Au Revoir

Au Revoir

Au Revoir

Commentary:

This construction (verbal and visual) dates back to my visits to Oaxaca, Mexico (1995-2001). So many friends, so many happy relationships, and then the world turned and I never went back. I remember doing yoga early in the morning on the azotea. Zopilote, the turkey vulture, wings motionless, flew high above the world, the sun lighting up his wings with its fiery flame. Zopilote, aka Trickster, the bird who stole fire from the gods and brought it back to earth so women could make men their morning chocolate over the old wood stoves or open fires. Or was that all a myth, fake news as some would say today when everything we touch is fake? So much has been lost, destroyed. So much beauty, verbal and visual, has been laid aside, destroyed, and forgotten. Au revoir, good-bye, will we ever see it again? Adieu, goodbye, we will never see it again, it’s gone for good. So much meaning in these brief French phrases, synonyms in English, yet carrying such different meanings in French.

Amarrada nuestra barca a otra ribera … Antono Machado wrote those words. We will awake one morning, he suggested, to find our boat moored on the other side of the river between life and death. And so we will. But in our daily lives, we try to ignore that fact. We seize the day, drowning our sorrows in a sea of forgetfulness: for tonight we’ll merry, merry be, we sing, but tomorrow we’ll be sober. Or will we? And nowadays, who cares anyway? As Seamus Heaney writes “my friends and neighbors, let it flow. We’ll be stood no rounds in eternity.”

Yesterday, I met a man in a wheel chair sitting outside the store where I was shopping. He asked me if I could spare some change and I told him I only carried plastic (true). Then next man who approached gave him a cigarette. My beloved was sitting in the car and I gave her a five dollar bill from the parking money and asked her to give it to the man in the wheel chair. So: how did we feel? Good for an act of charity? Bad for not responding immediately? Terrible that we see people living in poverty in a supposedly rich country? Fearful that one day the money would run out and that we too would be out there, begging for money, grateful for a cigarette, a hand out, a helping hand … happy for anything that would help postpone the inevitable end?

And then there was the bird that fell don the chimney and perished in the fireplace. We never even knew he was there until we found his feathers and his body, lifeless among cold ashes. So which is it to be: au revoir or adieu? Or even worse, the middle finger, the scowl, and the old ‘screw you’?

Growing Up

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Growing Up
in Brynmill

They drag the kids kicking and squealing
from childhood’s universe into an older
world of smoking and drinking, forbidden
fruits stolen after Christmas dinner when
drowsy grown-ups’ eyes are turned away.

Why do bigger boys follow smaller ones,
buying their sisters’ kisses then thrusting
their fingers into little girls’ knickers, or
invading Woolworth’s and tucking stolen
goods in shirts with their buttons undone?

The games they play: offering a little girl
a cigarette  or a sweet while two boys
wait behind the garden gate with a sharp
knife to  press against the victim’s throat.

Dies Irae

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Dies irae

Nowhere has she found peace, save
in the dregs at the bottle’s bottom.
She solves life’s dilemmas with single
malt or grape’s blood fresh-plucked.

Doctors tell her that she must stop drinking,
not stoop to conquer yet another bottle.
The remedies they suggest will never suit her.
Family and friends lecture her in vain. 

She knows she will not live forever,
that one day a higher power will call.
So she opens another bottle of Scotch,
just a drop before she goes. She falls

to the floor, and lies asleep. Three still
born babies cover her with their love
to keep her warm. “Sleep well,” they say,
“you’ll find greater peace in eternity.”

Commentary: Another poem that was not easy to write. The last line is a tribute to Seamus Heaney and his poem, Yellow Bittern, the inspiration for this one. “You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity.” In the literary theory of Intertextuality, texts talk to texts and a series of interlaced textual dialogs move across time and space. Hablo con mis ojos a los muertos, I speak through my eyes with the dead, as Francisco de Quevedo said in the 17th century. He was reading Seneca, another great writer born in Spain, when he wrote those words.
I restructured this poem three times. I began, following Seamus Heaney, with the first person singular [I]. Then I changed it to the second person singular [you], but you, in English, can never approximate to the intimacy of tu [versus vous] in French, or the multiplicity of [versus usted, vosotros, vosotras, ustedes} in Spanish. Finally I settled on the third person and settled on she [rather than he]. I guess when  a woman loses three children, she is entitled to lose herself in a bottle of Scotch and shut out the world.

Village Bully

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Village Bully
Pyle Corner,
Bishopston

“Shall I thump you one?” he asked.
And the fist that removed five teeth
from an opposition player hovered near my face.

He was always like that with smaller men:
a punch, an elbow, a kick, a threat so loud…
yet people his own size frightened him.

