Obsidian’s Edge started out as At the Edge of Obsidian and was the second volume in the Oaxacan Trilogy (Sun and Moon, At the Edge of Obsidian, Obsidian 22). When I republished it in Create Space (now Kindle / KDP) I rewrote the last two volumes and turned them into a single book, Obsidian’s Edge, so that the Oaxacan Trilogy is now a Oaxacan Duology. My apologies to those who are eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.
Early Morning in Oaxaca
… dream worlds circle outside my bedroom window … starry sky … two full moons floating, one real, one mirrored in the glass … inside the bedroom, tulips inscribe red gashes on white-washed walls … sharp fingernails scrape across paint, blood red shadows trickle down to the floor … … above the azotea, the temples of Monte Albán string out their sheets on the sky’s washing-line, glowing in the moonlight … against a background of granite and stucco, trenchant shadows sculpt dancers into grotesque, pipe-wire shapes as they struggle to escape their carved imprisonment … … priests in long black robes gape at the night sky. From their sanctuary in the observatory, they plot how they will persuade the people to believe the future they will foretell as night’s giant finger herds the wild-cat stars … … three young women walk at an angle up the temple steps … when they reach the top, a moonbeam holds them in its spotlight and they wax with the full moon’s beauty … the doorway to an unclosed grave opens its crocodile jaws and the three women descend the temple steps, ageing as they walk … at the temple’s foot, they enter the tomb’s dark mouth … an old man in a faded grey suit walks behind them … the grave swallows them all, burying them in the hidden depths beneath the mound … … dreams back themselves into a cul-de-sac, a wilderness of harsh black scars … an ancient Aztec god catches Rabbit by his ears and throws him against the second sun that sizzles in the sky … his sharp teeth burrow, burying themselves deep in the sun-fire’s light … the second sun loses its glow and turns into the moon’s cold stone … the rabbit’s skull simmers in the new moon’s dwindling pool … With a clicking of claws, knitting needles come together to pluck me outwards from my dreams and upwards towards death’s golden guillotine that floats in the sky. The moon sharpens its knife edge on the keening wind and sets my blood tingling. I want to be free, free from those nightmares, those nocturnal visions that rise up from the past and stalk me as I lie in bed. Drowsing, I long for the alarm clock to shuffle its pack of sleepless hours and to waken me with its piercing call as it tears me from these winding sheets, these grave clothes in which I lie. I wait for the sun to shine into my window.
Niche, the fourth poetry book published by Jane Tims, is a neat configuration of six segments that elaborate and illustrate the poet’s original definition of the multiple meanings of her title word niche. It is very difficult to separate the author from the act of narration as her keenly observed and skillfully executed drawings, together with their verbal representation on the page, are so autobiographical and so much an extension of her artistic and professional abilities that the objective separation of writer and text is scarcely possible. It is hard to forget that Jane Tims was, and to a great extent, still is, a highly competent professional botanist. The harnessing of the professional botanist, with her unique drawing skills and scientific knowledge, to the poet and auto-biographer is a key factor in the reading and interpretation of this text in which acute observation blends with an intimate knowledge of the observed botanical world, both flora and fauna, and this allows the poet, in her role of poetic narrator and lyrical voice, to weave a network of poems that are, at one and the same time, objective and intensely subjective.
The author emphasizes this when she writes in the Preface that “In biological terms, the niche is the quality of a space occupied by a living thing, the sum total of physical, nutritional, biological, psychological and emotional needs gathered together in one place.” She also reminds us that in human terms “niche can be a metaphor for home, community or personal space” and it is within these metaphoric spaces that the poetry text is elaborated. The text becomes a linked mixture of visual drawings, iterative thematic imagery and associative fields, all centred on the multiple meanings of niche. These terms are both biological and human in nature and the poet’s named world meets at this juncture between the human and the natural.
The section occupying space (1-19) bears the subtitle satisfying need and begins with a setting out of what this means in the following 12 poems and 4 accompanying drawings. The poem ‘apples in the snow’ with its companion drawing stands out for me. The section strategy, subtitled solidifying position (21-43) outlines in poetic terms, how plants, animals, and humans ensure their own survival. The section praying for rain, subtitled, avoiding danger and discomfort (45-68), offers views on discomforts and dangers. It also opens the discussion—relocate or stay where we are? The section mapping the labyrinth or places I have occupied (69-83), which contains the wonderful sentence “When I get lost on the road ahead, I look to the road behind me,” throws open the multiple meanings of home. The section new ways for water, subtitled coping with change (85-98), offers a double landscape, first, external, the things seen, touched, examined, remembered and described, and then the internal landscape that reflects upon them and is reflected in them. Finally, forgetting to move, with its subtitle getting comfortable (99-111), presents an autobiography that links observer (the twin personage of author and narrator) to observed (nature, both flora and fauna, and the added element of autobiography and self) via the symbiotic relationship of botanist to botany.
