Dreamers

Dreamers

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde.

“The dreamers by day are dangerous people, for they are the ones who make their dreams come true.” T. E. Lawrence.

Two interesting and contrasting quotes on dreamers. They seem to contradict each other – but do they? How do we dream? What do we dream of when we dream? What does the word ‘dream’ really mean? How can it change, that meaning when a person announces in a sharp, sarcastic voice: “In your dreams.”? Were the Everly Brothers right when they sang their version of dream, dream, dream?

There is no right and wrong with dreams. Some dreams come at night. They rise from deep within our resting – restless minds, asking questions, answering questions, doubling down on what we did, or didn’t do. Some dreams are obsessive and occur again and again. These are individual to each sleeper and cannot be interpreted, en masse, by a dictionary of dreams. Other night dreams creep in through the bedroom window. These may not be our dreams – they may be the dreams of other people, come to disturb us as we sleep. These can be dangerous dreams, disturbing moments, and that’s why the indigenous have created dream-catchers that will snare those dreams and prevent them from entering.

Other dreams come by day. Day-dreaming is a rite of passage for many young children, trapped in boring school rooms with an ageing teacher droning on and on. “Knowledge is that which passes from my notes to your notes without going through anyone’s head.” I woke up enough from my day dream during that particular first-year lecture to note those words in my notebook. They were the only notes I took in that class and I day dreamed my way though a year of that man’s pseudo-lectures.

But the dreams we dream by day – yes, they can indeed be dangerous – because we can make them happen. One person dreams of being a doctor and, against all the odds, that person becomes one. Another visualizes – another form of day-dreaming – breaking a world record. And does so – such people fulfill their day-dream. Some, like Don Quixote, dream the impossible dream. These are fantasists whose dreams will never come true, for they are based on unrealities, and not founded on the essential truths of real life.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight.” Much as I love this quote, I am disturbed by the adverb ‘only’. It is so limiting. Dreamers, as I have tried to show, can find their way by day as well. “His punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” This, too, I find enigmatic and disturbing. Why should dreamers be punished when they can also be rewarded? Why is seeing the dawn a punishment? Why is seeing the dawn before the rest of the world a sort of double punishment? And why does the dawn punish people? In order to answer that question, we must define the dawn! Maybe we’ll do that in another post.

A book is a book is a book

A book is a book is a book

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde

A good friend of mine once told me that her creative writing writing prof in the MFA program told the class: “We are not writers. We are re-writers.” Our mission in life, then, is not just to rewrite, but to think and to revise. The art of writing lies in analysis, research, thought, and thinking carefully about (a) what we are about to write and (b) what we have just written. As a great Spanish writer once said “I write as I speak and when writing I count my syllables.”

So can the same principle be applied to reading? In my undergraduate poetry courses, one of my wiser profs announced that “It is better to read one poem a hundred times, than a hundred poems once.” Is re-reading better than reading? Good question. But it is what I call a swimming pool question: it has shallow ends and deep ends. Joke – it depends, you see, upon the quality of the material one is reading. For example, does a single reading of the Bible suffice? I read it through, page by page, when I was twelve years old. Was that it? No, I still return to it – the good book – from time to time, selecting, remembering, checking, looking for comfort, advice, or sometimes, pure joy in the sound of the language – King James version, of course.

What other books have I read and re-read? Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quixote, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The first book in the Harry Potter series – it reminded me of elements of my own childhood, especially the cupboard under the stairs. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt. The Wind in the Willows, Gongora’s Polifemo, Quevedo’s Metaphysical Poems and his Cycle to Lisi. Octavio Paz’s Sunstone / Piedra de Sol, Lorca’s Romancero Gitano, his Poet in New York, and his plays. Platero y yo. Charlotte’s Web. Several of Shakespeare’s plays, including McBeth, Henry V, King Lear, and a couple more. Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and Stalky and Co. Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed. Robert Bly’s Morning Poems, Iron John, The Sibling Society. Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life and his Niebla. Enough, no more. It is not as sweet now as it was before. And there are so many more to which I have returned, again and again.

