School Days

School Days

Sixty years ago, in 1962, somewhere around today’s date, I left my public school – private school – boys’ boarding school and entered the real world as a free man. I was lost. They educated me to be part of a world that no longer existed, the world of walls, and boundaries, of lists and rules, of school reports and chains of authority, older boys > house monitors > prefects > head boy of house > head boy of school > masters > house masters > head master. That great chain of authority was to rule me for the rest of my life.

Lists

This is my clothing list. Six times a year I packed all items into my school trunk, 3 times to go to school and 3 times to go home. Six times a year I unpacked all items from my trunk, 3 times when I arrived at school and 3 times when I arrived home.

Reports

I still have my school reports signed by by teachers, initials only, and my father, full signature. He had to sign so that the teachers could ascertain that yes, he had read my school report and that no, I had not hidden it from him. The report is a disaster story. I look back on some of the comments and wonder what worlds, what different realities, were we living in? One verbal remark, made in class: “Why are you in the sixth form?” “I am going to university, sir.” “The only way you’ll go to university is on a train.”

I sent that gentleman my train ticket, but he didn’t choose to remember the comment, made to a fifteen year old boy.

Scars

I still carry them. So many of us do. Less than most, possibly, for us ne’er do wells and miscreants.

In the beginning was the word, and the word, maybe, may endure. I guess, maybe, one day we’ll find out.

Hair

Hair

Some have it, many don’t.
Some find it floating
one morning on their pillow,
short or long, all gone,
a dream faded in the light of day.

A woman’s crowning glory,
or so they say
yet I admire the bald skull,
its stiff stubble
stubbornly growing back
beneath head scarf or cap.

The lucky ones wear wigs,
often made from
another person’s loss.

The bravest flaunt their baldness,
battle flags their shining skulls,
blazing like badges of glory,
shiny medals awarded
in this never-ending war
against our own fifth column
and the enemy who devours us
from within.

Comment: Yet another of my friends is suffering from cancer. When will it ever end? This is my tribute to all who fight, or who have fought, the enemy within. Meet him head on. Never surrender. D o not give in.

Click here for Roger’s reading of Hair on Anchor.
Hair

Bruised

Bruised

The clematis unfolds its flowers: bruised purple on the porch. Beneath the black and white hammers of ivory keys, old wounds crack open. A flight of feathered notes: this dead heart sacrificed on the lawn. I wash fresh stains from my fingers with the garden hose. The evening stretches out a shadow hand to squeeze my heart like an orange in its skin. Somewhere, the white throat sparrow trills its guillotine of vertical notes. I flap my hands in the air and they float like butterflies, amputated in sunlight’s net. The light fails fast. I hold up shorn stumps of flowers for the night wind to heal and a chickadee chants an afterlife built of spring branches.

Pressed between the pages of my waking dreams: a lingering scent; the death of last year’s delphiniums; the tall tree toppled in the yard; a crab apple flower; a shard of grass as sharp as glass, as brittle as a bitter, furred tongue at winter’s end.

I know for certain that a dog fox hunts for my heart. Vicious as a vixen, the dog fox digs deep at midnight, unearthing the dried peas I shifted from bowl to bowl to count the hours as I lay sick in bed. I sense a whimper at the window, the scratch of a paw. I watch a dead leaf settle down in a broken corner and it fills me with sudden silence. Midnight stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps dream-treasures in its tight-clenched fist.

The lone dove of my heart flaps in its trap of barren bone and my world is as small as a pea in a shrunken pod. Or is it a dried and blackened walnut in its wrinkled shell of overheating air? Sunset, last night, was a star-shell failing to fire. Swallows flew their evensong higher and higher, striving for that one last breath lapped from the dying lisp of day. Its last blush rode red on the clouds for no more than a second’s lustrous afterglow.

I lower defunct delphiniums, body after body, into their shallow graves. Night’s shadows weave illusions from earth’s old bones. Rock becomes putty, malleable in the  moonlight. Midnight readjusts her nocturnal robes and pulls bright stars from a top hat of darkness. Winged insects with human faces dance step by step with circling planets and clutter the owl’s path. Night swallows the swallows and creates more stars. The thin moon hones its cutting edge into an ice-cold blade.

Click here to listen to Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Bruised

Lists

Lists

We all have them somewhere,
we few, we few, we privileged few,
sent away to boarding school
before we even knew what was
tucked away in old school trunks,
or locked away, cobweb-covered,
in the dark recesses of parental minds.

