Holly and Hock

Why, hello!

So, the holly hocks are back and this year we have some red ones to go with the lovely yellow ones that reseeded, in a different place, from last year. The red ones are very shy and are hidden away by the back steps where they are very hard to see.

I spy, with my little eye …

The red and green go well together. More a deep, blushing pink, I guess, with very dark centre. You can see the wood of the steps just behind them. I posted this yesterday, incidentally, but the computer munched it and I had to rewrite it today. It has been a slow time for me. The Corona-19 finally got to me, not in the physical sense, but mentally. As a result I have been feeling isolated, trapped, and a little bit depressed. Alas, there are many more like me suffering in today’s world. Luckily, the flowers help. As does the sunshine.

We’re back

Here are the new seeds from last year’s hollyhocks. They are similar in color, but much smaller this first season. They have also shifted location and I have been surprised at how many seedlings have sprouted and started to grow. Next year we may have a bumper crop.

Night Garden

And here we have a painting of the garden at night, flourishing without us, but beneath the stars. “The garden going on without us.” Given the current situation, I prefer the garden going on with us still here to watch it.

Kite

Kite Flying

So light, the kite,
a butterfly in flight.

Breeze battered,
sky-blue shattered.

Children stare
seeing the wing-shape
fluttering there
rising on flimsy air.

Diving, dipping,
nylon cord slipping,
finger-flesh ripping.

Here come others,
children and mothers.

Butterflies, bright,
ready for flight,
fighting wind-might:
a child’s delight.

I didn’t have photos of a kite.
I offer some humming birds instead.
Listen closely:
you can hear them hum.

Keeping Score

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The Score

It’s the old conundrum:
you place one grain of wheat
on the chessboard’s first square,
two on the second,
four on the third.

And so on and so forth,
eight on the fourth,
sixteen on the fifth.
Now close your eyes
and make a wish:
“Let all these pandemic victims go.”

Alas, no.
You must sit and watch them grow:
32, 64, 128,
and that’s the first rank done.
Seven more marching ranks to go.

256, 512, 1014,
Lord above: how many more?
2028, 4056, 8112,
what on earth can people do?
Wash your hands, stay inside,
and hope your best friends
haven’t died.

Doubled again
that’s even more:
16 thousand 224.
Upon this rank
just one more square
sees 32 thousand
lying there.

How many more,
how many more,
and each death ringed
by family and friends.
This week it seems
death’s dance will never end.

Comment: La Calle de la Cruz / Street of the Cross, shown in the above photo, runs past the cathedral of Avila. It is also known locally as La Calle de la Vida y de la Muerte / the Street of Life and Death as it seems duels were sometimes fought there. It seemed an appropriate photo to accompany this poem which speaks of the seeming lottery, with its winning and losing tickets, in which we are all currently involved. The lower photo, incidentally, captures a stone mason’s mark carved into the face of the cathedral in Avila.

When writing the poem, I repeated the numbers naming them with their single digits, thus: 256, 512, 1014 becomes two five six, five one two, one oh one four (line 14). This allowed me to manage rhythm and rhyme. In my mind I always associate  rhyme with reason, but in this current pandemic, I can see very little reason. I guess, as I wrote in one of my earlier poems, ‘there are so many ways to die’. I just hope Corona Virus isn’t one of them. No, I don’t want to live forever, but hell no, I don’t want to die just yet! Keep safe, keep well!

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Fire and Flame

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Fire and Flame

1

The world is on fire.
Someone, somewhere
lit a match.
The world exploded.

A match in the lungs.
the whole world burning.

Someone, somewhere
sneezed into their sleeve.
the world collapsed
in a fit of coughing.

“It isn’t the cough
that carries you off,
it’s the coffin
they carry you off in,”
said the talking head,
scientific boffin.

2

Intelligence, give me
the exact name of things:
corona virus, vaccine,
air that’s pure,
drinkable water,
a new, fresh world
for my daughter
and her daughter.

I wish I could spare them
from all this slaughter.

