A Survivor Lights a Candle

A Survivor from the Empress of Ireland
Lights a Candle During the Old Latin Mass for the Dead
Before the Main Altar at the Sanctuaire Sainte-Anne
Pointe-au-Père

1

I am still afraid of fire:
in principio erat verbum
/ in the beginning was the word.

I am still afraid of the loud voice of the match
scratching its sudden flare,
narrowing my pupils,
enlarging the whites of my eyes:

et lux in tenebris lucet
/ and light shines in darkness.

Booming and blooming,
igniting the soul’s dark night.

Voice of fire:  
et Deus erat verbum
/ and the Word was God.

Flourishing to nourishment,
flames whispering on the flood:
omnia per ipsum facta sunt
/ all things were made by Him.

Wool and water,
this sodden safety blanket;
and what of the cold
plush of pliant teddy bear,
the staring eyes of the doll:

et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt
/ and the darkness comprehended it not.

2

The lashes of their eyes bound
together with salt water,
they were doused in a silken mist:
hic venit in testimonium
/ this served as a witness.

Still the patterns pierce my sleep,
hauling me from my opaque dreams,
holding my wrists in this sailor’s double clasp:
non erat ille lux
/ he was not the light.

Oh! Curse these dumb waters rising!
“Not a hair on your head shall be harmed!”
he said,
hauling my sister up by her hair
only to find her staring eyes
belonging to the already dead:
et mundus eam non cognovit
/ and the world knew her not.

3

Night waters rising.
The moon raising
its pale thin lantern glow:
et vidimus gloriam ejus
/ and we saw His glory
shining forth
upon the waters’
mirrored face.

Comment: I searched everywhere, but I could not find a copy of my poetry book Empress of Ireland. Nor could I find a file containing the poems. Lost, I searched everywhere yet again and then, on an old USB, I found the text of the chapbook M Press of Ire. The above poem comes from that chapbook. Empress of Ireland is available on KDP / Amazon. I had forgotten how much I loved the sequence.

Some People

Some people leave indelible impressions
memorable moments impressed
on memory’s eye or clasped closely
to the butterfly heart caged in its chest
wings wildly beating as it strives for flight

some people cast shadows on snow
leave footprints light as flakes
as they walk across our waking dreams
or call on us in those midnight hours
when their image sears the drowsing mind

Some people set a fire in our hearts
allow us to see things out of sight
to write what we never thought to write
to reach out to the unreachable
to teach what we thought was unteachable

Stars in night’s silence they point the way
lead us on paths we never thought to tread
present us with a thread to lead us
through life’s labyrinths and out
from the darkness into bright light

Sometimes they cross the rainbow bridge
before we do and when they go we know
deep down in our hearts that they are there
just out of sight waiting for us ready
to welcome us when it’s our time to go

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!

November 1961

I wondered what had happened to that rugby ball!

November, 1961

November on the Berryfield: duck weather,
we call it, with the rain pouring down
and the watchers standing on WWI duckboards,
chilled their fingers, eyes blinking against the wind.

West Country clay turns rugby boots into leaden
counterweights. Hands stuck in pockets, the railway
carriage where we changed is a distant memory.
The only reality, this wet clay holding us back.

Mouldy and muddy, our rugby jerseys are all the same
and it’s hard to distinguish friend from foe.

Trench warfare, we think, as the two packs strain,
a Roman tortoise, sixteen bodies, thirty-two legs,
crabbing from side to side as they seek a perfection
that will never be found on a day like today.

Rain shrouds the goalposts and the scrum half’s kick
is a yard too far from clumsy, chilled fingers
as they scrabble in vain at this soap-bubble nightmare
we call a rugby ball. Worn-out legs churn through
mud that clutches like an octopus at feet and ankles.

Running rhythms are lost. Wet clay fingers hold us back.
Grey ghosts of ancient alumni raise up our hearts,
help us to haul our opponents’ tired bodies down.

Comment: Just rediscovered this, revised it, and now I am posting it again. The Berryfield is where I played my school rugby. If anyone remembers the Berryfield, or actually played there, by all means drop me a line. That West Country clay mud was the devil. Heavy and clinging, it grew on your boots until they became as heavy as diver’s boots and gradually weighed you down. It was worse for the opposition than for us. We, at least, were accustomed to it. It was even worse for the cross-country runners and I have never forgotten those ploughed clay fields.

Sunday in Wales

To be Welsh on Sunday
(This prose poem should be read out loud, fast, and in a single breath!)