This is my ‘back-to-school’ list.
It contains everything a young boy
needs, or can think of, when leaving home:
shoes, shoe polish, many brushes for shoes,
hair, clothes, teeth… everything: name tags,
shirts, socks, underpants, trousers,
jerseys, ties (of a quiet color),
sheets, pillow cases, hankies,
sports shirts (house and school),
pen, pencils, ink, blotting paper.

So many memories spring out
from this list, so many skeletons
shake their fists, or wag a finger, or wave,
hello, farewell, from that old trunk.

Look: the safety razor to shave
that first hint of hair on a juvenile face.
Bible and prayer book, too,
though I never used them.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor
Lists

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

New Year’s Day

Self-portrait with mask

New Year’s Day
What’s in a name?

Only the winners write the history of their conquests, only the winners. Am I a winner, then? Of course I am. I’m writing this aren’t I? Therefore, ipso facto, I am a winner. This means that although they trashed and thrashed me, they never broke me nor was I a loser. I survived. And in that world in which I lived, surviving without surrendering was a victory in itself. But this is no tale of a hero, of bloody deeds, of a great victory. It is a survivor’s tale. So, if I won, then they lost, and who knows now how the losers felt, history’s non-winners, their slates wiped clean now, their names anonymous, erased from my story, not carved in stone nor impressed into steel.
            What’s in a name? The Red Wings, the Black Hawks, the Braves, the Algonquins? Whose heart lies broken and buried at Wounded Knee? Why does the Wolastoq rise in the Notre Dame mountains and flow down through unceded land to the City of Fredericton that noble daughter of the woods, and on to the city of Saint John on Fundy Bay? Why Wolastoq, Notre Dame, Fredericton, Saint John?
            “Sticks and stones will break my bones, yet names will never hurt me.” But what if I am called Nemo and have no other name? No-name man, no-name woman, no-name child, no language to call my own, no culture, no history, except the one that others wrote and forced me to believe or the innocent who causes me to rebel

            “Grandpa,” she says, climbing on my knee. “Tell me a story. Please.”
            “Once upon a time,” I begin. “There was this little girl …” She wriggles and giggles.
            “What was her name?”
            “I don’t know.”
            “Yes, you do.”
            “Don’t.”
            “Do.”  
            “Was it me? Am I that little girl?”
            “You can be if you want.”
            “I want. How does my story end?”
            “I don’t know. You’ve only just started it.”

So, write your poems, write your stories, write your childhood, write your memories, write what you know, invent what you don’t know. You can’t remember your name? Give yourself a new one. You have forgotten your myths? Create new ones. You have forgotten your language? Seek and you will find, and when you have found, learn your language again, a word at a time, phrase by phrase, word-picture by word-picture, until you have renewed your world and your place in it. Let your ancestors stride through your veins again and again to stand in the spotlight that you shine upon them.
            Restriction, extinction, suppression of the weakest and poorest, survival of the fittest … You, you who are reading this, you who have survived, you can count yourself among the strongest and the bravest. Now name yourself for who and what you are.
            Pick up your pen and write. Lazarus I name you: step out from your living tomb, step out from your kennel-cave. Pick up your bed and walk and talk, and write your own story. And remember the words of Oscar Wilde, “Tell your own tale, and be yourself, my friend, because everyone else is taken.”

Click here for Roger’s reading.
New Year’s Day
What’s in a name?

Comment: This is the penultimate chapter from On Being Welsh. I will put the last chapter up tomorrow.

Poetry Painting

Poetry Painting

This was a totally new experience: a poem written over a painting that linked visual to verbal. I tried several versions of the words and have come up with a better one… but, once the words are on the canvas, it’s so hard to change them. The spoken word, once loosed, can never be recalled.

Our New Brunswick leaves have gone already. We are looking at ships’ masts, sails unfurled, in an anchored harbor. Further south, Thanksgiving is here. My distant neighbors and friends are contemplating turkeys and family gatherings and all that is good about harvest festivals and the end of the productive year, the agriculturally productive year, that is. Below them, in Mexico, the land of four continuous harvests, growth continues.

The cycle of the seasons rolls on and on. In the British Isles Woodhenge has turned into Stonehenge. Four thousand five hundred years of history measured in stone circles, seasonal star and sun points, times for sowing and harvesting. Absolutely bewilderingly marvelous. More than 5,500 standing stone calendars can be found in those islands.

And here, in my painting, leaves, letters, words deliver a message of intertextuality. Change is upon us. We live with it, focus on it, describe it in words. Each letter, each word, is a leaf on the tree, falling or soon to fall.

Autumn Leaves

Catch them
if
you can.


Catch them
while
you can.

Autumn Leaves.
Don’t grieve.
Close the door
when she is gone.

