Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Victors

Having showered after exercise, one feels bright and clean and fully justified in having a celebratory cup of tea - especially tea made to my specific requirements by the well-trained staff in my local swimming pool's cafe.
     This isn't Britain and so, in spite of it being late-ish November, it is perfectly possible to sit outside in shirt sleeves and soak up the sun and scribble a few notes for possible write-up later.
     This idyllic picture is only spoilt by the number of unseasonable flies that seem to relish freshly washed skin in the same way that I enjoy my tea!  Frankly, I feel cheated.  We are brought up to regard flies with a certain loathing as disgusting insects that feed on filth and dissolve that filth with the enzymes in their own vomit which they then suck up.  So why is the squeaky clean me such a target?
     Flies obviously have a certain fascination for me as this is not the first time that they have been the subject of one of my poems.  I suppose I am interested in the way that their lives seem to be linked to ours in many ways and yet at the same time completely separate.  And their speed of life is so far removed from ours - the lazy way in which they seem to be able to avoid a swatting hand; we must be so slow and clumsy to them!
     Anyway, the number of the buzzing pests alighting on my knees (yes, I am still wearing shorts!) prompted me to write.
     The title links to the ending of the poem and perhaps ironically references human vanity.





The Victors




How flies
(those airborne harvesters of death
sucking their way towards the bone)
enjoy
my soaped fresh flesh!

They sense decay
beneath the skin:
memento mori banqueting.

The autumn sunshine crafts a day,
shielding the cold within its warmth
as subtle as a bone-stroked breeze
that cannot move the emptied trees.

A seismic shift of my great limbs
as drink is brought up to my lips
disrupts the feeders’ tiny feasts,

but gravity will drag them back
to what must always be their world.




 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Misophonia

Given the political situation inside Catalonia today, it is hardly surprising that a good god-fearing socialist (you will noice all of those words were with small letters) such as myself should find himself going up to Barcelona to protest about the clear injustices that the right wing minority National Spanish government inflicts on us.

It was one such demonstration called to show support for the Catalan political prisoners and for their release that prompted the following poem.  It is not however political.

As I have now been to a number of political demonstrations I am wise in the ways of them.  I have found that there is a great deal of standing up and waiting, so I now brin with me a collapsable chair so that when I and my friends have found our 'spot' I am able to participate while saving my legs and feet!

Coming back from the demonstration by train I end up in Gràcia metro station to get my train to Castelldefels, where my bike is waiting for me in the bicibox which will get me home.

Grácia is an unpleasant metro stop where the amount of walking between platforms is inordinate.  And when you get to the platform you need you find there are no seats but only a metal pole on which to rest your weary bottom.

When I finally got to the platform I needed it was packed and I was lucky to find a seat - well, a bit of the pole on which to wait.

It was then that I realize that the person next to me was eating crisps.  Metro stations are full of hard surfaces, hard curved surfaces that can amplify certain noises.  Like eating crisps.

I think I share with my father a general dislike of watching poeple eat, and certainly of hearing them.  I am not paranoid about it, but I notice that I am sometimes disturbed.

This poem is a response to the experience.




Misophonia





If she’d been opposite,
two sets of silent metro tracks away
and leaning on the rail that
stands for seats on Gràcia,
I could have looked and liked
what I’d have seen.

Her dinky boots
and sprayed on jeans;
her long dark hair and
elegantly tended nails; her full
red mouth lipsticked to
just this side of slut, and
slim & tall.

I grabbed the first (and only) space
I found to rest my bum.
And she was next to me.

And she was eating crisps.

Each one.
Apart.

And in that sullen silence
crowded strangers keep while
waiting for a train,
each crisp’s demise became
a cut through quiet, like
a blackboard’s finger’s nail’s decent
on my raw soul.

Each solitary crisp -
sought out by fingers’ pince -
observed, a moment;
placed and crunched
excruciatingly.

I thought to move but
reasoned that to stay and suffer
would ennoble more.

And stay I did.
And fought the urge to slap
her bag, and hands, and face.                                 
She made the packet last
until her train drew in.

