Lamentations

El Cristo de Carrizo

“Contemplate this crucifixion.
Each of your sins is a thorn
driven into His brow.

Each misdemeanor spears
the sacred side,
draws water and blood
from the open wound.

Your sinful deeds
drive nails anew
into hand and foot.

Christ lives in you.
Your misdeeds nail him
daily to the cross
He bears for you.

He hangs there,
open-eyed.

No death,
no resurrection,
just an everlasting suffering
from these nails
you daily drive.”

Comment: This poem is a very golden oldie. I wrote it in 1979 while walking the Camino de Santiago / the Road to St. James. I should add that this was long before it became fashionable to do so. I walked alone and, save for my thoughts, I was indeed very lonely. In fact, the long days walking, the solitude, got to me. I needed to talk, to meet people, and so, after long discussions with sundry people along the route, I determined to take the bus or the train to the main pilgrimage centres and to walk out from them in either direction. This allowed me to meet people, explore the towns with their churches, traditions, and museums, and to learn much more about the nature and art traditionally associated with the pilgrimage. In this fashion, I spent five days in Leon, two days in Hospital de Orbigo, a week in Astorga, another week in Ponferrada, and nearly two weeks in Santiago itself.

I wrote a collection of poems while I was studying the cities and the landscape. This particular poem is a summary of the conversation I had with the old priest, determined to convert me to Catholicism, who introduced me to the Cristo de Carrizo, in Leon.

In 1613, Francisco de Quevedo, the Spanish poet on whom I wrote my doctoral thesis (Toronto, 1975) wrote a collection of heartfelt mea maxima culpa poems dedicated to his aunt. It bore the title of El Heráclito Cristiano / The Christian Heraclitus.  This in turn was based on an earlier cycle of poems, Lamentaciones de Semana Santa / Lamentations of Holy Week (1601), which Quevedo appears to have written following the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

These spiritual exercises consist of a set of contemplations based on the Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis, in which the contemplator meditates on each of the moments of Christ’s torment and suffering leading up to his death by crucifixion at the end of Holy Week. The purpose of the exercises is to try and recreate in the mind of the contemplator the sufferings of Christ, to imagine his pain, and to feel his suffering at a personal level. This is an act not only of contemplation and contrition, but also of purification of mind and spirit.

This year, during Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday and the Resurrection), I attempted to follow in the footsteps of Quevedo and to contemplate the current world situation and my own specific situation, as influenced by the lock down in New Brunswick instigated on account of the Corona Virus pandemic.

Lamentations for Holy Week, then, is my attempt to examine myself and my own conscience at a time of great personal stress, a stress that I share with all those who are infirm, frail, in ill health, alone, and getting on in years. These are the people most affected by loneliness and the threat of the pandemic to our lives.

The Cristo de Carrizo is a hand-carved ivory cross, Mozarabic in origin. It shows Christ, on the cross, with his eyes open, looking at the viewer. Christ is not dead, in this crucifixion, but very much alive, and suffering. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Where’s Home? (4)

What is he thinking?

Codes and Coding
Where’s Home? (4)
A continuing open letter to Jan Hull.

“Languages: they say that to learn another language is to gain another soul and another set of eyes through which to view the world.” I wrote these words on March 23, 2020, on the 22nd day of our Covid-19 lockdown. Why recall this article now? Because Jan Hull talks about Nova Scotian conversational language codes in her book Where’s Home? and her ideas rang a bell and tugged at my memories. CFA, for example, and CBC, and my own invention WAH. Then there are her coffee shop codes of Tim Horton’s and her Burger codes of MacDonald’s, and I mustn’t forget her other small town talking codes of former times and newly named places, must of which are bewildering to the outsider, aka CFA.