              To be Welsh on Sunday in a dry area of Wales is to wish, for the only time in your life,  that you were English and civilized,  and that you had a car or a bike and could drive or pedal to your heart’s desire, the county next door, wet on Sundays, where the pubs never shut  and the bar is a paradise of elbows in your ribs and the dark liquids flow, not warm, not cold, just right, and family and friends are there beside you  shoulder to shoulder, with the old ones sitting  indoors by the fire in winter or outdoors in summer,  at a picnic table under the trees or beneath an umbrella that says Seven Up and Pepsi (though nobody drinks them) and the umbrella is a sunshade on an evening like this when the sun is still high  and the children tumble on the grass playing  soccer and cricket and it’s “Watch your beer, Da!” as the gymnasts vault over the family dog till it hides beneath the table and snores and twitches until “Time,  Gentlemen, please!” and the nightmare is upon us as the old school bell, ship’s bell, rings out its brass warning and people leave the Travellers’ Rest, the Ffynnon Wen,  The Ty Coch, The Antelope, The Butcher’s, The Deri, The White Rose, The Con Club, the Plough and Harrow,  The Flora, The Woodville, The Pant Mawr, The Cow and Snuffers — God bless them all, I knew them in my prime.

Comment: I wonder how many other ‘serious drinkers’ or ‘amateurs’ remember these pubs and clubs. And, oh yes, there were so many more. The Mexico Fountain, The Tennis Court, The Old Market Tavern, The New Market Tavern, The Load of Hay, all those many colored dragons: green, black, blue … the Three Lamps, the Cricketers, the Villiers Arms, the Birchgrove Arms, the Rose and Shamrock, several Red Dragons, the Church, the Black Swan, I can’t remember how many different Georges, and Kings’ Heads, the Vine Tree, the Sun, the Oak tree, the Penguin, the Naval Volunteer, the Quadrant, the Coronation Tap, the Mauretania, The White Horse, the Black Horse, the Old Grey Mare … so many memories, and all deniable, and I’ll never forget the Wheelbarrow Race (ask me about it), nor Pickety Witch, one of those pubs at which I never stopped!

Survivor

Survivor

Every day, now he’s learning to speak Welsh,
he finds out something new about his childhood.
It’s not the need to talk so much as the necessity
of diving into himself and mining his memories.

Brynhyfryd / Mount Pleasant.
Pen-y-Bont / the End of the Bridge.
Ty Coch / the Red House.

This latter the house in which he was born,
way out of town, by Fairwood Common,
away from the strafing and bombing.
The war generation of his family all born
in the same in-the-country Gower bed.
No room in war-time hospitals
not even for the birth of war babies.

Three of his brothers did not survive
those rough, household births.
He still bears the forceps’ scars
from the moment the doctor
plucked him out, head first,
and hung him up by the heels,
shaking him, bringing him back to life.

He bears other scars as well
from the survivor’s burden of carrying
three dead brothers for seventy long years,
alive and kicking in the womb-warm
crevices of his still beating heart.

Thanks Giving

Thanks Giving

Driving from St. Andrews to Island View,
giving thanks for fall foliage as I pass
fields and forests filled with autumn blushes
blueberry patches brushed with cyan,
violet, sprinkled with primary red.

Trees crowd close, encroach, add yellow
and orange, fresh tonal values at each turn.

Sunlight strokes white touches of pointillistic
beauty through showers of golden leaves.

 Ochre and brown burn shades where pinprick 
black ghosts shadow grays through a gilded tree.

Cubist, this fire-bright, iron-sheeted shed.
Surrealist that rusted tractor, abandoned.
The road’s black thread ties together vivid
impressions of leaves as they tumble and fall. 

Midnight

A great NB Winery

Midnight

Primary red, this label, and the wine, fresh-drawn,
plucked from the bottle, tumbling tinto, into the glass.

Swirled, streaked ruby by overhead lights, bubbles
bright with hints of garnet, purple, brick at meniscus.

Sniffed, it smells of warm autumn days, scintillating
leaves, just crisping, turning color, and fruit all ripe.

Tasted: fruit bursts into hints of raspberries,
strawberries, spices, a touch of garrigue, mysterious.

Wine descends like water on a dry, hot, dusty day,
or rain after drought, when thirsty lands lap up

liquids, and rejoice in moisture’s blessings.
Raised now the glass, vineyard and vintners toasted,

midnight greeted, saluted the old day past and gone,
welcomed the fresh day walking in, swaddled, new born.

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.

Carpe Diem

Autumn in the Garden

Carpe Diem

Seize the day. Squeeze this moment tight.
Nothing before means anything. Everything
afterwards is merely hope and dream. 

A tiny child, you chased wind-blown leaves
trying to catch them before they hit the ground
Elf parachutes you called them and trod with care
so as not to crush the fallen elves as they lay leaf-bound.

I stand here now, a scarecrow scarred with age,
arms held out, palms up, in the hope that a leaf will descend,
a fallen sparrow, and rest in my hand.

When one perches on my shoulder and another
graces my gray hair, my old heart pumps with joy.

Comment: Autumn in the Garden was framed by Geoff Slater who gifted it to me this summer. Thank you Geoff. A double picture, it shows the flowers and the trees with that first touch of drifting snow. NB it snowed here in Island View early September this year while we still had flowers and leaves. The poem, Carpe Diem, is from a series of quasi-sonnets. Quasi, because they rarely have 14 lines! Oh Petrarch: shake in your shoes.