Coat of Arms

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I’ve never yearned for a coat of arms. All those advertisements for this and that, DNA tests to prove your ancestry, where your family name comes from, how many famous people were in your past, how many convicts … and the convicts were often poorer family members, wallowing in poverty and forced into theft, money, a loaf of bread,  a chicken, a lamb, some eggs, something to feed the children, to pay the bills … the possibility of blue bloods and royalty outweighed by the probability of some dark skeletons swinging on gallows somewhere in the distant past.

Yet when I got my online advent calendar this year, there was the coat of arms game … make your own coat of arms. So I did. The choices were very limited, not too original, and came with a ‘clan history’ that has absolutely nothing to do with me. A bear and a dog … I can live with those, especially as the bear is apparently my Canadian spirit animal. A Welsh dragon draped round the top of the frame … wrong color and definitely not Y Ddraig Coch, the blood Red Dragon of Wales, but still a symbol I can happily live with. Down below, we have Sun and Moon, the symbol of Oaxaca and title of the first book in the Oaxacan Trilogy (first published in 2000). Unfortunately, I have reversed the symbols to give us Moon and Sun. Oh dear. Such things happen.

Then we have a snowman and a beer tankard. Sounds good to me. I have now lived in Canada for more than fifty years in Canada and I know all about snowmen, and the taste of beer, sometimes mulled, to take away the cold. I am not so sure about ‘my clan’ as I don’t really think that I have one. I feel it is a very foreign term  like Hi there, gang. I can take Robin Hood and his Merry Men, but Roger and his Merry Gang, no thank you, that’s not for me. Sorry. As for ‘throughout the land’, I wonder which land they are referring to: Wales, England, France, Spain, Mexico, Canada … I don’t really feel that any of these stand up as my ‘land’ … except possibly for Canada, and as for Canada, well, this land is enormous. I have certainly visited some of it, but by no means all, and there is so much more to see and hear.

‘In Battle’, well, I have never been in a battle. I dislike violence and fighting, and I cannot imagine how a phrase like that got in there. ‘Fierceness’ same thing, I am as mild as milk and very easy-going. ‘Loyalty’, yes: that’s what the bear and the dog are famed for. ‘Us bears never forget’, or words like it, from the Chronicles of Narnia. Oh dear, there I go … I can hear mother bear now … ‘Stop sucking your paw’.

Seize the day is goodCarpe Diem … but never in battle … in poetry, maybe, or else in gathering old age where every moment of every day seems more and more precious. I wold have preferred Horas non numero nisi serenas, but they didn’t have that one, even though, nowadays particularly, it is the happy hours that I count, and not all of them spent in a local bar, or home alone, with my own beer mug.

 

Catch Up

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Catch up

The mask I wear has strings
attached. Two I have tied,
two more hang down like
pigtails, swaying as I walk.

My tongue pulses round
my mouth in search of
that tooth I cracked, yet
afraid of its sharp-edged scar.

It feels as if I have lost
a part of my life and I am
running in circles looking for it.
I guess I’ll catch up with it
someday, and when I do,
I hope it will know me
and tell me who and what I am.

Meanwhile, the mask clings
heavy to my features
and prompts me in the new
role I must play. My friends
walk past me now
and do not stop to talk.

When I look in the mirror,
I no longer recognize myself.
All my ID is fake. The success
of my disguise fills my empty head
with a sudden sense of shame
and I know the sound of sorrow.

Torticollis

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Torticollis

A sudden crick of the neck and I am back in the chalet at Perines with Trini.

“Torticollis,” she says, raising a hand to her neck, except she says it in Spanish, ‘tortículis’.

She offers me tea, very English, from the Wedgewood tea pot I brought her, all those years ago. Beside her, the Pirate with the Parrot on his Shoulder, my Toby Jug, still stands on guard, and protects my memories.

Orphaned, I was, from England, abandoned on that Spanish shore, and left there all summer to learn the language. Trini taught me how to eat, speak, choose my books and my friends … she had lost a son, same age as me, just after the Civil War, and treated me like her son, returned, like the Prodigal Son I was to all who had sent me away from home to improve my lifestyle and my manners.

Wanted? Unwanted by my family? I wouldn’t know the difference.

