Westbury White Horse

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Westbury
White Horse

Winter in Somerset. No trains from Frome.
They sit in the engine sheds, boilers frozen.

Clare drives me to Westbury, in Wiltshire,
the neighboring county. She leaves me there

and I stand on a platform as white with snow
as Westbury White Horse towering above.

People arrive, flapping their arms, stamping
their feet, walking around trying to stay warm.

Finally, to shouts, cheers, and laughter, a train
arrives, its boiler successfully thawed. People

rush forward, open doors, claim their seats.
It’s a corridor, not a compartment train.

“Is this the eight-fifteen to Temple Meads?”
I ask the porter. “Nope,” he says. “That wll

be arriving later.” “When?” “About ten
or eleven, I expect.” “What train is this?”

“Ah, now this is the six-thirty to Bristol.
Running about two hours late. Better be quick.

The guard’s waving his flag. She’s about to leave.”
I open a door, climb on the train.  All

the seats are taken. I stand in the corridor,
shivering, all the way to Temple Meads.

Gower

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Gower

To be Welsh in Gower is to spell it funny
and pronounce it worse: Gwyr.
It’s to know how to say Pwll Ddu.
It’s meeting the cows in the lane to Brandy Cove
and knowing them all by name and reputation,
which one kicks, which one gores,
when to walk in the middle of the lane,
and when to jump for the safety of the hedge.

It’s to know the difference between the twin farmers
Upper and Lower Jones.
It’s to recognize their sheepdogs, Floss and Jess,
and to call them with their different whistles.
It’s knowing the time of day by sun and shadow;
it’s knowing the tide is in or out
by the salt smell in the air
without ever needing to see the sea;

and now, in this far away land called Canada,
it’s hearing your stomach growl for crempog or teisen lap
whilst memory’s fish‑hook tugs at your heart
in the same way your father hauled in salmon bass
at Rhossili, Brandy Cove, Pennard, Oxwich, and Three Cliffs.

Commentary: I was checking Gwyr, the Welsh for Gower, where I was born, and found this interpretation of the name. <<G is for generous, your giving nature. W is for wise, more tomorrow than today. Y is for young, the years never show. R is for rapport, friends seek you.>> I don’t know if that’s me, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad set of descriptors to live up to.

 

Growing Up

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Growing Up
in Brynmill

They drag the kids kicking and squealing
from childhood’s universe into an older
world of smoking and drinking, forbidden
fruits stolen after Christmas dinner when
drowsy grown-ups’ eyes are turned away.

Why do bigger boys follow smaller ones,
buying their sisters’ kisses then thrusting
their fingers into little girls’ knickers, or
invading Woolworth’s and tucking stolen
goods in shirts with their buttons undone?

The games they play: offering a little girl
a cigarette  or a sweet while two boys
wait behind the garden gate with a sharp
knife to  press against the victim’s throat.

Time-Spirits

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Time-Spirits

Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, translated as “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch.
Wikipedia

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Poems for troubled times.

Introduction

Our world finds itself in an incredible mess right now. Somehow, we have to sort it out. Images and metaphors tie past, present, and future together. We must pick our ways through the difficulties of these troubled times, as you must pick your way through the intricacies of these poems. Many of you will give up. Some of you, the chosen few, will make your way to the heart of each poem.

These poems are deliberately cryptic. Each one is a mind game I am playing with you. I do not underestimate you. I have placed clues throughout each poem and if you follow the clues you will arrive at many of the poem’s hidden meanings. Some poems are more difficult than others, their meaning more recondite. Others seem very straightforward, yet still contain secrets.

            This style of poetry has a long history going back to Anglo-Saxon riddles and way beyond, back into the mists of time. Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) and Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645) specialized in similar forms of recondite poetry, often based on metaphor and the juego alusivo-elusivo, the game of alluding to something while eluding the act of saying what it is. Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) and Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) also played this game, as did Octavio Paz (1914-1998). In the works of all of these poets, the clues may rest in the poem or they may be found in a generic knowledge of the mythology of the poem’s exterior world.

             Always remember that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana). Otherwise expressed, in the words of T. S. Eliot: “Time present and time past / are both perhaps present in time future / and time future contained in time past” (Burnt Norton). The seeming anachronisms in these poems suggest that all time is ever-present and that each new day presents us with events that have already occurred on many occasions.

