Speak Now, My Friends

 

Speak now, my friends, yes speak, but speak true,

Of the darkness descended and what we must do,

When days reek of madness, and nights smell of shame,

And the air smells of gore of the infinite slain.

 

Let’s dream, once again, of democracy’s glade,

The peace and the calm, for which many have paid,

Where the poor are the richest, and the rich are long gone,

And in the bright sunlight the darkness is done.

 

And when we remember all that’s been said,

Of justice for all and where it has led;

While the cruel and the selfish veil their true face,

We’ll sing of the heroes who’ve argued our case.

 

So proudly we’ll speak of the brave ones who die,

There’ll be vows to revenge them, tell truth to the lie,

But yet, as we speak, will come shouts, “who leads me?

So we’ll raise a bright mirror for the doubters to see.

 

But why fades your voice, your eyes look away?

While you suffer alone long night and dark day,

So stay, and reflect, as we join our rough hands,

What our union could do to unchain our lands.

 

She Looked In The Fireplace Mirror

picasso-weping woman

She looked in the fireplace mirror,

Face lit with reflections of flame,

And thought of the dead, and the living,

Of the proud now buried in shame,

 

Around her in corners and shadows,

Sat quietly, as if undisturbed,

People that seemed to be strangers,

For none dared utter a word.

 

And the priest looked so old, and so broken,

He could cast no magical spell-

For the light of the flames were a darkness

And he wondered if they were in hell.

 

A cat curled up in a corner,

Content with a memory or two,

Of the one they now so mourned for,

To whom they had never been true,

 

As two white scented candles,

Sat graced by two flowers of light,

On top of an elegant casket,

A bed for that final good night.

 

She looked in the fireplace mirror,

At the woman that once she had been,

And remembered a vision of Dante,

She once, had seen, in a dream,

 

‘Til the priest ashamedly muttered,

“Let’s pray, what else can we do?”

And the mourners took up their sad poses,

As each thought of their plans for the day.

 

 

 

 

Nagasaki Warning

 

 

 

 

The news came through the din of war,

That things were seen not seen before,

Nor told in tales, nor prophecies,

Nor legends known, our histories,

Of lights and shadows roaming wild,

The veil of death on every child,

 

The news came through of shaking earth,

Of flaming winds and thunderous might,

Of vapours born a bloody birth,

Of melting skin in dark of night,

 

The news came through of cities burned

By blast of flame, by flash of light

As women turned to shadows yearned

For evening songs, a morning bright,

 

The news came through, the last we heard,

Of madmen dancing on a tomb,

Who jeered at life with every word,

And bled the blood from every womb.

 

Then we turned towards the sky,

Towards the rushing, roaring sound,

And, for an instant, wondered why.

 

It Happened One Summer

 

 

 

It happened one summer long, long, ago.

I’ll tell you the tale before you must go,

A young man’s adventure, some claim it was mine,

That took place that summer, in the year ‘69.

 

We rumbled on through the Canadian Shield,

Past forest, past lakes, the occasional field,

Like a cinema show on twin lines of steel,

With music supplied by the rhythmic wheel,

As we sat on our heels or stood by the door,

The old with the young and all of us poor.

 

At the head of the train the red units strained,

To pull all the cars to which they were chained,

Boxcars and flatbeds, tankers, caboose,

“What was that there?” “Oh, that, that’s a moose,”

“Say, you from the city, boy, where’ve you been?”

“Hey, leave him alone. There’s things you ain’t seen.”

 

They all of them laughed, while some lit a smoke,

And one from the Sault offered all a short toke,

That got us all talking of life, or a love,

Or how was it that Mary got knocked-up by a dove?

And all sorts of questions you can’t ask in school,

‘Cause questions cause problems and idiots rule.

 

We slept in our jeans, our shirts and our arms,

Some dreamt of cities, some still of farms,

But all of us dreamt of Vancouver, B.C.

Where we were headed and all meant to be,

For the buzz on the street said things were cool there,

And even the fuzz would treat you real fair.

 

But few of us made it, and few of us cared,

The trip was the thing, not how we fared,

For wherever home was, was a place to avoid;

Better the rails than a wife real annoyed,

Or boredom, a bank, or a job you can’t find,

Hop a freight once, you’ll find your own kind.

 

Stars that like sequins seemed stitched to the sky,

Lit the star-mirrored lakes like rivers that die,

‘Til the morning’s new glow outshone them all,

And one boy said ‘morning’ in a down-easter’s drawl,

To which we each answered, this way and that,

Some back to snoring, some up for a chat.

 

And so the days passed, the train journeyed on,

From the Sault on to Wawa, past White River gone,

On round the lake of Chippewa fame,

The great Gitchigumi, Lightfoot sings of the same;

The wide-open skies directed our way,

“Til on the third day, we hit Thunder Bay.

 

Most of us hungry, food low in each pack,

We hoped for a shower and time in the sack,

But as the train slowed to crawl through the yards

We knew it was over, we’d played all our cards,

The tracks swarmed with bulls, with cops at their side,

So one jumped, then all, for freedom and pride.