Comment: The echoes in here are obvious to me, but to how many others? Octavio Paz strolls through the first stanza while Juan Ramón Jiménez patrols the second one. How many people read their poems now? Polvo seco de tesis doctoral / dry dust of a doctoral thesis, as my friend José María Valverde once wrote. He, too, passed and will all too soon be forgotten like the rest. And time: what is it? How does it function? Is it linear or circular and repetitive? It twists and turns, like we did last summer, but not like we’ll do this one. My old arthritic bones will allow me to twist no more. Vingt-et-un, quatre-vingt- et-un: twist and bust. Yet time flows by, like water under Le Pont Mirabeau and days blend into days. 79 days of lock down now, all voluntary, or is it 80? El tiempo aquí no tiene sentido / time is meaningless in here, as my friend and mentor, José Hierro wrote, so long ago. And yes, these memories linger on, as time lingers on, as life lies heavy around us, and time limps by with its lame, old feet, yet looking back, it has raced passed like a spring river in spate. And the leaves are back, and the flowers are coming up, and the spring birds and bees and butterflies are arriving … and, in spite of everything, perhaps even because of it, life is as lovely as it ever was. Keep safe, keep well!

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Lamplighter

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Gas Lamps

When I was very young, a long time ago, in Swansea, many of our streets still had gas lamps.  The lamp-lighter would appear in winter around three or three-thirty to light those lamps. I remember him walking up the street with his long pole over his shoulder, moving from lamp to lamp. We had one outside our front door. He would turn on the gas, then light the lamp from the lighted wick at the end of his pole.  Sometimes he carried a ladder with him. Then, every so often, when the lamp needed tending, he would climb the ladder and adjust the wick. These gas lights were not very bright but they stood out like light houses between stretches of darkness and we would walk from pool to glowing pool, as if they were stepping stones leading us up the hill to home. We all knew the lamplighter and he would often wave to us as we sat in the front room window to watch him walk by. We rarely saw him in the mornings when he came back to turn off the lamps. We were all tucked safely into our beds. I remember that I wanted to be lamplighter. Later I realized that there are many ways to light a lamp and spread brightness through the world. When I grew up, I became teacher, a coach, a faculty adviser, a mentor, a creator, and those roles allowed me to establish myself as a lighter of a very different set of lamps.

 

 

Rain

 

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Rain

rain
song-birds
trilling liquid notes
spring songs
flooding gardens

oh!
competitions
ritualistic rivalries
staking out territories
winter stalwarts
versus
nouveaux venus
with their summer wealth
of well-fed health

everyone competing
for their garden niche
males en garde
guarding each square inch
their earthly paradise
carved in my yard

Comment: They lit up the Mountain Ash as if it were a Christmas Tree, American Goldfinches, twenty-four of them. The rain ran down the window panes and all the photos blurred and distorted. One at each end of the garden, two robins sang. Two pair of Purple Finches, the bright male and the dowdy female, pecked beneath the feeder as the chickadees, siskens, and juncos flitted in and out. The red squirrel scattered the ones in the tree and the grey squirrel ran at and over the ones on the ground. Chaos. And the rain, rain, rain came down, down, until the garden was empty and birds and animals had taken shelter.

 

 

 

 

Biopsy

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Biopsy

Driving home
from the hospital
after the biopsy,
thinking of the indignities
inflicted on my body,
cold, exploratory fingers,
the insertions,
the ardent desire
to say
“Enough,
no more!”

Oh God,
I am so cold.

Fierce winds
push me
along a snow-packed road.

I dream of sunshine
of summer flowers,

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of chipmunks and squirrels,
of bird seed scattered
so others may survive.

I dream of five deer
walking at midnight
through my garden.

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Magic,
their shadows
under moonlight
on the snow.

I skid into a snow bank
and my world shakes in shock.

A thirty-wheeler slithers by:
there are so many ways to die.

