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.

Apocalypse When?

Apocalypse When?

A strange, milk-cloud sky, skimpy, with the sun
a pale, dimly-glowing disc and my pen scarce
casting a shadow as the nib limps over the page.

Out on the west coast, fires still range free and this
is the result, these high, thin clouds casting a spider
web cloak over the sun face and darkening the day.

The west coast: five or six hours by plane and three
whole days to get there by train, even longer by bus,
all chop and change with multiple stops.

The wind blew and the clouds came widdershins,
backwards across the continent. Today they reached
across the ocean to claw the sun from European skies.

It is indeed a small world after all. Isostasy:
you push the earth balloon in here, and it bulges
out over there in the place you least expected.

Now we are all interconnected in an intricate network
of a thousand ways and means. What does it all mean?
Ripples ruffle the beaver pond’s dark mirror.

The forest mutters wind-words, devious and cruel,
that I sense, but cannot understand. High in the sky
clouds turn into horsemen on plunging steeds.

Fear, fire, flood, foe, poverty, unemployment, pandemic,
crops destroyed and, waiting in the wings, threats of civil
unrest, the apocalypse, and a war to end all wars.

Comment: A week in bed, unable to sit, to write, to use the computer, except standing on one leg and typing with one finger. Unable to concentrate, to create, and now, after four visits to my medical team, acupuncture, manipulation, massage, finally that pinched nerve has stopped pinching and I can get back to writing. However, my thoughts are as grey as these clouds that dim the skies. I no longer know who or what or where I am. The world around me has turned sinister and I suffer.

The result: black thoughts, black poetry, red, flaming skies, and the knowledge that all is not well, neither with me, nor with our sick little planet. There is no Planet B and this one, like me, is suffering.

Premonitions and dark thoughts. I lie awake in bed each night, sleepless, hugging my Teddy Bear and my hot water bottle, aching, suffering, waiting for the dawn.

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.

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.

Thursday Night Football

Thursday Night Football

Once a month, they stick
a needle in my arm and check my PSA,
cholesterol, and testosterone:
blood pressure rising, cholesterol high,
body clock ticking down.

The doctor keeps telling me
it’s a level playing field
but every week he changes the rules
and twice a year he moves the goal-posts.

A man in a black-and-white zebra shirt
holds a whistle to his lips while another
throws a flag. It comes out of the tv
and falls flapping at my feet.

Yes, I’m living in the Red Zone
and the clock’s ticking down.

Memory Loss

Time-Spirits

Memory Loss

A carton of eggs
abandoned in the supermarket.
Her cousin’s face, her daughter’s name,
the parking spot where she left the car.

Forgotten phone numbers.
Birthdays of family members
never remembered.

“What day is it today,” she asks,
for the third or fourth time.

Her programs no longer work.
Many files now inaccessible,
are written in coded jabberwocky.
I show her photos but to her they are
blank spaces, gaps in her photo album.

“I recognize your face,” she says to me,
but I can’t remember your name.”

Comment: Towards the end of her life, my grand-mother started to lose her memory. I penned this poem a long time ago, then recovered it from my poetry discards. Some years ago, a virus entered my computer system and destroyed many of my files. I had backed them up, but I never really accessed them all when I bought this new computer. Now, in this time of much sitting and screen viewing, when friends no longer knock on the door to share a cup of coffee or tea, time weighs heavy, and I can look at those old files again. This also what I have done with my chess, breaking out the first travelling chess set I bought back when I was nine or ten years old, and re-playing favorite games with its red and white pieces in their cardboard box. I haven’t played serious chess since I came to Canada and, as a result, I have forgotten the openings, mislaid the combative combinations of the middle game, and can now plot only the simplest of endings. This too, in its own way, is a sort of memory loss. Yet as I replay the Fischer-Spassky series of 1972, so much comes flooding back. Memory loss: some things do return, but as I age, I wonder if that other memory loss, the more fatal one, will one day grip me, as it gripped my grand-mother, and leave me damaged and un-repairable. I wake up some mornings, confused from sleep, and wonder whether this is what awaits us all.

With my angel

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… with my angel …

            … with my angel … face to face … the one I have carried within me since the day I was born … the black-one … winged like a crow … the one that hovers over me as I lie asleep … the one who wraps me in his feathered wings when I am alone and chilled by the world around me … the one who flaps with me on his back when I can walk no further … the one who creates the single set of footprints that plod their path through the badlands when I can walk no more …

