A Speaker Bespoken

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

7

A Speaker Bespoken

They asked him to speak at her funeral
but he never knew who she really was.
He only knew she loved the whisky bottle
more than she loved life. “What can I say?”
he asked. “Say that you loved her.” “I didn’t.”
“Say how much she loved you.” “She didn’t.
And she loved her bottle so much more.”

Should he say how he found her, soaked in urine,
covered in vomit, naked on the kitchen floor?
Should he describe the blend of alcohol and body
scents, her personal perfume, flooding the bedroom?
Should he repeat the four-letter words, and worse,
she used when he tried to stop her drinking?
Should he tell how she took her rings to town,
pawned them, and left the slips on the table
where he would find them? He paid her debts,
collected her rings, returned them. Should he tell
how she sold them again and again?
How she would play hunt the thimble,
round and round the house until she found
where he had hidden them, then took them,
and pawned them once more?

The chaplain shrugged. “Say what you want,
whatever you wish, but you have to speak.”
And speak he did, so choked up with emotion
that he broke down and cried and never a word
emerged from his mouth. An audience of chairs.
The few friends who attended also broke down
and hugged him, and said he had spoken volumes
and they had understood every single word.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

A Speaker Bespoken

Dark Angel

Meditations on Messiaen.
Quartet for the End of Time.

2

Dark Angel

He will come, the dark angel,
and will meet me face to face.

He will take all that I own,
for it is only temporary
and all my possessions are on loan.

My house, my wife, my car,
my daughter, my grand-child,
 my garden, my trees, my flowers,
They are not mine.
I do not possess them.

I only own this aching heart,
these ageing bones,
this death that has walked beside me,
step by step, every day
since the day I was born.

That indeed is mine,
and nobody else’s.
That is my sole possession.
That is the only thing I own.

Click here for Roger’s reading.
Scroll down to appropriate episode.
Dark Angel

Man from Merthyr

Man from Merthyr

Memory loss punched holes in your head
and let in the dark, instead of the light.
Constellations faded from your sight,
erased by the arch-angel’s coal-dust wing.

 “I’m shrinking,” you said, the last time I saw you,
you, who had been taller, were now smaller than me.

 Tonight, when the harvest moon shines bright
and drowns the stars in its sea of light,
I will sit by my window and watch for your soul
as it rides its coal-fired rocket to eternity.

My eyes will be dry. I do not want pink runnels
running down this coal-miner’s unwashed face.
I’ll sing you a Welsh lullaby, to help you sleep.

“When the coal comes from the Rhondda
down the Merthyr-Taff Vale line,
when the coal comes from the Rhondda
I’ll be there.”

With you, my friend, shoulder to shoulder.
“With my golden pick and shovel, I’ll be there.”
Farewell, my friend, safe journey, sleep deep,
as deep as a Rhondda coal mine may you sleep.

Big Hand / Small Hand

Big Hand / Small Hand

It’s late in my life, with the big hand stuck on the nine, at a quarter to some thing, and the small hand twitching its red-tipped needle of blood. Yesterday, the breakdown van called for my body and towed me to the doctor’s. “Cough!” she said. “Say ninety-nine! Now cough again!” All the while, cold hands probed my unprotected body. Bottoms up? Thumbs down? It’s hard to see that the wine glass stands a quarter full when seventy five per cent of the wine has gone and the empty bottle lies drained on the operating table. I sit in front of the mirror and examine the palpitating heart they have torn from my chest. Flesh of my flesh, it beats in my hand like an executioner’s drum. I hear the tumbril drawing near. My colleagues sharpen their knitting needles. My lungs are twin balls of wool knotted tight in my chest.