Why codes and coding? A rhetorical question, of course. But codes and coding are the basic elements through which language transfers thought, our thoughts. What is a code? Well, we know all about Morse Code and the elaborate codes through which spies from all countries communicate their needs. A code is a way of converting language, changing it, making it available to those initiated in the code and unavailable to those who have not received such initiation. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

When I was travelling regularly to Spain for research in Spanish libraries, my first port of call was always the local barber shop. I did this for several reasons. In the first place, my Canadian haircut gave me away as a foreigner. This is the hairdresser’s code. The barber’s shop was always the centre of local gossip. Here, buzz words changed hands, politicians were discussed, all the local news was immediately available. Each of these items was a code, a code that made an insider (acceptable) versus an outsider (not to be spoken to). I remember, one summer in Madrid, not getting served in any bar or restaurant. Check haircut: okay. Check shoes: bought new Spanish pair. Check shirt, jacket, tie: all up to date. Inspect lucky customers who are being served … ah … they are all wearing a shiny brass pin showing the symbol of Madrid: El Oso y el Madroño, the bear and the strawberry tree, as seen in La Puerta del Sol.

The next bar I entered saw me sporting El Oso y el Madroño in my lapel. Qué quiere el señor? Immediate service and with a smile. These are social codes, the codes that include the winks and nudges of the upper class, the secret handshakes and foot positions, the names dropped so gently and quietly that they never shatter when they hit the floor. There are also language codes. Northrop Frye wrote The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, a study of the mythology and structure of the Bible, and it was published in 1982. In this wonderful study, Frye showed how themes and language from the bible have influenced the structure of Western Literature, particularly that written in English. Within this code, names, themes, miracles, parables, psalms form a body of common knowledge available to all readers who are christian and whose first language is English.

But there are other codes. Think Courtly Love. Think Petracharism. Petrarch’s poetry, originally written in Italian, was widely imitated throughout Europe. Italian literature, Spanish, French, English, all dip into that code, as does Shakespeare among so many others. Think the Great Chain of Being. Shakespeare is incomprehensible in places unless you unlock this particular code. Think Platonism, NeoPlatonism, Stoicism, Existentialism … okay, so all this is academic, and I do not want to lose you in a sea of academia. So think NFL, think NBA, think NHL, think baseball, think cricket, think rugby, think darts, think all of the things we manipulate on a daily basis in our lives and think how they include some people (those who know and share our codes) and exclude others (those who are unaware of them). LBW, c&bc. A, b. B, st. A b. B, w, W, b, lb, lbw, dec., RSP … and think of the hand gestures that accompany them! You would have to be an ardent follower of the mysterious game of cricket, as I am, to immediately understand all those letters and signs.

This is a wonderful line of discussion. It follows along the lines of micro-language and macro-language. Macro-language is accessible to all who happen to speak that language. Micro-language in its multidinous forms incarnadine belongs ONLY to those who share the micro community, be it family, household, village, town, county, region … all that is closest and dearest to our micro-hearts.

When I was in Moncton (2015), at the Auberge Msgr. Henri Cormier, I spoke French on a daily basis. Being an academic and a linguist, I was fascinated by the levels of French that were spoken in that small community. Here are the levels I identified: (1) LFI, Le francais international, the central French language that I spoke and everyone understood. (2) Acadian, a beautiful language with regional variations, a different accent and rhythm, and some very different words and phrases. (3) Chiac, the mixed English-French used by the citizens of Moncton, whose wonderful poets are trying to get it established as a literary language. (4) Community French, five families from Paquetville were there and when they spoke among themselves about their home town, references, history, culture were all barriers to those who did not come from Paquetville. (5) Family Groups, and this is easy to understand, for all families have their in-jokes, their coded speech, their conversations that keep the outsider outside of the family group.

It is a fascinating study, that of coded languages, and I thank you, Jan, for re- opening it and reminding me of it.

Where’s Home? (3)

Between Two Places
Dianne Fitzpatrick
Where’s Home?

Where’s Home (3)
Part III of an open letter to Jan Hull

The Little Things

In 1898, Spain fought and lost a war with America over possession of Cuba. Cuba was the last of Spain’s overseas Empire and when it went, the all conquering fatherland, upon whose empire the sun never set, was reduced to its original territory in the Spanish Peninsula. That same year, the literary Generation of 1898 started a new movement, one that made Spain itself central to its imagery and thought. Theirs was not the Spain of Imperial History, with its wars and treaties, battles and conquests. Theirs was the eternal countryside of Spain, the Spain of Old Castille that was rooted to the soil, and that had remained virtually unchanged in the small towns, fishing ports, and villages, for hundreds of years. This was the Spain of Miguel de Unamuno’s Intra-historia: the history of small things.