She left,
and rumbled off.
There was a silence in that sound
that resonated deep within,
and I, if not exactly happy,
was content to wait,
a little longer,
for my train.


Thursday, 6 July 2017

Pool play


By the time I entered secondary school I was taller than three-quarters of my grandparents, with only my mother’s father overtopping me.  On our first day in The Cardiff High School for Boys, we were lined up in order of height and then distributed to the Houses so that each one could have a ‘fair’ selection for their rugby teams!  At the end of the line, I was the second tallest.  And in case you’re wondering, as I was never exactly willowy, I was placed in the second row in the house rugby team and there I stayed for seven muddy years!

I am working to a point.  If you are tall and solid, the ‘dangling child’ years are limited and what I describe in the short poem that follows was restricted to a painfully short number of 'growing' years.

I can remember sitting on my father’s shoulders, and there exists a picture of me standing on his shoulders during one of our many visits to Barry Island beach.  But the memory that stays with me most concerns flying and the sea.

My especial delight was to accompany my dad into our bit of the Bristol Channel in Barry Bay, then put a foot into his cupped hands and be thrown over his shoulder into the waves.  I could happily have been flung for hours, but physical  (dad's not mine) limited my satisfaction.  All too soon I was too tall and too solid for my dad to pander to my aeronautical desires.

In school too, in gym lessons, demonstrations on the trampoline for example, always used the lighter, smaller, more manageable kids.  Not I.  I needed the teacher to ensure my safety and he was in shorter supply than fellow students.  Still, I would be lying if I said that gym lessons were my favourites, and I was generally quite happy to watch rather than participate.  But the memory of flung flight has never left me.

Sometimes in the pool I see fathers and sons engaging in what for me is only a distant memory.  It was noticing one such couple that was the inspiration for the following poem.

My parents would often tell me about my early love of swimming pools.  When I couldn’t walk but had elevated crawling into a juvenile Olympic sport, I was placed pool side in a swimming pool in Leeds and proceeded to make my determined way towards the water’s edge.  My father swept me up before I fell in, but he rapidly tired of thwarting my ambition to get wet.  He decided, therefore, to allow me to achieve my goal, suffer the consequences and thereby learn just why he constantly picked me up before I got to my destination.

I crawled.  I fell.  I spluttered.  I was rescued.  Lesson learned, I was placed poolside once again.  And proceeded to crawl towards the edge.  I had obviously decided that death was a reasonable price to pay to get to the element that I enjoyed!  As I am typing this more than sixty years later, you can appreciate that my father did not let me drown, in spite of my best efforts then, and indeed on one or two other occasions much later!

A child believes that mum and dad will always be there.  You can be thrown in the air in a blanket held by parents in a grandparents’ house; you can be held upside down by one leg and swung around; you can be held and be pretend-dropped and caught just-in-time - because your parents will make sure that you come to no harm.  It is the safe-danger of parents, like the safe-danger of thrilling fairground rides.

But your parents are not always there.  And belief is tested.  And faith strained.  And assumptions questioned.  Some trust games destroy rather than cement.

So the last two lines of the poem are perhaps a cautionary exploration of the implications of the word ‘play’ in the title.

As always, I welcome comments.


Pool play



A wriggling and excited child,
manhandled by devoted dad,
and tumbling down his father’s frame,
caught upside down in
incoherent glee.

A careful roughhouse,
ending with a tummy kiss,

and rest,

with hands on shoulders,
with bright eyes wet
with dangerous delight.
 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

An argument is

From time to time, usually prompted by vague feelings of guilt, I do a trawl through my notebook and see if any of the scribblings that I have written and ignored might be worth working up into a poem.  Sometimes it is some of the seemingly most unpromising of my thoughts that I take further.

Many years ago I had an argument with my parents which ended with my stamping off to my bedroom and my telling myself that this time, this time I would never forgive them for what they had done.  I can remember my fury and my sense of injustice.  I can remember details of my room in 25, Dogfield Street, Cathays in Cardiff and, even now I can sort of re-texture my childish anger.  What I can't do is remember what the argument was about!  I can feel the pain, but I can't remember the point!

