I dreamed last night that angels lofted me skywards and wrapped me in cotton-wool clouds.
The nearest rainbow was a helter-skelter that returned me to earth where I landed in a pot of golden sunlight.
Red and yellow were my hands and face. I stood rooted like an autumn tree covered in fall foliage with no trace of winter’s woe.
“May this moment last forever,” I murmured, as the rainbow sparkled and I rejoiced in my many-colored coat.
Comment: I have noticed on several occasions that when I am reading a text, I change the wording on the page to a new wording that seems more in keeping with the rhythm of the moment. I see that I have done this here, more by accident than by plan. I have noticed this too when listening to Dylan Thomas’s recordings of his own verse. Each reading then becomes a new variant on the poem. In this case, I rather prefer the second variation, but I am not sure that I approve of the first one, nor nor do I approve of leaving words out. Naughty! I am afraid that I still haven’t developed the skill of reciting instead of reading my poems. I guess it will happen soon enough. In the meantime, I’ll just have to put up with these little flaws.
An angel moves through the room
in the silences between our chatter.
He fills the interstices of speech
with the wonder of feathers
enlightened by rainbows.
Tranquil his footsteps
as we sense his presence.
He places his hand on an arm,
his arm around our shoulders,
and now, commanding silence,
a finger on his lips.
We sit here
scared by our intimate inadequacies,
scarred by the fierceness of our thoughts
as we sense the vacuum
of his soon-to-be absence.
Comment: The video reading of my poem follows. Ruby Allan, one of the five artists invited to participate in the first cohort at KIRA (2017) would always say, when a silence fell on the group, that ‘an angel is moving through the room’. This poem is dedicated to her, and to my friend, Geoff Slater, whose house and gallery we were visiting when the happenings depicted in this poem took place in June, 2017. Several years ago now, but I remember it like yesterday: a magic moment that I have tried to preserve in words. I could never have captured these moments in my verbal snapshots without the assistance of my friends. Thank you all so much.
It starts in the soles of your feet, moves up
to your stomach, sends butterflies stamping
through your guts. Heart trapped by chattering teeth,
you stand there, silent, wondering … can I? … will I? … what if I can’t? … then a voice breaks
the silence, but it’s no longer your voice.
The Duende holds you in its grip as you
hold the room, eyes wide, possessed,
taken over like you by earth’s dark powers
volcanic within you, spewing forth their
lava of living words. The room is alive
with soul magic, with this dark, glorious
spark that devours the audience, heart
by heart. Magic ends. The maelstrom calms.
Abandoned, you stand empty, a hollow shell.
The Duende has left you. God is dead, deep
your soul’s black starless night. Exhausted,
you sink to deepest depths searching for that
one last drop at the bottom of the bottle to save
your soul and permit you a temporary peace.
Comment:“Todo lo que tiene sonidos oscuros tiene duende / All that has dark sounds has duende.” Federico García Lorca (1898-1936). García Lorca, an inspired and inspirational vocal performer, well understood those dark artistic powers that rise from a combination of earth, air, and fire to possess artists as they weave their magic, be it musical or verbal or a combination of both. Those who possess it know that they never really possess it, for it comes and goes with a will of its own and possesses them, body and soul, taking them over. Deus est in nobis / it is the god within us, wrote the Romans with their understanding of the power of performance. And they are right. Those who possess it are changed by it, no longer know themselves, turn into something other than what they are and becoming something special. “Ah would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us” (Robert Burns). But what happens to us when the wondrous gift is taken away, when drab reality takes over from the glory of the stage, the spotlight, the performance of the play? That indeed is the question. And the answer varies with each of us. I look with dismay on the comedians who, for one reason or another, when deprived of their audiences, have chosen the darkest of exits. The hollow shells of the performers who have given their all are sad things to behold. The existential emptiness that is left when the powers drain away is difficult to live with. That is why so many, faced with this darkness, akin to St. John of the Cross’ Noche Oscura del Alma / Dark Night of the Soul, chose not to live. That is not a choice that I will ever make. And I encourage all my friends to wait, to wait in patience and hope for the light, the glorious light and fire of the Duende, the Spirit that will return, will pluck us from the depths, and will raise us to the heights again.
LJ sat at a table in a dark corner of the Bistro. He held a plastic bag in his hands and moved what looked like dried brown fava beans, one by one, through his fingers. A priest at prayer, his lips moved in a silent mantra as he counted the beans: “… twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine.”
Robin and Will watched him closely, looking for the tell-tale signs that would announce LJ’s return to his former life.
Same-sex couples danced through the Bistro. They avoided this one corner that formed an oasis of severity amidst the gaiety and noise of Carnival celebrations.
