Copperopolis

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Copperopolis

Mountains and craters on the moon look like this:
scarred, barren landscape, scabs of a dead industrial
revolution that created the largest copper smelting
plant in the world. Labourers strove for a living,
but met early with death. Rows of tiny, brick hutches
where families crowd, breeding like rabbits. Back
yards with greenhouses, cracked flagstones, allotments
where life-saving vegetables grow, and a chicken-coop
for the occasional egg worshipped after childbirth.
I remember it well. The garden walls adorned with
broken glass, set in concrete, so nobody could take
food from the garden, or steal the precious hens.
Washday on Monday, when furnace dust had settled
after the day of rest. Clothes hung out on Tuesday,
stained with the industrial waste that clogged bays,
fields, and farms. Summer and Fall, my father walked
shoeless to school, worked hard to buy himself winter
shoes. He sanctified footwear for the rest of his life.
He studied hungry, slept famished, and awoke to hunger
and cold. Born into poverty, we were rich in love.
My father broke out, scaled those walls, got odd jobs,
went to night school, educated himself, became someone.
He wanted the world for me. But my hands were too small
to grasp the enormity of what he had achieved and who he was.
He aimed for the stars, failed, but scraped his wings on the moon.
I cut my teeth on broken bottles and never wanted to leave.

Pills

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A four-legged Harlequin cluckless duck: that’s what I feel like some mornings. In Spain they say: dar tres pies al gato / to give the cat three legs. This means to complicate life, to screw things up … and yesterday, I screwed everything up. But, of course, but it wasn’t my fault. It never is my fault. How could it be my fault? Repeat after me: I am perfect, therefore it was not my fault. QED.

Pills: yup. I forgot to take them again. Sometimes I think if they were actually Pils (as in Pilsner, or should that be Pilsener?) I would always remember them. Maybe I should wash my morning pills down with a shot of Pilsener (or should that be Pilsner?). That way I might remember to remember them. I would certainly remember my morning Pils. Pils, Pilsner, Pilsener: what’s in a name? Well, according to the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) there are three classifications for Pilsners:  1 German Pilsner, 2.Bohemian Pilsener (note the extra E) and 3 Classic American Pilsner. As for my own Pills (or should that be Pils?), there are several medical classifications for them, but, of course, I always forget what they are.

There’s the pill for the back pain and the arthritic hip. I usually forget that one if the sun is shining and the sky is clear. Then there’s the one that eats away at bad cholesterol. I don’t often forget that one, as it’s the same shape and color as the two for high blood pressure, which I don’t have any longer as I rarely forget those pills. But when I do forget them, like I did yesterday, then I feel like the duck portrayed in the opening portrait.

But I’m forgetting myself … it’s never my fault. First I got up late because I didn’t fall asleep until early in the morning. Then, Molly Maid arrived while I was showering and wanted to clean the bathroom while I was in it. Not the most exciting prospect at my age. Then, when I had shooed them away, I was able to sneak out with a towel around me and actually get dressed. Then the telephone rang with an unrecognized number and I thought t was a robot call, so I left it to ring, but it was milady who was vacationing abroad so I picked up the phone and she talked for an hour. She left me with the promise that her friend would be calling me and two minutes after I put the phone down, that friend was on the phone, and that was another hour gone.

By this stage, Molly Maid is ready to perform their disappearing act, so I go to see them off, and breakfast has to be abandoned because it’s lunch time. So I make lunch, but I never take my pills with lunch and anyway, it’s snowing, and there might be rain later, but my arthritis isn’t plaguing me yet, so I really don’t need that particular pill, and the phone goes again. This message asks me to do something, so I do it. And the snow is falling and I don’t want to go out and plow the snow. Cold and boring. So I find something to do which is very, very important, but I like crossword puzzles. And the Brexit debate is on, so I follow that and wow, is that ever a mess. I think I’m screwed up until I listen to that lot: garbled garbage spoken with posh, plum in the mouth accents and imitation working-class foibles. Might as well be chewing straws and have their ears sticking out through ancient straw hats. Like donkeys.