So, think about all the time wasted on trivial books, books that remained unfinished, books that have never been opened. One person’s vegetarian or vegan’s fare is a carnivore’s poison [sick]. Sometimes a book mirrors our thoughts. Sometimes it challenges us to rethink our lives and our philosophies. Sometimes it comforts us or takes us back into our childhood. And sometimes it just bores us and we cannot finish it.

A rose is a rose is a rose. A book is a book is a book. Or is it? We are not readers – we are re-readers. And if we aren’t, we ought to be. Think about that. Carefully.

Looking at the Stars

Looking at the Stars

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”  Oscar Wilde

Another beautiful quote from Oscar Wilde. I look at the world around me and I see two different spheres – the celestial one where, on a clear night, Orion patrols the winter skies, his faithful dog star at his heels. These are nights of great beauty, fields where mythical animals wander their ways, clothed in sparking suits of light.

Then I open the newspapers, read the news, and wonder what we are all up to. Up to? Down to, rather, for I have that sneaking feeling that so many of us are indeed lying in the gutter, somewhere, thrown out of a moving car, and abandoned, like some dead deer in a roadside ditch. Everywhere, the news is dark and dreary – wars, rumors of war, shootings, beatings, corruption, lies – or terminological inexactitudes, as Winston Churchill called them, the word ‘lies’ not being permitted in the Mother of Parliaments.

The Mother of Parliaments, indeed. And what a non-sensical mess that has become. To repeat the litanies of nonsense spouted in the English Parliament nowadays, I hesitate to call it ‘the British Parliament’, is to risk rusting and ruining my computer keyboard with the salt tears I shed.

So many of them, then, literally lying- the word has multiple meanings – in the gutter. So many of us dragged down with them. But, each night, when the skies are clear and the clouds move away, I find myself, once again, looking up at the stars. Per ardua ad astra – through hardship to the stars.

Breathe deep – keep the faith and believe.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Piled Higher and Deeper

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” Oscar Wilde

And those -isms keep piling up. Deconstructionism, expressionism, Marxism, socialism, liberalism, determinism, naturalism, conceptism(o), establishmentarianism, anti-establishmentarianism, dis-establishmentarianism, anti-disestablishmentarianism, culteranism(o), euphemism, malapropism, minimalism, impressionism, cubism, pointillism, – sometimes I am so clever that I don’t understand a word of what I am saying-ism.

But I sound good. I baffle people with my outrageous knowledge and I send them to their dictionaries and their Google to find out what I might actually mean. But all too often, I don’t know what I mean myself.

So – let’s all go on a wild-goose-chase-ism and find the meaning of the meaning of existentialism, or maximism, or good-for-nothing-ism, or piled-higher-and-deeper-ism, or cough it up, it might be a chicken-ism in a trying to escape-ism mode.

Enough, no more. Tis not as sweet now as it was before. – a lovely Shakespearian-ism. So let us shake ourselves, like a Labrador out of the water or a dog with fleas and rid ourselves of one or two of these itchy -isms.

First Post of 2023

First Post of 2023

There is nothing to say, except that I have lost my way. Every poem posted to this blog is unavailable for publishing elsewhere. I may not submit them to journals, to editors, to competitions. This is one of the reasons why I have been silent for so long. It’s the same thing with Flash Fiction and stories. ‘Must be unpublished – no social media’. Alas – this blog is ‘social media’. So – I have lost my way, my reason for blogging. What can I blog about?

The weather – we have hardly seen the sun since well before Christmas. Snow, rain, icy rain, ice pellets – ofnadwy a diflas – disgusting weather. The sun shines in my heart. I also have bottled sunshine – sol embotellado – brought in from Spain. But who wants to read wet weather reports, day after day after day? Come to that – who wants to write them?

The news – this is even more depressing than the weather. I sometimes think that the papers deliver as much bad news as possible so we will be happy with the few items that do brighten our lives. Mal de todos, consuelo de tontos – when everybody falls on hard times, only fools take consolation from it.

Politics – spare me from politics and politicians. There is little good to say about any of them. Politicians are treacherous and their policies are worse. I remember the restaurant in Avranches with its sign on the wall – un jour sans vin est un jour sans soleil – a day without wine is a day without sunshine. Well, a day without politicians is a day full of sunshine – no matter what the weather is like outside.

