Name Game

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Quacker-quack-quack: I suppose there are better names for a sort of quacking duck cartoon. But then, what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But would it? What if we called it a dead rat or a mushroom riot fungal infection, would it then smell as sweet? Good question.

With names, we are looking for le mot juste, the single word or short phrase that sums up the moment and seizes it, framing it forever. As the Welshman once said, when Wales beat the South African Springboks rugby team: “Now I can die happy.” And that’s what he was called ever afterwards: Dai Appy. Then there’s Dai Arrears, who could never pay his bills on time, and Dai Lemmer, who never knew what to do, and Dai Alysis, who had a kidney problem, and Dai A’Beckett, who ate too much sugar and chocolate, and Dai Ear-Kneed, who always held his hand out for a little extra financial help, and Dai Lingual, who couldn’t speak any Welsh (you’ll have to think about that one), and Dai Ap Bolockal, who had a devilish sense of humor and always played practical jokes on his siblings, and Dai Urnal, who slept all night and only woke up in the day time, and Dai Heederal, who threw stones at sea-gulls, and Dai Nasty, who lived in a shoe with so many children that he didn’t know what to do, and Dai Rection, who always knew the way home no matter how much he had had to drink, and Dai Late, who never arrived early and thought he would live for ever, not to forget Dai Anthus, the florist, with a personality so split he was also known as Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Man,  and there’s Dai Yallog, who always mumbling to himself, born in the Mumbles, mind, and mumbled so much his wife called him Mono, and there’s Dai Verse, a rotten poet, couldn’t ever make his poems rhyme in either unofficial language, and Dai Vulge, the village gossip, who could never keep a secret, and … and … One day, I will write a book about all my Welsh friends called Dai, and indeed, there are a great many of them. What adventures they would have. Enough to turn Under Milkwood sour with jealousy, probably.

Meanwhile, back at the duck farm, Quacker-quack-quack is looking for a nice, friendly duck name. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. And stop throwing sand in the Winky Bird’s eye: he’s got enough problems as it is.

 

 

Siege Perilous

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Siege Perilous

           My second name begins with G … G for Galahad.

         Siege Perilous: the chair calls me, sings out my name, craves my body warmth and blood. I move towards it, hear it groan to me in greeting. I feel it sink beneath my weight, feel its heat and comfort, sense the heart-sound of its old, carved, polished wood. My father sat here before me and his father before him, and his father … and so on down the ringing halls of time.

           Siege Perilous welcomes me as it welcomed them. It cherishes me, nourishes my flesh and blood, my sense of belonging within a great chain of being whose links vanish backwards into forgotten, far-off mists. The chair understands that we are weaklings. It accepts us are we are, strengthening our strong points, filling in for our gaffes, gifting us with the ability that allows us to see ourselves as we truly are, willing spirits in an all too flimsy flesh. Impervious its wood to words or tears, it strips away our masks, dismantles our disguises, meets our inner being face to face, seat of wisdom carved from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

           The chair rarely rejects us, though sometimes it senses the rot within and moves us on. More often than not, it brings light to our darkness, pierces our clouds of unknowing with its beam of sunshine, illuminates our darkest nights. It cares for us, wraps us in the warm wings of its radiance, carries us onward when we are alone, shapes our own heart-wood with its hand-carved arms that cling and clutch and cleanse of impurities. Blood warms its veins, the blood of the generations that have climbed here as children, sat on the elders’ laps, listened to their tales, then shared their inheritance, before sitting here themselves.

           A sense of entitlement wraps its veil around Siege Perilous and the Forgotten Table. It shuts out doubt and fear. We feel its power transmitted through us, fear, fire, foes all defeated. Power: the power of good to defeat evil, of truth to conquer lies, of my people to survive. They may seem to be crushed, and yet they will rise; defeated, they will overcome; victorious, they will be magnanimous in their victory.

