I remember pushing my father around the ward in the hospital. Two weeks we had together.
My father sat in his wheel chair and I wheeled him up and down.
“Cancer,” they told me. “But it’s kinder not to let him know.” In those days, it was better to die without knowing why. Did I betray him by not letting him know what I now need to know?
One day, he begged me for help and I lifted him out of his wheelchair and placed him on the toilet. He strained and strained but could not, would not go.
“Son,” he said, sitting there, “Will you rub my back?” How could I say no?
That strong man, the man who had carried me in his arms, on his back, and me standing there, watching him, his trousers around his knees, straining hopelessly, and me bent over him, rubbing his back, waiting,
for him to go.
Comment: Thank you, once again, Alejandro Botelho of Diverse TV. This was a great reading. If you, dear reader, are interested, you can listen to it HERE. Alejandro’s reading of my poem begins at 40.52 and ends at 42.33. But remember, the other poems are also well worth listening to and Alejandro has a great voice and wonderful interpretation. A further comment: first there is the text. Then there is Alejandro’s excellent reading. Then there is my own reading. From each of these the observant reader and / or listener will extract a slightly different emphasis and meaning. In my own case, following Alejandro’s reading of the original text, I have added some minor changes, to add to the intertextual rhythm of the words. Tolle, lege et vade mecum. A Cancer Chronicle is available HERE.
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My grandfather gave me my first sewing lessons. He sat before the kitchen fire and put a grey wooden darning mushroom inside the sock, stretching woolen threads to expose the hole.
He chose with care his colors: bright yellows, oranges, reds, sky blues, anything that stood out against the sock’s dark rainy-day drabness. If the socks were thin, he split new wool, pulling it into individual strands that he would dampen with his tongue. Then he would thread the needle.
Wool in place, he would cross-hatch the sock’s hole, slowly forming a life-raft that he’d fill with color. All my life, I have darned socks, sewn buttons, and mended my sweaters. I use bright colors, to my friends’ dismay. I still have my grandfather’s World War One sewing kit, all wrapped up in a canvas bag with his needles and some wool.
It’s wonderful to touch where his strong hands were. There are dark blood traces where he pricked his thumb and deeper stains where he sewed up wounded friends.
Comment:My Grandfather, the poem, is available on DiversityTV where it is read by Alejandro Botelho. Thank you, Alejandro, for a great reading and a fine interpretation of this poem. Click here > My Grandfather < for Alejandro’s reading. Note that My Grandfather begins at 13.30. Note too that the other poems on this site are worth listening to as well.
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The Origin of the World Gustave Courbet L’Origine du monde
The origin of the world and where I came from, her deep, moist cave that cast me from dark to light. She loved me, she said, depriving me of her warmth, leaving me to go back to her lover, loving him more.
Was it guilt that drove her to drinking whisky? A forty-ouncer a day at the end, sometimes more. She would wake in the night, wander the house, banging against chairs, tables, walls, and doors.
She ran up bills in local shops, and the keepers would dun me for the money she owed. She also borrowed cash and some days her fingers were bare. She left pawn shop IOUs on the table and I drove
into town to redeem her rings. Once, in a drunken frenzy, she cursed her only child. A mother’s curse is a terrible thing. Living albatross, it claws lungs and heart. Its weight drove me to the bottle. I too sought oblivion.
Joy came when blackness descended, the albatross flew, amniotic waters rocked me in warmth and comfort, and my body’s boat floated once again on an endless sea. Reborn each day, mornings cast me back from dark to light.
Comment: Here is the link to the DiversityTV reading of The Origin of the World. The Origin of the World begins at 28.40. I will attach my own reading from Spotify, just as soon as I complete it. I always find it fascinating to compare the way others read with the way I do. meanwhile, I would like to thank Alexandro Botelho for his invitation for me to participate in his DiversityTV show. I enjoyed his reading very much and I wish him all success with this venture.
Black umbrellas burgeon beneath sudden rain. Waterproof cloth opens to provide protection. Churches fill with defenseless passersby.
The cigarettes they smoke flare shooting stars through finger bars of flesh and bone. After the rain, gypsy women flower in the street.
Carnations carve wounds in their sleek, oiled hair. They offer good luck charms and fortune telling.
“Federico! Federico,” the gypsies cry out, “tomorrow, the guards will take you from your cell. They will drive you to the hills and shoot you dead.”
“Tonight,” Federico replies, “I’ll paint the city red. And tomorrow… ” “Tomorrow,” the gypsies sigh, “the Alhambra’s walls will run red with your blood.”
Comment: I have made some minor changes to the sonnet that was published in Iberian Interludes (available online at this link) The sonnet is a Golden Oldie, going back to our visit to Granada in 1986. I asked my pre-teenage daughter if she would like to go to a country where there was no snow in winter. She laughed at me. “Don’t be so silly, dad, there’s no such thing as a winter without snow.” We got to Madrid on January 5 and awoke to 3 inches of snow on January 6. “There, dad,” she said. “Told you so.” We took the train down to Granada and that year they had six inches of snow in the city center, for the first time in forty years! It also rained, and this is a poem about the Granada rain.