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… ‘the truth’ my black angel says to me … I say ‘he’ but he is a powerful spirit, not sexed in anyway I know it … and yet I think of him as ‘he’ …awesome in the tiny reflection he sometimes allows me to glimpse of his power and glory … for, like Rilke, I could not bear meeting his whole angelic being face to face … as I cannot bear the sun, not by day, and not in eclipse … not even with smoked glass … when earthly values turn upside down and earth takes on a new reality … wild birds and bank swallows roosting at three in the afternoon … and that fierce heat draining from the summer sky … I remember it well … and the dog whimpering as a portion of the angel’s wing erased the sun until an umber midnight ruled … a simple phenomenon, the papers said … the moon coming between the earth and the sun …but magic … pure magic … to we who stood on the shore at Skinner’s Pond and sensed the majesty of the universe … more powerful than anything we could imagine … and the dog … taking no comfort from its human gods … whimpering at our feet …
… I saw a single feather floating down and knew my angel had placed himself between me and all that glory … to protect me … to save me from myself … and I saw that snowflake of an angel feather bleached from black to white by some small trick of the sunlight … and knowledge filled me … and for a moment I felt the glory … the magnificence … and there are no words for that slow filling up with want and desire as light filters from the sky and the body fills with darkness … and I was so afraid … afraid of myself … of where I had been … of where I was … of what I might return to … of my lost shadow … snipped from my heels …
… I don’t know how I heard my angel’s words … ‘the time of truth is upon you’ … ‘all you have ever been is behind you now’ … ‘naked you stand here on this shore … like the grains of sand on this beach … your days are numbered by the only one who counts’ … I heard the sound of roosting wings … but I heard and saw nothing more … I felt only midnight’s cold when the chill enters the body and the soul is sore afraid …
… ‘it is the law’ my angel said … I saw a second feather fall … ‘and the law says man must fail … his spirit must leave its mortal shell and fly back to the light’ … ‘blood will cease to flow … the heart will no longer beat … the spirit must accept and go’ … ‘do not assume… nobody knows what lies in wait’ … ‘blind acceptance … the only way … now …  in this twilight hour …  now when you are blind … only the blind shall receive the gift of sight’ … ‘all you have … your wife … your house … your car … your child … everything you think of as yours … I own … and on that day … I will claim it from you and take it for my own … now I can say no more’ …
… the sea-wind rose with a sigh and one by one night’s shadows fled … the moon’s brief circle sped from the sun … light returned, a drop at a time, sunshine flowing from a heavenly clepsydra filled with light …
… birds ceased to circle … a stray dog saw a sea-gull and chased it back to sea … and the sun … source of all goodness … was once again a golden coin floating in the sky …
… on my shoulder a feather perched … a whisper of warmth wrapped its protective cloak around my shoulders … for a moment, just a moment, I knew I was the apple of my angel’s eye … and I hoped and still hope that one day I might meet him again and understand …

Comment: An article on Marcus Aurelius in this morning’s paper made me think of this piece that I wrote, way back when, in the days when I was studying Francisco de Quevedo and the Neo-Stoic movement, courtesy of my good friend and colleague Henry Ettinghausen. “The day we were born we took our first steps on the road to death,” Quevedo wrote in one of his poems. With my angel is my own Neo-Neo-Stoic attempt to come face to face with that very personal reality, one which we all face, and to stare it down, eyeball to eyeball. Alas, in these troubled times, we must confront the knowledge that troubled times have been here before, that other generations have suffered them, and luckily, other generations have survived. We wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t. As another good friend, of mine Victor Hendricken, wrote on this blog just yesterday: “We continue to live on between inhale and exhale; we continue to live on between intake and exhaust, food and faeces. And in this time of self-isolation, we still abide by many of the same personal rules, including morning ablutions, setting and shutting off the alarm. Chin up, old boy. This too shall pass.” I found these words from Victor very comforting. With friendship, solid advice, and the ability to learn from those who have gone before us how to confront difficult times, this too shall pass.

Losing It

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Losing It

When you lose it
whatever it is
your fingers pick at seams
hankies skirts shirts jeans
or strip a label from a bottle
or crumble bread or

there are so many things
you can do
personal things

on the table
a vacant cereal bowl
a silver teaspoon in a saucer
an empty teacup
returning your round moon stare

your hands
twist and pull
your nails
click together

blunt needles knit
then unpick stitches
trying to unravel
then to repair
this ball of empty air

Dolphins

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Dolphins

Another life, another world, another dream …  dream of freedom perhaps. A great white shark, fifteen feet long, has broken into the peace of Passamaquoddy Bay. Yesterday, or was it the day before, he snagged a seal and devoured it before the eyes of tourists on a tourist boat. You can see the video on YouTube, but I won’t watch it. There’s too much violence in the world around me. Too much hate, illness, sickness, death, too many predators.

We have fallen in love with violence. Ketchup Violence I call it, because the victims get up after the shootings and appear next day on another eppy-sode, another video, another film. Except in real life, they really don’t. The shootings are real. The victims are really dead. And no, they don’t recover. Red blood is red blood and when we shed enough of it, and when the shock is violent enough, or the hit brutal enough, no, we don’t recover. Human blood is not ketchup spread on the french fries of old bones and recirculated later. It is ours, it is vital, and when it flows out, it does not flow back in.

Contrasts: the gentleness of the beginning, versus the harshness of the end. The hatred and tension that drives us on and on. Perhaps we should all join the army, for a year or two. “There’s no life like it.” We live in a bilingual country, at least, I do. “Pour ceux qui aiment la vie.” Or, as Socrates once said: “The unlived life is not worth examining.” So, join he armed forces: there’s no life like it. Pour ceux qui aiment la vie. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine, Crimea, Yemen, Syria … where next, where ever next?

As Pink Floyd once said: Is there anybody out there?

Crow’s Feet

 

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Crow’s Feet

So many meanings, so many possibilities. I remember them round my grandmother’s eyes, wrinkles, laughter lines, crow’s feet. And then there are the real crows, sauntering, swaggering, two roadside hops, and take off. So bold, that sometimes they will stand there and defy you and your car, refusing to fly, but always leaving their footprints, crows’ feet in the snow.

We have a family of seven. They own our garden. Visit us every day. Check us out. Nothing like the whistle of the wind in their pinions as they sweep low over our roof, summer and winter, all year round. We belong to them, not them to us.

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Crows: such shadows, hovering  in our minds, casting their shadows over our lives and our deaths, for ‘the coward dies a thousand deaths, the hero dies but one’ and down, deep down, we are all cowards, in one way or another, and the crows await each one of our thousand deaths.