Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks

I have published three books this year and I am working on a fourth and a fifth. Somehow, the blog, like these hollyhocks, seems ephemeral. It will not out last me, though its seedlings, children and grandchildren, may creep into my printed books and remain a lot longer. These, incidentally, are the children and grandchildren of the first hollyhock grown in the garden. I think a little bird must have dropped it about five years ago. Now it has seeded and reseeded itself. Reseed, yes — recede, we hope not. They are so tall we can sit in the kitchen and they are at eye level with us.

And don’t forget the yucca. He was $120 in the local garden store. Reduced to half price ($60). Then to $50. “We are in the wrong zone for yuccas,” I told the salesman. “Yours for $20, then. He probably won’t last.” That was 32 years ago. And baby, just look at that yucca now.

He hides behind the hollyhocks, but he doesn’t live in their shade. Not by any means. There are so many things to see and do. The blog seems to have drifted by a little bit. I know it’s lonely, but I haven’t forgotten it, as the hollyhocks haven’t forgotten the yucca and vice versa. It’s just that it’s summertime and things are busy and well, I guess I’ll try to do a little bit better. I promise!

Masks

Mexican Mask depicting the ages of man.

Masks
Friday Fiction

I cover my face with a white mask of soap and carve intricate patterns with the razor.

… painted masks … death masks … the masks the priests wear in the pre-Columbian Oaxacan codices … the prisoner struggling … not yet fully understanding his fate … around him … animal masks … priest  masks … the jaguar cult of the regiments … they strip him down … paint his body … arm him with flowers … place him on a pedestal … from there he will dance his last dance … fight his last fight .. his destiny … like the bull in the bull ring … to die bravely showing no fear … he strikes first with the flower … his opponents strike back … one by one … with their obsidian knives … each wound a flesh wound on legs and thighs … the heart pounds … the blood flows .. faster and faster … more flowers … more knives … more blood … until almost bloodless the prisoner weakens and stumbles … rough arms seize him by the arms and legs … they carry him to the sacrificial stone … bend him over it … chest exposed … and tear the living beating heart from the cavity the carve in his chest … the severed arms and legs bounce down the temple steps to the waiting crowds … tomorrow his spirit will return as a hummingbird … and dance around the sun … for now his torn heart sizzles in the sacrificial fire … a horse’s head … teeth bared … grins from the temple walls …

My razor, held like a flower, slips and I gash my lip. The slow blood seeps through the soap streaking my mask with faint shades of pink. I shiver and stare at my reflection in the mirror. It’s a very plain face with a nose slightly larger and more hooked than it ought to be. I think of it as the prow of a ship or a bird’s beak: an eagle perhaps. My nose is very much like the nose of the man who died in the flower dance. In spite of the warmth in the room, I shiver again.

Vets

Autumn Leaves, the Peace Park, Mactaquac

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Vets
A Thursday Thought

Mary Jones

I met her unexpectedly in a restaurant in St. George.
I was masked, but she knew me right away. She hadn’t
changed. How could she have? She is as she is. Straight
forward, upright, honest, true to her words and her values.
Ex-military. A United Nations Peace-Keeper. A Blue Beret.
World traveller to some of the roughest, toughest, ugliest,
craziest spots. Everywhere she went, she helped keep the peace.

She came back home to find out what she already knew: that
rural New Brunswick was as wild as anywhere she had been.
She was anonymous, here, was just another number in a book,
a casualty in a nameless war of attrition after which the winners
rewrite the history of events, twisting them this way, that way
to suit themselves and their own instincts and interests.

“Best of the best,” I wrote in the book I gave her. Fortuitous,
it was, finding her again, finding that copy close to hand,
reserved for her alone. That book and this poem are my tribute
to her for her courage, her fortitude, and her strength of will.
They are also a tribute to her role in making the world a safer place
in which others, less fortunate, can create, without fear, their lives.