So, by now tea-time is getting close and it’s time to think about eating, or blowing the snow, but the man next door has plowed out the end of the drive where the grader has left a ton of the stuff, and the man up the road is on the way down to help clear the rest, and he is travelling like a whirling dervish, and I limp down the corridor (or should that be corrida?) to say ‘hi!’ but he’s already turning the corner to the drive, so I limp to the garage to say ‘Hi and thank you!’ but he’s already half way up the drive on his way home, so I wave twice at his back and shout ‘thanks’ but he can’t hear me above the noise of the snow blower and he’s gone without seeing me, no eyes in the back of his head, I guess. So I wait till he gets home and I call him on the phone and we talk and I thank him. Then someone calls me and we talk. Then my daughter calls me and we talk.

And now it’s time for La-la-la-la-laCoronation Street, and I haven’t had any supper yet, and I know I have forgotten something, but I open my can of evening Pilsner (from Pilz, don’t go there) and I’ve forgotten something, but I don’t remember what it is and … what was I saying? Ah yes, no pills with my Pilsener and that’s what I forgot, and there they were this morning, lying on the table, and hopefully I won’t forget them today, but I haven’t had my breakfast yet and the cricket in Antigua will be starting soon and … oh dear … I know I’ve forgotten something. Ah yes, the clock, I’ve forgotten to wind the clock. But there’s something else and if you remember what it is, please let me know.

Light breaks

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Light breaks

“Light breaks where no sun shines;
where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
push in their tides;
and, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
the things of light
file through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.”

Dylan Thomas, another Swansea boy, wrote those words a long time ago. I borrowed the phrase Broken Ghosts for the title of my second poetry book (Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1986) and I am proud of the links forged between Swansea and Island View, Wales and Canada, an earlier poetic generation and my own presence here among these trees covered as they are by winter’s falling snow.

Light is so important, especially here in winter’s dark where the nights are long. The sun’s warmth through the window, the distortion of light through glass and water, the presence of flowers amid the winter’s alternate brightness and gloom. Brightness of sunlight on flowers and of moonlight shifting across garden snow, cratered by the hoof marks of deer into a lunar landscape of shifting shadows.

Sometimes the ageing heart wallows in gloom. Those bedside shadows take on forbidding shapes  and Goya’s nightmarish figures rise out of the pinturas negras, the black paintings from the Quinta del Sordo, to walk again around my room. On nights like these, scarecrows arise from my past and their twigged fingers scratch at my face. They threaten with carrot noses and coal black eyes. They stump their thumping dance steps and send shivers coursing through my veins.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/jan/30/goya-black-paintings-prado-madrid-bicentennial-exhibition

“What is it?” I ask. “What do you want?” But though their mouths open and lips, teeth, and tongue flap into idle movement, no words emerge and I am left, a broken ghost, floundering in an internal sea, not of light, but of darkness. Downstairs I go, pursued by the clump of snowy feet, to sit at my desk and walk my fingers across the keys in search of comfort. I find it in these photos: sunshine on flowers, a light to lighten and enlighten the darkness stalking through my mind.

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Warmth and light: together they will dispel this frosty spell that freezes my brain and will not let me close my eyes and go back to sleep.

Friends

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Friends

This is the time of year to think about family and friends. We all need friends, especially friends who bring flowers, who stop awhile and talk, who bring comfort to us when we doubt ourselves, and help forethought, and insight when we are troubled and need knowledge. And flowers are best. Here are some from Gwen and Victor. The picture was taken the evening of their arrival. They sat on the table and spread their color over our wedding anniversary, our Christmas dinner, and now, with any luck, will last into the new year, bridging, as good friendship does, the gap between the old and the new.

Plants

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The plants in this photo were given to Clare and I by Barry and Susan in 2010, the day I was made a Professor Emeritus. It’s hard to believe that happened over eight years ago. The memories of that day have faded. The certificate has gathered dust and sits somewhere in a frame, hidden from sight, at the bottom of some cupboard or other. But the flowers of friendship planted that day by our two friends have last and lasted. I showed these plants to David, their son, when he visited the other day. Eight and a half years … some bonds and friendships are never forgotten. Others wither and are taken by the frost of loss and the ice storms of neglect.

