Apocalypse When?

Apocalypse When?

A strange, milk-cloud sky, skimpy, with the sun
a pale, dimly-glowing disc and my pen scarce
casting a shadow as the nib limps over the page.

Out on the west coast, fires still range free and this
is the result, these high, thin clouds casting a spider
web cloak over the sun face and darkening the day.

The west coast: five or six hours by plane and three
whole days to get there by train, even longer by bus,
all chop and change with multiple stops.

The wind blew and the clouds came widdershins,
backwards across the continent. Today they reached
across the ocean to claw the sun from European skies.

It is indeed a small world after all. Isostasy:
you push the earth balloon in here, and it bulges
out over there in the place you least expected.

Now we are all interconnected in an intricate network
of a thousand ways and means. What does it all mean?
Ripples ruffle the beaver pond’s dark mirror.

The forest mutters wind-words, devious and cruel,
that I sense, but cannot understand. High in the sky
clouds turn into horsemen on plunging steeds.

Fear, fire, flood, foe, poverty, unemployment, pandemic,
crops destroyed and, waiting in the wings, threats of civil
unrest, the apocalypse, and a war to end all wars.

Comment: A week in bed, unable to sit, to write, to use the computer, except standing on one leg and typing with one finger. Unable to concentrate, to create, and now, after four visits to my medical team, acupuncture, manipulation, massage, finally that pinched nerve has stopped pinching and I can get back to writing. However, my thoughts are as grey as these clouds that dim the skies. I no longer know who or what or where I am. The world around me has turned sinister and I suffer.

The result: black thoughts, black poetry, red, flaming skies, and the knowledge that all is not well, neither with me, nor with our sick little planet. There is no Planet B and this one, like me, is suffering.

Premonitions and dark thoughts. I lie awake in bed each night, sleepless, hugging my Teddy Bear and my hot water bottle, aching, suffering, waiting for the dawn.

Weather or Not

Weather

We got an incredible one inch of rain in ten minutes last Friday evening. I got some wonderful photos and no, that is not my hand shaking.

In fact the weather in June has been most strange. The end of May saw four consecutive days at 32 C / 90 F. This was followed by four consecutive nights of frost. And then this devastating rainstorm on Friday evening.

Bird Feeder in Winter

Los Días de Noé / the days of Noah, as they say in Spanish. But our one inch of rain fell in just ten minutes and the wind was horrendous. Similar storms are called chubascos and I’ve also heard tromba.

Whatever: it was cold, dark, windy, and wet and 13,000 homes went without power.

Bird Feeder in Spring
(same angle)

Wet Welsh Rain

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Wet Welsh Rain

              Day after day, rain, drives in over Singleton Park and Swansea Bay. It claws its clouded way, shroud clad in grey cloud, up Rhyddings Park Road, through Brynmill, and up to the Uplands and Sketty, as it was then, now Sgetti. In those days, the rain got everywhere. It swirled around ankles and knees wetting everything below the hem of the raincoat. Umbrellas kept the shoulders dry. But when the wind blew, and gamp and brolly turned inside out, and people looked as though they were duelling with the wind, and threatening to poke each other’s eyes out, then a good soaking was sometimes better and safer and, in the worst of the rain and the wind, the gamps and brollies came down.  As for the puddles: they were everywhere. You walked in them, whether you wanted to or not, and your leather shoes turned into a pulp that let in water. Socks slopped around your feet, wetter than soggy blotting paper aka blotch [hands up if you remember blotch!]. Heads down, we faced the wind, draped around bus stops, waiting for buses that never came singly, but only in threes after much long suffering. Wind like a whiplash drove the rain before it and everywhere, woolen scarves turned into wet wash cloths and woolen gloves became underwater rain-sodden mittens.

Comment: As Tropical Storm Arthur gathers in the North Atlantic, we would do well to remember the good old days of summer holidays in Wales when it rained every day, bob dydd, during the whole two-week vacation. But did it really rain back then? Who remembers now? I seem to remember it was sunny every day, especially when the cricket was suspended with the words Rain Stopped Play displayed across the television screen. Ant the lunch time cricket scores: what joy to listen to them and to discover one day, as I listened on my illicit radio hidden in my school dormitory,  that play had been stopped because of “piddles on the putch, sorry, I mean puddles on the pitch” [hands up if you remember that announcement!]. I am sorry to say that particular radio announcer did not stay in his job for long. A great pity: I found him rather amusing.

We would do well, too, to recall the twelve days without electric power that followed Hurricane Arthur, back in 2014 [hands up if you remember Hurricane Arthur!]. Alas and alack: how accurate are our memories? And did all of those things really happen? As the street vendors and newspaper vendors [hands up if you remember paper boys!] used to cry out on street corners “Echo, Echo, South Wales Echo: Read all about it” or “Post, Evening Post, South Wales Evening Post, read all about it!” The South Wales Echo and the South Wales Evening Post hands up if you remember them … Oh those were the days … or were they? … click here and read all about it!

 

 

 

 

Bed Time

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Bed Time

Supper’s over.
I’m ready for bed.
I want to put a pillow
underneath my head.

