Desert Song

Put one foot in front,
follow the other.

Why don’t you
keep your mouth

shut or sand will fill the empty
vessel of your hour

-glass, counting down the spilt
seconds to extinction?  Never

peer through the sheer blind
fold, Mother said was a necessary

precaution to prevent sunstroke.
There’s no place beyond

burning.  Just listen
to the hymns of the white

wind and the listless
cries of children.

 

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Unchain my Heart

Ray Charles is the second musician I want to celebrate in my regular slot on resilience and disability.  He defied stereotypes and broke down barriers in music, race and public perception of the blind.  He did not allow others to diminish him because of his disability and was true to himself.  He became a stronger not a weaker person because of his blindness.

Ray Charles experienced trauma in childhood when he witnessed his four year old brother drown in a laundry tub, leaving him with a life-long sense of guilt.  Shortly afterwards Ray lost his sight due to glaucoma.  His mother instilled tremendous self-worth and encouraged him to tackle challenges.  She made him promise to never let anyone or anything turn him into a cripple.  She would say, ‘You’re blind, you ain’t dumb; you lost your sight, not your mind.’  In 1937 his mother sent him away to a Special School for the Deaf and Blind in Florida.  In the same year she died. Ray learned to read Braille music and quickly developed his musical talent, refusing to be labelled or exploited because of his blindness. He insisted,  “there were three things I never wanted to own when I was a kid: a dog, a cane, and a guitar. In my brain, they each meant blindness and helplessness.”

Ray Charles refused to play racially segregated concerts and contributed financially to the Civil Rights movement as well as blind and deaf charities.  His music was sometimes considered controversial, merging the genres of gospel, rhythm and blues, country and jazz.  He also defied expectations of how blind men are supposed to behave by being a tremendous womanizer.  Many women were seduced by his charisma.  He fathered twelve children and married multiple times.

Ray had a heroin problem which he eventually overcame through Rehab.  He was resilient in the music business and in his private life.  Ray won many awards for his music and also received a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame for his achievements.   In 1994 he was honoured with the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award, which celebrates individuals who have improved the lives of disabled people.  Ray continued working until his death at the age of 73 in 2004.

He is a role model for all of us, whether disabled or not, showing that adversity can make us stronger and that we do not have to be defined by the expectations of others.

 

 

 

Fire and Water

I love…

the smell

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…of candle wax

in the evening.

 

Constant rain crashing from black skies has kept me indoors for the last two days.  The stream adjacent to my garden burst its banks yesterday and flooded the field.  I’ve watched anxiously as water levels rose higher and higher getting dangerously close.  My home has been flooded twice in the past so I know the full horror and helplessness  of that experience.  My stress levels have been rising along with the water.

Tonight it was a comfort to light candles in a home that has survived another day.  And to be grateful that I am still warm and dry in my sanctuary.

It’s Better to Know

this is not a love
poem, the howl of storm

pain, the rain inside.
The forever house

on the dead end lane,
over-grown, deeply

rutted tracks, bordered
by forget-me-nots.

Two plain Janes stand
guard with crucifixes

and Bibles of grief.
They point to the sky,

dispense sunglasses.
Is everything fair

in love or war?
It’s better to know.

Go, open the door,
look into the dark.
 

Lydia Popowich; Broken Doll

Artwork by Author, acrylic, household paint and collage on canvas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Like It Cold

In John o’Groats Marilyn is ready
for the fray, fresh lipstick, folded pink
napkins, polished counters.
And her namesake pouts from on high.

One scoop or two? She’s ample
with vanilla, frivolous with fudge
frosting when the Orkney ferry men
drop by for cones and the latest crack.

The easterly ripples the canopy stripes,
keening like the piper from the pier,
The Pentland Strait froths whirlpools
of café au lait on the rocks.

End to Enders celebrate, guzzling
champagne, taking turns taking
photographs under the signpost.
By lunchtime Marilyn’s low

on peaches and cream, high on rum
and raisin.  She pops out for a fag,
sits on her bench in the car park reading
War And Peace as Stroma disappears into haar.

Herring gulls scout for wafers at her feet.
A bus full of Germans reverses past
the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, clockwork heads
turning her way.  Mizzled tourists queue

but Marilyn is oblivious. The wind surges
and her skirts swirl like a snow flurry.
A sudden gust and she rises, bench and book
and all, up, up high into meandering skies.

 

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Note 1:- John o’Groats is a small village on the far north eastern tip of Scotland with spectacular views out to the Orkney Islands.  It’s a landmark destination for tourists, many of whom wrongly assume it’s the most northerly point of mainland Britain.  In fact, a remote spot named Dunnet Head is the most northerly point and is located about 15 miles west of John o’Groats.  ‘End to Enders’ is the phrase used to describe the many determined folk who journey like pilgrims, sometimes on foot or by bizarre means, from Land’s End (Britain’s most southerly point) to John o’Groats, a distance of 874 miles.

Note 2:- ‘Crack’ or ‘Craic’ is a northern term meaning gossip, news or chatter.

Note 3:- Stroma is a small abandoned island, part of the Orkney group.

The Birthday

(a re-interpretation of the painting by Marc Chagall)

Too many bubbles in the Buck’s Fizz, said the triage nurse.
They were having trouble holding me down,
ankles bandaged to the steel legs

of waiting chairs for seven hours and counting.
Luckily everything was nailed in Emergency.
They threatened me with a heavy

radiation suit of lead. I threatened to sue.
Mark held tightly to my wrists as an extra
precaution (too tightly perhaps).

Urination from a height was Olympic.
I broke free and rose
to the top, beating my head on the ceiling.

I formed a neat hole, a short cut
to Maternity. This was not the birthday I’d expected
but I could still recall the sweetness of his watermelon.

 

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Note 1:- The Russian artist Marc Chagall painted The Birthday in 1915.  The woman in the picture is Bella, his muse, whom he married later in the same year.   The oil painting is now displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall of Icarus

(after the painting by Marc Chagall)

Perambulating through the sky,
carefree as a rain-less cloud,
the boy forgot everything.

With sun dreams in his heart
and wild angels in his hair,
Icarus flew on the easterly wind.

One by one, his feathers waxed and flared.
Flapping, folding like a fish, he fell
towards the sea of turnip faces.

His wings of fire split the morning,
pirouetting between life and death,
indigo smoke, the ochre of fear.

Upturned, the butcher, the ploughman, the undertaker,
the midwife, the milliner, the teacher, the whore,
the schoolgirl, the donkey, the ducks on the pond.

The boy corkscrewed down, down, down
while the ducks rose up in a feathery shroud.
Their chorus soothed his burning skin.

Their gentle beaks held him close.
Their rainbow wings bore his limbs
homeward, to a cerulean pool.

 

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Note 1:- My poem was inspired by Marc Chagall’s 1975 surrealist painting, The Fall of Icarus.  It’s an example of ekphrastic poetry, that is, a re-interpretation of a piece of visual art.  I have given the myth a more positive ending!  At present the painting is displayed in the Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris.  Marc Chagall was a Russian painter whose dreamlike images often featured flying figures.