This Vessel in Which I Sail

This Vessel in which I Sail

Trapped in this fragile vessel with the pandemic
a passenger waiting to board, I drift from port to port,
looking for a haven, safe, to have and to hold me.

No harbour will let me dock. “No room at this inn,”
they say. “No haven here.” They wave me away.

Now I have no destination. Aimless, I float and every
where I go the message is: “No vacancy: no room at all.”

Unwanted, abandoned, I wander with wind and waves,
my only friends seals, porpoises, and whales.
I walk the whale road, leaving a frail, white wake behind.

This vessel has become a gulag now, a prison
camp where I exist just to survive. Each hour of each day
endless, boundless, like this shadowy, haunted sea.

Today there is no motion, no goal. What is there to achieve
but survival? Each day’s journey is sufficient unto itself.

Sciatica

Sciatica

There is no science to sciatica,
just a series of sensations
most of them involving pain.

I don’t know how or when it comes,
but one day, it knocks on your door
and you clutch back and buttock.

It’s like a hawk at the bird feeder,
flown in from nowhere to shriek
and shred, unawares, one small bird.

Was it the flannel I dropped yesterday
when showering?  I stooped to pick it up,
lunged forward, and that was it?

The pain came later. It kept me awake
all night, my worst nightmare.
No comfort anywhere. An endless

wriggling and every movement a knife
blade stabbing at my buttock and slicing
its slow, painful way down my leg.

The screws, my grandfather called it,
a metal screw screwed into his leg,
leaving him limp and limping.

I googled it today, sciatica, and they
suggested an ice pad for twenty minutes,
repeated twenty minutes later.

“Yes,” I muttered, “yes” and found
in the fridge the ice pack we used
to use in our Coleman’s cooler.

My beloved helped me undo my pants.
“This,” she said, “will be icing on the cake.”
“No,” I said, “it will be icing on the ache”

Tomorrow, I will call the chiropractor.
She will bend me to her will, straighten
my back, cure the pain, set me right again,
as long as Covid lets me in to her domain.

Lamentations

El Cristo de Carrizo

“Contemplate this crucifixion.
Each of your sins is a thorn
driven into His brow.

Each misdemeanor spears
the sacred side,
draws water and blood
from the open wound.

Your sinful deeds
drive nails anew
into hand and foot.

Christ lives in you.
Your misdeeds nail him
daily to the cross
He bears for you.

He hangs there,
open-eyed.

No death,
no resurrection,
just an everlasting suffering
from these nails
you daily drive.”

Comment: This poem is a very golden oldie. I wrote it in 1979 while walking the Camino de Santiago / the Road to St. James. I should add that this was long before it became fashionable to do so. I walked alone and, save for my thoughts, I was indeed very lonely. In fact, the long days walking, the solitude, got to me. I needed to talk, to meet people, and so, after long discussions with sundry people along the route, I determined to take the bus or the train to the main pilgrimage centres and to walk out from them in either direction. This allowed me to meet people, explore the towns with their churches, traditions, and museums, and to learn much more about the nature and art traditionally associated with the pilgrimage. In this fashion, I spent five days in Leon, two days in Hospital de Orbigo, a week in Astorga, another week in Ponferrada, and nearly two weeks in Santiago itself.

I wrote a collection of poems while I was studying the cities and the landscape. This particular poem is a summary of the conversation I had with the old priest, determined to convert me to Catholicism, who introduced me to the Cristo de Carrizo, in Leon.

In 1613, Francisco de Quevedo, the Spanish poet on whom I wrote my doctoral thesis (Toronto, 1975) wrote a collection of heartfelt mea maxima culpa poems dedicated to his aunt. It bore the title of El Heráclito Cristiano / The Christian Heraclitus.  This in turn was based on an earlier cycle of poems, Lamentaciones de Semana Santa / Lamentations of Holy Week (1601), which Quevedo appears to have written following the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

These spiritual exercises consist of a set of contemplations based on the Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis, in which the contemplator meditates on each of the moments of Christ’s torment and suffering leading up to his death by crucifixion at the end of Holy Week. The purpose of the exercises is to try and recreate in the mind of the contemplator the sufferings of Christ, to imagine his pain, and to feel his suffering at a personal level. This is an act not only of contemplation and contrition, but also of purification of mind and spirit.

This year, during Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday and the Resurrection), I attempted to follow in the footsteps of Quevedo and to contemplate the current world situation and my own specific situation, as influenced by the lock down in New Brunswick instigated on account of the Corona Virus pandemic.