Variants

Not one of us knows when the skeleton in the limelight will peel off her gloves, doff her hat, lay down her white cane and use us as fuels for a different kind of fire. Grief lurks in the bracelet’s silver snare of aging hair. We kick for a while and struggle at dawn’s bright edge, we creatures conditioned by time and its impossibilities. What possible redemptions unfurl their shadowy shapes at the water’s edge? A dream angel, this owl singing wide-eyed like a moribund swan bordering on that one great leap upwards, preparing to vanish into thin air. Some say a table awaits on an unseen shore; others that a rowing boat is tied to the river bank, ready for us to row ourselves across. Who knows? Yesterday’s horoscopes sprinkle butterflies of news as the snow wraps us all in the arcane blanket of each new beginning.

Comment: It’s been a strange week. In spite of all my resolutions, I missed my Wednesday Workshop and my Thursday Thoughts. Never mind: the latter weren’t very pleasant anyway. It has been pouring with rain again, and, as the WWI song says “Back to bread and water, as I have done before,” except in this case, it’s pills and needles, and I get the first shot on Tuesday. Nothing to worry about. I’ve been there before. It’s all preventative. But the body-clock is ticking away and I am getting no older and people around me are drifting slowly away. One of the players I used to coach at rugby, an excellent prop forward, went AWOL on Wednesday, MIA, and I read about his passing yesterday in the obituary column of the local newspaper. 18 years younger than me. He might be gone, but his memory lingers on, strongly for me. I have been thinking about him and his family and their tragic loss. My heart goes out to them and I offer my condolences, but what can one do, other than sympathize, celebrate a life well-led, and accept that all of us, poor creatures, are born to die. And if not now, when?

Man from Merthyr

Spotify:
Remember to scroll down to the appropriate audio episode.

Man from Merthyr

 Memory loss punched holes in your head
and let in the dark, instead of the light.
Constellations faded from your sight,
erased by the arch-angel’s coal-dust wing.

 “I’m shrinking,” you said, the last time I saw you,
you, who had been taller, were now smaller than me.

 Tonight, when the harvest moon shines bright
and drowns the stars in its sea of light,
I will sit by my window and watch for your soul
as it rockets its way to eternity.

My eyes will be dry. I do not want pink runnels
running down this coal-miner’s unwashed face.
I’ll sing you this lullaby, to help you sleep.

“When the coal comes from the Rhondda
down the Merthyr-Taff Vale line,
when the coal comes from the Rhondda
I’ll be there,” with you, shoulder to shoulder.
Farewell, my friend, sleep safe, sleep deep.

Death by Devilry

Silence in the garden. A hawk perched nearby. There are so many ways to die.

Death by Devilry

Silence in the garden.
A hawk perched nearby.
There are so many ways to die.

A cerebral bleed, minor,
but enough to send him to hospital
and keep him there.

Cured, ready for release,
he would need extra care
and added attention.

The devil lived in the small print.
Too much attention needed now:
his care home wouldn’t care for him.

Back to the old folks ward he went.
There he lay, waiting for a vacancy
in a home that would really care.

One day, Covid came a-visiting,
stalked the ward that night, choosing
its victims: you, you, and her, and him.

What killed him?
A cerebral bleed, a minor stroke?
Or a major stroke from the devil’s pen?

Bold words, bare words,
a barren ward, another vacant place
around a Christmas table.

Comment: Sitting at the breakfast table, with an empty space before me, I penned these words. So tragic, so avoidable. Yet how many families have gone through something similar in the past twelve months? How many empty spaces are there, vacancies that will never again be filled? I look at today’s figures from the USA: 18,466,231 infected and 326,232 already perished, an increase of 227,998 and 3,338 since yesterday. I am reminded of the words of Pink Floyd: “Is there anybody out there?” Blas de Otero also echoes through my mind: “levanto las manos: tu me las cercenas” / I hold up my hands: you cut them off. And yet it is Christmas Eve and there is still the Christmas promise of joy, and hope, and a new year entering. Let us raise our hands in prayer: and let us pray they are not hacked off.

Q & A

aka
The Street of Life and Death

Q & A

“What is this sound?”
It is your own death sighing,
groaning, growing
while you wait for it
to devour you.

“What is this feeling”
It is the itch of your own skin
wrinkling and shrinking,
preparing to wrap you
in the last clothes you’ll wear.

