Charles Baudelaire

A butterfly perches on Les Fleurs du Mal.

Charles Baudelaire

He walks past the Jesuit Church
where the shoe-shine boys store
polish, brushes, and chairs overnight.
He walks past the wrought-iron bench
where the gay guys sit, caressing,
asking the unsuspecting to join them.

Nobody asks Charles for a match,
for a drink, for charity, for a walk
down the alley to a cheap hotel.

The witch doctor is the one who stops
the hands on all the clocks at midnight.
He’s the one who leaves this place,
and returns to this place, all places being one.
The witch doctor sees little things
that other men don’t see. He reaches out
and flicks a fly from Charles’s nose.
“I too have lost my way,” it sighs.

Charles thinks he knows who he is,
but sometimes he wonders when he shaves,
rasping the razor across his chin’s dry husks.
The witch doctor, his lookalike, his twin,
stares back at him from the bathroom mirror.
Three witches dance on the waning soap dish.
One spins the yarn, one measures the cloth,
one wields the knife, that will one day sever
the thread of all poor creatures born to die.

Oh hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère.

Time

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Time
A Theory of the Absurd

I wonder what I’m doing here, so far from home, sitting
at the bar, with my beer before me, my face distorted
in half a dozen fairground mirrors, surrounded by
people half my age, or less, all smoking, cursing, using
foreign forms of meta-language, gestures I no longer recall:
the single finger on the nose, two fingers on the forehead,
the back of the hand rammed against the chin with a sort
of snort of disapproval. It’s way beyond my bedtime, yet
I am held here, captured, body and soul, by foreign rhythms,
unreal expectations of a daily ritual that runs on unbroken
cycles of time: morning brandy, pre-lunch wine and tapas,
home for the mid-day meal, a brief siesta, back to the café
for a post-prandial raising of spirits, more blanco, then back
to work at four and struggle on until seven or eight when
the bar routine begins again with pre-supper tapas and tinto.
Time, comprehended in this new life-cycle, lacks meaning.
Time, in a cycle I have long abandoned, is absurd as well.

Fate Accompli

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Fate Accompli

Life begins with the glow-worm of a match.
Luciérniga, Lucifer, the bringers of light.
Sun-flames flicker on the weaver’s fingers,
lighting day’s candle, bringing an end to night.

The shuttle clatters away, plotting our fate.
Tiny, we await our doom on the maker’s loom.
Wooden teeth braid each of the threads
the mid-wife will tie when she cuts the knot.

Three witches stand beside the newborn’s cradle.
One spins the yarn, one measures the thread,
the third one wields the journey-ending knife.

Infants, we walk, unwitting, our planks of fire.
We cast star-crossed shadows on cave walls.
Three witches smile as false omens forge our fate.

Ruins of the Heart

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Ruins of the Heart

Dusty paths meander under drifting clouds.
A worn-out, shadow rag, this ruined land.

An old man with a sly-eyed dog herds thin cows.
Threatened, I stoop and gather stones.

Moving targets, the dog, a shadow of dust
on burial mounds, wind-stirred with weeds.

Abandoned in this wilderness, a wild thorn
thrusts a spear through my derelict heart.

A rag-bag my own body, stitched together
with threads of long-forgotten tales.

Fear sets nightmare shadows dancing,
skeletons come alive on sculpted graves.

Carved faces, a woman, courted by men.
Which one captured her flowering heart?

Who pierced it with an arrow? Who scarred
her name letter by letter on this stone?

That first rock, freed from my fingers,
strikes hard on the canine’s cowardly frame,
setting earth’s shadows free to flee.

Sun and Moon

Sun and Moon
Poems from Oaxaca, Mexico

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Introduction to Sun and Moon

Oaxaca

A city of legends where the dead walk among the living and the stones beneath your feet come alive and talk to you. A city where the animals have voices and the songs of tree and leaf can be clearly heard. A city of hallucinations and spirits, of mystery and myths, a city, young in itself, built on land so old that memories clutch at you with treacherous fingers and lay siege to your heart claiming you for their own. This is the land of Sun and Moon. Come, enter its world. Join me there, if you dare.

Meeting my father in the main square

I saw my father yesterday evening, in Oaxaca. 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 thrust towards my face. The third smacked 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 another’s 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.


           
     
           
          

Empress of Ireland

Empress of Ireland
Poems from Ste. Luce-sur-mer

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The Empress of Ireland

The poems which have come together to form the Empress of Ireland were begun in Ste. Luce-sur-mer, Quebec, in May 2002. It was off-shore from Ste. Luce, in the early hours of the morning of the 29th of May, 1914, that the Empress of Ireland collided, in dense fog, with a converted Norwegian collier whose bows had been strengthened for ice-breaking. There were approximately 15 minutes between the moment of impact (1:55 am) and the moment the Empress caught fire and sank (2:10 am). Although the disaster has received little international attention, more passengers perished in this accident (840) then in the loss of the Titanic (832) or the sinking of the Lusitania (791).

Introduction to the Empress of Ireland

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A Survivor lights a candle
https://rogermoorepoet.com/2020/11/23/a-survivor-lights-a-candle/

I first heard voices in the cries of the sea birds on the beach at Ste. Luce-sur-mer.

Borne on the wind, over the sigh of the waves, they seemed high-pitched, like the voices of children, or of men and women in distress. These were lost voices, the cries of people alone and frightened by the dark. I heard them calling to me.

