Coal Face

Coal Face

My family never forced me underground.
Nobody ever made me kneel at the coal-
face altar and worship, on my knees,
that grimy god with its coal-black soul.

A child in body and heart, nobody ordered
me to squirm down diminishing seams,
much too narrow for men or machines
and fitting only for the smallest child.

Fitting indeed, an early coffin, made to
measure, lying in wait for the slightest
slip of the rocks above or below. Tight
fitting, indeed, no wiggle, wriggle room.

Billy Blake, my mate from Trinidad,
younger than me, saw the black faces
of miners emerge from the mine, enter
the pit-head baths and come out white.

He, too, wanted to be white. He dug
underground, grew even blacker, went
into the showers, gouged his black skin,
drew rivers of blood, never changed color.

He died when the roof above him fell
without warning. They pulled him out.
Brought him to the surface. Prepared
him for burial. Wrote on his tombstone:

“His body was as black as night,
but oh, his soul was white.”

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Coal Face.

Heart Ache

Hope Fall

Heart Ache

My heart is an empty nest, all feelings
fledged and flown. I yearn for the warmth
St. Kevin felt when the blackbird settled,
nested in his hand, laid her clutch of eggs.

Oh, the cold dark stare of the under-earth,
growing its cold chill upwards through feet and knees,
and the winter branch stiffness of hands frozen
into concrete branches, week after week, until
the blackbird’s eggs are hatched and fledged.

No saint am I. Just a father deprived of his distant
child, of his granddaughter developing, growing
older and wiser without him there to help her
on her way, or hinder, as old men often do,
unaware of the changing times and the ferocious
pull of new ideas, new tides, the swashbuckling
effects of the new world now upon us, a world
we oldlings, so long ago fledged and flighted,
will never understand nor grasp. How could we?

And yet that hand stretches out from the window
of the cells that hold us, bind us, imprison us,
and make us realize how strong are the wings
of love that flutter in our ageing hearts.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Heart Ache

Remembrance day

Remembrance Day

Memories deceive me with their falsehoods, flashing
shadow shapes, shifting with a move of the fingers,
dog into man, shift, man into a frightened mouse,
squeaking, like the ungreased iron-rimmed wheels
on a farm-cart with its load of hay and snapping dogs.
Watch out for the horse’s sideways kick, for the sting
of the farmer’s cruel whip, for the dogs’ white teeth.

What magic lantern now slips its subtle slides
across night’s screen? Desperate I lap at salt-licks
of false hope that increase my thirst and drive me
deeper into thick, black, tumultuous clouds.

My grandfather in the trenches, drenched in a gas cloud,
groping, choking, invalided home, returning, so brave,
to face that gas grave again and again, only to cough up
the last of his tortured lungs thirty years later. I remember
him bent over the table, struggling for breath, balancing
his hesitant life against an immanent death. Today it is

so different. A pandemic storm lays waste to memories
that dog my mind. At night a black dog hounds me, sends
my head spinning, makes me chase my own tail, round
and round. It snaps at dreams, shadows, ghosts of family
members who drift, slowly fading, through my mind.

I try to track them through Ancestry, through Tarot Cards
and Tea Leaves but they are all lost in a Mad Hatter’s
illusion of a dormouse adrift in a teapot in an unkempt
nursery rhyme of a tail within a tale and hunter home
from Caer-Filthy hill, I return to find my house empty,
my deserted body devastated, my future a foretold mess.

Click on the link for Roger’s reading.
Remembrance Day

Reconciliation

Guess who caught a fish?

