Black Death

Black Death
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Outside my window
horizontal hail
rain blown sideways
surgical the wind
dismembering trees
uprooting the weakest
flattening the strong
rages the storm

Who am I
the one who abhorred thee
who now adores thee
and kneels before thee
in grief and pain

Death’s Dance before me
each street filled
with skeletal horrors
bare bones dancing
naked beneath a star-
spangled sky

‘No thought is born in me
which has not “Death”
engraved upon it.’

Michelangelo

Don’t Look Out

Don’t Look Out the Window

Don’t look out the window, you don’t want to
know what’s lying out there. Don’t look out.

Play ostrich. Place your head in the sand,
pretend there’s nothing there to worry you.
Pretend you can see the missing PPE,
the vanished masks, the surgical gloves,
the sanitized hand-wash that everybody needs.
Just don’t look out the window. Don’t look out.

Pretend there’s nothing out there. Deny that
nearly two million people are ill.
Deny that a hundred thousand have died,
not in vain, but from ignorance and vanity
 and a total denial of scientific truth.
Just don’t look out the window. Don’t look out.

Just look at these walls that surround you.
Smile back at the smiling faces, the nodding heads,
the puppet-string politicians who agree with
every piece of nonsense that issues, meaningless,
from empty mouths. Surround yourself with people
who believe what you believe, who think and do like you,
fellow narcissists and bullies, cheats and liars,
who have deceived and stolen, lied like you, to build
enormous fortunes while they have cheated on
their wives, gone bankrupt, and borrowed shady money
in questionable deals with shabby, foreign banks.
Don’t look out the window. Don’t look out.

All those employees know a bum deal
when they are on the sharp end of one.

But nobody speaks out and nobody,
but nobody, dares open those curtains
for fear of seeing that reborn beast,
its hour come at last,
slouching down the streets.
Close your eyes. Don’t look out the window.
Don’t look out.

Comment: I rarely comment on political events, let alone write poems about them. That said, I do not consider this poem to be a political statement. For me, the key to the poem can be found in the final five lines beginning with ‘for fear of seeing …’. I have explored inter-textuality before in these pages. I hope the reference to W. B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, is clear.

Time Flies

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Time Flies

… bends like a boomerang,
flies too rapidly away,
limps back to the hand.

Endless this shuffle of unmarked
days dropping off the calendar,
extinct so many animals
that exited Noah’s Ark.

Hands stop on the clock.
The pendulum swings:
time and tide stand still,
do not move.

‘As idle as a painted ship
upon a painted ocean.’

The print in my grandma’s house:
seemingly moving seas,
sails swelled out,
the ship stays firm in its frame.

Our garden fills with birds
and squirrels, light and dark.
Morning ablutions: each day
a twin of the day before.

The TV screen fills up its washbasin:
tired, shadow faces boring us
with endless wit and wisdom.

Time flies:
an albatross around the neck,
an emu, an ostrich, a dodo,
all flightless,
an overweight bumble bee,
too clumsy, too heavy to fly.

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Comment: The top photograph shows the year 1555 marked in standard figures and in glyphs from the Mixtec calendar (Oaxaca, Mexico). … time flies you can’t they fly too fast … This is a conundrum from the General Knowledge Paper in the school leaving exams (1961). Punctuate this sentence: time flies you can’t they fly too fast … Proposed answer: Time flies? You can’t. They fly too fast!”  I seem to believe there were about ten of these on that paper. However, never trust your memory.

The second photograph shows fledgling storks in Avila, Spain, trying to fledge, to fly, to leave their nests. Some will succeed earlier than others. Those who do not manage to fly, who are not brave enough to leave their nests, will sit there. After a while, their parents will not feed them. And then they must fly or starve. Sometimes, time flies. Sometimes, time sits on its hands and the clock hands refuse to move. Think: time enjoying yourself (it just flows by). Think: time in the dentist’s chair with a root canal, time lying prone having an anal biopsy for prostrate cancer, time spent, those everlasting ten minutes, while a cataract is being removed and a new lens is inserted.

Oh yes, time is flexible. Not only is it flexible, it is insistent, inexorable, unstoppable. Those clocks tick on, whether we are awake or asleep. The seconds lull us with their security, the minutes lull us with their monotony, hours lull us with their harmony, days faze us, daze us … hours: each one wounds, the last one kills. Time marches on. We can rewrite the past (revisionism), but we cannot relive it, except in our dreams.

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 Doors close.
We can never go back.

Empty

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Empty

Empty now the house, clean the floors where she
spattered food and scattered her toys, polished

the tables, grubby no more, where small hands
clattered fork and spoon, her breakfast not wanted.

Empty the bathroom, the tub where she bathed.
Dry the towels, full the toothpaste tubes she

emptied in ecstasy. Where now her foot
-prints, her laughter and tears, the secret

language she spoke that we never understood?
Empty too my heart where, a wild bird, she

nested for the briefest time, then flew, yet
I possess her still, within my empty hands.

