Wet Welsh Rain

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Wet Welsh Rain

              Day after day, rain, drives in over Singleton Park and Swansea Bay. It claws its clouded way, shroud clad in grey cloud, up Rhyddings Park Road, through Brynmill, and up to the Uplands and Sketty, as it was then, now Sgetti. In those days, the rain got everywhere. It swirled around ankles and knees wetting everything below the hem of the raincoat. Umbrellas kept the shoulders dry. But when the wind blew, and gamp and brolly turned inside out, and people looked as though they were duelling with the wind, and threatening to poke each other’s eyes out, then a good soaking was sometimes better and safer and, in the worst of the rain and the wind, the gamps and brollies came down.  As for the puddles: they were everywhere. You walked in them, whether you wanted to or not, and your leather shoes turned into a pulp that let in water. Socks slopped around your feet, wetter than soggy blotting paper aka blotch [hands up if you remember blotch!]. Heads down, we faced the wind, draped around bus stops, waiting for buses that never came singly, but only in threes after much long suffering. Wind like a whiplash drove the rain before it and everywhere, woolen scarves turned into wet wash cloths and woolen gloves became underwater rain-sodden mittens.

Comment: As Tropical Storm Arthur gathers in the North Atlantic, we would do well to remember the good old days of summer holidays in Wales when it rained every day, bob dydd, during the whole two-week vacation. But did it really rain back then? Who remembers now? I seem to remember it was sunny every day, especially when the cricket was suspended with the words Rain Stopped Play displayed across the television screen. Ant the lunch time cricket scores: what joy to listen to them and to discover one day, as I listened on my illicit radio hidden in my school dormitory,  that play had been stopped because of “piddles on the putch, sorry, I mean puddles on the pitch” [hands up if you remember that announcement!]. I am sorry to say that particular radio announcer did not stay in his job for long. A great pity: I found him rather amusing.

We would do well, too, to recall the twelve days without electric power that followed Hurricane Arthur, back in 2014 [hands up if you remember Hurricane Arthur!]. Alas and alack: how accurate are our memories? And did all of those things really happen? As the street vendors and newspaper vendors [hands up if you remember paper boys!] used to cry out on street corners “Echo, Echo, South Wales Echo: Read all about it” or “Post, Evening Post, South Wales Evening Post, read all about it!” The South Wales Echo and the South Wales Evening Post hands up if you remember them … Oh those were the days … or were they? … click here and read all about it!

 

 

 

 

Finisterre

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Finisterre

Nothing left now but this pain in my heart.
It makes me think about ageing, growing old,
that unstoppable process of the body’s slow,
inevitable breaking down from all to nothing.

I should probably go to the doctor, but what
can she, will she do? She can’t stop the hands
on my body clock and lop ten or twenty years
from my life. Nor can her pills, lotions, potions

gift me with the long-sought magic of the Fountain
of Youth. The truth, unwelcome as it is, is that
the day I was born I took my first steps on the path
to death, my own death, an inescapable law

that tells me that body and spirit will be forced
apart, that the flesh will wither and perish,
and that the person the world and I know as
me will no longer be able to hold together.

Comment: Finisterre, the Pillars of Hercules, the Nec Plus Ultra beyond which there is nothing, Terra Incognita … that spot in Newfoundland where my friend, Dr. Leo Ferrari, who founded the Flat Earth Society, stood at the edge of the world and looked at the horrible void below him which ended in nothingness.

Nihilism is the point of view that suspends belief in any or all general aspects of human life, which are culturally accepted. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not exist at all. Nihilism may also take epistemological, ontological, or metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or reality does not actually exist.

The term is sometimes used in association with anomie  to explain the general mood of  despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence that one may develop upon realizing there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws.

Nihilism has also been described as conspicuous in or constitutive of certain historical periods. Many have called post-modernity  a nihilistic epoch and some religious theologians and figures of religious authority have asserted that post-modernity and many aspects of modernity, represent a rejection of theism, and that such rejection of theistic doctrine entails nihilism. All the above is borrowed shamelessly from this Wikipedia article on nihilism.

What this leads to is the danger of losing our faith in these troubled times. G. K. Chesterton wrote, a long time ago, in the century before last, that people who lost their faith were inclined to believe anything. Please, do not believe everything and anything you hear. For example, no, Leo, my friend, the world is not flat. And no, my beloved readers, drinking Chlorox or Drano will do you much more harm than good. In fact it may well turn you into the nihil [Latin for nothing] from which nihil-ism is formed.

