Basil decided he liked beer, especially in small tins. The news says that many teddy bears have become addicted to alcohol in the course of the pandemic. What the Strolling Roans call Teddy’s little helper, or Basil’s in this case. I do hope he’s all right.
Basil swears he likes cats. “Look,” he says. “She’s reaching out to me.” I am worried that she’s coming to give him a nasty scratch. Am I worried? Of course I am. I thought Basil was a tee-tee-tee-total bear. I think he’s trying to break in.
Suddenly, I am not so sure. I think he has been talking, in secret, with one of my friends, whose name we will not mention. Couldn’t be him. How could he talk when … (comment removed by MI6, or equivalent).
“Meeting her, unexpected, with another man, and me, with another woman, all four of us looking bemused by what the other had chosen in each other’s absence — suspense and silence — then the halted, faltering politeness of a nod, a handshake, ships passing in the night, signals no longer recognized.”
Angel Choir (on seeing the Northern Lights at Ste. Luce-sur-mer) Sonnet
Listen to the choristers with their red and green voices. Light’s counterpoint flowering across this unexpected son et lumière, we tremble with the sky fire’s crackle and roar.
Once upon another time, twinned with our heavenly wings, we surely flew to those great heights and hovered in wonderment. Now, wingless, our earthbound feet are rooted to the concrete. If only our hearts could sprout new wings and soar upwards together.
The moon’s phosphorescent wake swims shimmering before us. The lighthouse’s finger tingles up and down our spines. Our bodies flow fire and blood till we crave light, and yet more light. We fall silent, overwhelmed by the celestial response.
When the lights go out, hearts and souls are left empty. Leaving the divine presence is a gut-wrenching misery. Abandoned, hurt and grieving, we are left in darkness.
Comment: The Spanish mystics, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila, wrote, in the sixteenth-century, about the ‘dark night of the soul’. That dark night also arrives when the communion with the spiritual finishes and the communicants are left alone, in their loneliness, abandoned to their earthly selves. To leave the divine presence is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching misery. To turn from the marvels of nature can produce lesser, but still deeply moving feelings of grief and sadness. The secret is to preserve that joy and to carry it with us always, warm, in our hearts. Doing so makes the pain of separation much more bearable.
When I wait for words to come and they refuse, I know that silence is golden and spreads its early morning sunlight across the breakfast table where yellow butter melts on hot toast.
Light from the rose window in Chartres once spread its spectrum over my hands and I bathed in its speckled glow.
My fingers stretched out before me and I was speechless, for in such glory, mortal things like words cease to flow.
So much can never be said even if it is sensed: fresh coffee, poutine à pain, bread baking, flowers bursting into bloom, the sense of immanent beauty that fills me each time my beloved enters the room.
I thought for a moment that, yes, I was an angel and I was dancing on a pinhead with so many other angels, and all of us butterflies spreading our wings with their peacock eyes radiant with joy and tears spark -ling in time to the music that wanders up and down and around with inscrutable figures held spell-bound in a magic moment … and I still feel that pulsing in my head, that swept up, heart stopping sensation when the heavens opened and the eternal choir raised us up from the earth, all earthbound connections severed and all of us held safe in an Almighty hand.