Comment: There is very little more to be said. Each former soldier is an individual with a history and personality of their own. This is my tribute to a very good friend who served her country and the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces with pride and distinction. Mary Jones, I, an academic, a writer, and a non-combatant, salute you for all the positive values which you have brought into this sometimes troubled world of ours. You and your well-being are in my Thursday Thoughts.

Cave Paintings

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Cave Paintings
Cantabria

Who painted these pictures on the walls of night’s cave?
This grayish hand, fingers flexed, outlined in black soot,
that deer dancing, those bears, horses, bison, running?


Did they come from nowhere, plucked from nothing but
the artist’s memories of what he saw as the ice age faded
and heat and warmth returned to warm his world? Drawn
from life, without doubt. Unless these Neanderthals were
truly creating art from a literal vacuum with nothing new
invented since according to Picasso. And he should know.

Imagine them as sounds, as letters from distant relatives,
as colored vowels scored on the blocks of a child’s first
alphabet set. Sit and stare. Watch flames flitter over
sharp shapes. See life enter the drawings as flimsy
light flickers over the cave walls’ dips and bumps.

Once seen, never forgotten. Not just the paintings, but also
the clammy cave damp, the red hanky draped over a pocket torch
to imitate firelight, the drip of water, slow growth of limestone
deposits growing into stalagmite and stalactite. Such things
flit in and out of my mind like owls or bats, drop in on my sleep
wake me with predatory beaks and claws, calling for my skull’s shut
doors to open wide, to let them in, and to bring them back to life.

Comment: The picture comes from an ash-tray my parents bought at the Cuevas de Altamira, in Santillana del Mar (Cantabria, Santander as it was known then) in 1963. We visited many cave sites in Cantabria including Puente Viesgo, where we saw the sooty hands. Back then, the caves had only just been opened. At Altamira, a young lady came to greet us. We asked her if we might view the caves and she whistled loudly. Her husband came down from the fields where he was working. He took a large iron key from his pocket, opened a huge door set in the rock, and in we went. One light bulb illumined the inner chamber. Only a small segment had been dug out. We reclined on a rocky bank. He doused the electric light, took a torch from his pocket, and covered it with a red pocket handkerchief. He moved this back and forth to imitate firelight and immediately the whole wall came to life and the animals moved in the flickering light. Pure magic. Unforgettable. We were the only people there. Four of us. A few years later, you had to book an appointment and a place. Within six years, the caves were closed as the heat of human bodies raised the cave temperatures and caused the paintings to deteriorate. I was so fortunate, so privileged, to see those paintings in what was almost their pristine state. In 1991, I visited the facsimile of the caves built in Madrid. I paid my money, went in, sat down, and came out crying for all those things we had lost, for all that beauty that had been denied.

AWOL

AWOL

I never dreamed I would one day share the Red Room at KIRA with a portrait on the wall of Roger Writing in the Red Room at KIRA. It is a great honor to be here again and to be the first alumnus (June, 2017) invited back for a second stay (May-June, 2021). I will do my best to ensure that this stay is a successful one. I am honored to be the first returnee. I most certainly have no wish to be the last.

My desk is in its usual place by the window. To the right, on the wall above me, hangs my portrait. This is new, especially for me. The view from my working window has changed. The auditorium was just being constructed when I was here first (June, 2017). My companions from that first cohort of resident artists are here with me, in spirit. Ann, Carlos, Elise, and Ruby, the one who painted my likeness. My hope is that they too may sometime return.

The Tower on Minister’s Island is still visible above the trees. It has long kept me company and long may it continue to do so. Across the bay, behind the red tree on the left, Magic Rock and Holt’s Point can almost be seen. What beauty. What joy. Sitting here, at my desk, I review twelve days absent without leave, AWOL from Social Media and the Blog. Those Tiz-Woz days are hopefully over now. The bone scan was negative and showed no metastases. So that is a huge relief, though there may yet be some complications. There will be further testing, ad possibly some more medication. That lies in the future. This is the present. The sun is shining. I am here among friends. All’s right with the world.

