Purple FF

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Purple

I close my eyes and return to Paris, Easter holidays, 1961. Algérie-française, Algérie-algérienne, the car horns tweet in the street as we drive the boulevards of a city divided. This is all new to me, a seventeen year old student in Paris to learn about French culture. My friends in the car have heard the tooting before and join in the fun.  Algérie-française the driver toots.

Turning a corner, flattened and blackened, still flaming against a fire-burned tree, the metal skeleton of a Deux Chevaux, a ‘tin of sardines’, bears witness to the car bomb that has laid its occupants low.

* * *

Hitching the highway, from Paris to Chartres, thumb stuck out to catch the wind, a purple Citroen stopped and offered me a lift. I trusted the car: a Citroen, like Simonet’s famous detective Maigret used to drive.

When the car stopped and the door opened, I got in and saw that the driver wore black leather gloves. His hand movements on the steering wheel were stiff and clumsy and he made exaggerated gestures when he changed gear.

“No hands,” he explained. “Lost them in Algeria. Listen: I used to be the driver for a top General. I drove him out of an ambush once. I lost my hands later, when the car exploded, caught in a crossfire. They teach you things in the Army. I can still drive.”

He accelerated and threw the car at four times the speed limit through the S bend that snaked through a small group of houses. I bounced from side to side, held back by no seat belt.

“You see,” he said. “They train you to do this before they let you drive. Ambush. The sniper at the corner. The Molotov Cocktail. You must always be prepared.”

I closed my eyes and returned to Paris.

Collateral damage: the young girl with her photo in the Figaro next day, scarred for life; her mother, legs blown off, lying in the gutter in a pool of purple blood.

Maman, maman,” the young girl cried. But her mother was never going to reply.

The Pom-pom-pompiers arrived in their fire trucks, sirens screaming. The ambulances screeched to a halt. The young girl cried. The mother bled out her life-blood in silence. Her blood turned purple and black as it flowed through the gutter.

Parisians emerged from dark doorways and stood there, bearing silent witness. Evening draped itself over the Paris skyline. The sky darkened and became one with the purple of the car bomb’s angry flame. Purple bruises marked my arm where I had gripped myself with my own fingers. An indigo angel squatted above the faubourg street, with shadowed wings, brooding.

* * *

I opened my eyes.

We left the village in our wake, travelling five times faster than the speed limit.

“They trained me for this,” the driver said. “I am prepared for anything.”

He stopped the car by the cathedral in Chartres. I thanked him and got out. He offered me his hand and I shook it. Inside the glove, the hand was hard and metallic. Alcohol sweated out through the purple veins that stained his nose and flowed in abundance over his sun-tanned face.

Battle Axe

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Battle Axe

Grim-faced, ageing,
wrinkles bone-deep
sculpting her skin
into unsightly waves,
a grimaced frown,
much practiced,
worn as a mask
to keep the world at bay.

Over her shoulder,
the mail-pouch slung,
brimful of letters,
bills, in all probability,
their content unknown
until the recipient’s
thumb or pocket knife
slits open the envelope
and reveals the secrets.

She carries more secrets.
They bob along in the streams
that flow beneath her skin
where joy and sorrow mingle.

Tomorrow, the surgeons
will perform their biopsy
and search out those secrets.
For now, she walks
with her eyes cast down,
unwilling  to meet
my all-seeing gaze.

Hastings

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Hastings

A cloud on the horizon
no bigger than a small boy’s hand
turns into a sail and then
a sailing fleet,
an armada of hostility
sailing towards our shores.

Shield upon shield the shield wall
binds itself together,
becomes impregnable

Loud the clamor,
the raising of voices,
the heavens split asunder
by a sharp hail of arrows,
closer the enemy now,
and arrows become spears
their sharp heads
tumbling from the turbulent sky.

Fate hangs now on a single arrow
protruding from the royal eye.

Faith falters.
The shield wall, firm at first,
breaks now and the house carls,
one by one,
fall like corn
beneath sharpened blades,
to wither and die as all men die.

Help!

 

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Help!

The world turns full circle
and my mother is on the phone.
It’s four AM. “Help me!” she cries,
from the far side of the Atlantic.

Her ship is sinking fast and she’s
nine sheets to the wind.
“I’ll stick my head in the oven,”
she says, “and turn on the gas.”

What can I say? What can I do?
She makes so many threats.
She’s crying “Wolf!” and her words
now bounce off this duck’s back.

