One Goldfish

Ephemera

One Goldfish

A great big thank you to Allan Hudson, editor of the South Branch Scribbler Blog. He e-mailed me on my birthday, last Sunday, and asked me if I had a story that he could use on his new blog page Short Stories from Around the World. These will be published every other Wednesday, starting today. I am very honoured and proud to be the author of the first story, One Goldfish, third place in the WFNB non-fiction award (2020), that opens the series. It was revised and reworked in the Advanced Writing Course, run by Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox fame. I would like to thank Brian and all my fellow participants who helped me rework the story. On Allan’s blog you will find links to other contributions from me. You will also find a series of featured authors, from New Brunswick, the Maritimes, Canada, and all around the world. Allan does a great job for us minor, struggling literary figures, not just for the greats. I encourage you to follow his blog and support him.

Ephemera

My painting (above) is entitled Ephemera. It shows a literary text semi-obliterated by various colors and devices. If we have learned anything from Covid it should be the fragility of life, the insubstantiality of existence, and the enormous powers of the natural world that surrounds us. My friends: take nothing for granted. Carpe Diem – seize the day – and “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may – for time it is a’flyin – and that poor flower blooming today – tomorrow may be dying.” This is Robert Herrick, of course. Here is my own version of the theme from The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature.

Daffodils

Winter’s chill lingers well into spring.
I buy daffodils to encourage the sun
to return and shine in the kitchen.
Tight-clenched fists their buds, they sit
on the table and I wait for them to open.

Grey clouds fill the sky. A distant sun
lights up the land but doesn’t warm the earth
nor melt the snow. The north wind chills
body and soul, driving dry snow
across our drive to settle in the garden.

The daffodils promise warmth, foretell
the sun, predicting bright days to come.
When they do, red squirrels spark at the feeder.

For ten long days the daffodils endure, bringing
to vase and breakfast-table stored up sunshine
and the silky softness of their golden gift.

Their scent grows stronger as they gather
strength from sugared water. But now
they begin to wither, their day almost done.

Dry and shriveled they stand this morning,
paper-thin, brown, crisp to the touch, hanging
their heads as oncoming death weighs them down.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Daffodils

My Father in Oaxaca

My Father in Oaxaca

I saw my father this evening. 
I walked through the zócalo,
opened the main cathedral doors,
looked up, and there he stood,
motionless. 

Light shone through stained glass
and gifted him a halo,
as if he were some long dead
saint come back to visit me. 

We stared at each other.
The hairs on my neck
stood on end.

My hands shook. 
When I forced my mouth open,
words stuck in my throat. 

He wore his best grey suit
over a light blue shirt
and a dark blue,
hand woven tie: 
the outfit in which
I had buried him.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
My Father in Oaxaca

Rain Stick Magic

Nunca llueve en los bares /
it never rains in the bars.

Sympathetic Magic
aka
Rain Stick Magic

“Rain, we need rain.”
The bruja whirls her rain stick.
Rain drops patter one by one,
then fall faster and faster
until her bamboo sky fills
with the sound of rushing water.

An autumnal whirl of sun-dried cactus
beats against its wooden prison walls.
Heavenwards, zopilotes float
beneath gathering clouds.
Rain falls in a wisdom of pearls
cast now before us.

Scales fall from my eyes.
They land on the marimbas,
dry beneath the zocalo‘s arches
where wild music sounds
its half-tame rhythms,
sympathetic music released,
like this rainstorm,
by the musician’s magic hands.

Comment: Bruja: witch, witch doctor; Oro de Oaxaca: mescal, the good stuff; Zopilote: Trickster, the turkey vulture who steals fire from the gods, omnipresent in Oaxaca; Marimbas: a tuned set of bamboo instruments. But you knew all that!

Click on this link to hear Roger’s reading.
Rain!

Self-portrait with flowers

Self-portrait with flowers

I walk past the Jesuit Church
where the shoe-shine boys store
polish, brushes, and chairs overnight.
I walk past the wrought-iron bench
where the gay guys sit, caressing,
asking the unsuspecting to join them.

Nobody bothers to ask me for a match,
for a drink, for charity, for a walk
down the alley to a cheap hotel.

The witch doctor is the one who throws
the hands of all the clocks into the air
at midnight, in despair.
He’s the one who leaves this place,
and returns to this place, all places being one.

The witch doctor sees little things
that other men don’t see. He reaches out
and flicks a fly away from my nose.
“It too has lost its way,” he sighs.

I think I know who I am,
but I often have doubts when I shave,
rasping the razor across my chin’s dry husks.
The witch doctor, my lookalike, my twin,
stares back at me from my bathroom mirror.

Three witches dance on the waning soap dish.
One spins the yarn, one measures the cloth,
one wields the knife, that will one day sever
the thread of I, who the same as all
poor creatures, was born only to die.

You too must one day look in that mirror,
oh hypocrite lecteur,
mon semblable, mon frère.

