Diagnosis

Diagnosis

Diagnosed with a terminal illness
that I also call life I know
this sickness will surely
terminate in my death.

Death:
it has walked beside me
for more than seventy years.
It has gazed back from my mirror,
as I shave my face, and part my hair.
It has lain its head on the pillow
beside me as I lie in bed.

We have shared so many things:
the soul’s dark night,
the winding ways of life’s
once infinite, now soon-to-be-ended maze.

Now, arm in arm, life, death, and me,
an intimate ménage à trois,
we are running a three-legged race
while carrying an egg in a spoon
and playing life’s ultimate game of chicken.

Comment: Look carefully at the second picture: you will see the fish he has just caught, sideways in his beak. These photos are from the bay at Alberton in PEI, taken about two seconds apart!

Crosswords

Couldn’t find a picture of a cross-bill, so I found some genuine humming birds instead. Listen carefully: you can hear them hum.

Crosswords

I wander a vacant, black and white wonderland
of empty, accusing, crossword puzzle squares.
Most mornings, I sit at the kitchen table, head in hands,
puzzled by the news and the crossword puzzle’s clues.

Outside my window, crossbills squat on the feeder,
squabbling, heads turned sideways, blinking,

and winking sly eyes. A yellow-bellied sapsucker hops
over syrup-sticky squares. His hand-carved chess board

glistens as feasting flies swarm beneath the sun.

My own thoughts are rooted in a stark, new reality.
They walk wordless through threatening spaces where
unmasked people wander grey, concrete streets or walk
in shops, in the opposite direction to arrows,
painted on the floor to guide them.

Cross-words, cross-purposes:
why do some people obey the current laws
while others ignore them and risk their health
as well as the health of others by doing what
they damn well please, in spite of the scientists
who beg them to do otherwise?
Like the puzzle’s clues: I just don’t know.

Comment: Well, last year was a year like no other that I can remember. It is so easy to dismiss it as an aberration, but we shouldn’t do that. Hopefully next year will be better. But it might get worse. Let’s look on the bright side and hum along with the song the humming birds are humming: “Yesterday is history, today is still a mystery, but what a day it’s going to be tomorrow.” I still can’t workout how or why some shoppers just head up the shopping aisles, walking or pushing their carts in the wrong direction. Nor how they can stand for five minutes at a time choosing a breakfast cereal, one hand on the handle of their angled carts, another poking at the cereal boxes, and the aisle totally blocked. I also love the people who still handle every apple in the box before choosing just one of them. For apple you may substitute grapes, pears, avocadoes, tomatoes. Oh the joys of ageing in an age of skepticism and pandemic. Mind you: if life is, as Albert Camus always insisted, absurd, or if it is, as Calderon told us, nothing but a dream, I guess none of it matters anyway. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux / we must believe that Sisyphus is happy!

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!”


Scars

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Scars

It’s just a tiny splinter, lodged in my little finger. I take a needle from my sewing kit, put on my glasses, and break the skin around the small black spot in an effort to dig the splinter out.

Suddenly, the vision changes and I am back in my grandfather’s house. My father has bent me over his knee and is jabbing at the splinter in my thumb with a needle from my mother’s sewing kit.

“Hold still,” he pushes me down with the elbow of his left arm, then thrusts the needle again and again into the now bleeding spot on my thumb. “Hold still. Stop wriggling.”

“You’re hurting me.”

“Good.”

My mother comes into the room and inspects my thumb.

“Put your glasses on,” she tells my father. “At least you’ll be able to see what you’re doing.”

“Ow, ow!” I struggle with each piercing thrust of the needle but my father only holds me tighter.

Back in the present, I can hardly see this other splinter, let alone pull it out of my little pinky. I have broken the skin, so I place a band aid over the spot. Hopefully, the plaster will draw the splinter out, it usually does, quite painlessly. I put my sewing kit away and check my right thumb. My age-old splinter, still in there, winks its little black eye back at me from beneath the tear-filled eyelid of its tiny white scar.

We bear so many scars. Not all of them are visible.

