My usual discipline has deserted me and, as a result, I have deserted my blog, abandoned it, gone absent without leave. It’s not that I am not creating: I am. I am just not posting. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I thought that, for a change, I would post some of my Pocket Paintings / Peintures de Poches. Maybe I will be inspired to write verse about them. Maybe not. We’ll see.
I raise my hand to heaven in fervent supplication: you sever it at the wrist.
I spread out my arms in despair: you take out a tape and measure me for a tailor-made, hand-crafted cross.
I step on my bathroom scales only to find that they have become the scales of your justice: I mourn every pound I have put on.
Where can I turn for solace when all around I see nothing but sorrow and tears?
Covid bears us all down. An albatross, it hangs around our necks and when we raise a hand, your knife is there to cut it off.
Who are you? What are you? Where are you when we need you? Why are you there judging us like this?
I look up at the sky. By day, a great cyclopean eye winks and blinks and tells me nothing. I look at the sky at night: a silver moon slides silently by.
Orion stalks away to the west. He leaves me restless, breathless, agape at all this beauty that I dare not reach out and grasp.
A great big thank you to Allan Hudson, editor of the South Branch Scribbler Blog. He e-mailed me on my birthday, last Sunday, and asked me if I had a story that he could use on his new blog page Short Stories from Around the World. These will be published every other Wednesday, starting today. I am very honoured and proud to be the author of the first story, One Goldfish, third place in the WFNB non-fiction award (2020), that opens the series. It was revised and reworked in the Advanced Writing Course, run by Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox fame. I would like to thank Brian and all my fellow participants who helped me rework the story. On Allan’s blog you will find links to other contributions from me. You will also find a series of featured authors, from New Brunswick, the Maritimes, Canada, and all around the world. Allan does a great job for us minor, struggling literary figures, not just for the greats. I encourage you to follow his blog and support him.
My painting (above) is entitled Ephemera. It shows a literary text semi-obliterated by various colors and devices. If we have learned anything from Covid it should be the fragility of life, the insubstantiality of existence, and the enormous powers of the natural world that surrounds us. My friends: take nothing for granted. Carpe Diem – seize the day – and “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may – for time it is a’flyin – and that poor flower blooming today – tomorrow may be dying.” This is Robert Herrick, of course. Here is my own version of the theme from The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature.
Winter’s chill lingers well into spring. I buy daffodils to encourage the sun to return and shine in the kitchen. Tight-clenched fists their buds, they sit on the table and I wait for them to open.
Grey clouds fill the sky. A distant sun lights up the land but doesn’t warm the earth nor melt the snow. The north wind chills body and soul, driving dry snow across our drive to settle in the garden.
The daffodils promise warmth, foretell the sun, predicting bright days to come. When they do, red squirrels spark at the feeder.
For ten long days the daffodils endure, bringing to vase and breakfast-table stored up sunshine and the silky softness of their golden gift.
Their scent grows stronger as they gather strength from sugared water. But now they begin to wither, their day almost done.
Dry and shriveled they stand this morning, paper-thin, brown, crisp to the touch, hanging their heads as oncoming death weighs them down.
And this has been a dialog with my time and my place. But what is time? A river flowing? A long line leading from my beginning to my end? Alpha and Omega? An instant held between finger and thumb and so swiftly forgotten? A dream I dream when I am awake or asleep? And which is my real dream, waking or sleeping, sleeping or lying awake?
And what is my place? This house in which I now live? The garden I watch from my kitchen window? My town? This forested area where I think I belong? My county? My province? My region? And how do I relate to my “time” or my “place” to this being called “Roger”, this dream-Roger who dreams this post-amniotic ocean of life in which he now drifts? I dream I am male yet when I read Carl Jung I learn that a large part of me is female. I always thought I was masculine / macho / male, yet when a large part of me is feminine / hembra / female, I am no longer sure what I am. And how much does it matter?
I have ten fingers yet I use only two to type. Two fingers manipulate twenty-six letters, selecting some, rejecting others, making careless mistakes, organizing and reorganizing, shuffling all those verbal cards. I turn this black-and-white keyboard world upside down when I think my subversive thoughts and type them onto the computer screen and then print them out on what starts as a snow-white page that slowly fills with ant-size letters. Time and place, male and female: I lay on my side in hospital and the young urologist shot me full of female hormones so my prostrate cancer would not take over my inner organs and destroy my life. Place and time: I lie awake at night and shape disturbing dreams, dreams I have never before dreamed of dreaming.