More important: believe in life, in positivity, in the light that will shine through this darkness. Believe, as Our Lord Don Quixote [thank you, don Miguel de Unamuno, for that wonderful book, and thank you also for gifting us with your philosophy in The Tragic Sense of Life] believed that yes, we can see all of this through and that yes, we are the children of our deeds, and that yes, as my friend Pedro Calderón de la Barca told me a long time ago, obrar bien, to do only good, be the best that we can be, that’s what really matters in this vale of tears and shadows, this tv reality show that we call life.

Don’t tell me

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Don’t tell me your troubles …

… words wrapping themselves around your neck, the tune a loose scarf, brilliant in the sunshine, and so warm, flapping as you walk the street … people see frayed ends … wave back at you … the sun picking out gold spots in your hair … all’s well with the world … a marching song … the world walks over the hills … and far away … you march to work or play … every day is a new day … blood stirring with this call to arms … to alarms … everything up for grabs … tunes in your head … words wrapped around you  … warming you …
… a sad song … rain drops falling … mist or mizzle … you walk through damp, low clouds … you are sad … but comforted … wrapped warm in a verbal comforter … the sun breaks through … throws its arms around you … hugs you …. until raindrops radiate … gathering on eye-lash … at leaf’s end … twinkling an abundance of radiant flowers …         … a Nor’easter … snow in the air … on the trees … on the ground … a steady accumulation … you know how it is, East Coast Canada … down by the Fundy …  a fire in the fireplace … warm heart … warm hearth … no travel today … books and computer beckon … a time to read … to write … to remember the old ways … the old days … those memories … a warm scarf wrapped around the neck … and the comforter … so comforting … so much to wrap around you … so much to wrap your head around …

The Journey

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The Journey

I sense the rust in her mind’s clockwork
clogging her brain, slowing down thought.

I watch her search for words, stumbling through
sentences.  “Wind up the flowers,” she says
handing me the key for the grandfather clock.

When she says “water the clock” I receive
the plastic watering-can meant for the flowers.

Fellow travelers, we journey side by side on life’s
train. I watch her as she looks out of the window
at the passing countryside with its tiny stations.

She frets as she clasps her weak hand in her strong
one and I realize she’s worried because she no longer
knows when, where, or how the journey will end.

Comment: I wrote this originally in memory of my grandmother. However, as I have been involved in the rediscovering / revision / rewriting of older poems, I have come to realize that, as our visions change,  our poems become more accessible to a wider audience. In other words, given what is happening right now with the pandemic, none of us know when, where, or how the journey will end. This leads directly into the twin themes of the fragility of life and the nature of memory. What do we remember? Why do we remember a particular incident? Did it happen just as we remember it or have we already doctored our memories, re-creating them, so to speak.

I have a clear memory of seeing Sir Frank Worral batting at St. Helen’s in Swansea, when I was about 11 years old. A close friend of mine, an outstanding cricketing historian, checked the details in Wisden and told me that Frank Worral wasn’t playing in that match, so I couldn’t have seen him batting. And then there was Sir Everton de Courcy Weekes: I swear a saw him score a century at Bristol, yet, again according to my friend who checked the records, he only got fifty in that game! Games: what mind games the mind plays with us as we age. So, do I go with the fantasy land of my memories in which much has been (re)-invented? Or do I go with the world of truth and checkable reality? As an academic, I lived in the latter world: research, check, double check, avoid expressing personal opinions, facts, facts, facts, and exact dates. As an ageing poet, I would much rather live in that former world where truth and reality march hand in hand with fairy-tale and fiction, a little bit of one and a smattering of both.

How far is from fairy-tale and fiction to the dream world we inhabit at night? Just a short step, I reckon. Sometimes I remember my dreams and write them down when I wake up. Sometimes they vanish and I can only recall some vague feelings of joy and anguish. And what is life, that fragile, dream-like reality? Is it really a dream, as Segismundo tells us in Calderón’s La Vida es Sueño? Or is it a real world? And if it is real, do we create that reality or do we dream it? And if we dream it, do we sleep walk, sleep talk, sweet talk our way through it? Or do we portray it just like it really is, with no creativity, just a factual repeat of reality as we know it?

¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño,
porque toda la vida es un sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
a shadow, a fiction,
and the greatest good is small,
because life is a dream,
and dreams are nothing
but dreams, after all.

 

Still Life with Hollyhock

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Still Life with Hollyhock
Geoff Slater

How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?

Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?

So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting
of a photo of a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.

A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead
nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.

