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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Lost

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Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
rule over them all. Your shadow dances on walls.
in mirrors, and your breath brushes my cheek

every time I open doors or windows. That silly cat
looks for you and hisses when I bring her kibble.
I walk from room to room, but when I seek you,

you are no longer here. I knock, nothing opens.
Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I know
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.

Sometimes your voice’s echo breaks the silence.
You whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,

that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,
the days, embracing dust motes to find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.

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Comment: A Golden Oldie. I wrote this some time ago while my beloved was in Ottawa visiting our daughter. Separation is such a strange thing: an absence, yes, but also a presence in the tiniest details and the most unsuspected moments. And then there is the dream world where things join together, and then fall apart. This poem has so much more meaning in a time like this when so many people are separated and can no longer be together. Time … I have written about it before … passes. Hopefully, families and friends will be reunited once more, the sooner the better. In the meantime, we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. Chadwch eich fydd / Keep your faith, as St. David, the patron saint of Wales is said to have said circa 500, byddwch lawen / be joyful, and gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bwywd / do the little things in life.

With my angel

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… with my angel …

            … with my angel … face to face … the one I have carried within me since the day I was born … the black-one … winged like a crow … the one that hovers over me as I lie asleep … the one who wraps me in his feathered wings when I am alone and chilled by the world around me … the one who flaps with me on his back when I can walk no further … the one who creates the single set of footprints that plod their path through the badlands when I can walk no more …

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… ‘the truth’ my black angel says to me … I say ‘he’ but he is a powerful spirit, not sexed in anyway I know it … and yet I think of him as ‘he’ …awesome in the tiny reflection he sometimes allows me to glimpse of his power and glory … for, like Rilke, I could not bear meeting his whole angelic being face to face … as I cannot bear the sun, not by day, and not in eclipse … not even with smoked glass … when earthly values turn upside down and earth takes on a new reality … wild birds and bank swallows roosting at three in the afternoon … and that fierce heat draining from the summer sky … I remember it well … and the dog whimpering as a portion of the angel’s wing erased the sun until an umber midnight ruled … a simple phenomenon, the papers said … the moon coming between the earth and the sun …but magic … pure magic … to we who stood on the shore at Skinner’s Pond and sensed the majesty of the universe … more powerful than anything we could imagine … and the dog … taking no comfort from its human gods … whimpering at our feet …
… I saw a single feather floating down and knew my angel had placed himself between me and all that glory … to protect me … to save me from myself … and I saw that snowflake of an angel feather bleached from black to white by some small trick of the sunlight … and knowledge filled me … and for a moment I felt the glory … the magnificence … and there are no words for that slow filling up with want and desire as light filters from the sky and the body fills with darkness … and I was so afraid … afraid of myself … of where I had been … of where I was … of what I might return to … of my lost shadow … snipped from my heels …
… I don’t know how I heard my angel’s words … ‘the time of truth is upon you’ … ‘all you have ever been is behind you now’ … ‘naked you stand here on this shore … like the grains of sand on this beach … your days are numbered by the only one who counts’ … I heard the sound of roosting wings … but I heard and saw nothing more … I felt only midnight’s cold when the chill enters the body and the soul is sore afraid …
… ‘it is the law’ my angel said … I saw a second feather fall … ‘and the law says man must fail … his spirit must leave its mortal shell and fly back to the light’ … ‘blood will cease to flow … the heart will no longer beat … the spirit must accept and go’ … ‘do not assume… nobody knows what lies in wait’ … ‘blind acceptance … the only way … now …  in this twilight hour …  now when you are blind … only the blind shall receive the gift of sight’ … ‘all you have … your wife … your house … your car … your child … everything you think of as yours … I own … and on that day … I will claim it from you and take it for my own … now I can say no more’ …
… the sea-wind rose with a sigh and one by one night’s shadows fled … the moon’s brief circle sped from the sun … light returned, a drop at a time, sunshine flowing from a heavenly clepsydra filled with light …
… birds ceased to circle … a stray dog saw a sea-gull and chased it back to sea … and the sun … source of all goodness … was once again a golden coin floating in the sky …
… on my shoulder a feather perched … a whisper of warmth wrapped its protective cloak around my shoulders … for a moment, just a moment, I knew I was the apple of my angel’s eye … and I hoped and still hope that one day I might meet him again and understand …

Comment: An article on Marcus Aurelius in this morning’s paper made me think of this piece that I wrote, way back when, in the days when I was studying Francisco de Quevedo and the Neo-Stoic movement, courtesy of my good friend and colleague Henry Ettinghausen. “The day we were born we took our first steps on the road to death,” Quevedo wrote in one of his poems. With my angel is my own Neo-Neo-Stoic attempt to come face to face with that very personal reality, one which we all face, and to stare it down, eyeball to eyeball. Alas, in these troubled times, we must confront the knowledge that troubled times have been here before, that other generations have suffered them, and luckily, other generations have survived. We wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t. As another good friend, of mine Victor Hendricken, wrote on this blog just yesterday: “We continue to live on between inhale and exhale; we continue to live on between intake and exhaust, food and faeces. And in this time of self-isolation, we still abide by many of the same personal rules, including morning ablutions, setting and shutting off the alarm. Chin up, old boy. This too shall pass.” I found these words from Victor very comforting. With friendship, solid advice, and the ability to learn from those who have gone before us how to confront difficult times, this too shall pass.

