Dies Irae

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Dies irae

Nowhere has she found peace, save
in the dregs at the bottle’s bottom.
She solves life’s dilemmas with single
malt or grape’s blood fresh-plucked.

Doctors tell her that she must stop drinking,
not stoop to conquer yet another bottle.
The remedies they suggest will never suit her.
Family and friends lecture her in vain. 

She knows she will not live forever,
that one day a higher power will call.
So she opens another bottle of Scotch,
just a drop before she goes. She falls

to the floor, and lies asleep. Three still
born babies cover her with their love
to keep her warm. “Sleep well,” they say,
“you’ll find greater peace in eternity.”

Commentary: Another poem that was not easy to write. The last line is a tribute to Seamus Heaney and his poem, Yellow Bittern, the inspiration for this one. “You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity.” In the literary theory of Intertextuality, texts talk to texts and a series of interlaced textual dialogs move across time and space. Hablo con mis ojos a los muertos, I speak through my eyes with the dead, as Francisco de Quevedo said in the 17th century. He was reading Seneca, another great writer born in Spain, when he wrote those words.
I restructured this poem three times. I began, following Seamus Heaney, with the first person singular [I]. Then I changed it to the second person singular [you], but you, in English, can never approximate to the intimacy of tu [versus vous] in French, or the multiplicity of [versus usted, vosotros, vosotras, ustedes} in Spanish. Finally I settled on the third person and settled on she [rather than he]. I guess when  a woman loses three children, she is entitled to lose herself in a bottle of Scotch and shut out the world.

Buried Alive

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Buried Alive
Anonymous we are,
never holding land or cattle,
lucky to own our own houses.Some castle
this rented row house
in a winding valley,
two rooms up
and two rooms down,

tin bath in the kitchen
filled with hot water
for when the shift ends.

After supper,
beer for a coal-dust throat,
then the wife, and sleep.

Next day,
a knock on the window,
a pulling on of clothes,
clogs clattering on cobbles,
a tin box sparse with food,
then down to the dark pit
of whatever mine has agreed,
at a price, to bury us alive.

Commentary: So much in this one. Very difficult to write. And a tribute to Rita McNeil’s It’s a working man I am,  two lines from the end. How long did it take me to write? Five minutes or less. Unless you count 200 years of coal mining (in South Wales alone), seventy-five years living and learning to write, and sundry workshops and exercises that have enabled me, just once in a while, to catch the butterfly as it flutters, although it never flies underground.

International Day

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International Day
St. Mary’s Street

To be Welsh in Cardiff on International Day
is to be decked entirely in red from deep
between your ribs where the Red Dragon
throbs pumping its blood through the Arms
Park along with your heart and bright blood
surges as you wear your scarlet jersey like
a flag as you step onto the grass ready to play.

You shed your grey hairs like a sheep
sheds its coat on the Wenallt or Caerphilly
Mountain or the Brecon Beacons and Boyo,
you know you’re unbeatable. So come
the four corners of the world to Cardiff
with a rugby ball and they shall be defeated,
ground into the Arms Park mud, humiliated.

Flower-power

 

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Flower-power
or
Why should the young kids have all the fun?

So it’s children’s day at the local supermarket. As I push my shopping cart through the door, I see the face-painter with a young girl sitting before her, getting her face painted. Behind the willing victim, several young children wait, shuffling their feet in expectation. I go out to the car park, unload my cart, and push it back to the supermarket.
As I park my cart, I see that the line-up has disappeared and the face-painter sits alone, cleaning her brushes. I walk up to her table and ask “How much?”
“It’s free,” she tells me. “It’s children’s day.”
“Will you paint my face?” I ask her.
“You’re not a child,” she looks at me in astonishment.
“No, I’m not,” I reply, “but I’m in my second childhood.”
I pull out the chair and sit down.
“I’ve got some photos on my phone, or I can try and paint whatever you would like. Would you like to see some pictures?”
“No, thanks. Just  look at me and paint what you think I would like.”
“What are your favorite colors?” she looks at me and smiles.
“I don’t have any favorite colors, but I always avoid green, yellow, and gold.”
“Oh, well, how about a nice flower?”
“Great!” I say.
One of the trolley boys who return the shopping carts in great convoys walked by.
“You need a mirror,” he says, “so people can see themselves.”
“Great idea, stay here, I’ll go and get one.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got a mirror in the car. I’ll have a look when I get there. Meanwhile, it’s a surprise. I’ll put a photo up on my blog when I get home.”
“Promise?”
“I promise.”

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I gave her my blog address and I kept my promise. Unlike many people I know, I usually do.

