Luminescence

Luminescence

Our world can sometimes seem to be a very dark place. Early yesterday morning, sitting on the back bumper of my car, breathing heavily, unable to shift the weight of snow, rain, freezing rain, ice pellets that had accumulated in our drive, I was gripped by the cold hand of old age and despair.

I remembered the talk show quiz games in which one option was to call a friend. So I did. He turned up after work, started the snow blower and did for me what I was no longer able to do for myself. He cleaned the paths round our house, at the back, to the bird feeders, and down the front the heat pump at the side.

He brought light and joy back into my world, made me realize I was not alone, and I gave him, as a token of my gratitude, this painting: Luminescence.

Those of us who are still capable of bringing light and joy to others must continue to do so. Whatever we do, we must not let the dark side and the shadows take over.

My friend – you touched my heart. I thank you.

Warm in the Kitchen

Warm in the Kitchen

This early morning, the only warm place in the house is the kitchen, close to the fire, with all the doors closed. The black-out curtains from the Second World War are still in place and hang languidly over ill-fitting windows that let cold air into the house. They must be pulled back in preparation for that first glimpse of day-light. Your elders move in and out, letting in the cold air as they open and close the doors at either end of the warm space where the fire is just taking hold.

Your grandfather banked it overnight with black sea-coal and then he raked the fine, grey ash, with its still smouldering lumps of charcoal, into a warm mound, ready for paper, kindling, coal, and the match. He has also placed a newspaper over the fireplace to create a draft. If the fire doesn’t catch soon, he will throw some sugar onto the embers to aid the blaze. The fire will suddenly flare into life and the room will be quickly warmed. In the meantime, the kitchen, though warmer than anywhere else in the house, is still slightly chilly because the damp night cold has invaded and made everything wet and slick.

It’s great when you’re at your grandparents’ house, but when we are back in ours, my father and mother always leave early, to go to work.

When I was younger, they had to feed me, but I soon learned to make my own breakfast from whatever I found in the fridge. Now I can use a frying pan. I fry bacon first, and then, when I have plenty of bacon fat, I fry bread, eggs, sausage, black pudding, kidneys, tomatoes, mushrooms, and anything else I can find, including laver bread.*

Before I know it, I have become a latch-key kid and, when I am hungry at home, I fry myself an all-day breakfast: eggy-bread or fried egg-with-its-hat on doused in HP sauce for lunch, all washed down with tea to which I add condensed milk and sugar.

But this morning, they have made breakfast for me: porridge. “Porridge, porridge, skinny and brown, / waiting for breakfast when I come down.” And I hate porridge, especially burnt porridge, with a passion, and yes, they’ve burned the porridge again. I hold a cup of hot tea in my hands. I breathe in the steam and it loosens up my chest. The china cup warms my fingers. I prod at the porridge, feed some to the canine mouth that dwells unseen beneath the table, and stuff myself full of toast. Whatever I eat, when the food is inside me, I feel much, much warmer and now I am ready for the rest of the day.

*Laverbread Bara lawr in Welsh: edible Gower sea-weed, a delicacy often called Welsh Caviar.

No Turkey, No Presents, No Tree

No Turkey, No Presents, No Tree.

And that’s how it is this year. Partly by choice. We decided against the stress of a turkey. Is it cleaned out correctly? Is it stuffed properly? Will we put bacon on top? Is it cooked to perfection? What about the trimmings? Stuffing (inside and out)? Bread sauce? Cranberry sauce? And the vegetables? And the Christmas Pudding? Will it be ready on time? Does it look nice? Have we laid the table properly? There are only two of us now. How much turkey can two people eat anyway? So we’ll have none of that this year. No stress. No cooking. No washing up. No leftovers. No turkey. The poem – The Twelve Days of Turkey – makes this clear.

As for the presents, well, that’s a sad story. We don’t really need anything. The house looks like a cross between a junk-shop and a museum gone mad. As Dylan Thomas said of Swansea Museum: it looks like a museum that belongs in a museum. And that’s what the inside of our house is beginning to look like. A crazy place inhabited by two crazy people and a crazy cat. Well, the cat would have loved some wrapping paper to play in, if it were a normal cat, but it’s not. So even the wrapping paper won’t be missed. No presents means no disappointment and that means that the Poem of Lower Christmas Expectations does not have to be written.

