Poinsettia

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Poinsettia

     You can sense it, you can feel it, the alert spirit that guards this room. Walk in there at your peril. No, don’t. Just stand at the door and observe the poinsettia. You bought her a real one, a year ago, but she forgot to water it and when you visited, leaves and flowers, had crisped and dried, withered and perished. You even found cigarette butts stubbed into the pot’s powdery earth. You bought her another one, this time an ever-lasting, artificial flower, scarlet blossoms of silk with yellow-dotted plastic beads. Today a feather-duster breeze cleanses and enriches the leaves, replenishing their faded splendor. Motes rise, their dancing angels of dust hovering, suspended in a sunbeam that picks out their supple luxury. Their fiery tongues cry out to you from their green plastic pot in this empty room. The plant throbs with a startling vibrancy in this early morning light that enlivens piano keys, table top, and the polished, wooden chair arms you cleaned yesterday.  The poinsettias seem to wring butterfly hands as they gently flap in the breeze from the open window where thin lace curtains twitch, shaping the sunlight into light and shade. Her ash tray sits by the radiogram and awaits her return. That last cigarette, lipstick staining the filter, stubbed out and cold, waits for a companion. Later today, you will go to the hospital and visit her. You do not want to enter this room for its guardian spirit demands solitude and silence. You do not wish to create a disturbance, yet something moves you, and you walk over to her flower. A film of grey cigarette dust rises once more from the silk poinsettia, disintegrates, and dances before you. You bend your head to the silken surface and feel dry leaves brush their butterfly kiss across your cheek as you breathe in the ashen smell of stale tobacco.

Love me

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Love me …  love my cat. I think she’s bemused by the sudden smell of all those flowers. She didn’t like the snow yesterday, either. Hands up all those who did. Ah yes, all the students and teachers who had their tenth snow day. No wonder the internet was so crowded all day long. It wasn’t that easy to get on and off but it was so easy to lose the connections. Speaking of connections, yet another circular debate is going round and round the Brexit roundabout in London today. That’s London, England, not London, Ontario. Oh the sea, oh the sea, thank God it still flows between Brexit and me. You’ve got to love it though, especially on St. Valentine’s Day: all those basket cases putting all their eggs into one little Brexit basket. They remind me of a set of Oaxacan donkeys, blinkered and blindfolded, walking round all day in circles, trying to grind the maguey or to draw water from an artesian well (una noria). It’s a thankless task at the best of times, but an incredibly tiring one when there’s a drought and a dearth of clear-thinking and intelligence. Round and round and round they goes, and when they’ll stop, nobody knows. Wow, I’m glad I got that off my chest: now I can enjoy Valentine’s Day with my beloved and my cat. As for Valentine’s Day: say it with flowers.

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Here are the geranium, a little bit winter-struck, still red-hearted and perky in the post-storm sunshine. I always marvel at how they  settle down, go all green-leafed, then start to blossom again: a miracle of love and kindhearted attention.

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And here’s Don Quixote keeping vigil just behind the carnations. Oh Brexiteers, he stands on guard for thee. He’s very quiet though. Not sure about anything, except the need to guard the flowers from fear, fire, and foe. He’s a good man, is Alonso Quijano el Bueno. He doesn’t round round in circles and lose sleep over uncounted and uncountable, slaughtered sheep. Speaking of which, the Welsh are campaigning for Welsh Lamb. They do not wish their products to be labelled with the Union Jack, but with the Red Dragon of Wales, Y Draigg Coch Cymraig. I hope I’ve got that right: it’s been so long. Meanwhile, speaking of love, Northern Ireland is talking divorce from the UK and a renewed marriage with the south. Scotland is talking love-talk with the Europeans and muttering about separation (was it really 1606?) from the Union. And Plaid Cymru is once again flexing it’s separation muscles. For how much longer, in the current state of division, will we be able to talk of a United Kingdom? Valentine’s Day: it’s best to be off with the old love before you are on with the new. Yet there’s mucho flirting going on between many possible future partners, even while undying love is being spouted across the various negotiating tables. The Queen of Hearts rules on Valentine’s Day: “Off with their heads!” Oh dear, whatever will the little caterpillar say, let alone Malice in Blunderland?

And the cat came back. Thank heavens. I cannot imagine Valentine’s Day without some flowers, my beloved, the cat, and a great deal of love and understanding. May the joys of red flowers and open hearts (not the surgical kind) be with you this day, and may you find a ray of sunshine to sit in for the rest of what still promises to be a stormy and snow-filled winter.

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Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day

I live in the presence of flowers again. Red, white, and pink, with a touch of greenery. I bought them for my beloved on Valentine’s Day to acknowledge her presence in my life. Day. I avoided the pre-packed supermarket flowers and went to the florists. What a mess they were in: flowers and packages scattered everywhere along with cards, vases, teddy bears wearing hearts on their sleeves and other parts of their anatomy.  “Excuse the mess,” the young man said. “It’s Valentine season and we’re very busy.” “Don’t worry,” I replied. “I’m getting old and it looks just like home.”

