Selfie with First Frost

Selfie with First Frost

The back ground is dark green, or should be. We have red and yellow leaves, of course, this is New Brunswick, Canada. And the white flecks are the frost on the grass. Lovely.

Look closely and you can see bits of me reflected in the glass of the painting. That’s why it’s a selfie. Not a total one, but a teeny little bit of one. How much of ourselves do we ever capture, in a photo, a painting, a poem, a piece of prose? Not much, I guess. And is it the real ‘us’ anyway? I very much doubt it.

Does it matter? No. If you want to see the real me, come and visit. But, be prepared: I am not who I seem and I am desperate to hide the real me from the real world. You may catch glimpses. And that’s about it.

And I have a cat, just like that. Runs to the basement, hides beneath a chair, sits and purrs in her basket, sleeps on the bed at night, winds herself round my knees at feeding time, is and isn’t, just like all pussy cats. And aren’t we all like that? Here today and gone tomorrow. All that joy and all that sorrow.

Enjoy us while you can. And can-can while you can-can!

Giving Thanks

Sunrise from the Red Room, KIRA.

Giving Thanks

How could one not give thanks for the bounties of Thanksgiving? Listening to Cross Country Check Up, last night, as I have done for the last 55 years, I was amazed at how people, some of them in dire circumstances, were able to find things for which to be thankful. I haven’t made a list of the things for which I am thankful and I certainly didn’t call in to the talk show to give my opinion, but let me think…

I am thankful for the beauty of the natural world. Just look at that sunrise! Yesterday we walked in Mactaquac and admired the beauty of the changing leaves. Migrating geese put on a display, taking off from the waters of the head pond, flying, then settling down again. We: I am grateful for the presence of my beloved, still beside me after all these years. I am grateful that we are together and that we are both of us able to walk and indulge in this province’s autumnal beauties.

I am grateful for faithful friends. I will not name them all. If I did, this blog would never be finished. This morning, an e-mail from Geoff Slater, whose paintings and drawings have often appeared on the blog, spoke of the nature of ritual and how we use it. He spoke of external rituals and how, during times like these, when our normal lives are upside down, we lose the ability to follow our external rituals. This may cause dismay and a loss of stability to many. However, he also reminded me that we, as practicing artists, have established our own internal rituals. These keep us going in the difficult times, for they are always there to fall back on. Following his line of thought, I explored my own daily rituals, the ones that have kept me going throughout Covid-19. Thank you, Geoff, for those ideas and for your long-term friendship.

I am grateful for the initial offer, from the University of Toronto, to come to Canada to study all those years ago. Canada gave me a chance to challenge my established rituals and to build and shape new ones that were more suitable to my inner being, a being that I had kept well hidden from the Masters of the Universe who limited my creativity, and ruled the rituals of my Boarding schools and my undergraduate studies. Above all, I am grateful for that rich, inner world of creativity and dream and I am doubly grateful for those who have allowed me and encouraged me to express it and set it down for others to share.

So, Thanksgiving Day: a day on which to give thanks for all the blessings that are in our lives, large and small. Sure, times are tough. Sure, we could all do with more money. Sure, we could go on and on about our wants and needs. But today my want and my need is to give thanks for who, what, where, when and why I am. As my friend Norman Levine once wrote: Canada Made Me.

Thank you, Canada.
Thank you, New Brunswick.

Eaux Canada!

My First Thanksgiving

My First Thanksgiving

For the first twenty-two years of my life
Thanksgiving held no meaning, no life,
no substance, no form, nothing familiar,
nothing special to hold my attention.

When I emigrated to Canada
my cousins changed all that
with an invitation to visit them
in Kincardine for Thanksgiving.

Turkey on the table, colored
table napkins, and a family gathered,
arms outstretched, to make me welcome.

We were all surprised at how alike we looked.
“Like Cousin George, in Vancouver,” they said.
“Like Cousin Elsie in Revelstoke.”
“Like my mother’s mother, back home
in Swansea,” I said.

They told me how the Second World War
had brought the family back together
on these special holidays:
Christmas in Wales for the Canadian boys
or Thanksgiving in Winnipeg
for the Welsh boys learning to fly.

That Thanksgiving, the old family names
turned to photographs: snaps of my mother’s wedding,
my grandmother holding me, age three, on her knee.

And finally, as a special Thanksgiving gift,
a long-distance call to Britain and Clare
on the telephone saying
“Yes,” she would come to Canada,
and “yes,” she would marry me.

And I remember crying all the way
from Kincardine to Toronto,
and that was my first Thanksgiving in Canada.