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

7

Reconciliation

Rant, I say, rant and rage away, rage, rage against
the death of friendship and loathing built on false love.
This is a blood sport where even the spectators
are spattered with the refined frenzy of friends
turned into fiends and foes, and this is a protest,
a rant against love that doesn’t last, that doesn’t stand
the test of time, against families that break up,
against a society that breaks them up, driving wedges
and knives between people once bound
by the puppet strings of love, against relationships
that can no longer continue, against the rattling
of dead white bones in empty cupboards where skeletons
dance their way into legal daylight and the spectators
 call for more: more blood, more money, more blood money,
and the engagement diamond is a blood diamond now,
a tarnished garnet, and where is the Little Old Lady
of Threadneedle Street, that spire inspired needle
that will stitch their world back together,
and stitch you back together when you’ve been shocked
out of your own ruby-sweet rose-tinted world
and torn into little bits in their oh-so-bitter one,
the biters bitten and those bitten biting back in return,
 a new world this world of snapping turtles,
turtles standing on the back of turtles, and turtle after turtle
all the way down until this carnival world puts down
its dead clown mask and turns turtle in its turn.

Comment:

National Reconciliation Day today, the first in Canada. Now that is a valid reason to rant. Let us hope for reconciliation, for a healing and a mending. I love Canada. I love all Canadians. I came here by choice, stayed here by choice, and I am very grateful to have been accepted by the Canadian communities in which I have lived. I hope I have graced Canada, with my presence, as Canada has aided me and helped me along in all my endeavors, academic, sporting, teaching, creating, and editing. As Norman Levine once wrote: Canada Made Me. In my case, it is true. On this first National Reconciliation Day, my thoughts and thanks go out to my brothers and sisters, all of us Canadians.

I don’t know what happened this morning: I put the same post up as yesterday. Different photo, same post. I really don’t know what to think about what I was thinking. Old age? Confusion? A troubled mind? All of the above!!! Never mind: here we go again, and maybe my next rant will be about getting out of touch and loss of memory! You never know what’s coming next, and that’s the beauty of Messiaen.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Reconciliation

Twist & Bust

Lady Cherry Stones with balloon!

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

6

Twist and Bust

 Vingt-et-un, twist and bust, always hoping,
seldom winning, holding out one’s hand
for hand-outs, for special treatment, for some
thing that raises us above the everyday nothingness.

Twist, yes. Let’s twist again, like we did back when.
But this isn’t Oliver Twist: “Please sir, may I
have some more?” though everyone is heading
for the poor house and the beadles are gathering
by Bedlam’s door with their handcarts and dogs
and the full enforcement of a blue-serge law
made to twist and torment, though I have never
understood the law, especially when it is left
in the hands of lawyers, for “the law, dear sir, is an ass”,
a striped ass at that, black and white like a zebra,
though grey and costly in the areas that matter most.

And what is there to do but rant away
about the injustice of it all, the size of the pay-checks
and now you must check-out the food banks,
 the soup kitchens, the meals on wheels, the charitable
eating and boarding houses, because there’s no more roof
over the head and the house is sold and the incomes
are split and the children are more-or-less cared for,
though rather less than more, and the dog is turfed from
his dog house and the pussy cat booted from her feathered bed.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Twist & Bust

Rage, Rage

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

5

Rage, rage …

Sometimes you wake up in the morning
and you realize that you can do no more.
What is it about family split-ups, the ugliness
of a disputed divorce, the glue coming
unstuck in an already unstable marriage,
a financial settlement that satisfies nobody
and impoverishes both sides of a divide?

And how do you bridge that divide
when you are friends with father, mother, children
and the wounds are so deep that everyone wants out,
whatever the costs and whatever it takes?
And what is it about the deliberate wounding
of each by the others, leaving permanent scars
that will never heal over, no matter how hard one tries?

And what is it about lawyers, when too many guests
gather around the Thanksgiving turkey and knives
are out for everyone to take the choicest cuts
leaving nothing but a skeletal carcass,
no flesh on the bones, and the guests all hungry
and their empty bellies rumbling for more, more, more.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Rage, Rage

A Rainbow of Clichés

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

2

A Rainbow of Clichés

It’s raining outside. A tympany of raindrops
drums rhythmically on roof and window.
Thunder rolls. Lightning flashes, lighting up the sky.
our lights flicker, but we don’t lose power.

“It never rains in the bars,” they say in Spain.
Yet it’s raining in my heart, a sad song,
raindrops, tear drops, my best friend,
tested for Lyme disease, now tested for Covid.

