Flowers

Flowers

“With freedom, flowers, books, and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy?” Oscar Wilde

Yesterday I bought my beloved some flowers. I searched among the bunches in the supermarket to find some that were not full blown but ready to spring from bud to blossom. I had the freedom to buy and with it the freedom that comes from having a little bit of money to spare for those frivolities that keep love alive at any age.

As for books, I read them and I write them, and sometimes they write me, and sometimes I can tell the difference, and some times I can’t. “What is this life, if full of greed we have no time to sit and read. Or when we lay awake at night, we don’t have time to think or write.”

Then there is the moon. “Please let the light that shines on me, shine on the one I love.” An old sea-farers’ song also sung by the beloved left behind on the home shore. There are few things as fascinating as a garden in the moonlight. Delightful too are night flowers blossoming beneath a full moon. “Boys and girls come out to play, the moon is shining as bright as day. Leave your pillows and leave your sheets and join your playfellows in the streets.”

So there you have a recipe for perfect happiness. Freedom from need, cash for frivolities and flowers, moonlight in which to serenade one’s beloved, and a book in which to record the recipe and keep it fresh in mind – add them one by one, stir them gently, plant them – and may perfect happiness blossom for you, too.

Dreamers

Dreamers

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde.

“The dreamers by day are dangerous people, for they are the ones who make their dreams come true.” T. E. Lawrence.

Two interesting and contrasting quotes on dreamers. They seem to contradict each other – but do they? How do we dream? What do we dream of when we dream? What does the word ‘dream’ really mean? How can it change, that meaning when a person announces in a sharp, sarcastic voice: “In your dreams.”? Were the Everly Brothers right when they sang their version of dream, dream, dream?

There is no right and wrong with dreams. Some dreams come at night. They rise from deep within our resting – restless minds, asking questions, answering questions, doubling down on what we did, or didn’t do. Some dreams are obsessive and occur again and again. These are individual to each sleeper and cannot be interpreted, en masse, by a dictionary of dreams. Other night dreams creep in through the bedroom window. These may not be our dreams – they may be the dreams of other people, come to disturb us as we sleep. These can be dangerous dreams, disturbing moments, and that’s why the indigenous have created dream-catchers that will snare those dreams and prevent them from entering.

Other dreams come by day. Day-dreaming is a rite of passage for many young children, trapped in boring school rooms with an ageing teacher droning on and on. “Knowledge is that which passes from my notes to your notes without going through anyone’s head.” I woke up enough from my day dream during that particular first-year lecture to note those words in my notebook. They were the only notes I took in that class and I day dreamed my way though a year of that man’s pseudo-lectures.

But the dreams we dream by day – yes, they can indeed be dangerous – because we can make them happen. One person dreams of being a doctor and, against all the odds, that person becomes one. Another visualizes – another form of day-dreaming – breaking a world record. And does so – such people fulfill their day-dream. Some, like Don Quixote, dream the impossible dream. These are fantasists whose dreams will never come true, for they are based on unrealities, and not founded on the essential truths of real life.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight.” Much as I love this quote, I am disturbed by the adverb ‘only’. It is so limiting. Dreamers, as I have tried to show, can find their way by day as well. “His punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” This, too, I find enigmatic and disturbing. Why should dreamers be punished when they can also be rewarded? Why is seeing the dawn a punishment? Why is seeing the dawn before the rest of the world a sort of double punishment? And why does the dawn punish people? In order to answer that question, we must define the dawn! Maybe we’ll do that in another post.

A book is a book is a book

A book is a book is a book

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde

A good friend of mine once told me that her creative writing writing prof in the MFA program told the class: “We are not writers. We are re-writers.” Our mission in life, then, is not just to rewrite, but to think and to revise. The art of writing lies in analysis, research, thought, and thinking carefully about (a) what we are about to write and (b) what we have just written. As a great Spanish writer once said “I write as I speak and when writing I count my syllables.”

So can the same principle be applied to reading? In my undergraduate poetry courses, one of my wiser profs announced that “It is better to read one poem a hundred times, than a hundred poems once.” Is re-reading better than reading? Good question. But it is what I call a swimming pool question: it has shallow ends and deep ends. Joke – it depends, you see, upon the quality of the material one is reading. For example, does a single reading of the Bible suffice? I read it through, page by page, when I was twelve years old. Was that it? No, I still return to it – the good book – from time to time, selecting, remembering, checking, looking for comfort, advice, or sometimes, pure joy in the sound of the language – King James version, of course.

