Daydreams

Duermeivela: that time when the waker dreams he is waking, yet is still asleep. His mind wanders through a labyrinth of old memories, streets and squares, myths and legends. It is a mythical time of great creativity. To wake up from it is to be filled with hiraeth: a longing for all that is lost and can never be recaptured.

Daydreams

The alarm clock shuffles
its pack of sleeping hours:
a clicking of claws,
needles knitting outwards
towards dawn’s guillotine.

A knife edge
this keening wind
sharpening my bones
tingling fingers and toes.

Ageing eyes refurbished
in the morning’s sky fire.
Ravishing rainbows
dazzling the eyelash of day.

Old myths grow legs.
They wander away
to gather in quiet corners,
where the wind weaves
dry leaves into endless
figures of eight.

 An old man now,
I dream of white rabbits,
running down tunnels,
escaping the hunter’s hands.

When my dreams break up,
they back into a cul-de-sac:
a wilderness of harsh black scars.

Scalpels, my finger nails, carving
red slashes on white-washed walls,
trenchant shadows, twisted dancers,
old warrior kings
bent into pipe wire shapes.



Pilgrims


Flowers from Oaxaca. They will be carried by the young girl who will place them on her head. Her brother will walk beside her on her pilgrimage around the twelve central Oaxacan shrines.

Pilgrims

On the cathedral steps,
a boy pierces his lips
with a cruel spine of cactus.

The witch doctor
catches the warm blood
in a shining bowl.

The boy’s sister
kneels before el brujo,
who blesses her
in an ancient ritual.

Walking the pilgrim road,
she will visit all twelve
central Oaxacan shrines.

On her head she will carry
this basket filled with flowers
and heavy stones.

El Brujo casts
copal on his fire.
Brother and sister
girl inhale the incense.
The witch doctor
marks their cheeks with blood.

San Pedro

IMG0024_1
Looking back at my old photos from Oaxaca I am amazed at the contrasts between sun and shade, light and dark. I will never forget that ultimate glory: a sunbeam through a stained glass window, casting fragmented light.

San Pedro
Oaxaca

A single sunbeam descends.
Sharp blade of a heliocentric sword,
it shatters the chapel’s dark.
Fragmented light
stains me with glazed colors.

A pallid lily truncated
in the dawn’s pearly light,
Peter, the young widower,
kneels in prayer.

His head wears a halo.
His pilgrim palm
presses into the granite
forcing warming fingers
into a cradle of cold stone.

His flesh clings to
the statue’s marble hand.
A mingled maze:
marble and human veins.

Peter > petrus > piedra >
this church now a rock.

Alebrijes

Alebrijes

alebrije2
This is one of the first alebrijes I bought in the zocalo (main square) in Oaxaca. He has lost his ears and probably his tongue. They started falling out so we wrapped them up carefully and now we can’t find them. He’s still a happy chappy, hough, and has been in this house for a quarter of a century. Happy Birthday Alebrije!

     Alebrijes step out from dried wood and stand in the shower of paint that falls from the brush’s tip. Yellow flash of lightning, pointillistic rain, garish colors that mirror those of the códices. The carvings take the form of fantasy figures, anthropomorphic animals, and mythological creatures.
Sometimes one individual selects the wood, carves it, then covers it in paint. Occasionally an entire family takes part in the work of making the alebrije. One person collects the wood and prepares it for carving. Another carves and sands it. A third works on the undercoat, and a fourth applies the final patterns of paint.
The great debate: does the form in the wood reveal itself to the carver or do the carvers impose their own visions on the wood? In the case of the team, do the family members debate and come to a joint conclusion?
These thoughts, exchanged with wood-carvers in Oaxaca, have led to a series of interesting conversations. What exactly is creativity? Where does it come from? Do we, as artists, impose it upon our creations? Or do we merely observe and watch as new ideas float to the surface of our minds? How does the creative mind really function? And, by extension, how much of the sub-conscious creative sequence can be placed into words?

Alebrijes

 Are they half-grasped dreams
that wake, wide eyed, to a new day’s sun?

Or are they alive and thriving
when they fall from the tree?

Does the carver fish their color and shape
from his own interior sea,
or does he watch and wait for the spirit
to emerge from its wooden cocoon
to be reborn in a fiery block of color?

Daybreak:
in a secluded corner of my waking mind,
my neighbor’s dog greets the dawn with sparks
of bright colors born from his bark.

My waking dream: dark angels with butterfly bodies,
their inverted wings spread over my head to keep me warm.
In the town square, the local artist plucks dreams
from my head and paints them on carved wood.

IMG_0299
Our house iguana: he is not an alebrije, but is made out of painted metal foil, carved first, and then decorated. He’s the one who guards the front door and falls upon unwanted intruders when they least expect it. Never stay home alone without one, or two, or more. But watch out if you have too many and they get hungry.

Sympathetic Magic

Nunca llueve en los bares: it never rains in the bars.

