Ste. Luce-sur-mer

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Ste. Luce-sur-Mer
(1995 &1996)

marooned and listless
monarch of all he surveyed
this ancient sea-side crab
caught naked on a wave-wet beach

surrounded by thronging gulls
their powerful beaks
pulling at the carapace
half-buried in the sand

moment of truth
the second the oyster’s
protective vacuum breaks
the crab sucked from the sand

battered the scattered body
spread over crisp sheets
pillowed on mermaid-hair
claws that once clicked

silent now hushed
listen to the tide
watch the wind’s footprints
walking on warm summer sand

Don’t hold your breath

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Don’t Hold your Breath 

    Two small gnomes camped last night, one in each of my lungs. All night long they played their squeeze-box, wheeze-box concertinas, never quite in unison. Sometimes they stamped their feet and my body rattled with their dance. Their wild night music caught in my throat and I coughed unmusical songs that spluttered and choked, while I lay awake counting sheep and window panes and struggling with my future and my past.

    An east wind rattled my window whistling a sad song as it herded flocks of stars from one constellation to another. Wind and stars followed the westering moon’s slim finger nail as it scratched at the sky. The planets danced to the rhythms of the accordion music playing in my chest, and the sky’s planetarium folded and unfolded its poker hands of silent cards marked with my fate.

    Black jack, bright jack, one-eyed jack: what do I care when fate’s cards tumble onto the table and I count their spots. Forty card baraja, fifty-two card standard, Tarot, or any of the many others, what do we believe and why? I pluck runes from a velvet bag and shuffle and cut multi-colored cards. I survey the skies, cast dice and I Ching pennies … The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings, I mutter, not believing a word of what I say.

    I look in the mirror and see myself as I am. Grey, ageing, diminished, withering … yet proud of who I am and where I’ve been. Upright, in spite of all my failures. Proud because of all the small things that I have achieved. Who am I? What have I done? Where am I going? The eternal questions thrust at the shadows in my silvered morning mirror. Silent, it grins grimly back.

 

F-F-F-Forgetting

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F-F-F-Forgetting

    The apps and programs that no longer work. The computer files you can no longer access. The photos that vanish leaving a blank space in the album.
Now your memory goes on the blink and you forget faces and voices, friends, phone numbers, addresses, street names, the houses where people live, when to turn, where the best parking spots are, how far you can walk, where you were really going, and what you were sent out to buy.
Snow banks don’t help: that banked-up whiteness, that sticking out of the car’s snout into traffic, that stretch of your neck peering round corners. How many number plates have vanished into those white mists? How many cars? How many phone numbers have you forgotten?
You have forgotten the birthdays of your closest family and friends. When was your father born? When did he die? When and where did you bury him? Did you actually scatter his ashes or did someone else do it for you? When was your cousin born? When did he die? How close were you at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end? What color were his eyes, his hair? Did he even have any, hair, I mean of course?
What happened to that carton of eggs you abandoned in the store? Do you remember buying it, let alone leaving it there? How about your brothers, their faces, the sound of their voices? Did your own voice change when you emigrated?
Have those who live in Australia forgotten that they are Welsh? Do they speak like Australians, now, or do they still have those rich Welsh voices and rhythms that nobody in Wales ever wanted because they made us stand out when we moved, unwanted, to England? How many times have we, the Welsh, heard those threatening words: why don’t you go back home to Wales. Countless times, no doubt. In fact you have forgotten how many and you have forgotten so much.
Do you remember the parking spot in which you left your car? Do you recall your number plate or what model your car is, or what color?
“What day is it today,” you ask, for the second or third time. “I’m sure I know you,” you say to a friend who stops to talk to you in the shopping mall, “but I’m sorry, I can’t remember where we met and I can’t remember your name.”

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Time-Spirits

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Time-Spirits

Zeitgeist

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.
Wikipedia

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

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

Poems for troubled times.

Introduction

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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Mannequins

 

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Mannequins
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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Tracks

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Tracks
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.

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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.