Her Shadow

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Her Shadow

“Birds, birds,” she shrieked with delight.
“The drab one is a girl like you,” I told her,
“but the bright one is a little boy.”

“Yellow,” she cried again with joy, “Yellow.”
Tiny hands plucked at air, catching nothing.

I can still see her standing there, her nose,
all wet and runny.  She left damp, snot-stained
marks, a sort of signature, on the cold wet glass.

She’s long gone now, way back home, but still
the window stays unwashed and her shadow
often comes between me and the morning sun.

Triumphs

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Triumphs
Luis de Góngora

Waking to birdsong in the morning,
making it safely to the bathroom
without tripping on the rug in the hall,
shaving without cutting my face,

getting in and out of the shower
with neither a slip nor a fall,
drying those parts of the body
that are now so difficult to reach,

especially between my far-off toes,
pulling my shirt over wet and sticky
patches still damp from the shower,
negotiating each leg of my pants,

tugging the strings of the plastic sleeve
that helps my socks to glide onto my feet,
forcing swollen toes into under-size shoes,
hobbling to the top of the stairs,

lurching down them, cautiously,
one step at a time, on guard for the cat,
the edge of the steps, the worn patches
where my stick might catch or slip …
one more step, triumph, I’ve made it.

Comment: “Cada pie mal puesto es una caída, cada caída es un precipicio / Each ill- place footstep means a fall, every fall is a precipice.” Luis de Góngora (1561-1627). I have reached the age of fragility and futility: every day that passes without an accident or a fall is a triumph. I re-read Luis de Góngora with increasing pleasure, the Polifemo (1613), above all, but also the later poems about the difficulties of ageing. When I read them I realize that I am not alone, that others have aged before me, and then I think of Jorge Manrique dead at the age of 39. And what poems he wrote, as did Góngora with a whole poetry movement named after him.

As for the photo: young storks in Avila, Spain, ready to fly. The one at the top is bouncing up and down, waiting for the breeze to get under his wings and lift him to sun and stars. High in the sky above him, almost unseen, his parents wait, ready to swoop down and assist him when he gets lift off. Uncertain he may be in those first few triumphant wing strokes, but down they come, place their wings below his wings and show him how it’s done. For him, it is the world that awaits him.

For me, and people my age, the world shrinks, walls close in, the daily process of living becomes more difficult. My joy: not in the lift off, but in the painstaking processes, getting up, getting washed and shaved, getting dressed, going downstairs, the early morning taste of fresh-brewed coffee, each sip a pleasure … and out in the garden, spring robins calling, a phoebe whistling, rose-breasted nuthatches, American Goldfinches, and the wondrous joy of just being here, sitting in the sunshine, lapping up the warmth, and every moment of every day a triumph renewed.

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Still Life with Hollyhock

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Still Life with Hollyhock
Geoff Slater

How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?

Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?

So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting
of a photo of a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.

A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead
nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.

Comment: I love the way language changes the way we look at life.  A still life painting becomes nature morte in French and naturaleza muerta in Spanish. Still life becomes dead nature. Fascinating. I also love the way in which the camera captures nature and the natural world. We think it is an accurate depiction, but really it isn’t necessarily that accurate. Filters, light and shadow, mood: they all fluctuate and sometimes we capture that which we never saw and sometimes that which we saw is never captured. Oh the subtle enigmas of creative art.

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And it is the same with the hollyhock, my hollyhock, Geoff’s hollyhock. At the top of the page is Geoff’s painting of my hollyhock. The above is a photo of my hollyhock. Which bloom did Geoff capture and reproduce in paint? Language: and what do I mean when I say ‘my hollyhock’? My indicates possession, ownership. How and in what way does one own a hollyhock? How does one possess a garden, a flower bed, a tree? Are they not free, living, beings with a life and maybe even a mind of their own? Does one hollyhock talk to another hollyhock as the trees are said to converse with the trees? Do the trees in the garden possess a soul and if they do, in what sense do they possess one? And what is a soul anyway? I guess it depends upon the church and creed to which you belong. Certainly the garden has a life of its own and we discover that every spring when the grass and flowers grow back and the dandelions return.

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Questions: dangerous things, questions. Several of the questions posed above could have landed me in an Inquisitional institute in Spain in the 1500’s and 1600’s. That is a frightening thought. Alas, the philosophy of all that is way too deep for this poor poet and apology for a philosopher. One thing I do know, though: I love the garden going on outside my window and it is a privilege to be allowed to watch it, admire it, and follow its progress as the sun returns and the draws the birds back with it.

