Pepe’s bar was at the top of a steep, cobbled street, on the left-hand side. When we got there, it was crowded with men, mostly fishermen off the North Atlantic ships that cross the sea to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The men stay away for weeks at a time, and when they get back home, they too have a huge thirst, large and curious appetites, and money with which to indulge them. We all pushed our way into Pepe’s bar to join the crowd. “Phew! Let’s get out of here. The place stinks of fish!” “We can’t go without drinking something. You know what Pepe’s like.” “Let’s share a porrón.” And a porrón of red wine duly appeared. The porrón is designed for a small boat in the open sea. It is a glass flask of variable size, holding half a litre or a litre of bright red wine, depending upon the number of people drinking from it. It has a wide funnel at one end through which the wine enters and a thin spout at the other through which the wine exits in a fine ruby jet which the experts shoot directly into their mouths; done with skill, no lips ever touch the flask which circulates from hand to hand amidst cries of appreciation for the skilled and jeers for the careless (and the educational tourists, like me, here to learn about the language and the culture) who suddenly choke and cough as they squirt a red stream of wine up their noses and onto face, shirt, and tie. By dint of hard work, some of it done in the bath tub at home while nobody is watching, I can manage a porrón in the quiet confines of the bar; but I still don’t know how I would fare, out at sea, in an open, wind-swept boat. I was soon going to find out.
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Full Moon Over KIRA
Who shall dredge this midnight moon from the shoals of Passamaquoddy Bay? Gaunt the moon-rakers’ faces, harsh their hands hauling on nets, heaving her up, rippled and dimpled, blunt her bite as she emerges from submersion, raked from water in the traditional ritual.
Upside down, these reflected clouds, as bright as full-moon fishing boats distorted from below as the night wind blows clean dry bones across a mirrored sky where shadow fish fly wet with moonshine.
Oh pity her, you people, as she’s dragged from her element and exposed to air and oxygen that will slowly kill her, make her fade, frail and fragile, not meant for this world of rock and stone, flower and field, but destined to walk in heavenly meadows or to rest in the shallows where she rocks to sleep in the sea’s endless cradle.
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Salt on the sea wind sifts raucous gulls in packs, breeze beneath wings, searching for something to scavenge. Seaweed. The tidemark filled with longing. A grey sea crests and rises. Staring eyes: stark simplicity of that seal’s head filling the bay. Next day, his body stretched dead on the beach.
The river runs rocky beneath the covered bridge. Campers have created first nation’s rock people, heaping stone upon stone. At low tide, on the dried river bed, there is no easy way to say no. White foam
horses stamp and foam in the sea farrier’s forge. Cold winds blow at Cape Enrage. Wolfe Point sees late gales transform the beach: the sandbar carved: a Thanksgiving turkey, stripped to bare rib bone.
Dead birds sacrificed so I can walk here in comfort, my anorak stuffed with their plundered plumage.
Once upon a time that lighthouse on the quay was a young boy who sat within the shadow of his father’s tale. He sensed he would never feel the power of his own words because he didn’t seem to have any on account of the black hole inside him that swallowed everything up. He thought he would never know the joys of creating his own myths, telling his own story. He thought he would never come to grips with storm music, wind and rain, a lost path sought and found. He longed for someone to gift him a rainbow, with or without its pot of gold. He also thought that the fatal shadow, cast upon a child by a father, would always be there. One day, the early morning sun knocked on his bedroom window. He drew back the curtains and let in the light. That day, he emerged from the shadow and saw that the world was bright and filled with sunshine. Each morning, he breathed in the sunlight, felt it flow through his body. His heart pumped new blood and he was refreshed by the joy of living, of being himself, of being nobody but himself, unique and wonderful, subject to nobody’s wishes and whims. Gradually he grew into the person he was always destined to be. The sun’s rays lit up his face and eyes. Sunshine flourished within him and renewed not only him but all that he touched. Light flooded out like the beam from that other lighthouse, over there, on those rocks, that was put there to help and guide wayfarers and seafarers lest they become lost at sea. Lost, he found himself. Found, he centred himself. Joy and hope, belief and knowledge took root under the sun that each day nourished his body, soul, and spirit. Renewed, light flooded from him. He burned like a bonfire or a beacon and became one of those special lights that enlighten the world. He became that lighthouse.
Comment: One of the prose poems from Tales from Tara that slipped in here by accident. I have included it for, and dedicate it to, my good friend and fellow writer, Judy Wearing, to wish her well with health and strength in this new year that is now turning into something special.
In the mud nest jammed tight against the garage roof, tiny yellow beaks flap ceaselessly open.
The parents sit on a vantage point of electric cable, mouths 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?”
“Wye is a river. It flows through Ross-on-Wye and marks the boundary between England and Wales.”
And the swallows perch on the rafters watching their fledgling as it struggles on the floor: the weakening wings, the last slow kicks of the twitching legs. “Why?”
“Y is a crooked letter invented by the Green Man of Wye.”
Comment: This is the original poem, written back in the eighties, wow, that’s forty years ago. I included it in my first poetry chapbook, Idlewood (published, 1991). It was a slim volume, dark green color, typed and photocopied, very humble, but MINE! A couple of years ago I wrote a prose poem, sort of flash fiction, in one of my Welsh sequences and included the story as part of the text. It came to me as a memory yesterday morning, and I posted it on Facebook. Here now is the story. Hopefully, you have just read the poem: I hope you liked it but, as I know all too well, de gustibus non est disputandum. I would like to know if you prefer the poetry to the prose. Please let me know, pretty please?
“Where are you going?” I ask. “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. “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 questioning mind.