           King Arthur: the Once and Future King … King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table … Siege Perilous … the Vacant Chair … the Holy Grail … Excalibur: the Sword in the Stone … Arthur himself … Galahad, Geraint, Percival, Gawain, Lancelot … all equal … all pure, honest, innocent, celibate … Camelot …

Merlin the Magician and Wondrous Wizard, conjurer of truth and falsehoods … the historian-poet adjusts his rose-tinted spectacles, smiles, clacks the false white teeth that spin-doctored so much verbal magic, so many mystical myths, fabulous fables, phenomenal falsehoods … and started, pen on paper, to create yet again another set of nonsensical, downright gut-jarring lies.

Happy Hours

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As the inscription on the old Roman sundial announced: Horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours. And, of course, the sundial is right. When the skies are cloudy and the rain and snow are falling, the sundial sleeps and refrains from marking the passage of time. But when the sun prances brightly through those heavenly meadows and casts shadows across the numbers on the clock, then the sundial counts the hours, precisely because they are happy.

I try to do the same. I try to avoid the shadows that are cast across our planet and I try not to count them. Alas, like the grains of sand on the beach and the countless stars in the sky, they are innumerable, though the latter are being named, numbered, and counted, much to their chagrin.  Who wants to be called Welsh by foreigners, with all the negative connotations they associate with the epithet, when our real name is Cymraeg? And no, we don’t live in Wales, we live in Cymru, or better still, in Canada when we (e)migrate. Canada: I wonder what the real name is for this huge and wonderful land? And what about the local indigenous peoples? I can accept that they are First Nations. No problem. But who are our hosts and neighbors when they call themselves Wolastoqiyik (or Maliseet) and we call them Aboriginals (or worse)?

What’s in a name? North, South, East, West … simple, eh? How about Upstream, Downstream, Away from the River, Towards the river? Think names of the months, names of the days of the week. Now think guidance, think signposts, think culture, think separate cultures, think different ways of living, think different ways of life. Think possessive pronouns: my book, my house, my cat, my dog, my son, my daughter, my Wifi, my wife.  Or as le grand Charles de Gaulle expressed it, in Le Canard enchaîné: “Ma France, mon coup de frappe, mon Europe … mon Dieu.” Maybe we would be better off without possessive adjectives. But then …

“Taffy was a Welshman,
Taffy was a thief,
Taffy came to our house
and stole a leg of beef.”

Taffy: a generic name for the Welsh. Any male person from Wales is automatically a Taffy from the moment he opens his mouth and speaks with anything like a Welsh accent. Taffy, from the River Taff that flows through Cardiff,  aka Caer Dydd, the fort on the Dydd. There are many rivers in Wales, many regions. Men from the Isle of Mona, Llanberis, Caernarfon, Brecon, Abertawe, Aberavon, Castell Nedd, Caerfryddin, Pen-y-pont, Caer Isca, Usk, Cas Newydd, Pen-y-Bryn, Sgetti, Uplands, Trebanog, Llanelli, Llanfairpwllgwyngilldrawbwllchllantiisilioggogogoch, Cwm Parc, Trebanoc Cwmbwrla, Cwmrhyddiceirw  … Taffies one and all, even if they were born miles away from the River Taff and rarely visited Cardiff, the very name of the river and the city anathema to them.

I once had a friend, a very good friend, or so I thought, educated in Harrow, Oxford, secret member of the ultra-secretive, fabulously expensive, well-endowed and super-privileged, ultra-elite Bullingdon Club. He had a triple barreled name of course: Somerset-Trilby-Frisbee or something like that, I forget now. Whenever I arrived at a reunion or a meeting, he would greet me with a bullhorn, bullfrog chorus that reached into the far corners of the room: “Lock up the silver spoons, the Welsh have arrived.”