Sports – we are sports-logged. I have never seen so much sport on the TV. Well, to be honest, I haven’t bothered watching it. Event after event, and events running simultaneously all around the world. I am fed up with tennis, soccer, ice hockey, rugby, and all the myriads of championships being played out before us. And the scandals – and the money changing hands – and the grotesqueness of ownership and player trading?

So, what is left to say? I have lost my way and I am trying to find a path through the wilderness of wild words that besiege me. Siege Perilous, indeed. What can I write about? What can I say? Maybe I should start an agony column.

Agony column – send in your questions and maybe, just maybe, I will think about them and comment on them. No. That won’t work. I already have too much on my plate. “Don’t tell me your troubles, I’ve got troubles of my own. Leave me alone, go on home, tell them to a friend, I’ve got troubles of my own.”

The sun – maybe, when the sun returns from his winter vacation, I will actually find something to write about. Maybe not.

Birthday – meanwhile, it’s my birthday I remember my grandfather reciting to me in the kitchen back home in Wales. “Today it is my birthday and I have ten thousand pounds to give away.” He would pause for a moment and then continue: “On second thoughts, I think it best to lock them back in my old oak chest.”

Poems – so the poems will stay in my old oak chest until I publish them properly. Flash Fiction and Short Stories too. In the meantime, any suggestions for this blog will be welcomed with open arms. Including folding it, shutting it down. Maybe it has served its turn and become, like me, out of date and obsolete.

Boxing Day

They’re not Boxing Gloves – but they could be. Photo by my friend Geoff Slater.

Boxing Day


            By the time I get up, the gloves are really off and the sparring has begun in earnest. I hear angry, raised voices, walk downstairs to the kitchen, and a hush falls on the room. Knife-edge glances slice their menacing ways through the thickening atmosphere.
            Time for boxing: on my left, in the blue corner, my mother, smoking what is probably her second packet of the day. A thin haze of grey smoke escapes from her bruised lips and a cloud of exhaled fumes crowns her head with a murky halo. On my right, in the red corner, my father. White-faced, hungover yet again, truly into the spirits of Christmas. He breathes heavily, like a Boxer Dog in the mid-summer dog-days, snoring and snorting at a bitch in heat. In the middle, my grandfather, the referee. He is keeping the combatants apart, creating a tiny breathing space so the true Spirit of Christmas can disentangle itself from those false Christmas Spirits and bring peace to earth again for at least sixty seconds between each round.
            I look around the heaving, seething, threshing silence of a room where conversation has suddenly ceased. The fire is burning merrily. Beside it, tongs, poker, and small shovel stand to attention. On the hearthstone, the little red brush, with its long handle lies in ambush. This is what my father uses to beat me when he can’t be bothered to take off his leather belt. Scorch marks from the hot coal fire sear the handle and back of the little red brush. I threw it on the fire one day, hoping to see the end of it. Of course, it was rescued from the flames, resurrected, and I got beaten for that act of rebellion too.
            “It’s all your fault!” My father breaks the silence, pointing at me. His red-rimmed eyes blazing with a sudden and renewed anger. He starts to rise, but my grandfather steps between us.
            “Go and see your granny,” grandpa tells me. “She’s in the kitchen. Go now!” He points to the kitchen door.
            I run a gauntlet of staring eyes and go to my gran. As I shut the door behind me, voices rise higher in the room I have just left. Boxing Day, indeed. The gloves are off. The battle has begun again. My grandfather has evacuated me from no-boy’s-land and, for a moment, I am no longer trapped in the mud-filled, cratered, shell-holes between the trenches, the uncut barbed-wire barriers, the poached-egg eyes peering through periscopes and spying on me from the parental and priestly parapets above the wooden duck-boards that line the floor on the far side of the room and keep the enemies’ feet clear of mud and water.

A Month Ago

A Month Ago

A month ago, on November 23, I posted my last message on this blog. Since then, nothing. Silence.

For thirty days and thirty nights the world has been as silent as the painting I posted above. It has been as silent as snow flakes circling. As quiet as the ribbons tied silently together. Nothing stirred. Nothing moved. Nothing.

