Paella

Paella

A bullfrog lives in my computer.
He eats all the full stops and I can’t
type a period to end my sentences.

I imagine he thinks they are tadpoles,
though the commas, with their short,
twisted tails, would be visually better.

I could live without commas, I can’t face
an endless future with no periods in sight
and www-comma-com just isn’t right.

I guess I could survive a future without
frogs, though cuisses de grenouille appear
each summer at my local super market.

I ate a paella québécoise in a Spanish café
in Montreal once. It was full of frogs’ legs
and was very, very tasty. I wonder if I can
find that bullfrog and put him in a paella.

Autumn

Autumn
and all that jazz

1

Slow last drag of summer’s sad trombone
sliding its airs between stark, naked trees.

Golden memories float face down in tranquil
waters, life and the summer drained away.

A voice, her voice, ripples across the pond,
echoes over drowned and mirrored leaves.

2

Grey the sky, white the birch trees:
Narcissus kneeling, dark waters flooding.

Tumble-dried by this autumn sky,
leaf words falling, still her voice echoes.

3

Tintinnabulation: a tin-pan alley of leaves
blown against windscreen and car windows.

I, who a grief ago sat here watching her walk,
now sit here alone, waiting for her return.

4

I who am nothing know nothing, save that I
am a burnt-out ember, cold, in a grey-ash grate.

A grating of old bones, these hips and knees,
and if I fall, sweet heart, please love me more.

5

Here endeth today’s lesson: that of the fall,
the fall of all things finally into deep water.

Fall, fall asleep to the rhythmic leaf beat
that summons us all to our appointed end.

Dreamer

Dreamer

A once-upon-a-time god struts past the table where I drowse.
Once I stole his nose, breaking it from a sacred statue.
Now I watch it cross the square: a proud beak nailed to a face.

Casting shadows on the cobbles, zopilote flies over the square.
I caught him once, dozing on a local bus filled with love-birds:
he begged me to fold his wings and let him sleep forever.

The balloon lady sits in the square selling tins of liquid soap.
Released from school, the children charm my days
blowing colored bubbles that seek freedom in the skies.

Eight Deer, eight years old, sets out on his conquests.
Nine Wind gives birth to his people, releasing them
from their underworld prison by carving a door in a tree .

Faces crowd the trees above me, as long-dead friends
come back to life, chattering like sparrows in the branches.
Roosting time and their voices slip slowly into silence.

Sometimes, at midnight, they scratch at the window
in my head and tumble through my half-awake mind.
They need me, these dreams, for I bring them to life.
Without me, the dreamer, they would surely fade and die.

Striations

There are striations in my heart, so deep, a lizard could lie there, unseen, and wait for tomorrow’s sun. Timeless, the worm at the apple’s core waiting for its world to end. Seculae seculorum: the centuries rushing headlong. Matins: wide-eyed this owl hooting in the face of day. Somewhere, I remember a table spread for two. Breakfast. An open door. “Where are you going, dear?” Something bright has fled the world. The sun unfurls shadows. The blood whirls stars around the body. “It has gone.” she said. “The magic. I no longer tremble at your touch.” The silver birch wades at dawn’s bright edge. Somewhere, tight lips, a blaze of anger, a challenge spat in the wind’s taut face. High-pitched the rabbit’s grief in its silver snare. The midnight moon deep in a trance. If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.

Comment: This is the prose version, from Fundy Lines (2002). The prose version was based on an extract from a longer poem that first appeared in Though Lovers Be Lost (2000). Though Lovers Be Lost is also available on Amazon and Kindle.

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.

Impressions

Impressions
Early Morning Mass

A single sunbeam:
sharp blade of a heliocentric sword,
it shatters the chapel’s dark.

Fragmented light
speckles white-washed walls.

The priest’s face:
a pallid lily truncated
in the dawn’s pearly light.

A wanderer kneels and prays.
A halo of sunshine
runs a ring around her head.

Her flesh now clutches
a statue’s marble hand.

Her pilgrim palm
presses into granite
forcing warm fingers
into cold stone.

Her veins
weave a warm spell
over frosted rock.

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.

