The Exact Word

Le mot juste

Searching for le mot juste
the exact word that sums it all up, 
catches the essence of the thing 
and holds it in the mind forever.

Think flowers. Think scent. 
Think of the limited ways 
we describe how daffodils
lift and clematis clings.

I look across the breakfast table 
and see my wife of fifty years, 
a teenager reborn, walking into 
that café where we had our first date.

I search my memory and my mind 
for the words to describe that beauty, 
that surge of excitement, 
I still feel when she enters the room:

but find I cannot find le mot juste.

Comment: I shortened this poem from its earlier version. You can click on this link to compare the two versions. I am always puzzled by the dilemma of lengthening or shortening. My thoughts center on the longer and shorter versions of some Raymond Carver stories. Follow the editor’s advice and cut all material down to its essential bones or fill out the skeleton with flesh and blood and expand the creative process further. I also think of the exhortation to ‘stay in the moment’. Anything that takes the reader away from the central experience is superfluous. Experienced writers are aware of that moment and its importance. Writers at my stage are often baffled by it and need to be told yes, this is the moment or no, that is not the moment. I guess the more we write, the more we understand the process. Understand: do we work this out consciously or does it develop in unconscious fashion? Are some people just born with those skills or we must work hard to develop them? Sunt rerum lachrimae: tears are in all things and I guess hard work is all part of the process. As I was told a long time ago: genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. You have to put in the hard work for that little light bulb to go ‘pop’!

Carpe Diem

Autumn in the Garden

Carpe Diem

Seize the day. Squeeze this moment tight.
Nothing before means anything. Everything
afterwards is merely hope and dream. 

A tiny child, you chased wind-blown leaves
trying to catch them before they hit the ground
Elf parachutes you called them and trod with care
so as not to crush the fallen elves as they lay leaf-bound.

I stand here now, a scarecrow scarred with age,
arms held out, palms up, in the hope that a leaf will descend,
a fallen sparrow, and rest in my hand.

When one perches on my shoulder and another
graces my gray hair, my old heart pumps with joy.

Comment: Autumn in the Garden was framed by Geoff Slater who gifted it to me this summer. Thank you Geoff. A double picture, it shows the flowers and the trees with that first touch of drifting snow. NB it snowed here in Island View early September this year while we still had flowers and leaves. The poem, Carpe Diem, is from a series of quasi-sonnets. Quasi, because they rarely have 14 lines! Oh Petrarch: shake in your shoes.

Line Painting

No Exit
a line painting
by Geoff for Andrea Slater

Where is the entry point, where the exit?
This labyrinth of lines, straight, not circular,
baffle the eye, confuse with a negative space
that lightens colors and begs more darkness.

Mystery surrounds the sitter’s form: the board walk,
no Dutch kitchen this, the chair on which she sits,
the locket she wears, the landscape, seascape
against which she is framed. White noise, perhaps,

but noise that turns to a single voice, a single line,
that of the paint-brush tip-toeing, delicate its thread
through interior, exterior meaning, just beyond

the viewer’s grasp. Yet walking past, each person stops,
stands still, as the painting draws them in, ties them up,
binds them with an ineffable thread, stronger than words,

mightier than the eye that traces its way along paths
that deceive, disturb, throw us from the high-wire created
by an artist who turns circular colors into linear space.

Comment: No Exit forms a part of my manuscript collection The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature that placed second in the WFNB’s Alfred G. Bailey Award (2020). This collection will soon be made available online at Amazon / KDP.

Geoff Slater
the inventor of line-painting, gifted me this painting,
one of my hollyhocks about two years ago.
This is indeed a gift that keeps on giving.

Eyeless in Kingsbrae

Eyeless in Kingsbrae Garden

A feather upon the cheek,
this fern held fragile, hesitant
between fine fingers.
Touch and smell:
two senses engaged.

A paint brush sounds,
brush-brushing lightly
on expectant skin.
Faint the taste tested
suggestive on tongue tip.

No sight, just insight.
I have a sense of senses lacking.
My words reach out like fingers,
but they can neither retain
nor explain the meaning of it all.

Eyeless in Kingsbrae,
They push me, blindfolded,
around the garden.
Gravel crunches beneath
the wheelchair wheels,
sharpens my inability to be sure
of shadows and shapes
that are no longer there.

The ones who push me talk
and tell but cannot show.
How could they hold a rainbow
before my sightless eyes
or explain those lights that
crisp and crackle in the night sky?

There’s warmth in a color,
and heat’s visible to the touch.
Shocking pink has a different
feel beneath blind fingers,
and it has no name
that you and I, sighted,
would ever know.

