Fear of the Fence

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Fear of the Fence

Our conversation this morning:
a sun-dried Roman aqueduct
no longer capable of carrying water.

I envision brown sacking
winter-lagged around leaking pipes,
and me a little Dutch boy stemming
the damage, a finger in life’s dyke.

Each sentence is a wasted
movement of lips, tongue, teeth.
Our words are motionless kites,
earthbound, too heavy to rise.

Dead soldiers, gone over the top,
my thoughts hang like washing
pegged out on the Siegfried Line
on a windless day in WWI.

I have grown afraid of this barbed-wire
fence growing daily between us.

Comment: The penultimate verse is from a WWI song that my grandfather taught me in the kitchen, back home in Wales, when I was a child. “I’m going to hang out my washing on the Siegfried Line. Have you any dirty washing, mother dear.” The words of such songs have stayed with me and recur in my poems from time to time.

Beaver Pond

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The Beaver Pond
Last October

Leaves walked tip-toe footprints,
delicate, on dark water.
Wrinkled brown tongues lapped
towards dry land. Everywhere
low light fell bright on stripped
white branches.

Open were the pond’s shiny spaces,
dry and withered were its reeds.
Clouds floated in the tarn’s spotted mirror.
Islets of seeded grass marked spots
where underwater logs rotted back to life.

We gazed on emptiness, empty nests,
and a burnt, tanned earth that waited
for what strange second coming?
The wind’s chill arm wrapped us
in the silent thought of oncoming winter.

Charles Baudelaire

A butterfly perches on Les Fleurs du Mal.

Charles Baudelaire

He walks past the Jesuit Church
where the shoe-shine boys store
polish, brushes, and chairs overnight.
He walks past the wrought-iron bench
where the gay guys sit, caressing,
asking the unsuspecting to join them.

Nobody asks Charles for a match,
for a drink, for charity, for a walk
down the alley to a cheap hotel.

The witch doctor is the one who stops
the hands on all the clocks at midnight.
He’s the one who leaves this place,
and returns to this place, all places being one.
The witch doctor sees little things
that other men don’t see. He reaches out
and flicks a fly from Charles’s nose.
“I too have lost my way,” it sighs.

Charles thinks he knows who he is,
but sometimes he wonders when he shaves,
rasping the razor across his chin’s dry husks.
The witch doctor, his lookalike, his twin,
stares back at him from the bathroom mirror.
Three witches dance on the waning soap dish.
One spins the yarn, one measures the cloth,
one wields the knife, that will one day sever
the thread of all poor creatures born to die.

Oh hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère.

Northern Lights

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Northern Lights

Old man looks out of his window.
Falling leaves twist like they did in his childhood.
They spread bronzed carpets across the lawn.
His granddaughter stands by the flowerbed,
squeezing fall’s last blossoms,
turning them into perfume.

Dandelions clutter Old Man’s lawn.
Last summer he lost the strength and will
to stoop down and root them out.
In dreams, Old Man’s spirit tries to escape
and wander through celestial pastures.
For a moment, stars shine brighter
as a new spark adorns the sky.

Walking through the Aurora Borealis,
he understands the way to weave rainbows
from ribbons of color and floating light.
Old Man knows he must share this knowledge.
One day he will share his secret with this child.

Man from Merthyr

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Man from Merthyr

 Memory loss punched holes in your head
and let in the dark, instead of the light.
Constellations faded from your sight,
erased by the arch-angel’s coal-dust wing.

 “I’m shrinking,” you said, the last time I saw you,
you, who had been taller, were now smaller than me.

 Tonight, when the harvest moon shines bright
and drowns the stars in its sea of light,
I will sit by my window and watch for your soul
as it rockets its way to eternity.

My eyes will be dry. I do not want pink runnels
running down this coal-miner’s unwashed face.
I’ll sing you this lullaby, to help you sleep.

“When the coal comes from the Rhondda
down the Merthyr-Taff Vale line,
when the coal comes from the Rhondda
I’ll be there,” with you, shoulder to shoulder.
Farewell, my friend, sleep safe, sleep deep.

