“I work in a match factory.” “Do you put the heads on?” “No. I put the gloves on. They’re boxing matches.”
A golden oldie, still vibrant, from the Goon Show, BBC, 1950’s.
Your gloves are off now and they lie on the table where you work. How long have you had them? Fifteen, twenty years? Like good wine, carefully stored, old friends are better with age.
A second chestnut from the Goon Show: “Have you put the cat out?” “No, dear. It wasn’t on fire.”
And that’s another good reason why the water tower, and its full renovation, is so very, very important.
Bible and Water Tower, hand in glove: “And Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like any of these.”
Comment: A gorgeous photo, colors and textures, light and dark, from my friend, Geoff Slater, the line painter and muralist. He is working on restoring the mural on the water tower in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, Canada.
Mitla is a sacred burial place in the Oaxaca Valley. The caves in the hills above the town are said to lead directly to an underworld from which demons and devils emerge at night and by means of which humans can communicate with the souls of the dead. Mitla, in fact, is often called the city of the dead. Legend has it that if you embrace a certain magic column in the Palace at Mitla, the time left for you to live can be measured by the distance between your fingers as they reach round the pillar and almost touch. The pillar, they say, grows and shrinks according to the length of the seeker’s life. Petrus, a rock, in Latin, evolves into piedra, a rock or stone in Spanish: upon this rock will I build my church.
1 We walk on tiptoe round the garden peeling free the sunlight cloud by cloud
sometimes the heart is a sacrifice of feathers bound with blood to an ornate altar
petrus this rock cold against my chest piedra centuries of glyphs alive in your face
if our arms meet round these all too human columns what will become of us?
2 beneath your skin the woad lies as blue as this evening sky yellow light bends low in the fields below us each darkened pool a warrior fallen beneath the scythe
the moon paints a delicate circle its great round open eye stands out above the rooftops tonight it bears an eye lid carved from cloud
our teeth are diadems of whiteness we tie shadows to our heels and dance in triumph through street and square
3 daylight bends itself round rock and turns into shadow we flourish in blocks of fire
dreaming new selves from roots and branches we clasp each resurrection with greedy fingers will the moon rise again tonight and will we watch?
dark angel bodies with butterfly wings our shadows have eloped together
we can see them sitting side by side bumping knees at a table in the zócalo
4 church bells gild the barrio‘s rooftops our fingers reach to the skies and hold back light we draw shadow blinds to shut out the day night fills us with stars and silhouettes
we dream ourselves together in a silent movie closed flesh woven from cobwebs lies open to a tongue-slash of madness
the neighbor’s dog wakes up on the azotea he barks bright colors as dawn declares day and windows and balconies welcome the sun
can anyone see the dew-fresh flowers growing from our tangled limbs?
your fingers sew a padlock on my lips “Listen to the crackle of the rising sun!”
Sometimes at night I hear deer walking across the lawn outside my bedroom window. Intruders in the garden, they rattle the feeders then walk darkly into the woods. Sometimes a coyote howls at the fingernail moon and my heart pumps sudden blood, rapid, through my veins.
Below me, in the hall, the grandfather clock ticks the night away. I stitch myself up in my dreams, count the black sheep in the family, and iron old ghosts upon the ironing board until they are as flat as the white shirts we wore in boarding school on Sundays.
If I close my eyes, they rise up before me, those Sunday shirts, flapping their arms, and mouthing their apologies for the sorry life they made me lead. No, I didn’t need to spend those days praying on my knees before the stations of the cross. Nor did I need to ask forgiveness for all the transgressions pulled from me, like teeth, in the Friday confessional.
Marooned in a catholic cul-de-sac, I walked round and around in rigid circles. An academic puppet, I was trapped in the squared circle of an endless syllogism. Who locked me into this labyrinth of shifting rooms where sticky cobwebs bound windows, doors, and lips? Why did the razor blade whisper a love song to the scars crisscrossing my treacherous wrist? Who sealed my lips and swore me to secrecy?
A tramp with a three-legged dog, I slept beneath a pier at midnight and woke to the sound of the waves rolling up the summer beach. Once, I stole a deckchair, placed it at the edge of the sea, and told the tide to cease its climbing. The moon winked a knowing eye and the waves continued to rise. Toes and ankles grew wet with wonderment and I shivered at the thought of that rising tide that would sweep me away to what unknown end?
Last night I wrapped myself in a coward’s coat of many-colored dreams. My senses deceived me and I fell asleep in a sticky web spider-spun by that self-same moon that hid among the clouds and showed her face from time to time. My fragile fingers failed to unravel all those knots and lashings and I was a child again walking the balance beam that led from knowledge to doubt.
A thin line divides the shark from the whale and who knows what swims beneath the keel when the night is dark and the coracle slides sightless across the sea? I gather the loose ends of my life, weave them into a subtle thread, and make myself a life-line that will bind my bones and lash my soul to my body’s fragile craft.
We all have them somewhere, we few, we few, we privileged few, sent away to boarding school before we even knew what was tucked away in old school trunks, or locked away, cobweb-covered, in the dark recesses of parental minds.
This is my ‘back-to-school’ list. It contains everything a young boy needs, or can think of, when leaving home: shoes, shoe polish, many brushes for shoes, hair, clothes, teeth… everything: name tags, shirts, socks, underpants, trousers, jerseys, ties (of a quiet color), sheets, pillow cases, hankies, sports shirts (house and school), pen, pencils, ink, blotting paper.
So many memories spring out from this list, so many skeletons shake their fists, or wag a finger, or wave, hello, farewell, from that old trunk.
Look: the safety razor to shave that first hint of hair on a juvenile face. Bible and prayer book, too, though I never used them.
“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 the zocalo‘s arches where wild music sounds its half-tame rhythms, sympathetic music released, like this rainstorm, by the musician’s magic hands.
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!
I walk past the Jesuit Church where the shoe-shine boys store polish, brushes, and chairs overnight. I walk past the wrought-iron bench where the gay guys sit, caressing, asking the unsuspecting to join them.
Nobody bothers to ask me for a match, for a drink, for charity, for a walk down the alley to a cheap hotel.
The witch doctor is the one who throws the hands of all the clocks into the air at midnight, in despair. He’s the one who leaves this place, and returns to this place, all places being one.
The witch doctor sees little things that other men don’t see. He reaches out and flicks a fly away from my nose. “It too has lost its way,” he sighs.
I think I know who I am, but I often have doubts when I shave, rasping the razor across my chin’s dry husks. The witch doctor, my lookalike, my twin, stares back at me from my bathroom mirror.
Three witches dance on the waning soap dish. One spins the yarn, one measures the cloth, one wields the knife, that will one day sever the thread of I, who the same as all poor creatures, was born only to die.
You too must one day look in that mirror, oh hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère.
Comment: My thanks to all those who click on earlier poems and express their liking for them. I am particularly pleased when an earlier poem lacks a voice reading. Then I can revisit it, rethink it, rewrite it, record it, and speak it aloud. Here’s the link to the earlier version of the poem Charles Baudelaire. Fast away the old year passes, and we must renew ourselves, our thoughts, and our poetry for the new year soon to be upon us. To all my readers, old and new, welcome to that world.