The phrases that start these walking poems sometimes well up from unexpected sources. I was buttoning my coat as I crossed a plaza and recalled my mother teaching me to count the buttons on my shirt with the verse “Tinker, taylor, soldier, sailor….” and somehow that segued into the image of a Victorian parent planning her children’s future. I guess I was having a Jane Austen moment.
Women’s lives were restricted but their minds were not.
One son to the army
and one son to the church.
Three daughters to be married off,
or else left in the lurch
where they will turn
a ghostly shade of gray.
Caring for the elderly,
looking forward to the day
the Vicar comes to bide awhile,
for then, … they’ll have a drink!
It’s only sherry, but it will serve
to turn their gray cheeks pink.
Because their corsets are so tight
convention’s laws will not be torn,
but in the attic, late at night,
what novels may be born!
On a trip this summer, I had the chance to admire a collection of quilts. The technique of quilting actually requires a lot of pre-planning, design and calculation – very rational stuff. But the visual result can be wild and dizzying, as the colors play off each other and invariably the whole is somehow greater than its parts, something that the quilter must see before the quilt exists. Back home, I began a series of quilt designs on my iPad, and walking to work one morning, the first two lines of this poem came to me.
Starry, starry night
We love the works of madmen
for saying what we don’t dare:
that Life’s a swollen yellow room,
with a pair of crooked chairs,
a narrow bed where restless dreams
have led our hearts astray.
How brave! The man who looked outside
before the break of day
and saw the quilted sky of stars
turned into ferris wheels!
He gave such beauty through his pain.
The art of madmen heals.
You could call this one “the mom rap”. On the way to work this morning I saw a woman pushing a baby carriage while walking her little dog on a leash. Efficient, I thought. A happy image. The little dog was certainly happy anyway. The mom? You don’t really know. Her pace looked a little mechanical. One person’s happy excursion is another person’s nullifying obligation. Maybe she’d rather be running. Maybe she’d rather be designing spacecraft, or coding software, or doing whatever it was she used to do that required more than 20 minutes of uninterrupted concentration. Don’t let the books with pink and blue covers and curly writing and gauzy madonna photos in the background fool you. Motherhood is not the same for everyone.
Walk the Baby
Walk the baby
Walk the dog
Can be the flog
That gets you through
The dismal fog
Of your depression.
Have a baby
Lose your life
You are the wife.
He doesn’t care.
He’s never there.
He says his money
Gives him right
He’d rather work
all day, all night
(and so would I,
and so would I,
at something else.)
But all my time
Is taken up
With endless tasks
all train of thought.
No flow of words
to fill a page
while the baby
cries with rage.
No time to write,
no end in sight.
You tell the doctor
You are ill
The simple truth
Is that you feel
You’d rather die.
Why should you lie?
Walk the baby
Walk the dog
Into the fog.
It may be best.
You need some rest.
This poem came to me as I was waiting on the underground platform of the Barcelona Ferrocarrils. Just as I reached the platform, I saw my train depart. Gripped with the inevitable frustration, and the knowledge that I would be late to work, I remembered the advice of my friend Nassim Taleb, who says “never run to catch a train”. And somehow, Shakespeare found his way in there.
That doppler sound,
you’ve missed the train.
No use in hurry now.
Whatever had to start on time
Time can’t allow
for failed alarm clocks, oversleep,
Remember Life’s poor player
has but a single scene.
Curtain rises, curtain falls,
and all that counts lies in between.
This one was inspired by the constant battery of perfume advertisements that seems to accompany the winter holiday season. The images of women who look like they have been lobotomized or seriously drugged as they float through wispy clouds and satin drapery. Ooo, la la.
Living with hunger
She’s learned to live with hunger
and shoes that cause her pain.
“She’s every man’s desire.”
Oh, not that crap again!
You can see her on the TV
and in posters on the street,
but she doesn’t look like
any living woman you might meet.
Now she whispers to the camera.
She’s only wearing gauze.
Your eyes are glazing over, darling.
Here’s a cloth to wipe your jaw.
It’s just an advertisement.
She’s a phantom, my dear man!
Come serve the goddess in your household.
That is… if you still can.
It’s full night now when I walk home from work. Barcelona’s brief winter has arrived with a sharp, cold bluster. As I head down hill from Vallvidrera, the evening star shines low, fat, and bright, and yes, Christmas is in the air.
Something always quickens in midwinter.
Perhaps a babe?
Perhaps some slouching beast…
The stars grow cold, and one, more bright.
We plan the ancient feast
and build the fire, and stare at flames.
The solstice gives us pause.
And somehow we will find the strength,
to dine with our in-laws.
Note: the Poolside Laureate is fortunately blessed with wonderful in-laws!
There’s a shop window I occasionally pass, that has an enormous door standing on display. It’s theatrical, it’s gaudy, and I’ve never seen a house it would fit in. But to see it is to want it. You imagine that wherever it is, it’s quite a different world on the other side.
A story lies behind this door.
Perhaps one yet to write.
Whatever happens in that tale,
I’m sure takes place at night.
Absinthe must be the drink of choice,
and no doubt candlelight
plays on masks and fancy dress
in that party, out of sight.
Walls may not talk, but doors sure do,
and this one has no shame,
suggesting pleasure with the curves
of its twisted, silver frame.
Until recently, my morning walk to work led me to the doors of a well-reputed business school. Usually I focussed on the beautiful gardens and buildings, as well as the people walking by. Almost every day I saw something worth writing about, something beautiful or curious. However, Barcelona, like any city, has a darker side.
The morning I saw a man digging through the garbage bins located practically at the doors of the school, the irony gave me this:
The Business School
Dumpster diving at the business school, now that’s a sight to see! His family’s going hungry, but he’s got a fine degree.
He did just what they told him and he doesn’t understand why the speculation failed him when he bought up all that land.
It was easy! No one mentioned he was trafficking with air. He thought that he was clever! now he’s closer to despair.
He lives near his alma mater until the bank calls in the loan. That could happen any day now. He could even lose his home!
He hopes that no one sees him as he’s sorting through the trash. He doesn’t want his kids to know that they’re completely out of cash.
He bought into a system that turned out to be a lie. You must admire his dignity. he’s still wearing a tie.
The patron saint of Catalunya is Sant Jordi (Saint George), the dragon-slayer. His day is celebrated throughout Catalunya every year on April 23rd in a festival of books and roses. I had a whimsy of George/ Jordi, riding home from work, tired after a hard day of jousting, or killing barbarians, or whatever, and when he gets to the village, he finds everbody’s yelling about the Princess being held captive by a dragon, and he knows his day isn’t over yet.
It wasn’t a good day he’d had.
In fact, he was tired and sad.
When he saw that dragon,
his spirits were flaggin’.
That reptile looked so very BAD!
But his Princess was caught in a tower
instead of their honeymoon bower.
So he hefted his lance,
and he took his best chance.
A legend was born in that hour!
Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for the bad guy, the dragon.