Black Death

Black Death
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Outside my window
horizontal hail
rain blown sideways
surgical the wind
dismembering trees
uprooting the weakest
flattening the strong
rages the storm

Who am I
the one who abhorred thee
who now adores thee
and kneels before thee
in grief and pain

Death’s Dance before me
each street filled
with skeletal horrors
bare bones dancing
naked beneath a star-
spangled sky

‘No thought is born in me
which has not “Death”
engraved upon it.’

Michelangelo

Ego

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Ego

I am not worthy
to be called her sun,
and yet her world
revolves around me.

She spins in my space
and short-circuits
her own life to make
mine more livable.

I’d like to say ‘joyous,’
but tears are in all things
(sunt lacrimae rerum)
and
death touches mortal minds
( et
mentem mortalia tangunt
).

The best I can offer:
a salt water world,
filled with inadequacies,
drowning us in tears.

Comment: Several things of note in this poem and the voice recording. Should we mix languages in a poem? Why ever not, so long as we explain them. This Latin tag goes back over 2,000 years and links my poem (Intertextuality, remember?) into a long Western tradition. Am I worthy of that tradition? Is my poem? Well, that is a totally different question. However, I am linked in, as you might phrase it. A second question: does my reading of the poem affect your understanding of the poem? If so, how and in what way? Does the phonic word play sun / son affect your understanding of the poem? If so, how? And how does the double meaning of ego work on your mind? Does the Freudian Ego / Id stand out? Or does the schoolboy “Quiz?” “Ego!” spring to mind. Or do you immediately think of the first person singular (Latin) ego as in ego sum lux, via veritas? More important: are you aware of any of this or does the poem disappear into a desert landscape of nothingness with no apparent strings attached? Good questions all: I invite you to think about them all. Blessings and best wishes. Keep safe.

The Origin of the World

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The Origin of the World
Gustave Courbet:
L’Origine du monde

The origin of the world and where I came from,
her deep, moist cave that cast me from dark to light.
She loved me, she said, depriving me of her warmth,
leaving me to go back to her lover, loving him more.

Was it guilt that drove her to drinking whisky?
A forty-ouncer a day at the end, sometimes more.
She would wake in the night, wander the house,
banging against chairs, tables, walls, and doors.

She ran up bills in local shops, and the keepers
would dun me for the money she owed. She also
borrowed cash and some days her fingers were bare.
She left pawn shop IOUs on the table and I drove

 into town to redeem her rings. Once, in a drunken
frenzy, she cursed her only child. A mother’s curse is a
terrible thing. A living albatross, it claws lungs and heart.
Its weight drove me to the bottle. I too sought oblivion.

Reborn each day, mornings cast me back from dark to light.
Joy came when blackness descended, the albatross flew,
amniotic waters rocked me in warmth and comfort,
and my body’s boat floated once again on an endless sea.

Comment: The photos show light shining through bottles in The Bottle House on Prince Edward Island. There is something very special about sunlight shining through stained and colored glass. Color distorts, speckles hands and face with a pointillistic magic, and the circular framework becomes a sun in its own right. As for Courbet’s painting, it still has the power to shock the viewer as it sets the eternal conundrum of the power relationship between the viewer (male) and the viewed (female). And remember: El ojo que ves no es ojo porque lo ves, es ojo porque te ve  / the eye you see is not an eye because you see it, it is an eye because it sees you, as Antonio Machado tells us. As for the poem, it stands or falls on its own, as does the painting. Visual shock or verbal shock: take your pick, but I hope you do not walk away unmoved.

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Memory Loss

Time-Spirits

Memory Loss

A carton of eggs
abandoned in the supermarket.
Her cousin’s face, her daughter’s name,
the parking spot where she left the car.

Forgotten phone numbers.
Birthdays of family members
never remembered.

“What day is it today,” she asks,
for the third or fourth time.

Her programs no longer work.
Many files now inaccessible,
are written in coded jabberwocky.
I show her photos but to her they are
blank spaces, gaps in her photo album.

“I recognize your face,” she says to me,
but I can’t remember your name.”