Flowers

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Those same flowers, snapped 8 days later in the morning sunshine. Carpe diem: gather ye rosebuds, and baby carnations, while ye may. And celebrate the joys of the season: plants, flowers and so many friends, too many to be mentioned here, and I apologize to all I haven’t mentioned by name, you are never forgotten, even though your names don’t appear in this tiny snippet from the indoor winter garden where you are always welcome and friendship still blossoms and blooms.

 

 

 

Advent Calendars

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Advent Calendars

We have multiple Advent Calendars. Some are online, others are religious, and yet others, like the one pictured above, are forest scenes with Santa, courtesy of my daughter and Playmobile. We particularly like this one. Each day, from December 1 to December 24, we get a different set of pieces to add to the background. Then, on December 25, Santa arrives ad we keep him around, usually until the New Year, sometimes until Reyes, the Spanish and Mexican Christmas, on January 6.

Every morning, Clare opens the large Playmobile Box and adds the day’s pieces to the scene. Bit by bit, the scene grows until everyone is present in the same forest glade they have inhabited for many years now. Every year, I search for new animals, and they live in the scene next door, cats and dogs and kittens and puppies, all watched over by a framed photo (2001) of my favorite dog: Tigger.

No, the spirit of Christmas doesn’t reside in a cardboard box and its plastic figurines. Rather it resides in happy memories (horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours) and in the new memories, usually very happy, that we create each year. Clare is a sun-watcher. Each day, she calls out the minutes as the days lengthen, post-mid-winter, and the earth tilts slowly back into spring, then summer. We also watch the sun shadow creeping up the wall (pre-Christmas) and then slowly back down again, post-Christmas, into the New Year, Reyes, and my birthday.

Christmas visitors in our plastic Christmas forest scene are joined by real visitors in the world outside. Deer walk up to the bird feeders by night and squirrels (red and grey), chipmunks, and a variety of birds feed there by day. By night we also get raccoons and the occasional fox. By day, our neighbors’ thin, predatory cats tinkle their Christmas bells, and patrol the garden in search of their Christmas dinners. Every year, we watch the splendor of birds at the feeder and hope that the cats go hungry for now, to be filled later in the safety of their own feline dishes safe indoors.

Even tho it was Xmas

 

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Even though it was Christmas

I am as free as my father was free. He was free to walk on his walker, as far as he could go down the street. Free to walk in the wind and the rain. Free to sit on his neighbor’s wall when his legs and back got tired. Free to sit there, although it was raining, until he had recovered his strength and energy. Free to get soaked so badly that he caught a cold. And the cold was free to turn into bronchitis and the bronchitis was free to turn into pneumonia and the pneumonia was free to perform its assassin’s work as it tried to kill him. But my father was still free and strong enough to call the doctor and the doctor was free enough to call at the house and visit my father and write him a prescription for a free anti-biotic that would free his body from the pneumonia that was free to leave when it’s time was up and it felt ready to go. Pneumonia, the old man’s friend, they used to call it, sitting there, in my father’s lungs, muttering away to him, day after day, louder at night, and my father slowly getting stronger and the pneumonia growing weaker until one day it felt free to leave and freed my father from his immediate ills. Then my father was free to get up or to stay in bed. Being a free man, he chose to stay in bed all day and to listen to the radio and to read a book and when he got bored with reading he just lay there and counted the dots on the wall “one, two, three…” and “seventy five thousand, one hundred and forty three,” he told me one day when I was free to visit him, “though I have lost count once or twice and have had to start again from the very beginning. And the sun gets up at seven-oh-three, and strikes the third dot at seven fifty-three … and goes round the wall thirty-three dots to the minute; and leaves that third dot from the right at a quarter past three …” And there he stayed, day after day. But he was free. And sometimes the home help came and sometimes she didn’t, for she too was as free as the birds in the garden. And sometimes she remembered to buy him some food and sometimes she didn’t. And she was free to come and go, free to remember or forget. And my father was free to mumble or complain or grumble, though he rarely did. And he was free to eat, so long as there was food in the house. But when I went there to visit him I often saw that the cupboard was bare and my father had neither milk, nor eggs, nor bread nor cereal, nor tea nor butter. And all those people, those acquaintances, those friends, they too were as free as the sea-gulls in the sky. But to find the time to set my father free from the hunger and thirst he seemed predestined to freely suffer, they were never free enough for that.

