Thursday Thoughts: On Water

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Thursday Thoughts
03 May 2018
On Water

In the seventy-fourth year of my life,
sitting on the car in Mactaquac Park,
waiting for my wife to walk down the slope
to where I’m writing, a warm wind today,
sunshine, the river still rising, more rain
called for tonight, another inch or more,
that’s twenty to thirty millimeters,
you can hear from here the restless waters
powering the dam’s dynamos, creating
great creamy waves to wash over coffee
colored waters fathered upriver with
their splintered debris wafted from waters
still gathering strength in the north where snow
melts steadily while the stormy sky builds
clouds, and weathermen forecast thunderstorms
yet to descend and overflow our streams:
sitting safely I fear for those downstream
who deal with flooded basements, water pumps,
animals in distress, destruction come,
no sanctuary save in flight, wood, mortar,
brick promising no safety, no respite
from rising waters and eternal rain.

Commentary:

In the great flood of 1973, we lived on the Woodstock Road in Fredericton. We watched the river waters rising. Luckily they stopped on the other side of the road from where we were living and didn’t cross the road. This year we live out of town on the other side of the hill away from the river. Each time we drive into town we see the river waters and measure how they rise. Our hearts go out to those folk who are forced to evacuate their homes. We find it hard to believe that the waters are now at the levels they reached in 1973 and may, in some places, exceed those levels by a meter or more.

Next weekend, Word Spring, the spring meeting of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, is scheduled to take place in Quispamsis. Yesterday, the people of Quispamsis found themselves on flood alert and were told to prepare for instant evacuation. It rained last night and more rain is expected. While it may not rain here in Island View, the catchment area of the St. John River, the Rhine of North America, is enormous. Any rain falling in the north of the province may affect the river. The snow is still melting from the deep woods and clear cutting along the river banks has, according to some, affected the ground’s ability to retain water.

All in all, a difficult situation and one that is forecast to last for another week or ten days. More details can be found here:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/homes-cottages-flooded-1.4645225?cmp=news-digests-new-brunswick

Wednesday Workshop: Why I Write II

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Wednesday Workshop
Why I Write II
28 March 2018

Joan Didion’s autobiographical note did not appeal to me in the same way that George Orwell’s did, but then, I was born on the same side of the Atlantic as Orwell, and yes, that does make a difference. So much in Orwell is familiar, so much in Didion is alien.

For Didion, Why I Write (borrowed from George Orwell) is composed of three short words, each of them emphasizing the first person singular I + I + I. She sees writing as an ‘aggressive, even a hostile act’ in which she, as writer, imposes herself on other people (her readers) saying ‘listen to me, see it my way, change your mind’. From this idea of imposition springs the second idea of the ‘aggressive, hostile act’. This, in some ways, can be seen as a sort of combination of Orwell’s first, third, and fourth points (1) sheer egoism; (3) historical impulse; and (4) political purpose with possibly the first dominating.

That said, I like the idea Didion presents of ‘pictures in the mind’. She carries these pictures with her and then writes from them. She writes from the physical, the tangible, the ‘taste of rancid butter’, the ‘tinted windows on the bus’, the concrete nature of these things and her desire to describe them as accurately as possible, led her to discover herself as a writer.

When I apply her descriptions to my own writing, I gaze at my own memories of my childhood. They are like photographs, still, black-and-white photographs, like those we used to see when I was a child at the entrance to movie theaters. The skill for me in writing is to allow these pictures to spring back into life. Much of my writing, especially my stories about Spain, Mexico, or Wales, is autobiographical in its beginnings. However, as the pictures move and speak they tell me things and I write them down. What starts out as a story is very rarely the story that ends up on the page. A metamorphosis takes place. Words slip and shift and change their shapes and meanings according to the whims of characters and the situations in which they find themselves. In the beginning was the picture: that, I guess, is what Didion and I hold in common. But my writing is not her writing, and her pictures are not my photos, how could they be?

