Xmas Trees

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This year we have abandoned real, once living trees in favor of plastic trees with LED lights. The house doesn’t smell the same, nor did cool air fill the space beneath the tree. No more watering the tree. No more collecting dry pine needles. No more worrying about the cat climbing the tree or the dog pulling the tree down as it chases the cat or tugs and worries at a string of lights. Nor do we have to worry that the puppy might chew its way through the electric cord and electrocute itself. And no more electric eels in the fish tank, even though they are the current thing.

That doesn’t mean to say we are in for a bleak mid-winter, not at all. We have strings of lights, music on the stereo, and even  peces en el rio que ven a Dios nacer, as they sing in Oaxaca (the fishes in the river who come to see God born). And who could not be merry at Christmas time with a fire in the fireplace, a Charlie Brown Christmas on the stereo, and guelaguetza music from Oaxaca waiting to be played and warm the party up. Nobody, but nobody, not even the meanest Scrooge or the most insistent Grinch, can resist the Oaxacan pineapple dance, played at full volume by the state orchestra or a local village band, at midnight, in the zócalo, when the rockets climb skywards to knock on the front door of the gods and the Virgen de la Soledad parades in all her mystery and glory through the candle-lit city streets.

Add to all of this a small miracle: the reappearance this year of the Christmas tree Clare’s auntie used to place every Christmas upon the counter in her shop in Cheap Street, Frome: one of the most famous and eligible streets in Merrie Olde England. We have placed auntie’s Christmas tree on the table in the hall by the front door and surrounded it with lights. What joy: the old and the new, hand in hand, in this new found land that is itself, so very, very old and where we now live together with our memories of a distant past.

And for those who still wish to decorate their very own Christmas tree, you can do so online, adding toys and lights, and an angel on the top, whenever you wish. And remember: where there’s a will there’s always a way.

Cricket

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Cricket

            Street cricket. Played on ancient, cracked tarmac. The wicket: three sticks whitewashed on to the high stone wall of the cul-de-sac where my grandmother lived. It backed onto the wall that cut us off from the railway yards that led into High Street Station. That wall was the boundary, as were the neighbor’s front yards. Six and out if you hooked the cricket ball and hit it behind the wicket and over the railway wall. And you had to retrieve that ball. Lost ball stopped play and play stopped until you went across the bombed buildings at square leg, for a right-handed batsman, climbed the railway wall at its lowest spot, looked down at the rail yards forty feet below, and shouted until someone emerged from a workman’s hut to find the ball and threw it back.

            No worker … no ball … no game. Then you had to run out of your street, down the main road, up the hill for two streets, beg permission at the locked railyard iron gates: “Please, mister, can I get my ball?” Then run all the way back to where the waiting cricketers hung over your own street wall, by those bombed buildings, shouting and cheering. Search for the ball among shiny rails, shunting rails, rusty rails, dandelions, thistles, and nettles. Avoid the occasional shunting engine, with the driver leaning out of the cab and screaming warnings as the steam hisses out from the engine, brakes squeal, and wheels slowly clack on crossing tracks. Find the ball. Try unsuccessfully to throw it back over the wall. Try again. No good. Wall too high. Carry ball back to iron gates. Thank gateman politely so you can come back next time. Return ball to game. Game continues, rain or shine. Unless it’s real rain. The pissing down type. If so, run for nearest house and shelter by fire in kitchen.

            Other rules. Six and out over the railway wall. Two runs and fetch the ball yourself if you hit it into the bomb buildings at square leg, next to that railway wall. No fielders there. Too many loose bricks and too much scattered debris. Fragile walls still wobble or crumble warning you of cellars that might open up. Low walls that might collapse. You score four and out if you hit the ball into neighbor’s front yard. Some neighbors are nice and don’t mind. But watch out for the old witch whose fenced off garden is guarded by a gate.  If you hit her window, even with a tennis ball, she’ll be out quick as a flash, and steal your ball or stick a knitting needle in it, old spoil-sport. Otherwise, it’s single batsmen. You run your runs and walk back from singles. One hand one bounce, and tip and run once you’ve scored twenty. Much more difficult to stay in and everyone gets a chance to bat. One hand off the wall if you don’t clear it for a six and out. Dog stops play if your fox terrier gets the ball and runs around in circles, chasing its tail, with the ball getting soggy in his mouth. Damned dog. Damn difficult to catch. Lost ball stops match if dog runs back into the house and gives the ball you stole in secret back to your gran who was saving it for tennis.

            Cricket, in those days, was civilization. It had survived the bombing raids that missed the railway yards and bombed the bomb buildings. It had survived the machine-gun fire from the fighter-bombers that had strafed the street leaving bullet-holes, still unrepaired, in walls and shattering now-mended windows. It gave us a sense of rule and law, for the rules were strict and nobody broke them and stealing runs, touch and go, in tip and run was a skill and never a crime.

