Face to Face

 

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Face to Face

Such a lovely phrase and so suggestive of so many things.  “I turned a corner and there was my wife [daughter, cousin, mother, mother-in-law, very best friend, fiancée, all with so much potential] face to face with a complete stranger.” “The bull loomed out of the early morning mist, and they we were, face to face, the bull between me and the gate, and me with a broken stick in my hand.” [Actually happened. Mushrooming with my grandmother. I was about 8 years old.]  “They lay there, face to face.” [I do like the possibilities inherent in that one.] “If I have something to tell you, I’ll say it to you, face to face. If you have something bad to say about me, tell me now, face to face, and stop spreading rumors behind my back.” [Loads of potential here, too.]

If the longest journey begins with that first step, how many stories begin with that first sentence, and how many works can we write when once we have made that first verbal foot-print. “In a place in New Brunswick, whose name I have no wish to recall …” [Don Quixote, slightly adapted.] “She was the worst of friends, she was the best of friends …” [Charles Dickens, after his emigration to Toronto … hey, it could have been a man … he … he … or should that be hee, hee!]

Such potential in words. So much potential in a cliché turned upside down and inside out. Language waiting to make friends with us, needing our company, and us, alone in the world when we lose or forget our relationships with words. I looked up and found myself face to face with HOW and WHY?

Face to Face.  Go on, click on the link. You know you want to. Whatever could be just a click away, waiting to meet you, face to face.

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Bubbles

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Commentary:

Words and images: pictures in the words and a sharp, black line severing the pictures. Solombra, in Octavio Paz’s words, the razor-sharp line between sun and shade. Breathe in the bubbles as they surge through the child’s wire ring. Rise with them as they float heavenwards, up to the cathedral roof, its spire, the blue sky beyond. When did you last feel this free? Shake out those cares, those worries, inhale, breathe deep, feel the sunlight bubbling through your veins, bringing you back to life, renewing your creativity. Go on, do it. You know you want to. More important, you know you need to. Those grey concrete streets have been wearing you down for too long. Gaze at flowers. Feel the trunk of a tree. Snuggle up to an alpaca. Grow a hollyhock in your garden. You haven’t got a garden? Buy a potted geranium and keep it in your house, summer and winter, your life-long friend and reminder that there are some things much more important than the daily toil. And YOU are one of them.

Friday is Fish …

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Friday is Fish

There was nobody at the fish stall. I stood and waited. Then another customer, a young lady, arrived. We stood and talked together.
“Is nobody serving?” she asked.
“Nope,” I said. “Ain’t seen nobody.”
“Maybe we should ask?”
“Ask away. Won’t do any good.”
“Excuse me, young man …” a store assistant rushed past, paying no attention. I stood there playing my invisible violin.
“Excuse me, miss, is anyone …” same result, store assistant vanished into the distance.
“What’s that, over there?” I pointed. The young girl turned to look, and as she did, I placed finger and thumb between my lips and let out a shrill, piercing whistle. The young lady turned to look at me, half smiling, half shocked.
“Was that you?” I asked her and she started to laugh.
Within seconds three store assistants, two men and a woman, came over at a canter.
“You two go,” the woman assistant said. “I can look after this.” She put on a pair of plastic gloves.
“Do you have any halibut cut?” I asked her. “Or do you have to slice the big one?” I pointed to the huge halibut that lay stone cold dead, trying to hide in the ice cubes. The assistant ignored me and turned to the young lady.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“He’s first,” the young lady pointed at me and the assistant scowled as I repeated my question.
“There is some on the fish counter waiting to be cut. How much do you want?”
“About half a pound,” I answered. “Please.”
“About this thick?” She gestured with forefinger and thumb.
“Looks good.”
She walked behind the fish counter, picked up a knife and started to hack. It looked as though nothing was happening.
“This knife is dull,” she announced. “Excuse me I’ll just be a moment. I’ll go get another one,” she hurried off in the direction of the meat counter.
“A dull knife?” the young lady raised her right eyebrow and lowered her left one.
“Can’t say I’ve ever met an intelligent knife,” I smiled back.
The assistant came back a minute later brandishing an even larger knife. She again attacked the halibut, once more with no visible effect. She muttered something and rushed off again, returning with a large hammer. She held the knife in one hand and started banging downwards on the back of the blade with the hammer that she held in the other.
“Are you actually going to eat that?” The young lady looked worried.
“Not the bits she’s hitting with a hammer,” I said.
“I’m off. They must have some frozen fish somewhere. I’ll go find it.”
Five minutes, the assistant held up a halibut steak, bone in.
“I’ll take it,” I said. “Thank you so much. I’m sorry to have put you to all that trouble.”

When I arrived home my beloved met me at the door.
“Okay,” she said. “What happened?”
“I’ve brought you a lovely bit of halibut,” I said.
“That’s great. Now come in, dear and tell me all about it.”
So I did.

Dies Irae

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Dies irae

Nowhere has she found peace, save
in the dregs at the bottle’s bottom.
She solves life’s dilemmas with single
malt or grape’s blood fresh-plucked.

Doctors tell her that she must stop drinking,
not stoop to conquer yet another bottle.
The remedies they suggest will never suit her.
Family and friends lecture her in vain. 

She knows she will not live forever,
that one day a higher power will call.
So she opens another bottle of Scotch,
just a drop before she goes. She falls

to the floor, and lies asleep. Three still
born babies cover her with their love
to keep her warm. “Sleep well,” they say,
“you’ll find greater peace in eternity.”