Sympathetic Magic

“Rain, we need rain.”
The bruja whirls her rain stick.
Rain drops patter one by one,
then fall faster and faster
until her bamboo sky fills
with the sound of rushing water.

An autumnal whirl of sun-dried cactus
beats against its wooden prison walls.
Heavenwards, zopilotes float
beneath gathering clouds.
Rain falls in a wisdom of pearls
cast now before us.

Scales fall from my eyes.
They land on the marimbas,
dry beneath bar arches
where wild music sounds,
half-tame rhythms,
sympathetic music
like this rainstorm released
by the bruja‘s magic hand.

Comment: Bruja: witch, witch doctor; Oro de Oaxaca: mescal, the good stuff; Zopilote: Trickster, the turkey vulture who steals fire from the gods, omnipresent in Oaxaca; Marimbas: a tuned set of bamboo instruments. But you knew all that!

My Father

The Jaguar Symbol of Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico.

I saw my father yesterday evening. 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.

Comment: A Golden Oldie that I had forgotten about. I found it among the drafts of earlier work. Monte Alban is also known as Dani Ba in the indigenous language of the region. Click on the link for more on Monte Alban. And click on this link for another piece on my father and Oaxaca. It’s a funny thing about Golden Oldies: sometimes they stick with us and are ‘unforgettable’, but sometimes they were better off left in the pile that gathers dust, like a forgotten book on a forgotten shelf. Speaking of which, have I told you about the time when …

Dreamer

Dreamer

A once-upon-a-time god struts past the table where I drowse.
Once I stole his nose, breaking it from a sacred statue.
Now I watch it cross the square: a proud beak nailed to a face.

Casting shadows on the cobbles, zopilote flies over the square.
I caught him once, dozing on a local bus filled with love-birds:
he begged me to fold his wings and let him sleep forever.

The balloon lady sits in the square selling tins of liquid soap.
Released from school, the children charm my days
blowing colored bubbles that seek freedom in the skies.

Eight Deer, eight years old, sets out on his conquests.
Nine Wind gives birth to his people, releasing them
from their underworld prison by carving a door in a tree .

Faces crowd the trees above me, as long-dead friends
come back to life, chattering like sparrows in the branches.
Roosting time and their voices slip slowly into silence.

Sometimes, at midnight, they scratch at the window
in my head and tumble through my half-awake mind.
They need me, these dreams, for I bring them to life.
Without me, the dreamer, they would surely fade and die.

Worshipping Gaia before the Great Altar — Santo Domingo

worshipping Gaia before the great altar
Santo Domingo

​if the goddess is not carried in your heart
like a warm loaf in a shopping bag
you will never discover her hiding place

she does not sip ambrosia from these golden flowers
nor does she mount this vine to her heavenly throne
nor does she sit on this ceiling frowning down

in spite of the sunshine trapped in all this gold
the church is cold and overwhelming
tourists come with cameras not the faithful with their prayers

my only warmth and comfort
not in this god who bids the lily gilded
but in that quieter voice which speaks within me

and brings me light amidst all this darkness
and brings me poverty amidst all this wealth

Comment: I was surprised to find this article on my poem Gaia while doing an online search for something else last night. It is an interesting interpretation of the poem. I would like to thank the writers and editors who put it together for their careful work and attention to detail. Sun and Moon is available on Amazon.

Striations

There are striations in my heart, so deep, a lizard could lie there, unseen, and wait for tomorrow’s sun. Timeless, the worm at the apple’s core waiting for its world to end. Seculae seculorum: the centuries rushing headlong. Matins: wide-eyed this owl hooting in the face of day. Somewhere, I remember a table spread for two. Breakfast. An open door. “Where are you going, dear?” Something bright has fled the world. The sun unfurls shadows. The blood whirls stars around the body. “It has gone.” she said. “The magic. I no longer tremble at your touch.” The silver birch wades at dawn’s bright edge. Somewhere, tight lips, a blaze of anger, a challenge spat in the wind’s taut face. High-pitched the rabbit’s grief in its silver snare. The midnight moon deep in a trance. If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.

Comment: This is the prose version, from Fundy Lines (2002). The prose version was based on an extract from a longer poem that first appeared in Though Lovers Be Lost (2000). Though Lovers Be Lost is also available on Amazon and Kindle.

Pilgrim

Pilgrim
Oaxaca, Mexico

Outside the church,
a boy pierces his lips
with a cactus thorn.

The witch doctor
catches the warm blood
in a shining bowl.

He blesses the  girl
who kneels before him.

On her head she carries
a basket filled with flowers
and heavy stones.
He sprinkles it
with her brother’s blood.

All day she will walk with
this basket on her head
until evening’s shadows
finally weigh her down.

Cobbles clatter beneath her clogs.

When the stones grow tongues,
will they speak the languages
in which she dreams?

Comment: Revisiting and revising some earlier poems. The early version can be found here. The original poem comes from the collection Obsidian’s Edge, which can be found on Amazon.