As for the tree, well, we don’t have a living tree, chopped down, and fed water daily, so that it can sprinkle its needles steadily over the carpet before it’s time to go. And the, on the way out, it drops the lot. Then we must vacuum clean, Hoover, Dyson, brush up, do the necessary, whatever it is, to make the place clean again. And oh, that cold January air when we open the sliding door to force the tree out. Force it out indeed – after 12 or so days inside, it doesn’t want to go out in the cold and freeze. And neither do we.

So, it’s a minimal Christmas. Three LED trees from past years. Clare’s Auntie’s artificial tree from her old shop in Cheap Street, Frome. Some strings of lights. Everything inside the house and nothing outside. And inside we have warmth, light, a fire in the stove, and for dinner, a tourtière, Acadian, all nicely spiced. With a selection of trimmings, to be determined later. Bread sauce and cranberry sauce probably. Oh yes, and we have a variety of puddings that can steam while we are eating. A minimal Christmas, then. No high expectations. The Christmas Mangers from Mexico and Spain all in place. And Christmas music, also from Mexico, on the disco and ready to go.

And yes, this will be the best Christmas ever. Because it is taking place within our hearts. And all best wishes for a wonderful day and an even better year to follow, to all of you, too.

Annie Verse Airy

Annie Verse Airy

Some I remember, some I forget. This one I don’t forget. 56 years ago today, Clare and I got married in Ontario. She had been six days in Canada and the vicar asked us if she were a mail-order bride. We said ‘no’ – for we had known each other for five years at that point and had been officially engaged for 17 months.

Ontario snow-belt snow, they called it. Six feet had already fallen on the banks of Lake Huron, and six more inches fell on our wedding day. How do I know? Well, I guess I must have been there. And ar gwaeth a pawb a pophet, rh’y n’i yma o hyd – and in spite of people and things, we are still here.

I wonder how many are left to remember that day. Clare and I do, obviously. Our daughter does. How many others? I hesitate to count – and it would probably take only one hand. No names, mind. Our wedding was very quiet. A family affair. Clare and I and our Canadian family who emigrated here after WWI, in 1919-20. They offered us their hearts, their home, and their hospitality. They also made all the arrangements and, since we had very little money, covered most of the minimal costs.

Our honeymoon was very brief – two nights in the town’s only hotel, and then back to Toronto on Boxing Day. The reality of the need to survive sunk in very quickly. We have no photos of the ceremony – couldn’t afford a photographer. No honeymoon, other than that brief hotel stay. No palm trees. No Caribbean Island. No white sand beaches. And we were much better off without them for, from the very first day we had to work together to survive and make a success of our lives. Luck and hard work walked hand in hand with us, and here we are, 56 years later, still together, still going strong. We will celebrate very quietly. At the appropriate time, we will light a candle together and raise a glass of wine, as we have done, every year, on Christmas Eve.

Now, as we age, each day is precious. We take few photos. We still haven’t had a honeymoon, let alone a second one. But, as the old song says, “we have travelled the road, sharing our load, side by side”. And we will continue to do so, for as long as we possibly can.

A Season of the Heart

A Season of the Heart

Here in the autumn of my life,
surrounded by the fruits of my labours,
filled with the accumulated wisdom of years,
surrounded by solitude, yet confronted
by fall’s splendour and the harvesting
of so many golden days, collected
and gathered in, safe from winter’s storms.

Old friends from years gone by move
restless through the mists of time
that hide so many things, while revealing
others in the sunbeam’s spotlight
that marks with a sudden enlightenment
the meaning of something I thought
I had lost, yet that still lingers, a shadow
on the mind-wall of memory’s cave,
where firelight flickers and brings things
back to life, magic moments released
from time’s spell and paraded before me,
here, where no bitterness dwells
in the sweetness of remembered time.