What other books have I read and re-read? Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quixote, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The first book in the Harry Potter series – it reminded me of elements of my own childhood, especially the cupboard under the stairs. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt. The Wind in the Willows, Gongora’s Polifemo, Quevedo’s Metaphysical Poems and his Cycle to Lisi. Octavio Paz’s Sunstone / Piedra de Sol, Lorca’s Romancero Gitano, his Poet in New York, and his plays. Platero y yo. Charlotte’s Web. Several of Shakespeare’s plays, including McBeth, Henry V, King Lear, and a couple more. Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and Stalky and Co. Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed. Robert Bly’s Morning Poems, Iron John, The Sibling Society. Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life and his Niebla. Enough, no more. It is not as sweet now as it was before. And there are so many more to which I have returned, again and again.

So, think about all the time wasted on trivial books, books that remained unfinished, books that have never been opened. One person’s vegetarian or vegan’s fare is a carnivore’s poison [sick]. Sometimes a book mirrors our thoughts. Sometimes it challenges us to rethink our lives and our philosophies. Sometimes it comforts us or takes us back into our childhood. And sometimes it just bores us and we cannot finish it.

A rose is a rose is a rose. A book is a book is a book. Or is it? We are not readers – we are re-readers. And if we aren’t, we ought to be. Think about that. Carefully.

Looking at the Stars

Looking at the Stars

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”  Oscar Wilde

Another beautiful quote from Oscar Wilde. I look at the world around me and I see two different spheres – the celestial one where, on a clear night, Orion patrols the winter skies, his faithful dog star at his heels. These are nights of great beauty, fields where mythical animals wander their ways, clothed in sparking suits of light.

Then I open the newspapers, read the news, and wonder what we are all up to. Up to? Down to, rather, for I have that sneaking feeling that so many of us are indeed lying in the gutter, somewhere, thrown out of a moving car, and abandoned, like some dead deer in a roadside ditch. Everywhere, the news is dark and dreary – wars, rumors of war, shootings, beatings, corruption, lies – or terminological inexactitudes, as Winston Churchill called them, the word ‘lies’ not being permitted in the Mother of Parliaments.

The Mother of Parliaments, indeed. And what a non-sensical mess that has become. To repeat the litanies of nonsense spouted in the English Parliament nowadays, I hesitate to call it ‘the British Parliament’, is to risk rusting and ruining my computer keyboard with the salt tears I shed.

So many of them, then, literally lying- the word has multiple meanings – in the gutter. So many of us dragged down with them. But, each night, when the skies are clear and the clouds move away, I find myself, once again, looking up at the stars. Per ardua ad astra – through hardship to the stars.

Breathe deep – keep the faith and believe.

A Month Ago

A Month Ago

A month ago, on November 23, I posted my last message on this blog. Since then, nothing. Silence.

For thirty days and thirty nights the world has been as silent as the painting I posted above. It has been as silent as snow flakes circling. As quiet as the ribbons tied silently together. Nothing stirred. Nothing moved. Nothing.

Can an absence be a presence? Sometimes it is, for example, when we lose a tooth, a family member, or a friend. In their absence, we lament the loss of their presence. With a tooth, we run the tongue around the empty space, noticing the tenderness of the flesh, the hollow within the gum.

It’s the same with friends. They go AWOL. Move on. Forget their promises of eternal friendship. They become the empty space where the tooth once stood. At first we grieve. Then we become used to their absence. Then, one day, we realize that their voices have fallen silent and then they are friends no more.

Right now, there is a hollow in my life. An absence. I cannot put my finger on what is missing, absent, as always, without leave. Maybe it is the Christmas beliefs that dogged my childhood. Maybe it is the emptiness that warns of oncoming storms, each one greater than the one before. Maybe it is just the premonition, the suspicion, that all is not well with the world.

This year we gave more money than ever before to the Feed a Family Fund. Then we sent extra money to the local foodbank. Everywhere we see that the social ball of string is unwinding and ends no longer meet. It seems our society no longer has the will or the means to justify any ends, except selfish ones. Is it everyone for themselves, then, and the devil take the hindmost? Sometimes it feels like it.

I have seen the hindmost, human beings they are, just like you and me, except they are wrapped in blankets, begging at traffic lights, sitting outside the supermarket, a coffee cup at their feet, hoping for a penny to drop. Where have all the pennies gone? Gone to the smelters everyone. So they wait for a nickel to drop, or a dime, or even a quarter.