We walked through the sliding doors and into the back room where the loose flowers are stored. “Careful,” he told me. “It’s cold in here.” “Don’t worry,” I replied. “It’s -16 out there and the wind’s bitter. This is actually quite warm. I feel right at home.” He showed me round his stock and I settled on a combination of large and small carnations in red, white, and pink. “They all come with greenery,” he told me. “You go back out into the warm, and I’ll get them ready for you.”

I wandered round the shop, looking at Teddy Bears and trinkets but I didn’t fall into temptation. I am not always able to do avoid temptation, but today I was strong. I was tempted by a balloon, but the thought of driving home and having the thing deflate on me was not encouraging. After a few minutes, the man arrived with my flowers. “How are you going to pay?” he asked. “It depends on the price,” I said. He quoted a ridiculously low figure and added “That’s if you pay cash.” I did, and we both looked very happy.

When I got home, I presented the flowers to my beloved. “Not now,” she told me. “I’m busy. Just leave them on the table and I’ll get round to them later.”

“The best laid plans of mice and men” (and also of lovers on Valentine’s Day) “aft gang agley”. I hope I have quoted Burns correctly. I think gang agley can be translated as go astray. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long. Within a few minutes, vases were produced and filled with water and chemical additives, flowers were trimmed and organized by size and shape and color, suitable cooing sounds of appreciation could be heard.

Appreciation of what? Of my undoubted and unquenchable love? Of the wonderful scent and color of those Valentine flowers? Of the neat quick way they had been vased, trimmed and ordered?  Who knows? But one thing I do know, sometimes it is better not to ask. Especially on Valentine’s Day. A little bit later, a certain someone was on the phone, checking our bank account and our Credit Card Expenditures. Now, I don’t know what that was all about. And I don’t intend asking. Not on Valentine’s Day.

Cat & Janies

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Cat & Janies

Everybody needs a cat to keep them honest. Dogs are cynics. Cats, on the other paw, are born manipulators. Princess Squiffy, seen here, is intent on the red squirrel that is eating seed just to the left, outside of the picture. PS is trying to hypnotize it, draw it close. If it comes near she will pounce and scare the ‘bejabers’ out of the poor squirrel.

Behind the cat are three blossoms from Clare’s geranium collection. Clare salvages the best geraniums each fall, re-pots them, and keeps them indoors throughout the winter. They bring us joy and color whenever they blossom and are as bright as male cardinals against the snow. We have a pair of cardinals who visit regularly, but hungry, prowling neighborhood pussy cats are often on patrol, so the cardinals are very wary and do not hang around for long. I can’t say I blame them. I don’t mind the blood red reflection of the geraniums on the snow. I am adverse to the blood-red of real blood.

Speaking of which, as I grow old and my skin becomes drier and more like parchment, I find I cut myself much more easily than I used to. This morning I pumped gas into the car. The air was cold, my hands were cold, my skin was taut. I noticed nothing until I got inside the gas station to pay. I had blood all over my hands from a half-inch crack in the skin of my right index finger. I do not know how it happened. But there it was. The young girl in the gas station was excellent and cleaned and patched me up in no time at all. She was very nice to me. I felt lucky. So I bought three lottery tickets. Within five days we’ll find out whether I was lucky or not.

It’s wonderful to be around young people. So much bounce, so much energy. So much joie de vivre. Mind you, our granddaughter wears us out in no time at all. I guess I’ve earned peace, rest, comfort, and relatively easy living in my retirement, mon âge d’or, just like Princess Squiffy. She’s a house cat, incidentally. She can look at that bountiful banquet of squirrel and bird, but she cannot reach out and touch. She can merely make the window rattle as she charges the sliding door. She reminds me of the Pelican, whose beak can hold more than her belly can. Except in her case, especially with the birds, it’s more like her eyes behold more than her belly can. Whatever I do, I don’t want a kitty smorgasborg, nor do I want to turn the bird feeder into a pussy cat feeder.

Speaking of pussy cats and how they belong in houses, here’s one of my favorite short poems from Guillaume Apollinaire: Le chat (1911).

Je souhaite dans ma maison :
Une femme ayant sa raison,
Un chat passant parmi les livres,
Des amis en toute saison
Sans lesquels je ne peux pas vivre.

I searched for the text online, as I had mislaid my own collection of his poetry. By the
way, Apollinaire is one of the few poets (English, French, Spanish, or Other), whose
poems I did not give away during the ‘Grand Clean Out’. The little drop down offered to
translate this page for me and, for once, I clicked it. Here’s their rendition of the poem.

The cat

I wish in my house:
A woman having her reason,
A cat passing among the books,
Friends in any season
Without which I can not live.

 Now all I need to ‘make my day’ is a poem about Geraniums, and I know exactly where to find one.

 

Dandelions

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Dandelions

My flowers drink water dosed with chemicals to keep them alive.
They survive in the vase on the kitchen table,
refusing to crumple. They fly bright flags as if trooping
their colours for Their Majesties, the King and Queen.

