Pianissimo

Pianissimo


            You sit at the piano, my old piano, still extant in my father’s house, yet soon to be given away, though we don’t know that yet. It’s an upright, iron-frame Bechstein, a piano that I was given when I was the same age as you are now. Handel’s Largo, the Harmonious Blacksmith, hours and hours of scales. They locked me in the front room, my mum and dad, and there I stayed for an hour, two hours, or more. I came to hate music. As soon as I could, I gave up the piano, I rejected piano practice, I turned my face away from the discipline of the lock up.
            Now, I listen to you. Your untaught fingers tickle the black keys, then the white keys, one after another. You are six years old. You’ve never had a lesson, but you have music in your blood and some residual instinct latches on to rhythm and sound. Your fingers are long and supple and your touch is light, so much lighter than mine used to be, and now, on the deep bass notes of the left hand, your stronger hand, you pound away, awakening the dark ghosts of soul music that pour through my memories awakening echoes in this piano.
            I think of you as a jazz musician. Thelonius Monk, perhaps, a tinkle here, a light touch there, now a chord or two, inexplicable, and who would want to explain. It is a joy to sit here, to see your smile of absolute absorption. Mood music you call it, and today your moods are as dark as the shadows that tug at my heart, and as light as the sunlight that floats through the windows and makes the dust motes sparkle. It also frames a halo round your head. You hum to yourself as the morning sunshine fragments into colored gems and you sculpt your rainbow of sound.
            “Stop that noise. You’re driving me mad,” your grandfather, my father, stumbles into the room. He has taken his last cigarette out of the packet and the white cylinder hangs down from his lips, like an extraneous chalk outcrop hanging from the lip of an errant teacher. He pats his pockets. “Where are my matches? Has anyone seen my matches?”
            “They’re on the table in the kitchen,” I reply. “Where you always put them.”
            “I thought I left them in here,” my father leans on his stick then turns and stumbles out of the living room and into the kitchen.
            You hop off the piano stool, take the matches from your pocket, and carefully place them on the arm of your grandfather’s favorite chair.
            “Sssssh!” you say, putting a finger on your lips. Then you skip back to the piano and start playing pianissimo on high notes that float like tiny raindrops of sound produced by miniscule angels.          
            Your grandfather returns, glances round the room, spots the match box, and pounces upon it, a caged tiger finally served his red meat.
            “That’s funny,” he mutters. “They weren’t there a moment ago.” He takes out a match, strikes it, lights up his cigarette, inhales a lungful of smoke, then exhales it in a great locomotive puff of cloud. He grimaces at you through a haze of smoke.
            “There’s nice music you’re playing.”
            Your young lungs, unaccustomed to a house of smokers, can’t cope with this thin, grey, choking cigarette waste. You stop playing, put a hand over your mouth, and start to gag.

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Pianissimo

Quack!

Quack!

A duck, in cricket, means the batter has been dismissed without scoring. The 0 resembles a duck’s egg, and hence score of naught is known as a duck! A golden duck means the batter has been dismissed first ball, without scoring, a sad fate indeed. A King Pair is first ball in each innings of a four innings match (two per side).

My cartoon shows an English cricketing duck carrying his bat through a golden shower of life’s purple patches. There are several clichés and double entendres in this title. First, of course, the ignominious duck. Carrying his bat: this has a double meaning (a) to literally carry a cricket bat, as this duck is doing, and (b) to open the batting and carry your bat throughout the innings, un-dismissed, although the other ten wickets have fallen around you. To carry your bat for a duck is as near as impossible as it can possibly be. A golden shower: alas, we are all now familiar with the pornographic version. Some will be familiar with the myth of Jupiter descending as a shower of gold. The golden shower here also represents the shower of golden ducks that has currently descended upon the English cricketing team. Purple patches can be good. However, a purple patch of golden ducks is only good for the opposition bowlers, if you are on the batting side.