Comment: Towards the end of her life, my grand-mother started to lose her memory. I penned this poem a long time ago, then recovered it from my poetry discards. Some years ago, a virus entered my computer system and destroyed many of my files. I had backed them up, but I never really accessed them all when I bought this new computer. Now, in this time of much sitting and screen viewing, when friends no longer knock on the door to share a cup of coffee or tea, time weighs heavy, and I can look at those old files again. This also what I have done with my chess, breaking out the first travelling chess set I bought back when I was nine or ten years old, and re-playing favorite games with its red and white pieces in their cardboard box. I haven’t played serious chess since I came to Canada and, as a result, I have forgotten the openings, mislaid the combative combinations of the middle game, and can now plot only the simplest of endings. This too, in its own way, is a sort of memory loss. Yet as I replay the Fischer-Spassky series of 1972, so much comes flooding back. Memory loss: some things do return, but as I age, I wonder if that other memory loss, the more fatal one, will one day grip me, as it gripped my grand-mother, and leave me damaged and un-repairable. I wake up some mornings, confused from sleep, and wonder whether this is what awaits us all.

Scorched Earth

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Scorched Earth

A scorch mark
still scars this woodland
where deer grazed
until spring grass
fed the flames
sown by an unknown hand.

RCMP
cars blocked
the lower road,
uniformed officers
directed us to detour
up and away.

Below us we could see
smoke, no flames,
two firetrucks.
The acridity of ash,
breeze-borne,
filtered through the car
making us cough.

No more will the deer
roam this particular place
until wounds are healed
and all trace of the fire,
like them, has fled.

Comment: Driving to the head pond at Mactaquac, a week or so ago, we met an RCMP roadblock and were diverted by the officers. We ascended Mactaquac heights, and came down the other side, rejoining the lower road which was blocked by another set of RCMP cars. It was the week after the shootings in Nova Scotia. All we could think of was the respect we have for the RCMP. The knowledge that, if someone drove a police cruiser, stolen or faked, and wore an RCMP uniform, stolen, faked, or genuine, and flagged us down, well, we would have had no doubts and we would have obeyed that person implicitly. This was apparently what happened in Nova Scotia when the gunman, dressed like an RCMP Officer, flagged some of his victims down, then shot them as they sat in their cars. I guess the wounds of forest and deer will heal more quickly than those of the victims’ families. Pax amorque / peace and love. 

Empty Nest

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Empty Nest

The wind at the window
scratches tiny notes.
I can no longer hear the tune
nor read the words.

Who walks beside me
as I pace my lonely path,
abandoned in this empty house.

My self-portrait
stares back at me:
a splintered selfie,
framed in a sliver
of silvery glass.

Above me,
a monkey moon,
that itinerant tinker,
walks a fractured way
over broken glass.

The knapsack on his back
is cobbled together
from cobwebs and clumsy
veils of drifting clouds.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie from that same throw-away manuscript that I discovered a couple of days ago. I wrote this one the year after my mother’s death. My father was in hospital and I had flown back to Wales to visit him. When I was not with him, I wandered alone in a large house, empty of people, but filled with memories. The whole experience was rather surreal, just like the imagery I conjured up to describe it. Early spring, but a cold one. After hospital visiting hours, I wandered an untidy house and an unkempt garden. My mother had departed. My father was on the way out. I was alone with a life-time of memories. “No hay pájaros en los nidos de antaño” wrote Cervantes in the Quixote. “There are no birds in last year’s nests.” With no brothers, no sisters, no close family, and no friends left in Wales, I found that out the hard way. Those days of wandering, ‘upstairs, downstairs, in my lady’s chamber,’ taught me that most difficult of lessons in the hardest of ways.

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Striations

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Striations

There are striations in my heart,
so deep,
a lizard could lie there,
unseen,
and wait for tomorrow’s sun.

Timeless:
this worm at the apple’s core
waiting for its world to end.

 Seculae seculorum:
the centuries rushing headlong.

Matins:
wide-eyed this owl
hooting in the face of day.

Somewhere,
I remember
a table spread for two.
Breakfast:
an open door,
a window that overlooks
a balcony and a garden.

“Where are you going, dear?”

  Something bright has fled the world.
The sun unfurls shadows.
The blood whirls stars around the body.

“It has gone,” she said.
“The magic.
I no longer tremble
at your touch.”

