Zeitgeist is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, translated as “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Poems for troubled times.


Our world finds itself in an incredible mess right now. Somehow, we have to sort it out. Images and metaphors tie past, present, and future together. We must pick our ways through the difficulties of these troubled times, as you must pick your way through the intricacies of these poems. Many of you will give up. Some of you, the chosen few, will make your way to the heart of each poem.

These poems are deliberately cryptic. Each one is a mind game I am playing with you. I do not underestimate you. I have placed clues throughout each poem and if you follow the clues you will arrive at many of the poem’s hidden meanings. Some poems are more difficult than others, their meaning more recondite. Others seem very straightforward, yet still contain secrets.

            This style of poetry has a long history going back to Anglo-Saxon riddles and way beyond, back into the mists of time. Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) and Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645) specialized in similar forms of recondite poetry, often based on metaphor and the juego alusivo-elusivo, the game of alluding to something while eluding the act of saying what it is. Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) and Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) also played this game, as did Octavio Paz (1914-1998). In the works of all of these poets, the clues may rest in the poem or they may be found in a generic knowledge of the mythology of the poem’s exterior world.

             Always remember that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana). Otherwise expressed, in the words of T. S. Eliot: “Time present and time past / are both perhaps present in time future / and time future contained in time past” (Burnt Norton). The seeming anachronisms in these poems suggest that all time is ever-present and that each new day presents us with events that have already occurred on many occasions.

Commentary: The idea for Time-Spirits aka Zeitgeist was born around the kitchen table in Island View on Saturday, 22 December 2018, during a literary conversation between Gwen, Victor, and Roger. A poem at a time, one after another, grew from that table top chat. The result: 70 poems, not easy to read, deliberately difficult, that reflect our troubled times. My thanks to Geoff Slater, line-painter, who drew the cover picture: Robin Red in Claw and Breast, a symbol of nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. So are we in the words of Albert Camus who writes ‘nous sommes ou les meurtriers ou les victimes’ . Is it the early bird that catches the worm? Or is it the late worm that gets caught by the bird? Whichever: it’s the worm that gets eaten, until the robin bites the dust, when he is eaten in his turn. Just think of it as nature doing its regular recycling …


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McAdam Railway Station #12

“He startles the unaware, that man by
the door, in uniform, with his youthful
looks and old-fashioned peaked cap,

fingers poised by his silver watch chain
ready to pull out his Waltham pocket watch
and check the time against the master-clock.

Two ladies wait in the waiting room.
One wears winter robes of red and black
while the other wears velvety green. Both

are motionless, one seated, one standing. Yet
if you watch them from a corner of one eye,
you will see shadowy gestures as their lips move.

Overnight they have changed into summer
clothes, gauzy, almost see-through, flowery
patterns, light-weight wedding boots, laced,

restful, cool, thin-soled. ‘Are you for real?’
I ask the standing one, for a joke. When she
nods and winks, a chill settles over the room.”

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McAdam Railway Station #12

“Put your fingertips on the rail,
see if you can feel its pulsing beat.

No heart rail rhythm now. No tremble.
Put your ear on cold metal:

nothing but silence. No murmur,
however distant. Black fly whine.

No-see-ums flit. The train track’s
buzz of harmony is lost and gone,

replaced by careless nature. Listen
to the wind whistling in the woods,

hark to spring sounds, so subtle,
grass growing, rust accumulating,

sleepers turning over in their graves,
silent, rotting beneath forgotten rails.”

Comment: Nothing so lonely as an abandoned railway track, rusting beneath snow and rain, the wooden sleepers rotting into oblivion. That said, the Southern New Brunswick Railway still carries freight trains through McAdam, and it is the railway station that suffered, with the loss of passenger traffic, rather than the rails themselves. What a pleasure, incidentally, to hear the hoot of the approaching diesel, to count the wagons as the train came to a halt outside the station. Then came the joy of watching the engine separate wagons from the main train, shunt them into sidings, return, and take the freight train, slow at first, but rapidly gathering speed, out of the station and away into the distance. Such memories. So many ghost trains riding those rails. So many ghosts bewitching the windmills of the child’s mind that still inhabits the ageing brain.