Click on this link for Roger’s reading.
Autumn Leaves

Spirit Dance

Spirit Dance
Thursday Thought

One of my best friends came over today and we talked. We also went out shopping: blinds and curtain rails. I can no longer put them up. He can. We had a fun time. So much exchange of information in the car and in the store and afterwards, coming home.

We left the mounting of blinds and curtains for another day. But I invited him to choose a painting from my collection to recompense him for his time, his care, his attention, his help, and to thank him for his friendship and his reaching out. He chose this one, Spirit Dance, the one above, quite unique, one of my favorites. It was one of two that he liked. This was the other to which he aspired.

I asked him to help me choose a painting for the cover of my last book, Stars at Elbow and Foot, and this is what he selected. It is now on the cover of the book. He has a great eye for art. Well, it matches mine and he chooses my favorites. So I am happy with that.

But my Thursday Thought is this: in writing we say “kill your darlings”. Meaning, there are some great ideas in our poems, stories, novels, but they don’t quite fit. We love them. But we must kill them and cut them out. Sure we save them for later, but oh, do they ever belong.

I have never sold a painting. I cannot say ‘money talks’ like another of my friends, because to me it doesn’t. El Poema de Mio Cid: ‘partieron como la una de la carne‘ — they parted like the nail from the flesh. But, as another friend of mine, a preacher, said, when I visited my father in hospital: “there are no pockets in shrouds — you can’t take it with you.”

I am grateful to my friend for accepting the gift of my painting. I know he will cherish it and that it will be happy with him. But oh, I miss it. No: I don’t want it back. I want it loved and appreciated and yes, I know that when I go, I will not be able to take it with me. Nor any of the others. Does anybody want to adopt them, my beloved children?

Click here for Roger’s live reading.
Spirit Dance

Reconciliation

Guess who caught a fish?

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

7

Reconciliation

Rant, I say, rant and rage away, rage, rage against
the death of friendship and loathing built on false love.
This is a blood sport where even the spectators
are spattered with the refined frenzy of friends
turned into fiends and foes, and this is a protest,
a rant against love that doesn’t last, that doesn’t stand
the test of time, against families that break up,
against a society that breaks them up, driving wedges
and knives between people once bound
by the puppet strings of love, against relationships
that can no longer continue, against the rattling
of dead white bones in empty cupboards where skeletons
dance their way into legal daylight and the spectators
 call for more: more blood, more money, more blood money,
and the engagement diamond is a blood diamond now,
a tarnished garnet, and where is the Little Old Lady
of Threadneedle Street, that spire inspired needle
that will stitch their world back together,
and stitch you back together when you’ve been shocked
out of your own ruby-sweet rose-tinted world
and torn into little bits in their oh-so-bitter one,
the biters bitten and those bitten biting back in return,
 a new world this world of snapping turtles,
turtles standing on the back of turtles, and turtle after turtle
all the way down until this carnival world puts down
its dead clown mask and turns turtle in its turn.

Comment:

National Reconciliation Day today, the first in Canada. Now that is a valid reason to rant. Let us hope for reconciliation, for a healing and a mending. I love Canada. I love all Canadians. I came here by choice, stayed here by choice, and I am very grateful to have been accepted by the Canadian communities in which I have lived. I hope I have graced Canada, with my presence, as Canada has aided me and helped me along in all my endeavors, academic, sporting, teaching, creating, and editing. As Norman Levine once wrote: Canada Made Me. In my case, it is true. On this first National Reconciliation Day, my thoughts and thanks go out to my brothers and sisters, all of us Canadians.

I don’t know what happened this morning: I put the same post up as yesterday. Different photo, same post. I really don’t know what to think about what I was thinking. Old age? Confusion? A troubled mind? All of the above!!! Never mind: here we go again, and maybe my next rant will be about getting out of touch and loss of memory! You never know what’s coming next, and that’s the beauty of Messiaen.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Reconciliation

Migrants

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

4

Migrants

Think natural disasters. Think famine,
wars, violence, plague. How our world changes
when refugees arrive, blend, contribute,
offer so much, their languages, cultures.

Yet we still exploit them, stealing subtle
things, their identities, their energy,
their ability to adapt, to give
so much and really to take so little.

Who would want to build a wall,
to reject them, to deny entry?
Maybe a million Indigenous people
can actually claim the right

to belong here. Most of us are immigrants,
late-comers in one way or another.
To accept, to grow together in peace,
to establish a nation where people

need not fear imminent expulsion
for the color of their skin, their language,
their religion, their political thoughts,
the fact they may not even vote for us.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Migrants