Comment: A Golden Oldie, indeed. This poem is from my collection Secret Gardens. The secret love poems I write to Clare. It was published on our Silver Wedding Anniversary, 24 December 1991. It is a pleasure to re-publish it here for Thanksgiving, 2021. Now what am I going to do for 24 December 2021?

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

My First Thanksgiving

Reconciliation

Guess who caught a fish?

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

7

Reconciliation

Rant, I say, rant and rage away, rage, rage against
the death of friendship and loathing built on false love.
This is a blood sport where even the spectators
are spattered with the refined frenzy of friends
turned into fiends and foes, and this is a protest,
a rant against love that doesn’t last, that doesn’t stand
the test of time, against families that break up,
against a society that breaks them up, driving wedges
and knives between people once bound
by the puppet strings of love, against relationships
that can no longer continue, against the rattling
of dead white bones in empty cupboards where skeletons
dance their way into legal daylight and the spectators
 call for more: more blood, more money, more blood money,
and the engagement diamond is a blood diamond now,
a tarnished garnet, and where is the Little Old Lady
of Threadneedle Street, that spire inspired needle
that will stitch their world back together,
and stitch you back together when you’ve been shocked
out of your own ruby-sweet rose-tinted world
and torn into little bits in their oh-so-bitter one,
the biters bitten and those bitten biting back in return,
 a new world this world of snapping turtles,
turtles standing on the back of turtles, and turtle after turtle
all the way down until this carnival world puts down
its dead clown mask and turns turtle in its turn.

Comment:

National Reconciliation Day today, the first in Canada. Now that is a valid reason to rant. Let us hope for reconciliation, for a healing and a mending. I love Canada. I love all Canadians. I came here by choice, stayed here by choice, and I am very grateful to have been accepted by the Canadian communities in which I have lived. I hope I have graced Canada, with my presence, as Canada has aided me and helped me along in all my endeavors, academic, sporting, teaching, creating, and editing. As Norman Levine once wrote: Canada Made Me. In my case, it is true. On this first National Reconciliation Day, my thoughts and thanks go out to my brothers and sisters, all of us Canadians.

I don’t know what happened this morning: I put the same post up as yesterday. Different photo, same post. I really don’t know what to think about what I was thinking. Old age? Confusion? A troubled mind? All of the above!!! Never mind: here we go again, and maybe my next rant will be about getting out of touch and loss of memory! You never know what’s coming next, and that’s the beauty of Messiaen.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Reconciliation

Migrants

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

4

Migrants

Think natural disasters. Think famine,
wars, violence, plague. How our world changes
when refugees arrive, blend, contribute,
offer so much, their languages, cultures.

Yet we still exploit them, stealing subtle
things, their identities, their energy,
their ability to adapt, to give
so much and really to take so little.

Who would want to build a wall,
to reject them, to deny entry?
Maybe a million Indigenous people
can actually claim the right

to belong here. Most of us are immigrants,
late-comers in one way or another.
To accept, to grow together in peace,
to establish a nation where people

need not fear imminent expulsion
for the color of their skin, their language,
their religion, their political thoughts,
the fact they may not even vote for us.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Migrants

Hot Line to God

     