Angel Choir

Angel Choir
(on seeing the Northern Lights at Ste. Luce-sur-mer)

listen to the choristers with their red and green voices
light’s counterpoint flowering across this unexpected son et lumière
we tremble with the sky fire’s crackle and roar

once upon another time twinned in our heavenly bodies
we surely flew to those great heights and hovered in wonderment
now our earthbound feet are rooted to the concrete
if only our hearts could sprout new wings and soar upwards together

the moon’s phosphorescent wake swims shimmering before us
the lighthouse’s fingers tingle up and down our spines
our bodies flow fire and blood till we crave light and yet more light

when the lights go out we are left in darkness
our hearts fill with dreams of what might have been

Lamentations

El Cristo de Carrizo

“Contemplate this crucifixion.
Each of your sins is a thorn
driven into His brow.

Each misdemeanor spears
the sacred side,
draws water and blood
from the open wound.

Your sinful deeds
drive nails anew
into hand and foot.

Christ lives in you.
Your misdeeds nail him
daily to the cross
He bears for you.

He hangs there,
open-eyed.

No death,
no resurrection,
just an everlasting suffering
from these nails
you daily drive.”

Comment: This poem is a very golden oldie. I wrote it in 1979 while walking the Camino de Santiago / the Road to St. James. I should add that this was long before it became fashionable to do so. I walked alone and, save for my thoughts, I was indeed very lonely. In fact, the long days walking, the solitude, got to me. I needed to talk, to meet people, and so, after long discussions with sundry people along the route, I determined to take the bus or the train to the main pilgrimage centres and to walk out from them in either direction. This allowed me to meet people, explore the towns with their churches, traditions, and museums, and to learn much more about the nature and art traditionally associated with the pilgrimage. In this fashion, I spent five days in Leon, two days in Hospital de Orbigo, a week in Astorga, another week in Ponferrada, and nearly two weeks in Santiago itself.

I wrote a collection of poems while I was studying the cities and the landscape. This particular poem is a summary of the conversation I had with the old priest, determined to convert me to Catholicism, who introduced me to the Cristo de Carrizo, in Leon.

In 1613, Francisco de Quevedo, the Spanish poet on whom I wrote my doctoral thesis (Toronto, 1975) wrote a collection of heartfelt mea maxima culpa poems dedicated to his aunt. It bore the title of El Heráclito Cristiano / The Christian Heraclitus.  This in turn was based on an earlier cycle of poems, Lamentaciones de Semana Santa / Lamentations of Holy Week (1601), which Quevedo appears to have written following the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

These spiritual exercises consist of a set of contemplations based on the Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis, in which the contemplator meditates on each of the moments of Christ’s torment and suffering leading up to his death by crucifixion at the end of Holy Week. The purpose of the exercises is to try and recreate in the mind of the contemplator the sufferings of Christ, to imagine his pain, and to feel his suffering at a personal level. This is an act not only of contemplation and contrition, but also of purification of mind and spirit.

This year, during Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday and the Resurrection), I attempted to follow in the footsteps of Quevedo and to contemplate the current world situation and my own specific situation, as influenced by the lock down in New Brunswick instigated on account of the Corona Virus pandemic.

Lamentations for Holy Week, then, is my attempt to examine myself and my own conscience at a time of great personal stress, a stress that I share with all those who are infirm, frail, in ill health, alone, and getting on in years. These are the people most affected by loneliness and the threat of the pandemic to our lives.

The Cristo de Carrizo is a hand-carved ivory cross, Mozarabic in origin. It shows Christ, on the cross, with his eyes open, looking at the viewer. Christ is not dead, in this crucifixion, but very much alive, and suffering. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Pioneer Sky

Pioneer Sky
04 September 2020

Just when I think that life
has become meaningless
I look up at the Pioneer Sky:
celestial blue for hope,
white clouds for purity.

Sky and clouds float side
by side in the beaver pond.
When the walking trail
became so popular,
they abandoned their lodge.

They moved to another pond,
lower down than this one,
and there, where fresh milkweed
grows, they built another dam
and a brand-new lodge.

The great blue heron still
stands on guard, patrolling
his usual watery haunts.
When my beloved draws near
he cracks his wings open.

He searches for solitude
in untroubled waters,
weaving his wary way
between white and blue skies
mirrored in the pond below.