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¡Vale! Hail and fare thee well.

Last Dance

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Last Dance

The shy lady in the corner,
body withered by cancer,
stands up to dance.

She bows to the band
then floats into movement.

Dancing alone she clings
to the empty air as she
once clung to her man.

Nymphs and shepherds play
sweet music at midnight in this
room turned sacred grove.

Her dance-steps are a draught
of joyous water from the fount
of eternal youth and lasting love.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie pulled out of the magic hat of a forgotten manuscript. Such a joy to rediscover these things. Draught is the English form of American draft, incidentally, as in draught cider. I hate how my spell-checker corrects my spelling, even when it is correct. Wednesday was dance night in the hospice. At seven o’clock a band would arrive and set up at one end of the dining room. Tables were cleared away and chairs placed in rows so that patients could sit and listen or move onto the dance space that awaited them. This one old lady, shy and very much worn down by her treatment, stood up when the last dance was called and floated in an ethereal space that was hers and hers alone. The other patients stood around in a circle and applauded as she danced  and the band played on and on until everyone was dancing and the room was filled with joy and forgetfulness. Such is human strength, even in the face of apparent and imminent disaster. Dance on, my friends, dance on.

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Bleeding Heart

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Bleeding Heart

White moths
wing their snowstorm,
pale stars through the night.

A candle flickers in the darkness.
Hands reach out to grasp me.
A feathered shadow flies
frail fingers across my face.

Butterflies
stutter their eye-lash kisses
against closed cheeks.

Awake,
I lie anchored by what pale visions
fluttering on the horizon?

Eye of the peacock,
can you touch what I see
when my eyelids close?

Black rock of the midnight sun,
blocking this day’s dark cave,
when will I be released
from my daily bondage?

Last night, the planet
quivered beneath my body
as I felt each footfall of a transient god
who mapped in runes
the ruins of my bleeding heart.

 

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Comment: Another Golden Oldie, also dug out from the rejection / dejection of striations. I tinkered with it this morning. Funny what a shift in structure and a twitching of the metaphors will do. New lamps for old: indeed, and why not? We are not just writers, we are re-writers and some thoughts can be reworked to rise again in the shadows of the adopted children that are our poems. This bleeding heart plant vanished a couple of years ago. We dug up the flowerbed, inserted a rockery, and watched and waited. After two years, the bleeding heart plant resurrected itself from within the stones. Survival, renewal, faith, hope: key words nowadays. Who locked that plant down? Who let it rise up again? When we have gone, how will our gardens get on without us? Very well, in all probability, but they may be more of a tangled garden than a cultivated one. And what’s wrong with a tangled garden? Why, nothing at all, my friends, absolutely nothing at all.

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Lost

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Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
rule over them all. Your shadow dances on walls.
in mirrors, and your breath brushes my cheek

every time I open doors or windows. That silly cat
looks for you and hisses when I bring her kibble.
I walk from room to room, but when I seek you,

you are no longer here. I knock, nothing opens.
Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I know
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.

Sometimes your voice’s echo breaks the silence.
You whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,

that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,
the days, embracing dust motes to find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.

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Comment: A Golden Oldie. I wrote this some time ago while my beloved was in Ottawa visiting our daughter. Separation is such a strange thing: an absence, yes, but also a presence in the tiniest details and the most unsuspected moments. And then there is the dream world where things join together, and then fall apart. This poem has so much more meaning in a time like this when so many people are separated and can no longer be together. Time … I have written about it before … passes. Hopefully, families and friends will be reunited once more, the sooner the better. In the meantime, we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. Chadwch eich fydd / Keep your faith, as St. David, the patron saint of Wales is said to have said circa 500, byddwch lawen / be joyful, and gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bwywd / do the little things in life.

Lamplighter

 

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Lamplighter

When I was very young, many of our streets still had gas lamps.  The lamp-lighter would appear in winter around three or three-thirty to light those lamps. I remember him walking up the street with his long pole over his shoulder, moving from lamp to lamp. We had one outside our front door. He would turn on the gas, then light the lamp from the lighted wick at the end of his pole.  Sometimes he carried a ladder with him. Then, every so often, when the lamp needed tending, he would climb the ladder and adjust the wick. These gas lights were not very bright but they stood out like light houses between stretches of darkness and we would walk from pool to glowing pool, as if they were stepping stones leading us up the hill to home. We all knew the lamplighter and he would often wave to us as we sat in the front room window to watch him walk by. We rarely saw him in the mornings when he came back to turn off the lamps. We were all tucked safely into our beds. I remember that I wanted to be lamplighter. Later I realized that there are many ways to light a lamp and spread brightness through the world. When I qualified as an academic and a teacher, I became a lighter of a very different set of lamps.

