A Fragile Thread

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A Fragile Thread

The sword of Damocles
hangs above your head
supported by a fragile thread.

Scissor-tailed birds around you fly
and Fate’s sharp knife is standing by
to sever your thread and watch you die.

If you’re up to your shoulders in tragedies
whatever you do, don’t drop to your knees,
for if you do you’ll surely drown
and that sword will bring you down.

If the sword falls you mustn’t grieve:
for we’re all bound by the webs we weave.
Our lives are shaped by what we believe,
and also by what we build and leave.

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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.

One Small Corner

One Small Corner
A Kingsbrae Chronicle

is available at the following link:
Click here to purchase One Small Corner

Introduction to One Small Corner

I think of my creative writing in terms of visual, verbal photos. I create snapshots in words and these snapshots come from everywhere that I have been. For me, they are precious moments caught and frozen forever in the camera of the poet’s eye. Visual and verbal, they illustrate the life I have lived and the things I have seen. These are the phenomena on which my artistic life is founded.

I am not a philosopher by any means, but I have over time developed an artistic philosophy. It started a long time ago at Wycliffe College with my A level studies of French existentialism and continued later in the Graduate School at the University of Toronto, where I studied the origins of existentialism as they are expounded in phenomenology. Both these movements have influenced my life and my writing. Bakhtin’s chronotopos: “Man’s dialog with his time and place” has also been a great influence on my creative thinking. My art is indeed my dialog with my time, my place, and the people who inhabit them.

One Small Corner is the record of my stay at the KIRA Residence in St. Andrews-by-the-sea, New Brunswick, Canada. I was selected to be the only poet in the first cohort of Resident Artists and during the month of June, 2017, I was able to work full-time on this collection.

Gaza Street

This is the original version. It is much better than the revision that I posted earlier. Sometimes, when we revise, we lose the freedom of thought and association that comes with the early version. Message: keep your variations and keep an open mind. Over-elaboration is the poet’s worst enemy.

Wingless in Gaza Street

amputees deprived of flight
they flutter grounded in the gutter

galley slaves chained to broken oars
they ply blunt stumps relentlessly

shorn of strength and beauty
their once glorious shuttles weave dark circles

my mouth is a full moon open in a round pink circle
bone and its marrow settle in subtle ice

futile fragility of the demented heart pumping
its frequency of fragmented messages

frail beauty torn from its element of air
this brightness of moths drowning in inky depths

the seven o’clock news brought to you
from an otherwise deserted street.

On Re-reading Quevedo’s Poetry

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On Re-reading Quevedo’s Poetry

Was that where my life went,
a spent candle trailing dark studies
among the packed lines of your poems?

And you, was your life gutted by that
same guttering candle by whose light you
scrawled your tight black spider rhymes?

Were they all meaningless, your insights
and my words? So few now know who
you were and what you represented
and I, your scholar, a mere shadow of your
shadow struggling in the straggling
light of a far-off continent, far from content
at knowing so much about you. Intent
I was on spreading light and the word
to a world that thinks the two of us absurd.

Our world is spinning on its edge, placed
on the perimeter of space, and going nowhere.
Specks of dust we sit and contemplate
the vastness of what exactly: our fortunes,
our spirits, our houses, our power, our lands?
Out there, in the vastness that surrounds us,
worlds without end will never know we existed.

Bleak and blank our names, our deeds, our status,
the statues they raise in our praise. And what of
our thoughts, those sparks of electricity
that link us lip to ear and mind to action
and each of our actions transformed by a dance
performed by circling planets that shape our wills?

Who programs that universe now? Who plays
what trivial games of snakes and ladders
in which we are the dots and dashes, pinballs
among a million trillion strings of flashing lights?

To be a writer ….

Photo by my good friend, Geoff Slater. Books by yours truly, who stayed on the bus and believed.

To be a writer ….

He who would true valor see,
let him come hither.
One here will constant be,
come bad or fair weather.
No line length can him fright,
he’ll with a paragraph fight,
and he will have a right,
to be a writer.

Those who beset him round
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound:
his strength the more is.
There’s no discouragement
will make him once relent
his first avowed intent,
to be a writer.

Rejections nor bad critics
can daunt his spirit.
He knows he at the end
will a book inherit.
So critics fly away,
he’ll fear not what they say,
he’ll labor night and day
to be a writer.

Comment: John Bunyan tempted me and I fell into temptation. In fact, as my good friend Oscar Wilde once said: “I can resist anything except temptation.” So, ladies and gentlemen, change the he to a she or the pronoun of your choice, turn the writer to a sculptor, stoneist, poet, playwright, painter, novelist, dramatist, comedian, song-writer, singer. Breathe deep. Believe in your own artistic talent and remember: “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” Remember this too: “You’ll never get to Vancouver by bus, if you get off the bus at Montreal or Toronto.”

Crosswords

Couldn’t find a picture of a cross-bill, so I found some genuine humming birds instead. Listen carefully: you can hear them hum.

Crosswords

I wander a vacant, black and white wonderland
of empty, accusing, crossword puzzle squares.
Most mornings, I sit at the kitchen table, head in hands,
puzzled by the news and the crossword puzzle’s clues.

Outside my window, crossbills squat on the feeder,
squabbling, heads turned sideways, blinking,

and winking sly eyes. A yellow-bellied sapsucker hops
over syrup-sticky squares. His hand-carved chess board

glistens as feasting flies swarm beneath the sun.

My own thoughts are rooted in a stark, new reality.
They walk wordless through threatening spaces where
unmasked people wander grey, concrete streets or walk
in shops, in the opposite direction to arrows,
painted on the floor to guide them.

