Birthdays


”  …………………………… then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.”

I had been to Iona

for my last birthday –

not to celebrate it

but to forget  it –

and felt quite uplifted  there

(nothing so grand or poetic

as in  Keats’   lines quoted above

but something of that looking-out-to-sea thing)

yes, felt quite at ease 

walking the beaches  Cadell used to paint,

white sand,

pink rock,

turquoise sea.

This year,

more adventurous,

to escape the birthday thing

I  flew for four hours

to far-off Lanzarote

and found there

some things you can’t escape 

memos of mortality.


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Just Let Me Be


Sometimes she felt she was just too much trouble, felt sorry for

the hours that they had to spend each morning just grooming

her, getting her ready to face what they called  ‘her public’,

wished they would just let her be, scuttle about doing the

hundred and one little things they had to do with their own

little lives but  ‘just. let. her. be!’

The Fastidiousness of Birds


                                                                in Kenmore


on a white picket fence

the round robin with such delicate feet

watched me come closer

turned its head

this way and that

then flew off

to sing his song

somewhere else

                                                                        in Antequera


there is a megalithic dolmen

leading down into the dark earth

– closed on mondays –

so the rainy monday i went

no-one was there

and when i went down the tunnel

under the big dolmen rock

the iron gates were shut

padlocked

tanqat 

cerrado

in spite of  my angry shaking of  the bars

* * *

when i gave up

turned to go back

i saw

as if waiting for me

at the end of the tunnel

outlined against the light

standing between me and the bright outside world

a big

black

dog

* * *

i stopped

not afraid exactly

no not afraid

though i  did think of Cerberus

at  the gates of Hades

to prevent the dead from leaving

but Cerberus had 3 heads

* * *

he  lifted his big head

this big black dog

looked at me

turned

loped off

elsewhere

as if to say

‘no this is not the one’

he  had only 3 legs

the front left leg missing

* * *

before i could move

before i could breathe out my pentup breath

before i could take a further step

the dog was replaced

by a hoopoe

a bird  i had always thought of

as purely mythical

a bird i knew from books

pinkish brown

black and white wing stripes

downward curving beak

something to do with the underworld

this was the first one i had seen

really seen

when it saw me

it snapped  out its ragged crest like a fan

and took off

flew off with a curious looping flight

like a butterfly

* * *

next day I returned

took this picture.

Six Things NOT To Do When You’re On Your Own


ONE

Be useful. Take a kitchen knife, go out into the vegetable garden, cut a cabbage, then for the family dinner make a big steaming  bowl of  choux  à la manière de Samuel Beckett  (Set an extra place and keep them waiting).

TWO

Be active. First thing in the morning, open the door and stretch and bend in the early morning sun, stretch and bend, stretch and bend, stretch and bend at the same time making a continuous humming sound from deep low down  in the diaphragm. Mmmmmmm mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. If it’s raining, don’t bother.

THREE

 T


Be interactive. Phone a friend who lives in a far-off rainy country and tell her about the weather here and how life goes on and on outdoors because of all the sunshine here. Describe the clothes you are wearing and how bronzée  you have become. Tell her about your natty sandals and about the gorgeous student you met who wants you so much he veel die wizout you. Describe in detail the alfresco  lunch  you had with the jolly Chevalier family on a long table under their apple tree (don’t forget to mention the  bottle of  Chateau Chambertine they opened in your honour).

FOUR

Be adventurous. Discover your naked self. Take off all your clothes and proceed to the nearest river and practise walking on water. Note that this requires very little skill but a great effort of will power. Persevere. Fail, then fail again (but fail better).
If it’s raining, don’t bother.

FIVE

Be idiosyncratic. Let out yor inner self. Put on a fancy waistcoat, find the glass ball you have had for years in the attic in the cardboard box  labelled MISC and go into the street with what used to be called a ghetto-blaster. Do a silly dance and wave at the people who gather round. Smile.  Turn the volume up. Proceed  to juggle with the glass ball. Make fun of anyone who shows  either embarrassment or hostility.
If it’s raining don’t bother. 

SIX (If it’s raining )

 Be more extravert. Talk to people. Assert yourself. Go to an Art Gallery and ask one of these Curator chappies about one of the paintings: a simple question like  ‘How old was Cadell when he painted this?’ will do for starters. Then try a more complicated one like  ‘ Is what Guthrie said true?  That he used orange so much in his later paintings because  in the summer of ’26 he got a bulk supply of the stuff at half-price?’
This will give him the chance to show he is not simply there to prevent people from taking  photographs of  the pictures.

*******************************************************************

The Boy Who Fell From The Sky


 

Daedalus stood at the window,
stared down on  the wine-dark sea,
at the white-sailed ships with somewhere to go,
at the sea birds flying free.