Many times I saw him back down from larger boys
and when someone was bigger,
well, that was always another story!

I’ll never forget him though: superb
against Cubs, Brownies, and Girl Guides,
but when the real Boys came to play,
why, he had one of his off days.

We called him “the million-pound body
with the one-shilling brain.”

Hate drove him. He lived off it, thrived on it,
until one day he discovered that the face
he really hated was staring back at him
every morning when he shaved.

He went downstairs, put his head in the oven,
and turned on the gas.

Time-Spirits

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Time-Spirits

Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, translated as “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch.
Wikipedia

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Poems for troubled times.

Introduction

Our world finds itself in an incredible mess right now. Somehow, we have to sort it out. Images and metaphors tie past, present, and future together. We must pick our ways through the difficulties of these troubled times, as you must pick your way through the intricacies of these poems. Many of you will give up. Some of you, the chosen few, will make your way to the heart of each poem.

These poems are deliberately cryptic. Each one is a mind game I am playing with you. I do not underestimate you. I have placed clues throughout each poem and if you follow the clues you will arrive at many of the poem’s hidden meanings. Some poems are more difficult than others, their meaning more recondite. Others seem very straightforward, yet still contain secrets.

            This style of poetry has a long history going back to Anglo-Saxon riddles and way beyond, back into the mists of time. Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) and Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645) specialized in similar forms of recondite poetry, often based on metaphor and the juego alusivo-elusivo, the game of alluding to something while eluding the act of saying what it is. Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) and Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) also played this game, as did Octavio Paz (1914-1998). In the works of all of these poets, the clues may rest in the poem or they may be found in a generic knowledge of the mythology of the poem’s exterior world.

             Always remember that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana). Otherwise expressed, in the words of T. S. Eliot: “Time present and time past / are both perhaps present in time future / and time future contained in time past” (Burnt Norton). The seeming anachronisms in these poems suggest that all time is ever-present and that each new day presents us with events that have already occurred on many occasions.

Commentary: The idea for Time-Spirits aka Zeitgeist was born around the kitchen table in Island View on Saturday, 22 December 2018, during a literary conversation between Gwen, Victor, and Roger. A poem at a time, one after another, grew from that table top chat. The result: 70 poems, not easy to read, deliberately difficult, that reflect our troubled times. My thanks to Geoff Slater, line-painter, who drew the cover picture: Robin Red in Claw and Breast, a symbol of nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. So are we in the words of Albert Camus who writes ‘nous sommes ou les meurtriers ou les victimes’ . Is it the early bird that catches the worm? Or is it the late worm that gets caught by the bird? Whichever: it’s the worm that gets eaten, until the robin bites the dust, when he is eaten in his turn. Just think of it as nature doing its regular recycling …

 

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Mannequins

 

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Mannequins
McAdam Railway Station #12

“He startles the unaware, that man by
the door, in uniform, with his youthful
looks and old-fashioned peaked cap,

fingers poised by his silver watch chain
ready to pull out his Waltham pocket watch
and check the time against the master-clock.

Two ladies wait in the waiting room.
One wears winter robes of red and black
while the other wears velvety green. Both

are motionless, one seated, one standing. Yet
if you watch them from a corner of one eye,
you will see shadowy gestures as their lips move.

Overnight they have changed into summer
clothes, gauzy, almost see-through, flowery
patterns, light-weight wedding boots, laced,

restful, cool, thin-soled. ‘Are you for real?’
I ask the standing one, for a joke. When she
nods and winks, a chill settles over the room.”

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Murals

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Murals
McAdam Railway Station #11

Painting a mural,
inside, interior
wall, knowing it will
stand time’s test.

Viaduct broken,
a tumbled engine,
Canadian workers,
railwaymen all,

some from Macadam,
pebbled the floor,
handrail, radiator
camouflaged for war,

part of the painting.
Depart from the station.
Turn right. Straight ahead,
flaked peeling paint.

So sad, this outside
mural, exposed to winter’s
snow, frost, winds, and ice.
So vulnerable

and so ephemeral.
Such a short-lived
summer, over in a day.
Butterfly on a rock.

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Comment: This sequence comes from the indoor and outdoor work (murals) of my friend Geoff Slater. Geoff told me how ephemeral were the outdoor murals with a life-span of about ten years before they needed redoing. After that, the paint starts to fade, then crack, then dry and peel away. Our Canadian winters with their icy cold and the ensuing springs with their frost and thaw do not help. The protection, no ice, no snow, no sun, no rain, afforded to the interior murals means that they will last so much longer. Our outdoor art, unless cast in the firmest stone, is ephemeral. Like a butterfly, it will not last much longer than a brief summer day. Hence the final metaphor.