Kite

Kite Flying

So light, the kite,
a butterfly in flight.

Breeze battered,
sky-blue shattered.

Children stare
seeing the wing-shape
fluttering there
rising on flimsy air.

Diving, dipping,
nylon cord slipping,
finger-flesh ripping.

Here come others,
children and mothers.

Butterflies, bright,
ready for flight,
fighting wind-might:
a child’s delight.

I didn’t have photos of a kite.
I offer some humming birds instead.
Listen closely:
you can hear them hum.

Blue and Green

“Blue and green
should not be seen
without a color
in between,”
thus spoke my mother.

What did she know
of the Peace Park grass
sweeping spring-clean
to head pond waters?

Didn’t she sense the frail
brown fringe of rock
scarfing between green
grass and head pond blue
or the white caps lacing
cow parsley on the stones?

I know she knew nothing
of yellow and red leaves,
brown spotted like an old
man’s hands, freckling waters,
fretting at the fragility
of nature’s delicate balance.

A Sacrifice to Mithras

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A Sacrifice to Mithras

“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.”

“Look on us in our darkness,
help us to seek and see the light.
Keep us strong, keep us brave.
Mithras, always a soldier,
help us to die aright.”

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Comment: I am re-reading Puck of Pook’s Hill (Rudyard Kipling). It was given to me for a Christmas present (1955) by my father’s younger brother, my Uncle Frank. His signature is there, on the fly leaf, and his hand writing is as I always remember it. As I write these words, I can still hear his voice. The Song to Mithras, on which this poem is based, can be found on page 191, my edition (MacMillan, 1955), as a prelude to The Winged Hats. Without these clues, the poem operates in another space, more personal and more morbid, perhaps. The rites to Mithras were associated with the sacrifice, at midnight, of the black bull. The upper photograph shows one of the Bulls of Guisando (Los Toros de Guisando), which have stood in the province of Avila, in Spain, since time immemorial. So old are they, that the Roman legions left their mark on them in Latin, as you can see from the photo, when they conquered Spain after the Carthaginian wars.  The lower photo shows fighting bulls on a bull farm in Salamanca, Spain. Born from generations of fighting stock, these animals have been bred for thousands of years to die in the bull ring, as the bulls dedicated to Mithras were bred to die in the Roman temples. This is not a defense of the cruelty of bullfighting or the sacrifice of animals. It is rather a statement regarding the longevity of cruelty, of sacrifice, of the natural flow that leads men and women from birth, through childhood, to maturity, and on to old age, and death. My father is long gone now, as is his younger brother. Who will have access to these memories of mine when I go? Who will remember my family when I am gone?

Plein Air

 

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Plein Air
(for Ruby Allan)

Plein air,”
she said, and I imagined her
sitting before the blank spread of a canvas,
a ship’s sail waiting for a sea-side breeze
to fill that empty space with color and mood.

What routes will her paintbrush take
as it wanders over the new world
lying before her?

Plein air, al fresco,
in garden and street,
before the shops and then
on headland and shore,
alone or accompanied,

with sea birds wading
and the gull’s cry echoing its sea of sound
as the sun sets in its bonfire of brightness
and throws light and shadow,
chiaro-oscuro,
all around.

Comment: The lead photo of Ruby Allan in her studio was taken in her KIRA studio in June, 2017, by my friend and fellow artist, the Peruvian pan-piper and flautist / flutist, Carlos Carty. The poem comes from my book, One Small Corner (2017), written in KIRA during my residency. It can be found on page 94 in the section entitled Artists.

In this poem I have tried to capture the idea of Ruby painting in the fresh air (plein air / al fresco) in St. Andrews-by-the-sea. Clearly, as you can see from the above photo, the sea is so important to this town, as are harbors and boats and the men that man and sail them. The light is important too as it changes throughout the day or with wind and weather. As you can see, Ruby’s paintings are filled with light and she catches those magic moments when the world seems to freeze and stand still. I try to imitate visual art when I write, and I try to fill my poetry with those magic moments as I create verbal pictures that seize the seconds and  hold them, even if it be for just a little while.

 

Empty Nest

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Emptiness
is an
Empty Nest

The wind at the window
scratches tiny notes.
I can no longer hear the tune
nor read the words.

