On Learning Welsh

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On Learning Welsh
            Here I sit, an old man now, in front of my computer, learning at last my mother tongue, Welsh. English is the language of the invaders, the mine-owners, the men who own the steel works and foundries, and who rule this land with a fist of coal inside an iron glove. Welsh is the tongue of farmers and fishermen, of the villagers who live on the hills and tend the sheep and plant potatoes in tiny small holdings where only the fittest children survive.
My mother’s father was the last of us to speak Welsh. It was banned in our house because it was bad for the kids. In a working-class household, Welsh, be it language or accent, was a barrier to success. And success came from imitating your English betters, and climbing upwards, like a vine, or Jack on his beanstalk, until you achieved the impossible and talked and looked and dressed like them.
Sitting here, I have discovered the beauty of simple words, not so much their meaning as their sound, the way they flow, the poetry of remembered rhythms:
Cwmrhydyceirw, the Valley of the Leaping Stag, though legend has it that ceirw was really cwrw, and cwrw is beer, and its real name was the Valley of the Brown Stream Frothing like Beer.
Words have their own music, even if you cannot pronounce them properly: Mae hi’n bwrw glaw nawr yn Abertawe / it’s raining now in Swansea. Mae’r tywydd yn waeth heddiw / the weather’s worse today. Bydd hi’n dwym ddydd Llun / it will be warm on Monday. Why, oh why, in Wales, do we always talk about the weather?
Place names also have their own magic: Llantrisant, Llandaff, Dinas Powis, Gelligaer, Abertawe, Cas Newydd, Pen-y-bont … Meaning changes when you switch from one language to another:  gwyraig ty / a housewife, gwr ty / a househusband, a concept of equality that has ruled Welsh lives since Julius Caesar invaded Albion, coming from Gaul with his legions in 55 BC.
            Un deg chwech, dau deg saith, tri deg wyth, naw deg naw … The photographer asks me to speak in English, then in French, then in Spanish, then in Latin, and lastly in Welsh. He checks the memory card in his camera and looks puzzled.
“You put on a new face each time you speak a different language,” he tells me. “Look, this is when you spoke French.” He shows me the photo and yes, I look happy.
“And this is when you spoke Latin.” He holds out the camera and I see myself on the screen. I look ever so grim. English, French, Spanish, Latin, Spanish, and Welsh: all different and each language is a new a map carved into my face.  Am I a clown, then, a comedian, a chameleon to wear so many masks and to slip so easily from one to another? Which, then, is my language and where is the Old Red Sandstone from Wales into which I can carve my memories and my dreams? More important, which of those many tongues will shape my story as I sculpt each letter of my tale?

Full House

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Full House

Full house: echoing footsteps, shadows,
everywhere, a litter of toys, crayons,
colored pages, jigsaw puzzles, Barbie
and Ken found at the back of a shelf.

Memories: pinned to the fridge, found
in strange places, an almond on my chair,
a drawing in my notebook, a message,
unintelligible, scrawled on shopping lists.

That peremptory voice calls my name
and I drag myself from sleep, only to know
it was a dream, netted up from slumber’s
dark midnight sea. I drift off again and

see her again, opening the bedroom door,
calling, calling, ever present in voice,
song, and dervish dance, such energy,
round and round, bouncing on my bed,

rolling the exercise ball across the floor,
oblivious to danger, harm, the perils of
unbalancing, stumbling, slipping, falling,
aware of the need for sticking plaster

comforts littering thighs, knees, calves,
feet arms, elbows, where ever instant
attention calls for instant, urgent treatment.
I will always remember the ambushes

that rolled off the tongue, phrases way
beyond the skills of a four-year old. What
if her mother is a lawyer, the youngster
shouldn’t control that sort of language.

She remembered so much from her last
visit. We thought she would have forgotten
us, but no, she remembered where almost
everything was hidden, out of sight but

no longer out of reach. Just a little bit taller,
stronger, more determined, faster, so fast
and loud we could not keep up. This morning
I awoke to the silence of an empty house.

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds

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Do hummingbirds hum? Only when they’re humming birds. Otherwise they are quite silent, when alone, and the whirring of their wings is what whisks them up and away. In Oaxaca, the colibris are the souls of dead warriors killed in action. Their bravery is rewarded by their transference to a colibri in the afterlife, for colibris are given the gift of serving the sun in Mexican Mythology.

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Here in Island View, New Brunswick, we only see the ruby-throated hummingbirds. No ruby throat, and they are usually females. Obviously, when they have their backs to us, then it is more difficult to determine male or female.

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I desperately wanted to catch one feeding in the hollyhocks. Alas, they vanished inside the larger flowers. Also, they were much too quick for these old eyes and ageing fingers. So I just clicked away and hoped and this was the best I could do. I am still hopeful though… there’s still quite a bit of summer left.

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Miracles

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Miracles

Waking in the middle of the night, meandering along a moonbeam, making it safely to the bathroom without tripping on the rug in the hall, managing to pee without splattering the floor, the seat, the wall, or my pajamas, climbing back into bed, staring at the stars’ diminishing light until I manage to fall back to sleep. Listening to birdsong in the morning, walking to the bathroom without bruising my left arm against the door latch, shaving without cutting my face, getting in and out of the shower with neither a slip nor a fall and without dropping the soap, drying those parts of my body that are now so difficult to reach, especially between those far-off toes that I no longer see with regularity, pulling my shirt over those wet and sticky patches of skin still damp from the shower, negotiating each leg of my pants hanging on to the arm of the rocking-chair so I won’t fall over,  tugging the pulleys of the plastic mold that allows each sock to glide onto my feet, hoping my toe-nails, uncut for so long, will not catch in the wool and that the heel will end up in the right spot, forcing swollen toes into shoes now much too small, hobbling to the top of the stairs and lurching down them, one step at a time, with my stick in one hand and the balustrade in the other … always on guard for the quick, unsuspected rush of the cat, the edge of the steps, the worn patches where my cane might catch or slip … one more step, and I’ve made it down. The first of today’s many miniature miracles.