What’s in a name? At the Farmer’s Market there are fourteen puppies in a cardboard box. One of the puppies, still blind, clambers whimpering over the side of the box and totters toward me. An elderly lady picks him up, thrusts him towards me and says: “Here: he’s your dog. He wants to be with you!” “No way, Lady!” I say and turn away. When I exit the market, I walk past the dog box. There are five dogs left but the one that wandered in my direction has gone. The salesman calls out to me: “Hey you!” He walks towards me. “That woman said you’d be back for your dog. Here: take him!” He unzips his coat, and there’s the dog, snuggled against his chest. “When was he born?” I ask. “January 16!” comes the reply. January 16 is my birthday. Today is March 8, the anniversary of my mother’s death. The dog is 53 days old, much too young to leave his mother. When I get home, my wife tells me to take the dog straight back to the market. “I can’t do that!” I say. “The man will be gone by now.” “But we don’t know anything about the dog!” “I’ll clean up after it.” I say. “I’ll feed it and train it.” “You’ll have to put it in a cage.” She tells me. “I’m not having it peeing and pooping all over the floor. You know why they’re called poopies.” Later that evening, I force the little puppy into the old dog’s crate, and I retire to bed. No sooner have I gone upstairs than there’s an unholy noise from the kitchen. “Help me!” I say to my wife. She laughs. “Not a chance! You know the rules!” Down in the kitchen the puppy is in distress. I take him out of his cage and he waddles and wags and promptly pees. I clean up after him and wonder what to do. The cage isn’t a solution. There’s no box in which to put him and any form of captivity, like a board across the door or a baby’s gate, sets him howling again. I gather my sleeping bag and a couple of cushions and I lie down on the kitchen floor. He immediately snuggles up to me, finds my finger, and sucks on it. I get up off the floor, make my way to the fridge, open the door, and pour a glass of milk; for the rest of the night, every time the dog gets restless, I stick my finger into the milk and the dog sucks my finger. I spend the next week doing this. While I’m lying on the floor, I study the dog. “What is your name?” I ask him constantly. Then, one night, as I watch him bounce across the room towards my milky finger, I know what to call him. “Tigger!” If I had waited another week, I might have called him Pooh! Tigger never leaves me. He is like an orphaned duck who follows the first human being who feeds it. Tigger follows me around the house with his nose behind my knee and if I stop suddenly, he bumps into me. My wife has started to call me Dada Duck. I now call her Mother Duck and our daughter has been renamed Baby Duck. Tigger has a second name: Dada Duck Dog. We have a little corner piece on our lot where the roads join and all the dogs stop, including mine. I went out there one day and put up a large sign with “Pooh Corner!” written on it. Beside it I placed an arrow which points “To the house!” All the children on the block love Tigger. When he came home, he weighed 6 pound and covered six tiles. Full grown, he weighs 110 pound and covers 108 tiles! He is gentle and well-behaved and everyone adores him. Some of the children want to buy a little saddle and ride on him, he is certainly big enough, but I won’t let them do that. The children on the block now call me Christopher Robin. At Christmas, they bring me pots of honey. As eleven years went by, Tigger grew old and slow. He developed cancer and had arthritis. On fine days he was fine, but on damp days he could hardly place one foot in front of the other. He had difficulty climbing the stairs and would sleep for hours rising only for his morning and evening walks and his food. Yesterday, el cinco de mayo, at 12 noon, Tigger passed away. Today, there is a little white cross at the corner of our lot. The children have laid a circle of flowers around the cross. On it somebody has painted: R.I.P. Tigger.
Once upon a time that lighthouse on the quay was a young boy who sat within the shadow of his father’s tale. He sensed he would never feel the power of his own words because he didn’t seem to have any on account of the black hole inside him that swallowed everything up. He thought he would never know the joys of creating his own myths, telling his own story. He thought he would never come to grips with storm music, wind and rain, a lost path sought and found. He longed for someone to gift him a rainbow, with or without its pot of gold. He also thought that the fatal shadow, cast upon a child by a father, would always be there. One day, the early morning sun knocked on his bedroom window. He drew back the curtains and let in the light. That day, he emerged from the shadow and saw that the world was bright and filled with sunshine. Each morning, he breathed in the sunlight, felt it flow through his body. His heart pumped new blood and he was refreshed by the joy of living, of being himself, of being nobody but himself, unique and wonderful, subject to nobody’s wishes and whims. Gradually he grew into the person he was always destined to be. The sun’s rays lit up his face and eyes. Sunshine flourished within him and renewed not only him but all that he touched. Light flooded out like the beam from that other lighthouse, over there, on those rocks, that was put there to help and guide wayfarers and seafarers lest they become lost at sea. Lost, he found himself. Found, he centred himself. Joy and hope, belief and knowledge took root under the sun that each day nourished his body, soul, and spirit. Renewed, light flooded from him. He burned like a bonfire or a beacon and became one of those special lights that enlighten the world. He became that lighthouse.
