And every valley

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

5

And Every Valley

And every valley shall be filled with coal.
And the miners will mine, growing old
before their time, with pneumoconiosis
a constant companion, and that dark spot
on the grey slide of the sidewalk a mining
souvenir coughed up from the depths
of lungs that so seldom saw the sun
and soaked themselves in the black dust
that cluttered, clogged, bent and twisted
those beautiful young bodies into ageing,
pipe-cleaner shapes, yellowed and inked
with nicotine and sorrows buried so deep,
a thousand, two thousand feet deep down,
and often so far out to sea that loved ones
knew their loved ones would never see
the white handkerchiefs waved, never
in surrender but in a butterfly prayer,
an offering, and a blessing that their men
would survive the shift and come back
to the surface and live again amidst family
and friends and always the fear, the pinched
-face, livid, living fear that such an ending
might never be the one on offer, but rather
the grimmer end of gas, or flame, or collapse,
with the pit wheels stopped, and the sirens
blaring, and the black crowds gathering, and
no canaries, no miners, singing in their cages.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

And every valley

The End of Time

Meditations on Messiaen.
Quartet for the End of Time.

3

The End of Time

A thin violin crying
its cat-gut heart out
in tears of sound, falling,
rhythmic raindrops,
down a grey-streaked face
tight with stress and pain.

Such concentration,
such soulfulness packed
into each mindful note.

An audience of one,
I sit, head bowed,
meditating on the meaning
of meaning and nothingness,
the nothingness of being condemned
to oblivion yet oblivious
of the how and when.

Each note a hammer-blow,
then, the piano hammering nail
after nail into this coffin body
I drag through the motions
of extracting meaning
from this meaningless life.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

The End of Time

A Stone



Meditations on Messiaen.
Quartet for the End of Time.

1

A Stone

I cast a stone into the sea.
A round, flat stone,
it skipped from wave to wave
and refused to sink.

My heart sank within me
as I counted each bounce:
five, six, seven…
then the stone sank
bearing with it
my seven deadly sins
and I wept no more.

I, who have lost all that I had,
mother, father, brothers,
land of my birth,
I laid them all to rest
and I dried my tears,
forgot my fears,
and counted my blessings
as I walked, no longer alone,
along the shore.

Click on link below for Roger’s reading.

A Stone

Blood and White Wash

Blood and Whitewash
A Thursday Thought

2-September-2021

Blood and Whitewash is the title of this painting. It has a subtitle: My Plan of Attack.

The origins of the title, and hence of the painting, go back to the Goon Show, with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and of course / wrth gwrs, Harry Secombe, the Swansea Comedian and Master Singer. Away in boarding school back in the late fifties, one of my greatest pleasures was listening to the Goon Show on one of the dormitory’s transistor radios. As a teenager, I found the jokes and the accents incredibly funny. Still do. That’s why I painted this painting. Alas, it is silent, and you cannot hear the accents.

The following snippet of dialog occurred on one such Goon Show, I cannot remember which.

“What are we going to do?”
“Well, this is my plan of attack.”
“That’s not a tack, it’s a nail.”
“No it’s not. It’s a tack.”

So above you have my painting of My Plan of Attack, resurrected after all those years. I throw my mind back to the First World War.

The General:
“He’s a cheerful Cove,” said Jimmy to Jack,
as he walked to Arras with his pack on his back.
But he did for them both, with his plan of attack.

And there in essence is the history of the painting. First, the plan of attack, then the failure and the blood-letting, and then the white-washing of the whole history, a white-washing that turns failure into success, defeat into victory, and loss into gain. But in WWI, it was the poor Tommies who bore the burden, and all the other front line troops who obeyed orders, went blindly over the top, and charged unbroken wire with fixed bayonets.

“If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are,
If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are.
They’re hanging on the old barbed wire.”

Singing as they marched to their deaths, obeying orders, like sheep, and nipped on by the eternal sheep dogs. Things were so bad at Verdun that instead of singing, the men marched, bleating, like sheep. “Sheep unto the slaughter.” There was so much ill-feeling and rebellion in the face of orders and certain slaughter, that French regiments were decimated, one man in ten shot for mutiny, as they marched bleating, instead of singing, to their deaths.

“Oh, we’ll hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line,
have you any dirty washing, Mother dear?”

“Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” So, tell me, “where have all the young men gone, gone to graveyards everyone, when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”

And that, dear friends, is my thought for today: The History of My Plan of Attack. When, indeed, will we ever learn?

Waiting

The story of one man’s journey

Spotify
Scroll down to correct episode.

Waiting

I remember pushing
my father around the ward
in the hospital.
Two weeks we had together.

My father sat in his wheel chair
and I wheeled him
up and down.

“Cancer,” they told me.
“But it’s kinder not to let him know.”
In those days, it was better to die
without knowing why.
Did I betray him by not letting him
know what I now need to know?

One day, he begged me for help
and I lifted him out of his wheelchair
and placed him on the toilet.
He strained and strained
but could not, would not go.

“Son,” he said, sitting there,
“Will you rub my back?”
How could I say no?

That strong man,
the man who had carried me
in his arms, on his back,
and me standing there,
watching him,
his trousers around his knees,
straining hopelessly,
and me bent over him,
rubbing his back,
waiting,

for him to go.

