Hawk at the Feeder

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S/he flew in at lunch time today. We haven’t seen a bird or a squirrel in the garden since. So, ipso facto, s/he must still be around somewhere. It’s very quiet out there. I just managed the one photo before s/he flew.

We have had a few discussions on Facebook and elsewhere about what type of hawk this is. Sibley says it is difficult sometimes to distinguish between the Sharp-shinned hawk and the Cooper’s Hawk. My feeling is that it is too big for a “sharpie” and therefore, in all probability, is a Cooper’s. My camera battery was on its last gap when I took the photo, and as I said yesterday, I only managed this one shot. It was certainly a beautiful bird.

Revisions

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Revision
“We are not writers, we are re-writers.” I do not remember who said this, but it is extremely well said. We write, yes. But then we rewrite, sometimes obsessively, again and again. But how does that rewriting process take shape? Why do we rewrite? How do we rewrite? And what do we do when we re-write? These are all vital questions.

Mechanical revisions and rewrites
This, for me, is the search for typos, punctuation errors, mis-spellings, grammar corrections, that sort of thing. Yes, we can rely on a (reliable?) editor and a not so reliable spell-check, but the editor usually costs money. Or we can learn to do it ourselves, which is what I recommend very strongly.

Grammatical revisions and expression checks
These are usually a little more difficult to deal with. Do the verb tenses check out? Are subject and verb clearly delineated? Does the wording make sense, not just to us, but to the outside reader? A second pair of eyes is always useful at this point. Also, a sense of distance from the text is useful. Leave it a day (or two) and come back to it later when he creative rush has fled the system.

Structural revisions 1
Whenever we do a structural revision, it is essential to check that the revision ties in with the rest of the piece and that we maintain consistency throughout. A simple example: I decide, on page 77 of my novel, to change my main character’s name from Suzie to Winnie. Clearly, her name has to be consistent, both backwards (1-77) and forwards (77 onwards). While this is obvious, other changes, taste, color of hair, color of eyes, height, weight, tv program preference, may not be so easy to check and double-check. But it must be done.

Structural Revisions 2
This is where we must pay attention to the vision in the re-vision. We must ask the question, what does the poem / story / chapter / text want to say? What is it actually about? Often, in the flush of creation, we write words (actions, thoughts, emotions) on the page and they flow like water from a fountain. It’s a wonderful feeling. Later, during the re-vision process, we must ask ourselves, again, deep down, what do these words mean, what are they trying to say? This is actually a slightly different question from what am “I” trying to say?
The speaking / writing voice may want to say something, but the words (and characters and actions) themselves may want to say something else. Now we are faced with a dilemma: do we write what we want to say or do we follow the intricate word-path growing from what we have written? As a beginning writer, I did the former. As a more mature (and I hope, a slightly better writer) I now do the latter.
The result is often a piece that is radically different from it’s starting point. When you listen to what the story / poem / text / characters etc are telling you and when you follow words and characters, then structure changes, paragraphs switch places, thoughts move around, expressions change. We are no longer forcing words into our meanings, we let the meanings grow out of the words. This is particularly important in short story telling and the writing of poetry. It is vitally important to the novel where any inconsistency must have a relevance to the development of action, plot and character. It is also a totally different approach to the meaning of re-vision.

Summary
I realize many writers may have difficulty accepting these points. Those trained originally in the academic world, in particular, will respond negatively to the idea of the words ‘not being forced into the correct academic shape by the quasi-omnipotent academic mind’ aka Constable Thesis Editor. However, the more creative a writer is, the more that writer will respond to the creativity that lies within both the creator and the creation that has appeared on the page and, as writers, we must never lose sight of that creative act, for it is one of the most truly wonderful things that we can do.

Comment

This is a golden oldie. However, it is still worthy of being reconsidered. Why do we revise? How do we revise? I hope this article is of use to the many out there who are looking for help and encouragement.

