My First Thanksgiving

My First Thanksgiving

For the first twenty-two years of my life
Thanksgiving held no meaning, no life,
no substance, no form, nothing familiar,
nothing special to hold my attention.

When I emigrated to Canada
my cousins changed all that
with an invitation to visit them
in Kincardine for Thanksgiving.

Turkey on the table, colored
table napkins, and a family gathered,
arms outstretched, to make me welcome.

We were all surprised at how alike we looked.
“Like Cousin George, in Vancouver,” they said.
“Like Cousin Elsie in Revelstoke.”
“Like my mother’s mother, back home
in Swansea,” I said.

They told me how the Second World War
had brought the family back together
on these special holidays:
Christmas in Wales for the Canadian boys
or Thanksgiving in Winnipeg
for the Welsh boys learning to fly.

That Thanksgiving, the old family names
turned to photographs: snaps of my mother’s wedding,
my grandmother holding me, age three, on her knee.

And finally, as a special Thanksgiving gift,
a long-distance call to Britain and Clare
on the telephone saying
“Yes,” she would come to Canada,
and “yes,” she would marry me.

And I remember crying all the way
from Kincardine to Toronto,
and that was my first Thanksgiving in Canada.

Comment: A Golden Oldie, indeed. This poem is from my collection Secret Gardens. The secret love poems I write to Clare. It was published on our Silver Wedding Anniversary, 24 December 1991. It is a pleasure to re-publish it here for Thanksgiving, 2021. Now what am I going to do for 24 December 2021?

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

My First Thanksgiving

Silence

A stopped clock: accurate twice a day.

Meditations on Messiaen
Quartet for the End of Time

5

Silence

Pain stops as the sounds of silence
break against the walls of the room
in which I sit.

Silence, yes, yet silence broken
by the renewed intrusion of the clock,
by the electric hum from lights
and heating, from a distant tv
suddenly breaking into my thoughts:
cheers from a tennis court,
the eternal advertisements
invading my innermost being.

What triviality now shatters
the Messiaenic mood that wrapped
me for a moment in a many colored
cloak of musical oblivion.

Now time’s teeth gnaw again
and the grandfather clock
nibbles at my soul, extracting
its essence in a surge of sound,
tick-tock, tick-tock.

Westminster Chimes now choke
life from the hour and ring
the tick-tock knell that files
my life away, second by second,
minute by minute, day by day.

Click on link below for Roger’s reading.

Silence

True Love

True Love

True love flows so much deeper
than an exchange of body fluids
or a handing over of ritual rings.

Our advancing lives are no longer
ruled by nature’s primal urges.
Our bodies have been taken over
by old age stiffness, aches, and pains.

Some nights, I wake up to find
she no longer breathes. I reach out
in panic, touch her gently, and when
she breathes again, I heave a sigh
redolent with love and relief.