Humor? His laughter would rock the rafters and shake the room once more. Racism? What racism is there in mocking the Welsh when you are English? Bigotry? No man with a three part surname, an English public school background, and a list of ancestors longer than your arm could possible be a bigot.  Idiot? He was very intelligent, slightly unbalanced, and totally oblivious to any social norm or indignity, unless he was the threatened person, and watch out for vicious mousetraps if you made him the butt of your own humor and he took umbrage at the slight. Criminal? No way: the Welsh were always the criminals, for back in the legendary mists of time they had stolen a leg of beef and now they were here to steal the precious plastic spoons and knives and forks that masqueraded as silver …

… what’s really in a name? What’s in a grey day or a blue day? What’s in a cloudy day or a sunny day? What’s in our hearts when we denigrate our friends and doubly degrade our enemies and those we declare to be our enemies, sometimes on a gut feeling or a whim? Horas non numero nisi serenas … Time to look on the bright side, to walk on the sunny side of the street, to reject the shadow and live in the sunshine. Time, in fact, to turn the whole day into a succession of Happy Hours. Study the cartoon above. Now that is a portrait of someone who really enjoys a Happy Hour. And not a glass or a bottle in sight.

Snovember

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The snow came early this year, hence the above cartoon: Snovember. The deer came early too, and we saw three of them wading through the bottom of our garden, about fifty feet from this tree, where the now-bare trees separate our lot from our neighbor’s. It was just after lunch, and quite the surprise, as the deer usually arrive just before dawn or just after dusk, and much, much later in the year.

So it’s clearly a season of firsts and readjustments. Yesterday, we went wild and invested in an early Christmas tree. It’s a six foot tall white birch (plastic and ever-lasting) with 120 led lights and we will plug it in the corner of the dining room by the computers.

In the short dark days of winter, we are affected by Sun Absence Depression (so SAD) and keep a set of lights burning in the corner of the dining room by the computers. These lights are particularly effective in the early winter mornings, before sunrise, when the world is dark and we need warmth and comfort. Turn the computer on, and on come the lights shedding joy to welcome us as we read the enormous amount of bad news that seems to be circulating through our world right now.

Light in the dark: I think of it as a pair of rose-tinted glasses that allow us to reject the bad news and to look for the bright side, the silver lining that blesses every seeming cloud. That’s why the snow falls in bright flakes in my cartoon. The tree appears to be bare, but a couple of birds and some scrag ends of leaves adorn the branches.  The days may appear to be dark, but the bright lights on the tree are a silver lining to the cloud of unknowing that hangs in the air like a black umbrella.

The cloud of unknowing, the dark night of the soul … so much mystery, so much joy and despair, in life around us, yet it is a mystery to be grasped and savored, to be tested and tasted … and what is life without uncertainty, challenge, faith, belief, and lights, colored lights, a festival of lights, and humor, even in this darkest of all seasons?

 

Rain / Il pleut

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I remain fascinated by Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes. I first met them when, as a  teenage flâneur in Paris, I wandered the quays along the banks of the Seine, entranced by the literary treasures of the bouquinistes. Eighteen years old, I had just been released from a twelve year sentence to a boarding school education (6-18 years of age). I loved the freedom of Paris and the joys of choosing my own poets and my own poetry books will always stay with me. Apollinaire was not a set text. He was a personal discovery and a true  joy. I remember the light blue cover and the worded rain drops inscribed upon it when I bought my first Livre de Poche, the poems of Apollinaire.

Caligrammes are out of fashion now, their virtues taken over by the joys of concrete poetry. I still write some, drawing them out by hand. I find this much easier than planning them on typewriter or computer, though I have done both. The cartoon – poem hybrid, printed above, is my intertextual reflection on Apollinaire’s original Rain / Il pleut which can be found on page 62 of the above link from Le Mercure de France.

I look at the snow steadily mounting outside my window and I hope that we will not see rain for a long, long time. Not until Easter and the welcome warmth of spring. That said, I miss the rain. It was a constant part of my childhood and I remember spending day after day, head pressed to the window pane (yes, I do know how to spell it), watching the raindrops sliding down while behind me, the old coal fire threw out enough heat to warm me in my daily loneliness.