Angel

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Angel

I thought for a moment that, yes,
I was an angel and I was dancing
on a pinhead with so many other
angels, and all of us butterflies
spreading our wings with their peacock
eyes radiant with joy and tears spark
-ling in time to the music that wanders
up and down and around with inscrutable
figures held spell bound in a magic moment
… and I still feel that pulsing in my head,
that swept up, heart stopping sensation
when the heavens opened and the eternal
choir raised us up from the earth, all
earthbound connections severed and all
of us held safe in an Almighty hand.

Comment: an old poem this, from 2015, when I was in Moncton at the Auberge Monsignor Henri Cormier. It was not the easiest of times. However, there was music and dancing every week. The band would start playing, and the room would slowly fill with  men and women. The bravest would dance first and then, slowly, others would join in, all our woes forgotten in an up lifting moment of movement. The ladies: high necklines, head scarves; the gentlemen: some moving slowly, all doing their best.

For a while, I felt warm and safe, protected somehow in a fantasy world where, just for one evening a week, all troubles were forgotten and we could all be normal again in spite of our suffering. That moment together with the warmth and comforting friendship of my fellow sufferers still stays with me.

A Gift

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A birthday gift, hand made, by my five year old grand-daughter, in case I go gaga and forget who I am. I have no intention of doing so deliberately … but at my age … who knows? It can happen so quickly and so easily.

Robin Red Nest

That little red nest,
my heart,
hearth and home
to a galaxy of winged gods
who nest there,
year after year,
migratory spirits
blessing me with
hope renewed
in their spring nest’s
tangle of feather and twig.

Old now,
you thump to different rhythms
and schisms sprung from my body

Age winds you up like a watch spring
stretching my lifeline egg-shell thin.

When the wind of change
blows me away,
what will replace you
and your offer of sanctuary
to those you daily nourish?

So sad I will be
to abandon you,
your visions unfulfilled
as winter winds unravel you,
twig by twig,
until nothing remains
but the bare
white-boned cradle
in which I carried you,

so lovingly.

Butterflies

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Butterflies

Here today and gone tomorrow. Ephemeral. Like all of us ‘poor creatures, born to die’ (as Dylan Thomas once wrote in Under Milkwood). It seems strange to look back on last summer’s photos and to remember that yes, they were here, those butterflies. Outside the window. Perching on the flowers. Showing their varied colors. Alive. Vibrant. Raising and lowering their wings.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I wore a grey suit and lived in a concrete, four-walled cell that they called an office, I was asked if I would edit a new journal for one of the institutions with which I was involved. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘That would be great.’ ‘We’ll need you to submit a title and a theme,’ they said. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Of course I will.’

I thought about many things: titles, themes, topics, writers … Then I thought about other journals with which I had been involved in various capacities. Then I considered walking in the footsteps of the Journal of Higher Education with all of its cutting-edge articles and high-powered inspiration. I breathed a sigh of frustration, then of relief. ‘Got it,’ I said, and the Journal of Lower Expectations was born.

Alas, it was a butterfly that never spread its wings. ‘Your services will not be needed,’ came the curt reply when I submitted the title.

Think about it: a couple of years back, there were no bees in the garden: CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). Last year, there were no birds. The feeders stood empty, and bird flu was the cry on everyone’s lips and the plague on every bird’s beak. Ephemeral. Butterflies on a rock. Australia burns and people are rescued from the beaches where they have taken refuge in the sea. Everyone, everywhere, now needs to live with lower expectations.

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Butterflies and birds and bees: will they be back next summer? Who knows? I certainly don’t. But then, I am a true agnostic. I have no scientific background worth speaking of and neither ax no knife to grind on this topic. I genuinely do not know where we are heading. But I believe least those who protest most, especially when they bluster and bluff and try to pull the cocoon of disbelief over my eyes by shouting loudly their point of view. I have eyes. I can see, even if there are no butterflies, birds, or bees to be seen. Alas: I can still see and suffer their absence.

Please
will ye no come back again?”
Poor kangaroos, kookaburras, koalas,
wallabies and platypus ducks.