‘Sleep, my child,’
the raindrops said,
falling gently
on my head.

Rain, rain,
on the window pane,
on the pleasant land
of counterpane,
and yes, it’s raining
yet again.

I listen in wonder
to the thunder,
hearing it crash,
seeing the frightening
lightning
flash.

I listen to it rolling
round again.
This crazy life
drives me insane.

Oh when can I
go out again,
walking free
beneath the rain?

Comment: Most days are good. Some days the incessant indoor routine gets to me. This is one of those days. On Friday, we had a foot of snow. Today, Monday, it’s rained all day and it will rain all night. The skies are grey and the river’s rising. That’s not what we like to hear at this season of the year, for this is when the rivers flood and fill the streets with filth and mud. There’s enough happening around us without the necessity of folk in low areas being forced from their homes by rising waters. All we can do is hope and pray and send bright and hopeful thoughts your way.

After the Floods

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After the Floods
(2004 BC)

as the crow flies
so the pigeon
holding straws
within its beak
time to rebuild

not so easy
mud walls fallen flat
rubble and rubbish
litter river banks

warped wooden planks
water-swollen
so much stolen
by wind and wave

who now knows
the unknown
perceives the abyss
beneath egg-frail
cockle-shell hulls

waters recede
islands re-emerge
bald skulls of hillocks
stripped of grass and trees
water-logged fields

old bones dug up
displayed in the ditch

Birthdays

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Birthdays

Birthdays blithely march on, virtually unstoppable, goose-stepping through our lives. Milestones, they are markers that measure the maps of our lives,  engravers that carve another notch into our lives. And as we get older, each birthday brings, as its gift, not just another candle on the cake, but another ache, another pain, arthritis in a different joint, another reason to limp and walk with a stick, a decaying tooth, a filling that falls out, a few less hairs round that developing bald spot, a lessened desire to go out in the cold and dig that snow.

Snow: this year, it snowed on my birthday. Then when my friend’s birthday came round a few days later, it rained. My birthday was cold (-16 C). His was hot +7 C with 71 mms of rain and a flooded basement from which he had to remove his carpet. Then came the flash freeze and the mercury dropped to -17 C overnight. Birthday presents, birthday gifts, an accumulation of ailments and ills, of sorrow and woes, but among all this, the occasional revelation that makes everything worth living for. This year it was a Swarovski crystal pen that sparkles in the sun and brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. Then there came a lottery win, a whole $10.00, not much money, but a sign of good luck, and “loads better than a kick in the rear end from a duck in yellow gumboots standing on a brick”, as one of my good friends used to tell me.

Language: now that is also a gift. And how it changes from place to place. Knowing that I should be speaking French, not English, I spoke to my French friends in Spanish, with the occasional word of Welsh thrown in. At least it wasn’t English. Knowing I must console my Hispanic friend in Spanish, I wrote to him in French, a local dialect of chiac in fact. Well, at least it wasn’t English, and I only used two words of Welsh, wara teg: fair play. Old age plays such tricks on us. Just before my grandfather passed, he forgot all his English and spoke to us in Welsh and Italian. I guess he picked the latter up in WWI when he was stationed in Italy. He certainly was  a fair hand at Italian opera and knew many of the most famous arias by heart.

So what does the next birthday mean and what does it bring? I look at Brexit, at Venezuela, at the United States, at the newly fledged and sadly reignited language dispute here in New Brunswick, and I am reminded of the coal man with his sack of coal  and: “cobbledy-cobbledy, down the hole”.  Or cobbledy-cobbledy into our Christmas stocking with those shining black nuggets. Or cobbledy-cobbledy into our next birthday parcel. Alas, as age increases, there is nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide. Inside the bed, perhaps, with the teddy bears, and the blankets pulled up over our heads? Inside a large brown paper bag, as the Goons on the BBC’s Goon Show would respectfully suggest? Under the bed, like the lunatic who is a little potty?

Hopefully, those next birthday presents will include a sense of humor, so we can laugh at our troubles and smile at our woes. It may contain a sense of second sight, so we can see the silver linings to all those seemingly black clouds. Or maybe just a transplanted backbone and the ability to stand up straight and withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or, there again, a large umbrella under which we can shelter from the rainstorms of life. Whatever: I wish us all well, all we who populate this world and love it and want to change it for the better for all, and not with the spider-webs of deceit that proclaim self-glory, self-profit, and reveal a renewed sense of privileged power filled with a glow of self-worth and temporal false glory.

Pork Pies

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This is the climate change monster wearing rose-tinted glasses and peering out of the woodwork to say ‘Boo’! And Boo to you too, because, guess what, while California is burning, and Carolina and Florida are drowning, and the Island of Puerto Rico, all surrounded by sea, because it’s an island in the ocean, is being blown away by hurricane force winds, the only people who can really and truly do anything about it have buried their collective heads in the sand, checked their profits [why do they never listen to their prophets?], and declared that it isn’t happening.

