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Vets A Thursday Thought
I met her unexpectedly in a restaurant in St. George. I was masked, but she knew me right away. She hadn’t changed. How could she have? She is as she is. Straight forward, upright, honest, true to her words and her values. Ex-military. A United Nations Peace-Keeper. A Blue Beret. World traveller to some of the roughest, toughest, ugliest, craziest spots. Everywhere she went, she helped keep the peace.
She came back home to find out what she already knew: that rural New Brunswick was as wild as anywhere she had been. She was anonymous, here, was just another number in a book, a casualty in a nameless war of attrition after which the winners rewrite the history of events, twisting them this way, that way to suit themselves and their own instincts and interests.
“Best of the best,” I wrote in the book I gave her. Fortuitous, it was, finding her again, finding that copy close to hand, reserved for her alone. That book and this poem are my tribute to her for her courage, her fortitude, and her strength of will. They are also a tribute to her role in making the world a safer place in which others, less fortunate, can create, without fear, their lives.
Comment: There is very little more to be said. Each former soldier is an individual with a history and personality of their own. This is my tribute to a very good friend who served her country and the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces with pride and distinction. Mary Jones, I, an academic, a writer, and a non-combatant, salute you for all the positive values which you have brought into this sometimes troubled world of ours. You and your well-being are in my Thursday Thoughts.
Now you are a river flowing silver beneath the moon. High tide in the salt marsh: your body fills with shadow and light. I dip my hands in dappled water. Twin gulls, they float down stream, then perch on an ice-floe of half-remembered dreams. Eagle with a broken wing, why am I trapped in this cage of flame? When I turn my feathers to the sun, my back is striped with the black and white of a convict’s bars. Awake, I lie anchored by what pale visions fluttering on the horizon? White moths wing their snow storm through the night. A feathered shadow ghosts fingers towards my face. Butterflies stutter against a shuttered window. A candle flickers in the darkness and map in runes the ruins of my heart. Eye of the peacock, can you touch what I see when my eyelids close for the night? The black rock of the midnight sun rolled up the sky. Last night, the planet quivered beneath my body and I felt each footfall of a transient god. When will I be released from my daily bondage?
Oh dear, I no longer know whether I am writing poetry or prose. Maybe I should contact Survey Monkey and have a survey on the subject. Clearly the above is prose because it has no line breaks. But what happenswhen we do this?
Cage of Flame
Now you are a river flowing silver beneath the moon. High tide in the salt marsh: your body fills with shadow and light. I dip my hands in dappled water.
Eagle with a broken wing, why am I trapped in this cage of flame? When I turn my feathers to the sun, my back is striped with the black and white of a convict’s bars.
Awake, I lie anchored by what pale visions fluttering on the horizon? White moths wing their snow storm through the night. A feathered shadow ghosts fingers towards my face. Butterflies stutter against a shuttered window. A candle flickers in the darkness and maps in runes the ruins of my heart.
Eye of the peacock, can you touch what I see when my eyelids close for the night? The black rock of the midnight sun rolled up the sky.
Last night, the planet quivered beneath my body and I felt each footfall of a transient god. When will I be released from my daily bondage?
Sure, it’s the same text. But is it? And what happens if we change the line breaks? Does the rhythm stay the same in both cases? It certainly does when I read it, but how about you? Poetry or prose? Tell me if you knows! And what’s the difference anyway if the words roll off your tongue and metaphors, mystery, and magic rule?
Cage of Flame can be found in my poetry collection Though Lovers Be Lost and also in Stars at Elbow and Foot (Selected Poems, 1979-2009). Both are available at this link.
He told me to read, and plucked my left eye from its orbit. He slashed the glowing globe of the other. Knowledge leaked out, loose threads dangled. He told me to speak and I squeezed dry dust to spout a diet of Catechism and Confession.
