Where’s Home?

Where’s Home?
by
Jan Fancy Hull

An Open Letter to Jan Hull

Right from the address on the envelope where you gifted me a knighthood, calling me Sir Roger, I was captivated by this package.

I opened it at the Beaver Pond in Mactaquac and started to read as Clare did her daily walk, widdershins round the pond. Alas, I missed the great blue heron flying. Ditto, the osprey and the kingfisher. I heard all about them later.

Only you, Jan, only you. You are truly unique. Your words jump off the page, lean across the table to me, and offer me bread and wine. I do hope that this book is the first of many. Your words brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart.

So many themes that touched me deeply. The loss of language and culture: in this case, French and Gaelic, in my own case Welsh, a forbidden language when I was growing up. It is only now, at an advanced age, that I have started to learn it. What memories it brings back.

The sending of indigenous children to residential schools: in my own case, starting at age six, I was sent away to a series of boarding schools and never escaped until I was 18 years old. Good-bye family and culture: hello loneliness and solitude.

The enforcement of religion, top down, with the vicious punishments that accompanied doubt, unbelief, or non-acceptance. The brutal separation from family, with the whole experience of reintegration into a now-become-foreign world, relocation, loss of roots and culture, the difficulties of not belonging to the new communities.

There is a brighter side too, and I will get to that another day. Meanwhile, congratulations on this book, Jan. May it be the first of many and a delight and revelation to all.

Earth Bounty

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Earth Bounty
by
Victor Hendricken

 The paradox of life: in order to survive, we must consume; by consuming, we create waste; however, we do not see our waste as detritus, but as the product of living. 

Deep beneath earth’s surface, a miner drills a one and one-quarter inch hole eight to twelve feet deep into a rock face that is roughly twelve feet square. The miner repeats his task until the rock face resembles a block of Swiss cheese. Each hole is stuffed with explosive material. Then a blasting cap shaped like a metal matchhead, containing a fuse and trailing a wire pair sheathed in plastic, is gingerly inserted into each hole, buried up to twelve inches inside the explosive.

The miner and his partner (miners always work in pairs) connect the wires from each cap to a common grounded wire. The pair retreats to a safe area stringing out the grounded wire behind them, where they meet up with other pairs of miners waiting for permission from the mine captain to connect the trailing wires to an electrical junction box wired directly to a throw switch on surface. When all miners are assembled, they travel by hoist to daylight, where they hang their personal identification tags on the appropriate tag board confirming they are no longer in the deeps. The board is rechecked and the captain sirens a series of warning alarms and when certain that everyone is safe on surface closes the switch initiating the blast.  All drilled faces explode as one.

The miners hang their work clothes to dry, shower and change into street clothes. Some head home to family; some go to the bunkhouse kitchen; some seek out the comfort of a pub and the company of their workmates. No one is allowed to go underground again until the air is purged of dust and noxious gasses.

A miner drilling into rock containing copper in sulphide, oxide or elemental form is not thinking about copper pots for cooking, or copper wire for electrifying his house, or copper tubing to carry water from well to sink. He is fully engrossed in the task at hand: break the rock into manageable sized pieces and transport it from the deeps to the surface.  He is acutely aware of his dependence on number of feet advanced in the drift today, in the volume of ore bearing rock extracted from the stope.  He gives no thought to the growing piles of waste rock strewn about the nearby surface.

Out on the greenish grey ocean the fisher sets his traps. The location of each cage is identified by a floating coloured buoy.  The day is long and the sea rough.  In nearby locations, trawler lines and weighted nets are released to scavenge the ocean at various depths herding schools of many fish species to a common fate.  Some nets scrape the ocean floor to capture creatures succored there. Occasionally, fishers are forced to overnight on the ocean surface as their prey migrates below to nibble at the bait within the traps, to gather in large schools before the nets.

As each trap is hauled up, emptied and rebaited, the fisher is not thinking about lobster rolls. As he hauls in the bulging net and empties it into the ship’s hold, he is not thinking about blackened cod or fish cakes, sole adamantine or tender filet with baked potatoes and butter.  He is focused on hauling the catch from the deep ocean and filling the ship’s hold; delivering the dead and dying sea animals to the fish plant for processing into human and other food.  He does not count the discarded carcases of species that contaminate his daily catch.