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Commentary: with many thanks to Emily, the face-painter, who treated my second-childhood with humor and dignity. As I said to her at the time, ‘why should the young kids have all the fun?”

 

Dreamer

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Dreamer
Maindy Road
Cardiff

Dressed in clothes spun from the thinnest of air
I gave my dreams to any who would listen.
“A gift,” they called it, “for words.”

Yet, when the winds blew wrong
my words changed to smoke that stained
or flames that blistered and scarred.

My tongue twisted and forked until lies
lay heavy in my mouth and my words
were weighed down with hooks, and sinkers.

My life became a night-mare ridden full‑tilt
at a windmill with a great wooden sail.
On certain nights, when the sky was sprinkled

with seeds of living gold, I rose upwards
to the moon and my words become stars;
on lesser nights, I lay broken in the gutter.

Time-Spirits

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Time-Spirits

Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, translated as “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch.
Wikipedia

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Poems for troubled times.

Introduction

Our world finds itself in an incredible mess right now. Somehow, we have to sort it out. Images and metaphors tie past, present, and future together. We must pick our ways through the difficulties of these troubled times, as you must pick your way through the intricacies of these poems. Many of you will give up. Some of you, the chosen few, will make your way to the heart of each poem.

These poems are deliberately cryptic. Each one is a mind game I am playing with you. I do not underestimate you. I have placed clues throughout each poem and if you follow the clues you will arrive at many of the poem’s hidden meanings. Some poems are more difficult than others, their meaning more recondite. Others seem very straightforward, yet still contain secrets.

            This style of poetry has a long history going back to Anglo-Saxon riddles and way beyond, back into the mists of time. Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) and Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645) specialized in similar forms of recondite poetry, often based on metaphor and the juego alusivo-elusivo, the game of alluding to something while eluding the act of saying what it is. Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) and Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) also played this game, as did Octavio Paz (1914-1998). In the works of all of these poets, the clues may rest in the poem or they may be found in a generic knowledge of the mythology of the poem’s exterior world.

             Always remember that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana). Otherwise expressed, in the words of T. S. Eliot: “Time present and time past / are both perhaps present in time future / and time future contained in time past” (Burnt Norton). The seeming anachronisms in these poems suggest that all time is ever-present and that each new day presents us with events that have already occurred on many occasions.

Commentary: The idea for Time-Spirits aka Zeitgeist was born around the kitchen table in Island View on Saturday, 22 December 2018, during a literary conversation between Gwen, Victor, and Roger. A poem at a time, one after another, grew from that table top chat. The result: 70 poems, not easy to read, deliberately difficult, that reflect our troubled times. My thanks to Geoff Slater, line-painter, who drew the cover picture: Robin Red in Claw and Breast, a symbol of nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. So are we in the words of Albert Camus who writes ‘nous sommes ou les meurtriers ou les victimes’ . Is it the early bird that catches the worm? Or is it the late worm that gets caught by the bird? Whichever: it’s the worm that gets eaten, until the robin bites the dust, when he is eaten in his turn. Just think of it as nature doing its regular recycling …

 

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Vision

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Vision

Vision
appears from nowhere
holds you in its hands
molds you like putty
play dough or plasticine
till you bend to its will

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is it a conundrum
like chicken or egg
the final product
laid out in all its details
or is it a process
step by step along the way
sometimes even the artist
cannot really say
yet shaping happens

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maybe it happens each day
in a different way
a power descending
an angel entering
a vacant mind as if it were
an empty room
Lorca’s duende
alive and well
and living in St. Andrews

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Comment: The above verses express, in part, a conversation on the origins of inspiration and vision held around the dinner table at the KIRA residence in St. Andrews on 9 June 2019. Those who participated in the dinner discussion … de sobremesa, as they say in Spain, over the table top … included (clockwise round the table) Chuck, Masha, Heather, Susan, Geoff, Andrea, Roger, Evelyn, Perri, Faye, and Mel. If I have forgotten anyone, or placed them in the wrong seating order, please forgive me. I am growing old and my memory is not what it was. However, the arrival of inspiration, how we greet the artistic vision, what it means to each of us, whether it arrives in totality or in fragments, glimpses or a full vision, this varies for each one of us. More on this tomorrow when I write about Lorca’s duende, the dark earth power that takes over performance artists when they perform, filling them with fire and fury, then leaving them empty, drained of all essence, ripe for the old rag-and-bone man and his cart. The paintings, incidentally, are by my line-painting friend, Geoff Slater, who is also a muralist, indoor and out, and the photos are courtesy of Mary Jones, the much-beloved former Executive Secretary at KIRA.