Cross-words, cross-purposes:
why do some people obey the current laws
while others ignore them and risk their health
as well as the health of others by doing what
they damn well please, in spite of the scientists
who beg them to do otherwise?
Like the puzzle’s clues: I just don’t know.

Comment: Well, last year was a year like no other that I can remember. It is so easy to dismiss it as an aberration, but we shouldn’t do that. Hopefully next year will be better. But it might get worse. Let’s look on the bright side and hum along with the song the humming birds are humming: “Yesterday is history, today is still a mystery, but what a day it’s going to be tomorrow.” I still can’t workout how or why some shoppers just head up the shopping aisles, walking or pushing their carts in the wrong direction. Nor how they can stand for five minutes at a time choosing a breakfast cereal, one hand on the handle of their angled carts, another poking at the cereal boxes, and the aisle totally blocked. I also love the people who still handle every apple in the box before choosing just one of them. For apple you may substitute grapes, pears, avocadoes, tomatoes. Oh the joys of ageing in an age of skepticism and pandemic. Mind you: if life is, as Albert Camus always insisted, absurd, or if it is, as Calderon told us, nothing but a dream, I guess none of it matters anyway. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux / we must believe that Sisyphus is happy!

A Thought for the New Year

Couldn’t find a photo of Don Quixote so I attached this instead. A suitable symbol for Brexit!

A Thought for the New Year

“Sábete, Sancho, … Todas estas borrascas que nos suceden son señales de que presto ha de serenar el tiempo y han de sucedernos bien las cosas, porque no es posible que el mal ni el bien sean durables, y de aquí se sigue que, habiendo durado mucho el mal, el bien está ya cerca.”
Miguel de Cervantes : Don Quixote de la Mancha.

“Know this, Sancho, … All these squalls that beset us are signs that the weather will soon clear up and better things will come to us, because it isn’t possible for good or ill to endure, and from here it follows that, these ills having lasted so long, good times are now close.”
My translation.

Comment: This quote was sent to me by Marina, my close friend from Avila, with whom I have maintained contact, even though it is now twelve full years (2008-2020) since we last saw each other and talked, except on Messenger. Break ups and lost and absent friends and families: it seems to be the story of my life. And how could it be otherwise when one is a migrant who emigrates and immigrates and passes on and through, rarely resting in the same place for long? I guess it is also the story of the Intelligentsia: those whose learning and understanding and life experience moves them out from one place and into many others. Cualquier tiempo pasado fue mejor / any time from the past was better. Hiraeth: the knowledge that the past is lost, save in our minds, and can never be recovered, even though sometimes we wish so badly to do so. The Intelligentsia: always dissatisfied, both with the past which they can never recreate and which they view through the pink lens of nostalgia and with the present which is never as beautiful as that pastel pink past, that in reality probably never existed. Toda la vida es un sueño y los sueños sueños son / The whole of life is a dream and dreams are just dreams, and nothing more (Calderon de la Barca).

Building Bigger Boxes

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Building Bigger Boxes

Some of the worst educators I have been unfortunate enough to work with over my undergraduate and graduate years have come up with cliché after cliché in an effort to the sway students into believing that they really are getting an excellent education. One such phrase is the infamous: “We are teaching you to think outside the box.” So, what is their definition of ‘the box‘? Alas, I do not know. They deal in clichés and, by definition, a cliché is a  phrase that both parties (teachers and taught) accept as being meaningful, even though it is often without meaning. It is also a conversation closer, as in ‘it is what it is’. It’s hard to argue with that or to reason your way around it. ‘But it doesn’t have to be!’ rarely cuts the mustard aka mouse-turd.

So, if these teachers are teaching their students how to think outside the box, how are they managing to do so? Why by building bigger boxes inside which each student can be safely taught to think, without asking questions, and without looking for independent answers.

Today’s cartoon has two titles: (1) Brave hearts  escaping, finding meaning outside the bigger boxes and (2) can the true heart escape its coffin in a bigger box? I love the boxes within boxes and the drawers within each boxed segment into which the young, developing mind can be stuffed and crammed. How do we release those hearts? How do we develop those minds? Certainly not by confining them in bigger boxes. In the battle for hearts and minds, how do we set our students free?

It must be done on the student’s terms, each student, one by one, in co-operation with intelligent, meaningful teachers who step away from cliché and commonplace to enter the learner’s world and to themselves learn how to contact each learner at a mental, spiritual, and intellectual level. Only then will teacher and taught be able to speak of true intellectual freedom. Until that happens, be very careful when your child comes home and announces that today, of all days, that child has been taught to think outside the box. “Verily, I say unto you, open the cage door. Let in the sunshine and the light. Set those children free.” But remember, it must be on a  case by case basis, with each individual weighed, assessed, understood, and released to find their own individual way of earning the things they specifically need to know. In true education, one size really doesn’t fit all.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie that suddenly surfaced and, on emerging from the depths, reminded me of another of my callings: that of a teacher of philosophy and a teacher with a philosophy. Retired now, I can no longer help young minds to create and shape themselves. This is doubly true with Covid-19 haunting us, waving at us from the shop-windows, supermarket aisles, and street corners, flapping its wings and trying to fly into our bodies. And remember to distinguish between clichés and things that are not clichés, like ‘Wear a mask’, ‘wash your hands’ (twenty seconds, with soap), and ‘keep a safe social distance’. Do this all the time and hopefully you will avoid thinking inside the bigger box of a six foot pine Covid-19 coffin.