Can an absence be a presence? Sometimes it is, for example, when we lose a tooth, a family member, or a friend. In their absence, we lament the loss of their presence. With a tooth, we run the tongue around the empty space, noticing the tenderness of the flesh, the hollow within the gum.

It’s the same with friends. They go AWOL. Move on. Forget their promises of eternal friendship. They become the empty space where the tooth once stood. At first we grieve. Then we become used to their absence. Then, one day, we realize that their voices have fallen silent and then they are friends no more.

Right now, there is a hollow in my life. An absence. I cannot put my finger on what is missing, absent, as always, without leave. Maybe it is the Christmas beliefs that dogged my childhood. Maybe it is the emptiness that warns of oncoming storms, each one greater than the one before. Maybe it is just the premonition, the suspicion, that all is not well with the world.

This year we gave more money than ever before to the Feed a Family Fund. Then we sent extra money to the local foodbank. Everywhere we see that the social ball of string is unwinding and ends no longer meet. It seems our society no longer has the will or the means to justify any ends, except selfish ones. Is it everyone for themselves, then, and the devil take the hindmost? Sometimes it feels like it.

I have seen the hindmost, human beings they are, just like you and me, except they are wrapped in blankets, begging at traffic lights, sitting outside the supermarket, a coffee cup at their feet, hoping for a penny to drop. Where have all the pennies gone? Gone to the smelters everyone. So they wait for a nickel to drop, or a dime, or even a quarter.

Covid-19 and all its subsequent derivations may well have been at the heart of all this. The isolation. The masking. The distancing. The fear of the unknown. The fear of the stranger in our midst. We have become used to living with those fears. We still have Covid-19 and its variations, some with long term complications. We now have a virulent flu as well. And there are various viral infections circulating.

The Apocalypse? Not yet. The Apocalypse has four horsemen and I have only mentioned three. So – where is the fourth one hiding? When will he appear? What will he look like? Maybe he’s lurking in a food bank, an unrepentant Grinch preparing to steal the food? Perhaps he hides in an unheated house? Can he be spotted at the dinner table, where the parent or parents are not eating, so that a child may eat?

I throw these questions out. Outside my window, clouds gather and snow starts to fall. I listen carefully. But all I can hear is the silence to which I have grown accustomed.

Knowledge

Knowledge

“Knowledge: that which passes
from my notes to your notes
without going through anyone’s head.”

aka
Filling empty heads.”

I came here a beggar, begging bowl
in hand, begging for knowledge,
at the seat of all knowledge,
from the hands of those who knew.

They fed me, taught me,
brought me into knowledge,
as they knew it, but I yearned
for more, so much more.

I found it, one morning,
in my morning mirror, shaving.
I looked into my own eyes and asked:
“What are you teaching?”

My answer: words and empty words,
formulae handed down to me
over generations of people
who thought they thought because
they repeated what others had thought.

This was not what I sought.
Then, and only then, did I look
into the eyes of those I taught,
those who sought knowledge from me,
in all my worthlessness,
and I asked them what did they need,
what did they want to know,
and why did they want this knowledge.

Then I asked them how I could help them
to attain that knowledge for themselves
and to use it to construct their own lives,
on their own, without interference and shame
as I had never done.

Then, and only then, did I know
I had become a teacher in the true sense
of the word, and that together with me,
my students had learned to teach themselves
multiple ways in which to grow.

