Thursday Thoughts: Fear

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Thursday Thoughts
10 May 2018
Fear

Tomorrow I drive to Quispamsis to give a writers’ workshop on Fear. How do I tell the participants that I am afraid? I am afraid of the journey there by road. I am afraid of stray moose and deer, fleeing from the flooding, and standing, frightened, by the roadside, ready to panic and run at the car. I am afraid of getting lost, of losing my way, of being stranded in unknown streets with no outlet, no exit, no easy way home.

How do I tell them I am afraid of them. I am afraid of their knowledge. Many of them will know more than me. They are all unknown quantities, blank faces at present, with tumble dryer minds full of churning ideas, ideas that I have never had nor met. I am frightened. I have it in my head to call in sick, to say I am no longer available, to say I cannot come to orchestrate the music that I myself composed.

Stage fright, I suppose, these pre-conference  nerves that battered me all last night with their owls’ wings, leaving me sleepless, turning and tossing, cringing at my own lack of everything that I will tell them they should have.

Fear: a black monster that hides beneath the bed. I dare not leave arm or hand above the blankets in case the monster emerges and bites off the hand that feeds it with more fears. Fear: the shadow in the corner, looming over the bed, shaking me by the shoulder as I lie there, tormented. Fear: the jaws that bite, the claws that snatch, the hand that holds me by the ear or the scruff of the neck and drags me back into a shadowy past where monsters dwell and flicker in the candlelight, growing larger as I walk down white-washed halls.

Enough, no more: I am just as afraid now as I was before. Sleepless tonight, too tired tomorrow to care, I will leave early, hope for the best, wind my way carefully through deer strewn roads and perilous paths. When I get lost, and I probably will, I will ask the way. And all the time I’ll sing my favorite travel song: ‘I know where I’m going’ … even if I don’t.

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

Be Leaf

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Be Leaf

An autumn leaf,
brown crisp flaked from a tree,
floats breeze-blown
into my mind’s-eye corner
and settles down to sleep.

What joy to lie there
forgotten by the madcap
rush of televised folly,
false news filmed, fake news
hustled and bustled
by a burgeoning wind of change.

No science now, no truth,
no facts, no knowledge,
just news, fake news, false news,
the word pack shuffled and reshuffled,
each verbal insult dealt and redealt,
true falsehoods peddled
by tinker men and tailors who stitch
words to meanings,
while the real truth
lies dead and safely buried:

a leaf among leaves, lying forlorn,
forgotten beneath autumn trees.

This Carving

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This carving may be gently touched

It doesn’t act like a bear.
Its head bears a Cocker Spaniel’s short, sharp stop.
Its jaws are wedged in a grin.
Its tongue hangs still.
No saliva drops from its chin.
Motionless eyes.
This carving’s tame.
Children may sit safely on its back,
may stroke the mighty muscles.
It’s perfectly safe.
Woodworm, like moth, have left holes in its back.
More: many a crack ensures its tameness.
Its shoulders hunch.
Sixteen wooden claws chisel the concrete museum floor.
It’s nearer ear is chipped like my grandmother’s tea-cup.
There’s lots of room for slips between cups and this bear’s lips.
I can sense death’s closeness.
Suddenly, I know you’re in there, Bear,
alive, alert, angry, hungry.
I feel you move:
cold sweat covers my false, carved skin.

Butterflies

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Butterflies

We raise our hands: you sever them at the wrist.
We spread out our arms: you measure us for a cross.
Where do we turn? Our fingers bleed from scratching
our skulls in bewilderment. They catch on the thorns
you so thoughtfully provided. Stigmata? No, you haven’t
nailed us yet. Great barbed hooks penetrate our bellies,
inflaming our guts. Like live bait, threaded to tempt Leviathan,
we squirm. Like butterflies prepared for your chloroform jar,
we tremble. Your collector’s pin is poised: we await the final thrust
that will skewer our bodies and frame us under glass for ever.

Commentary:
Another Golden Oldie, also from Broken Ghosts (Goose Lane, 1986). I have changed the line lengths slightly, from the original. I also altered one word in the last line. I often read this poem round about Good Friday. It presents me with the threatening menace of an end to everything we know and love, eternal butterflies, framed forever, without the joy of resurrection.