            Cricket: a small, bright window on the back-street where I lived, a window filled with happiness and light, even when it’s over the wall and six and out, or the dog runs away with the tennis ball, or the ball vanishes down a mysterious rabbit-hole in the bomb buildings and slides down to someone’s ruined cellar.

            Game’s over. The real Test Match is on, England versus Australia, though we live in Wales. The one primitive, tiny black-and-white tv screen in the street lights up with flickering figures and we sit around on the floor watching real men playing the real game on a sunny field in another world, the world, the world of black and white that many of us, us backstreet children from a ruined neighborhood, will never be allowed to know or see.

Siege Perilous

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Siege Perilous

           My second name begins with G … G for Galahad.

         Siege Perilous: the chair calls me, sings out my name, craves my body warmth and blood. I move towards it, hear it groan to me in greeting. I feel it sink beneath my weight, feel its heat and comfort, sense the heart-sound of its old, carved, polished wood. My father sat here before me and his father before him, and his father … and so on down the ringing halls of time.

           Siege Perilous welcomes me as it welcomed them. It cherishes me, nourishes my flesh and blood, my sense of belonging within a great chain of being whose links vanish backwards into forgotten, far-off mists. The chair understands that we are weaklings. It accepts us are we are, strengthening our strong points, filling in for our gaffes, gifting us with the ability that allows us to see ourselves as we truly are, willing spirits in an all too flimsy flesh. Impervious its wood to words or tears, it strips away our masks, dismantles our disguises, meets our inner being face to face, seat of wisdom carved from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

           The chair rarely rejects us, though sometimes it senses the rot within and moves us on. More often than not, it brings light to our darkness, pierces our clouds of unknowing with its beam of sunshine, illuminates our darkest nights. It cares for us, wraps us in the warm wings of its radiance, carries us onward when we are alone, shapes our own heart-wood with its hand-carved arms that cling and clutch and cleanse of impurities. Blood warms its veins, the blood of the generations that have climbed here as children, sat on the elders’ laps, listened to their tales, then shared their inheritance, before sitting here themselves.

           A sense of entitlement wraps its veil around Siege Perilous and the Forgotten Table. It shuts out doubt and fear. We feel its power transmitted through us, fear, fire, foes all defeated. Power: the power of good to defeat evil, of truth to conquer lies, of my people to survive. They may seem to be crushed, and yet they will rise; defeated, they will overcome; victorious, they will be magnanimous in their victory.

           King Arthur: the Once and Future King … King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table … Siege Perilous … the Vacant Chair … the Holy Grail … Excalibur: the Sword in the Stone … Arthur himself … Galahad, Geraint, Percival, Gawain, Lancelot … all equal … all pure, honest, innocent, celibate … Camelot …

Merlin the Magician and Wondrous Wizard, conjurer of truth and falsehoods … the historian-poet adjusts his rose-tinted spectacles, smiles, clacks the false white teeth that spin-doctored so much verbal magic, so many mystical myths, fabulous fables, phenomenal falsehoods … and started, pen on paper, to create yet again another set of nonsensical, downright gut-jarring lies.

Lost Angel

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Lost Angel

One day she was there,
the next day she was not.

She slipped through our fingers
like water or fine sand,
here one day
and gone the next

We looked away for a moment,
and when we looked back
she had disappeared.

The wind whispers secrets
that are multiplied
by grass tongues
wagging on deserted dunes.

The wind thinks she left us
to join the children
who play hide and seek
on empty September beaches.

“Hush now,” says the wind,
“if you make a sound
the children will know you are here.

They will slide through clefts in the rocks
and hide in silence, waiting
until you too have disappeared.”

Comment: Another Golden Oldie, this one from my book All About Angels. I wrote All about angels in homage to Rafael Alberti’s book, Sobre los angeles, one of my favorite poetry books in Spanish. My angels are not Alberti’s angels. How could they be when his angels are Spanish and mine are Welsh and Canadian? Do you really  believe in angels, you ask. Well, you’ll never know, because I’ll never tell you. That said, I did write a book about them.

Anniversary

 

 

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Birthday
a year ago today
… but it wasn’t my birthday

Buy a balloon.
Make sure the color is bright.
Fill it with all your sorrows,
then let it take flight.

Look: up and away it goes
and all your sorrows go with it.
You’ll feel much better now.

Buy yourself a party hat
and a birthday cake.
So what if it’s not your birthday.
It’s always someone’s birthday.

Don’t forget the candles.
Take a match and light them.
Now let your cares go up in smoke.