St. David, Dewi Sant, the patron saint of Wales, a historical figure flourishing circa 600 CE, is famous within Wales for his many sayings. But for me, one stands out. “Byddwch lawen a chadwch eich ffyd a’ch credd, a gwnewch y petheu bychain mewn bwywd” / Be joyful and keep your faith and creed and do the little things in life. In these times of stress and strain, faced by enormous changes brought about by the pandemic, to these prophetic words I turn.

Poets, creators, artists, stoneists, craft-workers of all kinds … we are the antennae of the people. We sense the directions in which life flows and will flow and we are ahead of our times, not behind them. We are the ones who ‘do the little things’, often abandoning larger, more financially rewarding projects in favor of smaller ones that spiritually enrich both us and the people around us. And that is what I am now reading in Jan Hull’s Where’s Home? People, real, live, flesh-and-blood people, many of them artists at heart, abandoning the big city’s rush and rock and roll to enjoy the quietude of small communities which they help to build with their own hands.

Troglodytes, cavemen, people living in the past, I have heard ‘so-called saner citizens’ mutter about some of our contemporary artists. They live off hand-outs and charity and welfare, and they live in the past. Grey-suited, working in concrete boxes, these well-heeled critics are all made out of ticky-tacky, as the old song says, and they work in little boxes, and they come out all the same. Fine fr some, but you certainly cannot say that of the characters who inhabit the small towns, villages, and ports, as Where’s Home? demonstrates so clearly, with quote after quote from contented people, all resident in Nova Scotia, some CFA (Come From Away), others CBC (Come By Choice), and yet others native to the province.

Living in the past … when Hurricane Arthur struck, we went without power for twelve days. No water, no warm food, no cooking, no refrigeration, no flush toilets, no showers, no air conditioning, no television, no Wifi, no internet … In 1928, my grandfather and my father built a summer home, a bungalow, in Gower. I remember, even in the late fifties, living there during the summer with my grandparents: wood stove, rain water barrels, no running water, outhouse, no electricity, no refrigeration, oil lamps … Hurricane Arthur … and Clare and I went back to bungalow living. Several of our neighbors did not know how to cope with the ‘problems’. A couple moved into hotels or stayed with family elsewhere until the crisis was over. As for us, this was the life I was used to as a child. We went into bungalow mode and had more fun than anyone could imagine… living in the past? … or preparing for the future? … Think about it, and don’t jump too quickly to the wrong conclusion.

Above all, Jan Hull’s book, Where’s Home?, has made me think. It has made me think deeply about my own life, my own memories, my own restless, rootless existence, my own attempts to settle and resettle. More, in light of the pandemic with so many working from home, so much home schooling, and so much online back and forth, maybe we, the artists, the returnees, the WAH (Work At Homers), maybe we are not stranded, forgotten, on the back-burners of modern life. Maybe, just maybe, we are the fore-tellers, the front-runners, the pioneers of how a better, more meaningful existence may be created and kept. Thank you, Jan, and please thank all your contributors on my behalf.

Safe as Houses
Valerie Hearder
Where’s Home?

Where’s Home?

Where’s Home?
by
Jan Fancy Hull

An Open Letter to Jan Hull

Right from the address on the envelope where you gifted me a knighthood, calling me Sir Roger, I was captivated by this package.

I opened it at the Beaver Pond in Mactaquac and started to read as Clare did her daily walk, widdershins round the pond. Alas, I missed the great blue heron flying. Ditto, the osprey and the kingfisher. I heard all about them later.

Only you, Jan, only you. You are truly unique. Your words jump off the page, lean across the table to me, and offer me bread and wine. I do hope that this book is the first of many. Your words brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart.

So many themes that touched me deeply. The loss of language and culture: in this case, French and Gaelic, in my own case Welsh, a forbidden language when I was growing up. It is only now, at an advanced age, that I have started to learn it. What memories it brings back.