Book Burnings

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The Island View Book Burnings 

“Nobody gives a f*ck about your f*ckin’ books,” Jess said, as Jim spoke about the joys of his collection and what he intended to do with it. “Believe me, nobody wants those f*ckin’ books.”

Jim didn’t believe her at the time. But she was right.

Once upon a time, Jim had three great web pages. They took years to build and to consolidate. They also enjoyed great popularity and had many visitors. The first was taken down by the people who ran the website, they never told him why. The second became obsolete, almost overnight. Jim couldn’t add to it, and one day, it just wasn’t there anymore. The third one disappeared. Jim lost his voice, his photos, his videos, his feeds, his work and his identity. Planned obsolescence: the touch of a button, a click on the delete key, and great chunks of identities vanished forever. What is it with this world?

The Angel of Death came and knocked on Jim’s door. “All you have I own,” he said. “All this will come to me.”

“Then you can have it now,” Jim replied. Next day, he lay the foundations for a fire in his backyard.

I am ready, Jim thought, I’ll build a bonfire, sit on top like Guy Fawkes, and I’ll burn myself, like a Buddhist Monk, along with all my soon-to-be orphaned and hence unwanted books.

First came Jim’s papers: 53 banker’s boxes of documents, records, and papers he had taken for recycling. Ten seventy-five liter bags of intimate letters, signed papers, early handwritten versions of poems and stories he had fed into the shredder and left out for the garbage men. Nineteen boxes of books he had delivered to the charities who collect such things.

Books: they had fornicated in the dark and overflowed Jim’s shelves with their off-spring. A thousand Jim had given away. Three thousand remained. Jim thought the process was too slow. At the first sign of rain, when the woods were less dry, and would not flame at the slightest spark, Jim decided he would burn them all.

Bureaucrats: they deleted the country’s scholars, they eliminated all the scholarship that did not tally with their crippled and crippling minds, they refused to sanction what their oh-so-limited intelligence couldn’t understand … soon, Jim would wave his magician’s wand and he and his life work would disappear in a single act of academic and cultural suicide.

Jim had already shredded his manuscript copy of Flores de poetas ilustres (1603). Nobody spoke Spanish. Nobody could read the hand-writing. The Flores of 1609 swiftly followed. Jim had copies of five of the six known manuscript versions of the Heráclito Cristiano. Who wanted to read such things? Jim decided to commit them all to the flames along with his autograph copy of the Naples manuscript, the one written by an amanuensis (and who the hell in these days knows what an amanuensis is?) and corrected by the original poet, Quevedo, whose name nobody can now pronounce.

Jim’s sorry to say that these pieces will mirror the fate of the Evora manuscript and those autograph manuscripts from the Biblioteca de Menéndez y Pelayo in Santander that have already gone.

Jim also has copies of all the early manuscripts of Quevedo’s novel, the Buscón, and they too are destined for the flames. Who cares? If people cannot pronounce the author’s name, how can they read the manuscripts of what is probably Quevedo’s greatest work? Written in 1601, published illegally by a bookseller in 1629, targeted by the Spanish Inquisition, his authorship at first denied, then defended by the author … Jim has copies of all that correspondence between poet and priest and Inquisitor, but who now cares? It can all go.

Facsimiles, too, will flare into flame. Who cares? Who now knows what a facsimile is? The ancients buried their warriors with grave gifts of horses and armor, jewels and food … photocopies, facsimiles, microfiches, microfilms, they will all go with Jim to the fire. Jim shall sate the Angel of Death with everything he owns, unless that being stays Jim’s hand or carries him away before he can light the match.

I will grieve.

Does anyone else give a damn?

Change

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Change

Summer walks along the garden path,
imprinting its footprints of flowers.

Green dreams wander the wind-lisped
grass with its multitudinous tongues.

Bright birds toll the morning bells
and announce a midsummer madness.

Occupational therapy, this forced feeding:
a million beaks and bellies nurtured.

All too soon, the shortening of days,
fall’s stealthy approach, the long trip home.

The moon will then swing its winter lantern.
Orion, dog at heel, will hunt his star-frosted sky.

Crows, those eternal survivors, will take salt
and the occasional meal from icy roads.

Comment:

It’s cloudy this morning and there is a chill in the air. The rowan berries are a bright yellow-turning-rapidly-to-orange. The crab apples are little red faces peering from laden tree and branch. The whole world has a sense of imminent change. Winter is never far away and the fear of frost-on-high-ground is always upon us.