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Painting the School Outing Beaver Pond, Mactaquac
The yellow of the school bus is easy, but what colors do you give the rain of school kids descending? And how do you portray their energy, their noise, the tones of French and English? What colors are their vowels, their consonants, their high-pitched voices?
You can sketch their orderly rows as they snack on the top-hat magic pulled out of backpacks. But it’s not so easy to paint the pop of Pepsi cans, the scent of chocolate bars, or the crackle of chips released from packets and popped into mouths.
Running round after lunch, they drive the wild birds wild with their unorganized games of tag, their impromptu dances, their three-legged races, their winners and losers, their joys and sorrows. Fishing nets are produced from nowhere. Girls, boys wander to water’s edge in search of prey: incipient frogs, newts, tadpoles, bullheads, but how do you paint the wet and wriggle of them?
Try painting this. Whistles sound. Kids regroup. The bus reloads and goes. Now paint the silence. Sketch the tranquility of woods, bird-calls back, of the beaver pond with its lilies stretching their green necks skywards towards a pale blue sky where cotton clouds cluster together in celestial flocks. A pastoral scene, this painter’s paradise.
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Full Moon Over KIRA
Who shall dredge this midnight moon from the shoals of Passamaquoddy Bay? Gaunt the moon-rakers’ faces, harsh their hands hauling on nets, heaving her up, rippled and dimpled, blunt her bite as she emerges from submersion, raked from water in the traditional ritual.
Upside down, these reflected clouds, as bright as full-moon fishing boats distorted from below as the night wind blows clean dry bones across a mirrored sky where shadow fish fly wet with moonshine.
Oh pity her, you people, as she’s dragged from her element and exposed to air and oxygen that will slowly kill her, make her fade, frail and fragile, not meant for this world of rock and stone, flower and field, but destined to walk in heavenly meadows or to rest in the shallows where she rocks to sleep in the sea’s endless cradle.
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LJ sat at a table in a dark corner of the Bistro. He held a plastic bag in his hands and moved what looked like dried brown fava beans, one by one, through his fingers. A priest at prayer, his lips moved in a silent mantra as he counted the beans: “… twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine.”
Robin and Will watched him closely, looking for the tell-tale signs that would announce LJ’s return to his former life.
Same-sex couples danced through the Bistro. They avoided this one corner that formed an oasis of severity amidst the gaiety and noise of Carnival celebrations.
“How much does he remember?” Robin looked at Will. Will shrugged and the two men exchanged worried glances.
A whooping conga of men dressed in garish, feathered costumes that revealed more than they concealed, approached the table where the three friends sat. The conga came to a stop in front of them.
“Now what have we here?” The leader asked. He turned to his followers flashing a white, toothy smile.
“Let’s see what you’ve got, darling,” he reached towards LJ’s plastic bag.
“Don’t touch him,” said Robin, rising to his feet.
Three large men broke away from the line and two grasped Robin while the third put his arms on Will’s shoulders and held him in his chair.
“I’m warning you,” Robin said.
“Shut it,” said the leader.
LJ closed the plastic bag that held the twenty-nine fava beans and put it in is breast pocket, next to his heart.
“Don’t put them away, darling, they look delicious,” the leader grinned his enormous grin. He was a big man, not tall, but broad and heavy. “Give them to me, I want to eat one. C’mon, I’ll just pop it in my mouth and suck it.”
The Conga crowd roared their approval.
LJ got to his feet. He was a small man, but wiry. The night-fighter, they had called him. He was the one who slipped out at night through enemy lines and knifed the sentries. One hand over their mouths, one hand on his knife, all sounds extinguished till they relaxed, lifeless, then that one quick twist of the knife and the ear-lobe severed as the dead man was lowered to the floor.
“Wanna dance?” The conga leader wiggled his hips and ran his tongue over his lips, then puckered a little kiss.
LJ’s face turned red, the veins engorged, and his eyes stood out. Nobody saw him move, nobody ever saw LJ move. He grasped the Conga leader’s windpipe with his left hand and drew him forward until they were locked eyeball to eyeball. LJ’s night-fighter knife lay flat across the man’s jugular.
“LJ, no,” Robin screamed. “Not number thirty.”
LJ kept staring at the man he held. His knife disappeared.
“You’re not worthy,” he said, leering into the Conga leader’s purpling face. “You’d dishonor them.”
Will and Robin breathed a sigh of relief.
Comment: Bistro is the title story in a collection of short stories and flash fiction. Bistro, the book, was one of three finalists (and the only self-published book) in the New Brunswick Book Awards (Fiction, 2017). Bistro (the collection) is available on Amazon. The sound recording below is my own reading of the story and the opening cartoon, Belle Bottom Naval Gazing, is the picture on the cover of Bistro, the book. It is also my own work.
Monkey’s masculine penis envy
focuses on the great snakes,
pythons, boa-constrictors, anacondas,
basking beneath hot-house lights
that maintain a rigid temperature,
desert and jungle warmth and moisture
ready at the flick of a switch.
They lounge in glass cubicles,
checking each other out
for size, weight, length, girth,
with a roll of the eye and a casual flicker
of a forked lightning tongue.
Fed for far too long
on fetched food
from the untroubled tenured trough,
many have become sedentary,
and much too comfortable
to even think about
renewing their lives,
or sloughing their skins.