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We will miss you so much if you any of you,
let alone all of you,
along with the butterflies, birds, and bees,
go AWOL.

Black and White

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Black and White

There is a moment in winter photography when the world of color turns to black and white. Color is still there, but today it travels incognito, anonymous. The world is formed by shapes, trees draping their branches, snow weighing them down, dressing them in wedding gowns for their marriage with the new year spirits that haunt sunlit, moonlit snowbanks and dance across the snow. Even the clouds exist to give a soft, quiet dramatic touch to the winter beauty that visits the garden. And yes, it will always be there, even if we are not here to see it because it will carry on without us. As for us, we are secondary, mere witnesses to winter’s beauty and the nature that surrounds us.

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Amateur photographers can sometimes capture this effect in a moment of luck (or occasional inspiration). Great painters have always known this art of the minimal. El Greco drew light from darkness, his portraits often finding their own fire and lighting up from within.  Caravaggio, too, knew the values of chiaro-oscuro, light and dark, black and white. Velasquez was the master of the spotlight that highlighted the eggs frying in the pan, the hand of the water-carrier. Goya, in his etchings [The Disasters of War, The Caprichos] and dark paintings, drew mood and anguish from this contrast between light and dark, black and white.

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My friend Geoff Slater has caught such a moment in his sketches for Scarecrow. Above he catches the precise moment when the scarecrows, male and female, reach out to each other, and beneath a Van Gogh planetary sky, dare to dream of mobility and love. The dream world: so important to us all and especially to the creative artist who dwells in each of us. Deus est in nobis, the Latin poets used to say, it is god within us. The god of black and white who transforms the world into color and light.

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Black and white, light and dark, winter trees, Clare, two scarecrows, deer and crows: labors of love that reach out and catch us unawares, blowing our hearts wide open, letting in the sun and the wind and the ever present joy of seeing things, seizing them, sizing them up, in black and white.

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The Medallion

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The Medallion (Solace 7, 8, & 9)

7

St. James, Santiago, the patron saint of Spain and of the Conquistadores. Pale, egg shell blue walls, darkness ruling inside the church. It will do so until the sun peeps in the stained- glass windows and awakens all the sleeping colours. I bow my head, then my knee, and kneel at the back. Ahead of me, I recognize some of my neighbours who concentrate on the gestures of the priest as he mumbles to himself before the altar.

The early morning shadows creep across the walls until a single beam of sunshine descends and shatters the altar into a thousand tiny chips of fragmented light. My hands are pallid butterflies fluttering in the sun’s rays and a rainbow halo adorns my head. I shift away from the sunbeam and move to the side-chapel dedicated to the statue of St. James.

… St. James the Moor-Slayer … Santiago Matamoros … he stands on the severed heads of the Moors he has killed … behind him hands tied behind their backs dusky skinned warriors march away into slavery … my eyes are level with those severed heads and I stare eyeball to eyeball at a decapitated Moor … beside the statue stands a photo of the Gate of Glory, la Puerta de la Gloria, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain … … generations of pilgrims have laid hands upon the Tree of Jesse, imprinting their fingers into the stone … human hands clasping rough granite in a search for comfort and warmth …

8

When I leave St. James, I find the witchdoctor squatting, in a trance. His fire burns low and a strong scent of copal rises from the coals, hangs heavy on the air, then slowly dissipates. I stop for a second to study El Brujo and the witch doctor speaks without opening his eyes.

“I spoke to your mother yesterday.”

“That’s nonsense,” I replied. “My mother’s dead.”

“What ails you, my son?”

“I’m not your son.”

“It’s a wise man knows his own father,” El Brujo opens his eyes. “One night, many years ago, Jaguar crept between your ribs and took your heart into his mouth. When he closed his jaws, your heart was as heavy as stone and Jaguar broke his tooth upon it. He cursed you and your heart remained a rock within your chest. At night, when you sleep, you dream of dust and ashes.”

“You speak in riddles,” I try to remain calm yet the words fan a sorrow within me that I thought had died a long time ago.