Icarus looked up at his father,
watched him carefully  carve struts of  wood
then helped to sweep up the mess on the floor
like a good son should.

What’s in that pot on the burner
?
What do you have in these sacks?
Why are you carefully sticking those feathers
one by one into that wax
?

Father, what toy are you making
with wood and feathers and glue?
And why do you work here all the day long
and half  the night too?

Why do we work for these people?
Why have  they locked our door?
Why can I never go out to play
with the children on the shore?

Daedalus stood at the window,
stared out at the clear blue sky
and the birds that passed all flew in from the left.
He felt his mouth go dry.

Icarus looked up at his father.
His eyes were full of fun
but his father’s eyes were cold as the stars
when he looked up at the sun.

Tighten those straps on your shoulders. 
Tighten those straps on your arm 
and listen to every word that I say 
and you cannot come to harm. 

Fit your fingers into the canvas. 

Spread your fingers out wide. 
Now lift your arms up to your shoulders. 
Now sweep them down to your side.

He led Icarus up to the turret
that towered over the town.
Watch what I do then you do the same. 
My wings won’t let you down. 

These wings are the best I’ve ever made 

but my skill can be undone. 
We must fly low.  We dare not go 
too close to that blazing sun.

Daedalus stood poised like a diver.
Like a diver he fell through the air
and the air let him fall through its fingers
as if it didn’t care

till his wings  stirred up some  invisible force
that carried him over the town –
the slightest movement of his arms
sent him up, or sideways, or down

and Icarus flew right behind him,
laughing his joy out loud
for the air felt safe as houses
and his body light as a cloud.

The gods were alerted  by  Minos
with his curses,  his cries of despair
while the boy and his father,  too clever by half,
trespassed brazenly through his air.

It only takes a second;
it catches you unprepared
– first the impulse of joy and then the act,
the deed  that can’t be repaired.

The careful work of a lifetime
in a moment is undone.
Wisdom ignored,  Icarus soared
up to the golden sun.

He did not hear his father’s cries
nor see the red wax run;
he did not see the fragile feathers
drop off one by one.

Where was the dolphin, the sailor’s friend?
Where  the ship? the look-out’s  cry?
Why did everything turn away
from the boy falling out of the sky?

O father what is happening? 
O father what have I done? 
Why are they tumbling round my head 
the sky and the sea and the sun?

Why was no dolphin, no  eagle
called to his aid by a simple nod?
Which of us would not have saved him
if we had been a god?

A splash of white starred  the wine-dark sea
and Icarus was gone.
The gods had other things to do.
His father flew hopelessly on.

The Intransigence of Things 4


 

CHAPTER 4

The light went out.
Hermat shut his eyes, opened his eyes.
The same total dark.

Then a
ll the noises started again, but not the same noises, no longer the screech of metal-on-metal  but the   plaintive songs and cries of imprisoned birds:  linnets, thrushes, robins, nightingales, wrens, larks, warblers, a cacophony of calls above which Hermat could clearly distinguish the distinctively complacent  voice of  the cuckoo. They seemed to be whirling all around him, past his face, over his head, he could feel the draught of their passing wings, some bird even brushing his hair with a wing or a claw as it flew too close, making him duck even though it would have been too late.
Then s
omething was tugging at him, not so much tugging as pulling, not even pulling, holding rather but with a slight patient indication of the desire/need to be moving/escaping.  Now that his eyes had adjusted  to the darkness, Hermat could see  one of the capped figures, now a dark presence, standing at his side, gripping him by the upper arm. There was no real reason to resist. However there was still the option of pulling his arm away…
Meekly he allowed himself to be guided away – a long way –  from the visible side of the cube into its inner reaches and recesses where the darkness was complete and palpable……
and then the guiding hand was no longer guiding and there he was,  abandonedin the dark physically and metaphorically, forsaken, frighteningly alone, the dark presence by his side no longer present, the bird songs trailing off one by one as though the individual birds too had taken flight for a sunnier,  friendlier clime till only the call of the cuckoo was left.

He stood there for what seemed hours,  wide open eyes seeing nothing, total darkness, only the relentless bi-tonal call of the cuckoo sending through his listening brain a crackling  tide of strangely patterned repetitive sound waves.
When that call also began to trail off, he followed it through the darkness,  his hands held out in front of him, till it too was lost in the dark silence,  leaving him guided now only  by an inner voice in which he placed absolute trust……

and then he was falling, falling, stepped off the edge of his world into airy nothingness, turning, rolling, somersaulting, cartwheeling helplessly through the dark vacuum that nature was supposed to abhor.