Rage, Rage

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

5

Rage, rage …

Sometimes you wake up in the morning
and you realize that you can do no more.
What is it about family split-ups, the ugliness
and of a disputed divorce, the glue coming
unstuck in an already unstable marriage,
a financial settlement that satisfies nobody
and impoverishes both sides of a divide?

And how do you bridge that divide
when you are friends with father, mother, children
and the wounds are so deep that everyone wants out,
whatever the costs and whatever it takes?
And what is it about the deliberate wounding
of each by the others, leaving permanent scars
that will never heal over, no matter how hard one tries?

And what is it about lawyers, when too many guests
gather around the Thanksgiving turkey and knives
are out for everyone to take the choicest cuts
leaving nothing but a skeletal carcass,
no flesh on the bones, and the guests all hungry
and their empty bellies rumbling for more, more, more.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Rage, Rage

Migrants

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

4

Migrants

Think natural disasters. Think famine,
wars, violence, plague. How our world changes
when refugees arrive, blend, contribute,
offer so much, their languages, cultures.

Yet we still exploit them, stealing subtle
things, their identities, their energy,
their ability to adapt, to give
so much and really to take so little.

Who would want to build a wall,
to reject them, to deny entry?
Maybe a million Indigenous people
can actually claim the right

to belong here. Most of us are immigrants,
late-comers in one way or another.
To accept, to grow together in peace,
to establish a nation where people

need not fear imminent expulsion
for the color of their skin, their language,
their religion, their political thoughts,
the fact they may not even vote for us.

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Migrants

Push to Shove

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

3

Push to Shove

When push comes to shove, who stands
at one end of the gangplank, who at the other,
the shipboard one with a gun or a cutlass,
the other poised above circling sharks,
their grey triangular mini-sails threatening.

Can you hear the siren song emerging from
Davey Jones, waiting below, his locker door
open, as it has been so often before? Is this
fate or a fait accompli? Don’t ask me.

Let’s leave him there, the condemned man,
walking his plank, tied blindfold to his stake, seated
before the firing squad, standing on the crossing,
not quite ready to dance on a rope’s end, or riding
the tumbril to La Place de la Bastille, carrying
the time-bomb candle that will light him to bed.

Waiting, waiting, like them, we are all of us waiting,
in media res, waiting for push to come to shove.

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Push to Shove

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.

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A Rainbow of Clichés

Why do the People…

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

1

Divide and Conquer

They divided us into houses, Spartans and Trojans,
and encouraged us to compete with each other,
single combat, and then team against team,
house against house, eternal, internal civil war.

We divided ourselves into Cavaliers and Roundheads,
Monarchists and Parliamentarians, Protestants and Catholics,
and we continued those uncivil wars that marred the monarchy,
brought down the crown, and executed the Lord’s anointed.

We fought bitterly, tribe against tribe, religion against religion,
circumcised against uncircumcised, dorm against dorm,
class against class, territorial warfare. We defended our bounds,
bonding against all outsiders to guard each chosen ground.

With it came the denigration of the other. Not our class.
Scholarship boy. Wrong end of town. Wrong accent.
We don’t talk like that here. Speak the Queen’s English, you…
and here …. we inserted the appropriate word of vilification.

Our wars never ended. We carried them from prep school
to junior school, to senior school, sometimes changing
sides as we changed schools or houses, always clinging
grimly to our friends, protectors, and those we knew best.

After school, all those prejudices continued to hold us down,
haunted us through university, red-brick or inspired spires,
Trinity Oxford, Trinity Cambridge, or Trinity Dublin,
each gilded with the white sniff of snobbery that gelded us.

Alas, we carried them, piled in our intellectual rucksacks,
through university, into grad school, out into the wide world,
infinitely small minds based on prejudice and pride, continuing
our tribal warfare, unable to understand anything at all,
other than shoulder to shoulder, us or them, conquer and divide.

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Why do the people?

A Speaker Bespoken

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

7

A Speaker Bespoken

They asked him to speak at her funeral
but he never knew who she really was.
He only knew she loved the whisky bottle
more than she loved life. “What can I say?”
he asked. “Say that you loved her.” “I didn’t.”
“Say how much she loved you.” “She didn’t.
And she loved her bottle so much more.”

Should he say how he found her, soaked in urine,
covered in vomit, naked on the kitchen floor?
Should he describe the blend of alcohol and body
scents, her personal perfume, flooding the bedroom?
Should he repeat the four-letter words, and worse,
she used when he tried to stop her drinking?
Should he tell how she took her rings to town,
pawned them, and left the slips on the table
where he would find them? He paid her debts,
collected her rings, returned them. Should he tell
how she sold them again and again?
How she would play hunt the thimble,
round and round the house until she found
where he had hidden them, then took them,
and pawned them once more?

