Golden Angel


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Golden Angel

He stands beneath guardian trees,
his saffron garments glossed with gold.

Hands cupped, body bent,
he softly swells as he dips
beneath sun and rain.

He speaks to me:
wild prophet from an ancestral book
that I believed in when I was a child,
but no longer read or understand.

I try to interpret the aroma of his lips,
his slow, small growth of gesture.

His winged words are traps
tripping my tongue, clipping my wings,
preventing me from flight.

Shape-shifter, she changes before my eyes
and takes on her earthly disguise.

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Niche

Jane gave me the honor of writing the foreword to her book and I did so with great pleasure.

Jane Tims: Niche. KDP.
Book Review

Niche, the fourth poetry book published by Jane Tims, is a neat configuration of six segments that elaborate and illustrate the poet’s original definition of the multiple meanings of her title word niche. It is very difficult to separate the author from the act of narration as her keenly observed and skillfully executed drawings, together with their verbal representation on the page, are so autobiographical and so much an extension of her artistic and professional abilities that the objective separation of writer and text is scarcely possible. It is hard to forget that Jane Tims was, and to a great extent, still is, a highly competent professional botanist. The harnessing of the professional botanist, with her unique drawing skills and scientific knowledge, to the poet and auto-biographer is a key factor in the reading and interpretation of this text in which acute observation blends with an intimate knowledge of the observed botanical world, both flora and fauna, and this allows the poet, in her role of poetic narrator and lyrical voice, to weave a network of poems that are, at one and the same time, objective and intensely subjective.

The author emphasizes this when she writes in the Preface that “In biological terms, the niche is the quality of a space occupied by a living thing, the sum total of physical, nutritional, biological, psychological and emotional needs gathered together in one place.” She also reminds us that in human terms “niche can be a metaphor for home, community or personal space” and it is within these metaphoric spaces that the poetry text is elaborated. The text becomes a linked mixture of visual drawings, iterative thematic imagery and associative fields, all centred on the multiple meanings of niche. These terms are both biological and human in nature and the poet’s named world meets at this juncture between the human and the natural.

The section occupying space (1-19) bears the subtitle satisfying need and begins with a setting out of what this means in the following 12 poems and 4 accompanying drawings. The poem ‘apples in the snow’ with its companion drawing stands out for me. The section strategy, subtitled solidifying position (21-43) outlines in poetic terms, how plants, animals, and humans ensure their own survival. The section praying for rain, subtitled, avoiding danger and discomfort (45-68), offers views on discomforts and dangers. It also opens the discussion—relocate or stay where we are? The section mapping the labyrinth or places I have occupied (69-83), which contains the wonderful sentence “When I get lost on the road ahead, I look to the road behind me,” throws open the multiple meanings of home. The section new ways for water, subtitled coping with change (85-98), offers a double landscape, first, external, the things seen, touched, examined, remembered and described, and then the internal landscape that reflects upon them and is reflected in them. Finally, forgetting to move, with its subtitle getting comfortable (99-111), presents an autobiography that links observer (the twin personage of author and narrator) to observed (nature, both flora and fauna, and the added element of autobiography and self) via the symbiotic relationship of botanist to botany.

Two moments stand out for me. (1) Sadness is in seeking the space that is never found. (2) Loneliness is in trying to return to a space once occupied but no longer available. The whole concept of the Welsh word hiraeth is summed up in these two lines. Carpe diem, Jane Tims’ poetry indeed seizes the day and, with its minute, intense observation, it preserves so many precious moments. It also pays attention to that which has been lost, those moments that are irretrievable. They will vary for each reader, but hopefully, like me, you will take great pleasure in discovering them for yourself.

Comment: Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox picked up this review and published it on QBF. Thank you, Brian and thank you Jane, you both do me great honor. Here’s the link: Niche on QBF 14 March 2021

Dreams

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Dreams are important throughout mythology. Do we create them ourselves? Or do they come to us as celestial messages? Can they exist without us? Or do we form a symbiotic relationship, each dependent on the other?

Dreams

I once stole the nose from a sacred statue.
Today I watch it cross the square attached to a face.
Eight Deer walks past with a fanfare of conches:
you can tell him by his donut with its little tail.

A shadow moves as zopilote wings his way across the square.
I spoke with him once on a midnight bus.
He begged me to fold his wings and let him sleep forever.

gringa called Nuttall sells tins of watery soap.
Her children fill my days with enchantment
as they blow bright bubbles through a magic ring.

Eight Deer, eight years old, sets out on his conquests.
Nine Wind births nine of his people from flakes of flint,
or was it from the magic tree in Apoala?

The voices in my head slip slowly into silence.
Sometimes I think they have no need of me,
these dreams that come at midnight,
and knock at my window.
Other times I know they cannot live without me.

Earth to Earthlings

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March 1 is St. David’s Day: Dewi Sant, patron saint of Wales. While we are here, immersed in cold and snow, in Wales, spring is arriving, the daffodils are out, trees are budding. This poem is a reminder that winter will end and sunshine and spring will return. So for St. David’s Day, I wish you joy and hope.

Earth to Earthlings

“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

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

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.

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San Pedro

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Looking back at my old photos from Oaxaca I am amazed at the contrasts between sun and shade, light and dark. I will never forget that ultimate glory: a sunbeam through a stained glass window, casting fragmented light.

San Pedro
Oaxaca

A single sunbeam descends.
Sharp blade of a heliocentric sword,
it shatters the chapel’s dark.
Fragmented light
stains me with glazed colors.

A pallid lily truncated
in the dawn’s pearly light,
Peter, the young widower,
kneels in prayer.

His head wears a halo.
His pilgrim palm
presses into the granite
forcing warming fingers
into a cradle of cold stone.

His flesh clings to
the statue’s marble hand.
A mingled maze:
marble and human veins.