And a great many people believe them. I lived through Hurricane Arthur, going twelve days without power in 2014. I saw the devastation on the Acadian Peninsula, where I have so many friends, especially in Paquetville. I witnessed the flooding downriver in the Quispamsis area this spring. I visited the tragic remains thrown out from flooded homes in Maugerville and Sheffield and abandoned by the roadside for the garbage men to pick up and drive to the dump. I also visited the growing mound of electronics and scrap metal flourishing by the Burton Bridge over the St. John river here in New Brunswick.

I saw what was happening and I thought to myself ‘This isn’t right. Those men who could do something about it are absolutely telling the truth. This isn’t happening.’ So I put on my dark glasses and my blinkers and then I couldn’t see what was happening around me. I was happy and immediately knew that there was no problem and that everything was fine.

Fracking? I am voting for it. I don’t  care if the ground water that fills my well is polluted, I’ll just go to the Superstore and buy bottled water in plastic bottles and throw the plastic away afterwards, because I can’t see anything bad happening. The Bad News Bears are out there, bringing Fake News of terrible potential disasters, just to scare me, and I know they are wrong. Those wind storms last month that left 100,000 people in New Brunswick without any power, well, they were greatly exaggerated and didn’t really happen. Anyway, I guess it was less than a thousand people. Not as many as they said. The Bad News Bears always fake the photos of the misery and the cold and the unhappiness and wow, did they do some convincing videos, except they didn’t convince me, because I know better than any of them, and I know they are faking it.

And, guess what? When I wrote twelve days without power after Hurricane Arthur, I was not telling the truth: it was really less than twelve hours, or maybe it was only twelve minutes, and no, we didn’t have to take buckets out and fill them in the ditch in order to get water with which to flush the toilets because it was only twelve minutes, yes, really it was. and we could hang on that long with no problem. And those linesmen from Quebec and from Ontario, well, they were there in minutes, not after twelve days days, and we didn’t really need them, because the fallen trees weren’t really fallen and the power lines weren’t really down, and dear, dear, dear: what pork pies people do tell, and all to make them feel important and get attention for themselves.

“Pork Pies, for sale or rent!”
“Liar, liar, pants on fire!”
“True: I’m not selling pork pies,
I am giving them away for free.”

 

Teeth

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Teeth

Lunchtime.

Tiggy opens a can of tom8to soup and heats it on the stove. She slices the remains of yesterday’s loaf of bread into one inch cubes and fries them in olive oil and garlic. Tom8to soup with croutons. Then she puts two slices of bread in the toaster. Her father will only eat toast soaked in butter and layered with Marmite when he eats tomahto soup.

“Lunch is ready,” she calls out.

The black American Cocker Spaniel, bought by Tiggy’s late 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. Tiggy will not go near the dog.

“Lunch is ready,” Tiggy calls out, a little bit louder. Dog, as they call him, 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.

Tiggy’s father enters the kitchen as she places the soup on the table.

“I’m not ready to eat. Put it back in the pot.”

“What’s wrong, dad? I thought you were hungry.”

“My teeth,” he 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.”

Tiggy’s father circulates round the kitchen opening drawers, lifting saucepan lids, and shaking empty yogurt pots to see if they’ll rattle.

“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,” Tiggy’s father stomps towards the stove and Dog growls fiercely from its blanket as it guards its treasure.

“Take that, you dirty dog,” Tiggy’s father lashes out at Dog with his stick and cracks it across the head.

“Dad, stop that. It’s not Dog’s fault.”

Dog howls and spits out what it is chewing.

“There they are,” Tiggy’s father bends down, picks up his teeth, still hairy from the blanket and bubbly from Dog’s saliva. He pops his teeth into his mouth.

“That’s better,” he says, “now I can enjoy my lunch.”

Comment:

I included this short story, first published here on my blog on April 13, in Devil’s Kitchen, my new story collection that received third prize in the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick David Adams Richards Award for prose this year. I will probably read this tonight, at the awards ceremony that follows the banquet here in Quispamsis. It’s a beautiful morning, with sunshine streaming through my bedroom window. Hopefully a full day of sun and warmth will help decrease the already diminishing flood waters that have struck this area of the Lower Saint John River Valley.

Inundation

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Inundation

Seven flashes of light, then raindrops start
falling, one, two, followed by a curtain
dragging its damp dishcloth wetness over
windows, walls. It pocks the river’s troubled
face. Rising waters surpass all levels
from former floods. Water pours into homes,
floods basements, climbs stairs. Drowned branches scratch at
second floor windows as they float by.  Old
people evacuate their houses, are
boated to higher ground, beloved pets
upon their laps, boxed and caged. Men wonder
when this will end while older people shake
their heads, saying that they have never seen
anything like it. Overhead the storm
gathers strength. Rain tumbles, bubbling in
brooks that slide downhill filling the river.
Grand Lake now extends from Freddy to Saint
John. Why has it come to this? What can we
do to appease the mindless river gods,
fall on our knees and pray, if so, for what?
Last year we suffered drought, forest fires,
wells running dry, wild life dying of thirst.
This year it is death by inundation.
Rain continues. Thunder rolls. The wind gets
up and drives waves high against house windows.
Lightning carves fresh scars across dark clouds.
We shuffle our feet, accepting our fate
with grimaces, hugs, kisses, and sad smiles.