Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

She surveys her empire
from a tall tree, then steps
into space, plunging her
body’s weight downwards,
diving into fragile air.

A feathered arrow,
she makes contact, feet first,
and pins the unsuspecting robin
to the ground. His shrill shriek
emerges from a beak
that shreds failing life.

The hawk’s claws clench.
Her victim weakens.
His eyes glaze over.
One final spasm,
a last quick twitch,
the robin is gone.

One wing drags, flaps weakly,
borne skywards in the hawk’s
triumphant claws.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sometime

Sometime
with thanks to Seamus Heaney

Sometime, make the time to drive to Alberton
where the Great Blue Herons
stand thigh deep in the incoming tide.
Lobster boats spark stars from the waves.

They white-water surge through a gap
in the sandbank where the lighthouse
stands red and white, outlined against
blue sky, golden sand, sparkling bay.

Follow the fast-eroding coastline, a little
less each year, past Jacques Cartier Park
to Kildare Capes. Black-backed gulls ride
shotgun on the red sand beach. Piping
plovers charge up and down the wind-rush
of surf digging for treasure, the crustaceans
that will fill their bellies and enable them
to survive their long journey south.

Head north past Sea Cow Pond to North Cape.
Quixotic windmills wave their arms, like giants.
The sand and pebble reef stretches its low-tide
footpath out to the lazy seals basking in late
summer warmth. Sea-birds seethe in great
white clouds while fishing boats bob on wild
waves and a black horse hauls Irish Moss
off the beach to be sun-dried on the shore.

An osprey hovers, drops its lightning bolt
to spear a flapping flounder on sharp claws.
The magic of that great bird’s fall and rise will
drive a wedge through your heart and split it open.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Sometime

Snow Geese

Snow: no geese!

Snow Geese

Snow geese falling, plummeting from the sky,
dropping like leaves, slowly and tumbling,
swiftly and twisting, spiralling down. Fresh
snow on the ground, their seasoned arrival.

Some land on water, others on the earth.
They gather in groups, snow banks of geese,
ghost-white, frightening, true sky lightning,
celestial, striking from its ancestral throne.

Always some sentries, necks stretched, eyes
open, alert, watching, guarding their needs
while the flock feeds. One honks “Who goes
there?” the flock looks up, watching him move.

Slowly, at first, they waddle from the walkers,
then faster and faster as the man unleashes his
hounds. An idiot woman, grinning like a death’s
head, points her cell phone and barks instructions.

The dogs run at them, barking and growling.
The snow geese panic, run ever faster, taking
to the air with a clap-wing chorus, honking
and hooting. The woman laughing, shouting

and shooting. “I’ve got them, I’ve shot them,”
she calls in her pleasure. Frustrated, the hounds
take to the water. Whistling, calling, the man
cannot catch them, not till they tire of the chase,

no match for geese, not in air, nor in water.
Joyous the couple, their videos made, hugging,
cuddling. They get back in the car, dogs shaking,
spraying them, baptismal water, cleansing all guilt.

Geese: no snow.

Click on the link for Roger’s reading.
Snow Geese

Two Dead Poets

Two Dead Poets

I enjoyed the WFNB readings last night. Thank you, Ronda, for organizing them, and thank you Susan, for hosting them. It was nice to see so many young friends gathered together on my zoom screen. I would have said ‘old friends’, but we don’t want to be reminded that yes, we are all getting older. Best wishes and many thanks to all who attended and congratulations to all the award winners.

Anyone interested in reading the rest of my memoir can read it by clicking on the link below. I will post a live reading of it on this blog later today.

MO – modus operandi –

  1. Click on the first link. The text of the story will appear on a different screen.
  2. Click on the live reading. The podcast – audio will appear on another screen.
  3. Turn on your volume.
  4. Turn on the podcast.
  5. Return to text screen (1. above).
  6. Read text while listening to the voice.

This will give you a unique audio-visual experience.

Two Dead Poets

I just completed the live reading. A Tour de Force. My longest single reading ever – over 12 minutes. My voice faltered a couple of times towards the end. My apologies for that.

Two Dead Poets
Live Reading

Universitario Rugby Club, Santander

Universitario Rugby Club, Santander.

This photo just reappeared on Facebook, posted 17 October 2016. I couldn’t believe it then, and I can hardly believe it now. What an honor. What memories. Imagine: immortalized on a beer pump in the bar of a foreign-to-me-now rugby club.

“There is some far corner of a foreign bar
that is forever Canada, and Wales.
And in that bright brew,
a shadow will remain,
a memory, ghosting through,
whose stay was not in vain.”

Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity. The Olde Order changeth lest one good custom should corrupt the world. The memories fade as faces age and friends grow distant. They fade away like dreams in the early light of day.

My First Thanksgiving

My First Thanksgiving

For the first twenty-two years of my life
Thanksgiving held no meaning, no life,
no substance, no form, nothing familiar,
nothing special to hold my attention.

When I emigrated to Canada
my cousins changed all that
with an invitation to visit them
in Kincardine for Thanksgiving.

Turkey on the table, colored
table napkins, and a family gathered,
arms outstretched, to make me welcome.

We were all surprised at how alike we looked.
“Like Cousin George, in Vancouver,” they said.
“Like Cousin Elsie in Revelstoke.”
“Like my mother’s mother, back home
in Swansea,” I said.

They told me how the Second World War
had brought the family back together
on these special holidays:
Christmas in Wales for the Canadian boys
or Thanksgiving in Winnipeg
for the Welsh boys learning to fly.

That Thanksgiving, the old family names
turned to photographs: snaps of my mother’s wedding,
my grandmother holding me, age three, on her knee.

And finally, as a special Thanksgiving gift,
a long-distance call to Britain and Clare
on the telephone saying
“Yes,” she would come to Canada,
and “yes,” she would marry me.

And I remember crying all the way
from Kincardine to Toronto,
and that was my first Thanksgiving in Canada.

Comment: A Golden Oldie, indeed. This poem is from my collection Secret Gardens. The secret love poems I write to Clare. It was published on our Silver Wedding Anniversary, 24 December 1991. It is a pleasure to re-publish it here for Thanksgiving, 2021. Now what am I going to do for 24 December 2021?

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

My First Thanksgiving

Pianissimo

Pianissimo


            You sit at the piano, my old piano, still extant in my father’s house, yet soon to be given away, though we don’t know that yet. It’s an upright, iron-frame Bechstein, a piano that I was given when I was the same age as you are now. Handel’s Largo, the Harmonious Blacksmith, hours and hours of scales. They locked me in the front room, my mum and dad, and there I stayed for an hour, two hours, or more. I came to hate music. As soon as I could, I gave up the piano, I rejected piano practice, I turned my face away from the discipline of the lock up.
            Now, I listen to you. Your untaught fingers tickle the black keys, then the white keys, one after another. You are six years old. You’ve never had a lesson, but you have music in your blood and some residual instinct latches on to rhythm and sound. Your fingers are long and supple and your touch is light, so much lighter than mine used to be, and now, on the deep bass notes of the left hand, your stronger hand, you pound away, awakening the dark ghosts of soul music that pour through my memories awakening echoes in this piano.
            I think of you as a jazz musician. Thelonius Monk, perhaps, a tinkle here, a light touch there, now a chord or two, inexplicable, and who would want to explain. It is a joy to sit here, to see your smile of absolute absorption. Mood music you call it, and today your moods are as dark as the shadows that tug at my heart, and as light as the sunlight that floats through the windows and makes the dust motes sparkle. It also frames a halo round your head. You hum to yourself as the morning sunshine fragments into colored gems and you sculpt your rainbow of sound.
            “Stop that noise. You’re driving me mad,” your grandfather, my father, stumbles into the room. He has taken his last cigarette out of the packet and the white cylinder hangs down from his lips, like an extraneous chalk outcrop hanging from the lip of an errant teacher. He pats his pockets. “Where are my matches? Has anyone seen my matches?”
            “They’re on the table in the kitchen,” I reply. “Where you always put them.”
            “I thought I left them in here,” my father leans on his stick then turns and stumbles out of the living room and into the kitchen.
            You hop off the piano stool, take the matches from your pocket, and carefully place them on the arm of your grandfather’s favorite chair.
            “Sssssh!” you say, putting a finger on your lips. Then you skip back to the piano and start playing pianissimo on high notes that float like tiny raindrops of sound produced by miniscule angels.          
            Your grandfather returns, glances round the room, spots the match box, and pounces upon it, a caged tiger finally served his red meat.
            “That’s funny,” he mutters. “They weren’t there a moment ago.” He takes out a match, strikes it, lights up his cigarette, inhales a lungful of smoke, then exhales it in a great locomotive puff of cloud. He grimaces at you through a haze of smoke.
            “There’s nice music you’re playing.”
            Your young lungs, unaccustomed to a house of smokers, can’t cope with this thin, grey, choking cigarette waste. You stop playing, put a hand over your mouth, and start to gag.