Yet still I wake at night to hear
her whispered words, and they still
chill with their razor’s edge of
“Help me! Help! Please help!”’

Lost

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Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and
you, my love, are present in them all.
I see you here and there, glimpse your
shadow in a mirror, and feel your breath
brush on my cheek when I open a door.

Where have you gone? I walk from room
to room, but when I seek, I no longer find,
and when I knock, nothing opens. Afraid,
sometimes, to enter a room, I know you are
in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice breaks the silence.

It whispers my name in the same old way
I remember … how can it be true, my love,
that you have gone, that you have left me
here alone? I count the hours, the days,
and snatch at sudden straws of hope,
embracing dust motes to find no solace
in the sunbeams, salacious as they are,
that drag me from my occasional dreams.

Moonshine: FFF

 

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Moonshine
Flash Fiction Friday
Friday, 5 May 2017

Here, on the wharf, in Santander, I stand in the shadow cast by the Customs House and gaze at the moon path sketched out over the water. “Over the mountain, over the sea, that’s where my heart is longing to be.” I taste the bitter salt of homelessness and know that I will never belong in this world and that I will never find a place to call my own. Back home, I have a black and white television and a black and white dog. Here I have nothing. Back home, when I am home, I am a latch key kid. My parents leave for work at seven in the morning and my mother gets home about five every night. Those ten hours on my own are mine to do what I like with: but I must account for them. “What did you do today, dear?” And everything I say I do is checked. Did I make the beds? Did I do the laundry? Did I finish the ironing? Did I wash and dry the breakfast dishes? Did I clean the house from top to bottom?

Sometimes I strip and stand in front of the mirror in their bedroom and look at my naked body. It’s not much to look at. Once I stood there with the carving knife in my hand and deliberately cut myself across the ribs, just to feel the pain and watch the blood flow down. Other days I play cards against myself. That way one part of me always wins, but then the self I play against is always doomed to lose. Sometimes I wage battles with toy soldiers, moving them up and down across the carpet in front of the fire. Occasionally, I throw a soldier in the fire, just to watch him perish.

Sometimes I just sit on the back of the settee and press my forehead against the cool window. The rain is cold and cools the window pane. I know the sky is crying and sometimes I think I know why. I’ll go back to my boarding school soon. There, we are taught to be isolated and to live in isolation. The bullies will come and they will bully me. I have not grown much over the holidays and I know they will be even bigger, and even stronger, and even faster. I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to go back to that school. I don’t want to be bullied and abused. The masters cane me and the older boys beat me and the bullies force me to do things, unspeakable things, things that I don’t want to do. I have tried to run away but someone always brings me back and then they beat me for running away. “Don’t be a coward,” they say, “take it like a man.” And I do.

I look across the water. How beautiful is the Bay of Santander beneath the moon. I look up at the hills, at Peña Cabarga, at the hills from whence cometh my salvation. My grandfather walks towards me over the waves. He helps me choose stones and pebbles, helps me to fill my pockets with them. He takes me by the hand and gives me courage. He and I walk down the slip way, hand in hand, and then we walk out across the moon path and into the sea.

May Day

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May Day

March 1, St. David’s Day:
the daffodils grow free
around Cardiff Castle keep;
they cluster in Roath Park,
while Blackweir Gardens
flourish with their flowering.

March 17, St. Patrick’s Day:
it’s the traditional first practice,
out of doors, for the Toronto Irish
Rugby Club and the players stand
round and shiver in weak sunlight
as shadows lengthen over the grass.

April 23, St. George’s Day:
International Book Day
and we celebrate the lives
of earlier writers … Shakespeare,
Miguel de Cervantes, El Inca
Garcilaso de la Vega, great,
but so little known outside Peru.

May 1, May Day, May Day:
the Morse Code call goes out,
Save our Souls, for we have sinned.
We have left so many days and lives
behind us now, as we move into spring.

I recall so many familiar faces,
now gone for ever. Today, I’ll gift them
virtual flowers, a bouquet of May bought
from the wise old women who know its secret
hiding places in the wet spring woods
and bring its early sunny scents,
wrapped in foil, to my breakfast table.

Comment: Raw poem. I wrote it this morning with our winter geraniums sitting on the back porch, in the rain, glistening and damp. Every fall, we bring the best plants into the house and they survive the winter warmed by the fire. Then in the spring, we release them to the outdoors once again. So many things released this spring, friends departed over the winter, their exit so sudden. Wrapped in the scents of early May, I dream of salvation for them and for me and for all who survive.