Wednesday Workshop: New Projects

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Wednesday Workshops
New Projects
03 July 2019

New Projects … how do you choose them, these new projects? Simple answer: I really don’t know. So much depends on you and your work habits. In my own case I have a back log of projects. I have been writing and creating for years. As a result I have a whole set of files that I can turn to and select from. Two novels, about fifty short stories organized into two or three as yet unpublished manuscripts, a couple of hundred poems, organized into three separate thematically organized manuscripts, a set of writings on facilitating creative writing …

Projects … do the work and then choose the order in which you will publish it. I look at the hollyhock that suddenly appeared last year in my garden. Do the work: the birds (in all probability) seeded it. The hard work: the hollyhock grew itself. I should add that my beloved nearly tore it out on the grounds that she didn’t recognize it and it looked like a weed. But she left it, and it grew into what it was meant to be: a hollyhock. One stalk. So many buds. We didn’t know which would blossom first. And it didn’t matter. One after anther they all blossomed. The hollyhock knew what it was doing [we didn’t]. It had belief and faith [we didn’t]. But we had hope.

The Hollyhock Project: This year the hollyhock has eight [yes, eight] different shoots. It’s no longer a single flower, it’s become a bush! It has also shed seeds further afield [I should really write abed, since they’re all in the same flower bed.] I wonder in what order they will blossom. It doesn’t matter really: I am just confident they will bloom. And the sunflowers have rooted below the bird feeders. They have their own projects and I know they will grow as and how they will. And the yucca has four shoots that will flower, how and why I just don’t know. But each flower has its project(s) and I am confident they will all flower and flourish.

My own projects: When June came in, I didn’t know what to do, nor did I know in what order to do it. Then Time-spirits came together. Geoff gave me some drawings and I chose one for the cover. I took the manuscript to the printers, got an estimate, and received a mock-up. The text had shifted in the transfer from computer to computer. My 70 page text had grown to 132 pages. I spent the next 72 hours rewriting everything, eliminating words, lines, poems, dropping the text back down to 70 pages. It i now published. I wondered what to do with the McAdam Railway Station poems. Geoff came to see me on Sunday, 23 June, and told me that he would be celebrating his birthday the following Friday. He also told me that the McAdam Railway Station would be unveiling his mural the following Sunday (June 30). The McAdam railway poems were published on Saturday, 29 June, and I took them to McAdam in time for the ceremony.

Trust: Trust yourself, trust your projects, trust the universal spirit [Northrup Frye’s Spiritus Mundi], under whichever name you acknowledge it). And remember, genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Put in the mileage, put in he hard work, believe, and trust. ¡Qué será, será! Whatever will be, will be.

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The Joy of A New Book

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The Joy of a New Book

Very little to beat it actually, the joy of receiving and opening a new book, especially when it is one you have written yourself, in cooperation with a group of friends. In this book are the twenty-four (24) poems that I wrote for McAdam Railway Station.

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I went to McAdam to watch Geoff working on his mural and installation (diorama). While there, I heard stories about the railway and started to write them down in stanza form. While I did write them, most of them were based on stories and anecdotes heard or overheard while the guides were guiding the tourists round the site. This is indeed a limited edition. We originally intended to print only 50 copies, but when we heard that there might be up to 300 people at the unveiling of Geoff’s mural, in McAdam, at 1:00 pm, Sunday, 30 June, 2019, we doubled the number of books we printed. I will be donating the majority of the 100 to McAdam Railway Station Historical Association. They can either give them away or sell them to help fund and support the impressive restoration work they are doing.

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“We view history through the rear-view mirror of a rapidly advancing car” … and writing these poems was a veritable journey back into the past. Geoff left his glasses by his half-finished drawing, and that’s when the idea of linking McLuhan to Moore to McAdam occurred. Several of the poems focus on my own experiences of railway stations. Travel by train was a frequent choice in my childhood and  I went almost everywhere by train. A local in-town train ran from the station at the end of our road and I often took it when visiting friends, shopping in town, or following the local soccer team, Cardiff City, aka the Bluebirds. As a result, much of the imagery within the poems involves my own knowledge and love of trains, while the narrative structures themselves are often based on those overheard words.

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We wanted a photo of Geoff and me on the back cover and I discovered this one in my files. The portrait was done by Ruby Allan, my fellow artist in KIRA (June, 2107). She painted Roger Writing in the Red Room from a photo taken by another KIRA resident artist, Carlos Carty, the Peruvian pipe, as I was working at the desk in my room. Geoff framed the portrait and Mrs. Lucinda Flemer gracefully allowed it to be hung over the desk in the Red Room at KIRA, an honor for which I am exceedingly grateful. What a nice way to put our pictures on the cover of our book! If you are down McAdam way this Sunday, 30 June, drop in and see us. We’ll be there. Books and all.

 

 

International Day

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International Day
St. Mary’s Street

To be Welsh in Cardiff on International Day
is to be decked entirely in red from deep
between your ribs where the Red Dragon
throbs pumping its blood through the Arms
Park along with your heart and bright blood
surges as you wear your scarlet jersey like
a flag as you step onto the grass ready to play.

You shed your grey hairs like a sheep
sheds its coat on the Wenallt or Caerphilly
Mountain or the Brecon Beacons and Boyo,
you know you’re unbeatable. So come
the four corners of the world to Cardiff
with a rugby ball and they shall be defeated,
ground into the Arms Park mud, humiliated.