Painting the School Outing

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Painting the School Outing
Beaver Pond, Mactaquac

The yellow of the school bus is easy, but
what colors do you give the rain of school
kids descending? And how do you portray
their energy, their noise, the tones of French
and English? What colors are their vowels,
their consonants, their high-pitched voices?

You can sketch their orderly rows as they snack
on the top-hat magic pulled out of backpacks.
But it’s not so easy to paint the pop of Pepsi cans,
the scent of chocolate bars, or the crackle of chips
released from packets and popped into mouths.

Running round after lunch, they drive the wild
birds wild with their unorganized games of tag,
their impromptu dances, their three-legged races,
their winners and losers, their joys and sorrows.
Fishing nets are produced from nowhere. Girls,
boys wander to water’s edge in search of prey:
incipient frogs, newts, tadpoles, bullheads, but
how do you paint the wet and wriggle of them?

Try painting this. Whistles sound. Kids regroup.
The bus reloads and goes. Now paint the silence.
Sketch the tranquility of woods, bird-calls back,
of the beaver pond with its lilies stretching their
green necks skywards towards a pale blue sky
where cotton clouds cluster together in celestial
flocks. A pastoral scene, this painter’s paradise.

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Full Moon Over KIRA

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Full Moon Over KIRA

Who shall dredge this midnight moon
from the shoals of Passamaquoddy Bay?
Gaunt the moon-rakers’ faces, harsh their hands
hauling on nets, heaving her up, rippled and dimpled,
blunt her bite as she emerges from submersion,
raked from water in the traditional ritual.

Upside down, these reflected clouds,
as bright as full-moon fishing boats
distorted from below as the night wind
blows clean dry bones across a mirrored sky
where shadow fish fly wet with moonshine.

Oh pity her, you people, as she’s dragged
from her element and exposed to air and oxygen
that will slowly kill her, make her fade,
frail and fragile, not meant for this world of rock
and stone, flower and field, but destined to walk
in heavenly meadows or to rest in the shallows
where she rocks to sleep in the sea’s endless cradle.

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Monet at Giverny

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Monet at Giverny

Day’s executioner stripes evening
across the sacrificed horizon.
In blood he was born, in earth
will he rest his flesh, turning it into bread.
Purple this imperial wine streaming with day’s
death, ruffling these troubled waters.

Green footprints, the lily pads.
A halo, this drowned man’s beard,
liquescent. Like the gods, he dreamed
he walked dry on water.
Stepping stones, these goldfish
flowering beneath this thin line of cloud.

Maples flash ruby thoughts that ripple
outwards, waves cast upon a liquid sky
towards what farther shores?

Wisteria blesses him with its curly blue locks.
Narcissus, he clads himself in an abyss of lilies,
imperial, his reflection, and imperiled.
Slowly he slides to sleep, merging into his dream:
a vaulted cathedral, his earthbound ribs,
the blood space immaculate.

His lily pond turns into a fallen mirror,
shattering as it ripples in the breeze.
Shards of clouds flare like flames. Fractured
fish, red and gold, shelter beneath white lilies.

Night and day, sun and moon, leapfrog
over tranquil water. Something always survives:
sepia tints, old photos, dreaming on and on.

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Monet at Kingsbrae

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Monet at Kingsbrae

Clos Normand and the Grande Allée closed to him.
Folded his flowers, their petals tight at his nightfall.
Dark their colours, in mourning for his mornings
of light, fled far from him now, left way back behind.

The Lady of the Garden holds out her hand, hands him
an apple: l’offrande du coeur. A scarlet heart of flame
and his world regenerates in roses and in tulips. Especially
when the dying sun pours molten fire on a crimson lake.

The limpid sky brims over into low clouds trapping
a slash of colour here, and there a tree, a fountain of gold.
If the sun is an apple blushing on a setting branch, the money
plant hangs silver-white of moonlight between fine-tuned fingers.
When it rattles its seeds, coins blunt the moon’s sharp edge,
clouds weep, and earth is eclipsed by nickels and dimes.