“How much does he remember?” Robin looked at Will. Will shrugged and the two men exchanged worried glances.
A whooping conga of men dressed in garish, feathered costumes that revealed more than they concealed, approached the table where the three friends sat. The conga came to a stop in front of them.
“Now what have we here?” The leader asked. He turned to his followers flashing a white, toothy smile.
“Let’s see what you’ve got, darling,” he reached towards LJ’s plastic bag.
“Don’t touch him,” said Robin, rising to his feet.
Three large men broke away from the line and two grasped Robin while the third put his arms on Will’s shoulders and held him in his chair.
“I’m warning you,” Robin said.
“Shut it,” said the leader.
LJ closed the plastic bag that held the twenty-nine fava beans and put it in is breast pocket, next to his heart.
“Don’t put them away, darling, they look delicious,” the leader grinned his enormous grin. He was a big man, not tall, but broad and heavy. “Give them to me, I want to eat one. C’mon, I’ll just pop it in my mouth and suck it.”
The Conga crowd roared their approval.
LJ got to his feet. He was a small man, but wiry. The night-fighter, they had called him. He was the one who slipped out at night through enemy lines and knifed the sentries. One hand over their mouths, one hand on his knife, all sounds extinguished till they relaxed, lifeless, then that one quick twist of the knife and the ear-lobe severed as the dead man was lowered to the floor.
“Wanna dance?” The conga leader wiggled his hips and ran his tongue over his lips, then puckered a little kiss.
LJ’s face turned red, the veins engorged, and his eyes stood out. Nobody saw him move, nobody ever saw LJ move. He grasped the Conga leader’s windpipe with his left hand and drew him forward until they were locked eyeball to eyeball. LJ’s night-fighter knife lay flat across the man’s jugular.
“LJ, no,” Robin screamed. “Not number thirty.”
LJ kept staring at the man he held. His knife disappeared.
“You’re not worthy,” he said, leering into the Conga leader’s purpling face. “You’d dishonor them.”
Will and Robin breathed a sigh of relief.
Comment: Bistro is the title story in a collection of short stories and flash fiction. Bistro, the book, was one of three finalists (and the only self-published book) in the New Brunswick Book Awards (Fiction, 2017). Bistro (the collection) is available on Amazon. The sound recording below is my own reading of the story and the opening cartoon, Belle Bottom Naval Gazing, is the picture on the cover of Bistro, the book. It is also my own work.
Monkey’s masculine penis envy
focuses on the great snakes,
pythons, boa-constrictors, anacondas,
basking beneath hot-house lights
that maintain a rigid temperature,
desert and jungle warmth and moisture
ready at the flick of a switch.
They lounge in glass cubicles,
checking each other out
for size, weight, length, girth,
with a roll of the eye and a casual flicker
of a forked lightning tongue.
Fed for far too long
on fetched food
from the untroubled tenured trough,
many have become sedentary,
and much too comfortable
to even think about
renewing their lives,
or sloughing their skins.
Give him a magnifying glass
and monkey nit-picks!
He likes nit-picking.
Hunting for fleas,
he combs through the fur
of less fortunate monkeys.
Monkey see: monkey do,
and what monkey does best
is crack fleas between his nails
and stick his paw in the jam jar.
Here, in the Kinder Monkey Garten,
young monkeys learn monkey skills:
how to conduct monkey business,
how to throw a monkey wrench
into other monkeys’ plans,
how to wear monkey suits,
how to square round pegs
and fit them into triangular holes,
how to build better monkey traps,
how to reinvent the monkey wheel,
again and again and again.
Monkey likes to perch enthroned
at the top of the monkey temple.
Paradise is to squat
on the organ-grinder’s shoulder,
top banana that.
(after a Fable by Lafontaine and with memories of Bakhtin
and his upside-down worlds of Carnival and the Antipodes)
Swine flu has struck the temple. Unter– monkeys sniffle and grovel,
blaming each other for their snuffles.
They request a platypus duck to oversee a kangaroo court
with chief scapegoat monkey absent of course.
The unter-monkeys sit in a circle,
where all are equal but some are more equal than others.
They pass a lyre bird feather round and round,
weeping crocodile tears and lying through
the tight monkey grins of their alligator teeth.
A black-capped chickadee lends his cap to the platypus duck
who then pronounces sentence,
“There is no defence: guilty, in absentia, guilty as charged.”
“Fumer l’herbe d’autrui? Quel crime abominable!”* **
*”Smoking someone else’s grass, what an abominable crime.”
** “Manger l’herbe d’autrui? Qel crime abominable!”
LaFontaine: Les animaux malades de la peste.