Last Rites: FFF

Empress 048

Last Rites
Flash Fiction Friday
11 August 2017  

The employee gazed around his empty office. Tomorrow he would leave the work environment in which he spent his entire adult life. He turned out the lights, closed the door behind him, and walked down the stairway to the exit for the last time.

He took the long, solitary walk to the spot where he had parked his car. In the car park, he fondly kissed his wife’s photo and said a quiet farewell to his beloved daughter. Then, he climbed into his car, started it, and began the short drive home.

Later, at the inquest, the driver of the gravel truck swore he had no chance to avoid the head on collision.

“One moment the road was clear, the next this car was heading straight at me,” he paused and blew his nose. “There was nothing I could do.”

“Yes, sir,” the police officer stared back at the coroner. “I was the first investigating officer on the scene,” he glanced down at his note-book. “And yes, I can assure you that the car driver was not wearing his seat-belt.”

“He loved his work,” his wife testified, fingers twisting the white handkerchief that stood stark against her black dress. “There must have been something wrong with the car. He would never have left me alone like this.”

“A wonderful dad,” his daughter said. “He loved me, and the grand-children. He had so much to live for. It was a terrible accident.”

“Unhappy with his retirement?” queried the employee’s Department Head. “I don’t know what you are trying to imply. Nobody forced him into retirement: he made that decision himself. He seemed very happy with it. We all knew he was out of touch and not up to date with his research anymore. That’s why he chose to retire. He told me all that when he came to see me to tell me he was retiring. His decision to retire had nothing to do with me.”

The employee’s DH raised his eyes heavenwards and gazed at the ceiling.

Out of sight, in the safety of the witness box, he rubbed his hands together, again and again, as if he were washing them.

Comment:

It’s been so long since I last wrote and posted an FFF (Flash Fiction Friday). It feels good to be back writing prose. And yes, the last two FFFs were on May 5, 2017, Moonshine, and April 28, 2017, Crocodile Tears.

So much water under the bridge and so glad to start getting back to my creative blogging schedule.

 

Battle Axe

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Battle Axe

A battle axe, the children call her,
grim-faced, ageing, wrinkles
bone-deep scarring her skin,
a grimaced frown, much practiced,
worn like a fencing mask to keep
the world’s sharp teeth at a distance.

Over her shoulder, the mail-pouch
slung like a Viking’s shield,
swung to keep stray dogs at bay.
At her hip, mace and pepper,
twin guns in separate holsters, ready
for Rotty,  cross-breed, and Pit Bull.

Wrapped in her coat of mail,
her eyes aflame, trigger finger twitching,
ever on the lookout for that one wild dog
to run the gauntlet of her gaze
and launch its all-out, mad dog attack.

Comment: I was disappointed with my earlier version(s) of this poem, entitled Mail Lady, and wanted a stronger, more forceful set of images that hinted at the perils of dog attacks on mail (and fe-mail [sic]) workers. This is the result.

Mail Lady

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Mail Lady

She walks past me, eyes cast down,
her warrior eyes unwilling to run
the gauntlet of my challenging gaze.

A battle axe, the children call her,
grim-faced, ageing, wrinkles
bone-deep sculpting her skin,
a grimaced frown, much practiced,
worn like a fencing mask to keep
the world’s sharp blades at a distance.

Over her shoulder, the mail-pouch
slung like a berserker’s shield,
brimful of letters,
bills in all probability,
yet exact contents unknown
until thumb or paper-knife
slits the envelope to reveal
the sanctity of its secrets.

Secrets: what secrets
does she carry inside her skin:
hope and joy or sorrow and tears?

She walks past me,
wrapped her in her coat of mail,
staring at the ground beneath her feet..
When she looks up,
a feral ferocity burns in her eyes.
I cannot match the fierceness of her gaze.

 

Moon

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Moon

when the glue of the universe
sticks to your fingers
the turtle’s snap
is a red-tailed kite
sky blue across the marsh

where now the will o’ the wisp
that ragged wanderer
in his tinker’s coat
all hash-tags and patches

frost crisps the leaves
dry cactus in a tilted rain stick
they patter and fall
three deer watch from the ditch
twitching their ears

gibbous this rabbit moon
night hung from the sky
who will gnaw next at the rind
of its round yellow cheese

Words

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Words

Waxing gibbous:
gibberish to most, or jabberwocky.
How now the moonraker
dragging the village pond for gold,
or the witch on her ducking-stool
accepted by God if she drowns,
but burned alive if she survives
and the Omnipotent rejects her?

Words rise and fall like trout to flies.
In words, out words, taboo words,
code words, the ebb and flow words
that see conversational tides
rising and falling, waning gibbous
beneath a failing lexicon, sacrificed
at the altar of barbaric speech to appease
the new gods and falsify the old:
nuance, shades of meaning, language,
meta-language, para-language,
raised, a supercilious eyebrow,
that lip curled in the snort of a sneer.

Rain

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Rain

Parched, the dry brown grass,
taut the earth, tighter than a drum.
Footsteps echo a rhythmic, hollow sound:
marimba music with death tones.
No joy in the barefoot beat of heel and toe.

For months now, no rain has fallen.
The fire crackle is feared in the forest.
Elsewhere, trees catch and the woodlots blaze.
What good are showers, dry thunder clouds,
building, always building, but never releasing
the surging tide that this commonwealth needs?

We yearn for a thick blanket of cloud to gift us
with the long, slow soak of an English spring.
The grass speaks out with its many tongues,
each as sharp as a blade, and calls for rain,
for liquid to pour down from the sky and end
the dryness of drought. We need to fill the wells,
to let the streams overflow with the bounty of water.
We need the green, green grass: not this baked,
bare, arid crunch and crumble of taut brown earth.