The logger fells another tree, trims the branches and saws the tree into cordwood lengths. He inhales deeply while admiring his day’s work.  Chainsaw in hand, he does not think about houses or furniture.  He does not measure in board feet, nor does he envision dimensional lumber as he hews, stacks and hauls.  He focuses on cords piled, loads counted. Trees are objects to devour, not treasures to be taken.  He does not notice the acres of clear-cut whose topsoil will soon become prey to buffeting winds and torrential rain.

At the end of the day, perhaps on the empty street or in the local pub, the miner’s thoughts may wander to home, to sitting at his wooden table inside his wooden house, to eating a banquet of sautéed fish knowing only the supermarket as the meal’s origin.  At the end of the day, the fisher may walk the dark street from dock to home, peer down an alley dimly lit by doorways leading to cavernous public drinking places. He may wonder at the hidden resources protected by the alley, exposed by the alley. He will not wonder about the light’s source, the tungsten filament in the lamp, or the clinking glasses as he enters the pub.  At the end of the day, the logger will lay down his saw, turn in his axe, enter the pub from the street and take a seat near the alley door. He does not question the source of the fisherman’s platter he is served, nor does he think about the metal in the barroom tables and chairs, nor what goes into making a beer glass.  He marvels at the burnished wooden bar rail, harbours a fleeting image of his chainsaw.

When the three, the miner, the fisher and the logger, by happenstance meet, they do not tell secrets of their trade.  They speak instead of trivia and sports, avoid politics and talk of home. The angry metal teeth on the logger’s saw, the sharply honed edge of his axe, the height and girth of trees felled are no more in mind than the metal and wooden boat into which the fisher loads his catch, than the living, mineralized stope from which the miner draws his bonus.  Each protects his space as surely as a mother holds her child from nosy passers’ by.

Stories of mining pass only between miners; stories of fishing remain solely with fishers; stories of lumbering are wedged into spaces between lumberjacks.  No word is spoken of farmers plowing fields and harvesting crops.

And while we blithely drive our vehicles of iron, steel, copper and zinc, barbecue pink salmon and grey mackerel, slather slabs of butter on thick slices of homemade wheat bread, dance on decks of wood and nails and screws, the miner puts on his slickers and dons his hardhat and lamp; the fisher steps into his waterproof garb and rubber boots; and the logger twice ties his cork boots, sharpens his saw, and shoulders his axe.  The farmer quietly steps into his worn overalls, mounts his high-powered four-wheeled tractor and attacks worn out fields with plow and harrow.

Comment: This morning’s piece by my friend Victor. I publish it here with great pleasure. Victor has a sharp mind and an elegant pen. Hopefully, he will continue writing for me and, always with his permission, I will continue to publish his oeuvre.

Day 23 CV-19

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Day 23 CV-19
Codes and Coding

“Languages: they say that to learn another language is to gain another soul and another set of eyes through which to view the world.” I wrote these words just yesterday [Day 22 CV-22]. The words are mine, but the idea belongs elsewhere. I have borrowed it and adopted it. I would willingly attribute it to a specific author, but I do not know who said it first. I offer my apologies to the to me unknown genius who first spoke these words.

Why codes and coding? A rhetorical question, of course. But codes and coding are the basic elements through which language transfers thought, our thoughts. What is a code? Well, we know all about Morse Code and the elaborate codes through which spies from all countries communicate their needs. A code is a way of converting language, changing it, making it available to those initiated in the code and unavailable to those who have not received such initiation. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

When I was travelling regularly to Spain for research in Spanish libraries, my first port of call was always the local barber shop. I did this for several reasons. In the first place, my Canadian haircut gave me away as a foreigner. This is the hairdresser’s code. The barber’s shop was always the centre of local gossip. Here, buzz words changed hands, politicians were discussed, all the local news was immediately available. Each of these items was a code, a code that made an insider (acceptable) versus an outsider (not to be spoken to). I remember, one summer in Madrid, not getting served in any bar or restaurant. Check haircut: okay. Check shoes: bought new pair. Check shirt, jacket, tie: all up to date. Inspect lucky customers … ah … they are all wearing a shiny brass pin showing the symbol of Madrid: El Oso y el Madroño, the bear and the strawberry tree, as seen in La Puerta del Sol.

The next bar I entered saw me sporting El Oso y el Madroño in my lapel. Qué quiere el señor? Immediate service and with a smile. These are social codes, the codes that include the winks and nudges of the upper class, the secret handshakes and foot positions, the names dropped so gently and quietly that they never shatter when they hit the floor. There are also language codes. Northrop Frye wrote The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, a study of the mythology and structure of the Bible was published in 1982. In this wonderful study, Frye showed how themes and language from the bible have influenced the structure of Western Literature, particularly that written in English. Within this code, names, themes, miracles, parables, psalms form a body of are common knowledge available to all readers who are christian and whose first language is English.

