Ice, so many meanings: sliding on ice, as cold as ice, icing the puck, walking on thin ice, skating on thin ice, ice-blue eyes, an icy stare … ice is also nice, as in icing on the cake, ice lollipops, ice in the drinks, holding it on ice …
Stalagmites and stalactites, like ants in the pants, the -mites go up and the -tites come down. Ice giants, ice demons, silent ice, groaning ice, ice floes, the river iced up, the head pond so many different shades of grey and blue and white, fading in places into black, and these look like black-and-white photos, but they aren’t, there’s always a tinge of color, even when you least expect it.
Silent ice, singing ice, groaning ice, and the steady drip-drip of melting ice and what a show, sunshine stealthy on ic, stepping across it on tip-toe, and the ice as radiant as a stained glass window … and oh, there was so much more I wrote and still want to write. Too late now. It was incredible! I added a third photo to my original post early this morning, and, when I updated the post, the whole blog post was deleted and I uploaded a blank page. How tragic. Never mind: the ice will have to speak for itself in its own silence, in its own creaking and groaning, in its spectacular ice palace of glimmer and glow.
23 December: my mother and I travel to my mother’s mother’s house, leaving my father to follow, if he wants to. No instructions as to where we’ve gone, or how, or when. But he’ll know and follow eventually, like the good dog he is, when the Pavlovian Parties are droolingly over.
24 December: Christmas Eve. Everyone is very secretive, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and the ‘boy’ is sent from the room while the grown-ups discuss whatever secrets grown-ups discuss when the little one is not present. I never ask questions any more. Why should I? Little boys should be seen and not heard is the only answer I ever get.
25 December: Christmas is here. Late last night, my grandfather, on hands and knees, shoved a box under the double-bed in the front room where my grandmother sleeps using his walking stick like a billiard cue. I could see him clearly from my bed on the floor on the far side of the room, beyond my grandmother’s sleeping place. I had a feeling it would be him. It’s been a long time since I believed in Santa Claus, let alone the spirit of Christmas. The Christmas spirits, yes, I believe in them. My grandmother keeps them locked up in a little bottle beside her bed labelled Hennessy Cognac. I have sampled the Christmas Spirits. They are nice. I believe in them. My grandmother has already risen. I’ll get up soon. I guess my father will be downstairs and the Christmas Spirits will be here in plenty. My guess is they have already begun. Joy to the world, peace at Christmas, and a truce and a laying down of arms throughout the joyous day. Perhaps I’ll get a soccer ball and we’ll play soccer in the no-man’s-land that lies between the barbed-wire tongues that simulate the trenches.
26 December: Boxing Day. By the time I get up, the gloves are off and the sparring has already begun. I hear voices, walk into the kitchen, and a hush falls on the room. Knife-edge glances slash the thick atmosphere. It’s Boxing Day. On my left, in the blue corner, my mother, smoking what is probably her tenth cigarette of the day. A thin haze of grey smoke escapes from bruised lips. Whether they are beaten or bitten, I will never know. On my right, in the red corner, my father. White-faced, hungover yet again, truly into the spirits of Christmas. He is breathing heavily, like a Boxer Dog in mid-summer heat, snoring and snorting at the leash. In the middle, my grandfather. He is keeping the combatants apart, creating his breathing space so the true Spirit of Christmas can disentangle itself from the Christmas Spirits and bring peace to earth again for at least sixty seconds between each round. I look around the heaving, threshing silence of the room. My father breaks that silence, pointing at me: “It’s all your fault!” he says, his red-dimmed eyes blazing with a sudden and renewed anger. He starts to rise, but my grandfather steps between my father and me. “Go and see granny. She’s in the kitchenette, by the stove,” he says. “Go now.” I run a gauntlet of staring eyes and go to my gran. As I shut the door behind me, voices rise higher in the room I have just left. Boxing Day, indeed. The gloves are off. The battle has begun again.
Plural, it should be plural really, Christmas Babies. In Oaxaca, Mexico, the cribs lie empty, awaiting the miracle of the Christmas birth. All the cribs, everywhere, in the main square, in the cathedral, in the shop windows, in the schools, in the houses, the homes, the hallways, the bed-rooms. How can the baby be lying in the crib throughout December, when he isn’t born until midnight on the 24th? All those empty cribs, all those foster mothers and fathers, in waiting, so to speak.
