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

Downsizing

Books abandoned on the sea shore of life.

Downsizing
Francisco de Quevedo

I chose each book, held it in my hands for
one last time, then placed it peacefully in
its new resting place. Old friends, they were …
I broke that friendship and set my friends free
to fulfill their promised afterlife on
another reader’s shelves.

Mind to mind, though they had
lived five hundred years ago,
I strove to engage them in lively
conversation, Bakhtinian dialogs
within our time and space, and
that space my basement library.

I loved to hear their lilting speech,
to listen to their wisdom with open eyes
and mind. I answered them with words
I quickly pencilled on each page.

One day, a man arrived from the university.
He carried them away in a delivery truck
and they were borne to a wider world.

If you see on, bless it, read it, cherish it.
Blind now my eyes that devoured their words.
Deaf now my ears that heard the dead,
for I can listen no more.

Note: “Escucho con mis ojos a los Muertos /
I listen with my eyes to the words of the dead.”
Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645)

With thanks to Nicholas Wermuth, who was kind enough to comment and help me revise and restructure this poem.

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.

Autumn

Autumn
and all that jazz

1

Slow last drag of summer’s sad trombone
sliding its airs between stark, naked trees.

Golden memories float face down in tranquil
waters, life and the summer drained away.

A voice, her voice, ripples across the pond,
echoes over drowned and mirrored leaves.

2

Grey the sky, white the birch trees:
Narcissus kneeling, dark waters flooding.

Tumble-dried by this autumn sky,
leaf words falling, still her voice echoes.

3

Tintinnabulation: a tin-pan alley of leaves
blown against windscreen and car windows.

I, who a grief ago sat here watching her walk,
now sit here alone, waiting for her return.

4

I who am nothing know nothing, save that I
am a burnt-out ember, cold, in a grey-ash grate.

A grating of old bones, these hips and knees,
and if I fall, sweet heart, please love me more.

5

Here endeth today’s lesson: that of the fall,
the fall of all things finally into deep water.

Fall, fall asleep to the rhythmic leaf beat
that summons us all to our appointed end.

Chance Encounter

Chance Encounter
Overheard one night at the bar

“Meeting her, unexpected,
with another man, that night,
and me, with another woman,
all four of us looking
bemused by what the other
had chosen in each
others absence

… time suspended …

and the halted, faltering
politeness of a nod,
a handshake, ships
passing in the night,
signs and signals
no longer recognized.”

This Vessel in Which I Sail

This Vessel in which I Sail

Trapped in this fragile vessel with the pandemic
a passenger waiting to board, I drift from port to port,
looking for a haven, safe, to have and to hold me.

No harbour will let me dock. “No room at this inn,”
they say. “No haven here.” They wave me away.

Now I have no destination. Aimless, I float and every
where I go the message is: “No vacancy: no room at all.”

Unwanted, abandoned, I wander with wind and waves,
my only friends seals, porpoises, and whales.
I walk the whale road, leaving a frail, white wake behind.

This vessel has become a gulag now, a prison
camp where I exist just to survive. Each hour of each day
endless, boundless, like this shadowy, haunted sea.

Today there is no motion, no goal. What is there to achieve
but survival? Each day’s journey is sufficient unto itself.

Apocalypse When?

Apocalypse When?

A strange, milk-cloud sky, skimpy, with the sun
a pale, dimly-glowing disc and my pen scarce
casting a shadow as the nib limps over the page.

Out on the west coast, fires still range free and this
is the result, these high, thin clouds casting a spider
web cloak over the sun face and darkening the day.

The west coast: five or six hours by plane and three
whole days to get there by train, even longer by bus,
all chop and change with multiple stops.

The wind blew and the clouds came widdershins,
backwards across the continent. Today they reached
across the ocean to claw the sun from European skies.

It is indeed a small world after all. Isostasy:
you push the earth balloon in here, and it bulges
out over there in the place you least expected.

Now we are all interconnected in an intricate network
of a thousand ways and means. What does it all mean?
Ripples ruffle the beaver pond’s dark mirror.

The forest mutters wind-words, devious and cruel,
that I sense, but cannot understand. High in the sky
clouds turn into horsemen on plunging steeds.

Fear, fire, flood, foe, poverty, unemployment, pandemic,
crops destroyed and, waiting in the wings, threats of civil
unrest, the apocalypse, and a war to end all wars.

Comment: A week in bed, unable to sit, to write, to use the computer, except standing on one leg and typing with one finger. Unable to concentrate, to create, and now, after four visits to my medical team, acupuncture, manipulation, massage, finally that pinched nerve has stopped pinching and I can get back to writing. However, my thoughts are as grey as these clouds that dim the skies. I no longer know who or what or where I am. The world around me has turned sinister and I suffer.

The result: black thoughts, black poetry, red, flaming skies, and the knowledge that all is not well, neither with me, nor with our sick little planet. There is no Planet B and this one, like me, is suffering.

Premonitions and dark thoughts. I lie awake in bed each night, sleepless, hugging my Teddy Bear and my hot water bottle, aching, suffering, waiting for the dawn.

Sciatica

Sciatica

There is no science to sciatica,
just a series of sensations
most of them involving pain.

I don’t know how or when it comes,
but one day, it knocks on your door
and you clutch back and buttock.

It’s like a hawk at the bird feeder,
flown in from nowhere to shriek
and shred, unawares, one small bird.

Was it the flannel I dropped yesterday
when showering?  I stooped to pick it up,
lunged forward, and that was it?

The pain came later. It kept me awake
all night, my worst nightmare.
No comfort anywhere. An endless

wriggling and every movement a knife
blade stabbing at my buttock and slicing
its slow, painful way down my leg.

The screws, my grandfather called it,
a metal screw screwed into his leg,
leaving him limp and limping.

I googled it today, sciatica, and they
suggested an ice pad for twenty minutes,
repeated twenty minutes later.

“Yes,” I muttered, “yes” and found
in the fridge the ice pack we used
to use in our Coleman’s cooler.

My beloved helped me undo my pants.
“This,” she said, “will be icing on the cake.”
“No,” I said, “it will be icing on the ache”

Tomorrow, I will call the chiropractor.
She will bend me to her will, straighten
my back, cure the pain, set me right again,
as long as Covid lets me in to her domain.

Co-[vidi]-s

Co-[vidi]-s
17 March 2020

Time changed with the clocks
and my body clock
is no longer in sync
with the tick-tock chime
that denounces each hour.

Hours that used to wound
now threaten to kill.
They used to limp along,
but now they just rush by
and I, who used to run
from point to point,
now shuffle a step at a time.

Around us, the Covidis
thrives and flowers.
Wallflowers, violets,
we shrink into our homes,
board up the windows,
refuse to open doors.
We communicate by phone,
e-mail, messenger, Skype.

Give us enough rope
and we’ll survive a little while,
fearful, full of anguish,
yet also filled with hope.