But there are other codes. Think Petracharism. Petrarch’s poetry, originally written in Italian, was widely imitated throughout Europe. Italian literature, Spanish, French, English, all dip into that code, as does Shakespeare among so many others. Think the Great Chain of Being. Shakespeare is incomprehensible in places unless you unlock this particular code. Think Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Stoicism, Existentialism … okay, so all this is academic, and I do not want to lose you in a sea of academia. So think NFL, think NBA, think NHL, think baseball, think cricket, think rugby, think darts, think all of the things we manipulate on a daily basis in our lives and think how they include some people (those who know and share our codes) and exclude others (those who are unaware of them). LBW, c&b,  c. A, b. B, st. A b. B, w, W, b, lb, dec., rsp …

This is a wonderful line of discussion. It follows along the lines of micro-language and macro-language. Macro-language is accessible to all who happen to speak that language. Micro-language in its multidinous forms incarnadine belongs ONLY to those who share the micro community, be it family, household, village, town, county, region … all that is closest and dearest to our micro-hearts.

Time Folds

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Time Folds

Time folds … itself in two or three. A rubber omelet clock, it vanishes over the white water adventure rocks, bending and sliding, folding and unfolding. Riding the waves is ungainly, unseemly. We hang on to ropes, clock edges, reach for outstretched hands, count seconds, minutes, hours, search for meaning …

Further downstream, men and women dance on the bridge at Avignon. Now there are two popes and each one castigates the other, hurling verbal darts, well sharpened, that pierce the thickest of skins. The bridge across the river stands unfinished. It stretches stone hands out towards the other side, but the further shore is distant and the bridge’s fretwork abandons its quest.

Where do we find meaning when seconds, minutes, hours slip down the stream paddled along beside all those hours lost from the clock? Omnia vulnerant, ultima necat: they all wound, but the last one kills. At what time will that final hour suddenly loom and sling its ultimate stone, shoot its outrageous final arrow? Jove’s thunderbolt, sudden, from a cloudless sky? Life’s lead-tipped slingshot and all that we love turned suddenly to hatred? A tremble of the ground beneath our feet? Kangaroos and Koalas burn, setting even more bush ablaze and the smoke from those fires reaches out, out, out, across the bush, across the cities, across the Tasman, across the Atlantic. New Zealand has become the land of the long pink cloud.  Now South America is gifted its grey, smoky monsters of grasping hands, those insubstantial nightmares of our childhood dreams, reaching in from the dark to pluck us from our sleep.

On the unfinished bridge at Avignon, the people still dance. In their papal palaces, the partisan popes still hurl the insults of their hit and missiles. Somewhere, close, was it in the future or will it be in the past, the Black Death lurks, waiting its moment. The Great Fires of London sizzle and stench from 1666 to 1941 while religious partisans burn each others’ homes. The Spanish flu invades the trenches and kills more men than the war will ever manage.

Turn your face to the wall, my darlings, as the gentlemen go by. But what do they bear in their hands, those gentlemen, in their minds, those unsubtle warriors of a crazy game that leads us onward, merrily, merrily, not so gently, down what stream, over what waterfall, and into which of the many perils that lie in wait?

Here

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Comment:

Another photo and poem from this early series (1966) while I still lived in the UK. Like Cervantes, I always wanted to be a poet. Like him, I may always be disappointed by my poetry. However, my beloved has never disappointed me.
This photo was taken at Dodman’s Point, close to where the Spanish Armada was first sighted in 1588. Dodman’s Point / Dead Man’s Point.
In 1988, a computer ran all the tides and all the times of the Armada’s progression up the English Channel, all based on those tides and the annotations of them in the sometimes seemingly haphazard English and the Spanish logs. Seemingly haphazard: because in spite of telling the time by water clocks (clepsidras) and marked candles, and in spite of the ten day calendar difference, and in spite of all the other different differences, these were real sailors and they lived and died according to the tides, the tides that the computer can track, all the way back to 1588, even as it can track the stars and their original positions when Stonehenge was first built in 3500 BCE.
I have stood on the temple mounds in Oaxaca. I have visited Maiden Castle. I have walked on Hengistbury Head and lain in the scrapes of the reindeer people. We underestimate the intelligence of our ancestors and, by extension, of many indigenous people, at our peril. And we over-estimate our own abilities as we destroy the very world in which we live.

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.