Commentary: The idea for Time-Spirits aka Zeitgeist was born around the kitchen table in Island View on Saturday, 22 December 2018, during a literary conversation between Gwen, Victor, and Roger. A poem at a time, one after another, grew from that table top chat. The result: 70 poems, not easy to read, deliberately difficult, that reflect our troubled times. My thanks to Geoff Slater, line-painter, who drew the cover picture: Robin Red in Claw and Breast, a symbol of nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. So are we in the words of Albert Camus who writes ‘nous sommes ou les meurtriers ou les victimes’ . Is it the early bird that catches the worm? Or is it the late worm that gets caught by the bird? Whichever: it’s the worm that gets eaten, until the robin bites the dust, when he is eaten in his turn. Just think of it as nature doing its regular recycling …

 

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Tracks

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Tracks
McAdam Railway Station #12

“Put your fingertips on the rail,
see if you can feel its pulsing beat.

No heart rail rhythm now. No tremble.
Put your ear on cold metal:

nothing but silence. No murmur,
however distant. Black fly whine.

No-see-ums flit. The train track’s
buzz of harmony is lost and gone,

replaced by careless nature. Listen
to the wind whistling in the woods,

hark to spring sounds, so subtle,
grass growing, rust accumulating,

sleepers turning over in their graves,
silent, rotting beneath forgotten rails.”

Comment: Nothing so lonely as an abandoned railway track, rusting beneath snow and rain, the wooden sleepers rotting into oblivion. That said, the Southern New Brunswick Railway still carries freight trains through McAdam, and it is the railway station that suffered, with the loss of passenger traffic, rather than the rails themselves. What a pleasure, incidentally, to hear the hoot of the approaching diesel, to count the wagons as the train came to a halt outside the station. Then came the joy of watching the engine separate wagons from the main train, shunt them into sidings, return, and take the freight train, slow at first, but rapidly gathering speed, out of the station and away into the distance. Such memories. So many ghost trains riding those rails. So many ghosts bewitching the windmills of the child’s mind that still inhabits the ageing brain.

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Elevator Pitch

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Elevator Pitch
Jean Chrétien

His enormous presence filled that tiny
space. His corkscrew smile, well-known tic,
semi-frozen face, that trick of wild speech

butchering language, misunderstood in
both English and French. “Bonjour,” he said. “Good
day.” I nodded, didn’t know what to say,

just shuffled my feet. I remember he
talked on the radio about our land,
how, in winter, with car stuck in snow,

we spin our wheels, forward and back, a bit
at a time until we emerge, content,
victorious. Time and the floors slipped by.

I thought of the elevator pitches
I had written for my films. Should I pitch
him about my latest film or should I

just keep quiet. The elevator stopped.
Jean Chrétien got out. “You’ll be back,” I
said. “Damn right,” he grinned, lop-sided.

Renaissance Hotel. Toronto. Nine-teen
eighty-five. Tongue-tied I had stood there.
Later I thought of all I might have said.

Volunteers

 

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Volunteers
McAdam Railway Station 6

Only the old in body
and young at heart know
how to cook like this.

The soda fountain stools,
the horseshoe bar
from the old Royal York,

they merit only the best.
Simplicity rules. Stews
like grandma made them,

lining the ribs,
defying damp and cold.
Railway Pie, recipes

a hundred years old, or more.
bread rolls that melt
into the butter knife,

coffee to kill for. No wonder
the old ghosts walk around
feeding off cooking smells,

sad, gentle eyes, watching us
as we eat, refusing to leave.

Comment: That’s the end of the Railway Pie, I’m afraid. The soup has already vanished. Three lucky people, arriving on cooking day, and receiving a free lunch. What joy, what delight. The volunteers were cooking for another event, outside the station, which was not yet open. Old ghosts watched from quiet corners as we ate. I am sure those spirits survive on the wonderful cooking smells that emerge. I should add how impressed I am at the knowledge displayed by the volunteers at McAdam Railway Station. They now only have their facts at their fingertips, but hey are able to express those facts in a way that draws the audience in and makes every visit a genuine pleasure. Volunteers: thank you for being there. You do a great job.

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