Comment: One of the prose poems from Tales from Tara that slipped in here by accident. I have included it for, and dedicate it to, my good friend and fellow writer, Judy Wearing, to wish her well with health and strength in this new year that is now turning into something special.
As I walked home, it started to snow. Not the pure white fluffy snow of a pretty Merry Christmas card, but the dodgy, slippery mixture of rain, snow, and ice pellets that turned the steep streets of Swansea into ice slides and traps for the elderly. I turned up the collar of my coat, bowed my head, and stuffed my hands into my pockets. Two houses before my own, I stopped in front of our neighbor’s house. The window shone, a beacon in the gathering dark. I drew closer, pressed my nose against that window and looked in. A Christmas tree, decorated with lights, candles, more decorations, a fire burning on the hearth, two cats curled up warm before the fire, presents beneath the tree, stockings hanging from the mantelpiece. For a moment, my heart unfroze and I felt the spirit of Christmas. Then I thought of my own house. Cold and drafty. No lights, no decorations. No fire. The snowball snuggled back into my chest and refused to melt. When I got home, our house stood chill and empty. My parents were out at work and the fire had died. Nothing was ready for Christmas. I sat at the kitchen table, took out my sketch book and began to draw, then color. When my mother came home, I showed her my picture. “Very nice,” she said without looking up. “But mum, you haven’t really seen it.” She stared at the picture again. This time, she saw the Christmas tree and the lights, the cats before the fire, the candles burning on the mantelpiece, the decorations and the presents wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. But she never noticed the little boy standing outside the house in the falling sleet, cold and shivering, peering in through the window.
Comment: Everyone remembers Dylan Thomas’s story A Child’s Christmas in Wales, but not all Welsh Christmases are like that. This is the story of a forgotten child’s Christmas in Wales. It is a story about a latch-key kid, left alone at Christmas to fend for himself. I enclose the drawing he did and I dedicate the story to anyone who is alone this Covid-19 Christmas. Christmas spent on your own is not much fun. Looking through another’s window, from the cold street outside, is not much fun either. So, at this time of year, let us remember those who are lost and lonely, those who need a kindly smile and a helping hand, those who do not have the comfort of family and friends, a warm wood fire, or a cat or a dog to snuggle up to them, to lick them, and to wish them ‘all the best’ in the languages that all animals speak on Christmas Eve, and sometimes into Christmas Day. Phone a friend, nod to a neighbor, and may your Christmas season be filled with joy.
Searching for le mot juste, the exact word that sums it all up, catches the essence of the thing and holds it in the mind forever.
Think flowers. Think scent. Think of the limited ways we describe how daffodils lift and clematis clings.
I look across the breakfast table and see my wife of fifty years, a teenager reborn, walking into that café where we had our first date.
I search my memory and my mind for the words to describe that beauty, that surge of excitement, I still feel when she enters the room:
but find I cannot find le mot juste.
Comment: I shortened this poem from its earlier version. You can click on this link to compare the two versions. I am always puzzled by the dilemma of lengthening or shortening. My thoughts center on the longer and shorter versions of some Raymond Carver stories. Follow the editor’s advice and cut all material down to its essential bones or fill out the skeleton with flesh and blood and expand the creative process further. I also think of the exhortation to ‘stay in the moment’. Anything that takes the reader away from the central experience is superfluous. Experienced writers are aware of that moment and its importance. Writers at my stage are often baffled by it and need to be told yes, this is the moment or no, that is not the moment. I guess the more we write, the more we understand the process. Understand: do we work this out consciously or does it develop in unconscious fashion? Are some people just born with those skills or we must work hard to develop them? Sunt rerum lachrimae: tears are in all things and I guess hard work is all part of the process. As I was told a long time ago: genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. You have to put in the hard work for that little light bulb to go ‘pop’!