Listen to podcast here.
True Love

Pianissimo

Pianissimo


            You sit at the piano, my old piano, still extant in my father’s house, yet soon to be given away, though we don’t know that yet. It’s an upright, iron-frame Bechstein, a piano that I was given when I was the same age as you are now. Handel’s Largo, the Harmonious Blacksmith, hours and hours of scales. They locked me in the front room, my mum and dad, and there I stayed for an hour, two hours, or more. I came to hate music. As soon as I could, I gave up the piano, I rejected piano practice, I turned my face away from the discipline of the lock up.
            Now, I listen to you. Your untaught fingers tickle the black keys, then the white keys, one after another. You are six years old. You’ve never had a lesson, but you have music in your blood and some residual instinct latches on to rhythm and sound. Your fingers are long and supple and your touch is light, so much lighter than mine used to be, and now, on the deep bass notes of the left hand, your stronger hand, you pound away, awakening the dark ghosts of soul music that pour through my memories awakening echoes in this piano.
            I think of you as a jazz musician. Thelonius Monk, perhaps, a tinkle here, a light touch there, now a chord or two, inexplicable, and who would want to explain. It is a joy to sit here, to see your smile of absolute absorption. Mood music you call it, and today your moods are as dark as the shadows that tug at my heart, and as light as the sunlight that floats through the windows and makes the dust motes sparkle. It also frames a halo round your head. You hum to yourself as the morning sunshine fragments into colored gems and you sculpt your rainbow of sound.
            “Stop that noise. You’re driving me mad,” your grandfather, my father, stumbles into the room. He has taken his last cigarette out of the packet and the white cylinder hangs down from his lips, like an extraneous chalk outcrop hanging from the lip of an errant teacher. He pats his pockets. “Where are my matches? Has anyone seen my matches?”
            “They’re on the table in the kitchen,” I reply. “Where you always put them.”
            “I thought I left them in here,” my father leans on his stick then turns and stumbles out of the living room and into the kitchen.
            You hop off the piano stool, take the matches from your pocket, and carefully place them on the arm of your grandfather’s favorite chair.
            “Sssssh!” you say, putting a finger on your lips. Then you skip back to the piano and start playing pianissimo on high notes that float like tiny raindrops of sound produced by miniscule angels.          
            Your grandfather returns, glances round the room, spots the match box, and pounces upon it, a caged tiger finally served his red meat.
            “That’s funny,” he mutters. “They weren’t there a moment ago.” He takes out a match, strikes it, lights up his cigarette, inhales a lungful of smoke, then exhales it in a great locomotive puff of cloud. He grimaces at you through a haze of smoke.
            “There’s nice music you’re playing.”
            Your young lungs, unaccustomed to a house of smokers, can’t cope with this thin, grey, choking cigarette waste. You stop playing, put a hand over your mouth, and start to gag.

Listen to the Podcast here:
Pianissimo

Blood and White Wash

Blood and Whitewash
A Thursday Thought

2-September-2021

Blood and Whitewash is the title of this painting. It has a subtitle: My Plan of Attack.

The origins of the title, and hence of the painting, go back to the Goon Show, with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and of course / wrth gwrs, Harry Secombe, the Swansea Comedian and Master Singer. Away in boarding school back in the late fifties, one of my greatest pleasures was listening to the Goon Show on one of the dormitory’s transistor radios. As a teenager, I found the jokes and the accents incredibly funny. Still do. That’s why I painted this painting. Alas, it is silent, and you cannot hear the accents.

The following snippet of dialog occurred on one such Goon Show, I cannot remember which.

“What are we going to do?”
“Well, this is my plan of attack.”
“That’s not a tack, it’s a nail.”
“No it’s not. It’s a tack.”

So above you have my painting of My Plan of Attack, resurrected after all those years. I throw my mind back to the First World War.

The General:
“He’s a cheerful Cove,” said Jimmy to Jack,
as he walked to Arras with his pack on his back.
But he did for them both, with his plan of attack.

And there in essence is the history of the painting. First, the plan of attack, then the failure and the blood-letting, and then the white-washing of the whole history, a white-washing that turns failure into success, defeat into victory, and loss into gain. But in WWI, it was the poor Tommies who bore the burden, and all the other front line troops who obeyed orders, went blindly over the top, and charged unbroken wire with fixed bayonets.

“If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are,
If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are.
They’re hanging on the old barbed wire.”

Singing as they marched to their deaths, obeying orders, like sheep, and nipped on by the eternal sheep dogs. Things were so bad at Verdun that instead of singing, the men marched, bleating, like sheep. “Sheep unto the slaughter.” There was so much ill-feeling and rebellion in the face of orders and certain slaughter, that French regiments were decimated, one man in ten shot for mutiny, as they marched bleating, instead of singing, to their deaths.

“Oh, we’ll hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line,
have you any dirty washing, Mother dear?”

“Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” So, tell me, “where have all the young men gone, gone to graveyards everyone, when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”

And that, dear friends, is my thought for today: The History of My Plan of Attack. When, indeed, will we ever learn?

Quack!

Quack!

A duck, in cricket, means the batter has been dismissed without scoring. The 0 resembles a duck’s egg, and hence score of naught is known as a duck! A golden duck means the batter has been dismissed first ball, without scoring, a sad fate indeed. A King Pair is first ball in each innings of a four innings match (two per side).