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Comment: Was it really only five years ago that I wrote those lines? I hadn’t even started this blog back then. So much melted snow, so much water under so many bridges. I look back at my journal and read that on April 1, 2020, in the USA, there were 3,800 dead from Covidis and 300,000 people affected. This morning, when I got up, those figures were higher, much higher: 63,019 dead and 1,070,032 affected. What a difference a month makes, let alone five years.

Affected, such a silly word when each individual person that these figures represent is, or was, a living, thinking, loving, human being, with an extended network of family and friends, each one of whom is in turn affected by the loss or sickness of a group member, be it a brother, a child, a sister, a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, or just a friend …  just a friend, another silly thing to say, as if just friends were not important, collateral damage, so to speak … and now, throughout our world, in macrocosm and in microcosm, we are, each one of us affected, in one way or another. Here in New Brunswick, Canada, we wash our hands, we wear masks, we stay home as much as possible, we maintain distancing when we go out on essential errands … I know it is different in other parts of Canada, and of the world, but we are all affected, and some so much more than others.

So, wherever you are, whoever you are, be strong, be brave, dance when and if you can, sing to yourself, sing for your family and friends, reach out to others, and above all take care of each other and survive. 

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My heart and these words go out to you: Byddwch lawen a chadwch eich ffyd a gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd / be joyful, keep your faith, and do the small things in life as Dewi Sant, St. David of Wales, a real person, is said to have said, almost 1500 years ago.

Last Dance

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Last Dance

The shy lady in the corner,
body withered by cancer,
stands up to dance.

She bows to the band
then floats into movement.

Dancing alone she clings
to the empty air as she
once clung to her man.

Nymphs and shepherds play
sweet music at midnight in this
room turned sacred grove.

Her dance-steps are a draught
of joyous water from the fount
of eternal youth and lasting love.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie pulled out of the magic hat of a forgotten manuscript. Such a joy to rediscover these things. Draught is the English form of American draft, incidentally, as in draught cider. I hate how my spell-checker corrects my spelling, even when it is correct. Wednesday was dance night in the hospice. At seven o’clock a band would arrive and set up at one end of the dining room. Tables were cleared away and chairs placed in rows so that patients could sit and listen or move onto the dance space that awaited them. This one old lady, shy and very much worn down by her treatment, stood up when the last dance was called and floated in an ethereal space that was hers and hers alone. The other patients stood around in a circle and applauded as she danced  and the band played on and on until everyone was dancing and the room was filled with joy and forgetfulness. Such is human strength, even in the face of apparent and imminent disaster. Dance on, my friends, dance on.

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Bleeding Heart

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Bleeding Heart

White moths
wing their snowstorm,
pale stars through the night.

A candle flickers in the darkness.
Hands reach out to grasp me.
A feathered shadow flies
frail fingers across my face.

Butterflies
stutter their eye-lash kisses
against closed cheeks.

Awake,
I lie anchored by what pale visions
fluttering on the horizon?

Eye of the peacock,
can you touch what I see
when my eyelids close?

Black rock of the midnight sun,
blocking this day’s dark cave,
when will I be released
from my daily bondage?

Last night, the planet
quivered beneath my body
as I felt each footfall of a transient god
who mapped in runes
the ruins of my bleeding heart.

 

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Comment: Another Golden Oldie, also dug out from the rejection / dejection of striations. I tinkered with it this morning. Funny what a shift in structure and a twitching of the metaphors will do. New lamps for old: indeed, and why not? We are not just writers, we are re-writers and some thoughts can be reworked to rise again in the shadows of the adopted children that are our poems. This bleeding heart plant vanished a couple of years ago. We dug up the flowerbed, inserted a rockery, and watched and waited. After two years, the bleeding heart plant resurrected itself from within the stones. Survival, renewal, faith, hope: key words nowadays. Who locked that plant down? Who let it rise up again? When we have gone, how will our gardens get on without us? Very well, in all probability, but they may be more of a tangled garden than a cultivated one. And what’s wrong with a tangled garden? Why, nothing at all, my friends, absolutely nothing at all.

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