Grandpa

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Grandpa

Going back in time,
to a better time,
an innocent time,
when we believed
in frost and rime,
and Santa Claus
and Christmas.

Stockings hung
with hope and joy
and filled with
tiny things and toys,
an apple, an orange,
a chocolate bar,
small things
brought in
from afar.

My grandpa, who
had not been good,
with a carrot,
an onion, coal,
and wood,
but a smile
on his face
and his red
underwear.

I often see him
standing there,
beside the fire,
beneath the tree.
He still means
oh so much to me.

Ephemera

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Ephemera

‘The day I was born, I took my first step on the path to death.’ Thus spoke Francisco de Quevedo, the Spanish poet born in 1580, died in 1645. “Am I going to die, Father?” “We’re all going to die, Patrick. We just don’t know how, where, or when.” This from the Sharpe’s Rifles Series. I can’t remember which show, but I remember the scene.

Ephemera / ephemeral: butterflies on a rock, on a flower, in a summer garden, blown away in a puff of wind. And that’s what we all are. “For whether we last the night, or no, / I’m sure is only touch and go.” Dylan Thomas: Under Milkwood. Or under Idlewood, Island View, as I like to rewrite it.

“Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” / “Where are lost year’s snows?” François Villon.  “No hay pájaros en los nidos de antaño”“There are no birds in last year’s nests.” Miguel de Cervantes.

One of my friends, twenty-five years younger than me, wrote to me today speaking of how fragile he felt. Another friend wrote me last week, mid-forties, going into another round of cancer. How long do we have? How do we face our individual end? How do we pass through that door that opens for us, and each one of us alone? I have no answers. I remember pushing my father in a wheelchair around the cancer ward. I remember sitting with my mother, needles inserted in her arm, her arm a sunset of bruises.

Where do we go? What will become of us? What will we do when the dandelion clock runs down and that last puff of wind bows us into eternity? Horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours. These words come from the old Roman sundial. I first read them in a children’s book: The Puppy Who Lost his Wag. Does anyone remember that book? Or was it just an ephemeral publication, lost in the tides of time? Villon, Cervantes, and anonymous author … pobres poetas de hoy: polvo seco de tesis doctoraltoday’s poor poets: dry dust of a doctoral thesis. (José María Valverde, a very good friend).

Et ego in Arcadia vixi / and I in Arcadia have lived. It is, and has been, a wonderful life. I feel the sands of time trickling though my fingers. I feel the waters running dry in Antonio Machado’s  clepsidra / his water clock. And I am not afraid. I rejoice in who I am and what I have been. My puppy dog life has regained its wag and the sun shines on my sundial.

 

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Reyes

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Reyes

The Spanish Christmas comes on the Twelfth Day after our traditional Christmas: January 6, today. 32 years ago, we spent Reyes in Madrid. We arrived in time to see the Christmas Parade and what a sight that was, with the three Wise Men, los reyes magos, riding on their camels at the end of the parade. It had just snowed and the city, streets and squares, shone white.

It’s funny what we remember and how we remember it. “Mira, mira, mira!” “Look, look, look!” Then, in the distance, descending from the Puerta de Alacalá, the Three Wise Men. Behind us, a little boy screamed at his mother. “Don’t you want to see los tres reyes magos?” she asked him. “No,” he yelled. “I don’t believe in the three wise men. I want to go home and watch soccer on the telly!”

I wore a white sweater that evening. When I got back to the hotel, I discovered that every inch of sweater that had emerged from beneath my coat was now grey. Even the air was filthy and pollution lay in ambush everywhere. “Every time I cough, I get a mining souvenir,” Max Boyce used to sing. Well, after a couple of days in Madrid, I too was coughing up souvenirs, but they didn’t come from coal dust underground. They came from the very air I was breathing out in the city streets.

Later that week, we took the train out to the Casa del Campo to see those same three camels in the zoo. In the distance, the Guadarrama stood out clearly against the sky. The zoo welcomed us and we enjoyed breathing in the fresh air and seeing the animals in the wide open spaces behind the invisible bars that allowed us to view them in a more natural habitat.

Christmas / Reyes: a magic time for remembering things that seem to have vanished, yet that sneak up on you and shake you awake when you least expect it.

 

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My Father

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My Father (Solace 1)

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            I saw my father yesterday evening. I walked through the zócalo, opened the main cathedral doors and walked in. The doors closed behind me. I looked towards the main altar and there my father stood, motionless. The evening light shone through the engraved glass panels and illuminated him as if he were some long passed saint come back to visit me. We stared at each other, but I couldn’t open my mouth to speak. The hairs on my neck stood on end and my hands shook. When I forced my mouth open, words stuck in my throat. He wore his best grey suit over a light blue shirt and a dark blue, hand woven tie: the outfit in which I had buried him.

               Three old women, dressed in black, broke the spell. One stood in front of me and wouldn’t let me approach my father. She held a large bag of knitting in her hands and the wool spilled everywhere as she pushed me away. The second threatened me with a pair of scissors that she held in her left hand and stabbed towards my face. The third beat a tailor’s measuring rod against my father’s head.  He nodded, smiled sadly, and they all turned their backs on me and hurried away out of the cathedral and into the square.

               Just for a moment, I stood there in silence. Then I pulled the doors open and ran in pursuit of my father. The setting sun filled the square with shadows that whispered and moved this way and that, as if a whole village had come down from the hills to walk beneath the trees and dance in the rays of the dying sun. I stood on the cathedral steps and called out my father’s name, but I could see no sign of him among the cut and thrust of the shadowy crowd.

               I ran out into that crowd and pushed at insubstantial people who stood firm one moment and then melted away the next like clouds or thick mist. I came to a side street and saw real people, flesh and blood beings, a group of villagers gathered behind their band. I stopped and as I did the village elder put a live match to the taper of the rocket that he clutched between his thumb and forefinger. The taper caught on fire and the rocket soared upwards with a searing whoosh. The village band marched forward and started to play a traditional dance as the rocket clawed its way into the sky to explode with a loud knock on the door of the gods.

               Tired of grasping at shadows and afraid of this living phalanx of men that marched towards me I went back to the cathedral and knelt at the altar of La Virgen de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca. Real wax candles stood before her altar, not tiny electric lights, and I inserted five pesos in the slot, took a taper, and lit a fresh candle from an ageing one that had started to sputter. I knelt and, for the first time in years, I prayed. I prayed for the soul I had saved from extinction by lighting my candle from his flame. I prayed for my father and my mother and, above all, I prayed for myself.

               On the way home to my second-floor apartment where I live alone, I bought two litres of mescal, one to send me to sleep, and the other so I would survive the next morning.

The Yfory* Tower

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The Yfory* Tower

“Tomorrow never comes,” they told me,
because, by the time it gets here,
it’s already today.

All my tomorrows are woven into today’s
threads of mist that weave silk scarves
around the open-mouthed trees,
ensuring their silence

Silence, save for click of cat’s claws,
slither of pen over page, tapping of keys,
letters turned into words, words that worm
their way over the page, soundless, into my head.

Geese fly high, arrowing their way to the south.
Autumn is on the wing as days shorten.
Cold weather will be here tomorrow
even though they tell me that tomorrow never comes.

Beethoven rewrites the Fifth. I refuse to open the door
when the postmen knocks, bearing his fatal message.
I guess he’ll be back tomorrow, although they tell me
that tomorrow never comes.

Yfory*:
Yfory, the Ivory Tower, means tomorrow in Welsh.