Two moments stand out for me. (1) Sadness is in seeking the space that is never found. (2) Loneliness is in trying to return to a space once occupied but no longer available. The whole concept of the Welsh word hiraeth is summed up in these two lines. Carpe diem, Jane Tims’ poetry indeed seizes the day and, with its minute, intense observation, it preserves so many precious moments. It also pays attention to that which has been lost, those moments that are irretrievable. They will vary for each reader, but hopefully, like me, you will take great pleasure in discovering them for yourself.
Comment: Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox picked up this review and published it on QBF. Thank you, Brian and thank you Jane, you both do me great honor. Here’s the link: Niche on QBF 14 March 2021
Water Peragua Water seeks its final solution as it slips from cupped hands. Does it remember when the earth was without form and darkness was upon the face of the deep? The waters under heaven were gathered into one place and the firmament appeared.
Light was divided from darkness and with the beginning of light came The Word, and words, and the world … … the world of water in which I was carried until the waters broke and the life sustaining substance drained away throwing me from dark to light.
The valley’s parched throat longs for water, born free, yet everywhere imprisoned: in chains, in bottles, in tins, in jars, in frozen cubes, its captive essence staring out with grief filled eyes.
A young boy on a tricycle bears a dozen prison cells, each with forty captives: forty fresh clean litres of water. “¡Agua!¡Peragua!” he calls. “¡Super Agua!”
He holds out his hand for money and invites me to pay a ransom, to set these prisoners free.
Real water yearns to be released, to be set free from its captivity, to trickle out of the corner of your mouth, to drip from your chin, to seek sanctuary in the ground.
Real water slips through your hair and leaves you squeaky clean. It is a mirage of palm trees upon burning sand.
It is the hot sun dragging its blood red tongue across the sky and panting for water like a great big thirsty dog.
Comment: More and more competitions, publishers, and magazines are asking for ‘original material, not previously published, or self-published, even on your own blog.’ So what is a poet to do? Put up fresh material, and it is illegible for entry elsewhere. Recycle and revise old material? Now that might work. Click on the link above for the original version of this post! And yes, it has been previously published on these ages!
… early morning sunshine creepy-crawly spider leg rays climbing over window and wall my bed-nest alive to light not night’s star twinkle but the sun’s egg breaking its golden yolk gilding sheet and pillow billowing day dreams through my still sleepy head …
… the word feast festering gathering its inner glimpses interior life of wind and wave the elements laid out before me my banquet of festivities white the table cloth golden the woodwork’s glow mind and matter polished and the sun show shimmering its morning glory …
Comment: It seems like only yesterday, though three and a half years have slipped swiftly by. Each summer I am envious of those chosen to represent their artistic disciplines at KIRA. The joys of waking in the Red Room and of writing at the desk there will stay with me for ever. It was pleasure and a privilege. And still I live in hopes to see sunrise from the Red Room once more. This poem incidentally is from my poetry collection entitled One Small Corner. It was written at KIRA (Kingsbrae Gardens) in the month of June, 2017. One Small Corner is available on KDP and Amazon. Here is a link to the KIRA Video.
Once upon a time that lighthouse on the quay was a young boy who sat within the shadow of his father’s tale. He sensed he would never feel the power of his own words because he didn’t seem to have any on account of the black hole inside him that swallowed everything up. He thought he would never know the joys of creating his own myths, telling his own story. He thought he would never come to grips with storm music, wind and rain, a lost path sought and found. He longed for someone to gift him a rainbow, with or without its pot of gold. He also thought that the fatal shadow, cast upon a child by a father, would always be there. One day, the early morning sun knocked on his bedroom window. He drew back the curtains and let in the light. That day, he emerged from the shadow and saw that the world was bright and filled with sunshine. Each morning, he breathed in the sunlight, felt it flow through his body. His heart pumped new blood and he was refreshed by the joy of living, of being himself, of being nobody but himself, unique and wonderful, subject to nobody’s wishes and whims. Gradually he grew into the person he was always destined to be. The sun’s rays lit up his face and eyes. Sunshine flourished within him and renewed not only him but all that he touched. Light flooded out like the beam from that other lighthouse, over there, on those rocks, that was put there to help and guide wayfarers and seafarers lest they become lost at sea. Lost, he found himself. Found, he centred himself. Joy and hope, belief and knowledge took root under the sun that each day nourished his body, soul, and spirit. Renewed, light flooded from him. He burned like a bonfire or a beacon and became one of those special lights that enlighten the world. He became that lighthouse.
