Walls

Walls

             
I remember little Willy, the mad boy at the end of our lane, whose cries of “Uh! Uh! Uh!” were the closest he came to speech. His presence still haunts me, for my father and grandfather made throaty sounds ‘Uh! Uh! Uh!” to chide me whenever I did something wrong or disobeyed the dictates of their adult world, their grown up world that layered cement on top of the high brick wall, that inserted bottles in the still wet cement,  that waited for the cement to dry, and then smashed all those bottles with a hammer and locked little Willy, the boy with whom I must no longer play, into a high-walled cage whilst I watched and waited and knocked at the door and asked politely: “Please: can Willy come out and play?” But my only companion was his wild sound “UH! UH! UH!” flawed words torn with clawed hands from his throat and floated like invisible butterflies over the cruel glass jest of the wall they had built between us.

Blue and Green

“Blue and green
should not be seen
without a color
in between,”
thus spoke my mother.

What did she know
of the Peace Park grass
sweeping spring-clean
to head pond waters?

Didn’t she sense the frail
brown fringe of rock
scarfing between green
grass and head pond blue
or the white caps lacing
cow parsley on the stones?

I know she knew nothing
of yellow and red leaves,
brown spotted like an old
man’s hands, freckling waters,
fretting at the fragility
of nature’s delicate balance.

Rats

Rats

Black clouds build over the Bristol Channel, threatening to cross the Severn from Ilfracombe to Brandy Cove and climb inland to rattle our windows and bounce rain off our corrugated roof.
            We run out to the lane, looking for the dog, calling his name. Hoping to get him in before he gets soaked. The rubbish dump outside the gate sits on a concrete stand and dominates the lane. Tall and stinky, the red-brick structure rustles with scavenging, skirmishing rats. Pinned to the dump, a hand-written notice: “Please do not light this dump.” We smile as we read it. Our neighbours will put a match to this dump, one dry night, on the way back from the pub.
            Kim, Nana’s Wire-haired Fox Terrier, spends his days at the dump in an effort to achieve his life’s desire: the elimination of every worrying, scurrying rat that ever inhabited the planet. When he tires of killing rats, he will bring their bodies home to the bungalow. Sometimes he lays them in rows outside the backdoor: rats, mice, field mice, voles. Sometimes he brings them inside and places them on the concrete base beneath the old cast-iron stove. Every day Kim sacrifices to my grandmother, his Gower Goddess, and lays the victims out on her altar.
            The rain is close. We run back down the lane to avoid the storm that is now upon us. Violent and short-lived, like so many summer storms in Wales, raindrops will thump against windows and roof. Lightning will flash, thunder roll its celestial drums, and the wind will whip its lash round the chimney. We sit at the table and sip hot cocoa. No sign of the dog.
            Later, when the storm has passed, we wander up to the lane, avoiding the deeper runnels of muddy water, and stepping from high point to stony high point. We scurry hurriedly past the dump and listen to the rats. They will survive for another night. Nobody will be able to light the dump after rain like that. Back in the field, we fill up the water can, take a handle each, and carry the precious liquid back to Gran.
            We walk to the back door. Our neighbor is standing there, crying.
            “I didn’t see him,” she stammers. “He ran out from the dump as I drove round the corner,” she points to Kim, laid out on the back step, his broken body wet and bloody, the last rat he would ever catch still clasped tightly in his jaws.

Ffynon Wen

McAdam Railway Station drawn by Geoff Slater

Ffynon Wen

Stuffy, you said. I can’t breathe. Early morning mist scratched pale finger nails down your bedroom window. Grey foggy faces glanced in, grimaced and scowled. Damp and slippery, the window frame, when I opened the sash. What time is it?  Before I could answer, you demanded more milk for your tea. I left you there, in bed, went downstairs to the kitchen and brought back milk. Then you wanted more sugar. Shut the window, you said. It’s cold. I’m shivering.
Puppet on a string, I raised my cord-bound feet and danced at your command. Then I went downstairs, fetched more sugar, came back, and left the morning paper on your bed. On the front page, a picture of the last passenger engine, green and rusty, from the GWR (Great Western Railway). It used to carry passengers from Swansea to Cardiff to Paddington in London. Now it pulls a line of filthy coal trucks. Covered in dirt, rain, steam and dust, I couldn’t make out the name or the number.
Passengers on trains speeding to different destinations, we never had time, time for talking, time for understanding, time to think, time to be heard. Laden with baggage, our minds followed different tracks. Platform lights blazed in the night, a Van Gogh blaze of starry fires. We flashed past towns, stations where we’d never stop. Windows glowed in deserted waiting rooms, shattering the darkness, their full moons reflected in the double glass of a locked carriage door.
We rattled over cross-tracks, never knowing why, yet I have never forgotten the rhythm of the wheels, slowing, accelerating, running at full speed, the telephone wires looping, cattle in fields grazing peacefully, wondering why …
We rarely talk. I guess we have little to say. We leave big questions to float in the wind. We don’t tell our nightmares, our stories or our dreams. Trivia is too trivial. Serious issues cut too deep, unspoken, unanswered to this day. We bury our noses in the daily paper. We gloss our lives away. We flash past so many signals with their pointed mechanical signs.
When your train finally stopped, I disposed of your body in Thornhill Crematorium, opposite the Ffynnon Wen, the White Well Restaurant and Bar where we celebrated our last supper together.