Peter > petrus > piedra >
this church now a rock.

Daffodils

Daffodils
A poem for the lady who brought some to us when Clare fell

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Daffodils in our garden, last year in Island View. We won’t see the live ones until May, at the earliest. I dream of them at night, tossing their heads in sprightly dance’, in Roath Park and Blackweir Gardens, Cardiff. They will be out now, all ready to welcome Dydd Dewi Sant on March 1.

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.

Angel Choir

Sunset at Ste. Luce. We wait for the choir to arrive. Take a deep breath: it will soon be here.

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

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 with our heavenly wings,
we surely flew to those great heights and hovered in wonderment.
Now, wingless, 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 finger tingles up and down our spines.
Our bodies flow fire and blood till we crave light, and yet more light.
We fall silent, overwhelmed by the celestial response.

When the lights go out, hearts and souls are left empty.
Leaving the divine presence is a gut-wrenching misery.
Abandoned, hurt and grieving, we are left in darkness.

Comment: The Spanish mystics, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila, wrote, in the sixteenth-century, about the ‘dark night of the soul’. That dark night also arrives when the communion with the spiritual finishes and the communicants are left alone, in their loneliness, abandoned to their earthly selves. To leave the divine presence is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching misery. To turn from the marvels of nature can produce lesser, but still deeply moving feelings of grief and sadness. The secret is to preserve that joy and to carry it with us always, warm, in our hearts. Doing so makes the pain of separation much more bearable.

Alebrijes

Alebrijes

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This is one of the first alebrijes I bought in the zocalo (main square) in Oaxaca. He has lost his ears and probably his tongue. They started falling out so we wrapped them up carefully and now we can’t find them. He’s still a happy chappy, hough, and has been in this house for a quarter of a century. Happy Birthday Alebrije!

     Alebrijes step out from dried wood and stand in the shower of paint that falls from the brush’s tip. Yellow flash of lightning, pointillistic rain, garish colors that mirror those of the códices. The carvings take the form of fantasy figures, anthropomorphic animals, and mythological creatures.
Sometimes one individual selects the wood, carves it, then covers it in paint. Occasionally an entire family takes part in the work of making the alebrije. One person collects the wood and prepares it for carving. Another carves and sands it. A third works on the undercoat, and a fourth applies the final patterns of paint.
The great debate: does the form in the wood reveal itself to the carver or do the carvers impose their own visions on the wood? In the case of the team, do the family members debate and come to a joint conclusion?
These thoughts, exchanged with wood-carvers in Oaxaca, have led to a series of interesting conversations. What exactly is creativity? Where does it come from? Do we, as artists, impose it upon our creations? Or do we merely observe and watch as new ideas float to the surface of our minds? How does the creative mind really function? And, by extension, how much of the sub-conscious creative sequence can be placed into words?

Alebrijes

 Are they half-grasped dreams
that wake, wide eyed, to a new day’s sun?

Or are they alive and thriving
when they fall from the tree?

Does the carver fish their color and shape
from his own interior sea,
or does he watch and wait for the spirit
to emerge from its wooden cocoon
to be reborn in a fiery block of color?

Daybreak:
in a secluded corner of my waking mind,
my neighbor’s dog greets the dawn with sparks
of bright colors born from his bark.

My waking dream: dark angels with butterfly bodies,
their inverted wings spread over my head to keep me warm.
In the town square, the local artist plucks dreams
from my head and paints them on carved wood.

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Our house iguana: he is not an alebrije, but is made out of painted metal foil, carved first, and then decorated. He’s the one who guards the front door and falls upon unwanted intruders when they least expect it. Never stay home alone without one, or two, or more. But watch out if you have too many and they get hungry.

Sympathetic Magic

Nunca llueve en los bares: it never rains in the bars.

Sympathetic Magic

“Rain, we need rain.”
The bruja whirls her rain stick.
Rain drops patter one by one,
then fall faster and faster
until her bamboo sky fills
with the sound of rushing water.

An autumnal whirl of sun-dried cactus
beats against its wooden prison walls.
Heavenwards, zopilotes float
beneath gathering clouds.
Rain falls in a wisdom of pearls
cast now before us.

Scales fall from my eyes.
They land on the marimbas,
dry beneath bar arches
where wild music sounds,
half-tame rhythms,
sympathetic music
like this rainstorm released
by the bruja‘s magic hand.

Comment: Bruja: witch, witch doctor; Oro de Oaxaca: mescal, the good stuff; Zopilote: Trickster, the turkey vulture who steals fire from the gods, omnipresent in Oaxaca; Marimbas: a tuned set of bamboo instruments. But you knew all that!

Flight of Fancy

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Luck, sometimes, just being in the right place at the right time. One step, two steps, and up he went and look at those footsteps. His flight, a step of faith, two steps of faith, and away he goes, fait accompli. Another golden oldie. I do love rediscovering them. The photos, too.

Flight of Fancy

Just by chance, I caught this cormorant.
“Behind you, quick,” said Clare.
I turned and ‘Click!’

Such a miracle:
the first steps of flight
taken over water.
That first step heavy,
the second one lighter,
and the third one
scarcely a paint brush
pocking the waves.

The need to take flight
lies deep within me.
Fleeing from what?
Running towards what?
Who knows?

All I know is that the future
lies to the right of this photo
and the past lies to the left,
and I don’t know
the meaning of either.

But I do remember the words
of Antonio Machado:
‘Caminante, no hay camino,
sólo hay estela sobre la mar.’

“traveler, there is no road,
just a wake across life’s sea.”

Comment: I revised this poem a few minutes ago and cut it down to its essentials. If you want to read the original and check the revisions, click on this link to the earlier poem. Any comments on the rewrite and the revision process would be welcome.