My cartoon shows an English cricketing duck carrying his bat through a golden shower of life’s purple patches. There are several clichés and double entendres in this title. First, of course, the ignominious duck. Carrying his bat: this has a double meaning (a) to literally carry a cricket bat, as this duck is doing, and (b) to open the batting and carry your bat throughout the innings, un-dismissed, although the other ten wickets have fallen around you. To carry your bat for a duck is as near as impossible as it can possibly be. A golden shower: alas, we are all now familiar with the pornographic version. Some will be familiar with the myth of Jupiter descending as a shower of gold. The golden shower here also represents the shower of golden ducks that has currently descended upon the English cricketing team. Purple patches can be good. However, a purple patch of golden ducks is only good for the opposition bowlers, if you are on the batting side.

England top order quacking and creaking into history of the duck: this article in Tuesday’s Manchester Guardian cricketing section will explain the makings of current duck history for all who are interested. Equally interesting are the double meanings (a) within the verbals of the above cartoon and (b) within the visuals of the drawing itself. For example, the golden duck holes / eggs pecked in the bat, the mingling of gold and purple in the shower falling, the duck eggs woven into the batter’s shirt…

So, here we go, swinging low, swinging to miss, and swinging into history, where batter itself is a neologism replacing batsman as a non-generic term for those who bat, much as bowler, the man, not the hat, is a non-generic term for those who bowl, or fielder for those who field. Now, what on earth are we going to do with ‘gloveman’? Glover, perhaps, or wicket-person, or a return to wicket-keeper, or just a limited keeper? Language is so lovely and the mixture of language and cartoon is is doubly good, as long as everyone is bilingual and can entendre.

Patience

Thursday Thoughts
Patience

Patients must be patient.
The waiting-room
is where the doctor
makes them wait.

My father waited, patiently,
to see the specialist.
At the stroke of noon,
nurse told the waiting patients
not to wait patiently
and to all go home.

“Come back next week,” nurse said.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“The doctor,” she said,
“has a very important meeting.”

I hurried for a taxi.
My father on his Zimmer
followed slowly behind.
On the hospital steps
I met the doctor.

“Damnation!” he said,
into his cell phone.
“I’m going to be late
for that appointment.
I’ve left my golf clubs behind.”

Thursday Thoughts: I remember that day well. My father was due to visit the hospital for his appointment with the stroke specialist. I wanted to drive him there, but he insisted on waiting for the old folks’ ambulance. It was due at 9:00 am and his appointment was for 10:30 am. We waited patiently, watching the hands on the clock moving slowly round. 9:00 > 9:15 > 9:30 > 9:45. “I can drive you,” I said. My father shook his head: “If I don’t take the ambulance, they won’t come to pick me up again. They’ll say I have other means of transport.”

The ambulance / ambwlans (in Welsh) arrived just before 10:00 and dad was sure they’d make his appointment time. Except there were still empty seats and that meant more passengers to pick up. Used to the system, my father waited patiently while I got more and more frustrated. Finally, the ambulance was full and we made our way to the hospital, getting there about 10:45. “Run,” my father said, thrusting his appointment papers at me, “tell the nurse I’m on my way.” Run I did. When I got to the waiting room, I found it full of people with never a chair for my father to sit on. When he arrived, a younger patient offered him his seat and he flopped down into it.

Names rang out. Patients disappeared. Some returned to the waiting room, then walked out. Some didn’t return. At 11:15 my father demanded tea. I got him a cup. At 11:30, a man stood up and started to preach to his captive audience. “Does that every week,” dad muttered in my ear. “He’s mad.” “You can’t take it with you,” the preacher thundered. “There aren’t any pockets in shrouds.” People fiddled and looked uncomfortable. Most had teacups perched precariously on saucers, and some rattled them, whether in applause or anguish, I still don’t know.

Then at noon the nurse appeared and announced what you have read above. “Dr. XXX’s patients: you can all go now. Dr. XXX has an important appointment. Come back next week.” My dad pushed me. “Run,” he said. “Get a taxi. They’ll all be wanting one and by the time I get there there’ll be none left.” That was the only visit I made with my father to that particular hospital. I had so many questions to ask that specialist, but, alas, I never met him.

