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.

Striations

There are striations in my heart, so deep, a lizard could lie there, unseen, and wait for tomorrow’s sun. Timeless, the 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. “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.” The silver birch wades at dawn’s bright edge. Somewhere, tight lips, a blaze of anger, a challenge spat in the wind’s taut face. High-pitched the rabbit’s grief in its silver snare. The midnight moon deep in a trance. If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.

Comment: This is the prose version, from Fundy Lines (2002). The prose version was based on an extract from a longer poem that first appeared in Though Lovers Be Lost (2000). Though Lovers Be Lost is also available on Amazon and Kindle.

Pilgrim

Pilgrim
Oaxaca, Mexico

Outside the church,
a boy pierces his lips
with a cactus thorn.

The witch doctor
catches the warm blood
in a shining bowl.

He blesses the  girl
who kneels before him.

On her head she carries
a basket filled with flowers
and heavy stones.
He sprinkles it
with her brother’s blood.

All day she will walk with
this basket on her head
until evening’s shadows
finally weigh her down.

Cobbles clatter beneath her clogs.

When the stones grow tongues,
will they speak the languages
in which she dreams?

Comment: Revisiting and revising some earlier poems. The early version can be found here. The original poem comes from the collection Obsidian’s Edge, which can be found on Amazon.

Impressions

Impressions
Early Morning Mass

A single sunbeam:
sharp blade of a heliocentric sword,
it shatters the chapel’s dark.

Fragmented light
speckles white-washed walls.

The priest’s face:
a pallid lily truncated
in the dawn’s pearly light.

A wanderer kneels and prays.
A halo of sunshine
runs a ring around her head.

Her flesh now clutches
a statue’s marble hand.

Her pilgrim palm
presses into granite
forcing warm fingers
into cold stone.

Her veins
weave a warm spell
over frosted rock.

Comment: Revisiting and revising some earlier poems. The early version can be found here. The original poem comes from the collection Obsidian’s Edge, which can be found on Amazon.

Re-[b]-earth

Re-[b]-earth

“Get out and about,” she told me.
Take off your socks and shoes.
Walk barefoot on the earth and grass:
twin pleasures, you can choose.”

I took two canes, one in each hand,
and left the house to walk the land.

In the garden I took off my shoes
to walk barefoot on the lawn;
when grass sprang up between my toes
I was instantly reborn.

I stood in the shade of the crab apple tree
and let leaf and flower spill over me.

Sunlight took away my frown
and freckled a smile on my face.
I was blessed again with hope and light;
earth and grass filled me with grace

I stooped to reach my shoes
and carried them home in my hand,
maintaining as long as I could
my contact with this magic land.

When white blossoms filtered down
they gifted me a flowery crown.

Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams

Amnesia fades in these amniotic
waters, moving in time to the water pump’s
heart beat. I close my eyes. Nothing is the same.

Do I drift dreamily or dreamily drift?
The tub’s rose-petals bring garden memories:
primrose, bluebells, cowslips, daffodils dancing

sprightly in Blackweir Gardens or Roath Park,
beside the lake or along the gravel paths
where we used to bike, so many years ago.

Photos float before me, pictures of moments
I alone recall. Spring in Paris, the trees
breaking buds along the Champs-Élysées.

Santander in summer, walking the Piquío,
Segunda Playa, beneath the jacarandas.
Winter in Wales, up in Snowdonia where,

on a Relay Run to Tipperary,
I ran down a valley between high hills,
on a freezing night, with only the stars

to keep me company along a ribbon
of road. Autumn in Mactaquac. An orgy
of gaudily painted trees, leaves floating

on this first chill wind, to perch like sparrows,
on my beloved’s hair. The look in her eyes
as I catch a falling leaf and put it in
her pocket to save it for another day.

