Diagnosis

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Diagnosis
(sonnet)

Diagnosed with a terminal illness
called life, I know it will end in death.
For more than seventy years, that end
has lived within me, walked beside me,
sat at my bedside, and shared my sheets.

We have shared so many things: laughter,
joy, victory, defeat, the soul’s dark night,
the winding ways of fortune’s labyrinth.
When cancer called, we faced it together,
and life won out for a little while longer.

Hand in hand, we are together again,
our ménage à trois, engaged in a three
-legged race, blindfolded, unsure of who,
what, why, where, and especially when.

Damnatus

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Damnatus / Doomed

‘Poor poets of today: condemned to be nothing more than the dry dust of an unread doctoral thesis.’ They languish, empty headed, in dark rooms, those poets, hunched over their computers, waiting fr someone or something to fill up their heads. They hammer away at their keyboards, correcting their spelling with an  ever cautious spell-check. Intent on making their poems cryptic, they shrug off the sunshine, the beach, the flowers in the garden,  the cardinals, orange and red, who clamor at the feeder, and concentrate on abstract meanings, abstruse words, and twisted thought.

Phone calls go unanswered. Friends are left hanging on the vine to dry. These poets are worse than wallflowers at a dance or lemons out on a date as their crowded heads fill up with metaphors and myths that limp their unsteady ways onto screen and page. Oh pity the blisters on their fingers, the calluses that harden their fingertips to the delights of re-writing, again and again, for they are not real writers but real re-writers, and every thought is a skirmish with unreality, a pledge to continue their servitude to their life’s mission: the curdling of words and the nurdling of poetic thought. What better poetry is there than a hamburger for the hungry or a helping hand stretched out across a street to help a beggar in need … but there are neither burgers nor beggars in these un-windowed buildings, just the poverty of a poetry undiscoverable in its lack of lustre gloom..

Where is the graduate student, earnest, destined to be penniless, who will delve into the notebooks of these poets’ lives and dig out the thought-gems, the diamonds that will make everyone great, publisher and published, poet and practitioner of the uncritical art? Will someone not take that student by the hand and lead him to pastures green, or to the sea, to taste and test the blessed salt and the winds that will drive away the mind’s unwholesome fog and bring light and understanding that will un-cuff the wrists and heal the immortal wounds for, left untreated, they will bleed for all eternity?

Oh the bright bracelet of learning bound round the heart-bleed wrist. Oh the false knowledge gained, that leads poet and critic up and down the slippery garden path towards promotion, tenure, and a seat on the picket fence. Oh those grey human bodies chained to their wooden desks in a dusky library or transfixed on metal seats in academic meditation. Sit and watch while cobwebs sprout in the unused brain and the only certainty lies in footnotes and bibliographical entries that rise like a surging tide to flood the drowsing mind that craves more sleep.

What bright word, what metaphor dim, has poisoned the wit so it effortless moves into the serenity of contemplation? Look on this pathless sea of words, ye mighty, and despair. But take great care: for what if this sylvan warrior awakes, steps out of that figmented dream, sees the reality beyond the shadows, demands a proper challenge, a walk in the park, a vision of the grass that is so much greener on the other side where the administraitors gather and garnish paper and paperclips as they strive for the privilege of herding more and more slovens in their poetic pursuits?

Oh grant them more grants, these purloined poets. Gift them pure visions of things that never were and will never be. Never let them break away from their dissolute dreams that wrap their disadvantaged forms in the ignorance of mental slumber, half-sharpened pencils, and a box of blunt sharpeners..

Middens by Jarea

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Kingsbrae 25.4
25 June 2017

Middens by Jarea

Garbage dumps they are to us,
filled with childhood treasures,
shaped flints, arrowheads, spear
tips, scrapers for deer hide,
so many castaway items.

Garbage dumps to us, maybe,
but for the Passamaquoddy
who first settled this area
and lived on this shore,
these precious middens
are anything but dumps.

They are guide posts,
lighthouses in the moonlight,
signposts to point the way
for wayfarers and wanderers,
at high tide, low tide,
and especially when the mudflats
bathe beneath sun and moon
and the channels twist and turn,
serpentine labyrinths in their wanderings.

Garbage: we dig up what they have left,
expose past lives to scientific theories,
and destroy their navigational knowledge,
the science they left behind.

This Old Man

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Kingsbrae 16.1
16 June 2017

This Old Man

This old man, with his bundle of memories
carried on his back like a snail carries his shell,
a broken record, he played, with the gramophone needle
stuck in a groove and the same tales repeated.

The ancient  mariner who lives in his brain
stops people in the street and retells
the old story: life’s doldrums where
no winds blew and his ship just drifted,
with no wind to bring it home.

Then blew the wind of change, and suddenly
the sun was just as warm as it was in his youth.
The sea became blue again.  Flowers flourished
brighter, stronger. Birds chirped in the trees.
Light grew bright and he felt beauty return to
the new-born world of his second childhood.

Comment: My journal tells me that I wrote the original version of this poem on Friday, 21 April 2017, and posted it to my blog on Sunday, 23 April 2017 . Today’s rewrite changes the structure and tone of the poem and illustrates how time and place can influence any previously generated word sequence. For time and place we can also substitute attitude and change of heart, as Ludwig Wittgenstein suggests. More important, perhaps, our attitude and outlook can change with the weather and the state of our digestion. This is the same poem, then, written by the same person, on two different days. Or was it the same person? My stay at this residency would suggest that perhaps the person has changed along with his attitude, his outlook, his digestion, and the weather.