Fate Accompli

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Fate Accompli

Life begins with the glow-worm of a match.
Luciérniga, Lucifer, the bringers of light.
Sun-flames flicker on the weaver’s fingers,
lighting day’s candle, bringing an end to night.

The shuttle clatters away, plotting our fate.
Tiny, we await our doom on the maker’s loom.
Wooden teeth braid each of the threads
the mid-wife will tie when she cuts the knot.

Three witches stand beside the newborn’s cradle.
One spins the yarn, one measures the thread,
the third one wields the journey-ending knife.

Infants, we walk, unwitting, our planks of fire.
We cast star-crossed shadows on cave walls.
Three witches smile as false omens forge our fate.

Ruins of the Heart

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Ruins of the Heart

Dusty paths meander under drifting clouds.
A worn-out, shadow rag, this ruined land.

An old man with a sly-eyed dog herds thin cows.
Threatened, I stoop and gather stones.

Moving targets, the dog, a shadow of dust
on burial mounds, wind-stirred with weeds.

Abandoned in this wilderness, a wild thorn
thrusts a spear through my derelict heart.

A rag-bag my own body, stitched together
with threads of long-forgotten tales.

Fear sets nightmare shadows dancing,
skeletons come alive on sculpted graves.

Carved faces, a woman, courted by men.
Which one captured her flowering heart?

Who pierced it with an arrow? Who scarred
her name letter by letter on this stone?

That first rock, freed from my fingers,
strikes hard on the canine’s cowardly frame,
setting earth’s shadows free to flee.

Mountain Ash

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Mountain Ash

Honey sweet bark drilled by beaks
bleeds the rowan’s life away.
Who do we kill: bird or tree?

Decision made, the sap-suckers,
claws trapped in sackcloth, fluff
their feathers, leave their feast.

Red beads on the mountain ash:
a rosary of bright berries.

Bitter on the tongue, sunset’s
first flourish tinting my dream.

Midnight gnaws at the moon.
Its white skull drifts, a stone knife,
sharpened, in the sky’s iron hand.

At shadowed garden’s shallow
edge, the sorbus aucuparia bends,
its spirit walking night’s waters.

Aubade

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Aubade

Driving in winter, early one morning,
from Island View
to the Georges Dumont Hospital in Moncton
for Cancer tests

1

The crows in the garden complain of the cold,
cawing from their look-out points
with short, sharp calls.

A life of ease they seem to live,
but when the mercury descends and water freezes
icy blinds inside our window panes and snow-
squalls bluster in from north and west,
who knows what’s best for those poor birds
aloft in their crow’s nest spars,
sailing snow’s seas,
steadfast in their skippering of wind-bent trees?

This Arctic cold is such
that neither man nor beast can love it much,
crouched close to whatever warmth there is,
shivering in the wind’s cold touch.

 2

 Yesterday, a dozen crows pecked at salt grains
scattered over this road.

A black-clad chorus, they rejoiced
when sunshine drew the white-tailed deer,
from winter depths of banked up snow.

Not long ago she was alive.
Now she lies stiff and broken.

Soon she’ll be picked up by workmen,
tossed into the back of their truck,
dumped, and forgotten.

What magic spell invokes what beginnings?
To what end do we prolong our days?
What myth, this fairy-tale I call my life?
Stars drift hidden through the sunny sky.

3

Driving home from the hospital,
bullied by fierce winds
on a snow-packed road,
I dream as I drive.

I envision a past
that never was, a future
that may never be.

As I hibernate in that past,
last summer’s flowers
flourish in my mind.

The car skids into a snow bank
and my world shakes in shock.

A thirty wheeler rumbles by:
there are so many ways to die.

Sharp-Shin

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Sharp-Shin

She surveys her empire
from our back porch
steps into space
plunges her body’s weight
into fragile air.

A feathered arrow,
she makes contact, feet first,
bowling the unsuspecting robin
over on the ground.
His shrill shriek emerges
from a beak shredding failing air.

The hawk’s claws clench.
Her victim’s movements weaken,
eyes gaze into darkness.

One final spasm,
a last quick twitch,
and the robin is gone,
one wing dragging,
borne skywards
in the hawk’s claws.