Painting the School Outing

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Painting the School Outing
Beaver Pond, Mactaquac

The yellow of the school bus is easy, but
what colors do you give the rain of school
kids descending? And how do you portray
their energy, their noise, the tones of French
and English? What colors are their vowels,
their consonants, their high-pitched voices?

You can sketch their orderly rows as they snack
on the top-hat magic pulled out of backpacks.
But it’s not so easy to paint the pop of Pepsi cans,
the scent of chocolate bars, or the crackle of chips
released from packets and popped into mouths.

Running round after lunch, they drive the wild
birds wild with their unorganized games of tag,
their impromptu dances, their three-legged races,
their winners and losers, their joys and sorrows.
Fishing nets are produced from nowhere. Girls,
boys wander to water’s edge in search of prey:
incipient frogs, newts, tadpoles, bullheads, but
how do you paint the wet and wriggle of them?

Try painting this. Whistles sound. Kids regroup.
The bus reloads and goes. Now paint the silence.
Sketch the tranquility of woods, bird-calls back,
of the beaver pond with its lilies stretching their
green necks skywards towards a pale blue sky
where cotton clouds cluster together in celestial
flocks. A pastoral scene, this painter’s paradise.

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Mirror Image

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Mirror Image
(on seeing the outline
of a painting on the reverse side
of my painted note-book page)

What price these corkscrew lines,
reversed, seen through a glass, darkly,
the wrong side of a tapestry,
all twisted threads and imaginings,
no clear pattern of thought
or design, as if designated by an errant
hand and signed by a man with a mission
to bewilder, confuse, muddle, shock,
turn inside out, back to front, upside down
all our notions of what is what,
and who is when, and why, and where?

Yet there is meaning to this madness,
a sense of a blind man trapped underground
in the labyrinth of his darkened mind
with only a thin thread of belief
to guide him, upwards and outwards,
away from the torrid torment of doused flames,
the damp spark’s midnight glow,
the search for substance in a new world,
insubstantial in a neologism, whirled
through inner spaces and spun, guileful,
out of the back of the hand to spin,
this way, that way, who knows which way,
according to the moment of delivery,
the angle of acceptance,
the untrained brain of the recipient,
tottering on the brink of a world
with a definite end: the suicide of logic.

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Hollyhock

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Still Life with Hollyhock
for
Geoff Slater
the inventor of line painting

How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?

Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?

So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting
of a photo of a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.

A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead
nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.

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Man of Glass

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Man of Glass
After El Licenciado Vidriera
(Miguel de Cervantes)

“I am made of glass,” I said.
“You can see right through me.”

But the harder you looked,
the less you saw.
You claimed
there was nothing there,
just empty air.

“Your glass is an illusion,” you said.
“It’s not half full
and it’s not half empty.”

“Glass is fragile,
I break easily.
Drop me, I shatter;
hot and cold will
make me crack.”

“Your fragility is in your mind,
not in the fact of your existence.”

“When light passes through me
I break into a million colors,”
I said.

“You are a prism,
the colors that you cast
change you and rain
rainbow lights
that change others
too.”

“That’s because,” I said,
“I’m made of glass.”

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Potholes and Portholes

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Potholes and Portholes

My poems are drawn from my life,
not from the lives of others.

I live my words,
drawing them wriggling
through the holes
punched by others in my flesh.

Pot-holes,
portals to the underworld,
so many cars
slithering in spring’s freshet
melt of tarmac and metal flesh.

Portholes:
so many ships,
leaving port,
sailing away
into unknown seas
well beyond my ken.

Spring

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Spring

Slow going
this snow going,
but at least
it isn’t snowing.

Snow forecast
on the weather show,
but we all know
it cannot last,
now the equinox
is past.

With a roll of drums
Easter comes,
but friends and family
stay away.

So all alone
and safe at home
we’ll spend
our Easter day.

Everybody understands
how often we must
wash our hands.

Don’t go unmasked,
even when asked,
and all our friends
must safely stay
at least six feet away.

