Universitario Rugby Club, Santander

Universitario Rugby Club, Santander.

This photo just reappeared on Facebook, posted 17 October 2016. I couldn’t believe it then, and I can hardly believe it now. What an honor. What memories. Imagine: immortalized on a beer pump in the bar of a foreign-to-me-now rugby club.

“There is some far corner of a foreign bar
that is forever Canada, and Wales.
And in that bright brew,
a shadow will remain,
a memory, ghosting through,
whose stay was not in vain.”

Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity. The Olde Order changeth lest one good custom should corrupt the world. The memories fade as faces age and friends grow distant. They fade away like dreams in the early light of day.

Osprey

Osprey

An osprey on the wind
wings thrusting
for maximum lift
then flattened
for feather-tip control

Wheeling up and away
the soft-wing
sway of him
ascending his celestial
staircase
in a rush of blue air

Light his flight
sky steps
danced to wind music
played over beach below
and rock and rolling waves

Watch him
wave good-bye
with a waggle of his wings
and a well-judged flick
of his paint brush tail
brown white and black lines
neat strokes
across a cerulean sky

Click here for Roger’s reading of Osprey

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

A Rainbow of Clichés

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

2

A Rainbow of Clichés

It’s raining outside. A tympany of raindrops
drums rhythmically on roof and window.
Thunder rolls. Lightning flashes, lighting up the sky.
our lights flicker, but we don’t lose power.

“It never rains in the bars,” they say in Spain.
Yet it’s raining in my heart, a sad song,
raindrops, tear drops, my best friend,
tested for Lyme disease, now tested for Covid.

“It never rains unless it pours,” they say in Wales.
And here it comes again, that nineteenth session
of Covid nerves, heart fluttering, nostrils twitching,
that unmasked girl standing six inches behind me,

texting, all thumbs, totally absorbed in the medium
that delivers massage after massage, click here,
out from the empty spaces between her ears and into
the void beyond, bouncing from tower to tower,

small stones cast in a tranquil pond, rippling their way
to whatever eternity lies out there, external realities ignored,
enveloped in the smoke screen of the texting self,
mask-less, fearless, coughing, not covering her mouth.

Here come those clichés. ‘I’m all right, Jack.’ ‘It’s all
about me.’ ‘My life, my freedom to do what I want.’
“It ain’t the cough that carries you off, it’s the coffin
they carry you off in.” A coughing fit, fit for a coffin.

Better, I suppose, than World War One trench warfare,
when it’s over the top, and look: officers, chaplains, men,
the whole battalion, hanging from that old barbed wire.

Click on link below for Roger’s reading.
A Rainbow of Clichés

Real Friends

Real Friends
Thursday Thoughts
23 September 2021

A good friend of mine wrote to me the other day. “Have you noticed,” he asked, “that you have less REAL friends the older you get?”

In my reply, I said the following. “Oh dear yes, and triply so since Covid set in. I have a few remaining friends who correspond regularly on e-mail, a couple of friends who talk regularly on the phone, and the rest, in spite of all the Covid-19 promises of TLC for the aging, have been AWOL for the best part of two years. Mind you, I have kept myself to myself. In fact, I have become rather anti-social in face to face / mask to mask situations!”

This question-asking friend, now lives in another province, in a care home for the ageing. Over the ages, such homes have had many names. In South Wales they were called the Workhouse, and that’s where the broken old men from the mines and the industrial smelters ended up. Places of shame. Places to be feared. Then we had Old Folks Homes. Some were called Sanctuaries. Others are now called Hospices or Care Homes and the Hospitals themselves have been forced to take on the task of looking after our old and frail senior citizens. Some of our seniors were lucky, fell into good homes, and were blessed. Others were cursed, poor things, fell into hopeless surroundings, and lost all hope. As for the homes themselves, some were run by religious groups, others by charities, a few by the state or local health authorities. Some were non-profit, others, well, we are having a debate, here in Canada, about some of the more unscrupulous and unhealthy care homes that are run for healthy profits right now.

And that debate was caused by Covid-19. Under-paid employees, working several care homes, not just one, travelling from home to home, and the pandemic entering those homes and settling in there, causing immense suffering, damage, and death. I look on this as CCD. Originally, the initials spelled out Colony Collapse Disorder, the death moth that entered the bee-hives and caused their buzzing to end in silence. Now, for me, they stand for Covid Collateral Damage. And that form of CCD is everywhere.

