Weather or Not

Weather

We got an incredible one inch of rain in ten minutes last Friday evening. I got some wonderful photos and no, that is not my hand shaking.

In fact the weather in June has been most strange. The end of May saw four consecutive days at 32 C / 90 F. This was followed by four consecutive nights of frost. And then this devastating rainstorm on Friday evening.

Bird Feeder in Winter

Los Días de Noé / the days of Noah, as they say in Spanish. But our one inch of rain fell in just ten minutes and the wind was horrendous. Similar storms are called chubascos and I’ve also heard tromba.

Whatever: it was cold, dark, windy, and wet and 13,000 homes went without power.

Bird Feeder in Spring
(same angle)

Keeping Score

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The Score

It’s the old conundrum:
you place one grain of wheat
on the chessboard’s first square,
two on the second,
four on the third.

And so on and so forth,
eight on the fourth,
sixteen on the fifth.
Now close your eyes
and make a wish:
“Let all these pandemic victims go.”

Alas, no.
You must sit and watch them grow:
32, 64, 128,
and that’s the first rank done.
Seven more marching ranks to go.

256, 512, 1014,
Lord above: how many more?
2028, 4056, 8112,
what on earth can people do?
Wash your hands, stay inside,
and hope your best friends
haven’t died.

Doubled again
that’s even more:
16 thousand 224.
Upon this rank
just one more square
sees 32 thousand
lying there.

How many more,
how many more,
and each death ringed
by family and friends.
This week it seems
death’s dance will never end.

Comment: La Calle de la Cruz / Street of the Cross, shown in the above photo, runs past the cathedral of Avila. It is also known locally as La Calle de la Vida y de la Muerte / the Street of Life and Death as it seems duels were sometimes fought there. It seemed an appropriate photo to accompany this poem which speaks of the seeming lottery, with its winning and losing tickets, in which we are all currently involved. The lower photo, incidentally, captures a stone mason’s mark carved into the face of the cathedral in Avila.

When writing the poem, I repeated the numbers naming them with their single digits, thus: 256, 512, 1014 becomes two five six, five one two, one oh one four (line 14). This allowed me to manage rhythm and rhyme. In my mind I always associate  rhyme with reason, but in this current pandemic, I can see very little reason. I guess, as I wrote in one of my earlier poems, ‘there are so many ways to die’. I just hope Corona Virus isn’t one of them. No, I don’t want to live forever, but hell no, I don’t want to die just yet! Keep safe, keep well!

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Fire and Flame

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Fire and Flame

1

The world is on fire.
Someone, somewhere
lit a match.
The world exploded.

A match in the lungs.
the whole world burning.

Someone, somewhere
sneezed into their sleeve.
the world collapsed
in a fit of coughing.

“It isn’t the cough
that carries you off,
it’s the coffin
they carry you off in,”
said the talking head,
scientific boffin.

2

Intelligence, give me
the exact name of things:
corona virus, vaccine,
air that’s pure,
drinkable water,
a new, fresh world
for my daughter
and her daughter.

I wish I could spare them
from all this slaughter.

Comment: The echoes in here are obvious to me, but to how many others? Octavio Paz strolls through the first stanza while Juan Ramón Jiménez patrols the second one. How many people read their poems now? Polvo seco de tesis doctoral / dry dust of a doctoral thesis, as my friend José María Valverde once wrote. He, too, passed and will all too soon be forgotten like the rest. And time: what is it? How does it function? Is it linear or circular and repetitive? It twists and turns, like we did last summer, but not like we’ll do this one. My old arthritic bones will allow me to twist no more. Vingt-et-un, quatre-vingt- et-un: twist and bust. Yet time flows by, like water under Le Pont Mirabeau and days blend into days. 79 days of lock down now, all voluntary, or is it 80? El tiempo aquí no tiene sentido / time is meaningless in here, as my friend and mentor, José Hierro wrote, so long ago. And yes, these memories linger on, as time lingers on, as life lies heavy around us, and time limps by with its lame, old feet, yet looking back, it has raced passed like a spring river in spate. And the leaves are back, and the flowers are coming up, and the spring birds and bees and butterflies are arriving … and, in spite of everything, perhaps even because of it, life is as lovely as it ever was. Keep safe, keep well!