Heart Dance

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Heart Dance: This is what the heart does when you have a good friend around for lunch and you spend an hour or two discussing art, creativity, meaning, change, artistic development, moving on, changing one’s style, and welcoming and creating new artistic visions. Heart Dance is about possibilities, about opening things up, seeing the interior self more clearly, watering the creative soul and encouraging it to grow outwards until it fills the whole person.

Heart Dance moments happen at different stages in the artistic life. They are urgent moments, impulsive moments, moments when you can suddenly hear the music of the spheres and see the universe dancing for you, before you, and with you. They are magic moments when the heart becomes one with the universe and heart and soul join mind and body in a universal heart dance where the dancers are one and the dance is not just for one, but for all sentient and creative beings who can hear the music and feel the rhythms pounding through arteries and veins.

The dull, grey, concrete life of the nine to five desk-bound existence fades away to be replaced by a flowerbed of activity, full of light and sound and color and music. Usually, this happens to the individual in the privacy of his or her own mind. Occasionally, we can share the event with a friend who is going through the same, or a similar, change at the same time. A unique experience to feel and witness the music with another person and to be bound into the circle of dancers, treading where other artists, great and small, famous and less important, have all danced before.

We talked of the joys of visiting great museums and of staying in one room, before one painting, and of spending the day there. This I did with El Greco’s El entierro del Conde Orgaz / The burial of Count Orgaz, with Picasso’s Guernica when it was housed in the Mesón de Guernica, with Hieronymus Bosch’s The Hay Wain, with Velásquez’s Las meninas, and with Goya’s Desastres de la Guerra, not one picture, but a series of etchings taken in, day by day, over a period of a magical month spent in Madrid.

In poetry it happens when I return to poems that I love. I read and re-read them, again and again, finding new nuances, new meanings, new depths. I think of the anonymous Poema de Mio Cid, of Góngora’s Polifemo, of Quevedo’s Canta sola a Lisi and his Heráclito cristiano, of Octavio Paz’s Piedra de sol, of Lorca’s Romancero gitano and his Poeta en Nueva York … the wonderful original poems of Fray Luis de León and of St. John of the Cross … and this is just scratching the surface of an exterior world that I have interiorized until it has indeed become a part of me.

Heart Dance: my heart dances and sunshine floods my soul as I write these words, words and thoughts that I have just shared with a good friend, as he shared similar words with me and we joined together in a heart dance during which the sun shone brightly and the whole creative universe sang and danced with us.

Snow Flies

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You hear it all the time: “we’ll do it before the snow flies,” let’s wait until the snow flies,” “when the snow flies.” Warning … Freudian Slip … I wrote “sow flies” and the spell check didn’t catch it. Maybe it was thinking “pigs on the wing”, pink pigs from Pink Floyd, or maybe pigs really do have wings. Why shouldn’t they? The hart does.

Anyway: I have spent a long time in Canada, more than half a century, much more than a teenager or a kid in kindergarten: horse flies, black flies, mosquitoes, hornets, green hornets, bud worm, butter flies, lard flies, yard flies, dragon flies, no-see-ums (felt but rarely seen), and many other types of flies, but I’ve never seen snow flies, though everybody talks about them. So  what do they look like? Alas, when I Googled them, I found nothing.

So, I imagined what they might look like and there, in the cartoon above, after close observation, you see a multiplicity of the Canadian snow flies I found in the garden during the first snowfall of winter. They are gorgeous, and only a scratch upon the surface. You’ll recognize many of them, of course, but a few may be new to you. But then, perhaps you’ve never thought about it: I know what a snow fly is, you say, and I’ve seen a no-see-um, and it’s only in Ontario that you die with the black fly playing an angel’s harp upon your ribs, and we live in the Maritimes, not Upper Canada.

Down here, in New Brunswick, it’s all dulse and dulcimer, and we know exactly what a snow fly is, don’t we? Well, make this an entry in Wikipedia, and everyone who follows this blog will know what a snow fly looks like, won’t they? But if we do nothing, nobody will know, and then when the snow flies, or when the snow flies hit the fan … nobody will know what’s happening … think about it!