Type on this link for Roger’s reading.
Self-portrait with flowers

Comment: My thanks to all those who click on earlier poems and express their liking for them. I am particularly pleased when an earlier poem lacks a voice reading. Then I can revisit it, rethink it, rewrite it, record it, and speak it aloud. Here’s the link to the earlier version of the poem Charles Baudelaire. Fast away the old year passes, and we must renew ourselves, our thoughts, and our poetry for the new year soon to be upon us. To all my readers, old and new, welcome to that world.

Sonnet: Angel Choir

Angel Choir
(on seeing the Northern Lights at Ste. Luce-sur-mer)
Sonnet

Listen to the choristers with their red and green voices.
Light’s counterpoint flowering across this unexpected son et lumière,
we tremble with the sky fire’s crackle and roar.

Once upon another time, twinned with our heavenly wings,
we surely flew to those great heights and hovered in wonderment.
Now, wingless, our earthbound feet are rooted to the concrete.
If only our hearts could sprout new wings and soar upwards together.

The moon’s phosphorescent wake swims shimmering before us.
The lighthouse’s finger tingles up and down our spines.
Our bodies flow fire and blood till we crave light, and yet more light.
We fall silent, overwhelmed by the celestial response.

When the lights go out, hearts and souls are left empty.
Leaving the divine presence is a gut-wrenching misery.
Abandoned, hurt and grieving, we are left in darkness.

Comment: The Spanish mystics, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila, wrote, in the sixteenth-century, about the ‘dark night of the soul’. That dark night also arrives when the communion with the spiritual finishes and the communicants are left alone, in their loneliness, abandoned to their earthly selves. To leave the divine presence is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching misery. To turn from the marvels of nature can produce lesser, but still deeply moving feelings of grief and sadness. The secret is to preserve that joy and to carry it with us always, warm, in our hearts. Doing so makes the pain of separation much more bearable.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Sonnet: Angel Choir

Boxing Day

Boxing Day

Still Life with Hollyhock
Geoff Slater

How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?

Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?

So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. Intertextuality,
visible and verbal: this is a poem about
a painting of a digital photograph of a
hollyhock, a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.

A still life, naturaleza muerta in Spanish,
a nature morte in French, a dead nature,
then, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display, in this coffin’s wooden frame.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Still Life with Hollyhock

Comment: Back home in Wales, Christmas Day was for family and Boxing Day was for friends. I guess the same traditions still exist here in Island View. And what better friend than Geoff Slater? I met him in 2017 at the first KIRA residency and we have been friends ever since. We have worked on so many projects together: painting, creative workshops, videos, sound recordings, poetry, and short stories. He has illustrated several of my books, McAdam Railway Station, Tales from Tara, Scarecrow, and I have put some of his drawings to poetry, Twelve Days of Cat. Last, but by no means least, his painting of a hollyhock from my garden appears on the front cover of my latest poetry book, The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature (Cyberwit, 2021). The title of the collection, incidentally, came from sundry discussions we had on the nature of art and the Prelude: On Reading and Writing Poetry (pp. 7-31), was written at his suggestion. Poems to Geoff can be found on pp. 43, 44, and 61-62 of The Nature of Art.

So, Boxing Day is for friends. And I dedicate it to Geoff Slater and all the many friends I have made in KIRA, Kingsbrae, and throughout my multiple meanderings through the realms of academia, coaching with the NCCP and the NBRU, researching in communities like the ACH, the AATSP, and the MLA, various editorial positions on academic journals like the IFR, BACH, STLHE Green Guides, STLHE Newsletter, La Perinola, AULA, CJSoTL, Canadian Modern Language Review, Calíope, translating for different associations, including the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in St. Joseph’s Convent, Avila, and volunteering with STLHE and the 3M National Teaching Fellowship. To all those friends out there, including my friends and e-friends in TWUC, the LCP, and the WFNB, and those on Facebook, my blog, and my online Skype and Zoom courses and meetings, plus, of course, those I know via Quick Brown Fox, you are not forgotten. Here, for you, on Boxing Day, is a hug or a wave of the hand and a great, big thank you for being there.

Selection of my books
on the sea-shore at Holt’s Point.

Anniversary Poem

Anniversary Poem

“Hoy cumple amor en mis ardientes venas
veinte y dos años, Lisi, y no parece
que pasa día por el.”

Francisco de Quevedo

“For twenty-two years my captive heart has burned.”
Christ, what crap that is. The only heart burn
I have known came from your cooking: African
Nut Pie, as detailed in the cookbook I bought you
for Christmas on our first wedding anniversary,

remember? And do you remember the ride to Kincardine
on the train? A dozen coaches left Toronto and one
by one they were shunted away until only you and I and an
elderly man ploughed through the snowstorm in the one
remaining carriage. Deeper and deeper piled the snow.

You looked through the window and started to weep:
“What have I done?” you cried in shock and grief. Outside:
Ontario lake-effect snow. Headlights from two waiting
cars lit up the station. We drove to the homes of people
you didn’t know, third generation cousins of mine.

You’re the only bride I know who was carried to church
in the arms of the total stranger giving her away
in place of the father she never knew. The snow lay six
foot deep (eighteen inches fell on your wedding day
alone) and you, with a white wedding dress and black boots

up to your knees. Cousin Walter carried you to the altar:
how they laughed as they chanted that old song to us.
Later, when they tapped the glasses and fell silent
at the meal, I didn’t know what to do. And you, my love,
standing up, kissing me, married after six days in Canada.