England top order quacking and creaking into history of the duck: this article in Tuesday’s Manchester Guardian cricketing section will explain the makings of current duck history for all who are interested. Equally interesting are the double meanings (a) within the verbals of the above cartoon and (b) within the visuals of the drawing itself. For example, the golden duck holes / eggs pecked in the bat, the mingling of gold and purple in the shower falling, the duck eggs woven into the batter’s shirt…

So, here we go, swinging low, swinging to miss, and swinging into history, where batter itself is a neologism replacing batsman as a non-generic term for those who bat, much as bowler, the man, not the hat, is a non-generic term for those who bowl, or fielder for those who field. Now, what on earth are we going to do with ‘gloveman’? Glover, perhaps, or wicket-person, or a return to wicket-keeper, or just a limited keeper? Language is so lovely and the mixture of language and cartoon is is doubly good, as long as everyone is bilingual and can entendre.

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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A Fragile Thread

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A Fragile Thread

The sword of Damocles
hangs above your head
supported by a fragile thread.

Scissor-tailed birds around you fly
and Fate’s sharp knife is standing by
to sever your thread and watch you die.

If you’re up to your shoulders in tragedies
whatever you do, don’t drop to your knees,
for if you do you’ll surely drown
and that sword will bring you down.

If the sword falls you mustn’t grieve:
for we’re all bound by the webs we weave.
Our lives are shaped by what we believe,
and also by what we build and leave.

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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.

Blue, blue day

Blue Blue Day

Blue, blue day

“My grandfather told me there’d be times like these” and he was right. I wonder about his blue days, down there in the trenches, on the Somme, and on other fronts. He survived. He was a survivor. Sometimes that’s the only thing to be. So how do we survive? How do we ignore the snipers, the whizz-bangs, the star shells, the other things that go bump in the night?

There is no single answer. One of my best friends goes into hospital tomorrow, 6:00 am, buccal cancer. An operation. All may be well afterwards. I certainly hope so. I will be here for him, as my grandfather was there for me, as I have been there for others, as others have been there for me. I will not mention names. A blue, blue day indeed. But what shade of blue? If all goes well, the celestial blue of joy and hope, the blue of Mary’s robe when she crushes the serpent beneath her foot, the joy of the blue sky after the storm.

Not, we hope, the dark blue, almost purple, of the gathering storm, the blue of thunder clouds turning almost into black, the midnight blue of the last chance saloon with its overtones of tragedy and disaster. “I never felt more like singing the blues”… indeed I didn’t. But what shade of blue? And for me, it is always the blue of clearing skies, the blue of Mary’s robe, the blue of hope.

“And still I live in hopes to see, Swansea Town once more,” thus sang my father’s father during WWI. He was gassed, he was wounded, he was decorated, he was mentioned in dispatches, so many things happened to him. But he survived the snipers, Big Bertha, the star shells, the whizz-bangs, and he saw his beloved “Swansea Town once more.” As I hope I will, but my dream of a return to the blues of Swansea Bay may be fulfilled in a very different fashion.

Alas, my beloved Swansea Town is now a city. “And so I live in hopes to see, Swansea City once more.” It doesn’t sound the same, does it? It doesn’t have the same carry, the same rhythm, the same resonance. And what about Town Hill? Has it now been renamed City Hill? I am sure Town Hall, the old Brangwyn Hall where my father used to work, is now City Hall, which my father never entered. Enough, no more for “you can never walk in the same river twice” (Heraclitus).

Crazy Glue

The autumn leaves: what does it take with it when it goes? And what does it leave behind?

