So Sweet

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So Sweet

Withered I am
and soon will perish
I cherish this brief
last leaf-light bright
on tree and pond

Stark the flooded
trunks of beaver-
gnawed trees
their sails no
longer leaf-clad

Fall’s canvas
a paradise
for lost and lonely
philosopher-poets
tree-bright their light

Stored sunshine
aged in maple
birch forest oak
soaked up
in summer life
so brief so sweet

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F-f-f-all

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F-f-f-all

Not as good as the real thing, but the best I can do in five minutes with a set of felt pens. I am bewildered by the presence of so many colors, sometimes on the same tree and there are not enough pencils in y pencil box to do anything other than approximate.

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The light is incredible. Sometimes the tree seems to have stored all the summer sunshine in its leaves and, rain or shine, the light comes pouring out to enlighten us.

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And those reflections … the Beaver Pond doubles the color, turning the trees upside down and fragmenting their foliage, this way, that way. Pointillistic at one point, impressionistic at another, almost never cubist, although we can sense tilting planes in this upside-down surreal world that leaves us snatching at each new imposed reality of color and light.

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Stand beneath the trees. Look up through those leaves. Watch the light raining down, glimpses of blue between the orange, red, yellow, green and tawny leaves. I don’t have enough names for their colors. Green: what is green, what does it mean? I can see it, feel it, crumple it between my fingers if I am quick enough to catch a falling leaf … but what is it exactly, and what does it mean?

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Espejismo and doble espejismo: the viewing of the world through a mirror, understanding what is a shadow and taking it for the real thing. And here, the shock of each red leaf turned into a shark’s bite of blood within still waters. Two worlds really: the top half normal and the bottom half turned upside down, leaf turned to color and color turned to a crimson streak.

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There, see, catch them quick before they are gone, these autumn northern lights, this floating aurora borealis, this word picture trapped in these oh-so clumsy, oh-so fragile, oh-so imperfect words. Perfection, imperfection, and words and pencils shuffled to create the unreality of an autumn dream.

 

 

Wind on Water

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Wind on Water
Aneurin & Taliesen

The beaver pond, surface wind-ruffled, sparking
sunlight’s flint off grey, shaded edges of cresting waves,
silent ships, white clouds sailing in a sea-blue sky,

repeated below in mercurial waters, islands
the lily-pads, yellow with the clenched fists of flowers,
closed, screening themselves from this incessant sunshine.

Chirps of anonymous birds, hidden beneath branches,
no motes, no flies, the breeze too strong to tempt them,
fly-catchers in hiding, kingfishers cached away.

Only the great blue heron, regal, always hungry,
surveys his watery domain, patiently waiting,
yet ever-ready, disturbed, to launch into flight.

My fingers strain to capture this peace, to distill it
into words, to kidnap time, motion, scent, the gentle
touch of the wind’s paintbrush, delicate over cheeks.

Where now are the great men, Aneurin, Taliesin,
those bards who called up the salmon’s wisdom,
turning it into words, deep as ponds, subtle as streams?

They are the voices of the wilderness that once was Wales.
I am the distant echo of their song, distanced, estranged,
lost in New Brunswick’s woods, forgotten on Canadian trails.

 

 

 

Lament

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Lament

I remember the hawk well. One moment the garden was empty, next he was there, on the ground beneath the feeder, feeding, or rather, fed. I didn’t see the kill. I walked past the window on my way through the kitchen from somewhere to somewhere, and there he was, perched upon a pile of feathers. Whatever the victim was, all edible evidence had disappeared and only the feathers remained. I guess the hawk saw me, sensed, or caught the sound of the camera. Within a second, between click and click, he had flown.

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I went outside to look at the wreckage of what had once been alive. Feathers and blood. The grim reality of avian life in my Little World of Island View. Between cats and hawks, a great deal of destruction is handed on from generation to generation. But although I have witnessed nature ‘red in tooth and claw’, I have seen nothing like the devastation caused by the avian flu. We tried to follow all the appropriate instructions, but the passerines all vanished and they never came back. We still have a couple of mourning doves grubbing around on the porch and back step, but I can remember counting, one day, sixty or seventy perched in a cluster on the clothes line. Pine grosbeaks used to swarm, now to see one is a big event. We still get the occasional evening grosbeak, but the grey jays have vanished, as have the swallows who used to nest in our garage. We know of a pair of cardinals in the neighborhood, but they rarely visit us. We can hear a Greater Pileated Woodpecker in the distant woods, but they no longer dance and play among our trees. A few years back, we had a garden full of bees balm, but no bees. Last year we saw very few butterflies, though they used to be regular visitors. Our hummingbirds have become occasional visitors, and I do miss seeing them.

I long to see again all those beautiful creatures, the cat bird with his endless imitations, the orioles with their songs, even the sparrows seem fewer and further between. As for the garden, the crows have taken over. A family of seven caw in the trees and visit regularly. They are sharp, wise creatures and I am always bemused by their aerial manoeuvres. They still sit on the garbage cans once a week and announce their triumph to the world. But woe betide if you leave a plastic bag alone at the roadside. They make short work of it with their shiny beaks ad the bag’s interior is soon strewn all over the road for you to pick up and everyone to see.