Neither was I. Even though it was Christmas.

Even though it was Christmas
Voice Recording

 

 

This story is dedicated to all who spend time alone this Christmas, be they street people, homeless, or merely forgotten and neglected. Please consider sharing this story. And if you know someone who is alone at this time of the year, please phone them or visit them.

 

Cricket

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Cricket

            Street cricket. Played on ancient, cracked tarmac. The wicket: three sticks whitewashed on to the high stone wall of the cul-de-sac where my grandmother lived. It backed onto the wall that cut us off from the railway yards that led into High Street Station. That wall was the boundary, as were the neighbor’s front yards. Six and out if you hooked the cricket ball and hit it behind the wicket and over the railway wall. And you had to retrieve that ball. Lost ball stopped play and play stopped until you went across the bombed buildings at square leg, for a right-handed batsman, climbed the railway wall at its lowest spot, looked down at the rail yards forty feet below, and shouted until someone emerged from a workman’s hut to find the ball and threw it back.

            No worker … no ball … no game. Then you had to run out of your street, down the main road, up the hill for two streets, beg permission at the locked railyard iron gates: “Please, mister, can I get my ball?” Then run all the way back to where the waiting cricketers hung over your own street wall, by those bombed buildings, shouting and cheering. Search for the ball among shiny rails, shunting rails, rusty rails, dandelions, thistles, and nettles. Avoid the occasional shunting engine, with the driver leaning out of the cab and screaming warnings as the steam hisses out from the engine, brakes squeal, and wheels slowly clack on crossing tracks. Find the ball. Try unsuccessfully to throw it back over the wall. Try again. No good. Wall too high. Carry ball back to iron gates. Thank gateman politely so you can come back next time. Return ball to game. Game continues, rain or shine. Unless it’s real rain. The pissing down type. If so, run for nearest house and shelter by fire in kitchen.

            Other rules. Six and out over the railway wall. Two runs and fetch the ball yourself if you hit it into the bomb buildings at square leg, next to that railway wall. No fielders there. Too many loose bricks and too much scattered debris. Fragile walls still wobble or crumble warning you of cellars that might open up. Low walls that might collapse. You score four and out if you hit the ball into neighbor’s front yard. Some neighbors are nice and don’t mind. But watch out for the old witch whose fenced off garden is guarded by a gate.  If you hit her window, even with a tennis ball, she’ll be out quick as a flash, and steal your ball or stick a knitting needle in it, old spoil-sport. Otherwise, it’s single batsmen. You run your runs and walk back from singles. One hand one bounce, and tip and run once you’ve scored twenty. Much more difficult to stay in and everyone gets a chance to bat. One hand off the wall if you don’t clear it for a six and out. Dog stops play if your fox terrier gets the ball and runs around in circles, chasing its tail, with the ball getting soggy in his mouth. Damned dog. Damn difficult to catch. Lost ball stops match if dog runs back into the house and gives the ball you stole in secret back to your gran who was saving it for tennis.

            Cricket, in those days, was civilization. It had survived the bombing raids that missed the railway yards and bombed the bomb buildings. It had survived the machine-gun fire from the fighter-bombers that had strafed the street leaving bullet-holes, still unrepaired, in walls and shattering now-mended windows. It gave us a sense of rule and law, for the rules were strict and nobody broke them and stealing runs, touch and go, in tip and run was a skill and never a crime.

            Cricket: a small, bright window on the back-street where I lived, a window filled with happiness and light, even when it’s over the wall and six and out, or the dog runs away with the tennis ball, or the ball vanishes down a mysterious rabbit-hole in the bomb buildings and slides down to someone’s ruined cellar.

            Game’s over. The real Test Match is on, England versus Australia, though we live in Wales. The one primitive, tiny black-and-white tv screen in the street lights up with flickering figures and we sit around on the floor watching real men playing the real game on a sunny field in another world, the world, the world of black and white that many of us, us backstreet children from a ruined neighborhood, will never be allowed to know or see.