Settling Accounts

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Settling Accounts

How did I earn my money? Let me count the ways.
Of madmen, priests and preachers, I sang the praise,
sinners all who tried to change my ways
by grooming me in all their awful styles
to share the sadistic rhythms of their wiles.

Then there were bosses, CEOs, and chief execs,
whose aim in life was troubling their employees,
the men for unpaid work, the women for sex,
and while we slaved, they lived a life of ease.

Senior teachers, department heads, and deans
reduced all genius to counting and recounting beans.
Those bean counters checking up on us, every hour,
flexing their muscles, overwhelming us with power.

Sometimes, at night, my nightmares fill with screams
as their abuse and privilege shake me from my dreams,
my dreams of freedom, sharing, caring, love, and joy,
all the small things I’d taken for granted when a boy.

In a twisted, corkscrew world we all must live
where the richest rob the poorest who work and give.
And even more shall be given to those who hold
while those who have-not labor and are sold.

A sad world this, but some things remain with me:
my power to dream, to create a legacy,
to mold still willing people with my voice,
to gift them beauty, thought, and power of choice.

Oh dreamers, join with me and sing, be it high or low,
but don’t forget your dreams, don’t ever let them go.

Comment: I went to pick up groceries today and sat in line, waiting in the car, rear hatch open, for 30 minutes. Unwilling to waste my time, I decided to write a poem. Oh dear: I had left my note book at home. I rummaged around the car and found a redemption slip from two years ago and a bank slip from last year. I wrote two poems, one on each of them, each poem thematically linked to the slip of paper it was written on. This is the bank slip poem. I’d say “Enjoy” except that this is what the waiter / waitress says each time s/he places a particularly unpalatable meal before me. Luckily this cannot happen anymore and I am eating delightfully well at home, thank you. I am not a Cordon Bleu Chef by any means, but I am a good one, having learned at my Welsh Grandmother’s knee when I was a tiny tot. Supper tonight: salmon and leek and potatoes! Cost: about $5. It would have cost fifty in a restaurant and it would have been half as good. So count your blessings: cooking and creativity are two of mine and yes, every time I look at what I have and see what so many others are missing … I break my heart.

 

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Beaver Pond

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Beaver Pond at Mactaquac
for my beloved 

Beaver Pond, Mactaquac, on a fine spring day:
so sad to sit here knowing you can no longer
walk the trail. I remember the sun on your hair,
white, a flag of surrender to old age besieging
your mind and body. It cannot be seen on the board
walk where you stopped to commune with newts,
frogs, birds, fish, ducks, and the great blue heron
you disturbed. Remember? He rose from the reeds
with an anguished cry and a crack of mighty wings.

The wind in Island View is chill today, not a day
for walking in the wild. Monday: men arrive in a truck
and haul our garbage away. So much detritus,
such a mess at the roadside as winter ends and spring
brings thoughts of freedom to roam beyond spells
of ice and snow. Memories: I pack them into a green
green plastic bag and stuff them in the dustbin.

I want to be free. I want you to be free. I want to sit
and watch you wander, like you did last summer
contemplating the multiple meanings of grass, sun,
bird-song, herons, ospreys, beavers, their lodge,
this dam they constructed, this pond in which
they swim, nocturnal creatures, who live far away
from this lock-down and from our silent visits banned.

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Daffodils

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Daffodils

My daffodil day-dreams carry me back to Wales, that Land of Song where every valley conducts choirs of daffodils and their pale, brass voices are raised in an annual springtime hymn of hope. Beneath the trees, in Bishopston Valley, between Pyle Corner and Pwll Ddu, sheltered bluebells tinkle sweet tunes, lilies-of-the-valley bloom, and primroses raise their faces to the sky while hearkening to those springtime airs that sound where’er you walk. In Blackweir Gardens, the Feeder Brook flows into the castle moat and the castle’s central keep stands on the mound the Normans dug when they converted into a motte and bailey the old Roman camp that was built on an earthworks constructed by the Silures long before that countenance divine shone forth upon these clouded hills and long before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode. Generation after generation, all those who witnessed the birth of these flowers and strove to be the first to hear the cuckoo’s call, come alive again in this floral tribute. Oh, Land of Song: the bluebells may have gone, the larks may sing no more, cuckoo and cowslip may have fled the valleys, but all is not lost, not while the daffodils still toss their heads in sprightly dance and spring breaks out its freckled sunshine.