You can see it in families that are breaking up. One partner loses their job, their self-respect, and goes out looking elsewhere for comfort and for pastures green. Another is forced into excessive overtime because other members of their team, now working from home, all of them, cannot cope with home-schooling, house-work, partner, and children present all day long. They break down under the stress, can function no longer, and society starts to fall apart.

Mind you, it has been falling apart for years. When I lived in Spain, I was adopted by a family in Santander who owned and lived in a huge house. The grand-mother was the matriarch and she shared the house with three siblings, two unmarried, and one divorced. The parents lived there, on and off, as they had jobs elsewhere. A country cousin, same age as the grand-parents’ generation, also lived there and did the cooking and cleaning. And the grand-children settled in there too, during term time. When the family gathered for the Sunday meal, there were 22-24 of us around that dining-room table. In such a large family setting, there were baby-sitters at hand, somebody was always employed, somebody always knew the solution to a problem, or could find one pretty quickly.

When we lived in Swansea, two sets of grand-parents were close, as were aunties, uncles, cousins, and a network of friendly faces, all of whom gathered round in an emergency. But, bit by bit, that family disintegrated. Some went to London, others to Bristol, a few to Birmingham, we moved to Cardiff. In Cardiff we went from a family network to a nuclear family, consisting of my mother, my father, and I. Both my parents worked and I was at a boarding-school, term-time, but a latch-key kid during school holidays, cooking for myself, looking after the house, waiting for my parents to come home. When I, in my turn, left for Canada, my parents were left as a family of two, then, when my mother died, a family of one. Of course, there were Social Services. Social Workers visited every so often, but the gaps got longer, the loneliness grew, and a terrible isolation took over every aspect of my father’s life. When I flew back from Canada to Wales to visit him in Wales one year, I found no food in the house, my father totally uncared for, unwanted and, by this stage, unwilling to cooperate. he wanted to stay in his home. He wouldn’t move. In truth, he had become a miserable old man who wouldn’t change, wouldn’t accept help, and could no longer look after himself.

On the anniversary of my mother’s death, I called him from Canada. He did not pick up the phone. I called his brother, who lived in another town some forty miles away. He’s like that now came my uncle’s reply. He’s fine. Don’t worry. But worry I did. Three days later, his brother called me back. My father had suffered a heart attack and a stroke on the anniversary of my mother’s death. He had lain on the bedroom door for three days, no food, no water, no visitors, until his brother had finally got worried and decided to come round and see what was happening.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We all know that phrase. Unfortunately, many are not that tough. They get going all right: they go right out through the door and vanish into the sunset. So, my thoughts for today: what exactly is a friend, what do friends actually do, what is a fair-weather-friend, what are friends for, how many real friends do we really have, and yes, the question that started me on this rant, do real friends diminish in number as we grow older?

As my grand-mother told me, a long, long time ago, in the warmth of her Welsh kitchen: “Roger, a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Luckily, I still I have some real friends who are there when I need them. Thank you, real friends. You know who you are and I am very grateful to you. Covid-19 and CCD have not been easy.


Change

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

6

Change

The wind of change will blow and change will come,
heralded not by brazen trumpets and a roll of drums,
but overnight in stealth and silence. The valleys will lose
their coal. The seams will shrink, smaller and smaller,
until even the tiniest child will not find room the kneel
at the coal-face and sweat in adoration, shovel and pick
in hand, prying and praying in praise of the black god.

Change will come. The mines will be closed.
The miners will go on unemployment. They will move
to other areas, where mines still flourish, for a life time
spent underground is not that easy to forget and change
is never easy. Who ever said it would be easy?

The men in grey suits bring change. They walk and talk
and plan the changes they will bring about. The pit-head
baths will turn into super stores, a new trading estate will offer
work to the workless who will be changed into worthy workers
once again with course after course of education and retraining.

Yes, change will come. Some will pack up and leave,
only to return as they cannot face the face of change
as once they faced the coal-face, on their knees all day,
praying. Some will go overseas, by boat or plane.
They need never fear for Australia is near. America is a siren
singing bedrock songs of welcome and freedom. Canada calls
and many arrive there to face the white face of winter
rather than that merry, coke-black face of Old King Coal.