They withstand both sunshine and shade, neither wilting
nor fainting under the hot summer sun. In this house
there dwells no queen, just a domestic pussy cat,
Princess Squiffy, who knows she may look at a Queen.

“Your Highness,” say Cape Daisies as pussy cat passes.
“Ma’am,” say Peonies and Pansies, bending their knees.
Outside my window, the garden fills up with onlookers:
still-green Tomatoes, Clematis, and a tall Hollyhock.

A multitude of weeds crowds onto the lawn. Dandelions
spread splendiferous, waiting to take plebeian selfies.
Plebs, they are, vox populi, people’s voice, people’s choice.
Some ancient god must have loved them very much,
for they are ubiquitous, and totally indestructible.

Comments: A glittering plain of ice scintillating in the early-morning sun stretches across the garden. The deer visited us last night, self-invited to a bright moon Maritime Kitchen Party at the bird-feeders. They danced the dark away, leaving lunar craters half-empty with doubt, half-filled now with sun and shadows.

Now is the time to recall the flowers that blossomed last summer. Now is the time to purchase flowers and hold them captive in vases on the table looking out the window at the places they should be. Ground Hog Day, St. Valentine’s Day, St. David’s Day: each day brings new flowers. Wistful we look at iced-up sidewalks, frozen lawns, and glassy roads. We long for the freedom to roam among flowers and plants, without these -15 C temperatures, without these chill north winds that chill us, cutting to the bone.

Today, I will risk a journey to the flower shop or the super-market. I will indulge my need for light, and color, and the tang of hyacinths floating across the table-top. Tomorrow, I will take pen or camera, and I will bear witness to the breath-taking brevity, the shortness and beauty of this floral existence.

Light breaks

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Light breaks

“Light breaks where no sun shines;
where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
push in their tides;
and, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
the things of light
file through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.”

Dylan Thomas, another Swansea boy, wrote those words a long time ago. I borrowed the phrase Broken Ghosts for the title of my second poetry book (Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1986) and I am proud of the links forged between Swansea and Island View, Wales and Canada, an earlier poetic generation and my own presence here among these trees covered as they are by winter’s falling snow.

Light is so important, especially here in winter’s dark where the nights are long. The sun’s warmth through the window, the distortion of light through glass and water, the presence of flowers amid the winter’s alternate brightness and gloom. Brightness of sunlight on flowers and of moonlight shifting across garden snow, cratered by the hoof marks of deer into a lunar landscape of shifting shadows.

Sometimes the ageing heart wallows in gloom. Those bedside shadows take on forbidding shapes  and Goya’s nightmarish figures rise out of the pinturas negras, the black paintings from the Quinta del Sordo, to walk again around my room. On nights like these, scarecrows arise from my past and their twigged fingers scratch at my face. They threaten with carrot noses and coal black eyes. They stump their thumping dance steps and send shivers coursing through my veins.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/jan/30/goya-black-paintings-prado-madrid-bicentennial-exhibition

“What is it?” I ask. “What do you want?” But though their mouths open and lips, teeth, and tongue flap into idle movement, no words emerge and I am left, a broken ghost, floundering in an internal sea, not of light, but of darkness. Downstairs I go, pursued by the clump of snowy feet, to sit at my desk and walk my fingers across the keys in search of comfort. I find it in these photos: sunshine on flowers, a light to lighten and enlighten the darkness stalking through my mind.

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Warmth and light: together they will dispel this frosty spell that freezes my brain and will not let me close my eyes and go back to sleep.

Light

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Light

We are so lucky, those of us blessed with sight, doubly lucky if we have the time to stop and stare and look around us to see light falling on objects or filtering through plants and flowers. Last fall we placed two unused mint cuttings in water glasses in the kitchen window and the clippings rooted and grew. Almost by chance, I caught their beauty, leaves translucent, the window filled with sunshine, as I was walking by. A macrocosm, this picture province in which I live; a microcosm, my house where light falls on objects and transforms them.

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Here are our mini carnation pinks. We were given them on December 21, 2018, by Gwn and Victor, and still they thrive. We lost some, just a few, and to the rest we added a new bunch. Here are the smaller heads, nipped off and placed on the table in single rose glasses. The light from the window flows through flowers, water, and glasses to create a flow of warmth and joy. Sometimes, we travel the world in search of beauty, only to return, disappointed, and discover it at home.

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Last, but by no means least, I looked up from my journal and saw the light catching the leaves of this houseplant, given to me in 2010 by Barry and Susan. Plants and flowers survive in our house, thanks to the magical skills of my beloved. I try to preserve their beauty in image and word. The ephemeral, caught for a moment in the camera’s eye, and preserved, if not for eternity, at least for a little while longer.

I sometimes wonder if the souls that thrive and perish in these plants think like the indigenous in the Oaxaca Valley that life should be lived and not petrified in pictures. Maybe they don’t want me to trap the consummate  beauty of light falling on their leaves since their capture on film in still life and inanimate form prevents their migration from one plane of existence to another. Who knows? I don’t. Maybe one day I will find out. But in the meantime I will continue to celebrate the innate glories of light on leaf and to share them with you.