Comment: Win some, lose some. Survival is all. At the same time as I mourn everything  that is lost, I also celebrate all that survive. The grosbeaks have left us, moving further north as the weather warms. They have left more room for cardinals and hummingbirds have moved in to replace them, as have turkey vultures. Turkey Vultures, Zopilote, The Trickster, in Oaxaca, the bird that flew high up into heaven, stole the fire of the gods, and brought it back on his wings, now flies over the St. John River Valley, having moved up here with the warmer air from the south.

“The olde order changeth lest one good custom should corrupt the world” … indeed it does. And we must mourn and celebrate the olde order while preparing for, and celebrating, the arrival of the new. For the world has changed and is changing as I sit here and type these words and it will have twitched and changed again by the time you read them. Who knows exactly what is coming? How do we prepare for the unknown? How do we open our arms and embrace an uncertain future? Good questions all. I cannot answer them for anyone but myself, but I must ask them. Many of them were discussed today by Suzanne Moore in an article entitled: The way we once lived is now redundant. We must reinvent ourselves. Read it and start thinking about how we can be strong, daring, caring, and best prepare ourselves, not for our own extinction, but for our own reinvention.

 

 

Southern Platform

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Comment: The wind that whistles through Island View today carries snowflakes and ice pellets that pitter-patter across the window. The wind brought in clouds, grey wisps of drapery that curtained the sky. When the wind falls silent, the trees continue to wave and thereby fan the air into action and the wind starts up again. Yellow sunshine, warmth, the sun in Mexico, in Oaxaca, in Monte Alban where the danzantes dance in stone and my friends and I wander at will among sunshine and shadow. On grey days like these when I crave the sun, I conjure images of Oaxaca, its warmth and its mysteries of mescal, that early-morning spinner of inner myths, word music, and magic metaphors.

Sounds of Music

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Sounds of Music

Sounds of music everywhere, and in Cardiff now the black weir gurgles with laughter as you stride along. Gravel crunches in rhythm with your footsteps and the song birds invent new ways of singing their same old courting songs. Nesting birds pair up and sing about the joys of nesting. Beneath the trees, the Daffodils – Taffodils sway to the wood wind’s delicate fluting. A lace of golden lover’s hair, they curtain the sky above you as you climb the embankment, up and up, until the River Taff flows beneath you. Black and swift and deep and swollen with the last of the winter rains, the river surges along, its face freckled with sunshine.  The Taff, they say, cradles, as it murmurs its own sweet river song, the finest coal dust from the Rhondda Valleys and carries it out to be reborn in the sea. Here, in the river, fish and eels swim eyeless, so the fishermen say, as they gesticulate with brimming eyes and empty hands, weaving with hollow wind words mystical stories of the mythical salmon that were hooked, but lived to swim another day.

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Comment: A crazy cartoon with a stick man dancing to music that occurs just off the screen at the side of the page. He dances unseen, unheard, as the deer dance at midnight, on their hind legs, reaching for bitter berries wintering on the mountain ash, as the sunlight dances when speckled trout rise to snap at flies, as my heart dances when my beloved walks into the room and lights my world with a smile. Spring in Wales: so far ahead of us as we languish here, on Canada’s East coast, hoping that last night’s minus temperatures will stagger to zero and then surge upwards into plus and double plus. Meanwhile, the grey squirrel chases away the red squirrel who frightened away the chipmunk, my beloved’s pet chipmunk for whom she put out the early morning seed to comfort him on this fresh frosty morning with its chill wind dancing between still-barren trees.

Lamplighter

 

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Lamplighter

When I was very young, 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 qualified as an academic and a teacher, I became a lighter of a very different set of lamps.

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Comment: I discovered this prose poem in an old and dusty manuscript. I can’t even remember when I wrote it. Prose poems: I discovered Charles Baudelaire’s Petits Poèmes en Prose in a small bouquiniste along the banks of the Seine when I studied French in Paris during the school year I spent in France, 1962-63. I have always loved his prose poems and I have always wanted to write some of my own. That I did, and then promptly forgot about them, is one of the wonders of my creative life. How could I forget these creations? Funny: reading what I wrote back then takes me straight into the front room in my grandmother’s house in Brynmill. She would sit in the bay window playing eternal games of patience and together we would eat grapes, peep at the cards, wait, we didn’t know for what, and watch the light slowly fade. Nobody ever told me my grandmother had cancer. She died from it one day when I was away at school and when I came home for the holidays, she just wasn’t there. Her chair and her table were still there, but her warm presence, her loving kindness, had all gone. I never had a chance to properly say good-bye to her. Maybe these belated words will serve that purpose.