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Lamplighter

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Gas Lamps

When I was very young, a long time ago, in Swansea, many of our streets still had gas lamps.  The lamp-lighter would appear in winter around three or three-thirty to light those lamps. I remember him walking up the street with his long pole over his shoulder, moving from lamp to lamp. We had one outside our front door. He would turn on the gas, then light the lamp from the lighted wick at the end of his pole.  Sometimes he carried a ladder with him. Then, every so often, when the lamp needed tending, he would climb the ladder and adjust the wick. These gas lights were not very bright but they stood out like light houses between stretches of darkness and we would walk from pool to glowing pool, as if they were stepping stones leading us up the hill to home. We all knew the lamplighter and he would often wave to us as we sat in the front room window to watch him walk by. We rarely saw him in the mornings when he came back to turn off the lamps. We were all tucked safely into our beds. I remember that I wanted to be lamplighter. Later I realized that there are many ways to light a lamp and spread brightness through the world. When I grew up, I became teacher, a coach, a faculty adviser, a mentor, a creator, and those roles allowed me to establish myself as a lighter of a very different set of lamps.

 

 

Don’t tell me

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Don’t tell me your troubles …

… words wrapping themselves around your neck, the tune a loose scarf, brilliant in the sunshine, and so warm, flapping as you walk the street … people see frayed ends … wave back at you … the sun picking out gold spots in your hair … all’s well with the world … a marching song … the world walks over the hills … and far away … you march to work or play … every day is a new day … blood stirring with this call to arms … to alarms … everything up for grabs … tunes in your head … words wrapped around you  … warming you …
… a sad song … rain drops falling … mist or mizzle … you walk through damp, low clouds … you are sad … but comforted … wrapped warm in a verbal comforter … the sun breaks through … throws its arms around you … hugs you …. until raindrops radiate … gathering on eye-lash … at leaf’s end … twinkling an abundance of radiant flowers …         … a Nor’easter … snow in the air … on the trees … on the ground … a steady accumulation … you know how it is, East Coast Canada … down by the Fundy …  a fire in the fireplace … warm heart … warm hearth … no travel today … books and computer beckon … a time to read … to write … to remember the old ways … the old days … those memories … a warm scarf wrapped around the neck … and the comforter … so comforting … so much to wrap around you … so much to wrap your head around …

Morning in Island View

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Morning in Island View

             Morning in Island View and I dream of warm lips rising from stone cold waters. Somewhere, the early sun floats petals across a lily pond. Framed among lilies, my beloved’s face drifts through a watery space. So sweet, her embodiment: she lies languid among the lilies, beside herself in bloom after bloom, each flower gigantic in its frame beneath a wooden footbridge.

            I envision her as she was, this lily who will toil not, nor spin, and who sighs with the morning breeze that ripples her smiling countenance into a thousand fragments. She lies cushioned amid the lily pads, a work of wonder in a liquid impression of fragmented light.

            Fortune rattles its poker dice and they fall haphazardly, here and there, wherever they will. Once thrown, like the spoken word that can never be recalled, they lie there, still on the table’s green baize. They fall, but not by chance and chance itself blossoms with their falling. Like Venus born from the waves, my beloved rises from the waters, born in a conjurer’s trick of blossom turned flesh and pulled from the stream’s dark sleeve to flash her mysterious magic in a thicket of flowering water.