Elevator Pitch

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Elevator Pitch
Jean Chrétien

His enormous presence filled that tiny
space. His corkscrew smile, well-known tic,
semi-frozen face, that trick of wild speech

butchering language, misunderstood in
both English and French. “Bonjour,” he said. “Good
day.” I nodded, didn’t know what to say,

just shuffled my feet. I remember he
talked on the radio about our land,
how, in winter, with car stuck in snow,

we spin our wheels, forward and back, a bit
at a time until we emerge, content,
victorious. Time and the floors slipped by.

I thought of the elevator pitches
I had written for my films. Should I pitch
him about my latest film or should I

just keep quiet. The elevator stopped.
Jean Chrétien got out. “You’ll be back,” I
said. “Damn right,” he grinned, lop-sided.

Renaissance Hotel. Toronto. Nine-teen
eighty-five. Tongue-tied I had stood there.
Later I thought of all I might have said.

A Fly on the Wall

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A Fly on the Wall

Behind me, two elderly ladies, obviously grandmothers, exchanged intimate family details about husbands, daughters, grand-daughters, acquaintances.
“Bessy, my granddaughter, you’ve met her, well, she can’t have any children. Something wrong with her womb after that bout with cancer. You must remember that?”
“I do. Terrible thing, cancer. Had her whole womb removed didn’t she?”
“That’s right. Well, she’s thinking of adopting.”
“I don’t like adoptions. All those yellow and brown babies. You’ll never find a white one.”
“She’s working with the church. They say they’ll find her a nice little pink one.”
“That would be nice. Boy or girl?”
“She wants a girl. That’s why they said ‘a nice pink one.’”
“My Annie has breast cancer. They want to cut them off, but I told her ‘no,’ there must be another way. So they’re giving her chemo. They wanted to send her to Moncton, but she said she wasn’t going anywhere near that French speaking lot. So, she’s going to Saint John instead. Her daughter drives her down most days.”
“Lucky to have a daughter like that. So many cut you off when they lave home. They just don’t care.”
“I know. Not the churchy ones, though.”
“Them too, sometimes.”
“How’s your Bert?”
“He walked out.”
“He did. Just up and left. Never said where he was going or anything.”
“Younger woman, probably.”
“Don’t know. Took to the road and went out west, I think.”
“Just one of them things. My husband’s gone, too. Stroke or something. I sat with him in the hospice for a week. He never spoke again. I just sat and held his hand. Poor thing.”
“At least it was quick.”
“A week at his bedside didn’t seem like quick. All those tubes. Stuck in everywhere. And me, left all alone now with the grand kids. I’ll cope somehow, and the fourteen-year old, with her belly already swelling.”
Words settle. Fine dust dances in a sun ray that spotlights floating motes. Lives and worlds end and begin. I spot my beloved walking down the stairs in the heath centre and get to my feet. The two women are silent. I do not turn to look at them. My beloved waves and I walk towards her. Hand in hand, we go to the door and walk to the car. When we are safe inside, we’ll start to talk.

Losing It


Losing It
Island View

I searched for it everywhere: in the dry, dusty
pages of age-old books, in the spaces, white,
between words, in silences between bird songs,
in grey skies where raindrops formed into clouds,
in the pause between each cat’s paw of wind.

Nothing. I couldn’t find it. This morning
I searched for it in my shaving mirror.
I stirred the shiny film on my breakfast coffee
hunting for it. My Morning Glory lay open
on the operating table of my plate: nothing.

Mourning doves on the feeder called me by name.
The flicker drummed me a soothing rhythm.
I closed my eyes, dreamed of the river rising,
and found myself on an open beach. Homeless
hermit crab, I wandered listless, combing
seaweed, leaving fragile lines, footprints to
bear witness to my presence on this shore,
but as I looked for it, I knew I had lost it.

Forget-me-not. My father’s birthday. He would have been 108. Happy birthday, dad. I’m still wearing your watch.

Joy & Love


Joy & Love
(1936 – 1969 AD)

sunbathers sunbathe
swimmers don’t swim
except for one silly fool
in a clear patch of water
swept clean by the current
towed under by the undertow

swimmer fights back
goes against the flow
tires so swiftly
raises his arms
throws up goes under
comes up throws up

a beach ball thrown
misses the target
kicked with more accuracy
a soccer ball heavier
lands by his side
he grasps it hangs on
kicking more slowly

sun-bathers sprint
across sand to the shore
linked hands a life-line
reaching out through the waves
to rescue the swimmer
no longer fighting back

summer-sun kisses
sun-bathers victorious
this great chain of being
restoring humanity
sweet victory of man