Comment: An old story, resurfacing from the Archives in which I found my old, dusty Cambrian Chronicles. It’s also a story I have reworked many times, as poem, flash fiction, philosophical statement, personal memoir … I guess such moments, such memories, are very hard to come to terms with. They lie just out of sight and gnaw at us at night, surfacing when least expected and packing a powerful punch of helpless hopelessness. And no, there is nothing we can do about such things except stare blank-faced into our moon-faced morning coffee and blink back the tears we were unable to shed at the time.

I guess, deep down, it’s all about grieving and how we grieve. In some cultures, it is all about manhood and stiff, upper lip. In others, it is letting the tears flow and the emotions run riot. It differs with each and all of us for we and our circumstances are all unique. I look at the current state of the world and I keep thinking that, no, it’s not a case of one size fits all. Not everybody is the same, and each one of is special, and needs something special, especially in these difficult times. Keep safe, keep well, and do not provide, if you can avoid doing so, any reason for your loved ones to mourn for you.

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.

Her Shadow

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Her Shadow

“Birds, birds,” she shrieked with delight.
“The drab one is a girl like you,” I told her,
“but the bright one is a little boy.”

“Yellow,” she cried again with joy, “Yellow.”
Tiny hands plucked at air, catching nothing.

I can still see her standing there, her nose,
all wet and runny.  She left damp, snot-stained
marks, a sort of signature, on the cold wet glass.

She’s long gone now, way back home, but still
the window stays unwashed and her shadow
often comes between me and the morning sun.

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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White Wolf

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White Wolf
Rhodri Mawr

Winter’s white wolf
shakes ice from her coat,
makes snowflakes fly,
blanches our world.

Nose pointed skywards,
she howls a North wind
straight down from the Pole
as we shiver indoors.

Snow gathers in the air,
thick as winged moths,
then drops to the ground,
plays dead in deep drifts.

Snow banks climb higher,
blotting out light.
Soon, Arctic cold will wrap us
in its endless night.

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White Wolf  in Island View

 

Comment: Y blaidd gwen yn y gaeaf / The white wolf in winter, translated from the original Welsh of an anonymous Gŵyr poet, circa 1613. Oh I do love messing about with images and words. I don’t have a photo of a white wolf, so instead I have posted a photo of my lapdog, Tigger, who weighs in at 115 lb. Tigger, of course / wrth gwrs, is a delicate champagne color rather than white. When he sheds hair in the summer known in the doggy trade as ‘blowing his coat’, it is like a snow storm coming off the back porch. The nesting birds and the chipmunks and squirrels can be seen carrying chunks of his fur back to their nests. They will keep wonderfully warm, wrapped in the raggle-taggle gypsies torn from coat. There are several jokes and pieces of misinformation or weird humor, woven into my poem. I wonder how many you can spot? Each of my poems is a puzzle, in one way or another, so have fun solving the riddles!

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.

Biopsy

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Biopsy

Driving home
from the hospital
after the biopsy,
thinking of the indignities
inflicted on my body,
cold, exploratory fingers,
the insertions,
the ardent desire
to say
“Enough,
no more!”

Oh God,
I am so cold.

Fierce winds
push me
along a snow-packed road.

I dream of sunshine
of summer flowers,

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of chipmunks and squirrels,
of bird seed scattered
so others may survive.

I dream of five deer
walking at midnight
through my garden.

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Magic,
their shadows
under moonlight
on the snow.

I skid into a snow bank
and my world shakes in shock.

A thirty-wheeler slithers by:
there are so many ways to die.

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Comment: Was it really only five years ago that I wrote those lines? I hadn’t even started this blog back then. So much melted snow, so much water under so many bridges. I look back at my journal and read that on April 1, 2020, in the USA, there were 3,800 dead from Covidis and 300,000 people affected. This morning, when I got up, those figures were higher, much higher: 63,019 dead and 1,070,032 affected. What a difference a month makes, let alone five years.

Affected, such a silly word when each individual person that these figures represent is, or was, a living, thinking, loving, human being, with an extended network of family and friends, each one of whom is in turn affected by the loss or sickness of a group member, be it a brother, a child, a sister, a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, or just a friend …  just a friend, another silly thing to say, as if just friends were not important, collateral damage, so to speak … and now, throughout our world, in macrocosm and in microcosm, we are, each one of us affected, in one way or another. Here in New Brunswick, Canada, we wash our hands, we wear masks, we stay home as much as possible, we maintain distancing when we go out on essential errands … I know it is different in other parts of Canada, and of the world, but we are all affected, and some so much more than others.

So, wherever you are, whoever you are, be strong, be brave, dance when and if you can, sing to yourself, sing for your family and friends, reach out to others, and above all take care of each other and survive. 

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My heart and these words go out to you: Byddwch lawen a chadwch eich ffyd a gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd / be joyful, keep your faith, and do the small things in life as Dewi Sant, St. David of Wales, a real person, is said to have said, almost 1500 years ago.