Triumphs

 

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Triumphs

Now is the time of minor triumphs:
waking to birdsong in the morning,
making it safely to the bathroom,
shaving without cutting my face,
getting in and out of the shower
with neither a slip nor a fall,
drying those parts of the body
that are now so difficult to reach,
especially between my far-off toes,
pulling my shirt over sticky patches
still damp from the shower,
negotiating each leg of my pants,
tugging the pulleys that permit
my socks to glide onto my feet,
forcing my feet into my shoes,
hobbling to the top of the stairs
and lurching down them, left
then right, one step at a time …

Bears

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BEARS

Think of pink salmon caught in pools,
plucked from water, tossed to air,
the catch stacked rainbow‑fired.

Winter now:
unsnubbable, lumbering overcoats
closeted, laid to rest;
seeking power in hibernation
till sun from summit melts frosty dark:
fresh heartbeats forged in forest’s night.

Think alchemy:
prime matter moved safely in flask or jar.

Think circus stars:
The Great Bear leads the Lesser,
dancing to the trainer’s whip,
tumbling from their pedestals.

Secure behind bars,
think fallen stars.

Purple FF

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Purple

I close my eyes and return to Paris, Easter holidays, 1961. Algérie-française, Algérie-algérienne, the car horns tweet in the street as we drive the boulevards of a city divided. This is all new to me, a seventeen year old student in Paris to learn about French culture. My friends in the car have heard the tooting before and join in the fun.  Algérie-française the driver toots.

Turning a corner, flattened and blackened, still flaming against a fire-burned tree, the metal skeleton of a Deux Chevaux, a ‘tin of sardines’, bears witness to the car bomb that has laid its occupants low.

* * *

Hitching the highway, from Paris to Chartres, thumb stuck out to catch the wind, a purple Citroen stopped and offered me a lift. I trusted the car: a Citroen, like Simonet’s famous detective Maigret used to drive.

When the car stopped and the door opened, I got in and saw that the driver wore black leather gloves. His hand movements on the steering wheel were stiff and clumsy and he made exaggerated gestures when he changed gear.

“No hands,” he explained. “Lost them in Algeria. Listen: I used to be the driver for a top General. I drove him out of an ambush once. I lost my hands later, when the car exploded, caught in a crossfire. They teach you things in the Army. I can still drive.”

He accelerated and threw the car at four times the speed limit through the S bend that snaked through a small group of houses. I bounced from side to side, held back by no seat belt.

“You see,” he said. “They train you to do this before they let you drive. Ambush. The sniper at the corner. The Molotov Cocktail. You must always be prepared.”

I closed my eyes and returned to Paris.

Collateral damage: the young girl with her photo in the Figaro next day, scarred for life; her mother, legs blown off, lying in the gutter in a pool of purple blood.

Maman, maman,” the young girl cried. But her mother was never going to reply.

The Pom-pom-pompiers arrived in their fire trucks, sirens screaming. The ambulances screeched to a halt. The young girl cried. The mother bled out her life-blood in silence. Her blood turned purple and black as it flowed through the gutter.

Parisians emerged from dark doorways and stood there, bearing silent witness. Evening draped itself over the Paris skyline. The sky darkened and became one with the purple of the car bomb’s angry flame. Purple bruises marked my arm where I had gripped myself with my own fingers. An indigo angel squatted above the faubourg street, with shadowed wings, brooding.

* * *

I opened my eyes.

We left the village in our wake, travelling five times faster than the speed limit.

“They trained me for this,” the driver said. “I am prepared for anything.”

He stopped the car by the cathedral in Chartres. I thanked him and got out. He offered me his hand and I shook it. Inside the glove, the hand was hard and metallic. Alcohol sweated out through the purple veins that stained his nose and flowed in abundance over his sun-tanned face.

Sandman

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Sandman

The sandman brings
sand to put in my sandwich.

He brings it from
the nearby beach.
It’s as fierce as
fine salt in life’s
dwindling hour glass,
thin-waisted sandpaper
thinning down our ways,
throwing sand in the clockwork
that ticks out our days.

Sand rasps between toes,
sticks fast to our feet,
grows castles on the beach
where no grass grows.

Seven, lucky seven,
those clouds close to heaven,
but beware the sandbox
if you count up to eight.

Hastings

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Hastings

A cloud on the horizon
no bigger than a small boy’s hand
turns into a sail and then
a sailing fleet,
an armada of hostility
sailing towards our shores.

Shield upon shield the shield wall
binds itself together,
becomes impregnable

Loud the clamor,
the raising of voices,
the heavens split asunder
by a sharp hail of arrows,
closer the enemy now,
and arrows become spears
their sharp heads
tumbling from the turbulent sky.

Fate hangs now on a single arrow
protruding from the royal eye.

Faith falters.
The shield wall, firm at first,
breaks now and the house carls,
one by one,
fall like corn
beneath sharpened blades,
to wither and die as all men die.

Help!

 

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Help!

The world turns full circle
and my mother is on the phone.
It’s four AM. “Help me!” she cries,
from the far side of the Atlantic.

Her ship is sinking fast and she’s
nine sheets to the wind.
“I’ll stick my head in the oven,”
she says, “and turn on the gas.”

What can I say? What can I do?
She makes so many threats.
She’s crying “Wolf!” and her words
now bounce off this duck’s back.

Yet still I wake at night to hear
her whispered words, and they still
chill with their razor’s edge of
“Help me! Help! Please help!”’

Nobody’s Child

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I ordered Nobody’s Child on Monday and it arrived on Thursday, two days after A Cancer Chronicle. Two books, two days apart. Wow. Nobody’s Child is a collection of short stories and Flash Fiction that deals with some difficult topics. A couple of the shorter pieces have appeared on these pages and will be familiar to the followers of this blog. Most of the material is new, some of it, very recent. Some of the stories have been published, others have received awards and honorable mentions. A shortened version of the collection, under the same title, was given an Honorable Mention in the David Adams Richards Fiction Prize of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick in 2016.

Let the fiction begin: “… so this is earth day and we light candles in our house and turn off the telly and the computers and sit there reading and writing, watching each other through the flicker of the candle flames, and listening to the sounds of the house, such subtle sounds, the creak of the siding, the click of a door, a blind moving in the room overhead, the tick of the grandfather clock in the hall … and the smoke rises from the candles and makes dark patterns in the stillness of the air … and yet, through the blackness, the bleakness of the candle smoke, a hand reaches out and holds me by the nape of the neck, and thrusts me back into a past which once again has come back to haunt me …”

Nobody’s Child    is available on Amazon.