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

After the Floods

After the Floods
(2004 BC & 2018-2019)

as the crow flies
so the pigeon
holding straws
within its beak
time to rebuild

who now knows
the unknown
perceives the abyss
beneath egg-frail
cockle-shell hull

waters recede
islands re-emerge
bald skulls of hillocks
stripped of grass and trees
water-logged fields
old bones dug up
displayed in the ditch

mud walls fallen flat
warped wooden planks
water-swollen
so much stolen
by water wind and wave

Patience

Thursday Thoughts
Patience

Patients must be patient.
The waiting-room
is where the doctor
makes them wait.

My father waited, patiently,
to see the specialist.
At the stroke of noon,
nurse told the waiting patients
not to wait patiently
and to all go home.

“Come back next week,” nurse said.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“The doctor,” she said,
“has a very important meeting.”

I hurried for a taxi.
My father on his Zimmer
followed slowly behind.
On the hospital steps
I met the doctor.

“Damnation!” he said,
into his cell phone.
“I’m going to be late
for that appointment.
I’ve left my golf clubs behind.”

Thursday Thoughts: I remember that day well. My father was due to visit the hospital for his appointment with the stroke specialist. I wanted to drive him there, but he insisted on waiting for the old folks’ ambulance. It was due at 9:00 am and his appointment was for 10:30 am. We waited patiently, watching the hands on the clock moving slowly round. 9:00 > 9:15 > 9:30 > 9:45. “I can drive you,” I said. My father shook his head: “If I don’t take the ambulance, they won’t come to pick me up again. They’ll say I have other means of transport.”

The ambulance / ambwlans (in Welsh) arrived just before 10:00 and dad was sure they’d make his appointment time. Except there were still empty seats and that meant more passengers to pick up. Used to the system, my father waited patiently while I got more and more frustrated. Finally, the ambulance was full and we made our way to the hospital, getting there about 10:45. “Run,” my father said, thrusting his appointment papers at me, “tell the nurse I’m on my way.” Run I did. When I got to the waiting room, I found it full of people with never a chair for my father to sit on. When he arrived, a younger patient offered him his seat and he flopped down into it.

Names rang out. Patients disappeared. Some returned to the waiting room, then walked out. Some didn’t return. At 11:15 my father demanded tea. I got him a cup. At 11:30, a man stood up and started to preach to his captive audience. “Does that every week,” dad muttered in my ear. “He’s mad.” “You can’t take it with you,” the preacher thundered. “There aren’t any pockets in shrouds.” People fiddled and looked uncomfortable. Most had teacups perched precariously on saucers, and some rattled them, whether in applause or anguish, I still don’t know.

Then at noon the nurse appeared and announced what you have read above. “Dr. XXX’s patients: you can all go now. Dr. XXX has an important appointment. Come back next week.” My dad pushed me. “Run,” he said. “Get a taxi. They’ll all be wanting one and by the time I get there there’ll be none left.” That was the only visit I made with my father to that particular hospital. I had so many questions to ask that specialist, but, alas, I never met him.

What I did learn was that patients must learn patience. Hospitals, like airlines, run to their own schedules. A sign should be placed above every hospital door. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Just a thought, nothing more. The delays in all our medical systems, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, have been disastrous for many people, especially the old. Missed appointments. Delayed and cancelled treatment. Long waits and delays. The medical staff have been placed in such stressful conditions. Many are finding it difficult to cope with their inability to fulfill their desires to help their patients. Many are so stressed out. Two of my own doctors have cried when talking to me. I think of it as Covid Collateral Damage, CCD, just like the Colony Collapse Disorder that wiped out our bee population a few years back. Now we are the bees and hospitals and nursing homes are the hives.

Looking back, that morning spent waiting with my father, was a lesson in what old age has in store for us Golden Oldies as we age. Patience: as patients, we must learn patience. And remember, as Bette Davis once said “Old age is not for cissies.” And those are my thoughts for today!

Prostate

Prostate

Pictures and models.
1 Prostate: normal size and shape.
2 Prostate enlarged.
3 Prostate enormously enlarged.
4 Prostate lumpy, malformed,
          cancerous, and me prostrate.

Lumpy and treacherous:
a gross shape growing
its grossness within me.
Gross, but mine and a vital
part of my living body.

A mad world this, twisted
time and fairground mirrors
distorting everything, and me
grossed out by the mechanical
clockwork, tick-tock, snip-snap,
removing samples for some
lab to examine and test.

“Give them back!”
I want to scream.
I guess I’ll get them back
on Judgement Day,
when the body resurrects
and I am whole again,
warts, cancer, and all.

Meanwhile, the biopsy’s done.
I get up from the bed
and the nurse hands me a towel
so I won’t drown my sorrows
in my body blood, a crimson
tide, ample, thick, flowing red.

Comment: After a couple of phone calls, some e-mails, and some messages on Facebook, I realize that some of my friends are actually following this blog and reading it. Thank you for the care and attention you have shown me by writing or calling to inquire about my health. All is well. I visited my urologist yesterday for a regular check-up and sat there a little longer than usual, waiting. Never one to waste time, I studied the things in the office and discovered a model prostate over which I could run my fingers (I didn’t!). It showed the four stages of prostate enlargement and cancer development as outlined above. I had no paper with me, so I jotted down four poems on the back of the paper bag in which I carried the injection I would later receive. This poem was one of them. The reference to Judgement Day and the recovery of body parts comes from one of Quevedo’s Suen~os, El suen~o del infierno, I believe. Anyway, my apologies, if I have worried you. I am fine, thank you. However, as Quevedo also wrote, “The day I was born I took my first step on the road to death”. Alas, I too am one of Dylan Thomas’s ‘poor creatures, born to die,’ as are we all. If not now, when? Not too soon, I hope. Blessings and thanks to all who read this. Take care and stay healthy.

Building on Sand

Building on Sand

Everywhere the afternoon gropes steadily to night.
Some people have built fires,
others read by candlelight.

Geese, drifts of snow their whiteness,
settle on the riverbank. They walk
on thin ice at civilization’s edge.
Around them, the universe’s clock
ticks slowly down.

Who forced that scream
through the needle’s eye?
Inverted, the Big Dipper,
hangs its question mark
from heaven’s dark eyelid.

Ghosts of departed constellations
stalk the sky. Pale stars bob
phosphorescent on the flood.

The flesh that bonds,
the bones that walk,
the shoulders and waist
on which I hang my clothes,
now they stand alone
and listen at the water’s edge
to the whispering trees.

They have caught the words
of snowflakes strung between the stars.
Moonlight is a liquor
running raw within them.

Comment: The verse version (above) is from Though Lover’s be Lost. The prose version (Below) is from Stars at Elbow and Foot.

Building on Sand

Everywhere the afternoon gropes steadily to night. Some people have built fires, others read by candlelight. Geese, drifts of snow their whiteness, settle on the riverbank. They walk on thin ice at civilization’s edge. Around them, the universe’s clock ticks slowly down. Who forced that scream through the needle’s eye? Inverted, the Big Dipper, hangs its question mark from heaven’s dark eyelid. Ghosts of departed constellations stalk the sky. Pale stars bob phosphorescent on the flood. The flesh that bonds, the bones that walk, the shoulders and waist on which I hang my clothes, now they stand alone and listen at the water’s edge to the whispering trees. They have caught the words of snowflakes strung between the stars. Moonlight is a liquor running raw within them.

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