Crazy Glue

Late last night, a fallen star grazed by the lamp-post. A bouquet of golden sparks flew from an iron tree and sanctified the gutter. The gas lamps sputtered patiently in uniform rows. A scarecrow stuttered into the limelight and shook my hand. She was wearing my grandmother’s Easter bonnet, with all the flowers renewed, but she couldn’t keep my heart from last winter’s left over crumbs. Suddenly a tulip thrust through the concrete. It became as red as a robin and flew into the lounge bar of a public house. The bronze leaf necklace circling my throat filled with a flow of springtime song. My heart stood upright, a warped piano in my breast, and my skeleton tarried at the corner to play knuckle-bones with the wind. Torn butterflies of news fluttered round and round and kissed my eyelids when they closed. Yesterday’s horoscope winked its subversive eye and called to the hermit in his lonely cell: “Look out for the stranger with the tin can alley smile. Tie your heart to the tail of the first stray dog that comes whistling down the street and follow it home to the empty house that breathes in and out, moving thin membranes of memory.”
            That’s where I now live. Upstairs, downstairs, a lonely route I tread while the wind at the window scratches tiny notes. Something breaks loose in the confines of my mind and walks beside me. My twin brother stalks through this silvery sliver of splintered glass, this simian mirror wrinkling our troubled suits of skin. I glimpse the old moon’s monkey face through a broken window. Jagged and thin, it wanders like an itinerant snail, cobbled with clumsy clouds. Once, I descended the playground slide in a shower of sparks. A vagabond in a paving stone sky, I rumbled across metal cracks, a knapsack of nightmares humped on my old man’s back. Tell me: when the snail moves house, who stores the furniture he leaves behind? The hermit crab lurks naked on the beach, seeking new lodgings. Who killed the candle and left us in darkness?
            Two eyes in limbo watch me roll this snowman’s belly of flab across an unknown, clouded room where yesterday I got lost in the mirror. I know how to swim, but I would have drowned, except the light was too shallow and my feet touched bottom when I let the wheels down. I swam on and in looking for a deserted island on which to build my idle sand castle dreams. Two people said they saw my reflection swimming like a goldfish in the silver of that secret space. They said I stared back out at them with circles of longing ringing my eyes; but I laughed when they said they had seen me, for when I looked in the mirror this morning to shave, I just wasn’t there. My razor dragged itself over an empty space and its sharpened blade scraped white music from the margin of a cd rom that spun on edge like dust rings round a vanished planet. Now there is a black hole where my passport photo used to thrive. Someone plucked me from the circle and cut me out in the dance last night. Today I’m looking for a scrapbook in which to stick myself with crazy glue that never, never, ever comes undone.

Collateral Damage

And that’s not all they checked: a regular Spanish Inquisition. Post Covid-19 it has all fallen silent. Those doctors don’t call anymore.

Collateral Damage

Once a month, they used to stick
a needle in my arm and check my PSA,
cholesterol, and testosterone:
blood pressure rising, cholesterol high.

The doctors kept telling me
it was a level playing field
but every week they changed the rules
and twice a year they moved the goal-posts.

Monday Night Football:
a man in a black-and-white zebra shirt
held a whistle to his lips while another
threw a penalty flag. It came out of the tv
and fell flapping at my feet.
Someone on the field called a time out.

I haven’t seen my doctor for three years.
My urologist has been silent
for more than eighteen months.
It’s been two years since I last spoke
with my oncologist.

I have become collateral damage.
My body clock is ticking down.
I know I’m running out of time.

Comment: I know I am not the only one to have fallen between the cracks in the medical service. Nor will I be the last. I don’t want to cry ‘wolf!’ and yet I feel as though I have been completely rejected. A year after I recovered from my cancer, I received a survey asking me to assess my post-cancer treatment and services. I read it and cried. I did not even know that the services I was being asked to assess were even being offered. I had certainly received none of the follow-up services. “A law for the rich and a law for the poor” indeed. And so many cracks between so many floorboards with so many people falling through. This is not a rant: it is a warning that all of us must look out for ourselves. I can assure you that if you don’t care for yourself, nobody, but nobody, except for your nearest and dearest, will give a damn for you either.

Limbo Dancing

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Limbo Dancing

Yesterday I went limbo dancing
in the bedroom mirror.
Lower and lower I danced
until I fell into the mirror
and became my reflection.

Rough were the waters.
I know how to swim, but
I thought I would drown,
except the light was too shallow
and my feet touched bottom
when I let down my wheels.

I swam on and in
looking for a deserted island
on which to build
my idle, sandcastle dreams.

Two people said they saw
my reflection swimming,
a goldfish in a silver space.

They said I stared back at them
with circles of longing
ringing my eyes, but I laughed
when they said they had seen me,
for when I looked in the mirror
that reflected the mirror,
I saw myself limbo dancing,
stranded between
heaven and hell
in a dance hall called Virus
where I drank Corona.

Whose eyes watch me now
as my video goes viral
and I twist and I dance
in a fantasy land
filled with sweet nothings.