Dog

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Dog

Dog buries under the bedclothes, snuggles up close, frightened by nurses and cold medical smells. Dog knows the meaning of needles, long thin silver teeth that sink into the flesh and make Dog feel woozy. Dog rolls its eyes and growls as doctors wearing long white coats walk around the ward talking to those patients who are still capable of responding. Long stethoscopes twist around the doctor’s necks like tentacles. Dog knows them well and doesn’t trust them. Dog shows its teeth, growls deep and low, draws itself in, even closer, shivers beside its mistress, in spite of the in-bed warmth. Mistress shivers too. She doesn’t understand how Dog got there, but she loves Dog’s warmth and companionship, and trembles at the thought of its absence. Nurse holds that threatening needle, the magic wand, as nurse and doctor call it, but Dog doesn’t believe in them nor in their magic. Dog’s cold, wet, wrinkled nose is out and its soft brown eyes. It sees and smells and senses and is ready to defend or befriend. The patient puts her hand on Dog’s head, smooths it, soothes it, ‘Good dog’, she says. Dog wags, a small jerky motion of a short, stubby tail. Nurse slides the needle into patient’s arm. “There,” she says. “You can sleep now.” Dog whines, gets out from beneath the blankets, lies beside the patient as she lies in her hospital bed. Dog licks the salt tears from her face. When she stops breathing, Dog howls. But nobody sees it, nobody hears it, nobody pays any attention, nobody comes.

Squirrel

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Squirrel

He’s here for the food on the picnic table, of course. He’s been here before, even in bad weather, and he knows where the treasure is: buried beneath the snow. I can’t believe he’s out in this. He should be in some little squirrel cave, tucked in, nice and warm. One of my best friends told me he was going to drive to Halifax today. What drives people out on a day like today when the snow is deep and still accumulating, when visibility is such that I can hardly see beyond the trees at the edge of the garden, when more snow, higher winds, drifting snow, and blizzard conditions are all around us. There is also the possibility of ice pellets and freezing rain when the snow finishes. “Stay home, little squirrel, stay home,” I told him. “It’s not a good day for travelling. I can hardly see the road through the falling snow.”

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Squirrels are tough, though. They must have Welsh blood in them the way they tunnel and dig. Unsnubbable on the trail of some winter seed and totally defiant against wind and weather. “Did you see him?” my beloved called out. “See who?” I asked, clicking away busily with my Christmas camera. “The squirrel,” she said. “You should take a picture.” So I did. And another and another. I caught him first head down, back towards me, guzzling, deep within his snow cave.

 

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He reminded me of Lorca’s roosters: “Los picos de los gallos cavan en busca de la aurora / the roosters’ beaks dig in search of the dawn.” I wanted him to come out and look at me, to show me what he had found. I didn’t have to wait for long. Then it was in (click) and out (click). What a cheeky chappy.

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I wonder why I always call this squirrel ‘him’. Maybe I never learned enough about the birds and the bees when I was a child. I find it hard to tell the difference between the genders of animals unless they have antlers (male) or, like the birds, they have distinctive plumage. Then it is much easier for me to tell them apart. I had a tortoise once, back home in Wales. I called him Henry, don’t ask me why. It took me two years to find out that Henry was actually Henrietta.  I guess I was slow on the uptake. Dai Bungalow: not much in the top storey. Or should that be story? There, I’ve looked it up:  storey in the Oxford Dictionary’s English English, but story in Webster’s American English. Oh dear, there are some things I still have to look up.

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So there he is, Mr. Squirrel, perched on the balustrade, about to make his final farewell. Fare well, Mr. Squirrel. Come back soon. I am so glad you didn’t decide to drive to Halifax.

 

 

Take These Chains

 

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The Great Chain of Being … Happy

The Great Chain of Being, a concept applied to Medieval Literature by Arthur Lovejoy, suggested that all beings are related in hierarchical structures that link them from top to bottom in an ordered chain. I have always liked that idea and see myself as one among many voices, past, present, and hopefully future that feel and write about the joys of living on this wonderful planet that we inhabit. This thought immediately poses the question: do we write from joy or sorrow? Obviously, it depends upon the individual. Equally obviously, we can write from joy at one stage of our career and from sorrow in another stage.

Antonio Machado phrased it this way: En el corazón tenía / la espina de una pasión. / Logré arrancármela un día: / ya no siento el corazón. I felt in my heart a thorn of passion. One day I managed to pluck it out. Now I no longer feel my heart. Machado is a seemingly simple poet, but that simplicity is oh-so difficult to translate and imitate. So: what happens if we write from that interior passion and then, one day, we wake up and the passion has gone? Good question. Some people stop writing. Others take to drawing. Others take photographs. In my case, I have sat in a south facing window just gazing at the sunshine reflected off the snow and pottering through my favorite poets.

Francisco de Aldana is one of my favorites and I am drawn to reflect on these lines: Hallo, en fin, que ser muerto en la memoria / del mundo es lo mejor que en él se asconde, / pues es la paga dél muerte y olvido. I finally discover that to be dead in the world’s memory is best of all, since the world’s wages are death and forgetfulness. While these words will seem gloomy to some, to me they express the joys of retirement, the wonders of just sitting and looking out of the window, the escape from the necessity to produce, to achieve, to be ambitious, to grow a career, to drive myself on and on. “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” Words of wisdom from the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies.

When I sit and stare, I also think, observe, and remember. And I see things I have never seen before: how light changes the world, how sunshine falls on the petals of flowers, how texture is changed by changing light, how light slips through the fingers like water or sand. The end result is an inner peace that accepts things for what they are and the world for what it is.

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In my privileged case, and I realize just how lucky I am and how fortunate I have been, I have grown to appreciate the tiny things, the small achievements. And small things now satisfy me: the completion of a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw, the nature of light, the beauty of an orange, peeled and tasted, its life blood still fresh upon my fingers and gracing the air, words prancing in lines and chains across a page, the dance of shadow on wall.

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