In that far-of land, in time and space,  I only knew the loneliness of being lost, marooned in a foreign land, feeling my way, day by day, among foreigners, still foreign, although they took me into their homes and hearts and loved me as I had never been loved before.

Back home, drowsing  at the kitchen table, I doze into my dreams, only to be woken by that beloved voice.

Wistful, I turn my head and glance backwards into that past of sunshine and beaches, where the sun sparkled on hill, sand, and sea and the table cloth was spread on the family table, pure and white, with a dozen of us sitting, talking, smiling, drinking wine, that bottled sunshine that still adorns my dining room table.

“Trini? Is that you?”

Her name slips from my lips as I snap my head towards her voice. As I turn, I twist my neck and raising my hand to the sudden pain, I hear again that word: “¡Tortículis!”

Night Thoughts

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Night Thoughts
(for Tanya Cliff)

The weight of the weather
with its dark clouds pushing
down on my shoulders
bends me to its omnipotent will.

I know my back doesn’t have
the power to lift up my heart
and soar above such heavy clouds.

I need a chariot of fire …
yet the clouds are so strong,
and the light is so weak
it won’t break through,
except in sudden flashes.

I hear the creak of sodden wheels.
Clouds blinker the lightning
as thunder crashes through my brain.

I listen to the pouring down of rain
and pull the bed sheets over my head.

Identity: Wednesday Workshop

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Identity
Wednesday Workshop

5 July 2017

Today’s workshop settles on the question of identity, loss of identity, and the attempt to recover any form of cultural identity that one feels one has lost. These questions are particularly important in the current age when so many differences are so easily erased. Language, culture, identity, music … they are all tied closely together.

The search for identity runs parallel to the search for the poetic voice (or the writing voice) that is so unique to each good writer. In fact, one can distinguish between good writers and lesser writers merely on the basis of voice. Lesser writers rarely establish a distinct voice while good writers usually have voices that are uniquely their own.

What to do we mean by voice? When we read Shakespeare or Miguel de Cervantes we know almost immediately whose work we are reading. The same is true of the great musicians. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, all have sequences and styles that are individual to them, as do Scarlatti, Brassens, The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Gilles Vigneault, Edith Butler … their style, their voice is established. We listen to them and we know who they are.

Cultural identity is also very important. It is tied into language, childhood beliefs, fairy tales, myths, the basic culture that we receive as children. When we all listen to the same radio stations, or download the same ITunes, or watch the same TV programs with their infinity of ad nauseam advertisements, then we are socially engineered to be the same or, if not the same, remarkably similar within a series of very limited and extremely limiting patterns. When we establish our own identities, — and this is always difficult both for people who have had their culture taken from them and for immigrants, or the children of immigrants, who want to retain their culture at the same time as they blend in and fit in socially — then at the same time we develop our own voices.

When I hear the poetry of Lorca, of Antonio Machado, of Miguel de Unamuno, of Octavio Paz, of Dylan Thomas, of Gerard Manley Hopkins, of Wilfred Owen, I hear their very distinctive voices and recognize their individual styles and the cultural / poetic identities that they have established. The goal that we, as writers, are aiming for is to establish our own style, our own voice. To do this, we must listen to ourselves and discover how we think and how we feel. Then we must listen to others of our own generation. We must make comparisons and establish what we do differently, why we are different, what forms our differences … our own individual voice may come from speech rhythms, from language usage, from the establishment of a certain form of narrative, from the use of imagery or metaphor … there are so many different ways in which we are, each of us, different … or capable of being perceived as different.

When we write often enough and frequently enough, we at last begin to recognize those words, those phrases, those rhythms, those ideas, that are ours and nobody else’s. This is when we start to discover our own voices and our own personalities. It is a goal worth striving for … step by step … poco a poco … little by little … and a step forward everyday … until we grow into the type of writer or poet, fully established (or establishing), that we were always meant to be.

It is never easy to capture oneself and place oneself on the page in readable form. It’s a bit like trying to draw Picasso’s blue vase using only one blue pencil: not easy. It’s much easier to take a selfie with a flashy cell-phone.  Cell-phone selfies are easy, but verbal selfies are what we are seeking for. They take much longer to ‘produce’ and it is only when we finally achieve them, that we realize how difficult they are to actually achieve. But remember, read and re-read my earlier postings: don’t give up; don’t get off the bus!