Comment: 55 years ago today. Where have they all gone? How quickly they slipped away. So many memories. So much happiness.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Anniversary Poem

55 Years Married

Poppies by Clare

55 Years Married

White Flame
in praise of my beloved

White flame, her hair, emerging from shadows,
lighting her path downhill toward water’s edge.
Wind-driven waves splash lake-side where she
will wander. I watch her footsteps, not now
as firm as once they were. Burgeoning age

grips hip and joint. Toes and heels no longer
lift in the same old way. Component parts
break down, arteries clog, arthritis worms,
painful, into fingers, wrists, and knees. I
recall nursery rhymes: “Jack be nimble, Jack

be quick,” but she isn’t anymore and
neither of us could jump over candles.
Candlelight, inner light, outer light, her
hair, so pure, so white, her voice clear as a
bell, soft yet luminous, as she picks her
way on a perilous path through wayward

woods, not stumbling yet, nor lumbering,
and still she lives, as I still live, in hopes
to see each other, until earth stops our eyes
and we can see, sense, touch, hear no more …

Comment: Yes, we got married 55 years ago today. This poem, written for Clare, appears on page 120 of The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature in the section entitled The Nature of Human Nature. I have written several very personal poems about Clare and our relationship and they can be found in Secret Gardens the chapbook I published in 1991 on the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary. Several poems from that collection also appear in Stars at Elbow and Foot. Selected Poems, 1979-2009. (Cyberwit, 2021). The painting that decorates this page is also by Clare. She is a talented multi-media designer and several of my book covers were designed by her. This is one of her rare paintings. We have three of them on the wall, and they are all exceptional.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
White Flame

Rain or Shine

Rain or Shine

Ginger Marcinkowski
(KIRA, August, 2019)

“My walk each morning, rain or shine,
feathers my black galoshes with dewy grass.
There I would ramble through gated doors
that kept out the world and sealed in
my pen’s work for that day. 

I often found myself sidetracked,
exploring paths that led through flowerbeds,
and up to my favorite sculptures.
I paused to watch my fellow artists
as they focused on chosen subjects
unaware that I was eavesdropping. 

Then silently, I would steal away
along the well-trod path to my studio,
pausing long enough to greet the llamas
and baby goats. If I listen carefully
I can still hear their bleating. 

In wonder, every day, I climbed the steps
of wood that led to my studio, opened
the door, and turned to breathe in my good
fortune. ‘What a blessed woman you are,’
I would tell myself before taking my place
for hours on end at my desk, each moment,
each stroke of the pen, each letter added
to the growing lines on the page, a gift.”

Comment: This is a found poem, found in the sense that it doesn’t belong to me. I met Ginger at KIRA in August, 2019, and we became close friends. We have corresponded regularly since meeting and she has become one of the best beta readers I have ever had, open, fiercely, honest, knowledgeable, and challenging. This challenge for me ‘to be the best that I can be’ really does bring the best out of me as a writer.

A found poem: I found it in one of the e-mails Ginger sent. In it she described a typical day for her at Kingsbrae. Isolated from its e-mail prose, the lines shortened and the thoughts slightly re-arranged, it became this poem, Ginger’s poem, her poem. I offer it to her, as she offered her writing talents to me, openly and with great humility. It can be found in the section entitled Impressions of KIRA Artists on pages 66-67 of The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature (Cyberwit, 2021, details to follow when available).

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Rain or Shine

Survivors

Survivors
Chuck Bowie
(KIRA, June, 2019)

We met at St. Andrews, at low tide, on
the underwater road. In secret we
shared the closed, coded envelopes of thought,
running fresh ideas through open minds.

Our words, brief vapor trails, gathered for
a moment over Passamaquoddy,
before drifting silently away. Canvas sails
flapped white seagulls across the bay.

All seven seas rose before our eyes, brought
in on a breeze’s wing. The flow of cold
waters over warm sand cocooned us
in a cloak-and-dagger mystery of mist.

We spun our spider-web dreams word by word,
decking them out with the silver dew drops
proximity brings. Characters’ voices,
unattached to real people, floated by.

Verbal ghosts, shape-shifting, emerging from
shadows, revealed new attitudes and twists,
spoke briefly, filled us with visions of book-
lives, unforgettable, but doomed, swift to fail.

Soft waves ascended rock, sand, mud, to wash
away footprints, clues, all the sandcastle
dreams we had constructed that afternoon,
though a few still survive upon the printed page.

Comment: We, like the words we leave on the printed page, are survivors. Sometimes, when the seas rise high and our paths grow rough and hard to travel, we need a friend to reach out to us in our time of need. That friendship extends across differences and distances. Here, on the shores of time, we can meet and greet and share. Patos de diciembre, we can paddle together and give each other strength and comfort.

This poem appears on pages 64-65 of The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature, soon to be available at Cyberwit and Amazon. More details later.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Survivors