Umbrella

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When it rains, everyone needs an umbrella.

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Umbrella

Black clouds overhead,
yet I walk dry
beneath a black umbrella.

Pitter-patter of falling rain:
my ears strain to catch
a nearby robin’s song.

I have mislaid his voice
and can no longer
translate his liquid trills

nor transform them
into a sunlight that will glisten
through dripping leaves.

Frogs in the summer pond
explode light bulbs in my brain.

A rainbow glistens in the pools
beneath my feet.

I want to see my garden reborn,
with words and my world renewed.

I thirst once more for life’s
sweet, fresh water.

Here below is the voice recording of my poem Umbrella.

Touch and Go

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Touch and Go

            Rain. Persistent rain. Cornish mizzle that chills and wets. Basque chirrimirri penetrating flesh and bone. Low clouds blanket buildings, wrap themselves round the windshield. Cling with the tenacity of Saran wrap. Visibility variable, now clear, now a muffler round the car’s headlights. Darkness gathered, still gathering. Lights moving, cars moving, the road moving, blending first with the lights then with the shadows, shape-shifting.

            Down the hill now, out of the city lights, into the countryside. The road changing, patches and potholes, lights flickering in and out, darkness and light. Small animals of light, the potholes, shimmering, bumping by. Another pothole, moving, turning from side to side, a pothole with a ringed tail and two tiny eyes. A baby pothole, misses the front wheels, not the back. One dull, dry thump.

            What were you doing there, in the middle of the road? Why alone? Why no mother, no brothers? Why so small? I didn’t mean to … I didn’t want to … Why me? Why you? Why now? If only …

            Light breaks through the darkness clouding my mind. Memories: the driver on the road to Kincardine, chasing a jackrabbit, trapped in the headlights, a Belgian Hare, dodging down the middle of the country road. Laughing, the driver, with the joy of his hunt. Then: one dry thump. The car stopped, the hare, still twitching, held by its long ears, shown as a trophy at the car window, then thrown in the trunk. Memories: two lads in a half-ton, on a back road by Grand Lake. A sunny Sunday. Spotting the ground hog at the roadside. Driving at it with the truck. Swerving to hit it. The joy and laughter in their faces, looking back. One dry thump. The ground hog, front half viable, spine fractured, back legs paralyzed, dragging itself with its forearms to the roadside, dropping into the ditch.

            Legend tells of the man who met Death in Cairo. Death looked surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Fear filled the man. He ran, packed his bags, left Cairo with its vision of Death. Traveled to Baghdad. Met there with Death, who welcomed him. “Why were you surprised to see me in Cairo?” the man asked. “Because we had a meeting here in Baghdad, tonight,” Death replied. “And I didn’t know if you’d show up.”

“Every morning, at day break,
oh Lord, this little prayer I make,
that thou wilt keep thy watchful eye,
on all poor creatures born to die.”

            Dylan Thomas wrote those words in his poetry play for radio, Under Milkwood. All poor creatures born to die. That’s us. That’s you and me. We don’t know how, or why, or where, or when. And it doesn’t matter. That’s the whole point: it doesn’t matter. Our death was born with us, walks with us, lives inside us, and one day will take us by the hand, each of us, we poor creatures, born to die. What matters is that we live while we can, rejoice while we can, thrive while we can, think while we can, write while we can, enjoy every moment of every day that is gifted to us …

            Enlightenment came last night, at the darkest, warmest of times. It followed me home and crept with me into my bed. I thought of all the creatures found each spring morning, their lives cut short at night along the sides of our New Brunswick roads: deer, porcupine, squirrels, groundhogs, foxes, domestic and feral cats, dogs, skunks, and yes, one, very special, baby raccoon, a tiny raccoon, so small as to be almost invisible in chirimirri, mizzle, and mist.

            His spirit came to me in the under-blanket dark, wrapped itself warm around me, and brought me comfort. “You too,” he whispered. “You too. But not just yet. My work is done. I can go now. But you still have lots of work to do. Remember: Vis brevis, ars longa,” his raccoon spirit nuzzled me and I reached out and patted him. Then both of us settled down to dream our different dreams of a life and death that is surely nothing but a dream, or a game of touch and go.

Rain / Il pleut

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I remain fascinated by Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes. I first met them when, as a  teenage flâneur in Paris, I wandered the quays along the banks of the Seine, entranced by the literary treasures of the bouquinistes. Eighteen years old, I had just been released from a twelve year sentence to a boarding school education (6-18 years of age). I loved the freedom of Paris and the joys of choosing my own poets and my own poetry books will always stay with me. Apollinaire was not a set text. He was a personal discovery and a true  joy. I remember the light blue cover and the worded rain drops inscribed upon it when I bought my first Livre de Poche, the poems of Apollinaire.

