Cogito ergo sum

 

IMG_0057

Cogito ergo sum
(1812 & 1942-43 & 2019)

I think therefore I am
what I am but what am I

a man who borrows and buys
who runs up false credit

sneaks away from unpaid bills
and reads fake falsifications

or listens to such things on tv
talk shows where noddies nod

finger-talk shaking their heads
and grinning so much people can

even see them smile while chatting
with them on land-line phones

I am at the center of my universe
egocentric terracentric heliocentric

a boiled egg this world a cracked
shell this starry firmament

and me with my silver spoon
poised to dig into worldly riches

stuffing them into my mouth
as I lie in the ripped steaming

horse’s belly behind me dead cities
the whole world flaring into flame

ahead of me this winter snow my fate
an albatross noosed around my neck

 

Comment:

Poetry is made up of little touches, a metaphor here, a line change there, a word less, an idea more.  As a result, poets dabble with their verses, shifting them around, sliding them about. I call it “shuffle and cut”. Some arrangements are more effective than others; the big question: which is which? Every word-change alters tone, emphasis, meaning, exposition. What, for example,  is the correct place for “the center of my universe”? Should it start the poem? Should it appear in the middle? Which is more effective? While one answer may please one person, that same answer may displease somebody else. As poets, we must make choices, we cannot always “have patience and shuffle the cards”. Somewhere, the cards, like the male deer who visit my garden, must stop. But where do they stop? Where do the words make their final stand?

Cogito ergo sum
(1812 & 1942-43 & 2019)

centered on my universe
terra- helio- ego

I think therefore I am
what I am but what am I

a man who borrows and buys
who sets up false credit

runs away from unpaid bills
reads fake falsifications

listens to talk shows on CBC
tv shows where noddies nod

shake their heads or smirk
grin so much people can

even see them smile while
talking to them on the phone

a boiled egg this world cracked
shell this starry firmament

me with my silver spoon
poised to dig into worldly

riches stuffing them into my mouth
I lie in the warm steaming belly

dead this horse behind me cities
whole worlds flaring into flame

ahead of me this winter snow my fate
an albatross noosed around my neck

IMG_0641.JPG

Dustbin Alley

20180823_152000-1_resized.jpg

Dustbin Alley
(1789 AD)

all the dustbins
dancing down the street
trying to achieve
a spring time copulation
to create more dustbins

you can’t have a revolution
without dustbins
dustbin … dustbins … dirty
dusty dustbins

a sadistic way to look at
basket-bins full of sawdust
heading between potholes
wind-blown bins
a right St. Vitus’s Dance

him sitting next to me
knitting a new red cap
to place upon
the old dictionary
me standing
on Gibraltar’s Rock so fair
this square in Paris
Place de la Bastille
where tumbrils rattle
over cobbles

Old Moll in a Moll’s Cap
toothless fairy
at a Goblin Party
afraid of mushrooms
scared of toadstools
[sick]

20180823_152016_HDR-1_resized - Copy.jpg

Stones

IMG_0619 (2).JPG

Stones
(3 May 1808 AD)

stones once thrown
can never be brought back
nor words once spoken
nor the bullet
once released
from musket or gun

here lies who knows who
face down in the dust
shirt soaked in blood
body pierced with lead

nor water time nor love
can ever flow back
beneath that bridge

some kneel some pray
some raise their eyes
to uncaring skies
every one of them dies
shooters
those waiting to be shot

even the soldiers
reloading their guns
never understand
how time’s tides run
ebb and then flow
until everyone goes

this you
lying face down
well know

 

Impact

IMG_0017.JPG

Impact

This photo comes up from nowhere, springs into your half-awake mind, diminishes your reality. W5: who, what, why, when where? But there is no who, save the person bearing witness to this moment in time, and you, the double witness who also contemplates and is therefore complicit.