 

Some made it, some nabbed, with ten days in jail,

Like Lennie the Loop, we couldn’t make bail,

So did our short stretch, one day at a time,

Kept ourselves laughing with tall tales of crime,

The guards were okay, at least those in the day,

The night was the problem, with those shadows in play.

 

They released us real early, and told us to go,

They didn’t care where, or even to know,

So we walked a few miles, trying the thumb,

But every one passed, why pick up a bum,

Yet onward we kept ‘til we spotted a train,

Stopped on some tracks all wet from new rain.

 

“She’s headed our way, we’ll make Winnipeg,

That’s what I reckon, come on, give it some leg”

So lowdown and fast we ran down the line,

Looking for one that seemed to us fine,

Threw our packs in through a wide open door,

Then jumped in ourselves and rolled on the straw.

 

We lay back, we laughed, we smelled the cold air,

And wondered if, maybe, this life could be fair,

For happy we were out riding the rails,

For trains on the prairie are ships without sails,

And this one would sail before the moon rose,

For we’d picked this one right, this one that we chose,

To carry us rambling through mountain and field,

Wandering sons of Canada’s Shield.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Snow On the Path

 

 

 

The snow on the path was in gentle decline,

And gentle drops fell, like dew from the vine,

As blue jays and starlings, and other such thieves,

Called out their names through branches and leaves,

Who fiercely intent on their feathery needs,

Eyed the damp ground for last summer’s seeds,

Picked out by sunbeams, dancing through reeds.

 

A tall man, an old man, on the dampened path stood,

Eyeglasses glinting, head turned to the wood,

To listen, and wonder, what language they spoke,

Or if, instead, dreamed, before they awoke,

And if, in their dreams, these times understood.

 

‘Where went you away? Did you travel so far,

As you followed  the light of this weary star?

Did you happen to fly over Reason’s sweet land?

Did you make it this year to fair Samarkand?’

 

But, before they could answer, a woman’s voice called,

‘Wait, for a moment, there’s one simple thing more,’

Waving her hand from the old cottage door,

‘Don’t forget, sweetie, that bottle of wine,’

He nodded, then smiled, in casual good-bye,

Waved a hand in salute,

Then turned back to the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Escape of Prisoner 4538

 

 

man escaping-night

He ran fast, so fast his lungs were seared. He ran blindly. He ran like a stag hunted by hounds. Night drew him on, tugging him with urgent hands. He tripped on a root, stumbled, fell, heard shouts, then rose again while the full moon swept his path with a searchlight’s beam.

The shouts increased, lights probed, as he weaved in and out of the grasping brush, the looming trees. His heart raced, faltered, raced faster, as he drove his body forward to escape, to reach what he could not see.

‘Prisoner 4538!’

The rattle of keys in the heavy steel door tormented his mind with abandoned hope, with expectant fear, as he covered his head with a single wool blanket and pulled tight the thin grey tunic that covered him.

‘Stand up, Prisoner 4538!’

A boot kicked him in the side and he collapsed to the concrete floor, raising his hands to resist,

‘Try that again and…’

He never got to say anything else. The two men staring down at him, like two schoolboys ready to the tear the wings off a fly, kicked him again, once each, then the one with the tattooed hands shouted,

‘Stand up!

Strong arms reached down to grab him. The floor was cold and his feet were bare.

‘Who are you? Where am I?’ Why am I here?”

He was answered with a shove to the back, then manhandled down a long grey walled corridor, half-stumbling, half running, trying to keep ahead of the men who tormented him, blinded by the arc lights that lit the way.

The three stopped at a closed door on which was written the single word, “Interrogations,” stencilled in black on the grey paint. One of the men knocked. There was the sound of a muffled but sharp voice. The man who knocked swung the door in, then with the second guard, hustled the prisoner into the room to make him stand before a man in a dark grey suit, white shirt and black tie, seated at a black metal desk who and received the salute of the two guards with a nod of his head and observed the prisoner with calm interest.

He waved his hand at a single wooden chair placed a few feet in front of the desk. The guards forced the prisoner down onto the chair, then took several steps back to stand, legs apart, arms behind their backs, looking straight ahead.

4538 tried to sit upright in the chair but the seat was oiled and slippery. He kept slipping down lower than the man in front of him. He tried to grip the armrests but they were oiled too. He gave up and rested in a state of precarious imbalance while the man across from him sat in silence, watching him squirm.

‘Do you know why you are here 4538?’

The prisoner looked around the room, that was otherwise bare, and replied, “Why don’t you tell me?’

‘To accept. That’s all. Are you ready to accept?”

‘Accept what?’

‘Your condition. Your place on the road of life; bound to the wheel of things.’

‘I’m not bound to anything. I choose my own path, my own life, my own way’.

‘Your way? Is that a good life? What is this way of yours except an illusion?’

The interrogator leaned forward. ‘How is a good life possible without acceptance of the way things are?’

‘Maybe I don’t like how things are, and I don’t want anything to do with your wheel of things. You’re lost in illusion, not me. What am I supposed to say? Who are you?’

‘I’m your mirror. Are you afraid to look?’

‘You’re talking in riddles.’