Who walks beside me
as I pace my lonely path,
abandoned
in this empty house.

My self-portrait
stares back at me:
a splintered selfie,
framed in a sliver
of silvery glass.

Above me,
the monkey-faced moon,
that itinerant tinker,
walks a fractured way
over broken glass.

The knapsack on his back
is cobbled together
from a finery of cobwebs
and clumsy clouds.

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Her Shadow

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Her Shadow

“Birds, birds,” she shrieked with delight.
“The drab one is a girl like you,” I told her,
“but the bright one is a little boy.”

“Yellow,” she cried again with joy, “Yellow.”
Tiny hands plucked at air, catching nothing.

I can still see her standing there, her nose,
all wet and runny.  She left damp, snot-stained
marks, a sort of signature, on the cold wet glass.

She’s long gone now, way back home, but still
the window stays unwashed and her shadow
often comes between me and the morning sun.

Pots and Pans

 

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Pots and Pans
St. Teresa of Ávila

A dusty highway. This woman riding
side-saddle on a hard, wooden seat, eyes
turned heavenward for inspiration. Frail,

fragile, she has never been strong, yet has
had enough strength, shoe-less, not soul-less,
to create her order of Discalced Carmelites

and found a hundred convents, safe havens
where woman can live in poverty, peace,
and prayer. Snow falls in high mountain passes.

Rivers rush downhill in springtime spate.
Mules rebel against cold waters. Bed bugs
bite … her God created them, so she suffers

in silence their indignities. Wounded heart
and soul, often doubting, faith always backing
her thoughts, words, deeds, she believes,

and that belief, as strong as this mule, as
solid as the San José corner-stone she laid.
She knows all too well that God often walks

and works his wonders for her faithful nuns
in convent kitchens cooking and washing
doing the small things, among pots and pans.

Comment:También anda Dios en la cocina entre las pucheras / God also walks in the kitchen among the pots and pans.” St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). It’s funny how, in times of stress, the little things in life come back back to haunt and help us. I have written of St. David, “Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd / do the little things in life,” and here is St. Theresa of Avila saying more or less the same thing, nearly a thousand years later, this time in Spanish, not in Welsh. Intertextuality: in this way, I am able to talk, through my eyes, with Dewi Sant and Santa Teresa. And, through me, you too can indulge in this saintly dialog.

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In my blog post, Triumphs, I wrote about how doing the little things in life can be so rewarding and so important for us as we age. No, I will never climb Mount Everest, but climbing up the stairs to my bedroom every night is, for me, a journey to the roof of my world and every ascent is a personal triumph, as is a safe descent each morning. I will never compete in a marathon, even though, back in my youth, I raced over ten miles and completed a half marathon. None of that now matters. What does matter is that I get my daily walk around the house, around the garden, around the block. My Olympic Goal is not to “own the podium”, a phrase I have always found slightly odious, but to win my daily wrestle with myself to just get my exercise done. Do the little things in life. In these troubled times, routine is important. Belief is important. Doing the little things that keep us alive is of paramount importance. And here’s a photo of a magnificent stork, in Avila, doing the little things in life.

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Word without end

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Word Without End
Antonio Machado

Tree: rowan, mountain ash, larch, tamarack,
hackmatack, spruce, birch, maple, passerines
flying from branch to branch. Birds: more words,

woodpeckers, downy, hairy, pileated, cardinals,
finches, purple, house, golden, rain-rusted robins,
crows, aerial magicians, wondrous in flight.

Spring: fresh branch tips, tiny fox gloves, leaf buds,
folded fiddleheads soon to open their spring magic.
Open: hearts worn on sleeves, open to the world,

wounds, eyes, everything open to beauteous
sun-warmth, snow’s slow disappearance, rising river,
freshet flow freshening this Renaissance,

every day a rebirth, a new beginning,
fresh starts, the world reborn beneath a rising sun,
its yellow disc growing, the new day glowing.

The word as it was in the beginning, head in hands,
heart in mouth, words without meaning, words whirling
golden autumn leaves, words caught in a whirligig,
words all powerful in a word-world without end.

