceaselessly open. Parent birds sit on a vantage point of electric cable, their beaks moving in silent encouragement. A sudden rush, a clamour of wing and claw, a small body thudding down a ladder of air to crash beak first on the concrete. “Why?” I ask. The age-old answer comes back to me. “Wye is a river. It flows through Ross-on-Wye and marks the boundary between England and Wales.” The swallows perch on the rafters watching their fledgling as it struggles on the floor, the weakening wing flaps, the last slow kicks of the twitching legs. “Y is a crooked letter invented by the Green Man of Wye,” my grandfather says. “Why?” I repeat. “I want to know why.” Silence hangs a question mark over the unsatisfied spaces of my questioning mind.

Boxing Day

A wonderfully quiet and peaceful Christmas in Canada. Oh the sea, oh the sea, thank God it still flows between my family and me.

Boxing Day
            By the time I get up, the gloves are really off and the sparring has begun in earnest. I hear voices, walk downstairs to the kitchen, and a hush falls on the room. Knife-edge glances slice their menacing ways through the thick fog of war.
            Time for boxing: on my left, in the blue corner, my mother, smoking what is probably her second packet of the day. A thin haze of grey smoke escapes from her bruised lips and a cloud of exhaled fumes crowns her head with a murky halo. On my right, in the red corner, my father. White-faced, hungover yet again, truly into the spirits of Christmas. He breathes heavily, like a Boxer Dog in the mid-summer dog-days, snoring and snorting at a bitch in heat. In the middle, my grandfather, the referee. He is keeping the combatants apart, creating a tiny breathing space so the true Spirit of Christmas can disentangle itself from those false Christmas Spirits and bring peace to earth again for at least sixty seconds between each round.
            I look around the heaving, seething, threshing silence of a room where conversation has suddenly ceased. The fire is burning merrily. Beside it, tongs, poker, and small shovel stand to attention. On the hearthstone, the little red brush, with its long handle lies in ambush. This is what my father uses to beat me when he can’t be bothered to take off his leather belt. Scorch marks from the hot coal fire sear the handle and back of the little red brush. I threw it on the fire one day, hoping to see the end of it. Of course, it was rescued from the flames, resurrected, and I got beaten for that act of rebellion too.
            “It’s all your fault!” My father breaks the silence, pointing at me. His red-rimmed eyes blazing with a sudden and renewed anger. He starts to rise, but my grandfather steps between us.
            “Go and see your granny,” grandpa tells me. “She’s in the kitchen. Go now!” He points to the kitchen door.
            I run a gauntlet of staring eyes and go to my gran. As I shut the door behind me, voices rise higher in the room I have just left. Boxing Day, indeed. The gloves are off. The battle has begun again. My grandfather has evacuated me from no-boy’s-land and, for a moment, I am no longer trapped in the mud-filled, cratered, shell-holes between the trenches, the uncut barbed-wire barriers, the poached-egg eyes peering through periscopes and spying on me from the parental and priestly parapets. Here in the kitchen, for a while, I walk on the wooden duck-boards that keep my feet dry and clear of mud and water.

Comment: This is, of course, the true origin of the term Boxing Day. A genuine Boxing Day has nothing to do with the myth that it was the day on which the servants, who worked Christmas Day on the Lord’s estate, received their Christmas Boxes. Peace on earth and mercy mild has got nothing to do with alcohol-fueled quarrels, raging hangovers, and little children who should be seen and not heard. Sometimes, when all the elders are down at the pub on the corner, the night may, for a little while, actually be silent. But the noise when the drunks roll raucously home is most unholy. Then little children should be wise like the wise men, run quickly into bed, and lie there, neither seen nor heard.

Merry Christmas

A forgotten child’s Christmas in Wales.

On the Outside Looking In

As I walked home, it started to snow. Not the pure white fluffy snow of a pretty Merry Christmas card, but the dodgy, slippery mixture of rain, snow, and ice pellets that turned the steep streets of Swansea into ice slides and traps for the elderly. I turned up the collar of my coat, bowed my head, and stuffed my hands into my pockets. Two houses before my own, I stopped in front of our neighbor’s house.
The window shone, a beacon in the gathering dark. I drew closer, pressed my nose against that window and looked in. A Christmas tree, decorated with lights, candles, more decorations, a fire burning on the hearth, two cats curled up warm before the fire, presents beneath the tree, stockings hanging from the mantelpiece. For a moment, my heart unfroze and I felt the spirit of Christmas. Then I thought of my own house. Cold and drafty. No lights, no decorations. No fire. The snowball snuggled back into my chest and refused to melt.
            When I got home, our house stood chill and empty. My parents were out at work and the fire had died. Nothing was ready for Christmas. I sat at the kitchen table, took out my sketch book and began to draw, then color. When my mother came home, I showed her my picture.
            “Very nice,” she said without looking up.
            “But mum, you haven’t really seen it.”
            She stared at the picture again. This time, she saw the Christmas tree and the lights, the cats before the fire, the candles burning on the mantelpiece, the decorations and the presents wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. But she never noticed the little boy standing outside the house in the falling sleet, cold and shivering, peering in through the window.

