A Fool’s Game: A Response to “New Jade Candle” by Zhou Bangyan, attributed to Li Qingzhao

Lilac apple catalpa
Half-covered in fresh fallen
Snow—white on—white on—
My head’s an impossible
Conjunction of blooms

The Saint Lawrence slowly flows
Into the Yangtze River
Mount Royal rises
Beneath the Purple Mountain
Our arms are empty

Here—now—red and gold
Huddle randomly in drifts
At the wind’s mercy
Remembering’s a fool’s game
Sticking leaves back on the trees

AGG20151012

Depth Charge: Another poem universally attributed to Zhou Bangyan (Chou Pang-yen), yet included in the collection of Li Qingzhao poetry that I am using as a basis for this project. My translation of Zhou Bangyan’s poem may be found here,  Fittingly enough, my response deals with the inevitability of misremembering and misplacement.

Guo AndeTo read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

To read  as close as the clouds by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the linke and select “Save link as…”

To read the chapbook Happy Birthday Hanafuda by Andrew Grimes Griffin just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

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Impressions of a Life & Grandad’s Last Words

innifred and Louis Grimes

Winnifred and Louis Grimes (seated).

I Impressions of a Life

The withered and engraved face
framed by smooth, white walls,
crisp institutional linen moves
in rhythms as irregular and subconscious
as the rosary through her gnarled hands.
She gazes from behind a ring of cut flowers
that will certainly outlast her,
searching for my face.
My eyes she draws with a smile.
Her words I cannot erase:
“I’ll be with God soon;
I can feel it.”
And she does.
Her faith has been carved
by every movement of her life,
the faith a flower proclaims
by growing
and fading,
the faith it holds until the very end,
compressed to stone by the days,
the faith I no longer have or desire.

Missed her funeral,
I was on a train,
leaving no trace,
speeding through summer sun.

II Grandad’s Last Words

the dancers are all gone under the hill

last July granddad
bought a new Chevy
talked about
his son          (in the ground)
his wife         (in the ground)
the hay and the potatoes in the ground
his life revolving steadily around the soil

now it’s December talking
across generations
through machinery
horse and plough
horse and wagon
horse and sleigh
tractor
truck

silence and heat
from a wood-burning
cast-iron stove

an old man in the snow
stoops to pick up firewood

as I drive away

“I’m scared
that when they put me
in the ground
the earth will be too tired
to make use of my bones.”

AGG20131208 (Redux of two poems from the 80s and 90s.)

Grimes family tombstone in Fort Augustus Cemetery, PEI

Depth Charge: Continuing with posts of poems written about Prince Edward Island and my relation to it, these poems are dedicated to the memory of my grandparents and Winnie and Louis Grimes. I was very fortunate to have known all four of my grandparents, as well as my great-grandfather. My maternal grandparents and the farm they lived on were especially central to the childhood. The Gerard Grimes on the tombstone was my uncle, killed in an accident when he was 17 years of age.  The epigraph on Grandad’s Last Words, “the dancers are all gone under the hill,” is from T. S. Eliot’s East Coker.

Smalltown Cocksucker Blues

smalltown cocksucker blues_20130828

when I see them
drinking down
the smalltown cocksucker blues
I wish I could just hate
this place
where people speak poetry
and ignore the landscape out of necessity

It chokes me
like a bad pun
and I have to
spit it out
spit it out!

Sometimes

the island has
the taste of
sour milk
the smell of
liquid manure

every  once in awhile

friction fails and the island slips
beneath my feet

I find myself in Montreal
drinking polish vodka from a paper cup
eating steak tartar from a china plate
new haircut
new friends
same old hangover
and the difference
between here and there
is only an accident
a temporary suspension of
a natural attraction
which is more than enough
to change my life
and my hair
but not the difference
between
you and me
here and there

AGG20131206 (Redux of two poems from the 1980s)

Depth Charge: Continuing on with my plan to post old poems I wrote about Prince Edward Island, here is a new beast formed from splicing the DNA of two distinct poems from the 1980s into a new poem for the 21st century.