Comment: A real Golden Oldie. The lizard, it’s probably an iguana, came originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, and now sits over the door on the front porch. I had to bend his tail to get him into my carrying bag, poor thing. I found this poem in my poetry discards file, though what it was doing in there is a mystery to me. I think I discarded the longer manuscript in which it was included. Never mind, I have re-found, rediscovered it and it merits a place here, on my blog, along with the iguana. Byddwch lawen: rejoice and be glad.

With my angel

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… with my angel …

            … with my angel … face to face … the one I have carried within me since the day I was born … the black-one … winged like a crow … the one that hovers over me as I lie asleep … the one who wraps me in his feathered wings when I am alone and chilled by the world around me … the one who flaps with me on his back when I can walk no further … the one who creates the single set of footprints that plod their path through the badlands when I can walk no more …

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… ‘the truth’ my black angel says to me … I say ‘he’ but he is a powerful spirit, not sexed in anyway I know it … and yet I think of him as ‘he’ …awesome in the tiny reflection he sometimes allows me to glimpse of his power and glory … for, like Rilke, I could not bear meeting his whole angelic being face to face … as I cannot bear the sun, not by day, and not in eclipse … not even with smoked glass … when earthly values turn upside down and earth takes on a new reality … wild birds and bank swallows roosting at three in the afternoon … and that fierce heat draining from the summer sky … I remember it well … and the dog whimpering as a portion of the angel’s wing erased the sun until an umber midnight ruled … a simple phenomenon, the papers said … the moon coming between the earth and the sun …but magic … pure magic … to we who stood on the shore at Skinner’s Pond and sensed the majesty of the universe … more powerful than anything we could imagine … and the dog … taking no comfort from its human gods … whimpering at our feet …
… I saw a single feather floating down and knew my angel had placed himself between me and all that glory … to protect me … to save me from myself … and I saw that snowflake of an angel feather bleached from black to white by some small trick of the sunlight … and knowledge filled me … and for a moment I felt the glory … the magnificence … and there are no words for that slow filling up with want and desire as light filters from the sky and the body fills with darkness … and I was so afraid … afraid of myself … of where I had been … of where I was … of what I might return to … of my lost shadow … snipped from my heels …
… I don’t know how I heard my angel’s words … ‘the time of truth is upon you’ … ‘all you have ever been is behind you now’ … ‘naked you stand here on this shore … like the grains of sand on this beach … your days are numbered by the only one who counts’ … I heard the sound of roosting wings … but I heard and saw nothing more … I felt only midnight’s cold when the chill enters the body and the soul is sore afraid …
… ‘it is the law’ my angel said … I saw a second feather fall … ‘and the law says man must fail … his spirit must leave its mortal shell and fly back to the light’ … ‘blood will cease to flow … the heart will no longer beat … the spirit must accept and go’ … ‘do not assume… nobody knows what lies in wait’ … ‘blind acceptance … the only way … now …  in this twilight hour …  now when you are blind … only the blind shall receive the gift of sight’ … ‘all you have … your wife … your house … your car … your child … everything you think of as yours … I own … and on that day … I will claim it from you and take it for my own … now I can say no more’ …
… the sea-wind rose with a sigh and one by one night’s shadows fled … the moon’s brief circle sped from the sun … light returned, a drop at a time, sunshine flowing from a heavenly clepsydra filled with light …
… birds ceased to circle … a stray dog saw a sea-gull and chased it back to sea … and the sun … source of all goodness … was once again a golden coin floating in the sky …
… on my shoulder a feather perched … a whisper of warmth wrapped its protective cloak around my shoulders … for a moment, just a moment, I knew I was the apple of my angel’s eye … and I hoped and still hope that one day I might meet him again and understand …

Comment: An article on Marcus Aurelius in this morning’s paper made me think of this piece that I wrote, way back when, in the days when I was studying Francisco de Quevedo and the Neo-Stoic movement, courtesy of my good friend and colleague Henry Ettinghausen. “The day we were born we took our first steps on the road to death,” Quevedo wrote in one of his poems. With my angel is my own Neo-Neo-Stoic attempt to come face to face with that very personal reality, one which we all face, and to stare it down, eyeball to eyeball. Alas, in these troubled times, we must confront the knowledge that troubled times have been here before, that other generations have suffered them, and luckily, other generations have survived. We wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t. As another good friend, of mine Victor Hendricken, wrote on this blog just yesterday: “We continue to live on between inhale and exhale; we continue to live on between intake and exhaust, food and faeces. And in this time of self-isolation, we still abide by many of the same personal rules, including morning ablutions, setting and shutting off the alarm. Chin up, old boy. This too shall pass.” I found these words from Victor very comforting. With friendship, solid advice, and the ability to learn from those who have gone before us how to confront difficult times, this too shall pass.

