Crocodile Tears

SD 16

 

Crocodile Tears

         The crocodile lives in the wind-up gramophone. The gramophone lives in the top room of the house. The boy winds up the gramophone with a long brass handle, round and round, till the spring is tight. The tight spring frightens the crocodile and he sits quietly in his cage. But as the record goes round, the spring loosens up and the crocodile roars and demands to be freed. He’s the Jack that wants to jump out of the box. His long-term dream is to eat up the witch who looks out of the window and watches the boy as he plays in the yard.

         Last week the boy decided to dig. He picked up a spade and dug a deep hole that went all the way down to his cousin in Australia. The little dog laughed and joined in the fun, scraping with his front paws and throwing earth out between his back legs like happy dogs do. The witch in the window cackled with laughter and the rooks in the rookery rose up in a cloud and cawed in reply. Only the boy can see the witch and he only sees her when she sits in the window. But he knows she wanders through the house, and the air goes cold when she enters and exits the rooms, especially when she brushes past the boy and sweeps his skin with her long, black gown.

         When the boy gets tired of digging, he drives the spade into the ground and leaves it standing by the hole. When his father comes home after work, it’s dark and he doesn’t see the hole but he does see the spade. So he doesn’t fall in to the shaft of the coal-mine that goes all the way down to Australia. No free trip to the Antipodes for that lucky dad. He beats the boy for that, for digging that hole. Then he beats him again for lying: the hole doesn’t go to Australia. Australia is too far away and the angle is all wrong. The boy laughs when he sees that his dad doesn’t know where Australia is.

         “Ha-ha,” he laughs and his dad beats him again, this time for laughing.

         Sometimes at night the boy can hear rats running through his bedroom walls. They scuttle and scuffle as they hunt through the guttering. The crocodile growls from time to time in that upstairs room. The witch cackles with laughter. The boy puts his head under the blankets and cries himself to sleep. Sometimes he wishes the crocodile would come and eat up his dad. But he loves his dad like the dog loves his dad even though his dad beats both the boy and the dog. Sudden beatings, they are, beatings that arrive without warning: hail and thunder from a sunny summer sky.

         “Well, you’re not laughing now,” his father announces.     When the father beats the boy, the dog cowers beneath a chair. The boy hears the crocodile growl and smiles through the tears as he wipes salt water from his eyes.

         “Are you laughing at me? I’ll make you laugh on the other side of your face,” the father taunts the son and beats him again.

         The crocodile growls. The old witch cackles. The rooks in the rookery rise up in the air and the father’s hair stands up on end like it does when lightning lights up the sky, and thunder rolls its drums, and the sky rattles like an old farmer’s cart whose iron-rimmed wheels have not been greased. The veins stand out in his father’s cheeks as the old man raises his hand to the boy.

         The old man tells the same old jokes again and again. The boy must always remember to laugh at them as if he had never heard them before. If he doesn’t laugh, his father gets angry. Some of the jokes are good, and the boy likes the one about the Catholic who goes into the bar in Belfast and asks the barkeep if they serve Protestants. Or is it the one in which the Protestant goes into the bar and ask the barkeep if they serve Catholics … anyway … one night, the boy has a dream and it goes like this. The crocodile escapes from the gramophone. The witch hands the boy a leash and a collar and between them they restrain the crocodile.

         “Walkies?” says the boy.

         The crocodile nods his head and croc and boy walk down the street to the Kiddy’s Soda Fountain on the corner.  When the boy walks in with the croc, the waitress raises her eyebrows and opens her mouth.

         “Do you serve grownups in here?” the little boy asks her.

         “Of course we do,” says the waitress.

         “Good. I’ll have a glass of Dandelion & Burdock for myself and a grown-up for the crocodile. Please.”

         The witch says grace, the boy sips his Dandelion & Burdock, and they all shed crocodile tears as the boy’s pet crocodile chomps on the fast disappearing body of the boy’s dad.

Bad Hair Day

IMG_0032

Bad Hair Day

          It all started when I rolled over at 4:00 am and heard the grandfather clock in the hall strike three. I double checked my watch with the alarm clock. It was definitely four o’clock. The grandfather clock, older than me, had to be wrong.

         I sat up in bed and blinked. The light of the telephone flashed on and off. Someone had left me a message. The message machine was downstairs along with the grandfather clock. No way I thought I’m not going down there, not even to kill two birds with one stone. I rolled back the other way, stuck my head under the blankets, and tried to go back to sleep. I could sense the flashing light, even if I couldn’t see it and the Westminster Chimes played false notes, sometimes one too short, sometimes one too many. I counted them instead of sheep and couldn’t fall asleep.