“Perhaps, but my words speak true.”

            … curses, stone, dust, ashes, broken heart, rock, heart in mouth … a marigold path, zopilote, high in the morning air, fire-red his wing-tips, and then an old stone bridge, a river below it with the snow floating down to be carried away by the current, three crones dancing on the steps of an orphanage, three beautiful ladies dancing on the temple steps, an old man, dead, then alive and walking in his burial clothes … hummingbirds dancing round the sun … red slashes of blood … tulips against a white-washed wall … an old man vanishing into a tomb … death’s face simmering in the moon’s dwindling pool …

“You must make a sacrifice, my friend.”

“I don’t do sacrifice, not like that boy this morning.”

“No, not like that,” El Brujo shakes his head. “You must sacrifice your beliefs and allow me to bless you.”

“I have no beliefs.”

“Even that is a belief.”

“Then I am sacrificing nothing.”

“If that is what you believe, it is so. Here: take this. It’s yours by right,” El Brujo offers me a medallion on a braided leather thong. “This is your mother’s gift to you.”

“You’re crazy. I told you: my mother’s dead. She didn’t leave me this.”

“I tell you that she did.”

“Did you know her?”

“I did.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You may believe what you want. But tell me, does the medallion call you?”

“I like it, yes. I can’t say it calls. How much?” I put my hand in my pocket.

9

“You do not have enough money to buy it, and if you did, you wouldn’t be the man I think you are. And in that case, I wouldn’t sell it to you,” his eyes took on a faraway look. “However, it comes from your mother and I promised your mother I’d give you this.”

            El Brujo’s eyes hold a power that disconcerts me. I lower my head to his fire and the copal makes my eyes water. I cough and my vision blurs. My lungs fill with perfume and El Brujo pushes me closer to the incense. I inhale deeply and break out in a sweat.

“You must wear this always. It will protect you,” El Brujo places the medallion round my neck. I place my hand upon it, feel its rough edges, and see through my tears that it is incomplete, for it has been broken in half. What remains shows half a cross with some broken roses where the crucified Christ would normally appear.

“But it’s broken.”

“Not broken, but divided. You must find the missing half.”

“Did my mother tell you that?”

“Your mother is dead.”

El Brujo lapses into silence and stares me down. Then he breaks into a weird, wailing chant, using a language that I do not know. As he sings, he leans forward and brushes my eyes with an eagle feather that he draws from his pocket.

“Now, you will be able to see.”

… an old woman dressed in black, pushes at a young man … colored threads hang out from her basket … they flap like flags in the single ray of sunshine that breaks into a million tiny sparks of fire … hummingbirds, tiny warriors, wing their dance around a sun that bears a man’s  face … a pair of scissors snips at the string that ties a child’s balloon to the earth and it floats away up into the air high above the cathedral tower … fire catches its wings and it flares like zopilote, the trickster, in the dawn’s early light … the cathedral spire is a notched measuring stick conducting the clouds as they dance and weave their patterns … within the prison of the sky … trenchant shadows, twisted dancers, old warrior kings bend themselves in and out of shape as they struggle to escape … an old man  wrings his hands, then vanishes …  a soap bubble floats away on the wind … a young girl stands on a bridge in winter … snow swirls and  draws a curtain around her body as she falls into the waters below … an old crone wrapped in rags carries a bundle of clothes to a set of steps and leaves it there …

            “The medallion vibrates, it’s heavy and warm.”

“It knows you.”

“What do you mean, ‘it knows me’?”

“Did you feel nothing? Did you see nothing?”

“I saw nothing,” I cough and clear my throat. “I saw nothing at all.”

El Brujo looks at me long and hard. He opens his mouth to speak, then shrugs his shoulders.

“Come, you have accepted the medallion your mother left you. Now accept my blessing.”

“Why?”

“Because I ask you to. Are you such a coward that you cannot accept a blessing from an old man? Here, kneel beside me,” El Brujo taps the ground at his side and, wondering what on earth I think I am doing, I kneel beside him.