Eyeless in Kingsbrae

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Kingsbrae 15.3
15 June 2017

Eyeless in Kingsbrae

There’s warmth in a color,
and heat’s visible to the touch.
Shocking pink has a different
feel beneath the fingers,
and it has no name that you
and I, sighted, would ever know.

They push me, blindfolded,
around the garden. Gravel’s
crunch beneath the wheels
sharpens my inability to know,
to be sure of shadows and shapes
that are no longer there.

The ones who push me talk
and tell but cannot show.
How could they hold a rain
-bow before my eyes or
explain those lights that
crisp and crackle in the sky,
a visible Niagara Falls
with fairy lights
dancing up and down?

And those glorious choirs,
angel voices rising, falling,
grasping my eye-lashes,
trying to pry my eye-lids open.

Oh song of songs, and the singer
deaf to his own sublimity.
Oh dealer of false cards,
fingerless pianist, and dancer
shuffling on amputated stumps.

Wordless Wednesday

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Kingsbrae 14.2
14 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday

All sound has run dry in my
song-sparrow throat.
Words and music no longer flow.
They need eaux de vie,
the waters of life.

Water from a bucket, perhaps,
though I cannot stoop to fill,
nor carry it, without spilling.

A hosepipe, then, though I need
to bend to make the connections
and turn the tap on, and alas,
I am too old and stiff to bend.

Rain, perhaps, though today
it must fall from a cloudless sky.
Who could pray for rain on a day
like today, with sun warming earth
and flowers and my old bones
basking, wordless in the warmth.

I long for the word drought to end.
Silent I shall sit and wait for the word
-well to fill itself with those spiritual
waters flowering and flowing deep within.

 

 

 

Therapy Garden

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Kingsbrae 10.3
10 June 2017

Therapy Garden

Sitting, absent-minded, empty,
waiting for the sunlight to heal
my old bones and fill my fragile form
with light so that I may shine,
a lighthouse on the land,
light pouring out from me,
light enough to enlighten
the unenlightened
in their soul’s dark endless
night, no moon, no stars,
and me, walking unafraid,
knowing I need fear nothing,
even in terminal darkness,
for my body now overflows
with therapeutic light
that floats its boat on an inner
sea of tranquility.

Journal: Wandering the gardens on a warm sunny day, just taking in the fresh air and the sunshine. I stopped in the tranquility Garden and sat  a bench in the shade and wrote these words. They again very “raw” and I may well revisit them. Comments gratefully accepted.

Apologia

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Kingsbrae 5.2
5 June 2017

Apologia

Late last night, I opened Alistair Macleod’s book The Lost Salt Taste of Blood and I re-read the first story. I was soon dabbing my eyes with a tissue and blowing my nose.

This morning, I want to destroy everything I have written. I know I don’t possess the verbal and emotional genius of the great writers and I sense that I cannot write like them. Graduate school taught me to be passive, not active, and to write impersonally, choking every emotion when I write. Academia also taught me how to kiss and how to run away with my thirty silver pence. “Never challenge the status quo,” my professors told me. “Learn the rules and disobey them at your peril.”

But here, in this private space where I create and re-create, there are no rules. The enemy is not clear any more and the fight is not one of black against white. It is rather a choice between diminishing shades of grey, and all cats are grey in the gathering dark that storms against my closing mind. Should I destroy all my writing? I wouldn’t be the first to do so; nor would I be the last. And I won’t be the first or the last to destroy myself either. Intellectual, academic, and creative suicide: as total as the suicide of the flesh.

I carry on my back the names of those who have gone on before me as if they were a pile of heavy stones packed into a rucksack that I carry up a steep hill, day after day, only to find myself, next morning, starting at the bottom once again. But this is not the point: the point is that if I cannot write like the great writers, how can I write?

I think of Mikhail Bakhtin and his cronotopos, man’s dialog with his time and his place. I have no roots, no memories, and that is where my stories must start: in the loss of self, the loss of place, the loss of everything. I was uprooted at an early age, soon lost my foundations, and only survival mattered.

I look at the first page of one of my manuscripts. My writing manifesto is clear before me: “And this is how I remember my childhood,” I read. “Flashes of fragmented memory frozen like those black and white publicity photos I saw as a child in the local cinema. If I hold the scene long enough in my mind, it flourishes and the figures speak and come back to life.”

I am aware of the words of T. S. Eliot that “every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it” (East Coker).

Are these stories an exercise in creativity or are they a remembrance of things past? How accurate is memory? Do we recall things just as they happened? Or do we weave new fancies? In other words, are my inner photographs real photographs or have they already been tinted and tainted by the heavy hand of creativity and falseness?

The truth is that I can no longer tell fact from fiction. Perhaps it was all a dream, a nightmare, rather, something that I just imagined. And perhaps every word of it is true.

I no longer know.

Dawn at Kingsbrae

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Kingsbrae 3.1
3 June 2017

Dawn @ Kingsbrae

1

A fiery wedge fierce beneath
black-capped clouds, alive
the firmament with light,
breaking its waves over woods,
waters, tranquil the bay, grey,
yellow streaked, then blue,
the new day dawning,
driving night away,
false shadows fleeing.

2

To rock this new born babe,
to swaddle it in a cloak of cloud,
disguised for a moment its promise,
nature nurturing heart and mind,
filling the flesh with memory’s
instantaneous flash breaking its light
into the dark where no light shone,
fearful, the dream world,
gone now, dwindling as day light
shafts its arrowed flight.

3

How thoughtful My Lady
who placed me here,
at this desk,
at this window,
at this moment of time.

Glorious the day-break,
words no justice can do
to peace and light,
this early morning,
filtering sunlight
through the waking mind,
relighting the fires within the heart,
and glory striped on the horizon
just a word’s throw away.