Hot Line To God

What would you do if you had a hot line direct to God? What would you say? You wouldn’t need to punch in a number, he’d be right there, at the other end of the line when you picked up the phone. Hello, is that you, God? Yes, I am who I am. Would you then give your name? It’s me, John. I know. How do you know? Have you got one of those little screens that tells you who’s calling? No. I’m omniscient. You’d pause a little at this point, wouldn’t you? What would you say next? What’s omniscient? I am. But what does omniscient mean? It means I am God. I know everything. That would make you think.
            So, would you ask for definitions, like you just did, or would you move in another direction? Like this. So you know why I’m calling, then? Of course. Wow, that’s another conversation stopper. If he knows why you’re calling, why did you call in the first place? To ask him something? It’s sunny here. What’s the weather like where you are? The same as always. How’s that exactly? Heavenly. Maybe this conversation isn’t going the way you thought it might. You could try again. Well, if you know why I am calling, what are you going to do about it? Nothing. Why not? Free will. But you’ve got to do something. Why? Because I think you should. Are you omniscient? No. Then why should I do what you think I should do? Because… because
            And there you are. On the telephone to God. Left speechless. Perhaps you wonder if the phone’s been hacked. You go ahead and ask him. Has this phone been hacked? No. Are you really God? Yes. And this is your direct line? Yes. Can you prove you are God? Of course. Will you prove it to me? No. Don’t you have a code word or something that proves who you are? No. What about a security number? No. So how can I believe what you say? Either you will or else you won’t. But what if you’re a con artist, an evil genius, a thief who wants to lead me astray? Some have said I am just that. What? Who? Throughout the ages, there have been doubters. There have? Of course. But I’m not a doubter. Then why are you asking these questions? If you’re omniscient, you know why I am worried. I do. So what are you going to do about it? Nothing. Why not? Not free will again?
            Knock and it will open, seek and you will find. You mean I called you to hear those words? You will hear them if you want to. Some have ears and do not hear. But you could do something about that? What do you have in mind? The churches are empty. Make people go to church on Sunday. On Sunday? Only on Sunday? What about Friday, or Saturday? What about the other days of the week? You’re all powerful. What would you advise? Advise? I don’t give advice. Or orders. I have given people free will. They can choose what they want to do. If they want to go to the mosque, the synagogue, the church, they may find me there. There again, they may not. Some have eyes and cannot see. These would walk right past me and even if I hung there on the cross and winked at them, they’d never recognize me.
            You find it frustrating, eh? It’s like a Socratic Dialog where you only get to answer yes, or no, or three bags full. How persistent are you? Will you keep going? What other direction would you like to take? If the weather’s heavenly where he is, perhaps he’s in heaven. Why not ask him if he ever leaves heaven? Do you ever leave heaven? No. Why not? I am ubiquitous. What does that mean? It means I am everywhere. The people who really seek me can find me anywhere they look. I don’t understand. You’re not omniscient. But how can you be in two places at once? If I am everywhere, as I am, heaven travels with me, wherever I go. So I could find you anywhere I looked? If you knew how to look properly, you would. Others did. Where did others find you? John the Baptist found me in the wilderness. St. Francis of Assisi found me among the flowers and the plants, the flora and the fauna. As did St. John of the Cross. St. Teresa of Avila was slightly more mundane. She found me walking in the kitchen among the pots and pans. 
            Where should I look for you? How would I know? Because you’re omniscient. But I gave you free will. I cannot tell you how to use it. If I did, it wouldn’t be free. Couldn’t you give me a little hint? Not one. Why not? Because a hint from me would be the Word of God. And I am tired of being carried down from the mountaintop with my words carved in stone, only for the misguided to twist them out of shape and give them alternative meanings. People do that? Of course. That’s why so many no longer go to church on Sundays. Where do they go? Some of the good ones go out into the woods and contemplate the snow in winter, the leaves in summer and fall, and they find me there. Others work in the kitchen, or at their knitting, and they find me among the pots and pans, or between their stitches. Still others find me in the crossword puzzle, or the Sudoku, or in one of those brief moments when, alone, they close their eyes, breathe deep, listen to their bodies, and find that I am there within them.
            You are within us? Deus est in nobis. Meaning? God is in us. So I don’t need a telephone with a direct line to you. Not at all. And remember, telephone lines are dangerous. They can always be hacked. Now I’m confused. Sorry. Must go. There’s an emergency on the other line.
            You hear the click on the other end of the line as the phone goes down. You are overcome by a tsunami of sorrow and grief, a tidal wave of loneliness and abandonment sweeps you away and you cry out in your anguish that which you have never heard or spoken before, the words of the twenty-second psalm or of Christ on the Cross: Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?

Click here to listen to Roger’s reading.

Hot Line to God

True Love

True Love

True love flows so much deeper
than an exchange of body fluids
or a handing over of ritual rings.

Our advancing lives are no longer
ruled by nature’s primal urges.
Our bodies have been taken over
by old age stiffness, aches, and pains.

Some nights, I wake up to find
she no longer breathes. I reach out
in panic, touch her gently, and when
she breathes again, I heave a sigh
redolent with love and relief.

Listen to podcast here.
True Love

Waiting

The story of one man’s journey

Spotify
Scroll down to correct episode.

Waiting

I remember pushing
my father around the ward
in the hospital.
Two weeks we had together.

My father sat in his wheel chair
and I wheeled him
up and down.

“Cancer,” they told me.
“But it’s kinder not to let him know.”
In those days, it was better to die
without knowing why.
Did I betray him by not letting him
know what I now need to know?

One day, he begged me for help
and I lifted him out of his wheelchair
and placed him on the toilet.
He strained and strained
but could not, would not go.

“Son,” he said, sitting there,
“Will you rub my back?”
How could I say no?

That strong man,
the man who had carried me
in his arms, on his back,
and me standing there,
watching him,
his trousers around his knees,
straining hopelessly,
and me bent over him,
rubbing his back,
waiting,

for him to go.

Comment: Thank you, once again, Alejandro Botelho of Diverse TV. This was a great reading. If you, dear reader, are interested, you can listen to it HERE. Alejandro’s reading of my poem begins at 40.52 and ends at 42.33. But remember, the other poems are also well worth listening to and Alejandro has a great voice and wonderful interpretation. A further comment: first there is the text. Then there is Alejandro’s excellent reading. Then there is my own reading. From each of these the observant reader and / or listener will extract a slightly different emphasis and meaning. In my own case, following Alejandro’s reading of the original text, I have added some minor changes, to add to the intertextual rhythm of the words. Tolle, lege et vade mecum. A Cancer Chronicle is available HERE.