Commentary: Another poem that was not easy to write. The last line is a tribute to Seamus Heaney and his poem, Yellow Bittern, the inspiration for this one. “You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity.” In the literary theory of Intertextuality, texts talk to texts and a series of interlaced textual dialogs move across time and space. Hablo con mis ojos a los muertos, I speak through my eyes with the dead, as Francisco de Quevedo said in the 17th century. He was reading Seneca, another great writer born in Spain, when he wrote those words.
I restructured this poem three times. I began, following Seamus Heaney, with the first person singular [I]. Then I changed it to the second person singular [you], but you, in English, can never approximate to the intimacy of tu [versus vous] in French, or the multiplicity of [versus usted, vosotros, vosotras, ustedes} in Spanish. Finally I settled on the third person and settled on she [rather than he]. I guess when  a woman loses three children, she is entitled to lose herself in a bottle of Scotch and shut out the world.

Flower-power

 

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Flower-power
or
Why should the young kids have all the fun?

So it’s children’s day at the local supermarket. As I push my shopping cart through the door, I see the face-painter with a young girl sitting before her, getting her face painted. Behind the willing victim, several young children wait, shuffling their feet in expectation. I go out to the car park, unload my cart, and push it back to the supermarket.
As I park my cart, I see that the line-up has disappeared and the face-painter sits alone, cleaning her brushes. I walk up to her table and ask “How much?”
“It’s free,” she tells me. “It’s children’s day.”
“Will you paint my face?” I ask her.
“You’re not a child,” she looks at me in astonishment.
“No, I’m not,” I reply, “but I’m in my second childhood.”
I pull out the chair and sit down.
“I’ve got some photos on my phone, or I can try and paint whatever you would like. Would you like to see some pictures?”
“No, thanks. Just  look at me and paint what you think I would like.”
“What are your favorite colors?” she looks at me and smiles.
“I don’t have any favorite colors, but I always avoid green, yellow, and gold.”
“Oh, well, how about a nice flower?”
“Great!” I say.
One of the trolley boys who return the shopping carts in great convoys walked by.
“You need a mirror,” he says, “so people can see themselves.”
“Great idea, stay here, I’ll go and get one.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got a mirror in the car. I’ll have a look when I get there. Meanwhile, it’s a surprise. I’ll put a photo up on my blog when I get home.”
“Promise?”
“I promise.”

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I gave her my blog address and I kept my promise. Unlike many people I know, I usually do.

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Commentary: with many thanks to Emily, the face-painter, who treated my second-childhood with humor and dignity. As I said to her at the time, ‘why should the young kids have all the fun?”

 

Sheep

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Sheep                               

Wales is whales to my daughter
who has only been there once on holiday,
very young, to see her grandparents,
a grim old man and a wrinkled woman
who wrapped her in a red shawl
and squeezed her and hugged her
till she cried herself to sleep
lunging for lack of space and air,
suffocating in a straitjacket
of warm Welsh wool so tightly bound.

So how do I explain the sheep?
They are everywhere, I say.
On lawns, in gardens. I once knew
a man, a friend of my father’s,
whose every prize tulip was devoured
by a sheep, one single sheep
who sneaked into the garden
on market day when they left the gate ajar.

Sheep are everywhere, I say, everywhere.
I remember riding on a passenger train
and seeing sheep leering like tourists
peering from dark coal wagons travelling
God knows where and bleating
fiercely as we passed them by.

In Wales, I say, sheep are magic.
When you travel to Paddington
on the train, just before you leave Wales
at Severn Tunnel Junction,
you must lean from the carriage window
and loudly call “Good morning, Mister Sheep!”
and if the one you greet looks up,
why, provided you’re good and quiet
for the rest of the journey,
your mum and dad will buy you
something nice in London.

My daughter shows disbelief. And “Look
at that poster there:” I say, “a hillside
of white on green, and every sheep
as still as a stone,
and each white stone a roche moutonnée.”

Commentary: I couldn’t find a Welsh sheep in my photo collection, so I used this photo of Pre-Columbian Incan sheep substitutes instead. Llamas is probably a Freudian slip or a typo for lambs. See: there’s reason for everything and a link between all things, even llamas, vicuñas, and alpacas, like this pair from Kingsbrae Garden Barber Shop Shorn Quartet. The other two from the Barber Shop Alpaca Quartet are around somewhere. I’ll go and look. Ah yes, here they are. Listen carefully, and you may hear them sing.

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Call Girl

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Call Girl
McAdam Railway Station 1

“She came down from Montreal
to look after all the railway workers.
We called her the Call Girl.”
The men in the room sit up
and pay attention. The women
look rather expectant.

“She was a great worker,
performed her duties willingly.
Up at four in the morning,
out into the streets,
knocking on the men’s doors,
waking them up for work
with her morning call.

We called her the Call Girl
because it was her vocation.
she was called to call.”

Comment:
I visited McAdam Railway Station last week, a Canadian National Heritage Site. The guides who were there, many of them members of the local historical society, were well-versed in tales of the station and the people who used to pass through there. I listened to their words with great care, admiring the quality of their images and speech, the terseness and accuracy of their words. This sequence of poems is based upon those people, excellent guides and raconteurs in the best sense of the word. These are their words, not mine, and with their permission, I am posting their stories here. The first poem was spoken by Elsie. Thank you so much, Elsie, for allowing me to share your words. Click this link to the McAdam Railway Station site if you want to see some great photos and read about the history of the McAdam Railway Station.