Comment: So my granddaughter decided that she could polish up and improve my drawing notebook (top photo). And she did. Proof positive that a red pen in the hands of a young lady can work wonders. The thin red line of life, that link that joins us generation to generation, stretches back to times that only I can remember, stretches forward into times that I will never see. I wonder what my grandfather thought when he sat on his chair by the old Welsh fire and I climbed up, onto his knee. “Grandpa, tell me a story.” And he always did: “Once upon a time …  there was a thin red line …” And look, there’s my grandfather’s old chair down in my basement in Island View, New Brunswick, Canada. It’s a long way from my grandfather’s old home in Swansea. Just think, I used to climb up on the back of that chair, while he was sleeping, and blow on the bald spot on the back of his head … one long thin red line of inherited mischief …

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Outrageous Fortune

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Outrageous Fortune

When the Black Dog descends it is difficult to see beyond the latest slings and arrows. Everything hurts and everybody hurts you. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But they do. They gouge into the brain, splinter the mind, and leave us gasping for air, mouths open like landed, stranded fish.
How do we stop the hurt? We hurt ourselves more, much more, and then what they do to us can never ever be as bad as what we have done to ourselves. That cut-throat razor, that pop-gun with the cut cord, that carving knife, that finger stuffed into the electric socket … why, they ask, why did you do it? Head down, in silence, I know the answer, but I will not tell them.
They send me to doctors with fancy names who ask strange questions that I fudge or will not answer. They take my family’s money and then write reports and say that ‘his behavior is quite normal for a child of his age’.
Have they checked the scars on my mind, the black holes in my heart? Does the local priest who tells my parents that all is well also tell them about what happens in and out of church, in and out of school? I think of the city watch walking on the castle walls: “Nine o’clock and all’s well!”
Hurt yourself, I say. Hurt yourself so badly that nobody else will ever again be able to hurt you.

Co-[vidi]-s

15 May 2002 Pre-Rimouski 141

Co-[vidi]-s
17 March 2020

Time has changed with the clocks
and my body clock
is no longer in sync
with the tick-tock chime
that denounces each hour.

Hours that used to wound
now threaten to kill.
They used to limp along,
but now they just rush by
and I, who used to run
from point to point,
now shuffle a step at a time.

Around us, the Covidis
thrives and flowers.
Wallflowers, violets,
we shrink into our homes,
board up the windows,
refuse to open doors.
We communicate by phone,
e-mail, messenger, Skype.

Give us enough rope
and we’ll survive a little while,
fearful, full of anguish,
yet also filled with hope.

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A Gift

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A birthday gift, hand made, by my five year old grand-daughter, in case I go gaga and forget who I am. I have no intention of doing so deliberately … but at my age … who knows? It can happen so quickly and so easily.

Robin Red Nest

That little red nest,
my heart,
hearth and home
to a galaxy of winged gods
who nest there,
year after year,
migratory spirits
blessing me with
hope renewed
in their spring nest’s
tangle of feather and twig.

Old now,
you thump to different rhythms
and schisms sprung from my body

Age winds you up like a watch spring
stretching my lifeline egg-shell thin.

When the wind of change
blows me away,
what will replace you
and your offer of sanctuary
to those you daily nourish?

So sad I will be
to abandon you,
your visions unfulfilled
as winter winds unravel you,
twig by twig,
until nothing remains
but the bare
white-boned cradle
in which I carried you,

so lovingly.

So Sweet

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So Sweet

Withered I am
and soon will perish
I cherish this brief
last leaf-light bright
on tree and pond

Stark the flooded
trunks of beaver-
gnawed trees
their sails no
longer leaf-clad

Fall’s canvas
a paradise
for lost and lonely
philosopher-poets
tree-bright their light

Stored sunshine
aged in maple
birch forest oak
soaked up
in summer life
so brief so sweet

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White Flame

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White Flame
in praise of my beloved

White flame, her hair, emerging from shadows,
lighting her path downhill toward water’s edge.
Wind-driven waves splash lake-side. I watch
her footsteps, not now as firm as once they were.

Burgeoning age grips her hips. Toes and heels
no longer  lift in the same old way. Component
parts break down, arteries clog, arthritis worms
its stiffening way into fingers, wrists, and knees.

I recall nursery rhymes: “Jack be nimble, Jack
be quick,” but she isn’t anymore and neither
of us could jump over a candlestick. Her beauty:
inner light. Outer light, her hair, pure and white.

Her voice  is still as clear as a bell, soft yet
luminous, as she picks her way on a perilous
path through wayward woods, not stumbling
yet, and still she lives, as I still live, in hopes

to see each other, until earth stops our eyes and
we can see, sense, touch, and hear no more …