Some nights I sense the end is drawing near. I fear it. In my beginning is my end. Beginning and end: both belong to me as do time and space, so central to the story of my life. For life will continue with or without me even if I am not there to bear witness. But I have been here, and parts of my story will remain embedded in the mind of each and every one of those who knew me and heard me speak.
Beethoven took the Fifth and rewrote it in his own image. I want to rewrite my life. I want my youth to return. I want to be young and athletic and lithe … I do not want to be this old man with a stick who bends double when he walks and sticks a blue sticker in the windscreen of his car.
I want to refuse to open the door when the postman knocks to deliver my mail. I know that soon he will bring me that registered letter, for which I must sign, with that last fatal message, the subpoena from which there is no appeal. I guess that like the snow and the wild geese, he’ll be back tomorrow, or the next day, in spite of those voices telling me that tomorrow never comes. And so, on an unusually Odd Sunday in a bar they once called Corked, or at another table in another wine bar with a different name, raise a glass to me when I am gone and leave an empty glass on the table for me. If you do, I promise I’ll be there.
Comments: This, as promised, is the final chapter from On Being Welsh. Chronotopos is Bakhtin’s theory that all our writing is a dialog with our time (chronos) and our place (topos). “Know me, know my time and place.” When we discover and explore our time and place we begin to understand ourselves and our roles in life. Then we can start rethinking who and what we are, what we have been, what we want to be, what we need to do in order to change. But first, we must know ourselves, for without self-knowledge, we are ships adrift, floating rudderless on a rising sea, or driven by the forceful wind of others into places where we may not wish to go. My friends, I raise a glass to you, filled, alas, with orange juice, because it is breakfast time, here in Island View, on the first Sunday, damp and cold and wet of 2022.
“Hoy cumple amor en mis ardientes venas veinte y dos años, Lisi, y no parece que pasa día por el.”
Francisco de Quevedo
“For twenty-two years my captive heart has burned.” Christ, what crap that is. The only heart burn I have known came from your cooking: African Nut Pie, as detailed in the cookbook I bought you for Christmas on our first wedding anniversary,
remember? And do you remember the ride to Kincardine on the train? A dozen coaches left Toronto and one by one they were shunted away until only you and I and an elderly man ploughed through the snowstorm in the one remaining carriage. Deeper and deeper piled the snow.
You looked through the window and started to weep: “What have I done?” you cried in shock and grief. Outside: Ontario lake-effect snow. Headlights from two waiting cars lit up the station. We drove to the homes of people you didn’t know, third generation cousins of mine.
You’re the only bride I know who was carried to church in the arms of the total stranger giving her away in place of the father she never knew. The snow lay six foot deep (eighteen inches fell on your wedding day alone) and you, with a white wedding dress and black boots
up to your knees. Cousin Walter carried you to the altar: how they laughed as they chanted that old song to us. Later, when they tapped the glasses and fell silent at the meal, I didn’t know what to do. And you, my love, standing up, kissing me, married after six days in Canada.
Comment: 55 years ago today. Where have they all gone? How quickly they slipped away. So many memories. So much happiness.
We met at St. Andrews, at low tide, on the underwater road. In secret we shared the closed, coded envelopes of thought, running fresh ideas through open minds.
Our words, brief vapor trails, gathered for a moment over Passamaquoddy, before drifting silently away. Canvas sails flapped white seagulls across the bay.
All seven seas rose before our eyes, brought in on a breeze’s wing. The flow of cold waters over warm sand cocooned us in a cloak-and-dagger mystery of mist.
We spun our spider-web dreams word by word, decking them out with the silver dew drops proximity brings. Characters’ voices, unattached to real people, floated by.
Verbal ghosts, shape-shifting, emerging from shadows, revealed new attitudes and twists, spoke briefly, filled us with visions of book- lives, unforgettable, but doomed, swift to fail.
Soft waves ascended rock, sand, mud, to wash away footprints, clues, all the sandcastle dreams we had constructed that afternoon, though a few still survive upon the printed page.