Comment: “La palabra: una palptiación honda del espíritu / The word: a deep palpitation of the spirit.” Antonio Machado (1875-1939). In The Meaning of Meaning, Bertrand Russell discusses what words mean and how they construct, with their endless associative fields, a net of emotions that take us beyond logic into new realms of meaning. As poets and creative artists, we are conscious of the emotions we attach to each word we use. If the poetry is good, then that network of emotional associations reaches out to a wider audience and draws them into our own world view. If we are less skillful, then the emotions are trapped in our own claustrophobic words and fail to reach out, to lift up from the page, to achieve take-off. As we develop as poets and writers, we become more and more aware of the ways in which the microcosm, our own world in miniature, reaches out to the macrocosm, that wider world outside. When we achieve a blend between those two worlds, even if it be in nothing more than a metaphor, nothing more than a felicitous phrase or a delicately timed rhyme, then we reach a new level, a level that we strive to retain and attain anew every time we create.

For me, many of the secrets of poetry can be found hidden in the rhythm of words, the music of their joining, the harmonies they create when they play off each other, old and older meanings reflecting off the newer meanings we give them as we shuffle them anew and put them through their paces.

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Yesterday, my beloved placed seeds on the back porch, and a chipmunk, her pet chipmunk, came and sat on her foot as he chomped the seeds. Today, this first chipmunk was followed by a second chipmunk. Patience my friends. Keep writing. Keep striving. Keep experimenting. Keep your faith and your creed. Your words will one day reach out, like seeds to chipmunks, and will sow themselves in the mind’s of your readers. And those readers will beget other readers, much as one chipmunk plus one chipmunk will eventually equal many more than two chipmunks. Oh the joy of words, the loving search for le mot juste and the meaning of meaning. In the words of the immortal Cervantes: Paciencia, y barajar / patience, and shuffle your words. The results will creep upon you one morning, unaware and, like the chipmunks, they will catch you by surprise.

White Wolf

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White Wolf
Rhodri Mawr

Winter’s white wolf
shakes ice from her coat,
makes snowflakes fly,
blanches our world.

Nose pointed skywards,
she howls a North wind
straight down from the Pole
as we shiver indoors.

Snow gathers in the air,
thick as winged moths,
then drops to the ground,
plays dead in deep drifts.

Snow banks climb higher,
blotting out light.
Soon, Arctic cold will wrap us
in its endless night.

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White Wolf  in Island View

 

Comment: Y blaidd gwen yn y gaeaf / The white wolf in winter, translated from the original Welsh of an anonymous Gŵyr poet, circa 1613. Oh I do love messing about with images and words. I don’t have a photo of a white wolf, so instead I have posted a photo of my lapdog, Tigger, who weighs in at 115 lb. Tigger, of course / wrth gwrs, is a delicate champagne color rather than white. When he sheds hair in the summer known in the doggy trade as ‘blowing his coat’, it is like a snow storm coming off the back porch. The nesting birds and the chipmunks and squirrels can be seen carrying chunks of his fur back to their nests. They will keep wonderfully warm, wrapped in the raggle-taggle gypsies torn from coat. There are several jokes and pieces of misinformation or weird humor, woven into my poem. I wonder how many you can spot? Each of my poems is a puzzle, in one way or another, so have fun solving the riddles!

Black Angel

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Black Angel

You cannot hide
when the black angel arrives
to knock on your door.

“Wait a minute!” you say,
“While I change my clothes
and comb my hair.”

But he is there before you,
in the clothes closet,
pulling your arm.

You move to the bathroom
to brush your teeth.

“Now!” says the angel.
Your eyes mist over.

You may know you are there,
but you can no longer see
your reflection in the mirror.

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Comment: Another Golden Oldie from the same dusty manuscript (as if e-files could get dusty), but a little bit more sinister, this one. As long as you can see your reflection and as long as your shadow is still clipped to your heels when the sun shines, you are probably all right. A friend of mine had a nasty turn the other night. He woke up with cramp at 3 in the morning, got out of bed to stretch, blacked out while he was stretching, and came round on the bedroom floor an hour later. It took him 10 minutes to roll over, perform a push up, get onto his knees, crawl to the chair, and pull himself upright. He climbed back into bed and forgot all about it until it was time for him to get up the next morning. Then he lay there worrying until the forces of nature forced him to his feet. Now he says he’s fine … he might be. I checked his shadow and it’s still there and when I talked with him on Messenger, he’d managed to shave.