Bird Flu

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Bird Flu

Silent the mountain ash
burdened beneath berries
burnished from yellow
to orange but where are
the birds who bounce
and chirrup and chirp
silent now their domain
the bird flu gripping
at fountain and feeder
and stilled their voices
gone their brightness
banished from this garden
that suffers now in silence
butterflies adorn the cones
and bees bumble in bees’ balm
but where oh where have
our beloved birds gone
chickadee and phoebe
sparrow and goldfinch
robin blue jay and nuthatch
gone gone gone all gone
and only the family of crows
young and old croak on and on

Losing Weight

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Losing Weight

First, you must study Nature.
It will make you aware that trees
lose weight by shedding in the fall
their useless leaves. Do they ever
grieve you wonder, when winter
winds strip twig and branch?

That dog who owns your heart,
he sheds his coat and shakes
away both water and fleas.
Dogs can lose weight
whenever they please.

Don’t bother to diet.
Step fully clothed
on the bathroom scales
and weight yourself.
Step off, and shed your clothes,
leaves, twigs, branch, and fleas.
Then naked to the world
step on the scales and weigh again.

I bet you’ve lose a pound or two.
Believe me … and try it.

Feathered Kangaroo

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This is a photo of a Feathered Kangaroo
water hopping on PEI, Canada.

Feathered Kangaroo!

A long time ago, still wrapped in the stifling chrysalis of academia, a friend of mine tried to flutter her immanent butterfly wings by making a joke at a very serious conference. She was delivering a paper on one of my favorite Spanish poets, in which she examined the sundry variants of a sonnet that the poet first wrote in 1603, then re-wrote in 1613, revised again in 1627-28, and revised a couple more times before its final revision in 1643, about two years before his death (1645).

At the end of her paper, she was caught off-balance when faced by an apparently serious question from the audience “Did the poet make any more revisions after 1645?” In an effort at humor, she replied, “Well, actually, no. But when they were carrying his body to the church for the funeral, he popped his head out of the coffin and proclaimed in a loud voice ‘Hell, no, I won’t go. I haven’t finished revising the poem yet.’”

This off-hand academic pseudo-joke was greeted with a babble of excited voices and an elderly fellow scholar clapped his hands, exclaimed “Wonderful!” and, in the ensuing silence, asked her what documentary evidence she had for this astonishing revelation, hitherto unknown to the academic world. If she was off-balance before, she was clearly reeling at this stage: a punch-drunk amateur academic swaying before the hypnotic fists of Dr. Muhamad Ali. She smiled sweetly, said she would produce the proper evidence at the appropriate time, and left the podium.

Later, sharing drinky-poos with some fellow scholars, I listened to her as she made excuses for her strange sense of humor and I smiled as explained the situation to them. They were not amused. “You, madam, are an acknowledged expert in your field,” one of them told her. “Your fellow academics trust you and believe you when you make such statements. You must be very careful about what you say.”

Feahered Kangaroo, indeed, water-hopping on PEI!

Now I must make an apology on my own behalf. Alas, if you read the blog item I posted recently, you might be puzzled by the Gazunda tree. I am forced to admit there is no such thing, to the best of my knowledge, as a Gazunda tree, not in the main square in Oaxaca, nor anywhere else in the world. Of course, when it rains people have been known to go under certain trees to use them as an umbrella and thus to take shelter from the rain, but this is the full extent of the origin of the name: the tourist or the golfer or the walker or whatever goes under (say it fast — Gazunda) the tree when it rains. There is nothing more to the Gazunda tree than that little joke.

And this brings us to a really serious series of questions: how do we know things are true? How do we establish the truth of a statement? Why do we believe some people and not others, some facts and not others? How do we choose between a series of alternate truths all of them presented as factual realities when, in actual fact, not all of them are true? This leads us on to the basic foundations on which our knowledge is built: how do we distinguish between scientifically established facts, and hearsay, and gossip if we are ignorant of basic scientific knowledge and principles?

To this we must add the triple increases that threaten us. These are (1) the increase in the availability of real scientific knowledge that bombards us every day with fresh facts and new information; (2) the increase in sources of information and the easy access to those sources; (3) the fact that many of these sources, far too many in my opinion, present us with a fictional or heavily biased version of a pseudo- or alternate truth. And yes, in light of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we are indeed entitled to question the existence and indeed the very meaning of these words: alternate truths.

These considerations seem modern and up to date, but of course they are not. They can be found in Miguel de Cervantes’s novel, Don Quixote (Part One, 1605, and Part Two 1615). They are present throughout the meta-theater created by playwrights like Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), who set similar dilemmas of truth and fiction in, for example, his play La Vida es Sueño (Life is a Dream) as well as in the twelve plays he wrote based on Cervantes’s masterpiece. They are also present in the writings of some of the philosophers of the day. This is exemplified in the following passage that comes, I think, from René Descartes:

“There is no earth, no heaven, no extended body, no magnitude, no place and that nonetheless I perceive these things and they seem good to me. And this is the most harrowing possibility of all, that our world is commanded by a deity who deceives humanity and we cannot avoid being misled for there may be systematic deception and then all is lost. And even the most reliable information is dubious, for we may be faced with an evil genius who is deceiving us and then there can be no reassurance in the foundations of our knowledge.”

“There can be no reassurance in the foundations of our knowledge.” These are chilling words and present us with the unfortunate fact that unless we ourselves, each one of us, to the best of our abilities search out the absolute truth about all we hear, say, and do, we are indeed lost and we must wander in the dark with no light to guide us. ‘A sad life this, when beneath the axe, we have no time to check our facts.’ So: hie thee to Wikipedia, or Google the infamous Feathered Kangaroo. Or you can take my photo and the words accompanying it for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The choice, my friends, is yours.