He emptied my mind of poetry and history. He destroyed the myths of my people. He filled me with fantasies from a far-off land. I live in a desert where people die of thirst, yet he talked to me of a man who walked on water.
On all sides, as stubborn as stucco, the prison walls listened and learned. I counted the years with feeble scratches: one, five, two, three.
For an hour each day the sun shone on my face, for an hour at night the moon kept me company. Broken worlds lay shattered inside me. Dust gathered in my people’s ancient dictionary.
My heart was like a spring sowing withering in my chest It longed for the witch doctor’s magic, for the healing slash of wind and rain.
The Inquisitor told me to write down our history: I wrote … how his church … had come … to save us.
Inquisitor was also a requested reading last Saturday. My promise, to put it up on the blog, with a reading in my own voice is now fulfilled. I love this poem: it speaks volumes about the Catholic Church in Oaxaca and the relationship of the Dominicans with the local people, aboriginals all and inhabitants of the Valley of Oaxaca for at least 10,000 years. The numbers represent the approximate date, 1523, of the arrival of the Conquistadores in Oaxaca, about three years after the fall of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, now Mexico City. The poem, Inquisitor, can be found in Sun and Moon and also in Stars at Elbow and Foot, both available through this link.
I retuned from the Red Room at KIRA to spend the weekend at home with Clare and this is what was waiting for me in the garage: a large parcel with books! So, we opened it and, to our delight, a constellation of stars emerged to bless us with their light and wisdom.
So, here I am, standing before the only island in Island View, with the first two copies of Stars at Elbow and Foot (Selected Poems, 1979-2009) out of the box and in my hands. Delightful. As soon as I have the purchasing details, I will place them online.
With regard to this collection, some thanks are due. First to my editor, Dr. Karunesh Kumar Agarwal who always does such a fine job in editing and publishing what I send him. Second to Allison Calvern who helped me choose, order, and revise the collection. Allison has always been such a strong supporter of writing, first here in Fredericton, and now in Ottawa. My thanks and best wishes go out to her. Third, to Chuck Bowie who told me with no uncertainty that THIS was the cover painting, and forget the others! Fourth, to Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox who reached out to me one day, when my writing spirits were at low tide, and refilled my spiritual glass with encouragement and enthusiasm. Fifth, to all the readers and commentators on my blog and on Facebook. Your ticks are so important. Your comments are so welcome. Thank you all. Sixth, to the multitude of friends and editors who have encouraged me and my work, supported me, and pushed me to push myself further. Writing is a lonely task. We writers rely on others for so many things: support, advice, encouragement, and occasionally for the bus fares that help us stay on that writing bus and to never get off until we reach our destination.
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Driving at Night
Once upon a time, my hair was brown and curly, but now it’s straight and as white as this drifting snow clogging the windshield.
I smooth down my hair with my fingers: swollen knuckles, crooked joints. I burn with feverish thoughts yet cold blood shivers through my arteries.
Headlights blind me in my good eye. The other one’s useless when I drive at night. It’s a long time since I last saw, let alone touched, my toes. Putting on my socks or tying my shoelace is a morning no-no.
Short of breath, of agility, with no ability to climb up stairs: I stop to catch my breath, pause, and shudder with despair.
What happened to my youth? Where did my childhood go?
Five reasons why a Teddy Bear is much better for you than a Kitty Cat. I know, I know: cat lovers will go wild. They think cats are such lovely cuddly things. And they believe strongly that nobody can resist a warm, loving, darling, purring bundle of fur. Well, I can resist cats. And I can give you five good, sound, solid, 25 carat reasons why Teddy Bears beat Kitty Cats any day of the week.
One Teddy Bears do not need to be fed on a regular basis. In fact, one piece of kibble will last a Teddy Bear for a very, very long time. And you can’t say the same for your cat. So less expense, no need to feed, don’t have to put that fresh water down every day, no constant fawning attention when hungry or just plain greedy, don’t have to worry about treading on the cat’s tail … In fact, a Teddy Bear wins out every time.