Joyous times, full of expectation. The piñatas swinging from the flat roofs of the azoteas, and the puppet masters pulling the strings as the young children, blind-folded, take turns swinging with stick or baseball bat, trying their best to break the papier-mâché and release the Christmas goodies from their shattered container. There are many kinds of birth, and re-birth. Such joyous expectations. So many ups and downs as the clubs are swung and the piñatas are raised and lowered. Then, the lucky strike, and the silver-paper-wrapped treasure trove falls to the ground and the children dive in and collect their long-awaited goodies. Such joy. Such merriment. Such great expectations, and so seldom deceived.
Meanwhile, in the zócalo, the central square, the balloon lady sits in her castle surrounded by the technicolor splendor of her plastic walls waiting for the children who will arrive, coins in hand, to purchase her wares and take them on their wind-walk through the square. How wonderful to see them, aerial dogs sky-walking with proud owners tethered to the ground below. How sad to see the child’s face as the occasional balloon seeks freedom in the blue sky above the cathedral towers. What pleasure to see the joy restored as another balloon replaces that first one.
Last night, they set fire to the castillos and waves of firework and flame flooded down church walls as rockets climbed to the sky to knock on heaven’s door and demand that the gods wake up and not forget their people rejoicing here in the streets below. Yes, the gods, for Oaxaca is still a pagan land where the old gods roam and devil and angels mingle on the cathedral steps with the witch doctor who lights his fire, burns his copal, and worships the old gods in the good old ways that never perished, in spite of the attention paid to them by the priests of the Spanish Inquisition. They hang on, the old gods, the old customs, the old Mixtec calendars, in barber shops and craft stores and you can purchase them in the market place or in the secret stores where mescal is brewed in the centuries’ old way and the yellow worms wiggle and glisten as they sink to the bottom of the bottle where they lie in wait to sink their hallucogenic teeth into the minds of unsuspecting tourists.
Today, however, is Christmas Day. The baby is born. The cribs are filled with his little image. Some shops have a live child, with his mother and father standing there, waving, showing their baby off to the worshiping crowd who cluster, mouths open, at the window. Marimbas play. Village bands march. The State Orchestra warms up. What joy in the land, this Christmas morning as, back home in Merrie Olde England, all the bells are ringing and across the frosty meadows, carillon carols ring out loud and clear.
Of course I haven’t spelled it incorrectly. Just look at those three ships, not to mention the ‘bell-bottom blues’ jeans my alter ego wears in this apology for a selfie. And yes, of course, the protagonist is navel gazing, too. We all do it from time to time. We have to. We need to know who we are and what we are all about. As Cesar Vallejo wrote, a long time ago: “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé” … ‘there are setbacks in our lives, I don’t know.’ How do we deal with these sudden setbacks? That depends on each of us: our background, our culture, our ability to bounce back from nowhere and nothing to set ourselves upon the true path again. Man is stronger than he thinks he is, while woman is even stronger than man. Strength: it exists in many forms and holds many meanings. Sure, it means the amount of weight we can lift. But it also means the amount of weight and cares we can carry and how long we can carry them for. And that is where women are so strong.
Every so often, we must all navel gaze. We must look at ourselves, not in the mirror, but in the depths that live within us. I am in navel gazing mode right now. To a certain extent, I have lost my way and I feel very strongly I must find it again. So I sit and think and look inside myself and search and wait with great patience for the light to arrive and enlighten me once more. It will come. I am sure of that.
Yesterday, a lovely lady read me
my biopsy results.
She poured a bitter drink
into a poisoned chalice
and offered it to me.
It was my personal Gethsemane,
a cup from which I was forced to drink.
I sat there in silence, sipping it in.
Darkness wrapped its shawl
around my shoulders.
‘Step by step,’ she cautioned me,
‘it’s like walking on stepping stones.’
I opened my eyes, but I could no longer see
the far side of the stream.
