International Day

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International Day
St. Mary’s Street

To be Welsh in Cardiff on International Day
is to be decked entirely in red from deep
between your ribs where the Red Dragon
throbs pumping its blood through the Arms
Park along with your heart and bright blood
surges as you wear your scarlet jersey like
a flag as you step onto the grass ready to play.

You shed your grey hairs like a sheep
sheds its coat on the Wenallt or Caerphilly
Mountain or the Brecon Beacons and Boyo,
you know you’re unbeatable. So come
the four corners of the world to Cardiff
with a rugby ball and they shall be defeated,
ground into the Arms Park mud, humiliated.

Bristol Temple Meads

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Bristol Temple Meads

Bristol Temple Meads

“Temple Meads, Temple Meads.”
Passengers on the platform shuffle
rearrange themselves to get closer
to opening carriage doors. Steam
hisses out from the engine in great
white and grey clouds. He gets out
asks a porter, “Is this Bristol Central?”
“No, son. This is Temple Meads.”
The young boy gets back on the train.

Next stop, Bath. “Is this Bristol?”
“No, son. This is Bath not Bristol.
You should have got off at the last stop.
You’ve over-run your ticket mate.
There’s a fine for that and you’ll have
to buy a new one to get back to Bristol.”

“But I asked them if it was Bristol Central
and they told me it wasn’t.” “Playing silly
buggers they was, son. Bristol Temple
Meads is Bristol Central, well, sort of.
And you’ll have to change platforms.
Go to the ticket office, over there, tell them
what happened, and maybe, just maybe,
they’ll let you take the next train for free.”

Commentary: Funny place, Bristol Temple Meads. I heard lots of funny things, all told in a West Country accent, or fluent Bristolese, while I was passing through there. Loved confusing passengers, they did, but more about that later. As for accents, well, the West Country accent and the Bristol accent are very different, but neither go well into prose, “coz, thee’ll never git a gurt big ‘ead like thine in a tiny l’il ‘at like this.” Thank you, the Wurzels. And as for reading and writing accents, click here.

Bristol Temple Meads
[Prose]

“Temple Meads, Temple Meads.”
The train slows, comes to a halt with a hissing of steam and a shuddering of brakes. Passengers waiting on the platform shuffle towards the edge of the platform, re-arranging themselves to get closer to opening carriage doors.

A young boy, not yet a teenager, gets out carrying his grand-father’s overlarge suitcase in his hand.
“Is this Bristol Central?” he asks a porter.
“No, son. This is Bristol Temple Meads.”
The young boy gets back on the train along with the other Bristol passengers who are travelling to Bath.

When he gets there, the young boy gets out of the train and again approaches a porter. “Is this Bristol?”
“No, son. This is Bath not Bristol. If you wanted to go to Bristol, you should have got off at the last stop.”
“But I asked if it was Bristol Central, and the porter told me it wasn’t. So I got back on the train.”
“Playing silly buggers he was, son. They’re like that in Bristle. Bristol Temple Meads is Bristol Central, well, sort of. He should have told you that.”
“What can I do now?”
“Well, you’ve over-run your ticket, mate. You’ll have to pay extra for coming on to Bath. And you’ll need a ticket to get back to Bristol. But it’s Temple Meads, mind. Don’t let them fool you again.”
“I won’t.”
“And you’ll have to change platforms. Tell you what, just go to the ticket office, over there, tell them what happened, just like you told me, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll take pity on you and let you take the next train for free.”

A question: Is the piece better in poetry or prose? Each version serves a different purpose, but I think the narrative rules. I’ll welcome any opinions you care to share.