Angel Choir

Angel Choir
(on seeing the Northern Lights at Ste. Luce-sur-mer)

listen to the choristers with their red and green voices
light’s counterpoint flowering across this unexpected son et lumière
we tremble with the sky fire’s crackle and roar

once upon another time twinned in our heavenly bodies
we surely flew to those great heights and hovered in wonderment
now our earthbound feet are rooted to the concrete
if only our hearts could sprout new wings and soar upwards together

the moon’s phosphorescent wake swims shimmering before us
the lighthouse’s fingers tingle up and down our spines
our bodies flow fire and blood till we crave light and yet more light

when the lights go out we are left in darkness
our hearts fill with dreams of what might have been

Where’s Home (2)

My home for 31 years

Where’s Home (2)
Part II of an open letter to Jan Hull

I ended yesterday’s letter with the words “There is a brighter side too, and I will get to that another day.” This is the day, and the brighter side is the sacredness of place. The Celtic Nations believe strongly in the sacredness of place. In the old religions we believed that places held spirits who dwelt in the rivers and streams, who lived in the trees and the orchards, who were a large part of the spirit of place and sacred space. You can still read some of this innate pantheism in The Chronicles of Narnia. Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French … we all have Celtic roots and, like the First Nations of Canada, we still believe in the sanctity of the land. This is an old tradition and a worthy one. Not all great ideas were born in Western Culture post the Industrial Revolution. Many pre-date our so called modern culture. Some should replace it.

I believe very strongly in the power of place. Sometimes, turning a corner one day, we know we are home. This is the feeling that comes so strongly through the second chapter of your book, Jan. Yes, the Maritimes (NB, NS, and PEI) are home for many people. It is indeed their One Small Corner. their querencia. What is a querencia, you ask? Well, it is the place that calls you, the place in which you want to live, the place in which you want to die. And yes, in this time of pandemic, death is on all our minds: those twin realities, sickness and death. Neither is easy. These times are not easy. But they become easier for those of us rooted in our time and our place and, like it or not, the human being, male, female, or other, must live in a dialog with their own time and place. This is the chrono- (time) -topos (place) of the Russian Philosopher, Mikhail Bakhtin.

Life is so much easier when we are in our own beloved space. When we are out of it, away from home, down the road, that is when we suffer most, Sometimes we are still able to flourish. Oftentimes, we wither and perish, like leaves on the tree. You, in your book, Where’s Home?, have offered us a glimpse of what that one small corner, the province of Nova Scotia, means to your correspondents and the ones with whom you have held dialog. We are all of us richer for that experience. Thank you, Jan, and on all our behalves, mine particularly, please thank your contributors.

One Small Corner

 And this is the good thing,
to find your one small corner
and to have your one small candle,
then to light it, and leave it burning
its sharp bright hole in the night.

 Around you, the walls you constructed;
inside, the reduced space, the secret garden,
the Holy of Holies where roses grow
and no cold wind disturbs you.

 “Is it over here?” you ask: “Or over here?”

If you do not know, I cannot tell you.

But I will say this: turning a corner one day
you will suddenly know
that you have found a perfection
that you will seek again, in vain,
for the rest of your life.

Flowers

Clare’s Birthday

I won’t allow her to sit here
with her head in her hands
fearing the future
or brooding on the past.

Every day we survive
is a bonus now, each sunrise
a celestial celebration.

We welcome daylight
with open arms and now,
on her birthday, we will
accept all gifts with joy.

Sunshine floods through us.
It fills us with joy and beams
like a beacon. A full tide
of love overflows in our hearts

filling our souls with sunlight
and red and white carnations.

Lost

Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
are present in them all. I glimpse your shadow
in the mirror and your breath brushes my cheek

when I open the door. Where have you gone?
I walk from room to room, but when I seek,
I no longer find and nothing opens when I knock.

Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I am sure
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice breaks the silence

when you whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,
that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,

the days, embracing dust motes to find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.

Comment: Another golden oldie, polished, rewritten, and revised. Today is Clare’s birthday and fifty-five years ago today we got engaged, on her birthday, in Santander, Spain. I wrote this poem a couple of years ago when she was visiting our daughter and grand-daughter in Ottawa and I was left alone to look after the house. I will be including this poem in my new collection, All About Ageingin an age of pandemic, on which I am currently working.

My vision of absence and of the bereaved wandering, lost, the house the couple once shared, is sharpened in this age of pandemic in which we live. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered short term or long term effects from the pandemic. My premonitions and visions, my memories and dreams, reach out especially to those who have lost loved ones and who live in the daily reality of that loss.