Daffodils

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Daffodils

My daffodil day-dreams carry me back to Wales, that Land of Song where every valley conducts choirs of daffodils and their pale, brass voices are raised in an annual springtime hymn of hope. Beneath the trees, in Bishopston Valley, between Pyle Corner and Pwll Ddu, sheltered bluebells tinkle sweet tunes, lilies-of-the-valley bloom, and primroses raise their faces to the sky while hearkening to those springtime airs that sound where’er you walk. In Blackweir Gardens, the Feeder Brook flows into the castle moat and the castle’s central keep stands on the mound the Normans dug when they converted into a motte and bailey the old Roman camp that was built on an earthworks constructed by the Silures long before that countenance divine shone forth upon these clouded hills and long before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode. Generation after generation, all those who witnessed the birth of these flowers and strove to be the first to hear the cuckoo’s call, come alive again in this floral tribute. Oh, Land of Song: the bluebells may have gone, the larks may sing no more, cuckoo and cowslip may have fled the valleys, but all is not lost, not while the daffodils still toss their heads in sprightly dance and spring breaks out its freckled sunshine.

Comment: Win some, lose some. Survival is all. At the same time as I mourn everything  that is lost, I also celebrate all that survive. The grosbeaks have left us, moving further north as the weather warms. They have left more room for cardinals and hummingbirds have moved in to replace them, as have turkey vultures. Turkey Vultures, Zopilote, The Trickster, in Oaxaca, the bird that flew high up into heaven, stole the fire of the gods, and brought it back on his wings, now flies over the St. John River Valley, having moved up here with the warmer air from the south.

“The olde order changeth lest one good custom should corrupt the world” … indeed it does. And we must mourn and celebrate the olde order while preparing for, and celebrating, the arrival of the new. For the world has changed and is changing as I sit here and type these words and it will have twitched and changed again by the time you read them. Who knows exactly what is coming? How do we prepare for the unknown? How do we open our arms and embrace an uncertain future? Good questions all. I cannot answer them for anyone but myself, but I must ask them. Many of them were discussed today by Suzanne Moore in an article entitled: The way we once lived is now redundant. We must reinvent ourselves. Read it and start thinking about how we can be strong, daring, caring, and best prepare ourselves, not for our own extinction, but for our own reinvention.

 

 

Butterflies

 

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Butterflies

“Poetry gives permanence to the temporal forms of the self.”
Miguel de Unamuno.

… butterflies … temporal forms … fluttering …
existing for one sweet day … they perch … spread
their wings … fan us with their beauty … flourish …
catch our attention … then caught by a gust
tear their wings on a thorn … and perish … blink
your eye and they are gone … yet reborn … they
cluster and gather in dusty ditches …
congregate on bees’ balm … smother Black-Eyed
Susan and Cape Daisy … shimmer in shade …
butterflies by day … fireflies by night …
terrestrial stars floating in their forest
firmament … dark tamarack … black oak … bird’s
eye maple … silver birch … impermanence
surrounds us … dances beneath stars … sings with
robins … echoes the owl’s haunting cry …
eternity held briefly in our hands …
then escaping like water or sand … black
words on white paper capturing nothing …
… my dialog … my time … my place … butterflies …

Comment: This is another golden oldie that gains in meaning day by day as the lock down continues. Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) was a respected academic, philosopher novelist, essay writer, story-teller and powerful poet. He is probably most famous internationally for the philosophy he espoused in The Tragic Sense of Life. Other works of his include Our Lord Don Quixote and Niebla / Mist. The photo shows one of the butterflies that adorn the garden by my kitchen window each summer.