The breeze bowls clean dry bones across the sky. Wind of change:
that first fast bite too bitter to remember and timeless this tide,
this ebb and flow, this great pond-serpent coiled around the tree,
devouring both tail and tale, dictating itself to death, forever.

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Hollyhock

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Still Life with Hollyhock
for
Geoff Slater
the inventor of line painting

How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?

Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?

So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting
of a photo of a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.

A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead
nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.

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False Spring

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False Spring

Winter whiteness slowing now,
and the tide that full bore crashed
white waves against our house
receding to garden’s foot where
warm roots wait their waking.

But winter still stalks the land
and April brings snow, more snow,
as if there will never be an end
to these waves of whiteness,
thinner, trimmer, true, but
unwelcome as spring days grow
longer and sunrise beckons
ever more early with Crow
and Blue Jay breaking the morning’s peace
into raucous pieces
as they bounce from branch to branch …

.. and brown the earth, and barren,
and bare, the robins finding no food
and flying on, while the passerines
just call and pass us by, finches at the feeder,
purple and gold, yet singing no songs,
and the robins, hop-along casualties
of this long-delayed spring that promises,
to come but never arrives …

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Comment: Not so bad this year, the weather, but it’s been a funny winter, most strange, and totally discomforting, what with the pandemic, the lockdowns, the relief of going back to yellow, fresh lockdowns, and so many things happening everywhere while we were trapped inside where nothing was happening, save in the various forms of virtual reality that replaced quotidian reality with a mixture of faux, fake, and false, all wrapped up in a brown-paper bag of honey-sweet smiles and scowls, raised voices, and bottled anguish.

Not on my watch!

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Not on My Watch!

The black-and-white cat
sits in the window and watches
the ginger cat that lounges on the porch
and watches the five deer
that stand in the woods at the garden’s foot
and watch the neighbor’s little dog
that watches the raccoon
that disdainfully removes the garbage can lid
and fishes out the food, scattering
paper and wrappers and cans
as four crows sit in the tree and watch
the wind as it whistles the papers
round and round in a windmill
that wraps itself round the feet
of another neighbor who is watching
the raccoon with open-eyes
as a seagull flies above him
and bombs him from above,
damn seagulls, and the bird poop
falls right on my neighbor’s watch face
and he cries out
“Oh no, not on my watch!”

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Comment: The photo shows the Omega watch that my father gave me for my 21st birthday. I am wearing it now, together with the bracelet that my four year old granddaughter, his great-grand-daughter, gave me for my birthday two years ago. Four generations in one photograph. Unbelievable.

GBH on the TCH

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GBH on the TCH

She climbs up from the river
where she’s been drinking.
She ripples tawny, red, and orange
across the TCH.

 As quick as a fox, they say:
black socks, brush winter-thick
held high and proud,
as quick as a shadow
melting into dark woods
on the highway’s far side.

Her cub follows close behind,
but he’s not quite as quick.
A passing car tries to swerve
only to grind him into the gravel.

Sudden, that fox-stink,
still clinging to my nostrils
 like a slow-motion death,
dreamed at night,
frame by bitter frame,
until a life-time of silence
seals the lips of parted lovers.

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Wake

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Wake

Such a miracle:
the first steps of the cormorant’s flight
taken over water.

That first step heavy,
the second lighter,
and the third scarcely a paint brush
pocking the waves.

The need to take flight
lies deep within me.

Like a ship at sea,
or a seabird over the waves,
I will leave white water in my wake
to prove that I was here,
for a little while,
but have now gone.

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Fire

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Fire

Fire
a double-edged sword

Fire
the beginning
and fire the end

Fire
the means of forging
the Omega and Alpha
that surround us
day by day

Fire
surrounds us
but leads us
nowhere

we must create
our own path through
Fire
to the life beyond
Fire

so many things
to save from
Fire

so many things
to be consumed by
Fire and flame

only a fiercer Fire
will free us from
will put an end to
Fire