Ferry to and from P.E.I.

M.V. Holiday Island

Dad held us
out over the rail
screaming
the water below
this was how and when
we learned the meaning
of living on an island

the red walls advance
then recede

each trip that rhythm

“Attention.

“The M.V. Holiday Island
will be arriving
at its final destination soon.
Passengers are advised
to proceed to their vehicles
in preparation for disembarkation.

“Have a safe and pleasant journey.”

AGG1989

Depth Charge: Other the next week I will be posting from a series I wrote in 1989 called Re:Cycle,  a collection of poems about my ambivalent relationship to my birthplace: Prince Edward Island. This first poem evokes a time when the only real option for getting on or off the Island was the ferry, a mode of transport that emphasized the condition of living on PEI. Now, most people take the Confederation Bridge or fly, neither of which are equivalent to conveyance by boat over water. There is still a ferry service from the east end of the Island, but it seems somehow superfluous now that Prince Edward Island is actually a peninsula.

Cryptomnesia and the Blue Whale

In 1987, a female blue whale washed ashore at Nail Pond on the western shore of Prince Edward Island.

In 1987, a female blue whale washed ashore at Nail Pond on the western shore of Prince Edward Island.

In the fall of 1987 I was working on a performance piece called Back From Away with Christine Trainor, Carl Stewart and Michael Leon. Having recently returned to Prince Edward Island from a year-and-a-half in the Yukon, the piece focused on the common dynamic of leaving the Island for work or education, only to be pulled back by memories of childhood, family, friends and the landscape.

In writing the piece I noticed that in reviving stories from childhood, writing them down, rehearsing and revising them, these manufactured versions of the memories supplanted the originals; they became my childhood memories.  At the time, I took this as a warning that one had to be very careful about what one wrote down because it could destroy the genuine experience.

This naïve, youthful misunderstanding of the working of memory failed to take into account two factors: both the fragility and the resilience of memory.  First, memories fade and if you don’t write them down, they may well be lost—something a 26-year-old could not really appreciate. Second, all memories are constantly being revised, recreated and re-imagined.

In his post on memory, Mumblin’ Jack cites an Oliver Sacks article that elucidates how our memories are under constant revision, so much so that we can even become convinced that events from other people’s lives that we may only read about, hear told to us, or see on TV or in the  movies can be co-opted, eventually being remembered as our own, lived experience. Furthermore, as my experience with Back From Away showed me, we can even be the authors of own “false” memories.

Andrew Grimes Griffin, Christine Trainor, Carl Stewart and Michael Leon, 1987, Back from Away, Confederation Centre for the Arts, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Andrew Grimes Griffin, Christine Trainor, Carl Stewart and Michael Leon, 1987, Back from Away, Confederation Centre of the Arts, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

While working on Back From Away, something out of the ordinary happened. A blue whale washed ashore at Nail Pond on the west end of the Island.  We raced down and photographed the magnificent remains of the creature. We then worked the whale into our performance. I wrote this poem that was subsequently published in The New Poets of Prince Edward Island 1980-1990.

A Sunday Drive to the Sea

It was a time people accepted
The little deaths
Of leaves and flowers;
It was November and cold.

Ocean news surprised us all,
A big death,
A blue belly-up whale,
Its final agony caused
A late autumn storm,
Or was it the other way round.

We and a hundred others stood,
Wind skidding sea-foam across the sand,
Amidst a country fair atmosphere;
An old woman kept mumbling:
“De friggin’ ting must weigh tons’n’tons.”

And newly arrived on The Island, also,
You jokingly asked:
“I hope I didn’t come here to die?”

But many do
Return,
Just to die
That is,
And we’re used to gathering
Around the dead.
Some would even say
We enjoy it.

The blue whale was buried and over the years all the photographs I had of her vanished, but, much like the childhood memories we explored in Back From Away, she refused to remain hidden. A team of scientists dug her up, transported her remains to the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and put her skeleton on display, the latest incarnation of the lovely leviathan – a creature of the deep sea beached and then buried in the earth, only to rise skeletal, hovering in mid-air.

AGG20130205