Lamentations for Holy Week, then, is my attempt to examine myself and my own conscience at a time of great personal stress, a stress that I share with all those who are infirm, frail, in ill health, alone, and getting on in years. These are the people most affected by loneliness and the threat of the pandemic to our lives.

The Cristo de Carrizo is a hand-carved ivory cross, Mozarabic in origin. It shows Christ, on the cross, with his eyes open, looking at the viewer. Christ is not dead, in this crucifixion, but very much alive, and suffering. Image taken from Wikipedia.

The Champion

The Champion

There I was, in dreamland, half-asleep,
leaning on my cart, when this phantom drifted
towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry.”

I woke up from my dream, looked at the ghost,
tall, skeletal, thin, cavernous eyes, cheekbones
protruding, gaps in the teeth, grey face drawn.

“Sorry!” My reply was automatic. I looked
at him again. “I only carry plastic.” The excuse
limped heavily across the air between us.

I saw something in his eyes, I knew not what.
As I walked away, I added one hundred pound
of muscle to his frame. He had played hard.

I remembered him holding up the Maritime Cup.
But I couldn’t remember his name. I pushed
my cart all over the store searching for him.

At the ATM I withdrew cash I could give him.
I would tell him he had dropped it. I could invite
him to the snack bar, buy him a meal and more.

I could tell him to buy what he needed and meet
me at the check out. I could add his purchases
to my bill. I looked everywhere. Nor sight, nor sign.

One opportunity. That’s all we get. Miss it, blow
the match. Grasp it, hold it tight, we’re champions.

Comment: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Or my sister’s?” Here and now we are living with realities that we have rarely faced before. Not everyone has kept their jobs. Some are indeed living out on the streets, helpless, homeless, panhandling, hoping. Right now they are lucky. Sunny, warm, hot … though sometimes too hot. At least it isn’t 40 below and freezing their butts off. So what do we do? Turn a blind eye? Say we are sorry? Suddenly recognize an old friend, turn quickly away before he recognizes us, and burn ever afterwards with shame?

I cannot answer for you. I can only answer for myself. I am ashamed of my slick answers, my throwaway negatives, my disguised barbs. “Go get a job.” There are no jobs, or very few anyway, Covid-19 has seen to that. “Do something useful, can’t you?” There’s very little they can do, and seemingly there’s very little can be done for them. “Go home!” They have no homes to go to.

So what are the alternatives? Love? Charity? Comprehension? Embracing their situation? Understanding? How can we understand, you and I, who sit before the computer screen, the cell phone, or the I Pad, scanning this in comfort? Think about it: there, out into the street, but for some good luck, and the grace of God, go you and I. Think about it. Now do you understand?

Lost

Lost

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
are present in them all. I glimpse your shadow
in the mirror and your breath brushes my cheek

when I open the door. Where have you gone?
I walk from room to room, but when I seek,
I no longer find and nothing opens when I knock.

Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I am sure
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice breaks the silence

when you whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,
that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,

the days, embracing dust motes to find no solace
in salacious sunbeams and my occasional dreams.

Comment: Another golden oldie, polished, rewritten, and revised. Today is Clare’s birthday and fifty-five years ago today we got engaged, on her birthday, in Santander, Spain. I wrote this poem a couple of years ago when she was visiting our daughter and grand-daughter in Ottawa and I was left alone to look after the house. I will be including this poem in my new collection, All About Ageingin an age of pandemic, on which I am currently working.

My vision of absence and of the bereaved wandering, lost, the house the couple once shared, is sharpened in this age of pandemic in which we live. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered short term or long term effects from the pandemic. My premonitions and visions, my memories and dreams, reach out especially to those who have lost loved ones and who live in the daily reality of that loss.

Q & A

aka
The Street of Life and Death

Q & A

“What is this sound?”
It is your own death sighing,
groaning, growing
while you wait for it
to devour you.

“What is this feeling”
It is the itch of your own skin
wrinkling and shrinking,
preparing to wrap you
in the last clothes you’ll wear.

“What is this taste?”
It is the taste of your life,
bottled like summer wine
once sweet tasting,
now turning to vinegar.

“What is this smell?”
It is waste and decay,
the loss of all you knew
and of all that knew you.

“That carriage outside?”
It is the dark hearse
come to carry you
to your everlasting home.