This poem opens my book A Cancer Chronicle (available on Amazon). It refers to the moment, three years ago, when my urologist confirmed that indeed I had prostate cancer and that, yes, it needed treatment. “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”. The cartoon, I hesitate to call it a painting, was completed on the ninth day of September, two months after my treatment ended. I sat in the kitchen at home, looking out at the mountain ash, watching the birds as they swarmed the tree in search of nutritious berries. Then I made the cartoon. I called it Naval Gazing. I might just as well have called it “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”.
How we deal with such golpes / setbacks / blows defines us as human beings. I have spent much time recently encouraging others, and they must all remain anonymous, to confront their demons, call them out, and overcome them in as fair a fight as is possible. Today, I too sit in the dark, watching the snow fall, watching the birds scurrying to and from in search of sustenance. I too am searching, once again, for meaning, for light, for the energy to continue. It will come. When it does, I will embrace it with both hands and start all over again, picking up life’s threads from where I left them. Then, once again, I will see the far side of the stream.
Yesterday is the opening poem in my book A Cancer Chronicle. It is available on Amazon.
I keep calling my Holly-Hock ‘he’, but I am beginning to think that if Holly Hobby was a lady, then this tough old plant is a lady too. A limpet lady. She has gone through three quite hard frosts now, one early, and two back to back, earlier this week, followed by two days of heavy rain. The rest of the garden is withering or withered. Clusters of dry blackened stems surround this old lady, but she still stands tall and proud. Not only that, but she casts more and more flowers out to greet us.
We have kept lots of seeds and will sow them soon, some are in the ground already, in the hopes that she and her offspring may flourish. For this lady is a symbol of hope. Hope in the face of frosts, cold winds, heavy rains. Hope in the seeds that she produces and scatters. Hope in the generation and the regeneration of a beauty and a strength that, if lost, may never be found again. Hope in old age that our children will survive and lighten our countenances with their love.
So go, you Holly-Hock seeds. Bury deep, send out roots, sleep for a while if you need to, and when the spring sun peeps over the horizon after a hard, long winter, be ready to bloom again. We, your faithful followers, will be waiting for you, with hope in our hearts.
The programs that no longer work.
The files you can no longer access.
Photos that vanish
leaving a blank space in the album.
Memory that goes on the blink.
Forgotten phone numbers,
the birthdays of family members,
that carton of eggs left in the store,
your cousin’s face, her name,
the parking spot where you left your car.
“What day is it today,” you ask,
for the second or third time.
“What time is it?”
“Who’s that coming for tea?
Are you sure I know them, dear?”
“Where did you say we were going?”
“Just round the corner, to visit a friend.”
Or should that be … round the bend?
Comment:Apparently I placed this poem on Facebook a year ago, but I have found no trace of it here, on the blog. This time last year, I lost both of my computers to what was diagnosed as obsolescence. Luckily I had most things backed up. The group who swore they could transfer 99% of my hard-drive material to the new machine, migrated just 1% (my desk top) and the other 99% went on walkabout. I was able to piece much of it back together, but obsolescent programs and out of date apps no longer functioned. So much material was deemed irretrievable. This experience made me realize, yet again, how fragile is our hold on our possessions, our memories, our sanity, and yes, our very lives. For me, it is a very sobering thought that, with a flick of a switch, I, like my computer, could be turned off, and 99.9% of the wonders of my beautiful existence would totally disappear from the memory-banks of this earth. Some say, and I believe them, that, like my computer, I will be re-cycled, recirculated. I will become a part of the wider oceanic world-consciousness. Alas, we can have faith in whatever we wish to believe, but sometimes, we really don’t know.
My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
walk through them all. Your shadow dances on walls,
in mirrors, and your breath brushes my cheek
every time I open doors or windows. That silly cat
looks for you and hisses when I bring her kibble.
I move from room to room, but when I seek you,
you are no longer here. I knock, nothing opens.
Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I know
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice seems to break the silence.
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. I find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.
Comment: Regular visitors to this blog will probably recognize this poem. It is a rewrite of an earlier one, also bearing the title Lost (click here for earlier post). I rewrote, or rather, reorganized the structure of the poem, added some words, and subtracted others. I did this earlier this summer while Clare was in Ottawa visiting our daughter and grand-daughter. And yes, I missed her. I always do when she in not present or I am away. Comments on either version will be welcome, particularly if you prefer one version over the other.