Although I am argumentative, I do not like arguments.  I feel them too keenly.  Passionate debate is fine: high words and bluster - but real cross words, felt personal disagreement I find hard to take.

Given that, it was probably not surprising that I was deeply moved by part of the Holocaust gallery in the Imperial War Museum.  I mean I was moved by it all, but it was the filmed 'testimony' in the final section where a screen played a film loop of survivors of the camps speaking directly to camera and articulating their feelings that moved me most.

I remember one survivor responding to the questions of memory and forgiveness.  To explain the feelings involved the survivor described the experience via a metaphor of a rock thrown into a pool: at first there is the splash and the ripples spread out, then the ripples subside and the surface of the pool is still - but the rock is still there under the water.  A version of this explanation informs the short poem that I wrote.

Like my childish self, I can't remember the 'real' inspiration for the sketchy notes that I jotted down, and I have to say that the poem itself was recollection written in sun bathing tranquillity!  But though I was, you might say, content when I wrote it, there is an appreciation of unease that informs the lines!

Although the poem is very short, I have tried to compress thought into a wider ambiguity that the chosen words offer.

I think this is the first time that I have used a title as a line in the poem.

I didn't enjoy writing this poem, but I do enjoy reading it.  Which I find interesting.

As always, any and all comments will be welcome.



An argument is




liquid: mirroring.

Ripples from a carelessly thrown stone
gift surface substance.

Reflection momentarily obscures
transparency.

Water smooths.

And there, beneath the glass,
and in plain sight,
the lithos, like a monument,
remains for future
use.

 



Friday, 30 June 2017

Promise

As always, I am endebted to my little notebook for the inspiration for the following poem.  Each time I have my post swim cup of tea I write something, anything in the notebook in the (sometimes) vain hope that I will produce ideas that can be taken further.
     This poem's day's notes started with a diatribe aginast a free-loading past neighbour; went on to berate myself for not writing up my impressions of the firework-crowded evening and night and early morning of Sant Joan, and from there a musing about the necessity I sometimes find to write a little signed and dated note to myself to prompt action.
     As soon as I had mocked myself for needing such a stimulus, I thought to myself that there might be a poem somewhere in the concept!  And so I started makeing more directed notes - and six (small) pages later I had drafted out what I thought might be key ideas towards a final poem.
     As is often the case with something which seems to be flowing in the notes, the actual writing of the poem was much more difficult: and it is always a warning sign when I use a word like 'eschew' in my primary thoughts!
     Anyway, I set to and eventually produced a draft which was essentially like a burning candle: the grease was dripping down the sides all around the central flame, but was not forming a coherent single statement of poetic purpose.  Whatever that might mean!
     The essential idea was one of writing to oneself, and signing and dating that writing to give it more significance and force.  As if a mere desire by itself was insufficient to make something happen, in spite of the fact that you had decided that it was worth doing.  This led on to the idea of 'signficance' - what is or might be important.  I was then taken back to an actual changing of the lino in the kitchen where, when it was taken up, a whole series of newspapers was revealed acting as a sort of crude underlay.  As a child, I was very impressed with the ancient quality of the newsprint (even though, given my age, it didn't need to be very old for me to think it antique) and I can remember looking at adverts and reading news that had absolutely no significance for me at all - it could just as well have been about the Neolithic as far as I was concerned: it was years old, when I had not reached anything like double figures!
     I suppose (I hope) that if I went through the same experience now, I would be able to relate the historic newspapers to my concept of time and I would be able to place things and wonder at the contemporary approach which might not have been substantiated by history.
     I was then taken by the ways in which we try and get outside history and time, by using a date and signature to transcend transcience.
     Essentially, I suppose that I consider myself slightly childish (childlike?) in thinking that a mere date and signature is any more meaningful than a simple scribbled note, but the motivation for this poem was also a concern for truth - which involves belief and faith and also, make believe.
     I'm not sure if this is a positive or negative poem; and I'm not sure what that might mean anyway.  But I am pleased with how the poem has turned out and I am still reading it to discover what I might have meant.
     As always I welcome any participatory response!