Commentary: The lead painting is the one Finley painted for me. I received it as a Christmas present, a couple of years back when she was 3 or 4. When asked if she wanted to add some more to the painting as the canvas wasn’t full, she replied: “No, it’s finished. That’s just how I want it.” Picasso once said that he spent the first half of his life learning to paint and the second half learning to see again as children see. Sometimes we complicate our art so much that we kill our inspiration and our vision. Some poets necessitate a dictionary in order for a reader to understand their words, yet when the meaning emerges, we find that the poem is convoluted, stilted, almost meaningless and even emptier than it was before.

Question: why do we try to gild the lily? Why do we lead to the slaughter the gift of the goose who lays the golden eggs? Are we writers or assassins? Are we not capable of putting meaning on paper with the directness and simplicity of a child? Good questions all. Sometimes I think that poets are like the existentialists of Albert Camus’s novels: they are the assassins of language and the murderers of direct and clear writing. And who are the victims? The words, images, metaphors, feelings that are strangled in the cradle or forced into captivity behind prison bars of jumbled lines and scattered thought.

Original ideas? No, not at all. This is the basic argument that Francisco de Quevedo (conceptismo) had with Luis de Góngora (culteranismo) in the Spanish literary salons of Madrid between 1613and 1627. The literary insults they wrote to each other are still a scandalous joy to read. These two seemingly separate styles of writing, which are actually very similar on many levels, eventually blended together and led to a total renewal of the Spanish literary language.  This in turn was bastardized by second-class imitators who did not have the skills of the original ‘super’ artists. And thus the pendulum swings: innovation > standardization > parody and satire of a worn out language > fresh inspiration and innovation.

As for me: how I would love to regain the clarity of vision and the joy of words that I experienced when I was a child. Back then, the world was a magic place, the pen and pencil were magic wands, and the empty page was a blank canvas to be filled with wonder. Alas: then I was sent to school. Rules were set. Bars were installed. Blinkers were inserted. Doors and windows were locked. Creativity ended. I will say no more.

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.

Biopsy

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Biopsy

Driving home
from the hospital
after the biopsy,
thinking of the indignities
inflicted on my body,
cold, exploratory fingers,
the insertions,
the ardent desire
to say
“Enough,
no more!”

Oh God,
I am so cold.

Fierce winds
push me
along a snow-packed road.

I dream of sunshine
of summer flowers,

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of chipmunks and squirrels,
of bird seed scattered
so others may survive.

I dream of five deer
walking at midnight
through my garden.

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Magic,
their shadows
under moonlight
on the snow.

I skid into a snow bank
and my world shakes in shock.

A thirty-wheeler slithers by:
there are so many ways to die.

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Comment: Was it really only five years ago that I wrote those lines? I hadn’t even started this blog back then. So much melted snow, so much water under so many bridges. I look back at my journal and read that on April 1, 2020, in the USA, there were 3,800 dead from Covidis and 300,000 people affected. This morning, when I got up, those figures were higher, much higher: 63,019 dead and 1,070,032 affected. What a difference a month makes, let alone five years.

Affected, such a silly word when each individual person that these figures represent is, or was, a living, thinking, loving, human being, with an extended network of family and friends, each one of whom is in turn affected by the loss or sickness of a group member, be it a brother, a child, a sister, a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, or just a friend …  just a friend, another silly thing to say, as if just friends were not important, collateral damage, so to speak … and now, throughout our world, in macrocosm and in microcosm, we are, each one of us affected, in one way or another. Here in New Brunswick, Canada, we wash our hands, we wear masks, we stay home as much as possible, we maintain distancing when we go out on essential errands … I know it is different in other parts of Canada, and of the world, but we are all affected, and some so much more than others.

So, wherever you are, whoever you are, be strong, be brave, dance when and if you can, sing to yourself, sing for your family and friends, reach out to others, and above all take care of each other and survive. 

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My heart and these words go out to you: Byddwch lawen a chadwch eich ffyd a gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd / be joyful, keep your faith, and do the small things in life as Dewi Sant, St. David of Wales, a real person, is said to have said, almost 1500 years ago.

