Keys

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Keys

“Thirty-four doors and a key for each door,
sometimes two, and that’s only for the outside.
No master keys back then. A key for each lock,
if you please, and each door locked every night.
It’s still quite the task, a real responsibility. They
kept a turnkey, in those days, a full-time employee
whose job was to keep the keys and remember
which key fitted each door. Was it a double turn,
a single turn, a dead-bolt? The turnkey knew them
all. He also understood the interior doors and had
to wind the clocks, open and close cabinets, cloak
rooms, kitchens, desks, cupboards, drawers.

Others kept their own keys, and we often dismiss
them as lackeys, especially if they were black,
but they held the key to everything. Locksmiths
too, they could remove locks, take them apart,
cut keys, no job for a flunky. It took a smart man
to be a turnkey. He needed training, patience,
skills, knowledge, strength. Huge railway keys:
he knew how to look after them as well. Have you
seen the size of those old, brass carriage keys?”

Time-Spirits

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Time-Spirits

Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, translated as “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch.
Wikipedia

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Poems for troubled times.

Introduction

Our world finds itself in an incredible mess right now. Somehow, we have to sort it out. Images and metaphors tie past, present, and future together. We must pick our ways through the difficulties of these troubled times, as you must pick your way through the intricacies of these poems. Many of you will give up. Some of you, the chosen few, will make your way to the heart of each poem.

These poems are deliberately cryptic. Each one is a mind game I am playing with you. I do not underestimate you. I have placed clues throughout each poem and if you follow the clues you will arrive at many of the poem’s hidden meanings. Some poems are more difficult than others, their meaning more recondite. Others seem very straightforward, yet still contain secrets.

            This style of poetry has a long history going back to Anglo-Saxon riddles and way beyond, back into the mists of time. Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) and Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645) specialized in similar forms of recondite poetry, often based on metaphor and the juego alusivo-elusivo, the game of alluding to something while eluding the act of saying what it is. Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) and Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) also played this game, as did Octavio Paz (1914-1998). In the works of all of these poets, the clues may rest in the poem or they may be found in a generic knowledge of the mythology of the poem’s exterior world.

             Always remember that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana). Otherwise expressed, in the words of T. S. Eliot: “Time present and time past / are both perhaps present in time future / and time future contained in time past” (Burnt Norton). The seeming anachronisms in these poems suggest that all time is ever-present and that each new day presents us with events that have already occurred on many occasions.

Commentary: The idea for Time-Spirits aka Zeitgeist was born around the kitchen table in Island View on Saturday, 22 December 2018, during a literary conversation between Gwen, Victor, and Roger. A poem at a time, one after another, grew from that table top chat. The result: 70 poems, not easy to read, deliberately difficult, that reflect our troubled times. My thanks to Geoff Slater, line-painter, who drew the cover picture: Robin Red in Claw and Breast, a symbol of nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. So are we in the words of Albert Camus who writes ‘nous sommes ou les meurtriers ou les victimes’ . Is it the early bird that catches the worm? Or is it the late worm that gets caught by the bird? Whichever: it’s the worm that gets eaten, until the robin bites the dust, when he is eaten in his turn. Just think of it as nature doing its regular recycling …

 

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Faces

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Faces
McAdam Railway Station #10

“White at windows
when trains pass through
in June on their way
to summer and sand.

Wind-tousled, tanned
at summer’s end
returning home to
Boston and Montreal.

I remember them
waving their hands,
flickering white hankies
as they went by.

This station is a ghost train
that travels through time
instead of space. Stand
still as silent stone. Wait.

Look: there’s someone,
waving at us now
from that window
on the second floor.”

 

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S.O.S

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S. O .S.
McAdam Railway Station #8

“Dozing in the cab, I was.
Smelt a different smoke.
It wasn’t my engine’s.

Looked around.
Saw flames. One, two,
three houses on fire.

Steam was up. Yessir.
Three short hoots I gave.
Three long. Three short.

S.O.S. Mayday. Mayday.
S.O.S. S.O.S. Kept going
till house lights came on.

People running. Leaving homes.
Jumped out of the cab.
Ran out to help them.

They thanked me.
Said I had saved their lives.
What else could I have done?”

Comment: This is a third hand poem. It came to me from Geoff who heard the story from the hardware store owner who witnessed the fire. The narrator is the anonymous engine driver who raised the alarm. Of course I don’t know exactly what he did, said, or thought. Our knowledge of history can be divided into two great moments: the momentous events, recorded by expert historians via diligent research, and intra-historia, as Miguel de Unamuno, that great Spanish philosopher and rector of Salamanca University called it, referring to those small, individual moments when history is made by anonymous human beings who did what they had to do and then faded into the anonymity of a distant past, now wrapped in silence, as is the store-keeper and the driver of the train.

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Master Clock

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Master Clock
McAdam Railway Station 4

“It came from the Empress,
in Victoria. It won’t work here,
I’m afraid. It’s the clock
that runs all the clocks
and keeps them on time.

It needs a network.
ten, twenty, thirty clocks
that it can control
from its central circuit,
keeping them all on time.

Just like the railway.
The trains were always on time.
Except, just like this clock,
they don’t run anymore.”

Comment: I don’t have a picture of the Master Clock at McAdam Railway Station. I guess I’ll have to take one next time I visit McAdam. This clock can be found in the dining room. Like the Master Clock, it too has stopped. Known in Wales as Grandmother Clocks, these pendulum clocks are designed to hang on the wall rather than to stand on the floor like Grandfather Clocks. Can a Grandmother Clock be a Master Clock? I’ll leave that semantic conundrum to the experts in linguistics. While they are all arguing about it, I will just say that Elsie, who else, told the story of the Master Clock to a group of tourists from Nova Scotia while I was listening.

A Three Year Old Girl

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A Three-Year Old Girl
McAdam Railway Station #3

“I often see her, walking around,
standing in a doorway,
looking into a room.

She’s very curious
but never says a word.
Doesn’t ask questions.

She’s not scary at all,
like some of the others.

There are rooms here
where people won’t go
if they’re alone.

But they mean no harm,
these broken ghosts.

They’re lost, nowhere
else to go, I guess.
Just missed the last train”

Comment: Another story from Elsie, who says she often sees this young child in one room or another. The station is indeed filled with many memories and you can feel warm and cold presences throughout the building. Some rooms are filled with foreboding, while others are warm and comforting. Many old buildings have these qualities as do the old iron age walled camps scattered around the south of England. Maiden Castle and Badbury Rings spring to mind, as do Westbury White Horse, Corfe Castle and parts of Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour. Do I believe in ghosts? I echo the words of my mentor and fellow-countryman, Dylan Thomas: “I’d be a fool if I didn’t.”

Fourteen

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Fourteen
McAdam Railway Station 2

“Fourteen years old, he was.
Left school to work at the station.
Pushed brooms, did the cleaning.

Walked into the men’s washroom
early one morning to give it a clean.
Found a man hanging there, dead.

Took out his pocket knife,
cut him down, called for help.

I met him at the station
when he was ninety-three.

He told me all about it,
shrunk in size he did
as he told his story, shrunk

until he was the same size
he was at fourteen.”

Comment:
Another story from Elsie, one of the guides at the McAdam Railway Station and the President of the Macadam Historical Association. A true historian, she is gifted with an uncanny ability to condense a remembered incident into a minimum of poetic words. Thank you, Elsie, for allowing me to access your memory and repeat what you told me. It is an honor and a pleasure to do so.