Oh, Song of Songs, and the singer
deaf to his own sublimity.
Oh dealer of false cards,
fingerless pianist,
and dancer shuffling
on amputated stumps.

Comment: The poem Eyeless in Kingsbrae Garden is contained in my book One Small Corner: A Kingsbrae Chronicle (2017), available online at Amazon / KDP.

Pilgrim

Pilgrim
Oaxaca, Mexico

Outside the church,
a boy pierces his lips
with a cactus thorn.

The witch doctor
catches the warm blood
in a shining bowl.

He blesses the  girl
who kneels before him.

On her head she carries
a basket filled with flowers
and heavy stones.
He sprinkles it
with her brother’s blood.

All day she will walk with
this basket on her head
until evening’s shadows
finally weigh her down.

Cobbles clatter beneath her clogs.

When the stones grow tongues,
will they speak the languages
in which she dreams?

Comment: Revisiting and revising some earlier poems. The early version can be found here. The original poem comes from the collection Obsidian’s Edge, which can be found on Amazon.

Re-[b]-earth

Re-[b]-earth

“Get out and about,” she told me.
Take off your socks and shoes.
Walk barefoot on the earth and grass:
twin pleasures, you can choose.”

I took two canes, one in each hand,
and left the house to walk the land.

In the garden I took off my shoes
to walk barefoot on the lawn;
when grass sprang up between my toes
I was instantly reborn.

I stood in the shade of the crab apple tree
and let leaf and flower spill over me.

Sunlight took away my frown
and freckled a smile on my face.
I was blessed again with hope and light;
earth and grass filled me with grace

I stooped to reach my shoes
and carried them home in my hand,
maintaining as long as I could
my contact with this magic land.

When white blossoms filtered down
they gifted me a flowery crown.

Daffodils

Daffodils

For ten long days the daffodils endured,
bringing to vase and breakfast-table
stored up sunshine and the silky
softness of their golden gift.

Their scent grew stronger as they
gathered strength from the sugar
we placed in their water, but now
they have withered and their day’s done.

Dry and shriveled they stand,
paper-thin and brown, crisp to the touch.

They hang their heads:
oncoming death weighs them down.

Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams

Amnesia fades in these amniotic
waters, moving in time to the water pump’s
heart beat. I close my eyes. Nothing is the same.

Do I drift dreamily or dreamily drift?
The tub’s rose-petals bring garden memories:
primrose, bluebells, cowslips, daffodils dancing

sprightly in Blackweir Gardens or Roath Park,
beside the lake or along the gravel paths
where we used to bike, so many years ago.

Photos float before me, pictures of moments
I alone recall. Spring in Paris, the trees
breaking buds along the Champs-Élysées.

Santander in summer, walking the Piquío,
Segunda Playa, beneath the jacarandas.
Winter in Wales, up in Snowdonia where,

on a Relay Run to Tipperary,
I ran down a valley between high hills,
on a freezing night, with only the stars

to keep me company along a ribbon
of road. Autumn in Mactaquac. An orgy
of gaudily painted trees, leaves floating

on this first chill wind, to perch like sparrows,
on my beloved’s hair. The look in her eyes
as I catch a falling leaf and put it in
her pocket to save it for another day.

Flowers

Clare’s Birthday

I won’t allow her to sit here
with her head in her hands
fearing the future
or brooding on the past.

Every day we survive
is a bonus now, each sunrise
a celestial celebration.

We welcome daylight
with open arms and now,
on her birthday, we will
accept all gifts with joy.

Sunshine floods through us.
It fills us with joy and beams
like a beacon. A full tide
of love overflows in our hearts

filling our souls with sunlight
and red and white carnations.

Holly and Hock

Why, hello!

So, the holly hocks are back and this year we have some red ones to go with the lovely yellow ones that reseeded, in a different place, from last year. The red ones are very shy and are hidden away by the back steps where they are very hard to see.

I spy, with my little eye …

The red and green go well together. More a deep, blushing pink, I guess, with very dark centre. You can see the wood of the steps just behind them. I posted this yesterday, incidentally, but the computer munched it and I had to rewrite it today. It has been a slow time for me. The Corona-19 finally got to me, not in the physical sense, but mentally. As a result I have been feeling isolated, trapped, and a little bit depressed. Alas, there are many more like me suffering in today’s world. Luckily, the flowers help. As does the sunshine.

We’re back

Here are the new seeds from last year’s hollyhocks. They are similar in color, but much smaller this first season. They have also shifted location and I have been surprised at how many seedlings have sprouted and started to grow. Next year we may have a bumper crop.

Night Garden

And here we have a painting of the garden at night, flourishing without us, but beneath the stars. “The garden going on without us.” Given the current situation, I prefer the garden going on with us still here to watch it.