Yes, change will come. You will change. Your children
will be born into change and only your memories will recall
life before change, that life everlasting that came
before the fall of coal and your immortality is now
a Post-lapsarian call to constant change, secuale seculorum,
for ever and ever, until that final change. Amen.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Change

Silence

A stopped clock: accurate twice a day.

Meditations on Messiaen
Quartet for the End of Time

5

Silence

Pain stops as the sounds of silence
break against the walls of the room
in which I sit.

Silence, yes, yet silence broken
by the renewed intrusion of the clock,
by the electric hum from lights
and heating, from a distant tv
suddenly breaking into my thoughts:
cheers from a tennis court,
the eternal advertisements
invading my innermost being.

What triviality now shatters
the Messiaenic mood that wrapped
me for a moment in a many colored
cloak of musical oblivion.

Now time’s teeth gnaw again
and the grandfather clock
nibbles at my soul, extracting
its essence in a surge of sound,
tick-tock, tick-tock.

Westminster Chimes now choke
life from the hour and ring
the tick-tock knell that files
my life away, second by second,
minute by minute, day by day.

Click on link below for Roger’s reading.

Silence

Waiting

Waiting

I remember pushing
my father around the ward.
Two weeks we had together.
He 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 for help
and I lifted him onto the toilet.
He strained and strained
but couldn’t 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
on his back,
and me standing there,
watching him,
trousers around his knees,
straining, hopelessly,
and me bent over him,
rubbing his back,
waiting,

for him to go.

Click here for Roger’s reading of
Waiting.

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

Pianissimo

Pianissimo


            You sit at the piano, my old piano, still extant in my father’s house, yet soon to be given away, though we don’t know that yet. It’s an upright, iron-frame Bechstein, a piano that I was given when I was the same age as you are now. Handel’s Largo, the Harmonious Blacksmith, hours and hours of scales. They locked me in the front room, my mum and dad, and there I stayed for an hour, two hours, or more. I came to hate music. As soon as I could, I gave up the piano, I rejected piano practice, I turned my face away from the discipline of the lock up.
            Now, I listen to you. Your untaught fingers tickle the black keys, then the white keys, one after another. You are six years old. You’ve never had a lesson, but you have music in your blood and some residual instinct latches on to rhythm and sound. Your fingers are long and supple and your touch is light, so much lighter than mine used to be, and now, on the deep bass notes of the left hand, your stronger hand, you pound away, awakening the dark ghosts of soul music that pour through my memories awakening echoes in this piano.
            I think of you as a jazz musician. Thelonius Monk, perhaps, a tinkle here, a light touch there, now a chord or two, inexplicable, and who would want to explain. It is a joy to sit here, to see your smile of absolute absorption. Mood music you call it, and today your moods are as dark as the shadows that tug at my heart, and as light as the sunlight that floats through the windows and makes the dust motes sparkle. It also frames a halo round your head. You hum to yourself as the morning sunshine fragments into colored gems and you sculpt your rainbow of sound.
            “Stop that noise. You’re driving me mad,” your grandfather, my father, stumbles into the room. He has taken his last cigarette out of the packet and the white cylinder hangs down from his lips, like an extraneous chalk outcrop hanging from the lip of an errant teacher. He pats his pockets. “Where are my matches? Has anyone seen my matches?”
            “They’re on the table in the kitchen,” I reply. “Where you always put them.”
            “I thought I left them in here,” my father leans on his stick then turns and stumbles out of the living room and into the kitchen.
            You hop off the piano stool, take the matches from your pocket, and carefully place them on the arm of your grandfather’s favorite chair.
            “Sssssh!” you say, putting a finger on your lips. Then you skip back to the piano and start playing pianissimo on high notes that float like tiny raindrops of sound produced by miniscule angels.          
            Your grandfather returns, glances round the room, spots the match box, and pounces upon it, a caged tiger finally served his red meat.
            “That’s funny,” he mutters. “They weren’t there a moment ago.” He takes out a match, strikes it, lights up his cigarette, inhales a lungful of smoke, then exhales it in a great locomotive puff of cloud. He grimaces at you through a haze of smoke.
            “There’s nice music you’re playing.”
            Your young lungs, unaccustomed to a house of smokers, can’t cope with this thin, grey, choking cigarette waste. You stop playing, put a hand over your mouth, and start to gag.

Listen to the Podcast here:
Pianissimo