Interesting in my own original photos is the lack of sound, the lack of movement, the lack of taste and touch. First the figures are stiff and stolid. When I study them, they shift and move, and next they begin to speak. Alas, what they tell me when they speak to me in the shiftless shadows of my dreams at night is not necessarily what they lazily lisp in the full sun of my waking mind. A long time ago, I struggled to recall the exactness of that dream world and I tried to pummel the words and thoughts on my mind’s anvil and to hammer them into shape aided by the heat of my seemingly inexhaustible creative energy. Now I am more relaxed: I just listen to the daylight voices and allow them to shape themselves and their situations in their own way.

When I do this, background sounds and the tell-tale smells of time and place slip slowly in. Boarding school: the unforgettable stench of burned porridge. My auntie’s house: the whir of the cuckoo clock as it coiled itself up in preparation for the little bird to whip out and enchant the hours. My grandfather’s grandfather clock: the metallic lightness of the clock hands as I adjusted the minutes and the hours when the clock ran down and I sensed the tautness in the piano wires as I turned the key and wound the heavy brass pendulums back into their starting positions. My grandmother’s house: the bubble of water boiling on the hob, the warmth of constantly brewed tea, strong as a farrier’s horse and quite undrinkable without the second, third, or fourth watering and, of course, always the smell of boiled white fish cooling for the cats’ supper.

My best writing comes from deep inside myself. I find it  in the midnight coal mine of my mind where ghost-like figures drift and roam as they seek that special person, the one who will drag them to the surface and bring them back to life. Poor, pale, thin imitations of a reality that never was, I do my best to revive them. Often, my best is just not good enough and I must cast them away and drop them back into the depths to ghost away and prepare themselves for another day when perhaps, they and I will each be ready to deceive each other.

Velásquez

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Portraits by Velásquez

 Velásquez sought asylum in Canada.
He set up his studio on the shore at Glace Bay.

He photographed short, stunted people
miners who worked underground
mining Cape Breton coal.

He waited while they shook or coughed,
had patience till they were still, then click.
When he had captured their spirits,
he blew up their photos to NHL size.

Slack jaws, puffy eyes:
“Man’s greatest sin
is having been born,”
one sighs.

Another seeks himself
through inner darkness.
He probes dark galleries
with Davy Lamps for eyes.
He finds no gold,
just seams of coal
that cling and clot his lungs.

Velásquez waits
for his cough to stop
and click he’s got him.
Sally Ann Second Hand clothes
lay siege to his tortured flesh.

“Life is a snap,”
Velásquez cries.
“And every photograph
a lie.”

Sun Worship

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Sun Worship

Worship the sun
as it rises over the hills
from whence cometh
its golden glory.

Trees and their forest,
forces older by far
than this Christian god,
walk in darkness
until touched by the sun.

Worship the sun ropes
that tie you to your daily work,
rejoice in your bondage,
for no man kills
to glorify the sun.

Sun, my father and my mother,
sunshine that floods my spirit
and enlightens my world,
here, before sunrise,
I raise my voice in a song
praising you, and your strength,
the life you give, the death
you will one day bring.

 

 

Life

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Life

A champagne glass
bubbling to the brim,
your voice over the phone,
sparking and sparkling.
“I’ve got a new job,” you say,
and fresh horizons
open before my eyes.
I see your ship sailing
towards undiscovered lands.
A better life beckons:
more responsibility,
higher pay, a move away
from the routines, once fresh,
now boring, that hold you back.
“Well done. Congratulations!”
I hear you start the car.
“Take care. Drive safely.”
You accelerate away
driving into the  unknown
dimensions of a newer life
beyond this life,
a life I will never know.

Rain

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Rain

Parched, the dry brown grass,
taut the earth, tighter than a drum.
Footsteps echo a rhythmic, hollow sound:
marimba music with death tones.
No joy in the barefoot beat of heel and toe.

For months now, no rain has fallen.
The fire crackle is feared in the forest.
Elsewhere, trees catch and the woodlots blaze.
What good are showers, dry thunder clouds,
building, always building, but never releasing
the surging tide that this commonwealth needs?

We yearn for a thick blanket of cloud to gift us
with the long, slow soak of an English spring.
The grass speaks out with its many tongues,
each as sharp as a blade, and calls for rain,
for liquid to pour down from the sky and end
the dryness of drought. We need to fill the wells,
to let the streams overflow with the bounty of water.
We need the green, green grass: not this baked,
bare, arid crunch and crumble of taut brown earth.