Do you recognize this scene? Is this a moment in your life? Are you the one who struck the match and lit the flames in the lower corners? And are they even flames? Or are they moments of glory, flashes of fireworks, the world coming alive in a moment of combustion when light and dark are mingled until, fiat lux / let there be light, and the world is reborn, light and form, drawn from darkness, and earth and sea divided into separate realms. In principium erat verbum / in the beginning was the word and the world was born / reborn in this verbal-visual instant between sleeping and awakening, when dreams gain substance and ideas take on form and shape and grow in the observer’s mind until creation sparks into life.

Who now knows what will be, what might be? We see. We bear witness. We paint, draw verbal pictures, take snapshots, unfold our souls, placing them on paper and canvas capturing them by camera in snapshots … but What’s it all about, Alfie? Do you remember the film? The suspension in space, the knowledge that all is absurd, that this is a jigsaw puzzle of the worst kind, with no solution, no answer, and every path bifurcating before us, and each of us wandering in a maze, a labyrinth, with an entrance, but no exit.

Do you think up or down, when you’re floating in a space without gravity, where nothing is substantial and all the rules you ever learned no longer hold? The roller-coaster rolls on and you hang on, and sometimes the sun comes up and sometimes the sun goes down, and is that the first light of morning or is it the last light of day, and how can you be sure?

And where is it anyway? Have you ever been there? And if I told you where it was , what time of day it was, or what time of night, would you believe me? And if not, why not? And who and what am I? And why do you trust what I say? And why would you trust me, when you have never met me, and you do not even know who I am, or where I am, or what I am, and even I do not really know who I am or why I am, and why does any of this matter?

It matters because we need faith, we need substance, we need hope, we need to believe in something other than ourselves and beyond ourselves. We still want to wake in the morning and see the dawn. We want to grasp it in our hands, not just in our minds, and know that there is light beyond this darkness, there is hope beyond this gloom, there are better things ahead. See that forgotten candle? Pick it up. Take that match. Strike it against the box. Now light that candle. Take it out. Show it to other people. Encourage them to light their own candles.

Sometimes we need to enlighten the world, to turn it round, to reject it as it seems to be and to recreate it in our own image.  But take care: the image of the candle is not that of the laser beam or the searchlight. One by one, the small people, we must join together, and like tiny stars and light up the firmament. I cannot do it alone. But together, you, and you, and you, and you, if you walk with me, we can do our best. And that is the best we can do, in this, as Voltaire’s Candide once called it, the best of all worlds and the only one we have.

 

Take These Chains

 

IMG_0196.JPG

The Great Chain of Being … Happy

The Great Chain of Being, a concept applied to Medieval Literature by Arthur Lovejoy, suggested that all beings are related in hierarchical structures that link them from top to bottom in an ordered chain. I have always liked that idea and see myself as one among many voices, past, present, and hopefully future that feel and write about the joys of living on this wonderful planet that we inhabit. This thought immediately poses the question: do we write from joy or sorrow? Obviously, it depends upon the individual. Equally obviously, we can write from joy at one stage of our career and from sorrow in another stage.

Antonio Machado phrased it this way: En el corazón tenía / la espina de una pasión. / Logré arrancármela un día: / ya no siento el corazón. I felt in my heart a thorn of passion. One day I managed to pluck it out. Now I no longer feel my heart. Machado is a seemingly simple poet, but that simplicity is oh-so difficult to translate and imitate. So: what happens if we write from that interior passion and then, one day, we wake up and the passion has gone? Good question. Some people stop writing. Others take to drawing. Others take photographs. In my case, I have sat in a south facing window just gazing at the sunshine reflected off the snow and pottering through my favorite poets.

Francisco de Aldana is one of my favorites and I am drawn to reflect on these lines: Hallo, en fin, que ser muerto en la memoria / del mundo es lo mejor que en él se asconde, / pues es la paga dél muerte y olvido. I finally discover that to be dead in the world’s memory is best of all, since the world’s wages are death and forgetfulness. While these words will seem gloomy to some, to me they express the joys of retirement, the wonders of just sitting and looking out of the window, the escape from the necessity to produce, to achieve, to be ambitious, to grow a career, to drive myself on and on. “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” Words of wisdom from the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies.

