Crow’s Feet

 

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Crow’s Feet

So many meanings, so many possibilities. I remember them round my grandmother’s eyes, wrinkles, laughter lines, crow’s feet. And then there are the real crows, sauntering, swaggering, two roadside hops, and take off. So bold, that sometimes they will stand there and defy you and your car, refusing to fly, but always leaving their footprints, crows’ feet in the snow.

We have a family of seven. They own our garden. Visit us every day. Check us out. Nothing like the whistle of the wind in their pinions as they sweep low over our roof, summer and winter, all year round. We belong to them, not them to us.

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Crows: such shadows, hovering  in our minds, casting their shadows over our lives and our deaths, for ‘the coward dies a thousand deaths, the hero dies but one’ and down, deep down, we are all cowards, in one way or another, and the crows await each one of our thousand deaths.

Bullfight

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Bullfight

The above photo shows novillos, young bulls, on a bull farm in Salamanca, Spain, bred for the bull ring. They are tested in the farm’s private bull ring and the best and bravest are saved for the bull ring. A series of computer programs tests them at six month intervals to see if they are bull ring material.

Spain is divided on bull fighting with Catalonia banning the bullfight while Castilla and Andalusia are ardently in favor of the three, thousand year old tradition. The Spanish flag, in Castille, comes with a fighting bull, in the centre, replacing the coat of arms.

Many opinions exist abut bullfighting, bull running, and the whole tradition of blood sports. I will not state my position. But I will leave you with a piece of flash fiction, perhaps a short story. Each of you, if you wish, may play the game, click on the Bullfighting link, and decide for yourselves where you, and I, stand. Warning: not for the faint of heart … go on, be brave, remember the toros bravos who have perished in the ring.

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Los Toros de Guisando, mentioned in the Quixote, prehistoric stone bulls, verracos, Celtic carvings from the Province of Avila, Spain. The Roman legions carved their names into these stone bulls. Below, a modern bull, also from the province of Avila. I must, at this point, mention my friend Juanra, who took me to see these monuments and encouraged my interest in his wonderful province. Juanra, te lo agradezco, no sabes cuanto.

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Friday Fiction: Finding Fault

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Finding Fault
Friday Fiction

It wasn’t your fault. You look at yourself in the mirror and see your tear-stained cheeks. Your red eyes look back out at you and you lose yourself in them, swimming desperately as their still ponds down you with tears.

“Stop hammering at the door,” you yell at him. “Stop hammering.”

Open the door,” he shouts, stammering in his rage. “Open this door.”

Thank God you locked it is what you think. Thank heavens you kept the key. And here it is in your hand, so it can’t fall down to floor and be hooked away, under the door, so that he can open the door and come at you again. He is shaking the door handle now, rattling it, shaking it like he said he’d shake you.

“I’ll shake you till your teeth rattle,” that’s what he said. And you know he meant it. You could see it in his eyes. You were just too quick for him. That’s all. Just too quick. He raised his walking stick to beat you and you slipped away, in a flash. Just like that. He was too slow to catch you. His one chance came in the kitchen. Once you were out of there, out of that trap, you were up the stairs, into your bedroom. You shut the door, slammed it shut, and turned the key in the lock. Then you relaxed for just a second and that was enough to set you crying. Thick, heavy tears ran down your cheeks. Sobs shook your chest and rattled your bones. You heard him clumping up the stairs, one foot at a time. Clump. Clump. Then he was at the door again. A big, bad wolf, huffing and puffing.

Open this door,” he shouted. “You wicked child.”

“I’m not wicked,” you said.

“Wicked,” he shouted. “Wicked. Just like your father. You should never have been born.”

You placed the bedroom chair against the door, just under the door handle. Then you wedged your father’s sandal under the door.

Earlier, down in the kitchen, you had taken the bread knife and started to cut the bread. But the knife was blunt. So you sharpened it, scraping it up and down against another knife blade, like you’d seen your dad doing. Trying to make it sharp. Then you started to cut the bread. And that’s when he appeared screaming at you.

“Put that knife down.”

“Why? You asked.

“Because I’m telling you to.”

“That’s not a very good reason,” you said.

