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.

Thursday Thoughts: On Water

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Thursday Thoughts
03 May 2018
On Water

In the seventy-fourth year of my life,
sitting on the car in Mactaquac Park,
waiting for my wife to walk down the slope
to where I’m writing, a warm wind today,
sunshine, the river still rising, more rain
called for tonight, another inch or more,
that’s twenty to thirty millimeters,
you can hear from here the restless waters
powering the dam’s dynamos, creating
great creamy waves to wash over coffee
colored waters fathered upriver with
their splintered debris wafted from waters
still gathering strength in the north where snow
melts steadily while the stormy sky builds
clouds, and weathermen forecast thunderstorms
yet to descend and overflow our streams:
sitting safely I fear for those downstream
who deal with flooded basements, water pumps,
animals in distress, destruction come,
no sanctuary save in flight, wood, mortar,
brick promising no safety, no respite
from rising waters and eternal rain.

Commentary:

In the great flood of 1973, we lived on the Woodstock Road in Fredericton. We watched the river waters rising. Luckily they stopped on the other side of the road from where we were living and didn’t cross the road. This year we live out of town on the other side of the hill away from the river. Each time we drive into town we see the river waters and measure how they rise. Our hearts go out to those folk who are forced to evacuate their homes. We find it hard to believe that the waters are now at the levels they reached in 1973 and may, in some places, exceed those levels by a meter or more.

Next weekend, Word Spring, the spring meeting of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, is scheduled to take place in Quispamsis. Yesterday, the people of Quispamsis found themselves on flood alert and were told to prepare for instant evacuation. It rained last night and more rain is expected. While it may not rain here in Island View, the catchment area of the St. John River, the Rhine of North America, is enormous. Any rain falling in the north of the province may affect the river. The snow is still melting from the deep woods and clear cutting along the river banks has, according to some, affected the ground’s ability to retain water.

All in all, a difficult situation and one that is forecast to last for another week or ten days. More details can be found here:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/homes-cottages-flooded-1.4645225?cmp=news-digests-new-brunswick