The chaplain shrugged. “Say what you want,
whatever you wish, but you have to speak.”
And speak he did, so choked up with emotion
that he broke down and cried and never a word
emerged from his mouth. An audience of chairs.
The few friends who attended also broke down
and hugged him, and said he had spoken volumes
and they had understood every single word.

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A Speaker Bespoken

And every valley

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

5

And Every Valley

And every valley shall be filled with coal.
And the miners will mine, growing old
before their time, with pneumoconiosis
a constant companion, and that dark spot
on the grey slide of the sidewalk a mining
souvenir coughed up from the depths
of lungs that so seldom saw the sun
and soaked themselves in the black dust
that cluttered, clogged, bent and twisted
those beautiful young bodies into ageing,
pipe-cleaner shapes, yellowed and inked
with nicotine and sorrows buried so deep,
a thousand, two thousand feet deep down,
and often so far out to sea that loved ones
knew their loved ones would never see
the white handkerchiefs waved, never
in surrender but in a butterfly prayer,
an offering, and a blessing that their men
would survive the shift and come back
to the surface and live again amidst family
and friends and always the fear, the pinched
-face, livid, living fear that such an ending
might never be the one on offer, but rather
the grimmer end of gas, or flame, or collapse,
with the pit wheels stopped, and the sirens
blaring, and the black crowds gathering, and
no canaries, no miners, singing in their cages.

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And every valley

Message

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

4

Message

Six in the morning.
The phone rings,
shatters our dreams.

A skeletal voice
at the other end announces
the name of the deceased
in ritual words, ending
with my condolences.

Five in the morning here,
nine in the morning over there.
Death at a distance,
three thousand miles
and four hours between us,
yet the phone call arrives
on time, instantaneous.

Your father, your mother, her mother,
gone, their absence heralded
by the police, a lawyer, a doctor,
a nurse practitioner,
an anonymous nurse,
someone you will never meet.

That call can come anytime.
While you are out in the car,
or in the garden, digging,
or maybe shovelling the snow.

And maybe that’s how death will come,
says Seamus Heaney, by telephone,
an unexpected call
from an unexpected caller.

The phone rings and your partner listens,
then hands over the receiver:
“It’s for you, my dear.”

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Message

Clockwork Universe

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

2

Clockwork Universe

A golden globe of sunlight, this orange,
moving in time with the shadows in the skies
that time has ticked to captivate the stars.

Its auburn skin burgeons, polished shiny
by the low fall sun penetrating the window,
desiring to slice this tree-fruit into segments.

A Prelapsarian orange, it glows with the glory
of its unblemished birth in that distant garden
where everything was perfect, before the Fall.

Apples and oranges, chalk and cheese.
Clichés ring out but oranges and lemons sing
the bells of St. Clements as children dance.

Heads bowed they pass beneath archways
of linked hands, imaginary scaffolds bringing
candles and choppers to chop off their heads.

So much more certain, a clockwork orange,
wound up and ready to serve as an alarm clock
that awakes us to the realities of unsustainability.

Or are we all just marginal oranges, placed here
to be devoured, when needed, or thrown away
when our time has run out and our glow is gone?

Circular perfection, balanced now in my hand.
When my nail pierces the peel it releases a perfect
storm of essence of orange, assaulting the senses,
droplets, scent on nostrils, tangy taste on tongue.

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Clockwork Universe

Time Beyond Time

Meditations on Messiaen
Quartet for the End of Time

7

Time Beyond Time

Time beyond time and the eternal
ever-present in the quotidian.

When the Seventh Angel sounds his trumpet,
time will be no more and this earth
will be pulped, like an orange,
in an almighty hand, clenched into a fist.

Thus it is writ, and sundry have read the words.
repetitive forms cycle and recycle themselves,
diatonic chords disassociated by duration.
Laud, bless and praise always the vivid joy,
light and color lighting up the skies
in an aurora borealis seldom seen.

Indefectible light, unalterable peace,
rhythmic repetition, time’s serpent
circling around itself and devouring its tail
in assonance and dissonance, the utmost beauty
of raindrop birdsong, its liquid forever decanted.
Infinitely slow, ecstatic is the message.

“Laud, bless, and praise him all thy days
for it is seemly so to do.”
Old One Hundredth.

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Time Beyond Time