            Now, I see her everywhere: a model in a window, languid in a pavement puddle where raindrops ripple her eyes, couched among the floating clouds as evening steals color from the day. Dusk’s shadows draw their curtains across street and square and now she becomes my lily of the lamplight and I frame her anew in the streetlight’s afterglow, night’s figment dreamed alive beneath distant stars. I walk with her, hand in hand, at noon, when the cathedral wears its strawberry suit, and again in the late afternoon when a blueberry blush descends with bells.

            One evening, in a fit of hope, or is it despair, when my heart pants for a cooling stream, I tread the lily pad path across the pond’s untroubled waters. Dark bells ring out their jug-o-rum chorus as I seek the light of her countenance. Dusk is a violent bruise, scoured purple and red across the waters as I try to become one with my lady of the lake.

            I still don’t know what drew me out. But when I emerged, I sensed that all had changed and that nothing had changed more than I had, the viewer, that once-young man, now old and arthritic, typing away, one finger at a time, battering my key-board to recreate the wanderlust of those day-dreams wrought sous le Pont Mirabeau, along the banks where the Seine flows, or up by the bouqinistes where bridges span the river, words bounce off the page, and painted lilies in the Marché aux Fleurs bewitch the viewer with a staring madness that mirrors pondweed and drifting hair. Now my beloved’s face floats through the cathedral’s eye that ripples in the river. I see the great rose window of Notre Dame, and I seek her once again in those dark waters where she holds out her hands, a place mat for my un-drowned heart.

Pots and Pans

 

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Pots and Pans
St. Teresa of Ávila

A dusty highway. This woman riding
side-saddle on a hard, wooden seat, eyes
turned heavenward for inspiration. Frail,

fragile, she has never been strong, yet has
had enough strength, shoe-less, not soul-less,
to create her order of Discalced Carmelites

and found a hundred convents, safe havens
where woman can live in poverty, peace,
and prayer. Snow falls in high mountain passes.

Rivers rush downhill in springtime spate.
Mules rebel against cold waters. Bed bugs
bite … her God created them, so she suffers

in silence their indignities. Wounded heart
and soul, often doubting, faith always backing
her thoughts, words, deeds, she believes,

and that belief, as strong as this mule, as
solid as the San José corner-stone she laid.
She knows all too well that God often walks

and works his wonders for her faithful nuns
in convent kitchens cooking and washing
doing the small things, among pots and pans.

Comment:También anda Dios en la cocina entre las pucheras / God also walks in the kitchen among the pots and pans.” St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). It’s funny how, in times of stress, the little things in life come back back to haunt and help us. I have written of St. David, “Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd / do the little things in life,” and here is St. Theresa of Avila saying more or less the same thing, nearly a thousand years later, this time in Spanish, not in Welsh. Intertextuality: in this way, I am able to talk, through my eyes, with Dewi Sant and Santa Teresa. And, through me, you too can indulge in this saintly dialog.

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In my blog post, Triumphs, I wrote about how doing the little things in life can be so rewarding and so important for us as we age. No, I will never climb Mount Everest, but climbing up the stairs to my bedroom every night is, for me, a journey to the roof of my world and every ascent is a personal triumph, as is a safe descent each morning. I will never compete in a marathon, even though, back in my youth, I raced over ten miles and completed a half marathon. None of that now matters. What does matter is that I get my daily walk around the house, around the garden, around the block. My Olympic Goal is not to “own the podium”, a phrase I have always found slightly odious, but to win my daily wrestle with myself to just get my exercise done. Do the little things in life. In these troubled times, routine is important. Belief is important. Doing the little things that keep us alive is of paramount importance. And here’s a photo of a magnificent stork, in Avila, doing the little things in life.