Heroes

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Heroes

In 1898, when Spain lost Cuba, they lost the last vestige of their world-wide Empire and were forced to turn back in on themselves. Miguel de Unamuno, along with other artists from the Generation of ’98, turned to the concept of intra-historiaHistoria / history means the great historical events, battles and conquests, kings and kingdoms (how male it all was!). Intra-historia / intra-history meant the every day lives that ordinary people led, lives that had remained basically unchanged for centuries, except when the men who made history rode through.
Do the small things in life: that’s all most of us can do and have done, throughout the centuries. And we are the true heroes, certainly of intra-history, you and I, and people like us, because we have worked all our lives at our daily tasks, we have brought up our children, we have made the small, micro-world which we inhabit into a better place. Intra-history is dedicated to the house-wives and the house-husbands, heroes all, who have done those small things in life, walked the dogs, fed the chickens, milked the cows, gone out to work, day after day, to put food on the table, delivered and brought up the children, looked after the sick, assisted the dying on their departure from this world, buried them, and given them peace. Heroes all, especially in these times of troubles, I salute you. 
Nurses, health care workers, pharmacists, ambulance drivers, supermarket workers who allow us to bring the food to the table, care-givers, cleaners, garbage men, street-workers, heroes all, I salute you. It is time the ‘little people’ reclaimed their world and took it back for the REAL people, the real heroes.
So, my heroes, be brave, battle on, and accept this floral tribute.
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Doing Time

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Doing Time

Time bends like a boomerang,
flies away,
comes flying back to
the thrower’s hand.

Endless this shuffle.
Unmarked days
drop off the calendar.

Hands stop on the clock.
The pendulum
swings back and forth
but nothing else moves.

‘As idle as a painted ship
upon a painted ocean.’

Yet the seas seem to move,
the winds seem to blow,
the sails seem to swell,
while our garden
fills with birds
and squirrels,
light and dark.

Morning ablutions.
Each day is a twin
of the day before.
Like wise each week.

The TV screen fills up
its washbasin of tired
looking faces bore us
with their endless wisdom.

Time hands heavy:
an albatross around the neck,
or an emu, an ostrich,
a flightless dodo,
an overweight bumble bee,
too heavy to fly.

Comment: An interesting article that I read today suggests that the lock down is bending time out of shape and that we need to adapt our minds and our body clocks to a new temporal reality. Seconds hang heavy. Days present the same routine. The routine makes the divisions between each day seem irrelevant. This is what my Spanish friend and teacher, the poet José Hierro, meant when he wrote about his time in jail as a political prisoner after the Spanish Civil War: “El tiempo aquí no tiene sentido” / time in here has no meaning.

A similar effect is noticed by those of us who were imprisoned in boarding schools from an early age. The first day back, we draw a railway train at the beginning of a long track and we number each day from the beginning of term. Then we cross off the days, one by one. Often, before the first week is even over, we forget about counting the days: they are all the same, lookalikes with a rhythmic similarity that sends us to sleep as routine takes over and we sleepwalk through life.

How important is time? How important is it to distinguish Monday from Wednesday, Friday from Thursday, this Saturday from a week on Sunday? It becomes less and less important. The TV chatters on and on. The shows we follow illuminate our days. I turn on the radio at five on Friday for Cross Country Check Up, which airs on Sunday. I go without breakfast and don’t even notice that I haven’t eaten. I make a cup of coffee and it sits there on the table with the cup of tea that I forgot to drink this morning. Each time I take my tablets, I write that fact down so that later in the day, I can check that I have actually taken them. The notes mount up and the bottles of tablets run down. Each mandarin orange has a tiny key and I wind those oranges up so they will go tick-tock as I eat them. My Teddy Bear has an alarm clock between his legs and a flashlight in his ear so that I can tell the time on cloudy nights when I can no longer see the Platonic dance of the rotating stars.

Beaver Pond

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Beaver Pond at Mactaquac
for my beloved 

Beaver Pond, Mactaquac, on a fine spring day:
so sad to sit here knowing you can no longer
walk the trail. I remember the sun on your hair,
white, a flag of surrender to old age besieging
your mind and body. It cannot be seen on the board
walk where you stopped to commune with newts,
frogs, birds, fish, ducks, and the great blue heron
you disturbed. Remember? He rose from the reeds
with an anguished cry and a crack of mighty wings.

The wind in Island View is chill today, not a day
for walking in the wild. Monday: men arrive in a truck
and haul our garbage away. So much detritus,
such a mess at the roadside as winter ends and spring
brings thoughts of freedom to roam beyond spells
of ice and snow. Memories: I pack them into a green
green plastic bag and stuff them in the dustbin.

I want to be free. I want you to be free. I want to sit
and watch you wander, like you did last summer
contemplating the multiple meanings of grass, sun,
bird-song, herons, ospreys, beavers, their lodge,
this dam they constructed, this pond in which
they swim, nocturnal creatures, who live far away
from this lock-down and from our silent visits banned.

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Rain

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Rain

And on top of it all,
squall after squall,
rain falls on us all.

It ends the snow, that’s true,
but it dampens me and you.

I’m getting old, my toes are cold,
my hands are cold, I’m getting old.

Arthritis has me in its grasp.
Some days I can only wince and gasp.

Today’s the day when Teddy Bears
stay upstairs.

They won’t get dressed,
they want to rest.

They deserve a holiday they say.
It’s not a picnic day today.

And on top of it all,
squall after squall,
the rain continues to fall.

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