Comment: Everyone remembers Dylan Thomas’s story A Child’s Christmas in Wales, but not all Welsh Christmases are like that. This is the story of a forgotten child’s Christmas in Wales. It is a story about a latch-key kid, left alone at Christmas to fend for himself. I enclose the drawing he did and I dedicate the story to anyone who is alone this Covid-19 Christmas. Christmas spent on your own is not much fun. Looking through another’s window, from the cold street outside, is not much fun either. So, at this time of year, let us remember those who are lost and lonely, those who need a kindly smile and a helping hand, those who do not have the comfort of family and friends, a warm wood fire, or a cat or a dog to snuggle up to them, to lick them, and to wish them ‘all the best’ in the languages that all animals speak on Christmas Eve, and sometimes into Christmas Day. Phone a friend, nod to a neighbor, and may your Christmas season be filled with joy.

Teddy and the Angels

Teddy and the Angels

Warm in Bed. Cozy. I roll over and the flashlight clipped to my Teddy Bear’s ear drives its hard, metal lump into my face.
            “Are you awake?” Teddy’s soft voice lilts across the pillow.
            “I am now.”
            “Look!” Teddy points with his little leather paw. “The moon: it’s climbing the fir tree.”
            Sure enough, a thin fingernail of gold is perched on a branch. It hides its face among the fir’s darkness and vanishes for a moment.
            “The maple tree has a garland of tiny Christmas lights,” says Teddy, pointing again.
            “Those aren’t Christmas lights, they’re stars.”
            “Spoilsport. Look, that one’s moving. I think it’s an angel.”
            “What time is it, Teddy?”
            “I don’t know.”
            “Here, lend me your flashlight.” I pull him towards me, switch on the torch, and focus its light on my wristwatch. “4:55 AM. That’s the early morning flight from Toronto. It’s a plane.”
            “I’d much rather it was an angel.”
            “Me too.”
            “Can we pretend it’s an angel, a Christmas angel?”
            “Of course we can. But it’s gone now.”
            “Perhaps angels don’t live long when they come to earth.”
            “I think they live for ever. Especially if we believe in them.”
            “Do you believe in angels?”
            “I was taught to believe in my guardian angel.”
            “What’s a guardian angel?”
            “He’s the one who looks after you when you sleep at night.”
            “But you don’t need a guardian angel. You’ve got me.”
            “But you’re a teddy bear, not a guardian bear.”
            “That’s true, but you’ve got Blueberry. He’s your guardian bear. Look at him standing there, on guard, all night long to protect you from the Night-Bumps.”
            “Ah yes, good old Blueberry. I’ve got a busy day today. I need some more sleep.”
            “Okay. Blueberry and I will watch over you. I’ll watch over you. I’ll let you know if any more angels climb the tree.”
            “That would be nice. Now I’m going back to sleep.”
            “Good night. Or should that be ‘good morning’.”
            Some days, when I wake up, I think I have dreamed all of this. Other days, I believe in talking teddy bears and angels. Today, I’m not so sure.

Monkey and the Bean Counter

IMG_0026

Monkey and the Bean Counter

An acolyte in a charcoal suit runs by.
He neither stops nor speaks
but slips on slippery words
dripping from another monkey’s tongue.

This other monkey has eyes of asphalt,
a patented pewter soul,
ice water flowing in his veins.
“Hear no evil! See no evil! Speak no evil!”

The hatch of his mind is battened tightly down.
Nothing gets out nor in.
The acolyte’s fingers grasp at a khaki folder,
his manifesto for success.

Senior monkey stalks to his office
and turns on the radio.
His favorite music:
the clink of mounting money.

Disturb him at your peril:
this monkey is very important,
and very, very busy.
He’s also clever:
a real smarty.

First, he empties all the chocolate candies from the box
then he sorts them into little piles:
green with green, brown with brown,
blue with blue, red with red.

Then, like the Good Shepherd checking His flock,
he counts them again and again,
to ensure that none have been stolen
and not one has gone astray.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie, this time from Monkey Temple. I have updated it slightly so it won’t be exactly the same as it is in the printed text. Senior Monkey has, of course, built a bigger box into which he can place all his chocolate candies and tuck them away for ever and ever. I guess if he were a bull and not a monkey, he would have tucked them away for heifer and heifer. Such is the sad state of reality in the Monkey Temple. But if monkey were a bull, he would be living in the cow shed, not the Monkey Temple. Oh dear, oh dear: and oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive with fiction, flash fiction, creative non-fiction, and all the other sugar and spice which goes into the spinning of spider-webs and fairy tales. Speaking of which, did I ever tell you the story of the… well, maybe next time. So tune in again tomorrow. Same thyme, same plaice, and I’ll sing you a song of the fish in the sea… and a fishy tail that will be.