Man from Merthyr

Man from Merthyr

Memory loss punched holes in your head
and let in the dark, instead of the light.
Constellations faded from your sight,
erased by the arch-angel’s coal-dust wing.

 “I’m shrinking,” you said, the last time I saw you,
you, who had been taller, were now smaller than me.

 Tonight, when the harvest moon shines bright
and drowns the stars in its sea of light,
I will sit by my window and watch for your soul
as it rides its coal-fired rocket to eternity.

My eyes will be dry. I do not want pink runnels
running down this coal-miner’s unwashed face.
I’ll sing you a Welsh lullaby, to help you sleep.

“When the coal comes from the Rhondda
down the Merthyr-Taff Vale line,
when the coal comes from the Rhondda
I’ll be there.”

With you, my friend, shoulder to shoulder.
“With my golden pick and shovel, I’ll be there.”
Farewell, my friend, safe journey, sleep deep,
as deep as a Rhondda coal mine may you sleep.

Patience

Thursday Thoughts
Patience

Patients must be patient.
The waiting-room
is where the doctor
makes them wait.

My father waited, patiently,
to see the specialist.
At the stroke of noon,
nurse told the waiting patients
not to wait patiently
and to all go home.

“Come back next week,” nurse said.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“The doctor,” she said,
“has a very important meeting.”

I hurried for a taxi.
My father on his Zimmer
followed slowly behind.
On the hospital steps
I met the doctor.

“Damnation!” he said,
into his cell phone.
“I’m going to be late
for that appointment.
I’ve left my golf clubs behind.”

Thursday Thoughts: I remember that day well. My father was due to visit the hospital for his appointment with the stroke specialist. I wanted to drive him there, but he insisted on waiting for the old folks’ ambulance. It was due at 9:00 am and his appointment was for 10:30 am. We waited patiently, watching the hands on the clock moving slowly round. 9:00 > 9:15 > 9:30 > 9:45. “I can drive you,” I said. My father shook his head: “If I don’t take the ambulance, they won’t come to pick me up again. They’ll say I have other means of transport.”

The ambulance / ambwlans (in Welsh) arrived just before 10:00 and dad was sure they’d make his appointment time. Except there were still empty seats and that meant more passengers to pick up. Used to the system, my father waited patiently while I got more and more frustrated. Finally, the ambulance was full and we made our way to the hospital, getting there about 10:45. “Run,” my father said, thrusting his appointment papers at me, “tell the nurse I’m on my way.” Run I did. When I got to the waiting room, I found it full of people with never a chair for my father to sit on. When he arrived, a younger patient offered him his seat and he flopped down into it.

Names rang out. Patients disappeared. Some returned to the waiting room, then walked out. Some didn’t return. At 11:15 my father demanded tea. I got him a cup. At 11:30, a man stood up and started to preach to his captive audience. “Does that every week,” dad muttered in my ear. “He’s mad.” “You can’t take it with you,” the preacher thundered. “There aren’t any pockets in shrouds.” People fiddled and looked uncomfortable. Most had teacups perched precariously on saucers, and some rattled them, whether in applause or anguish, I still don’t know.

Then at noon the nurse appeared and announced what you have read above. “Dr. XXX’s patients: you can all go now. Dr. XXX has an important appointment. Come back next week.” My dad pushed me. “Run,” he said. “Get a taxi. They’ll all be wanting one and by the time I get there there’ll be none left.” That was the only visit I made with my father to that particular hospital. I had so many questions to ask that specialist, but, alas, I never met him.

What I did learn was that patients must learn patience. Hospitals, like airlines, run to their own schedules. A sign should be placed above every hospital door. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Just a thought, nothing more. The delays in all our medical systems, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, have been disastrous for many people, especially the old. Missed appointments. Delayed and cancelled treatment. Long waits and delays. The medical staff have been placed in such stressful conditions. Many are finding it difficult to cope with their inability to fulfill their desires to help their patients. Many are so stressed out. Two of my own doctors have cried when talking to me. I think of it as Covid Collateral Damage, CCD, just like the Colony Collapse Disorder that wiped out our bee population a few years back. Now we are the bees and hospitals and nursing homes are the hives.

Looking back, that morning spent waiting with my father, was a lesson in what old age has in store for us Golden Oldies as we age. Patience: as patients, we must learn patience. And remember, as Bette Davis once said “Old age is not for cissies.” And those are my thoughts for today!