The sending of indigenous children to residential schools: in my own case, starting at age six, I was sent away to a series of boarding schools and never escaped until I was 18 years old. Good-bye family and culture: hello loneliness and solitude.

The enforcement of religion, top down, with the vicious punishments that accompanied doubt, unbelief, or non-acceptance. The brutal separation from family, with the whole experience of reintegration into a now-become-foreign world, relocation, loss of roots and culture, the difficulties of not belonging to the new communities.

There is a brighter side too, and I will get to that another day. Meanwhile, congratulations on this book, Jan. May it be the first of many and a delight and revelation to all.

Thursday Night Football

Thursday Night Football

Once a month, they stick
a needle in my arm and check my PSA,
cholesterol, and testosterone:
blood pressure rising, cholesterol high,
body clock ticking down.

The doctor keeps telling me
it’s a level playing field
but every week he changes the rules
and twice a year he moves the goal-posts.

A man in a black-and-white zebra shirt
holds a whistle to his lips while another
throws a flag. It comes out of the tv
and falls flapping at my feet.

Yes, I’m living in the Red Zone
and the clock’s ticking down.

“¡Qué será, será!”

“¡Qué será, será!”

In one room in my head
my mother’s mother
sits with me on her knee
at the kitchen table
playing patience.

Elsewhere, I stand on a stool
beside my father’s mother
helping her to mix the cake
she will later bake
in the coal-fired oven
of the black, cast iron stove.

My mother’s father
sits before the television.
He leans back in the chair,
raises his foot so he can’t see
the adverts on the screen,
and puts his fingers in his ears.

My father’s father lies in bed,
downstairs, in the middle room.
His dog lies beside him,
licking his hand.
We all wait for the death
that has haunted him
since he was gassed
in World War One.

Clare sits at the computer,
following the figures
that track the pandemic.
I sit here watching her,
humming softly to myself:
“¡Qué será, será!”


Holly and Hock

Why, hello!

So, the holly hocks are back and this year we have some red ones to go with the lovely yellow ones that reseeded, in a different place, from last year. The red ones are very shy and are hidden away by the back steps where they are very hard to see.

I spy, with my little eye …

The red and green go well together. More a deep, blushing pink, I guess, with very dark centre. You can see the wood of the steps just behind them. I posted this yesterday, incidentally, but the computer munched it and I had to rewrite it today. It has been a slow time for me. The Corona-19 finally got to me, not in the physical sense, but mentally. As a result I have been feeling isolated, trapped, and a little bit depressed. Alas, there are many more like me suffering in today’s world. Luckily, the flowers help. As does the sunshine.

We’re back

Here are the new seeds from last year’s hollyhocks. They are similar in color, but much smaller this first season. They have also shifted location and I have been surprised at how many seedlings have sprouted and started to grow. Next year we may have a bumper crop.

Night Garden

And here we have a painting of the garden at night, flourishing without us, but beneath the stars. “The garden going on without us.” Given the current situation, I prefer the garden going on with us still here to watch it.

Summer in Wales

Summer in Wales
aka
Cricket, lovely cricket!              

Summer in Wales is always as I remember it: glorious days of sun and sand and blue skies and warm winds … and especially the sun on the beaches with the water sparkling and little boys and little girls playing cricket on the dry wrinkled sand packed hard when the tide goes out and leaves the land stranded … and uncles and aunties bowl under arm, not over arm, so the little ones could manage to score lots and lots of runs … and I remember us, standing breathless between the wickets, or at the wicket, if there was only one set of stumps, or a picnic basket stood on its side, or three pieces of driftwood, with sea-weed for bails, and what are bails, you ask?