Comment: I love the way language changes the way we look at life.  A still life painting becomes nature morte in French and naturaleza muerta in Spanish. Still life becomes dead nature. Fascinating. I also love the way in which the camera captures nature and the natural world. We think it is an accurate depiction, but really it isn’t necessarily that accurate. Filters, light and shadow, mood: they all fluctuate and sometimes we capture that which we never saw and sometimes that which we saw is never captured. Oh the subtle enigmas of creative art.

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And it is the same with the hollyhock, my hollyhock, Geoff’s hollyhock. At the top of the page is Geoff’s painting of my hollyhock. The above is a photo of my hollyhock. Which bloom did Geoff capture and reproduce in paint? Language: and what do I mean when I say ‘my hollyhock’? My indicates possession, ownership. How and in what way does one own a hollyhock? How does one possess a garden, a flower bed, a tree? Are they not free, living, beings with a life and maybe even a mind of their own? Does one hollyhock talk to another hollyhock as the trees are said to converse with the trees? Do the trees in the garden possess a soul and if they do, in what sense do they possess one? And what is a soul anyway? I guess it depends upon the church and creed to which you belong. Certainly the garden has a life of its own and we discover that every spring when the grass and flowers grow back and the dandelions return.

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Questions: dangerous things, questions. Several of the questions posed above could have landed me in an Inquisitional institute in Spain in the 1500’s and 1600’s. That is a frightening thought. Alas, the philosophy of all that is way too deep for this poor poet and apology for a philosopher. One thing I do know, though: I love the garden going on outside my window and it is a privilege to be allowed to watch it, admire it, and follow its progress as the sun returns and the draws the birds back with it.

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¡Vale! Hail and fare thee well.

Scorched Earth

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Scorched Earth

A scorch mark
still scars this woodland
where deer grazed
until spring grass
fed the flames
sown by an unknown hand.

RCMP
cars blocked
the lower road,
uniformed officers
directed us to detour
up and away.

Below us we could see
smoke, no flames,
two firetrucks.
The acridity of ash,
breeze-borne,
filtered through the car
making us cough.

No more will the deer
roam this particular place
until wounds are healed
and all trace of the fire,
like them, has fled.

Comment: Driving to the head pond at Mactaquac, a week or so ago, we met an RCMP roadblock and were diverted by the officers. We ascended Mactaquac heights, and came down the other side, rejoining the lower road which was blocked by another set of RCMP cars. It was the week after the shootings in Nova Scotia. All we could think of was the respect we have for the RCMP. The knowledge that, if someone drove a police cruiser, stolen or faked, and wore an RCMP uniform, stolen, faked, or genuine, and flagged us down, well, we would have had no doubts and we would have obeyed that person implicitly. This was apparently what happened in Nova Scotia when the gunman, dressed like an RCMP Officer, flagged some of his victims down, then shot them as they sat in their cars. I guess the wounds of forest and deer will heal more quickly than those of the victims’ families. Pax amorque / peace and love. 

Garbage Day

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Garbage Day
(1789 AD)

all the dustbins
dancing down the street
trying no doubt to achieve
a spring time copulation
so they can give birth
to even more dustbins

you can’t have a revolution
without dustbins
dusty … dusty … filthy
dusty dustbins
a sadistic way to look at
dustbins full of sawdust
heading off down the street
between potholes
and blowing bins
a right Danse Macabre
conducted by
St. Vitus

me sitting there knitting
Montreal Canadians
this Red Cap
I keep flying high

even though I stand
upon Gibraltar’s Rock so fair
not to mention Paris
the Place de la Bastille
with tumbrils rattling

Old Moll in a Moll’s Cap
toothless fairy
at a Goblin Party
watch out
for toad s’tools
[sick this poem
this joke

and all that’s in it]

Comment: A wonderful drawing by my friend, line painter Geoff Slater. The poem, of course, represents the garbage in (and out of) the garbage can. 1789 is the date of the French Revolution. I found this poem in my discard file, so it was one of those that didn’t make it anywhere. Maybe it shouldn’t have made it here either. But it takes all sorts to make a world and Geoff’s red dustbin reminds me of the red caps knitted by the old women beneath the scaffold and the guillotine. Funny things, guillotines: invent them and they drop on you when you fall out of favor. There are so many allusions in this poem that I am ashamed to say I remember them all, and not all of them are pleasant. Mind you, few things are pleasant nowadays and remember: it is better to leave your dustbins out to roam the streets and be plundered by the crows and swept away by the high winds than to leave them festering and smelling bad and all cooped up in the locked down garage.

Why?

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Why?