Promise




Time was, when, finally,

the lino in the kitchen’d had its day.



As it was taken up

(before the use of underlay)

a cache of newspapers would be disclosed;

brittle as crisps and prone to crumble

into ochre dust, as long past news

became its own grave dirt.



Narratives of those found leaves?

Fleet urgency, now lost and gone

through life’s rolled relevance.



Outside pages - faded wraiths

of Yesterday’s significant events;

unpunchlined jests, that can’t endure

inside the world-big goldfish bowl.



Then . . . passing stories after all?



We live within the social now,

a physical that’s selfie stamped:

what can be pictured - is a truth.



What image should intention make?

That move beyond the present-past

to sculpt the chaos from the dark?



Gestures can pretend to faith:

a shake of hands, or one raised up;

a spit and grasp - time honoured modes

that hold no more significance

than air.



But set it down & sign & date,

on paper cheap or vellum dear,

and it becomes a part of time

and quite apart from it as well.



So, all those (signed & dated) notes

I write to me (to finish work; to send it off;

to contact friends; to get things done!)

among the lines where poems lie;

the scribbled contracts I take on -

are really my jejune attempts

to nudge belief beyond the now

and make believe the future’s real.




Any responses most welcome!



Thursday, 11 May 2017

I watched a pigeon die

I watched a pigeon die.

Having a cup of tea after having a swim (even though it is to my own 'special brew' requirements) is hardly the most exciting thing to do, and yet simply sitting, sipping and looking have provided me with an amazing amount of raw material for use in my poetry.
     When I first went to Turkey I was armed with a sketch book.  I do not, for a moment, pretend to possess any technical artistic ability, but I doggedly sat and drew some sort of picture for every day of my three week stay.  I would love to be able to report that by the end of my time there I was producing fluent, artistic and compelling work, but I wasn't.  My drawings were just as pedestrian at the end of my holiday as they were at the beginning - but I had looked, and I mean LOOKED at things.  Sitting down in front of a mosque, monument, landscape, bottle of after sun (don't ask) or a knife and fork (when I almost forgot to do the daily drawing) made me appreciate the detail of what we usually only glance at.  It was a valuable lesson and one that I apply today.
     I know that as I take my accustomed seat and have my usual cup of tea something will be new and different from what I have seen before.  I look and, if I concentrate, I see.
     To be fair, it doesn't take a highly developed form of perception to realize that with a title like "I watched a pigeon die" there is visual material that should be obvious.
     The dramatic nature of the incident also posed its own questions about guilt.  The title was anticipatory and also accusatory - though I am not sure what I could have really done about it.  I felt that I was in the sort of Christopher Isherwood mode of "I am a camera" recording rather than acting.  My act of writing in my little yellow notebook gives me a distance which allows inaction.  If you see what I mean.
     As you will see from the poem, there is a sort of twist.
     This was a satsifying poem to write.  Though it didn't 'write itself' the strength of the opening line encouraged a direction that guided the production.


I watched a pigeon die.

It limped, theatrical, goitered left leg,
into the sun.  Once found,
it folded, wearily, into itself,
looking, oddly, as though about to lay.
Its head, sleek in the light,
made jerky quarter turns until
it too sank in the feathered heap.

A public path was this bird’s grave:
its headstone was an open gate.

Approaching feet -
                       and what was moribund
took to uneasy wing and landed,
painfully, a few sad foot along.
A Desperate Last Flight, I thought,
and now The End Game plays.
The feet walked on, and once again
the tired bird pushed
from the ground,
                       but this time
made an arching loop,
above the fence, beyond the trees
into the open blue.

And death will be a little late this year.
At least for some.
Or just, perhaps, for one lone bird
whose flapping flight made false
my quick fatality of thought.

Though, there again,
who knows what must occur
beyond our seated sight?




As always with my poems, I welcome any responses!