              Well, bails are the sea-weed that is draped over the driftwood that stands as stumps. And we guard our stumps with the cricket bat that somebody has brought and we bowl with wet tennis balls, because nobody will risk a red, leather ball on the sands, with the wet tide standing there, waiting for the ball to be hit at it, or into it, and it’s cold, but not that cold, and when uncle hits the ball, right out so sea, someone has to run after it, then dive, and then swim after it, and if it’s real runs you want, then uncle runs two or three quite quickly; then the aunties tell him to stop running so fast or he’ll have a heart  … so he slows down and trots four or five; then he walks six and seven; and when you throw the ball back, he’s walking eight or nine; and then the dog intercepts the ball, catches it in his teeth, and starts running around with it in his mouth and everyone is trying to catch the dog except my uncle who is now limping very, very slowly between the wickets, but he’s already up to eleven or twelve; and then the little ones start crying because “It’s not fair!” Loud sniff! Then uncle stops in the middle of the wicket and sits there, waiting for somebody to run him out; except everyone is tired, except the dog, who is tireless and completely energized, and now the centre of attention; and nobody is going to catch him;  and finally uncle walks to the wicket and he lifts the piece of seaweed with his bat and everybody appeals, then he’s finally “OUT!” because officially he’s hit his own wicket and that’s illegal and now the game can go on once more, with everyone happy and God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world …

And the dog has dropped the ball right at the edge of the waves and is barking furiously at the incoming waves as time and tide march up the beach and sweep us and our memories all away.

After the Lecture

After the Lecture

After I delivered the lecture at London University, as it was back then, I caught the tube and descended at Paddington station. While waiting for the train back to Cardiff, I sat in the station bar and ordered a pint of beer and a Cornish pasty. An older man wearing a sweater and jeans asked if he could join me. I didn’t say ‘yes’ but he sat down anyway and straight away began to talk.
            I paid no attention to him until he rolled up his sleeve and showed me the collection of scars that ran crisscross, hard and welted, over his left wrist.
            “Failed attempts,” he said. “But I’ll get it right next time. “I wouldn’t want you to make the same mistakes I did. If you want to kill yourself, you must do it this way,” he reached across the table and picked up the knife I had used to cut my pasty. He pulled out a dirty hanky and wiped the knife in it. Then he laid the blade not cross-wise but parallel to the artery in his wrist. “And you must dig deep, first time, and at a slight angle.”
            “I’ve got to go,” I told him as a tinny voice came over the Tannoy. “That’s my train.” I stood up, leaving the remains of my pint and my pasty on the table.
            I got to the door of the station bar and looked back. Then I watched as my table companion finished my pasty and reached across the table to claim the remains of my beer.
            “Quite the lecture,” I thought. “Good job I didn’t spit in the glass.” Then I realized that both my day’s lectures had been effective, in one way or another.

To be Welsh on Sunday

To be Welsh on Sunday
in a dry area of Wales

              To be Welsh on Sunday in a dry area of Wales is to wish, for the only time in your life,  that you were English and civilized,  and that you had a car or a bike and could drive or pedal to your heart’s desire, the county next door, wet on Sundays, where the pubs never shut  and the bar is a paradise of elbows in your ribs and the dark liquids flow, not warm, not cold, just right, and family and friends are there beside you  shoulder to shoulder, with the old ones sitting  indoors by the fire in winter or outdoors in summer,  at a picnic table under the trees or beneath an umbrella that says Seven Up and Pepsi (though nobody drinks them) and the umbrella is a sunshade on an evening like this when the sun is still high  and the children tumble on the grass playing  soccer and cricket and it’s “Watch your beer, Da!” as the gymnasts vault over the family dog till it hides beneath the table and snores and twitches until “Time,  Gentlemen, please!” and the nightmare is upon us as the old school bell, ship’s bell, rings out its brass warning and people leave the Travellers’ Rest, the Ffynnon Wen,  The Ty Coch, The Antelope, The Butcher’s, The Deri, The White Rose, The Con Club, the Plough and Harrow,  The Flora, The Woodville, The Pant Mawr, The Cow and Snuffers — God bless them all, I knew them in my prime.

Comment: When I lived in Wales, a long time ago, there were twelve counties and each one of them voted whether or not to allow open pubs and hence drinking on Sundays. The ‘dry’ areas did not permit drinking, but the wet areas did. Hence there was mass migration from dry to wet every Sunday, especially after Sunday morning chapel. I dedicate this piece to every dedicated Welsh boy who fled his dry county to quench his thirst in a wet one! NB This piece should be read out loud, fast, in a Welsh accent and also in a single breath! Mind you, I find that hard to do nowadays.