Listen to Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Knowledge

A Rub of the Green

A Rub of the Green

A child among timeworn men, I learn traditional songs, if ever there’s going to be a life hereafter, with the correct words, no messing about with watered down lyrics, for back in the Emerald Isle ‘they’re hanging men and women for the wearing of the green’. I listen as all the ageless grievances are aired yet again by the exiles who parade around the family kitchen.
            I study the old ways and practice songs and tales from Ireland until they become familiar. As for those men, I met them in later life, at my mother’s funeral, knowing I had never really known them or understood them, those uncles and cousins, realizing that my family had split apart a long time ago down religious and racial lines. Yet I still sensed our closeness and recognized the familiar map of Ireland drawn in their ageing faces.
            Their Weltanschauung was Irish Catholic while mine was Anglo-Welsh, tinged with Methodism. Each new school I attended introduced me to a new faith and eventually I believed in none of them. I became an outcast, standing on the outside, looking in. I often wonder what the early immigrants to Canada the French and English, Irish and Scottish, when they first came here. What did they see and, conversely, how were those people seen, and by whom? Who now will tell those stories and bring those early cultures back to life?
            Today, I sit on the shore at Indian Point and listen to the silence. I wait for the wind’s whisper as it whisks all footprints from the sand. I hear the song of the sea as it rises and falls. In my mind’s eye, I watch the rocks as they slowly crumble and I repeat the song of the stones as they grind together, metamorphosing unhurriedly into sand.
            It takes a juggler to hold all this ancient world together especially when the old nests are empty and the birds have all flown. Wave foam slips into a single footprint abandoned in the mud and sand. All around me there are tales to tell and songs to sing. Some of them are even mine.
            I often think about an immigrant’s first foot-print, a lone print on an empty beach, waiting to be swept away by the rising tide.  Man Friday, perhaps. Or was it Man Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday … Man Saturday is best. But it’s never on a Sunday, so Man Sunday is as impossible as Woman Sunday, for the sadness of our memories exiles our better halves, our better two-thirds, our better three-quarters.
            All around us, there are songs to sing, stories to tell, words to repeat, wordless moments to recreate. “Patience and shuffle the cards,” Cervantes wrote. “Distinguish between all those false sirens, your one true voice.” That’s Antonio Machado. Find your own star and follow it. That might even be me, though it’s probably in the I Ching or the Daily Horoscope.
            The nests were all empty. The birds had flown. Who wants to live alone in a jack pine crow’s nest hotel in the Land of his Fathers where nobody knows him, where he doesn’t speak the language, and where he now feels ill at ease? The last time I visited the UK, I sat on the English side of the Severn Bridge, drinking a cup of tea, but I couldn’t cross that bridge, and I couldn’t stay in a htoel, in the Land of my birth, where I no longer knew anyone.
            Not that Wales was ever the Land of my Fathers, for my father was born in England, and my grandfather in Ireland. The Land of my Mother, perhaps, for she was actually born there. But the Land of my Mother never appears in any national anthem, and Mother is always singular while apparently a man can have more than one father, depending I suppose on the rub of the green.

Oily-Garcks

Oily-Garcks

And the oily-garcks betrayed the earth.
They drilled it full of holes
until the planet looked like a circle
of Swiss bankers’ cheese floating in space.

Mining, fracking, exploitation, internal combustion,
everything combined to make rainfall rise,
rivers flood, wild winds blow, hurricanes hustle,
lightning strike, again and again,
until forests flared, skies grew dark with cinders,
and land was reduced to water, dust, and even more ash.

The oily-garcks read their bibles and in their pride
they built super-fortunes, super-structures, super-yachts,
modelling those super-yachts, two or three each,
on double or triple the dimensions of Noah’s Ark.

Then they loaded them. They invited, two by two,
their friends, physicians, doctors, opticians, surgeons,
specialists, generalists, nurses, masseurs and masseuses,
body guards, anybody, really, who would keep them alive.
Next came their wives, concubines, girl friends, partners,
and those they loaded, old and new, by the dozen.

Earth warmed and her ice caps melted.
The seven seas rose higher and higher until
there was only one cruel, grey, destructive sea.

The oily-garcks set sail in their arks beneath
dark skies and an even darker future.
They sailed for forty days, forty weeks,
forty months, and then for forty years.

Nothing.

Gaia, raped, mocked, tortured, and destroyed,
had neither given nor promised a rainbow covenant.
No let up in the rains and winds, no supply ships,
no neutral landing sites, no undrowned friends,
no friendly rainbow in the sky to promise peace.

The oily-garks had brought no living food.
Their fridges were stacked with frozen dishes,
caviar, lobster, tenderloins, great wines, fine liqueurs.
They didn’t even bring a dove, just helicopters
launched from helipads that took off, year after year,
in search of the land that had disappeared.
They searched and searched until their fuel ran out.
In all that time, what did they see? They saw the sea.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Oily-garks