“It never rains unless it pours,” they say in Wales.
And here it comes again, that nineteenth session
of Covid nerves, heart fluttering, nostrils twitching,
that unmasked girl standing six inches behind me,

texting, all thumbs, totally absorbed in the medium
that delivers massage after massage, click here,
out from the empty spaces between her ears and into
the void beyond, bouncing from tower to tower,

small stones cast in a tranquil pond, rippling their way
to whatever eternity lies out there, external realities ignored,
enveloped in the smoke screen of the texting self,
mask-less, fearless, coughing, not covering her mouth.

Here come those clichés. ‘I’m all right, Jack.’ ‘It’s all
about me.’ ‘My life, my freedom to do what I want.’
“It ain’t the cough that carries you off, it’s the coffin
they carry you off in.” A coughing fit, fit for a coffin.

Better, I suppose, than World War One trench warfare,
when it’s over the top, and look: officers, chaplains, men,
the whole battalion, hanging from that old barbed wire.

Click on link below for Roger’s reading.
A Rainbow of Clichés

Why do the People…

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

1

Divide and Conquer

They divided us into houses, Spartans and Trojans,
and encouraged us to compete with each other,
single combat, and then team against team,
house against house, eternal, internal civil war.

We divided ourselves into Cavaliers and Roundheads,
Monarchists and Parliamentarians, Protestants and Catholics,
and we continued those uncivil wars that marred the monarchy,
brought down the crown, and executed the Lord’s anointed.

We fought bitterly, tribe against tribe, religion against religion,
circumcised against uncircumcised, dorm against dorm,
class against class, territorial warfare. We defended our bounds,
bonding against all outsiders to guard each chosen ground.

With it came the denigration of the other. Not our class.
Scholarship boy. Wrong end of town. Wrong accent.
We don’t talk like that here. Speak the Queen’s English, you…
and here …. we inserted the appropriate word of vilification.

Our wars never ended. We carried them from prep school
to junior school, to senior school, sometimes changing
sides as we changed schools or houses, always clinging
grimly to our friends, protectors, and those we knew best.

After school, all those prejudices continued to hold us down,
haunted us through university, red-brick or inspired spires,
Trinity Oxford, Trinity Cambridge, or Trinity Dublin,
each gilded with the white sniff of snobbery that gelded us.

Alas, we carried them, piled in our intellectual rucksacks,
through university, into grad school, out into the wide world,
infinitely small minds based on prejudice and pride, continuing
our tribal warfare, unable to understand anything at all,
other than shoulder to shoulder, us or them, conquer and divide.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Why do the people?

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

Change

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

6

Change

The wind of change will blow and change will come,
heralded not by brazen trumpets and a roll of drums,
but overnight in stealth and silence. The valleys will lose
their coal. The seams will shrink, smaller and smaller,
until even the tiniest child will not find room the kneel
at the coal-face and sweat in adoration, shovel and pick
in hand, prying and praying in praise of the black god.

Change will come. The mines will be closed.
The miners will go on unemployment. They will move
to other areas, where mines still flourish, for a life time
spent underground is not that easy to forget and change
is never easy. Who ever said it would be easy?

The men in grey suits bring change. They walk and talk
and plan the changes they will bring about. The pit-head
baths will turn into super stores, a new trading estate will offer
work to the workless who will be changed into worthy workers
once again with course after course of education and retraining.

Yes, change will come. Some will pack up and leave,
only to return as they cannot face the face of change
as once they faced the coal-face, on their knees all day,
praying. Some will go overseas, by boat or plane.
They need never fear for Australia is near. America is a siren
singing bedrock songs of welcome and freedom. Canada calls
and many arrive there to face the white face of winter
rather than that merry, coke-black face of Old King Coal.

Yes, change will come. You will change. Your children
will be born into change and only your memories will recall
life before change, that life everlasting that came
before the fall of coal and your immortality is now
a Post-lapsarian call to constant change, secuale seculorum,
for ever and ever, until that final change. Amen.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Change