Caligrammes are out of fashion now, their virtues taken over by the joys of concrete poetry. I still write some, drawing them out by hand. I find this much easier than planning them on typewriter or computer, though I have done both. The cartoon – poem hybrid, printed above, is my intertextual reflection on Apollinaire’s original Rain / Il pleut which can be found on page 62 of the above link from Le Mercure de France.

I look at the snow steadily mounting outside my window and I hope that we will not see rain for a long, long time. Not until Easter and the welcome warmth of spring. That said, I miss the rain. It was a constant part of my childhood and I remember spending day after day, head pressed to the window pane (yes, I do know how to spell it), watching the raindrops sliding down while behind me, the old coal fire threw out enough heat to warm me in my daily loneliness.

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

Friday Fiction: Gringos

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Friday Fiction
23 March 2018
Gringos

            By day, I sit in the shade beneath the grapefruit tree and watch as the sun turns each globe of fruit into a shiny planet. The hummingbirds visit me. They whir their wings, bow their heads, and pay homage with their ruby throats.

            On warm days, the sun decks me out in a shining cloak of sumptuous colors, red, blue, yellow, green. When it rains, my captors quickly confine me in a small dark place: no moon, no stars, no worshipers, no forest canopy, no grapefruit planetarium to shape my dreams. Just night and silence. I tuck myself in and hope for the occasional dream to reach out its hand and extract me from my cell.

            Fine weather today. I sit beneath the grapefruit tree and the gringos buzz around me. They push grapes, raisins, bananas, crusts, cigarette butts through the bars of my cage. I scorn them. Gringos, I cry with contempt. Gringos. They clap their hands. Bray with laughter. Sway from side to side splitting their sun-red faces with gold-capped teeth. I eat very little of what they offer. An occasional grape. A chunk of banana. I never take food from their fingers: the temptation to bite the hand that feeds is far too great.

            I am learning their language. The compound guards who allow the gringos in and out of the gates that lead to the outside world teach me gringo words. I can now say gringos go home and this makes for much merriment. The gringos slap their sides and double over with strange cackled cries of laughter. Sometimes tears come to their eyes.

            I drowse in the sun and recall my childhood on the building site. The workers took me from my forest home, placed a chain on my leg, and tethered me to the broken branch of a leafless tree. At first, I couldn’t understand their speech, but they persisted and bit by bit, I picked up their words. When I repeated them, they laughed. Now, I rarely use them and when I do, the compound guards throw a blanket over my head and carry me back to jail.

            I am very careful with what I say. Gringos go home. That is fine. But I rarely say what I really want to say. I want to tell the world how much I love the sunlight as it pierces the leaves and filters down to me, sparking fragmented colors from my frame. My greatest desire is to move in a cloud of many colors, all my family together. I love being part of the crowd-cloud, a voice among voices, all of us in counterpoint and tune. Instead, I sit here, isolated, alone, pining for my brothers and sisters.

            Gringos, I want to say, gringos, let me go home.

          Today, a great event. One of the gringos has picked up my prison and moved it from under the shade of the grapefruit tree to a new spot beneath the balcony. I now sit directly beneath the geraniums. The gringa who lives long-term on the second-floor waters her flowers regularly.

            The gringa grows old and forgetful. She knows she must not water her plants during the day, especially when I am around, but today she is out in the sunshine, forgetful, without her hat, dressed in her dressing-gown and grizzled slippers, with her hair in steel curlers, and a watering can in her hand. Water. It is the symbol of my baptism. It is the element that will release me from my bondage. Water will quench my thirst and free my soul.

            I hear the water, the blessed water, falling on the flowers. I hear the water filtering down through the flower pots. I feel the water bouncing off the geranium leaves threading its way down to settle on my back. My mind returns to the building site of my youth.

            I remember my childhood friends. Their faces flood back and grow like flowers as the waters flow and I remember every word those old friends said as they ran from the building site to take shelter from the rain that stole their money, stole their livelihoods, and stopped them from working.

            Fucking rain, I screech, as the water hits me. Fuck this fucking rain. Fuck this mother-fucking rain.

            I hear the sound of running feet followed by voices.

            “Gertrude’s watered the parrot as well as the geraniums. He thinks it’s raining.”

            “ Quick, fetch his bloody blanket. Shut up, you foul-mouthed parrot.”

        Alas, my moment in the spotlight is over. The play is done. The curtain falls. Darkness descends. I tuck my head beneath my wing and before I fall asleep, I squawk one last feather-filled word:

Featherless-muffer-fuckers.

Rain

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Rain

Insane, the rain
washing down
my window.

Insanity of raindrops
mixing, matching,
their Van Gogh
rainbow colors,
no artist’s eye
to select them,
just a false ear,
tin drum
to their sound.

They blur blossoms,
twist tree and bush,
water censers now
those branch ends
bending beneath
water’s weight.

Unseen, the island now,
nor visible the bay
beneath cloud blankets
wrapping them away.