Comment: One of the prose poems from Tales from Tara that slipped in here by accident. I have included it for, and dedicate it to, my good friend and fellow writer, Judy Wearing, to wish her well with health and strength in this new year that is now turning into something special.
Sitting on the porch at Tara Manor, measuring the evening shadows as they lengthen and thicken, I study the jack pine’s wild, extravagant growth, the way it reaches out to reject the commonplace of ‘tree’, as Milton Acorn rejected the commonplace of ‘poet’. The jack pine grows in radical disorder, sprouting here, there, anywhere the sea wind blows and its capricious nature dictates. Each limb of the jack pine bears a thin layer of salt, borne in from Passamaquoddy Bay by thin fingers of air that sow salt on branches and needles. Broken branches, untidy crows’ nests limb-tangled like grim, bedraggled hair sprout out from on high. Lower down the tree extends a branch, held out towards me like a helping hand. Charcoal shadows fill in the gaps between darkening trees. Shy deer emerge, step by cautious step, drifting their sylvan ghosts, delicate, across footpath and lawn. Wrapped in a scarf of peace, I forget the city’s hustle and bustle. Stars poke peepholes in the dark. I try to name each constellation, as it traces its new-to-me path across the indifferent evening sky. I look around: more jack pines, no two the same. How could they be? There’ll never be another poet like Milton, another book like his Jack Pine Sonnets, no tale like his own tale told in his own inimitable way.
Memories deceive me with their remembered shows, shapes shifting with a click of the magician’s fingers. What magic lantern now slips its subtle slides
across night’s screen? Desperate I lap at salt-licks of false hope that increase my thirst and drive me deeper into thick, black, tumultuous clouds.
A pandemic storm lays waste to the days that dog my mind. Carnivorous canicular, hydropic, it drinks me dry, desiccates my dreams, gnaws me into nothingness.
At night a black dog hounds me, sends my head spinning, makes me chase my own tail, round and round. It snaps at dreams, shadows, memories that ghost through my mind.
Tarot Cards and Tea Leaves are lost in a Mad Hatter’s illusion of a dormouse in a teapot in an unkempt tale. Hunter home from the hill, I return to find my house empty, my body devastated, my future a foretold mess.
Comment: Tough days around us and even tougher ahead. Covid-19 in the schools and people I know, young and old, frightened and in quarantine as a result. People I know and members of my far-flung (thank you, Jennifer, for that long-lost word) family. Funerals to the right of me, funerals to the left of me, of friends I know, acquaintances I hardly know, and many more whom I’ll never know now. “Into the jaws of Covid-19 rode the gallant six hundred, all masked, many falling, fewer of them every minute of every day.” Gallows humor keeps me alive. Last night my favorite teddy bear went AWOL. I got up at 3:00 am and sent out a search party. Sharp eyes spotted the copper band I lost last week. It had been hiding under the pillow. Then, joy of joys, they spotted Teddy’s black velvet band, the one that ties up the hair that falls over his shoulder and gets up my nose and makes me sneeze. They hauled him out from under the bed. I picked up the phone and cancelled the 911 call before the masked men in their jackboots and their PPE could break down the door and strip search the house for a missing bear. Alas, dear Mabel: I would if I could but I am not able.” How those words resound in my ears. Left ear, right ear, and, like Davy Crockett, a wild front ear. I will not give in to morbidity. ‘He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.” I will survive for another day. Meanwhile, I’ll call for General Worthington, the fellow who can always make the enemy run. “Will you have a VC?” I said “Not me: I’d rather have a bottle of Worthington.” Alas, they don’t make it anymore. And Watney’s Daft Red Barrel has bitten the dust and gone the way of the dodo. And all my friends are in the doldrums, watching, as Admiral Brown abandons ship, mans the boats, and hauls away into fairer weather and cleaner waters. You say you do not understand? ‘Blessed are the poor in intellect, for they shall know peace in these troubled times.’