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Triumphs

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Triumphs
Luis de Góngora

Waking to birdsong in the morning,
making it safely to the bathroom
without tripping on the rug in the hall,
shaving without cutting my face,

getting in and out of the shower
with neither a slip nor a fall,
drying those parts of the body
that are now so difficult to reach,

especially between my far-off toes,
pulling my shirt over wet and sticky
patches still damp from the shower,
negotiating each leg of my pants,

tugging the strings of the plastic sleeve
that helps my socks to glide onto my feet,
forcing swollen toes into under-size shoes,
hobbling to the top of the stairs,

lurching down them, cautiously,
one step at a time, on guard for the cat,
the edge of the steps, the worn patches
where my stick might catch or slip …
one more step, triumph, I’ve made it.

Comment: “Cada pie mal puesto es una caída, cada caída es un precipicio / Each ill- place footstep means a fall, every fall is a precipice.” Luis de Góngora (1561-1627). I have reached the age of fragility and futility: every day that passes without an accident or a fall is a triumph. I re-read Luis de Góngora with increasing pleasure, the Polifemo (1613), above all, but also the later poems about the difficulties of ageing. When I read them I realize that I am not alone, that others have aged before me, and then I think of Jorge Manrique dead at the age of 39. And what poems he wrote, as did Góngora with a whole poetry movement named after him.

As for the photo: young storks in Avila, Spain, ready to fly. The one at the top is bouncing up and down, waiting for the breeze to get under his wings and lift him to sun and stars. High in the sky above him, almost unseen, his parents wait, ready to swoop down and assist him when he gets lift off. Uncertain he may be in those first few triumphant wing strokes, but down they come, place their wings below his wings and show him how it’s done. For him, it is the world that awaits him.

For me, and people my age, the world shrinks, walls close in, the daily process of living becomes more difficult. My joy: not in the lift off, but in the painstaking processes, getting up, getting washed and shaved, getting dressed, going downstairs, the early morning taste of fresh-brewed coffee, each sip a pleasure … and out in the garden, spring robins calling, a phoebe whistling, rose-breasted nuthatches, American Goldfinches, and the wondrous joy of just being here, sitting in the sunshine, lapping up the warmth, and every moment of every day a triumph renewed.

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Downsizing

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Downsizing
Francisco de Quevedo

I chose each book, held it in my hands for
one last time, then placed it peacefully in
its cardboard coffin. Old friends, they were
but I broke that friendship and set them
free to fulfill their promised after-me-life
on another person’s shelves. I used to love
to listen to their lilting speech, to hear sage
thoughts with open eyes and mind. I replied
to their wisdom: words penned on each page.

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

One day, a man from the university drove up
in a hearse and bore them all away. Released
to a wider world beyond my walls, they will
nourish younger minds than mine. I hope their
new owners will bless them, welcome them,
cherish them, as I have done throughout my life.
Blind now, with tears, my eyes that devoured
their words. Deaf now, these ears of mine that
heard dead men’s words, for I can listen no more.

Comment: “Escucho con mis ojos a los Muertos / I listen with my eyes to the words of the dead.” Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645). It was a hard thing to do, that disemboweling of my library, but it had to be done. I am grateful to the Harriet Irving Library at the University of New Brunswick for taking pity on my plight and redeeming my books. Hopefully they will have all gone on to a better life. It was sad to walk past them, to watch them slowly gathering dust, like a book on a shelf, as Elvis used to sing. It was even sadder to know that I would ever be able to peruse them all again, let alone read them from from cover to cover, certainly not in this life time.

And is that my own fate, to be reduced to words on a page, to become a dusty book lying forgotten on a shelf? Pobre poetas de hoy,  wrote my friend and fellow academic poet, José María Valverde, destinados a ser polvo seco de tesis doctoral / Poor poets of today, destined to become the dry dust of doctoral theses. So: my thought for today … rise up and resist. Take an old friend off the shelf. Dust him or her off. Open the pages. Settle down for a moment or two. Breathe deep. Begin your conversation with your long lost friend. We may not be close in the flesh, distanced as we are by lock downs and separation, but we can become closer in our minds. Pick up one of my books. Dust me down. Read me. Begin that conversation. Now. Before we too are gone, swept down stream by time’s river and lost in the mists that curtain the sea.