4538 slipped in his chair again, tried to sit back up, but only slipped further down. ‘Let me go.’

‘Oh, we can’t do that, not until you accept. It would be irresponsible. The new world requires it. Everyone must accept, be transformed.’

‘You sound like a priest.’

‘No, not a priest, you’re friend. I don’t offer salvation, only awareness, and transformation.’

‘Transformation into what? ‘

‘Into that happy being who is happy because he has accepted the reality of the world as it is.

‘You’re mad.’

The man stood up from the desk and motioned the guards to step back. He walked up to the prisoner, looked straight in the face, then moved to stand behind him. He leaned down and whispered in his ear,

‘There is no other way.’

Prisoner 4538 moved his head away from the voice but it followed him,

‘Will you accept?’

‘Never.’

The interrogator moved away from the prisoner, then turned to look down at him.

‘Take him away. We will talk again tomorrow. Think about what I said. Accept and be transformed or lose yourself in your maze of illusions, each one leading inevitably to another.’

Prisoner 4538 was hauled roughly to his feet and half carried back to his cell by the two guards who said nothing but breathed hard the entire way. The hallway seemed to stretch out in front of them forever, the end lost beyond the point of perspective, beyond the endless doors on either side.

They came to a door with his number on it, already opened. He was thrown back onto the cot without a word from the guards, who walked out and quickly slammed shut the door.

He heard the keys turn in the lock as he lay still, listening to their steps moving away, the silence of the space around him. He lifted his head. The cell was bare except for the single weak bulb that cast macabre shadows on the walls, the cot on which he lay and a bucket in one corner. He lay back, puzzled, feeling sorry for himself and afraid. He lay quiet and, as the hours dragged by, began to drift in and out of sleep until he was again running, breathing hard as he ran, away from the shouts, from the searching beams, towards a place he could not see but knew was there, somewhere. He ran, as only the desperate can run, until he disappeared into the night’s dark womb and the shouts became distant, faint, and confused.

The doctor ran his hand through his hair as he walked over to the window, reflecting on the question. The leaves of the trees on the hospital grounds were turning. Reds and golds glittered in the autumn sun. Late flowers still blossomed and squirrels played in the branches as nurses walked patients along tree-lined paths, enjoying the warm autumn light.

He paused as he reflected on what he was about to say. The he turned to the group seated in his office, the senior resident, his junior, the psychiatric nurse, all three looking at him, waiting for him to speak.

‘You asked my opinion of this patient. He is very interesting in many respects. I have examined him a number of times and it is clear he has suffered a deep psychotic break, but of course he cannot accept that, it would shatter his world view.’

‘Patient 4538 is still suffering the delusion that he is a prisoner here. His delusion even extends to dreaming that he is escaping from a prison; that he keeps waking to be taken for interrogation. He thinks his delusion is reality, his dreams his conscious state. But without any identity it is going to be difficult to treat him. We have no history.’

The junior nodded, ‘Since he was found by the police a few days ago wandering the streets, looking for the good life, he told them, our investigations and theirs have produced no information on who he is or where he’s from; totally disoriented. Said he had to keep running until he found the way, that he won’t accept, won’t be transformed.’

The doctor looked reflective, then replied, as he sat down in his leather chair, ‘A sad case, thinking he can find the good life by running after it, by escaping everything, by refusing to examine himself. He certainly won’t accept our treatment. His delusion could be permanent. Perhaps further interviews with him will lead us somewhere deeper into his mind so we can help him. But his is a severe case. I fear he will never recover. ’ He turned to look out the window, reflecting on patient 4538, as the others looked on in quiet agreement.

The sudden buzzing of the telephone on the doctor’s desk broke the thought-filled silence. He reached for the receiver and put it to his ear. His face expressed surprise, his jaw tightened. He listened intently then said, ‘All right, you had better call the police,’ then put the receiver back, turned to the others and said,

‘He’s gone. The door to his room was locked but he’s gone. Just disappeared. Like he never existed. Well, I’ll be damned.’

And, as the doctor sat back in his chair, to ponder how the patient could have escaped, Prisoner 4538 kept desperately running, whether from reality or illusion, he did not know, and did not care, so long as he could escape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mpenzi

 

The Lover

 

Yes stay, my mpenzi, the sky is so blue,

And the treasures of nature are painted all through,

The hills are all greenness, from gentle soft rain,

And the air smells of jasmine from a far Persian plain.

 

Let us quicken, my heart, to the acacia’s shade,

The sheltering roots, and the place we have laid,

Where the spirits are singing their mystery song,

And in the soft starlight my eyes for yours long.

 

And when you are dreamy I’ll make you a bed,

Of African flowers to comfort your head;

While the luminous moon caresses your face,

I’ll delight you with tales of love’s happy chase.

 

So gently I’ll speak, and so quietly sigh,

You will think that some heavenly angel does cry,

But, yet-as I speak, I shall give my heart’s key,

And then you will know that the tears come from me.

 

But why, my dark queen, does your fair image dissolve?

While round me these nightmares all swirl and revolve,

So stay with me awhile, and, again hold my hand,

As with endearing eyes, you take this gold band.