Monet at Giverny

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Monet at Giverny

Day’s executioner stripes evening
across the sacrificed horizon.
In blood he was born, in earth
will he rest his flesh, turning it into bread.
Purple this imperial wine streaming with day’s
death, ruffling these troubled waters.

Green footprints, the lily pads.
A halo, this drowned man’s beard,
liquescent. Like the gods, he dreamed
he walked dry on water.
Stepping stones, these goldfish
flowering beneath this thin line of cloud.

Maples flash ruby thoughts that ripple
outwards, waves cast upon a liquid sky
towards what farther shores?

Wisteria blesses him with its curly blue locks.
Narcissus, he clads himself in an abyss of lilies,
imperial, his reflection, and imperiled.
Slowly he slides to sleep, merging into his dream:
a vaulted cathedral, his earthbound ribs,
the blood space immaculate.

His lily pond turns into a fallen mirror,
shattering as it ripples in the breeze.
Shards of clouds flare like flames. Fractured
fish, red and gold, shelter beneath white lilies.

Night and day, sun and moon, leapfrog
over tranquil water. Something always survives:
sepia tints, old photos, dreaming on and on.

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Chaos Theory

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Chaos Theory

Chaos theory:
it states that we don’t know
what we’re doing and
it wouldn’t really matter
anyway, even if we did,
because life lacks meaning,
chance rules, and Lady Luck
with her lusty locks attached
to her forehead and she,
all bald and hairless
from behind, must be caught
as she arrives, because later
is much too late, and when past,
she’s gone for good and
our good luck’s gone with her,
and we’re left for ever,
sitting there, head in hands,
bemoaning all that milk spilled
before we ever had a chance
to actually taste it.

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False Spring

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False Spring

Winter whiteness slowing now,
and the tide that full bore crashed
white waves against our house
receding to garden’s foot where
warm roots wait their waking.

But winter still stalks the land
and April brings snow, more snow,
as if there will never be an end
to these waves of whiteness,
thinner, trimmer, true, but
unwelcome as spring days grow
longer and sunrise beckons
ever more early with Crow
and Blue Jay breaking the morning’s peace
into raucous pieces
as they bounce from branch to branch …

.. and brown the earth, and barren,
and bare, the robins finding no food
and flying on, while the passerines
just call and pass us by, finches at the feeder,
purple and gold, yet singing no songs,
and the robins, hop-along casualties
of this long-delayed spring that promises,
to come but never arrives …

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Comment: Not so bad this year, the weather, but it’s been a funny winter, most strange, and totally discomforting, what with the pandemic, the lockdowns, the relief of going back to yellow, fresh lockdowns, and so many things happening everywhere while we were trapped inside where nothing was happening, save in the various forms of virtual reality that replaced quotidian reality with a mixture of faux, fake, and false, all wrapped up in a brown-paper bag of honey-sweet smiles and scowls, raised voices, and bottled anguish.

GBH on the TCH

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GBH on the TCH

She climbs up from the river
where she’s been drinking.
She ripples tawny, red, and orange
across the TCH.

 As quick as a fox, they say:
black socks, brush winter-thick
held high and proud,
as quick as a shadow
melting into dark woods
on the highway’s far side.

Her cub follows close behind,
but he’s not quite as quick.
A passing car tries to swerve
only to grind him into the gravel.

Sudden, that fox-stink,
still clinging to my nostrils
 like a slow-motion death,
dreamed at night,
frame by bitter frame,
until a life-time of silence
seals the lips of parted lovers.

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Wake

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Wake

Such a miracle:
the first steps of the cormorant’s flight
taken over water.

That first step heavy,
the second lighter,
and the third scarcely a paint brush
pocking the waves.

The need to take flight
lies deep within me.

Like a ship at sea,
or a seabird over the waves,
I will leave white water in my wake
to prove that I was here,
for a little while,
but have now gone.

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