To be a writer ….

Photo by my good friend, Geoff Slater. Books by yours truly, who stayed on the bus and believed.

To be a writer ….

He who would true valor see,
let him come hither.
One here will constant be,
come bad or fair weather.
No line length can him fright,
he’ll with a paragraph fight,
and he will have a right,
to be a writer.

Those who beset him round
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound:
his strength the more is.
There’s no discouragement
will make him once relent
his first avowed intent,
to be a writer.

Rejections nor bad critics
can daunt his spirit.
He knows he at the end
will a book inherit.
So critics fly away,
he’ll fear not what they say,
he’ll labor night and day
to be a writer.

Comment: John Bunyan tempted me and I fell into temptation. In fact, as my good friend Oscar Wilde once said: “I can resist anything except temptation.” So, ladies and gentlemen, change the he to a she or the pronoun of your choice, turn the writer to a sculptor, stoneist, poet, playwright, painter, novelist, dramatist, comedian, song-writer, singer. Breathe deep. Believe in your own artistic talent and remember: “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” Remember this too: “You’ll never get to Vancouver by bus, if you get off the bus at Montreal or Toronto.”

Merry Christmas

A forgotten child’s Christmas in Wales.

On the Outside Looking In

As I walked home, it started to snow. Not the pure white fluffy snow of a pretty Merry Christmas card, but the dodgy, slippery mixture of rain, snow, and ice pellets that turned the steep streets of Swansea into ice slides and traps for the elderly. I turned up the collar of my coat, bowed my head, and stuffed my hands into my pockets. Two houses before my own, I stopped in front of our neighbor’s house.
The window shone, a beacon in the gathering dark. I drew closer, pressed my nose against that window and looked in. A Christmas tree, decorated with lights, candles, more decorations, a fire burning on the hearth, two cats curled up warm before the fire, presents beneath the tree, stockings hanging from the mantelpiece. For a moment, my heart unfroze and I felt the spirit of Christmas. Then I thought of my own house. Cold and drafty. No lights, no decorations. No fire. The snowball snuggled back into my chest and refused to melt.
            When I got home, our house stood chill and empty. My parents were out at work and the fire had died. Nothing was ready for Christmas. I sat at the kitchen table, took out my sketch book and began to draw, then color. When my mother came home, I showed her my picture.
            “Very nice,” she said without looking up.
            “But mum, you haven’t really seen it.”
            She stared at the picture again. This time, she saw the Christmas tree and the lights, the cats before the fire, the candles burning on the mantelpiece, the decorations and the presents wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. But she never noticed the little boy standing outside the house in the falling sleet, cold and shivering, peering in through the window.

Comment: Everyone remembers Dylan Thomas’s story A Child’s Christmas in Wales, but not all Welsh Christmases are like that. This is the story of a forgotten child’s Christmas in Wales. It is a story about a latch-key kid, left alone at Christmas to fend for himself. I enclose the drawing he did and I dedicate the story to anyone who is alone this Covid-19 Christmas. Christmas spent on your own is not much fun. Looking through another’s window, from the cold street outside, is not much fun either. So, at this time of year, let us remember those who are lost and lonely, those who need a kindly smile and a helping hand, those who do not have the comfort of family and friends, a warm wood fire, or a cat or a dog to snuggle up to them, to lick them, and to wish them ‘all the best’ in the languages that all animals speak on Christmas Eve, and sometimes into Christmas Day. Phone a friend, nod to a neighbor, and may your Christmas season be filled with joy.

Happy Anniversary

Married 54 years ago today. What a way to celebrate with 3 poems to Clare on QBF. My thanks to Brian Henry and Quick Brown Fox.

Yours

Yours are the hands that raise me up,
that rescue me from dark depression,
that haul me from life’s whirlpool,
that clench around the jaws that bite,
that save me from the claws that snatch.

Yours are the hands that move the pieces
on the chess board of my days and nights,
that break my breakfast eggs and bread,
that bake my birthday cake and count
the candles that you place and light.

You are the icing on that cake, and yours
is the beauty that strips the scales
from my eyes, then blinds me with light.

Comment: what excellent timing: thank you for publishing three of my poems to Clare and on our 54th wedding anniversary too (24 December 2020). An incredible gift and Clare and I both thank you for it, Brian. How to make a memorable day even more memorable. Tonight, when we open the champagne, we will have a glass for you on the table. Much as we would appreciate your presence, the two week quarantine on entering New Brunswick places a blanket over so many invitations and celebrations. That’s why every little helps, and this is so much more than a ‘little’, it is a lot, a very thoughtful lot. So, for Brian, his family, and all my family and friends: tonight we will be alone in our home. But we will raise a glass to absent friends, and we will be together in our hearts. “To absent friends”!!! Here’s the link to Brian’s page.

http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/

Absence

Absence

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
are present in them all. I glimpse your shadow
in the mirror and your breath brushes my cheek

when I open the door. Where have you gone?
I walk from room to room, but when I seek,
I no longer find and nothing opens when I knock.

Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I am sure
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice breaks the silence

when you whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,
that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,

the days, embracing dust motes to find no solace
in occasional sunbeams and salacious dreams.

Milton Acorn and the Jack Pine

Milton Acorn and the Jack Pine

            I met Milton Acorn in the photocopying room of the university in which I taught. I didn’t know who he was, but I soon found out.
            “Oy! You,” he waved his strong, carpenter’s hands, and stabbed me with a gnarled index finger.
            “Are you Milton Acorn,” I asked. “The poet?”
            “Yup. Make this machine work.”
            “I’m meant to be taking you to lunch.”
            “Got this job to do first,” he pointed at the machine. “Turn it on.”
            I typed in my code and the copier leapt into life.
            “Now go away. I need to be alone.”

            A few minutes later, I returned to find him lying on the photocopier, eyes shut, face pressed against the glass. Lights flashed, the copier whirred, and a copy of his face emerged. He descended from the machine and added his face to the pile of photocopies that lay at his feet.
            “Tape,” he said. “I need tape,” he again stabbed me with his finger and held out his hand.
            “I’ll go and get some.”
            I went to my secretary’s office.
            “What the heck is he doing in there?” she asked.
            “I haven’t got a clue. But now he wants some Scotch tape,” I held out my hand and she handed me a roll of tape “Thanks,” I said.

            I gave Milton the tape and watched as he taped the copies together. He had photocopied his whole body, arms, legs, back sides, feet.
            “Me,” he said happily. “That’s me,”
            Triumphant, he showed me his work: a self-portrait, shadowy and cloudy, still warm, with him all whiskered and worn, smelling still of photocopying ink, unique, unmistakable, uncouth, unseemly, but the real Milton Acorn, a jack pine sonnet self-grown in his own poetic image.

WFNB

Moo

WFNB

I have been a member of the Writers’ Foundation of New Brunswick for a long, long time. I am not a ‘founding member’, but I think I have been a member since around 1985, and I am sure I was a member in 1986, when Goose Lane Editions, Fredericton, published my second poetry collection, Broken Ghosts. I was most certainly a member in 1989 when my still-unpublished poetry manuscript Still Lives placed first in the Alfred G. Bailey poetry competition.

In the years between 1985-1986-1989 and 2020, I have never received a hand-written communication from any member of the WFNB Board, other than an official communication of one kind or another. Imagine, then, my surprise, when the above postcard, inserted in a hand-addressed envelope, arrived in my mail box yesterday. I was truly amazed and very grateful to the president who wrote these kind words to me. Amidst the panic and the pandemic, it is so nice to be remembered and in such a thoughtful way. Madam President: thank you so much for reaching out to me with this verbal gesture. And yes, you can count on my support for yourself and our Writers’ Federation, I hope for a long, long time to come.

I was in two minds whether to post this or not. However, I wish to emphasize several things: the importance of reaching out, the importance of continuing to believe in ourselves and our creative talents during these difficult times, the necessity of creating alternate communities and of supporting each other as much as possible, the need to avoid total isolation and to maintain human contact in different ways when the physical things — meeting, touching, holding, direct dialog — and the normal activities and relationships of healthy human beings are denied to us, and last, but by no means least, the need to encourage each other and to offer comfort and recognition whenever and wherever possible.

Waiting for inspiration
and
hoping to fly!

Fall

Mactaquac and geese at the head pond

Fall

Red leaves multiply on maple trees.
Bright berries staining a mountain ash.

One flower survives on the hollyhock,
its blaze of glorious blooms lost, faded
in a silence of dried seeds, absent bees.

Hummingbirds are now long gone. Geese
gather in great gaggles feasting on grass
before taking flight and soaring south.

I want to ask questions about their journey
but they mouth denial and waddle away
to paddle on grey waves when I approach.

Comment: With a temperature yesterday of 21 C (that’s plus 21 C) rafts of geese are still around. These photos are from earlier in the fall. I love the way several stand erect, looking at and for possible intruders, while others feed. Shared responsibilities. I guess we humans could learn a great deal from the geese, if only ‘we were not full of care / and had some time to stop, and stare’ (W. H. Davies, one of my favorite Welsh poets, the verses changed slightly and adapted to Mactaquac). Roedd hi’n y tywydd heulog a cynnes yfory / the weather was sunny and warm yesterday. What a joy to be able to write that in Welsh after so many years without the language.

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.