Two “Don’t mention cleaning out the kitty litter. Promise?” “I promise. I won’t mention it.” “Word of honor?” “Word of honor. Fresh Walnut and all that.” “You just mentioned it.” “Mentioned what?” “The kitty litter.” “I didn’t.” “You did: you said ‘Fresh walnut.’” “So?” “So that’s what keeps the kitty litter from smelling.” “Does it smell much?” “Quite a bit. I hate cleaning it out.” “Why?” “It’s so smelly, filthy, grainy, lumpy, stinking …” “So, why do you do it, then? What you need is a nice, clean, environmentally friendly Teddy Bear. There’s no cleaning up after a Teddy Bear. Who’s ever heard of Teddy Bear Litter?” “You said you wouldn’t mention it.” “Mention what?” “Kitty litter.” “I didn’t, you did.”
Three Teddy Bears don’t have off-spring. You don’t need to neuter them, and they don’t need taking to the vet. Nor did they sit and wait in family groups for their photos to be taken. What we have below is a fake photo placed there by the unscrupulous enemy for their own pro-cat propaganda purposes.
Four Teddy Bears are very obedient. If you tell a Teddy Bear to “sit” or to “stay”. He does so. Immediately. And he stays where you put him. There’s no clash of wills and egos, no conflict at all. Teddy Bears are easily trained and very obedient. Also, they don’t want to go out in the garden and wander beneath the bushes to shriek and whine when the moon is full. Now, if you have cats and you want them to sit and stay still, you must give them something to watch or to play with. Chipmunks and garden birds aren’t cheap, you know, and they are less trainable than cats. How long do you think it takes to train a chipmunk to just sit there quietly to entertain your cat? Especially when it’s being hissed at and the cat is bouncing the window with anguish? Also, Teddy Bears don’t climb on furniture, nor do they break ornaments, nor sink their claws into your hair as you pass beneath them, nor do they drop on you, unexpectedly, from great heights.
Five Five and finally, when there’s a moth, a fly, or a mosquito on the ceiling at night, you can’t train your kitty cat to fly into the air and snatch it off the ceiling. But as for Teddy: grab him by one leg, preferably the back one; give him his commands “Ready, Teddy, Go!” and hurl him skywards. With a little practice, he’ll nail that nocturnal buzzing monster every time.
No: all things considered — and I promise I won’t mention, you know what, that little box the cat sits in — there’s nothing better than a Teddy Bear. Wise, silent, friendly, cuddly, obedient, friendly (did I say that?), needs no training, always there when needed, waits patiently for you when you’re away, never stalks off with tail in air, never gets out and hides in the garden where you can’t find him, adorable, cuddly (did I say that already?) … Give me a Teddy Bear anytime.
“Meeting her, unexpected, with another man, and me, with another woman, all four of us looking bemused by what the other had chosen in each other’s absence — suspense and silence — then the halted, faltering politeness of a nod, a handshake, ships passing in the night, signals no longer recognized.”
There are striations in my heart, so deep, a lizard could lie there, unseen, and wait for tomorrow’s sun. Timeless, the worm at the apple’s core waiting for its world to end. Seculae seculorum: the centuries rushing headlong. Matins: wide-eyed this owl hooting in the face of day. Somewhere, I remember a table spread for two. Breakfast. An open door. “Where are you going, dear?” Something bright has fled the world. The sun unfurls shadows. The blood whirls stars around the body. “It has gone.” she said. “The magic. I no longer tremble at your touch.” The silver birch wades at dawn’s bright edge. Somewhere, tight lips, a blaze of anger, a challenge spat in the wind’s taut face. High-pitched the rabbit’s grief in its silver snare. The midnight moon deep in a trance. If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.
Comment: a fitting ending for the month of February: ubi sunt? Where have all those days gone: Ou sont les neiges d’antan?