And, just in case you thought that last line was very good and very unique and original, here’s the conversation it came from: Nuestras vidas son los ríos / que van a dar en la mar, /  que es el morir / our lives are the rivers that will flow down to the sea, which is death (Jorge Manrique, 1440-1479). I had that conversation with Jorge Manrique in Santander in the summer of 1963. His Coplas was on the pre-university reading list at Bristol University, placed there, I believe by Salvador Bacarisse who was related to a long line of Spanish musicians and poets. If memory serves me well, our first essay, in our first week, in our first year of Spanish, entailed writing a commentary on the Coplas and how to read and understand them.

Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait / If youth knew how, if old age was able to (Voltaire). I wish I knew then what I know now. And I wish I could do now, some of the things I could do back then. Meanwhile, do not despair: pick up one of my books or browse my blog for a poem, and have a short and hopefully profitable conversation with me as you listen to my failing voice with your younger eyes.

Word without end

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Word Without End
Antonio Machado

Tree: rowan, mountain ash, larch, tamarack,
hackmatack, spruce, birch, maple, passerines
flying from branch to branch. Birds: more words,

woodpeckers, downy, hairy, pileated, cardinals,
finches, purple, house, golden, rain-rusted robins,
crows, aerial magicians, wondrous in flight.

Spring: fresh branch tips, tiny fox gloves, leaf buds,
folded fiddleheads soon to open their spring magic.
Open: hearts worn on sleeves, open to the world,

wounds, eyes, everything open to beauteous
sun-warmth, snow’s slow disappearance, rising river,
freshet flow freshening this Renaissance,

every day a rebirth, a new beginning,
fresh starts, the world reborn beneath a rising sun,
its yellow disc growing, the new day glowing.

The word as it was in the beginning, head in hands,
heart in mouth, words without meaning, words whirling
golden autumn leaves, words caught in a whirligig,
words all powerful in a word-world without end.

Comment: “La palabra: una palptiación honda del espíritu / The word: a deep palpitation of the spirit.” Antonio Machado (1875-1939). In The Meaning of Meaning, Bertrand Russell discusses what words mean and how they construct, with their endless associative fields, a net of emotions that take us beyond logic into new realms of meaning. As poets and creative artists, we are conscious of the emotions we attach to each word we use. If the poetry is good, then that network of emotional associations reaches out to a wider audience and draws them into our own world view. If we are less skillful, then the emotions are trapped in our own claustrophobic words and fail to reach out, to lift up from the page, to achieve take-off. As we develop as poets and writers, we become more and more aware of the ways in which the microcosm, our own world in miniature, reaches out to the macrocosm, that wider world outside. When we achieve a blend between those two worlds, even if it be in nothing more than a metaphor, nothing more than a felicitous phrase or a delicately timed rhyme, then we reach a new level, a level that we strive to retain and attain anew every time we create.

For me, many of the secrets of poetry can be found hidden in the rhythm of words, the music of their joining, the harmonies they create when they play off each other, old and older meanings reflecting off the newer meanings we give them as we shuffle them anew and put them through their paces.

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Yesterday, my beloved placed seeds on the back porch, and a chipmunk, her pet chipmunk, came and sat on her foot as he chomped the seeds. Today, this first chipmunk was followed by a second chipmunk. Patience my friends. Keep writing. Keep striving. Keep experimenting. Keep your faith and your creed. Your words will one day reach out, like seeds to chipmunks, and will sow themselves in the mind’s of your readers. And those readers will beget other readers, much as one chipmunk plus one chipmunk will eventually equal many more than two chipmunks. Oh the joy of words, the loving search for le mot juste and the meaning of meaning. In the words of the immortal Cervantes: Paciencia, y barajar / patience, and shuffle your words. The results will creep upon you one morning, unaware and, like the chipmunks, they will catch you by surprise.