“What is this taste?”
It is the taste of your life,
bottled like summer wine
once sweet tasting,
now turning to vinegar.

“What is this smell?”
It is waste and decay,
the loss of all you knew
and of all that knew you.

“That carriage outside?”
It is the dark hearse
come to carry you
to your everlasting home.

A Sacrifice to Mithras

F1040022

A Sacrifice to Mithras

“What is this sound?”
“It is your own death sighing,
groaning, growing
while you wait for it
to devour you.”

“What is this feeling”
“It is the itch of your own skin
wrinkling and shrinking,
preparing to wrap you
in the last clothes you’ll wear.”

“What is this taste?”
“It is the taste of your life,
bottled like summer wine
once sweet tasting,
now turning to vinegar.”

“What is this smell?”
“It is waste and decay,
the loss of all you knew
and of all that knew you.

“That carriage outside?”
It is the dark hearse
come to carry you
to your everlasting home.”

“Look on us in our darkness,
help us to seek and see the light.
Keep us strong, keep us brave.
Mithras, always a soldier,
help us to die aright.”

F1010019

Comment: I am re-reading Puck of Pook’s Hill (Rudyard Kipling). It was given to me for a Christmas present (1955) by my father’s younger brother, my Uncle Frank. His signature is there, on the fly leaf, and his hand writing is as I always remember it. As I write these words, I can still hear his voice. The Song to Mithras, on which this poem is based, can be found on page 191, my edition (MacMillan, 1955), as a prelude to The Winged Hats. Without these clues, the poem operates in another space, more personal and more morbid, perhaps. The rites to Mithras were associated with the sacrifice, at midnight, of the black bull. The upper photograph shows one of the Bulls of Guisando (Los Toros de Guisando), which have stood in the province of Avila, in Spain, since time immemorial. So old are they, that the Roman legions left their mark on them in Latin, as you can see from the photo, when they conquered Spain after the Carthaginian wars.  The lower photo shows fighting bulls on a bull farm in Salamanca, Spain. Born from generations of fighting stock, these animals have been bred for thousands of years to die in the bull ring, as the bulls dedicated to Mithras were bred to die in the Roman temples. This is not a defense of the cruelty of bullfighting or the sacrifice of animals. It is rather a statement regarding the longevity of cruelty, of sacrifice, of the natural flow that leads men and women from birth, through childhood, to maturity, and on to old age, and death. My father is long gone now, as is his younger brother. Who will have access to these memories of mine when I go? Who will remember my family when I am gone?

Eternity

IMG_0177.JPG

Eternity

Eternity: where can it be found? Not in these flowers that have already faded and gone. Where then? In mortal beings, condemned to dust? In wild words cast upon the wind? In friends and friendships, oh so perishable?

Oh where and oh where has my little dog gone?

Carved in Stone: that’s what people sometimes say … or it’s not carved in stone, as if words in stone lasted forever. They rarely do. Very little endures. Here today and gone tomorrow, or, like a stomach ache, gone with the wind.

Maybe the answer lies here, in this sequence I worked out a long time ago. Rock of Ages, cleft for me … oh where and oh where can we hide our mortality. Click on this link and you may have the answer. There again, you may not. Work it out for yourself: what are all  those anonymous marks, carved into stone and shadowed by a setting sun? If you know, please let me know. Quick now, before it’s too late, and we two too are gone.

 

Senseless

SD 16

Senseless
(19 April 2019 AD)

taste my words
lick them from your lips
feel the roll of your tongue
creating saliva
cranberry choruses
lemon librettos
vanilla vocabularies
gooseberry grammar

fooled are those
cheated of their senses
who cannot sample
savoury flavours
nor test the scent
of April flowers

cancer perhaps
chemo-therapy
Parkinson’s stealing
memories away
childhood tangs
chocolate unwrapped
a Christmas orange peeled

aren’t you pleased
your taste buds
are still teased
by such offerings

grieve
for all you’ve lost
all you are losing
sooner or later
everything will go

last dregs of meaning
draining from your cup