Comment: Thank you, once again, Alejandro Botelho of Diverse TV. This was a great reading. If you, dear reader, are interested, you can listen to it HERE. Alejandro’s reading of my poem begins at 40.52 and ends at 42.33. But remember, the other poems are also well worth listening to and Alejandro has a great voice and wonderful interpretation. A further comment: first there is the text. Then there is Alejandro’s excellent reading. Then there is my own reading. From each of these the observant reader and / or listener will extract a slightly different emphasis and meaning. In my own case, following Alejandro’s reading of the original text, I have added some minor changes, to add to the intertextual rhythm of the words. Tolle, lege et vade mecum. A Cancer Chronicle is available HERE.

Calling It a Day

Calling it a Day

This auriferous sky, sewn with sharp sequins.
Is there a warp, a leaning towards meaning,
a lurch maybe towards the moon’s dark side?
Questions: knights-errant questing for answers.

Who planted our DNA into that first Garden?
Or did the garden fill us with its own seeds?
Why did those little plants take root and grow?
Why do they now wander everywhere, restless?

This auriferous sky, sewn with sharp sequins.
Is there a warp, a leaning towards meaning,
a lurch maybe towards the moon’s dark side?
Questions: knights-errant questing for answers.

Rampant feet patrol our castle’s heights
while we seek instant gratification, swift
possession, our fingers probe each passing
cloud, reaching for all, but grasping none.

A satellite glides its razor edge, slices
the night’s eye into pin pricks of light.
The moon balances her orange unicycle
on thin black lines, hills edged with trees.

Lesser incandescence of a departed sun,
that low, lone moon slowly climbs the sky.
Released from their earthbound burdens,
who knocks this night at heaven’s gate?

Here on the back porch, midnight slowly
covers me with its dark gray cape of grief.
My grief is your grief, your grief is mine, all
grief is one, why do we all then grieve in vain?

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.

Prostate

Prostate

Pictures and models.
1 Prostate: normal size and shape.
2 Prostate enlarged.
3 Prostate enormously enlarged.
4 Prostate lumpy, malformed,
          cancerous, and me prostrate.

Lumpy and treacherous:
a gross shape growing
its grossness within me.
Gross, but mine and a vital
part of my living body.

A mad world this, twisted
time and fairground mirrors
distorting everything, and me
grossed out by the mechanical
clockwork, tick-tock, snip-snap,
removing samples for some
lab to examine and test.

“Give them back!”
I want to scream.
I guess I’ll get them back
on Judgement Day,
when the body resurrects
and I am whole again,
warts, cancer, and all.

Meanwhile, the biopsy’s done.
I get up from the bed
and the nurse hands me a towel
so I won’t drown my sorrows
in my body blood, a crimson
tide, ample, thick, flowing red.

Comment: After a couple of phone calls, some e-mails, and some messages on Facebook, I realize that some of my friends are actually following this blog and reading it. Thank you for the care and attention you have shown me by writing or calling to inquire about my health. All is well. I visited my urologist yesterday for a regular check-up and sat there a little longer than usual, waiting. Never one to waste time, I studied the things in the office and discovered a model prostate over which I could run my fingers (I didn’t!). It showed the four stages of prostate enlargement and cancer development as outlined above. I had no paper with me, so I jotted down four poems on the back of the paper bag in which I carried the injection I would later receive. This poem was one of them. The reference to Judgement Day and the recovery of body parts comes from one of Quevedo’s Suen~os, El suen~o del infierno, I believe. Anyway, my apologies, if I have worried you. I am fine, thank you. However, as Quevedo also wrote, “The day I was born I took my first step on the road to death”. Alas, I too am one of Dylan Thomas’s ‘poor creatures, born to die,’ as are we all. If not now, when? Not too soon, I hope. Blessings and thanks to all who read this. Take care and stay healthy.

Christmas Angel

Christmas Angel

Once upon a time
he sang carols,
but now he chokes
on red-herring bones
and obscure meanings.

When he opens his mouth,
his tongue falls bleeding on the silver tray
encased in wood
passed round to collect the money.

His knees are dusty from lack of use.
What wooden doll’s head
rocks back and forth on his shoulders?

On Christmas Eve, a painted
clothes peg lies in a wicker cradle.

He swaddles it with birdsong
and hums forgotten words
to half-remembered tunes.

Christmas Angel can be found in
All About Angels.


All About Angels
Paperback edition


All About Angels
Kindle Edition

Rainbows

Rainbows

For my teenage daughter
who has just cried on my shoulder

not knowing which courses to take
nor what university to attend.
21 December 1991
12:50 pm.

Rainbows go up and down.
Only you can say which way to go:
upwards to the heavens
or downwards to the earth below.

Rainbows are a promise
of ever sunnier skies.
We see them after rainstorms
or in tear-filled eyes.

There’s no shame in grief.
Every cloud has a silver lining
and rainbows gather round it
waiting for our mind’s refining.

Search for your rainbow.
Follow when it points the way.
But remember, when you fall
to earth, like you did today,

that always at the rainbow’s foot
there lies a pot of gold.
Well that’s what the Irish
Fairies say, or so I am told.