What I did learn was that patients must learn patience. Hospitals, like airlines, run to their own schedules. A sign should be placed above every hospital door. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Just a thought, nothing more. The delays in all our medical systems, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, have been disastrous for many people, especially the old. Missed appointments. Delayed and cancelled treatment. Long waits and delays. The medical staff have been placed in such stressful conditions. Many are finding it difficult to cope with their inability to fulfill their desires to help their patients. Many are so stressed out. Two of my own doctors have cried when talking to me. I think of it as Covid Collateral Damage, CCD, just like the Colony Collapse Disorder that wiped out our bee population a few years back. Now we are the bees and hospitals and nursing homes are the hives.

Looking back, that morning spent waiting with my father, was a lesson in what old age has in store for us Golden Oldies as we age. Patience: as patients, we must learn patience. And remember, as Bette Davis once said “Old age is not for cissies.” And those are my thoughts for today!

Christmas Angel

Christmas Angel

Once upon a time
he sang carols,
but now he chokes
on red-herring bones
and obscure meanings.

When he opens his mouth,
his tongue falls bleeding on the silver tray
encased in wood
passed round to collect the money.

His knees are dusty from lack of use.
What wooden doll’s head
rocks back and forth on his shoulders?

On Christmas Eve, a painted
clothes peg lies in a wicker cradle.

He swaddles it with birdsong
and hums forgotten words
to half-remembered tunes.

Christmas Angel can be found in
All About Angels.


All About Angels
Paperback edition


All About Angels
Kindle Edition

Building on Sand

Building on Sand

Everywhere the afternoon gropes steadily to night.
Some people have built fires,
others read by candlelight.

Geese, drifts of snow their whiteness,
settle on the riverbank. They walk
on thin ice at civilization’s edge.
Around them, the universe’s clock
ticks slowly down.

Who forced that scream
through the needle’s eye?
Inverted, the Big Dipper,
hangs its question mark
from heaven’s dark eyelid.

Ghosts of departed constellations
stalk the sky. Pale stars bob
phosphorescent on the flood.

The flesh that bonds,
the bones that walk,
the shoulders and waist
on which I hang my clothes,
now they stand alone
and listen at the water’s edge
to the whispering trees.

They have caught the words
of snowflakes strung between the stars.
Moonlight is a liquor
running raw within them.

Comment: The verse version (above) is from Though Lover’s be Lost. The prose version (Below) is from Stars at Elbow and Foot.

Building on Sand

Everywhere the afternoon gropes steadily to night. Some people have built fires, others read by candlelight. Geese, drifts of snow their whiteness, settle on the riverbank. They walk on thin ice at civilization’s edge. Around them, the universe’s clock ticks slowly down. Who forced that scream through the needle’s eye? Inverted, the Big Dipper, hangs its question mark from heaven’s dark eyelid. Ghosts of departed constellations stalk the sky. Pale stars bob phosphorescent on the flood. The flesh that bonds, the bones that walk, the shoulders and waist on which I hang my clothes, now they stand alone and listen at the water’s edge to the whispering trees. They have caught the words of snowflakes strung between the stars. Moonlight is a liquor running raw within them.

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Monkey Presses Delete

Monkey Presses Delete

Monkey loves walking behind the gorillas.
The gorillas break and enter:
and when they do, monkey simply points
and gorillas do their thing:
it’s that simple …

Monkey has a code word
that he took from his computer course.
“Delete!” he says with delight
and the gorillas delete whatever he points to.

Monkey loves burning other people’s books.
He also loves deleting parents
especially in front of their children,
and deleting children in front of their parents
can be just as exciting.

The delete button excites monkey:
maneuvering the mouse
tightens his scrotum
and he feels a kick like a baby’s
at the bottom of his belly
as he carefully selects his victim and
“Delete!”

The gorillas go into action:
ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, seventy years of existence
deleted
with a gesture and the click of an index finger
pointed like a gun.