Covid-19 and all its subsequent derivations may well have been at the heart of all this. The isolation. The masking. The distancing. The fear of the unknown. The fear of the stranger in our midst. We have become used to living with those fears. We still have Covid-19 and its variations, some with long term complications. We now have a virulent flu as well. And there are various viral infections circulating.

The Apocalypse? Not yet. The Apocalypse has four horsemen and I have only mentioned three. So – where is the fourth one hiding? When will he appear? What will he look like? Maybe he’s lurking in a food bank, an unrepentant Grinch preparing to steal the food? Perhaps he hides in an unheated house? Can he be spotted at the dinner table, where the parent or parents are not eating, so that a child may eat?

I throw these questions out. Outside my window, clouds gather and snow starts to fall. I listen carefully. But all I can hear is the silence to which I have grown accustomed.

Loss

Loss

By the time I remembered your name
I had forgotten your face,
and then I couldn’t recall
why I wanted to talk to you
in the first place.

Words and phrases bounce,
water off a duck’s back.
They sparkle like a high tide
rejected by the retriever
as he shakes his coat dry
on emerging from the sea.

This book I read is a word parcel,
a clepsydra of droplets,
a rainbow strung with colored beads,
each scouring a bull’s eye
on the world’s taut literary hide.

Mapa mundi of forgotten lands,
I trace dark landmarks
on the back of scarred hands
and wonder why I have never visited
faraway places with strange-sounding names.

Tourist guide to a failing memory,
I track the trails of drifting ships
as their white sails vanish,
blank butterflies from a distant summer,
floating over a darkening horizon.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Loss

A Grouse

A Grouse

It hurts. She is so far away.
I can barely hear her voice on the phone.
It hurts. I can only comfort her with words,
useless words, clichés that will never
take her cares away, how could they?

Ghosts of a nearby past drift silently by.
I wonder what can say to each other,
whether we should chat about the weather,
or whether to let silence hold sway.
I don’t want her to put down the phone
even though we’ll talk again today.

My body hurts with her hurt. I know my pain
will soon go away, but hers – I hope it doesn’t stay.
Outside the window, two red squirrels play.
Words break the silence: I’ll call
you later. Make the most of your day.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Grouse.





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Suit of Lights


Suit of Lights

I am a man of straw
shivered by raw winds,
frosted by the cold
enveloping this enigmatic body,
dry bones set rattling.

I walk with two sticks,
a stick man then,
not just a sick man,
as broken as this broken body,
old sack of out-muscled blood.

When the magic hour
descends, earth glows
with a different light,
and my world is transformed,
translucent, bright.

A touch of the almighty,
this beauty suddenly
surrounding me,
blessing me,
and all my doubts,
with this suit of lights.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Suit of Lights


Clichés

Clichés

I buried myself in an ice-cube.
I dug in so deep that nobody
could find nor touch me.

“Hurt yourself,” I told myself,
“hurt yourself
so badly that nobody
will ever be able to hurt you
again.”

Clichés:
cutting off your nose
to spite your face,
shooting yourself
in the foot, arm, or leg,
self-destructing
in so many ways,
and all clichés.

And me, alone,
everything cut off,
torn down, worn away,
visible, some days,
yet untouchable,
locked away
in this frozen land
where warmth
never flows
and winter
holds sway.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Clichés

Quilting

Quilting

A man among many women,
I sit silent, feeling their eyes
explore my flesh, my stitches.

I need glasses now for delicate
needlework. To thread a needle
the workshop leader has a gadget.

It passes from hand to hand,
ties the perfect quilter’s knot.
My grandpa’s canvas sewing kit,

World War One Vintage, served him
before the mast and in the trenches.
From it, I take a small looped wire.

I remember when I could see and he
could not, hence his need for me
to thread the needle and knot the knot
that he could no longer knot.

Now I choose my tiny patches,
join them, stitch them into a square
and, ironed out, into the quilt.

We must sign them, and I do.
My name and little sayings
in Spanish, Latin, and Welsh.

The leader asks me to translate them
then writes the meanings down.
“Beautiful work,” she tells me.

“Where did you learn to sew?”
I close my eyes, sew my lips tight.
Some secrets I’ll never let go.

Click for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Quilting

Comment: I wrote this after reading the section entitled Quilt in M. Travis Lane’s book A Tent, a Lantern, An Empty Bowl (Windsor: Palimpsest Press, 2019). Poems that could double as paintings, proclaims the paragraph on the back cover. I have no such talent. My own poem is more of a memoir in the form of a narrative sequence. To each his or her own, or, in the modern parlance, to all their own. And a poet must do what a poet can do, each of us adding our own little offerings to the great sea that is poetry.