Remembrance

cenotaph

My father lost two older brothers in the war; both were in their early twenties. This must have had a profound effect on him which at the time I didn’t fully appreciate. As far as I can tell he wrote this poem in his late sixties or perhaps even in his seventh decade. It was published in a Quaker booklet in 1975. (He and my mother joined the Society of Friends [Quakers] in the 1950s.)

Remembrance Days

The toy soldiers stiffly stand

the picture horses prance;

Established Persons of our Land

assume the ritual stance.

*

As dank November drizzle falls,

Cenotaph an ageing ghost,

sharply a brazen bugle calls

living and dead to a Last Post.

The stale and spectral pageant past,

strained puppets break their string;

the tired flag creeps up the mast,

and swinging London resumes her swing.

*

But a distant summer day I see,

an anxious schoolboy, when my mother

steadied a hand against a tree

and told me I had lost a brother.

So comes it every drear November

I cannot stiffen to command;

so many days when I remember

a mother’s voice, her deathly hand.

 

Fred J. Nicholson

1903-1990

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The Bare Bones

skeleton

I can’t remember if I’ve posted this one before! (Oh dear; I’ve just checked and see I have posted it before! Oh well, I suppose it can stand a repeat?)

The Bare Bones

They never lied to me – my parents:
Santa Claus wasn’t real and tooth fairies
didn’t exist. The guinea pig that died
didn’t go to heaven. I remember
holding my father’s hand in a museum,
gazing in disbelief, once the secret was out,
at a dog’s skeleton, a bird’s and a frog’s.
At seven my first occult knowledge;
a treasure I carried inside me.

A human skeleton was the jewel
wrapped up in a balaclava and raincoat.

Inside, where it was warm, I took it out
and learnt by heart each part – humerus,
radius, femur, pelvis and patella – counted
all the ribs to see if any were missing;
learnt that 24 vertebrae made up a spine
that kept me upright. A hinged framework
for nerves, arteries and softer innards.

When I looked at my mother and father
I knew they were hiding something.

A Father’s Tale

gemini

It is a Father’s Tale

Time out of time I carried you in your dressing gown

downstairs out into the moonless night.

We gazed at a thousand suns studding the sky;

meandering along back lanes I lifted your arm

to point at Orion, drifting above rooftops.

We drew a ‘w’ and a triangle in the dark bowl,

traced a hunter’s belt and coloured in a lion,

a charioteer, a plough and a little bear.

I didn’t know then that you’d drift out of reach

when I reached for the thousand and one stories

to keep you listening – to keep you where

trolls, giants and goats sleep under bridges.

 

A Gravitational Wiggle

GreenBankTelescope_nrao_940x655

 

(A poem I wrote a while back published by Poetry Kit, UK)

On the morning of 14 Sept there was a slight wiggle in the arms of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Detectors.

It was the day the kindly Evangelicals warned us:

you were in the kitchen but didn’t notice the minisculeripple

in your mug of coffee. I was driving to work when the SAT-NAV

brieflystuttered sending me dangerously close to a catastrophic event horizon.

A black cat crossed the road and blipped strangely in and out of existence.

Most people however, didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary:

brown eggs boiled, CDs played and twelve-sided coins were freshly minted

ahead of their release into the wideruniverse.

“It is impossible to make a forgery.” The most beautiful thought

the Royal Mint had ever had. I had an existential crisis the day after

when a black hole suddenly appeared in my bedroom. At least

that’s what I thought it was until I realised it was merely an unspecified amount

of darkenergy leaking out of a radiator thermostat. Now, I’m getting used to

living my life backwards. I’m looking forward to being born again.

David Hume

There is something heroic about David Hume single-mindedly batttling away to enquire into human knowledge and question the existence of God (in the eighteenth century). His theory of cause and effect is counter-intuitive and takes some reflection to really understand. As Jeremy Neil says, he doesn’t deny the ‘idea’ we all have that one thing causes another; he just points out that there is no sensory or empirical evidence to prove causation. This is typical philosophical thinking; it is thinking about thinking really and questioning appearances.

However, as my poem light-heartedly shows, I am a little sceptical about his scepticism! Blake named Bacon, John Locke and Newton as the Satanic Trinity and he didn’t think much of Hume either. He objected to their extreme scepticism and wrote a poem with these lines: If the sun and moon would doubt, they would immediately go out!

Apparently, Hume was even tempered and was also serene and uncomplaining on his death-bed.

*

David Hume’s Apple (not Newton’s)

 

It exists; he’ll not deny (one among five).

It’s even conjoined to two (at least) events:

One, seeing it; two, desiring it.

Hey presto; one minute it’s resting in a bowl,

the next it’s in my tum – (yum, that’s better!).

The principle of custom and habit can of course

explain the non-effect of my non-causal appetite,

the non-effect of my tongue moving up and back,

the non-effect of my epiglottis closing off my trachea,

the non-effect of salivation, juices flowing

(even the blending of non-causes and non-effects in the mind of God!)

and the non-effect of my non-swallowing oesophagus muscles

to deliver the ripe fruit into my stomach (secret powers?).

There’s a necessary connection (all in the mind?)

between my appetite, will, instinct, motion and gratification.

Can you stomach that? Bon appetite!

 

Summer

wildflower drawing

We are having our typical summer in the UK – a few days of sun followed by rain!

This is a poem I wrote a year or two ago.

*

She gazes at her illustration of traveller’s joy

for at least five minutes travelling back

sixty years to art college. There’s no one else in the garden

and she says the words aloud, traveller’s joy. Lips

and tongue curl around other summer arrivals;

willow warbler, orange-tailed bumble bee, swift

and swallow-tailed butterfly.

She’s sitting on a wicker seat, a first edition of her book

open on her lap. Leafs through pages

savouring other kindred names; shepherd’s purse,

roast beef plant, everlasting mountain and forget-me-not.

She stills her memories and walks along the gravel path

pinching bits of lavender to smell; her elderly cat follows-

too arthritic to chase butterflies, birds or bees.

A sunlit patch of lady’s bedstraw lies ahead;

her skirt brushes the yellow flowers, a faint smell

of autumn fills the air.