Recycling

Books

Recycling

“You never know when you might need it,” my
grandfather said, finger-nails cracking red-
waxed parcel string. Bright sealing wax rained down
on the tablecloth, covering it with hard,
scarlet chips. Wax cracked, tight knots emerged.
One by one, my grandfather first loosened
them, then sought the string’s free end, following
it along its snaking way from knot to
knot. Like Theseus following his twine
through the labyrinth below the palace, my
grandfather mused, hesitated, followed
the clues given him by the knotter’s mind.
Set free from its parceled knots and lashings,
he looped the string around his fingers and
tied the twine into a tight bow that he
stowed away for future use. Reef knots, slip
knots, sheep-shanks, bowlines, bowlines-on-the-bight,
he showed me how to tie them all. He taught
me too how to never tie granny knots.
“Never cut string with a knife: untie knots,”
strict his advice. I follow it today.

Commentary:
The photo shows my grandfather’s chair sitting before my basement desk where I write and store my books. I used to climb up the back of this chair when I was a tiny child, and blow on the bald spot on his head while he was asleep. Such memories nesting in the attic corner of the dormant mind. One day, I will write about that. Oh: I just did.

Friday Fiction: Crave More

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Friday Fiction
04 May 2018
Crave More

Crave More: I hate those words. I always choose
a cart with the shop’s name on the handle.
I can handle that. I can’t stand a cart
that screams Crave More at me every time I
bend to place an item in the wire grid.
If stores were honest they would write Think More
and Crave Less
 on their shopping carts. I bet
that would cut into profits. Anyway,
there I was, in LaLaLand, leaning on
my cart, half asleep, when this ghost drifted
towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry.
I need money for food.” I woke up from
my dream, looked at the ghost, tall, skeletal
thin, cavernous eyes and cheekbones sticking
out, gaps in the teeth, grey face drawn with shame.
“Sorry,” came automatically. Then I
too felt shame. I looked at him again. “I
only carry plastic.” The excuse limped
heavily across the air between us.
I saw something in his eyes, I knew not
what, and turned away. As I walked away,
I added one hundred pound of muscle
to the scarecrow frame. Took forty years off
his age. Filled his body with joy and pride,
not shame, and remembered how he played, hard
and fast, but true. I ran the card index
of former players that I had coached through
my mind. I knew their moves, and attributes,
the way they played the game, strengths, weaknesses …
I remembered him holding up the Cup.
But I couldn’t remember his name. I
pushed the cart all over the store in a
frantic search for him. At the ATM
I withdrew cash. I could hand it to him.
I could tell him he had dropped it. I went
through a thousand scenes. I could invite him
to the snack bar. I could tell him to buy
what he needed and follow me. Check out
time, I would add his purchases to my
bill. I looked everywhere. He was nowhere
to be seen. One opportunity. One
chance. That’s all we get. Miss it, and we blow
the game. Grasp it and we medal with gold.

Commentary:
I have been experimenting with iambic pentameter, counting words and syllables on my fingers, tapping rhythms on the table, driving Clare crazy, and disturbing the cat. I have also disturbed my usual way of writing, for better or for worse I am not yet sure. Yesterday’s entertainment was to rewrite my brief story, Crave More, as a poem in pseudo-iambic pentameter. The measures seem to function and the rhythm and word count move both within the line and in the melodic, rhythmic phrasings that move between lines in a constant enjambement.

So, by all means let me know what you think of this experiment.  Here’s the link to the short story, also called Crave More. I would love to receive your opinions on narrative pseudo-iambic pentameter.

Revised Version:

Encounter

I was in the Superstore, leaning on
my cart, half asleep, when this ghost drifted
towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry.
I need money for food.” I woke up from
my dream, looked at the ghost, tall, skeletal
thin, cavernous eyes and cheekbones sticking
out, gaps in the teeth, grey face drawn with shame.
“Sorry,” came automatically. Then I
too felt shame. I looked at him again. “I
only carry plastic.” The excuse limped
heavily across the air between us.
I saw something in his eyes, I knew not
what, and turned away. As I walked away,
I added one hundred pound of muscle
to the scarecrow frame. Took forty years off
his age. Filled his body with joy and pride,
not shame, and remembered how he played, hard
and fast, but true. I ran the card index
of former players that I had coached through
my mind. I knew their moves, and attributes,
the way they played the game, strengths, weaknesses …
I remembered him holding up the Cup.
But I couldn’t remember his name. I
pushed the cart all over the store in a
frantic search for him. At the ATM
I withdrew cash. I could hand it to him.
I could tell him he had dropped it. I went
through a thousand scenes. I could invite him
to the snack bar. I could tell him to buy
what he needed and follow me. Check out
time, I would add his purchases to my
bill. I looked everywhere. He was nowhere
to be seen. One opportunity. One
chance. That’s all we get. Miss it, and we blow
the game. Grasp it and we medal with gold.

Comment to the Revision:

The first eight lines of the original poem set the scene. While I tried to use them to accentuate commercial exploitation of the customer’s potential for greed, Crave More, they are not essential to the story of the encounter. Meg noticed this and following her interaction I have revised the poem, eliminating those first eight lines.

This is an interesting and inter-active way to work. Thank you Meg!