         At six o’clock, with the room in darkness save for that ever-flashing light, I struggled out of bed. I had dumped my dirty clothes in the laundry basket and I needed everything clean and fresh. I hobbled to the chest of drawers and pulled out clean socks and pants. Then I went to the clothes closet and took a clean shirt off the hanger. My pants went on more easily than usual and my shirt just slipped over my head. I hauled up my jeans and placed my first sock on the sock machine. It felt a bit awkward, but went on with no real problem. The same with the second sock.

         I removed my pocket flashlight from Teddy’s ear where I keep it overnight and tucked it into my shirt pocket. It fell to the floor. I checked my chest … no pocket. I noticed a bulge on the right hand side where no pocket should be … pocket … but inside the shirt. I reached up to the buttons and they too were inside the shirt. To hell with it I thought I can’t be bothered to change. I slipped my Birkenstocks on and felt a lump under my left foot. The heel had slipped under the arch. My sock machine had failed me. I checked the right foot. I could see the heel all right: it was in the middle of my foot just above the toes.

         By now I needed the en suite bathroom so I hobbled across to it. No flashlight in my non-existent pocket, not wishing to turn on the bathroom lights, I fumbled for a moment or two and then for a lot longer. Why, oh why, was there no Y-front to my Y-front pants? Ours not to reason why … and then before I could control myself it all happened. Clean pants and all.

         So, I turned on the light and checked myself out. Socks upside down? I took them off. Clean pants on back to front and twisted and now slightly more than damp? I took my jeans off and my pants with them. Shirt on inside out? Off with it and anyway, it was wetter than it should be and I knew I hadn’t been sweating that much. I looked at the clothes in their little pile on the floor and I kicked them as hard as I could.

         Of course, I stumbled and only saved myself from being part of the statistics of bathroom accidents by lurching for, and grabbing, the towel rail. It came away from the wall, towel and all. Luckily, I grasped the window ledge and kept my balance so I didn’t fall.

         I got into the shower, washed myself down, climbed out again, toweled myself dry, and climbed back into bed. I stuck the flash light into Teddy’s ear and then I took it out again. In a fit of pique, I hurled Teddy at the still-flashing telephone. Bull’s Eye … or should that be Teddy Bear’s Eye? Anyway, the darn thing stopped flashing and I was able to go back to sleep for about an hour.

         When I woke up the second time, I dressed very carefully. Socks with the heel in the right place, check! Y-fronts with the Y where I need it, check! Shirt the right side out, check! Go downstairs and erase the overnight message, check! Light stopped flashing, check!

         I limped to the IMac and turned it on. Then I opened my documents … I open my documents … I ope … but the error message keeps flashing across the screen. I can’t open my documents because I need a new app. The current app is no longer functional on the new system the IT men installed just yesterday. I abandon the IMac and go to the PC. I open the documents with no problem at all. I start to work on a poem and ERROR … ERROR … ERROR … Norton needs to be uninstalled and re-installed . URGENT … ERROR … ERROR …

         I shut down the PC and walk into the kitchen. The floor is wet and slippery. I think for a moment that, with the willing suspension of disbelief, I am really walking on water? But no, I’m not. Sad reality strikes again: the cat has thrown up and I’m skating on a hairball.

“My gran pappy told me there’d be days like these: ain’t nothing shaking but the leaves on the trees.” Eddy Cochrane.

Bad Hair Day was first published in Bistro. This collection of short fiction was one of three finalists in the 2017 NB book awards (prose). It is available on Amazon.

Naval Gazing

Bistro Cartoon Naval Gazing

 

Naval Gazing

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 s锑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

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.

Yesterday
audio recording

Insomnia

IMG_0114

Insomnia

Mine was at its worst in Moncton in 2015. I was committed to eight weeks of radiation treatment, and after two weeks, I slept restlessly, if at all. Some of the other residents of the hospice were worse off than me. They got up at all hours of the night and paced the floors downstairs, nursing their wounds, both mental and physical, searching for the peace and the sleep that eluded them. I never went down to join them. My case was different. All cases are slightly different. In spite of this society’s attempts at social engineering, each of us is an individual and we deal with our own problems in our own way.