“Where are you going?” I ask again. “To see a man about a dog,” my father replies.  “Why?” I ask. “Hair of the dog,” his voice ghosts through the rapidly closing crack as the front door shuts behind him. “Why?” I cry out.

I recall the mud nest jammed tight against our garage roof. Tiny yellow beaks flap ceaselessly open. Parent birds sit on a vantage point of electric cable, their beaks moving in silent encouragement. A sudden rush, a clamour of wing and claw, a small body thudding down a ladder of air to crash beak first on the concrete.

“Why?” I ask.

The age-old answer comes back to me. “Wye is a river. It flows through Ross-on-Wye and marks the boundary between England and Wales.” The swallows perch on the rafters watching their fledgling as it struggles on the floor, the weakening wing flaps, the last slow kicks of the twitching legs.

“Why?” I ask.”

Y is a crooked letter invented by the Green Man of Wye,” my grandfather says.

“Why?” I repeat. “I want to know why.” Silence hangs a question mark over the unsatisfied spaces of my questing mind.

Comment: A golden oldie. We would all like to know why. But there are no answers. Just riddles cast, like two trunk-less legs of stone, on the sands of time. Nothing beside remains. Yet still we ask the age old question? Why? And still we get the age old answer from the ageing masters who rule our childhood lives and teach us everything they know: “Because.”

Keeping Score

 

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Keeping Score

(‘… we blossom and flourish
like leaves on a tree
and wither and perish …’)

In the beginning was the number,
and that number was one:
number one.

Place it on the chessboard,
square A1,
bottom left corner,
black.

Next door,
on square B1,
white,
place number 2.
Next door,
C1,
place number 4.

The D1 square
claims number 8.
The players are abandoned
to their fate.
16 perch
on square E1.

32
land next door,
what fun,
and crowd into
square F1.

Square G1
sees 64
and H1
numbers
128,
each number a person,
forsaken of late,
and left to perish
in a perilous state.

Black on the left,
white on the right,
the numbers will soon rise
out of sight.

That’s just the start,
the first rank done.
Now we can really
have some fun.
A bean counter’s work
is never done.

H2 = 2-5-6.
Now we’re really
in a fix.

G2 = 5-1-2.
Whatever are we
going to do.

F2 = 1-0-2-4.
Now we’re rattling
up the score.

E2 = 2-0-4-8:
why did we procrastinate,
enjoying ourselves,
rich, young and wealthy,
thinking everyone
hale and healthy,
encouraging them
to drink and party.

D2 = 4-0-9-6.
‘What’s this?’
They cried.
‘It’s just the dead ones,’
we replied.
“Surely there can’t be
many more?”
We said we really
couldn’t be too sure,
though we all wished
it was somewhat fewer.

Body bags are not too pleasant,
laid out in rows,
or curved in a crescent.

“C2?”
We were asked
by a man in a surgical mask.
“8-1-9-2,”
came the reply,
“and there’s lots more
yet to die.”

“B2?”
“I’ll have to tell you later,
when I’ve checked
my calculator.”

We punch the numbers,
one by one.
Keeping score is so much fun.
“8192
multiplied by 2
gives us
1-6-3-8-4.”
“My God,” he said.
“How many more?”

A2
multiplies by two
the numbers laid out
on B2.
“We’re sorry,” we said,
“the news ain’t great:
now we’ve climbed to
32 thousand,
seven hundred
and sixty-eight.”

Don’t bother to give us any thanks.
We’ve got to calculate six more ranks.

Maybe when we get to square H8,
the dying will decelerate.
Then maybe we can celebrate.

Until then we’ll just keep score
and hope there aren’t too many more.

Beachcombing

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Beachcombing

What’s this I see upon the shore?
A pile of books by Roger Moore.

What funny things the tide brings in:
to leave them there would be a sin.

All About Angels, Stepping Stones,
grinding down like old fish bones.

Broken Ghosts and Dewi Sant:
That’s enough to make me rant.

One Small Corner, Nobody’s Child:
I must choose between riled and wild?

But they are ordered carefully
with titles set so we can see.

Books at low tide by the sea?
Someone’s trying to tease me.

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Fundy Lines and Sun and Moon:
the Fundy tide will rush in soon.

The Oaxacan Trilogy, the Obsidians too,
what on earth can an author do

when all those books are floating free
like a Granite Ship on a rising sea?

Comment: with many thanks to my friend Geoff Slater who organized this sea-side exhibition of my books and sent me the photos so I could choose which I liked. The exhibition took place on the beach by his home in Bocabec, incidentally. What fun we have when we are in isolation. There is so much to do and artists like us work hard to keep ourselves amused!