Click for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
A Season of the Heart

Movement

Movement

Incoming tide, a sparkling sea,
waves dancing beneath the sun,
white-maned ponies prancing.

Summer light changing as a cloud
moves its shadow over meadows
where cows graze, their advance slow,
gentle their movements, browsing.

Autumn wind, the dry leaves
casting a red-gold rainfall
over the lawn, shuffling along,
in time to the whispered wind song.

Silent, the deer, soundless as they move
through the trees at garden’s foot,
walking the tight-rope edge
dainty, between kempt, and wild.

Click for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Movement

Circles

Circles

Secret and sacred,
this shadow world that walks
naked in the inner chambers
of the mysterious mind.

Here, in the valley,
surrounded by whaleback hills,
the horizon limited by fir and fin,
I live without limits
beneath a limitless sky.

Dream boats sail above me
on a sumptuous azure sea
and I am a mammal,
feet rooted in the soil, dwelling
at the bottom of a sea of air.

Mysterious, the circles
weave their cycles –
sunrise to sunset,
moonrise to moonset –
and in my dreams
a photo of the rising earth
seen from a cyclical satellite
we call the moon.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Circles

A Good Friend

A Good Friend

Sitting at the kitchen table, sitting with my friend, Geoff Slater. He drove up from Bocabec to see me and help me sign some books. We have published several collections together – McAdam Railway Station, Scarecrow, Twelve Days of Cat, Tales from Tara, The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature, and The Water Tower.

Scarecrow and Twelve Days of Cat contain Geoff’s drawings and my prose and poetry, while The Water Tower is composed of Geoff’s photos, taken while completing the repainting of his wonderful mural, adorning the water tower in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea. Today we signed copies of Scarecrow, Twelve Days, and McAdam. I have been very lucky with most of my literary and artistic friendships. It always gives me great pleasure to receive my friends at home and to talk away the hours on the chiming clock.

I also enjoy cooking for them, and today I made a delicious paella with ham, chicken, and shrimp. More important, the rice – I had a packet of Bomba Spanish paella rice, and what a difference that made to the cooking of one of my favorite dishes. The socarrat, that crispy layer that coats the bottom of the frying pan or paella was simply wonderful!

Writing can be a lonely life. What a blessing is a good friend, totally creative, off whom one can bounce ideas, exchange artistic stories – our narratives as we call them – and even collaborate on the creation of more art works. Geoff Slater – line-painter extraordinaire – I salute you!

Movember

Movember

When we men threaten to grow moustaches,
walking unshaven, amid the leaves
that crackle and pop as they rustle,
wind-blown, against our feet.

But pity us, poor hairless ones,
whose youthful skin still bears no beard –
can we we force a moustache to our lips?

That said, a chain of purple lights
adorns the wall in front of me
and I type to its imperious, flashing
bulbs, a constant reminder of bygone days

when the biopsy proved cancerous
and my prostate threatened my body
but was prevented from entering my bones.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Movember

Comment: November is prostate cancer month. My heart goes out to any and all who are suffering from this form of cancer. Caught early, it is curable. Get checked out, as quickly as possible. The sooner you catch it, the sooner your medical team can be formed to inform and advise you as to your choices. And YES, you have choices. I will always be grateful for the help I received, from my own medical team, back in 2014-15, when I was first diagnosed and then cured. Cured, yes. But the nightmare of a possible return always remains, ticking away like a time-bomb at the back of my mind.

Gilt Trip

Gilt Trip

Last night, I packed up my troubles
in my old kit bag, but this morning
my back and shoulders buckle
beneath its ponderous weight.
I take care not to stumble,
especially on the stairs, for if
I stumble, I will surely fall,
and every fall is a precipice
that I will never be able to climb.

I want my feet to take root,
to sink solidly into the floor,
so that even when the wind of change
blows, it will not knock me down.
Downstairs, at my kitchen table,
the sun promises warmth and comfort.

I raise my gaze and rainbows sparkle,
dance on my eye-lashes.
I strive upwards, ever upwards,
and, turning towards the light,
its golden beauty creates in me
this morning hymn of praise.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Gilt Trip