“You cheeky girl. I’ll shake you till your teeth rattle.” That’s what he said. And then he raised his stick. Red in the face, he was going to hit you. He wanted to hit you with his stick. Only he couldn’t. You were too quick. You went left, then right, then ducked under his outstretched arm as he lost his balance. You ran into the corridor and up the stairs.  You hear him now puffing outside the locked door.

“Open this door now, you wicked child.”

You move away from the door and move to the window. No escape there. You’re on the second floor. No way down. Where’s dad, you wonder. Where’s my dad? He went out shopping. Said he’d be back soon. Where is he? You hear the old wolf as he keeps huffing and puffing, pounding at the door.

“You’ll never come to my house again,” he screams.

“I don’t want to, grampy,” you scream back. “I hate you.”

You wicked girl. You’re worse than your father, you wicked girl.”

Just then, you hear the front door open. The old wolf backs away from the door. You feel a release, a wave of comfort sweeps over you.

“Dad,” you shout. “Dad.”

“She’s wicked,” you hear your grampy say. “Wicked. You have to beat her. Chastise her. Drive the devil out from her soul.”

“What on earth are you on about?” your father asks. “What’s happening here? Look, go down to the kitchen and make a cup of tea. I’ll talk to the little one and try and make some sense out of this.”

Wicked. She’s never coming to my house again.”

Clump. Clump. You hear his footsteps fade away on the stairs.

“Has he gone?”

“Yes. You can come out now.”

You remove the sandal, you turn the key in the lock, you open the door, you jump into your father’s arms ….
“Daddy, daddy …”

“Now tell me what happened.”

It was all his fault,” you say. “Daddy, I didn’t do anything. It was all his fault. He tried to beat me with his stick. He told me he’d shake me till my teeth rattled. I was so frightened. It wasn’t my fault, dad. Honest. It wasn’t my fault.”

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.

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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Tracks

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Tracks
McAdam Railway Station #12

“Put your fingertips on the rail,
see if you can feel its pulsing beat.

No heart rail rhythm now. No tremble.
Put your ear on cold metal:

nothing but silence. No murmur,
however distant. Black fly whine.

No-see-ums flit. The train track’s
buzz of harmony is lost and gone,

replaced by careless nature. Listen
to the wind whistling in the woods,

hark to spring sounds, so subtle,
grass growing, rust accumulating,

sleepers turning over in their graves,
silent, rotting beneath forgotten rails.”

Comment: Nothing so lonely as an abandoned railway track, rusting beneath snow and rain, the wooden sleepers rotting into oblivion. That said, the Southern New Brunswick Railway still carries freight trains through McAdam, and it is the railway station that suffered, with the loss of passenger traffic, rather than the rails themselves. What a pleasure, incidentally, to hear the hoot of the approaching diesel, to count the wagons as the train came to a halt outside the station. Then came the joy of watching the engine separate wagons from the main train, shunt them into sidings, return, and take the freight train, slow at first, but rapidly gathering speed, out of the station and away into the distance. Such memories. So many ghost trains riding those rails. So many ghosts bewitching the windmills of the child’s mind that still inhabits the ageing brain.

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Hospital

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Hospital
McAdam Railway Station #9

“I was here the day they
took the hospital away.
I gave some writing workshops.
Teachers upset, students in tears,

everywhere, fear and despair.
‘I was born in that hospital.’
‘My grandfather died there.’
‘Where will my child be born?’

I helped them write down
their memories and fears,
their hopes and dreams.
My lesson plans vanished.

How could they survive
when life’s rising tide
broke all bulwarks,
flooded open hearts.

A wounded community,
diminished by its loss,
they took me into their hearts.
Their loneliness wrapped me.

They wrote down memories.
Tears stained every page.”

Comment: This is one of my memories of being in McAdam. I was invited to run a series of writing workshops there, under the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick  (WFNB) WiSP (Writers in Schools Program). I arrived there the week the announcement was made that the local hospital would close. I remember all too well the effect that this announcement had on the local community and I have tried to express that anger, sorrow, despair, fear, resentment in the above poem. More than anything, I felt the sorrow and despair of students and teachers. It is so easy to make an executive decision, at a distance, to rip the beating heart out of a living community on financial grounds. It is so difficult to revive the patient after the act of removal. What amazes me about McAdam is the effort hat volunteers are making to rebuild their town. Their words and deeds are truly impressive: as impressive as their magnificent railway station, now declared a national heritage site.