In my case, the need to pee during the night dominated my sleep. I would sleep in ninety minute cycles, then get up and visit the bathroom, then return to bed for another ninety minutes. Sometimes, I was lucky and the cycles went for two hours, or two and a half hours. I rarely got more than three hours sleep. Upon returning to bed, I would often just lie there, remembering, thinking, musing, hoping, waiting for sleep to come. Often my cycle would reject the sleep I needed, and I just lay there waiting until I was ready to pee again. These were not great times. Luckily I never fell asleep so deeply that I wet the bed. Some did, but I was one of the lucky ones and managed to keep my bedding clean.

During this time, I learned to divide the night into segments. I thought of the segment that ran from 10:00 pm to 3:00 am as an uphill climb with the initial joy of dropping off to sleep tempered by the knowledge that the urge to urinate would soon be upon me. The segment from 3 am to 4 am was the plateau at the top of the hill: I rarely slept during this period and would look frequently at my clock while the minutes ticked by. Sometimes I would turn on the light and just watch the second hand throbbing slowly round. It was like watching sand sift through an hour glass, or water sift through the fingers: uncontrollable, unstoppable, life just slipping away. I had plenty of time to think and much to think about. I relived my life during those eight weeks and a lot of it was unpleasant as I blamed myself for the situation I was in.

At 4 am, the universe shifted, and I was able to relax and slide downhill into the Land of Winking, Blinking, and Nod. With the urges of the earlier segments fading, I would often get two sound sleeps at this stage, one from 4 to 6 and the other from 6-8. If I was lucky, I would sleep from 4-7, or even 4-7:30 am. These were bonus nights and I awoke after a three hour sleep session to find myself greatly refreshed.

Three years after my treatment, many things have returned to normal However, those sleep patterns have not changed that much. I no longer feel the need to urinate at such regular intervals, but I still dip in and out of those same sleep cycles. They have become a part of my system. The easy part, tired, sleeping from bed-time to about 2:30-3:00. The lying awake, anywhere between 2:30 – 4:30, then the relaxing slip into dreamland, for the last part of the night.

The good thing is that my dreams have changed. I am no longer chased by the ghosts of times past who pace through my night, awake and asleep, to prove that my suffering is due to past moments of childhood iniquities discovered in soulful daily examinations  induced by a consciousness of minute sins demanded by the weekly confessional. Now, I dream of many things, of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and if the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings. This is much more fun: I find I can now control my dreams, re-think them, and re-write the endings. In my waking periods I do just this, and my dreams adapt and change and become more pleasant as I fall back into sleep. This has turned into a time of great creativity: but that is a tale for another day.

Cooking

img_0385

Cooking

My Welsh grandmother, not my Irish one, taught me how to cook. At the time, I was the only grandchild. Whenever she cooked and I was in the house, she would take me into the kitchen, stand me on a stool by the gas stove, and encourage me to stir as the mixtures swirled and bubbled in pan or pot. I also helped her shell the peas, slice the carrots, whatever. When the preparation was ready, she would set aside a small portion that was mine. This might be a cake in the oven, a pair of biscuits shaped awkwardly by my own hand, or a small side pot of soup. “There’s nobody else,” she would whisper to me. “The old ways will die if I don’t teach you.” She was the one who taught me the exact moment when Welsh Cakes were ready to be molded, and there’s only one way to learn: place your hands in the mix. The right texture, as they say in the cookbooks, is ‘fine grain sand’ but you have to experience it to be certain what those words really mean.

I was a latch-key kid, as they now call them. Both my parents worked all day, leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning and not returning until 4 or 5 at night. Being able to cook meant that I never starved and I remember cooking soups, Cawl Mamgu among others, at a very early age. When I started traveling to France and Spain, I often ended up in various kitchens where I listened to the women as they prepared the food. Language and cooking went hand in hand and I learned how to roast coffee beans in a cast-iron frying pan, how to vary my range of soups, how to prepare casseroles, how to scramble eggs the continental way.

When I studied in Santander, Spain, my landlady left me, every night, one onion, one potato, and one egg. This was for the Spanish omelette that I ate most evenings. She cooked the first one for me, supervised me as I cooked the second one, and then abandoned me to my own devices. I often heard her snoring as I lit the gas, warmed the pan, and started to prepare my tortilla española. I still make Spanish omelettes, and they are delicious, but here in Canada they are never quite the same as they were in Spain. The ingredients look the same, olive oil, egg, salt and pepper, potatoes and onions … but the eggs are not Spanish free-range eggs from country hens and the oil, the potatoes, the onions, the salt … everything looks the same, but tastes vastly different.