That night, there were knocks at my cabin door and finger nails scratched at my window. Tiny sounds, almost beyond the range of human hearing: the snuffling of puppies when they turn over in their sleep and tug at each other, whimpering in their dreams.

“Who’s there?”

I started from my sleep. But there was only the wind and the waves as the tide’s footsteps climbed a moonbeam path to ascend the beach. When I walked on  the sand next day, at low tide, there was a whispering behind my back. Little voices crying to be set free.

“Who’s there?”

A lone gull flew past my head and battered itself against the wind’s cage with outraged sturdy wings.  That night, the mist descended. The church stepped in and out of its darkness and shadows gathered, persistent, at my door.

I walked out into the night and saw a lone heron surrounded by gulls. It was as if an adult, clamoured at by children, was standing guard over the beach. Then I saw the shadows of little people searching for their parents, the shapes of mothers and fathers looking for their off-spring, lost among the grains of sand.

Beyond them, on the headland, the church stood tall above the shadows. I saw grandmothers and grandfathers, their lips moving in supplication, kneeling before the granite cross which stands above the sea. As I approached, they turned to me, opened their mouths, mouthed silent words, then disappeared.  When I went back to bed, faces and voices visited me in my dreams. When I got up next morning, they came to me in the speech of birds hidden in the foliage, in the words dropped by the osprey’s wing, in the click of the crab’s claw as he dug himself deeper into the sand.

“Release us”

“Speak for us!”

“Set us free!”

The words of the M Press of Ire are not my words. They could never be my words. Foundered words, they are, rescued from the beach, and dragged from the high tide mark with its sea weed, carapace, charred wood, old rusted iron, and bright bones of long dead animals polished by the relentless action of wind, sea and sand.

Three Witches

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Weavings on a back-strap loom,
figures hand-braided from straw, then painted.
When the witches cast their spells,
these tiny figures dream themselves into life.
We gaze spellbound at their dancing.

Three witches: one spins the yarn,
one measures the cloth,
one wields the black obsidian knife,
trimming each tiny thread.

Infinitesimal clockwork figures
balancing on wool, their mouths opening
and closing, silent, like goldfish.

Wooden teeth comb each thread,
the shuttle always moving, weaving whose fate?

Interlaced castillos, scintillating cities,
grecas floating lighter than this relámpago,
this lightning that lightens the air.

Crazy Glue

The autumn leaves: what does it take with it when it goes? And what does it leave behind?

Crazy Glue

Late last night, a fallen star grazed by the lamp-post. A bouquet of golden sparks flew from an iron tree and sanctified the gutter. The gas lamps sputtered patiently in uniform rows. A scarecrow stuttered into the limelight and shook my hand. She was wearing my grandmother’s Easter bonnet, with all the flowers renewed, but she couldn’t keep my heart from last winter’s left over crumbs. Suddenly a tulip thrust through the concrete. It became as red as a robin and flew into the lounge bar of a public house. The bronze leaf necklace circling my throat filled with a flow of springtime song. My heart stood upright, a warped piano in my breast, and my skeleton tarried at the corner to play knuckle-bones with the wind. Torn butterflies of news fluttered round and round and kissed my eyelids when they closed. Yesterday’s horoscope winked its subversive eye and called to the hermit in his lonely cell: “Look out for the stranger with the tin can alley smile. Tie your heart to the tail of the first stray dog that comes whistling down the street and follow it home to the empty house that breathes in and out, moving thin membranes of memory.”
            That’s where I now live. Upstairs, downstairs, a lonely route I tread while the wind at the window scratches tiny notes. Something breaks loose in the confines of my mind and walks beside me. My twin brother stalks through this silvery sliver of splintered glass, this simian mirror wrinkling our troubled suits of skin. I glimpse the old moon’s monkey face through a broken window. Jagged and thin, it wanders like an itinerant snail, cobbled with clumsy clouds. Once, I descended the playground slide in a shower of sparks. A vagabond in a paving stone sky, I rumbled across metal cracks, a knapsack of nightmares humped on my old man’s back. Tell me: when the snail moves house, who stores the furniture he leaves behind? The hermit crab lurks naked on the beach, seeking new lodgings. Who killed the candle and left us in darkness?
            Two eyes in limbo watch me roll this snowman’s belly of flab across an unknown, clouded room where yesterday I got lost in the mirror. I know how to swim, but I would have drowned, except the light was too shallow and my feet touched bottom when I let the wheels down. I swam on and in looking for a deserted island on which to build my idle sand castle dreams. Two people said they saw my reflection swimming like a goldfish in the silver of that secret space. They said I stared back out at them with circles of longing ringing my eyes; but I laughed when they said they had seen me, for when I looked in the mirror this morning to shave, I just wasn’t there. My razor dragged itself over an empty space and its sharpened blade scraped white music from the margin of a cd rom that spun on edge like dust rings round a vanished planet. Now there is a black hole where my passport photo used to thrive. Someone plucked me from the circle and cut me out in the dance last night. Today I’m looking for a scrapbook in which to stick myself with crazy glue that never, never, ever comes undone.

Chance Encounter

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“You only find what you leave behind.”

Chance Encounter
(Overheard at the bar)

“Meeting her, unexpected,
with another man,
and me, with another woman,
all four of us looking
bemused by what the other
had chosen in each
other’s absence
— suspense and silence —
then the halted, faltering
politeness of a nod,
a handshake, ships
passing in the night,
signals no longer recognized.”