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Comment: I discovered this prose poem in an old and dusty manuscript. I can’t even remember when I wrote it. Prose poems: I discovered Charles Baudelaire’s Petits Poèmes en Prose in a small bouquiniste along the banks of the Seine when I studied French in Paris during the school year I spent in France, 1962-63. I have always loved his prose poems and I have always wanted to write some of my own. That I did, and then promptly forgot about them, is one of the wonders of my creative life. How could I forget these creations? Funny: reading what I wrote back then takes me straight into the front room in my grandmother’s house in Brynmill. She would sit in the bay window playing eternal games of patience and together we would eat grapes, peep at the cards, wait, we didn’t know for what, and watch the light slowly fade. Nobody ever told me my grandmother had cancer. She died from it one day when I was away at school and when I came home for the holidays, she just wasn’t there. Her chair and her table were still there, but her warm presence, her loving kindness, had all gone. I never had a chance to properly say good-bye to her. Maybe these belated words will serve that purpose.

 

Butterflies

 

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Butterflies

“Poetry gives permanence to the temporal forms of the self.”
Miguel de Unamuno.

… butterflies … temporal forms … fluttering …
existing for one sweet day … they perch … spread
their wings … fan us with their beauty … flourish …
catch our attention … then caught by a gust
tear their wings on a thorn … and perish … blink
your eye and they are gone … yet reborn … they
cluster and gather in dusty ditches …
congregate on bees’ balm … smother Black-Eyed
Susan and Cape Daisy … shimmer in shade …
butterflies by day … fireflies by night …
terrestrial stars floating in their forest
firmament … dark tamarack … black oak … bird’s
eye maple … silver birch … impermanence
surrounds us … dances beneath stars … sings with
robins … echoes the owl’s haunting cry …
eternity held briefly in our hands …
then escaping like water or sand … black
words on white paper capturing nothing …
… my dialog … my time … my place … butterflies …

Comment: This is another golden oldie that gains in meaning day by day as the lock down continues. Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) was a respected academic, philosopher novelist, essay writer, story-teller and powerful poet. He is probably most famous internationally for the philosophy he espoused in The Tragic Sense of Life. Other works of his include Our Lord Don Quixote and Niebla / Mist. The photo shows one of the butterflies that adorn the garden by my kitchen window each summer.

Easter Sunday

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Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday: such a joyful day.
Last night the deer came out to play.
Good Friday’s snow is going away.

The Queen’s ‘Happy Easter’ was said at home.
The Pope held mass all alone in Rome.
I’m writing this poem and I’m home alone.

We’re locked down at home and so is the cat.
This morning she threw up her food on the mat,
three hoicks and a yuck and then a wet splat!

The snow is melting. The sun’s in the sky.
Rain is forecast and the river is high.
Let’s hope I stay well: I don’t want to die.

I know that I’ll die, sooner or later,
but if at all possible, let it be later,
‘cos I’m not quite ready to meet my creator.

Maybe he’s like me, with a tear of sorrow
for all things undone and left till tomorrow.

I do hope he’s a procrastinator
not a ‘do-it-right-now’ style of dictator.

 

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Hibiscus

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Hibiscus
Day 26 CV-19

The hibiscus lives downstairs. We bought it years and years ago. A tiny plant in the florist’s shop, we brought it home. When we placed it here, by the window, we were horrified to see it was covered with tiny spider mites. Gradually, in spite of all our efforts, it lost its flowers and then, one by one, its leaves. After Clare had magicked the spider mites away, she nourished that one last leaf. “If that goes, the plant goes,” she told me. “It cannot survive without leaves.” It took time and daily care and attention, true TLC, but a second leaf appeared, and then a third. Now, each winter, it puts out flowers and fills the room with joy and light.

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More important, in these dark times it fills us with hope and the knowledge that however bad things may appear to be, we can hang on, we can survive. We can be present in every second that we are given and that we can, and must, enjoy every moment to the full. Condemned to a certain death, our hibiscus survived to remind us of the miracle of life, for life is stronger than death, and hope is stronger than despair, and spring and summer are stronger than winter, even if it seems to be ‘our winter of discontent’.

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