Listen to the Podcast here:
Pianissimo

Blood and White Wash

Blood and Whitewash
A Thursday Thought

2-September-2021

Blood and Whitewash is the title of this painting. It has a subtitle: My Plan of Attack.

The origins of the title, and hence of the painting, go back to the Goon Show, with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and of course / wrth gwrs, Harry Secombe, the Swansea Comedian and Master Singer. Away in boarding school back in the late fifties, one of my greatest pleasures was listening to the Goon Show on one of the dormitory’s transistor radios. As a teenager, I found the jokes and the accents incredibly funny. Still do. That’s why I painted this painting. Alas, it is silent, and you cannot hear the accents.

The following snippet of dialog occurred on one such Goon Show, I cannot remember which.

“What are we going to do?”
“Well, this is my plan of attack.”
“That’s not a tack, it’s a nail.”
“No it’s not. It’s a tack.”

So above you have my painting of My Plan of Attack, resurrected after all those years. I throw my mind back to the First World War.

The General:
“He’s a cheerful Cove,” said Jimmy to Jack,
as he walked to Arras with his pack on his back.
But he did for them both, with his plan of attack.

And there in essence is the history of the painting. First, the plan of attack, then the failure and the blood-letting, and then the white-washing of the whole history, a white-washing that turns failure into success, defeat into victory, and loss into gain. But in WWI, it was the poor Tommies who bore the burden, and all the other front line troops who obeyed orders, went blindly over the top, and charged unbroken wire with fixed bayonets.

“If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the sargent,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is, I know where he is,
If you want to find the chaplain,
I know where he is.
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.”

“If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are,
If you want the whole battalion,
I know where they are.
They’re hanging on the old barbed wire.”

Singing as they marched to their deaths, obeying orders, like sheep, and nipped on by the eternal sheep dogs. Things were so bad at Verdun that instead of singing, the men marched, bleating, like sheep. “Sheep unto the slaughter.” There was so much ill-feeling and rebellion in the face of orders and certain slaughter, that French regiments were decimated, one man in ten shot for mutiny, as they marched bleating, instead of singing, to their deaths.

“Oh, we’ll hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line,
have you any dirty washing, Mother dear?”

“Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” So, tell me, “where have all the young men gone, gone to graveyards everyone, when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”

And that, dear friends, is my thought for today: The History of My Plan of Attack. When, indeed, will we ever learn?

My Grandfather

WWI Dispatch Rider. A friend of my grandfather’s.

Spotify
Remember to scroll down to correct episode.

My Grandfather

My grandfather gave me my first sewing lessons.
He sat before the kitchen fire and put a grey
wooden darning mushroom inside the sock,
stretching woolen threads to expose the hole.

He chose with care his colors: bright yellows,
oranges, reds, sky blues, anything that stood out
against the sock’s dark rainy-day drabness. If
the socks were thin, he split new wool, pulling it
into individual strands that he would dampen
with his tongue. Then he would thread the needle.

Wool in place, he would cross-hatch the sock’s hole,
slowly forming a life-raft that he’d fill with color.
All my life, I have darned socks, sewn buttons,
and mended my sweaters. I use bright colors,
to my friends’ dismay. I still have my grandfather’s
World War One sewing kit, all wrapped up in
a canvas bag with his needles and some wool.

It’s wonderful to touch where his strong hands were.
There are dark blood traces where he pricked his thumb
and deeper stains where he sewed up wounded friends.

Comment: My Grandfather, the poem, is available on DiversityTV where it is read by Alejandro Botelho. Thank you, Alejandro, for a great reading and a fine interpretation of this poem. Click here > My Grandfather < for Alejandro’s reading. Note that My Grandfather begins at 13.30. Note too that the other poems on this site are worth listening to as well.

Survivors

Survivors

Last night’s rainstorm shrank the house.
We closed down rooms
and now the walls are closing in.
There’s so much we no longer use, nor visit,
so many rooms we no longer enter.

Almost all our friends downsized long ago.
We are the holdouts. We love it here
in this big house with its lawns and trees
and flowerbeds with bees’ balm, butterflies, birds,
and the yard abuzz with sunshine and bees.

But now we are starting to throw things out.
Maybe we’ll move, next summer perhaps,
or maybe not. For now is the time of indecision.

Like friends of the same age,
we travel the lesser road of memory loss,
a name and a face here,
a date or phone number there.

Perhaps, when the time comes,
we will have forgotten how to move.
Meanwhile, the mandatory old man’s question:
‘where did I put my glasses?’