 

Sunday in Wales

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Sunday in Wales

To be Welsh on Sunday in a dry area of Wales
is to wish, for the only time in your life,
that you were English and civilized,
and that you had a car or a bike and could drive or pedal
to your heart’s desire, the county next door, wet on Sundays,
where the pubs never shut and the bar is a paradise
of elbows in your face and ribs and the dark liquids flow,
not warm, not cold, just right, and family and friends
are there beside you elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder,
and the old ones sitting indoors by the fire in winter
or outdoors in summer, at a picnic table under the trees
or beneath an umbrella that says Seven Up and Pepsi
(though nobody drinks them) and it serves as a sunshade
on this Sunday evening when the sun is still high
in the summer sky and the little kids tumble on the grass
playing soccer and cricket and it’s “Watch your beer, Da!”
and the gymnasts tumble over and over the family dog
who hides beneath the table and snores and twitches until
“Time, Gentlemen, please!” and the nightmare is upon us
as the old school bell, ship’s bell, rings out its brass warning
and people leave the Travellers’ Rest, the Ffynnon Wen,
the Woodville, the Antelope, the Butcher’s, the Deri,
the White Rose, the Con Club, the Plough and Harrow,
the Flora, the Pant Mawr, The Cow and Snuffers,
the Villiers Arms, the Cricketers, the Mexico Fountain,
the Church (the one with handles on the prayer books),
God Bless them all, I knew them in my prime.

Comment: In the old days, when there were twelve counties in Wales, each county voted whether or not to permit the consumption of alcohol in public houses (pubs) on Sunday. Those counties who forbade Sunday drinking were called ‘dry’ and the others, who permitted it, were called ‘wet’. I remember hearing about the rush from Sunday Chapel Services in dry counties as the church-goers headed over the border into the wet counties where they could fill up in the proper fashion. The pubs listed at the end of the poem are all in the Swansea or Cardiff area, and yes, I have visited them all. The poem was designed to be read in a single breath … at quite high speed and in a Welsh accent. Alas, it takes me more than one breath now and I, like the ageing church-goers, must stop a couple of times as I wend my way down Memory Lane, from the dry to the wet.

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.

Hospital

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Hospital
McAdam Railway Station #9

“I was here the day they
took the hospital away.
I gave some writing workshops.
Teachers upset, students in tears,

everywhere, fear and despair.
‘I was born in that hospital.’
‘My grandfather died there.’
‘Where will my child be born?’

I helped them write down
their memories and fears,
their hopes and dreams.
My lesson plans vanished.

How could they survive
when life’s rising tide
broke all bulwarks,
flooded open hearts.

A wounded community,
diminished by its loss,
they took me into their hearts.
Their loneliness wrapped me.

They wrote down memories.
Tears stained every page.”

Comment: This is one of my memories of being in McAdam. I was invited to run a series of writing workshops there, under the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick  (WFNB) WiSP (Writers in Schools Program). I arrived there the week the announcement was made that the local hospital would close. I remember all too well the effect that this announcement had on the local community and I have tried to express that anger, sorrow, despair, fear, resentment in the above poem. More than anything, I felt the sorrow and despair of students and teachers. It is so easy to make an executive decision, at a distance, to rip the beating heart out of a living community on financial grounds. It is so difficult to revive the patient after the act of removal. What amazes me about McAdam is the effort hat volunteers are making to rebuild their town. Their words and deeds are truly impressive: as impressive as their magnificent railway station, now declared a national heritage site.

Crows

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Crows

one day
whirled off my feet
next day
toes set
in concrete

a single black feather
floats down from the sky
meaning?

a bone to a dog
sun-flower seeds
strewn before squirrels
red and grey
the occasional chipmunk

only crows
black-winged marauders
monarchs destined to wear
a weighty crown,
cry out their anguish

mobbing the hawk
longing for the day
when they’ll rule again

A Chill Wind

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A Chill Wind

computer programs
no longer function
buy a new app

word files
no longer
accessible
without a new app

photos that vanish
leaving a blank space
a new app
will bring them back

memory blinks
goes blank
brain farts
friends say

forgetting
phone numbers,
words misplaced
Freudian slips

“What day is it today?”
she asks
for the second
or third time.

“I’m sure
I know you,” she says,
“but I can’t remember
your name.”