Two days ago I bought a pound of fresh hake, merluza in Spanish. I cooked it in butter, half poached, half-sautéed. We ate half that night. Next day, I struggled with my thoughts: should I make fish cakes from the rest of the fish, or should I make a fish soup / sopa de pescado? Fish soup won. I put some truffle flavored olive oil into the frying pan, sliced small a tomato fresh from the garden, added a finely chopped onion, spiced it with sea salt, and added a small pinch of pimentón picante / hot Spanish paprika from La Vega in Spain. I let this simmer for a few minutes, then added some sherry. Into this mixture I put the rest of the hake together with the butter sauce that remained from the night before. The dish looked inviting, was very colorful, but appeared to be small and insufficient for the hungry eyes that followed the process. I added four large shrimp, sliced into four pieces each, a large scallop, thinly sliced, and sufficient water to thin the gathered liquids. Then I chopped up some sugar peas and added them as well. My sopa de pescado had undergone a sea change and become a sopa de mariscos / a sea food soup. The colors amazed: reds, yellows, oranges, and touches of green. On the spur of the moment, I named it New Brunswick Autumn Foliage. I tested it regularly as it simmered and it was ready when the sea food was done. Delicious.

I don’t know when my grandmother was born, or where, other than somewhere in Wales. I celebrate her birthday every time I cook something special, and my last two meals were very special. I don’t know where you are, Nana. You left us a long time ago. But wherever you are, thank you so much for the gifts you gave me. And Nana, I love you. You have traveled with me from Wales to Canada, and I celebrate you and your birthday every time I cook.

KIRA & so much more

 

IMG_0052

KIRA & so much more

KIRA & Kingsbrae Gardens are so much more than an outdoor adventure. They offer a journey into yourself, an exploration of your inner depths, a Jules Verne voyage into the interior of the world that you are: the artist, the creator, the truly spiritual person that you are capable of being.

How do I know? Because I have been there. I have walked those beaches, explored those shores, got my feet dirty in the Passamaquoddy mud, climbed those hills, viewed those islands from both sides. I have been out to sea to see those whales, have crossed the Old Sow from side to side, have imagined myself as a pirate for the shortest of times, crawling my sailing ship around the whirlpool, listening to its sucking sound, watching the seals as they rose from the depths, the sea gulls as they dropped from the skies.

Within the gardens, I have touched those secret places, grasped the flowers, crushed the leaves of herbs between sightless fingers and raised those perfumes to blind nostrils. I have also breathed in the scents of salt borne on a sea wind caressing the cheek, smoothing the brow, bearing away the cares of city and suburb.

Renewal is here and now. It is the sea wind’s kiss, the suck of mud, between the toes, barefoot, the rise and fall of tides, the ocean’s life forced into our lives and floating our cares and despairs away. Nothing of the city lurks here to ambush us, unless you bring it with cell phone, computer, texting, and the dull, grey air that will soon be vanquished and whisked away by the breeze, terns, gannets, the seal’s nose breaking through the sea’s surface, the deer crossing the road, demanding their right of way.

At the end of my own residency in KIRA (June, 2017), I tried to summarize my thoughts about the experience. To read them for yourself, click on this link: Residency, June 29, 2017. I was invited by the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick to write about my stay. To read that, please click on this link: KIRA: an intensive creative experience WFNB, August 5, 2017).

To find information about your own potential residency at KIRA, click on this site KIRA – Kingsbrae Garden or this one KIRA Boutique Writing Retreat.

 IMG_0464

 

 

MT 2-6 Monkey Meets An Anarchist Ant

img_0188

MT 2.6
Monkey Meets An Anarchist Ant

(Memories of El Camino de Santiago)

The anarchist ant dresses in black.
He wears a little red base-ball cap
backwards on his head.
His eyes are fiery coals.

“Phooey!” He says.
“It’s folly to go with the flow.”
So he turns his back
on his companions and marches
in the other direction.

Some ants call him a fool.
The Ant Police try to turn him.
The Thought Police try
to make him change his mind.

Others, in blind obedience
to a thwarted, intolerant authority,
first bully him, then beat him,
then bite him till he’s dead.

Comment: One of the legends of the Road to St. James, the pilgrim route across Northern Spain that I walked in 1979, states that if you do not walk the road as a human being, in your own lifetime, you will come back as an ant and be forced to walk it ant form, when you are dead. I stood on the hill outside Astorga, looking back at the city. On the old pilgrim road, at my feet, and beneath the old Cruz de Harapos, a colony of ants was busy walking in a long line towards Santiago de Compostela. One turned his back on the group and started to walk the other way, but he didn’t last long. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard.” Fair enough. But watch out for the ant-police and the thought-police.