Comment: We, like the words we leave on the printed page, are survivors. Sometimes, when the seas rise high and our paths grow rough and hard to travel, we need a friend to reach out to us in our time of need. That friendship extends across differences and distances. Here, on the shores of time, we can meet and greet and share. Patos de diciembre, we can paddle together and give each other strength and comfort.
This poem appears on pages 64-65 of The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature, soon to be available at Cyberwit and Amazon. More details later.
Duende “Todo lo que tiene sonidos oscuros tiene duende.” “All that has dark sounds has duende.” Federico García Lorca (1898-1936)
It starts in the soles of your feet, moves up to your stomach, sends butterflies stamping through your guts. Heart trapped by chattering teeth, you stand there, silent, wondering: can I? will I? … what if I can’t? … then a voice breaks the silence, but it’s not your voice.
The Duende holds you in its grip as you hold the room, eyes wide, possessed, taken over like you by earth’s dark powers volcanic within you, spewing forth their lava of living words. The room is alive with soul magic, with this dark, glorious spark that devours the audience, soul and heart. It’s all over. The magic ends.
Abandoned, you stand empty, a hollow shell. The Duende has left you. Your God is dead. Deep your soul’s black starless night. Exhausted, you sink to deepest depths searching for that one last drop at the bottom of the bottle to save your soul and permit you a temporary peace.
I guess the secret is to have infinite trust and to hand yourself over to those higher powers during the performance. Some can do it individually, others need to be part of a team. It works differently for each one of us. But when the lower element surrenders to the soul-fulfilling higher element, miracles happen. And when they are over, we are left bereft. It’s the same, in many ways, with mystical experiences. After we venture into the beyond, Messiaen’s Au-dela, upon our return to our earth-bound existence, we are left stunned and stranded by our former voyage into absolute beauty.
It’s here and it looks beautiful. The photo does not do the cover justice as Geoff Slater’s painting is just phenomenal. The book holder wishes to announce that the photo does not do him justice either. He is much more good-looking in real life. I don’t have the Amazon / Kindle details yet, but I’ll post them as soon as they arrive. meanwhile, you will all have to make do with one poem. But remember: “A poetry book is a dream you hold in your hands.”
Still Life with Hollyhock Geoff Slater
How do you frame this beaver pond, those paths, those woods? How do you know what to leave, what to choose? Where does light begin and darkness end?
Up and down: two dimensions. Easy. But where does depth come from? Or the tactility, the energy, water’s flow, that rush of breathless movement that transcends the painting’s stillness?
So many questions, so few answers. The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting of a photo of a genuine flower that once upon a time flourished in my garden.
A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive, on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.
I choose at random a brush and a color. Then I stroke bright lines across a white page. Fresh snow waiting for tracks and footprints.
“I draw meaning out of shape and color,” Henri Matisse with scissors and cut outs. And I am here with brushes and tubes of paint, totally clueless, waiting for inspiration to descend.
But it doesn’t. Just these lies, these colors, these shapes that define my life and elaborate a destiny that I never planned nor wished for.
Colors, so vibrant. Anger. Energy. Tranquility. Rebirth. Thoughtfulness. Meaningful. Moments held in the mind’s eye, clasped between fingers, dripping off the ends of a brush, mixed and mingling in the unconscious mind’s eye that contemplates, yet never judges, the colors that unfold subtle, untold meanings, across the page.
Fell softly, quietly, soundless, in the night. I knew it was there. A lightness in the air, a subtle change in the quality of light. Now everything has changed: yesterday’s bare trees wear their winter dresses, frilly tresses garnished with garlands of snow.
The deer will arrive, sooner or later. They always do. They troop from right to left, west to east, as day turns to night, then troop back, east to west, in morning light. They step dark and diligent, flitting shadows beneath snowy trees, one after another, forging a single passage from yard to road, crossing it, then vanishing into dark woods.
I saw them one night in a midnight dream. They stood on their hindlegs underneath the mountain ash and danced, so delicate, reaching up with long, black tongues, to steal bright berries from lower branches. They danced in a full moon’s spotlight and filled my heart with joy and pain. How I long to see them dance again.