Comment: I just received this poem as a memory on Facebook. Interesting. I remember writing it, online, a year ago today, and what a fun time I had. Here’s the link to the video. I loved being involved in the creative experience. It was my first poetry video. I do hope you like it.

Charles Baudelaire

A butterfly perches on Les Fleurs du Mal.

Charles Baudelaire

He walks past the Jesuit Church
where the shoe-shine boys store
polish, brushes, and chairs overnight.
He walks past the wrought-iron bench
where the gay guys sit, caressing,
asking the unsuspecting to join them.

Nobody asks Charles for a match,
for a drink, for charity, for a walk
down the alley to a cheap hotel.

The witch doctor is the one who stops
the hands on all the clocks at midnight.
He’s the one who leaves this place,
and returns to this place, all places being one.
The witch doctor sees little things
that other men don’t see. He reaches out
and flicks a fly from Charles’s nose.
“I too have lost my way,” it sighs.

Charles thinks he knows who he is,
but sometimes he wonders when he shaves,
rasping the razor across his chin’s dry husks.
The witch doctor, his lookalike, his twin,
stares back at him from the bathroom mirror.
Three witches dance on the waning soap dish.
One spins the yarn, one measures the cloth,
one wields the knife, that will one day sever
the thread of all poor creatures born to die.

Oh hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère.

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).

Gaza Street

This is the original version. It is much better than the revision that I posted earlier. Sometimes, when we revise, we lose the freedom of thought and association that comes with the early version. Message: keep your variations and keep an open mind. Over-elaboration is the poet’s worst enemy.

Wingless in Gaza Street

amputees deprived of flight
they flutter grounded in the gutter

galley slaves chained to broken oars
they ply blunt stumps relentlessly

shorn of strength and beauty
their once glorious shuttles weave dark circles

my mouth is a full moon open in a round pink circle
bone and its marrow settle in subtle ice

futile fragility of the demented heart pumping
its frequency of fragmented messages

frail beauty torn from its element of air
this brightness of moths drowning in inky depths

the seven o’clock news brought to you
from an otherwise deserted street.

Clematis

Not clematis, but bruised clematis clouds.
I’ll keep looking.
Maybe I’ll find the real things.

The clematis unfolds bruised purple on the porch. Beneath the black and white hammers of ivory keys, old wounds crack open. A flight of feathered notes: this dead heart sacrificed on the lawn. I wash fresh stains from my fingers with the garden hose while the evening stretches out a shadow hand to squeeze my heart like an orange in its skin. Somewhere, the white throat sparrow trills its guillotine of vertical notes. I flap my hands in the air and they float like butterflies, amputated in sunlight’s net. The light fails fast. I hold up shorn stumps of flowers for the night wind to heal and a chickadee chants an afterlife built of spring branches.
Pressed between the pages of my dream: a lingering scent; the death of last year’s delphiniums; the tall tree toppled in the yard; a crab apple flower; a shard of grass as brittle as a bitter tongue at winter’s end. I know for sure that a dog fox hunts for my heart. Vicious as a vixen, the fox digs deep at midnight, unearthing the dried peas I shifted from bowl to bowl to measure time as I lay in bed. I sense a whimper at the window, the scratch of a paw. I watch a dead leaf settle down in a broken corner and it fills me with sudden silence.
Midnight stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps dream-treasures in its tight-clenched fist. The lone dove of my heart flaps in its trap of barren bone and my world is as small as a pea in a shrunken pod. Or is it a dried and blackened walnut in its wrinkled shell of overheating air? Sunset, last night, was a star-shell failing to fire. Swallows flew their evensong higher and higher, striving for that one last breath lapped from the dying lisp of day. Its last blush rode red on the clouds for no more than a second’s lustrous afterglow.
I lower the delphiniums, body after body, into their shallow graves. Night’s shadows weave illusions from earth’s old bones and rock becomes putty, malleable in the moonlight. Midnight readjusts her nocturnal robes and pulls bright stars from a top hat of darkness. Winged insects with human faces appear with the planets and clutter the owl’s path. Night swallows the swallows and creates more stars. The thin moon hones its cutting edge into an ice-cold blade.

Now that’s a clematis bruise!