When I sit and stare, I also think, observe, and remember. And I see things I have never seen before: how light changes the world, how sunshine falls on the petals of flowers, how texture is changed by changing light, how light slips through the fingers like water or sand. The end result is an inner peace that accepts things for what they are and the world for what it is.

IMG_0187.JPG

In my privileged case, and I realize just how lucky I am and how fortunate I have been, I have grown to appreciate the tiny things, the small achievements. And small things now satisfy me: the completion of a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw, the nature of light, the beauty of an orange, peeled and tasted, its life blood still fresh upon my fingers and gracing the air, words prancing in lines and chains across a page, the dance of shadow on wall.

IMG_0173.JPG

 

Birthday

 

IMG_0187.JPG

What a gift for my birthday: sunshine and light among water, glass, and flowers. It’s hard to believe sometimes that light and angle make such a difference. Who would believe, for example, that these are the same flowers taken from a different angle in a later light?

IMG_0185.JPG

What is it about birthdays? They are the same length as any other day, 24 hours. And yet, like milestones along the roadside, they mark our passage down the long journey of life. Miles, kilometers: my father could never make up his mind. When driving from Wales to Spain, he loved the miles, because they were fewer in number, yet he also loved the kilometers because, although there were more of them, they passed by more quickly.

Long journeys those: crossing the channel by ferry, then down the various routes nationales from the channel down to the Spanish border where we entered into Franco’s Spain, a very different world. Tricornios, the Guardia Civil, checking everything and everybody. We soon learned to carry an extra packet of cigarettes, some chocolate bars, something small that could be handed over or ‘confiscated’.

So what is it about birthdays, those milestones that mark our ways and our days? And where am I now on my life’s journey? Two years older than my mother, when she passed. Two years younger than my father. I look over my shoulder and see behind me the shadow of a bearded man, with a scythe, walking after me. He stoops at Lords cricket ground and, at six thirty, on the dot, he removes the bails from the stumps to signal the end of the day’s play.

Shadows are lengthening. I check my watch. The days are closing in. The umpires pass the stones they carry from hand to hand. One more over of seam, two or three more overs of spin? I adjust my stance at the crease, back away from the wicket and, like Sir Donald Bradman, I ask the umpire to give me a new guard …

IMG_0178.JPG

… I take it, scratch my marks in the crease, and look around me … shadows and the fielders are closing in.

Light

IMG_0179.JPG

Light

We are so lucky, those of us blessed with sight, doubly lucky if we have the time to stop and stare and look around us to see light falling on objects or filtering through plants and flowers. Last fall we placed two unused mint cuttings in water glasses in the kitchen window and the clippings rooted and grew. Almost by chance, I caught their beauty, leaves translucent, the window filled with sunshine, as I was walking by. A macrocosm, this picture province in which I live; a microcosm, my house where light falls on objects and transforms them.

IMG_0177.JPG

Here are our mini carnation pinks. We were given them on December 21, 2018, by Gwn and Victor, and still they thrive. We lost some, just a few, and to the rest we added a new bunch. Here are the smaller heads, nipped off and placed on the table in single rose glasses. The light from the window flows through flowers, water, and glasses to create a flow of warmth and joy. Sometimes, we travel the world in search of beauty, only to return, disappointed, and discover it at home.

IMG_0181.JPG

Last, but by no means least, I looked up from my journal and saw the light catching the leaves of this houseplant, given to me in 2010 by Barry and Susan. Plants and flowers survive in our house, thanks to the magical skills of my beloved. I try to preserve their beauty in image and word. The ephemeral, caught for a moment in the camera’s eye, and preserved, if not for eternity, at least for a little while longer.

I sometimes wonder if the souls that thrive and perish in these plants think like the indigenous in the Oaxaca Valley that life should be lived and not petrified in pictures. Maybe they don’t want me to trap the consummate  beauty of light falling on their leaves since their capture on film in still life and inanimate form prevents their migration from one plane of existence to another. Who knows? I don’t. Maybe one day I will find out. But in the meantime I will continue to celebrate the innate glories of light on leaf and to share them with you.