Monday, January 1, 2018

A Welsh Morning

This Dylan Thomas piece reads well for New Year. Best wishes to all!

QUITE EARLY ONE MORNING in the winter in Wales, by the sea that was lying down still and green as grass after a night of tar-black howling and rolling, I went out of the house, where I had come to stay for a cold unseasonable holiday, to see if it was raining still, if the outhouse had been blown away, potatoes, shears, rat-killer, shrimp-nets, and tins of rusty nails aloft on the wind, and if all the cliffs were left. It had been such a ferocious night that someone in a smoky ship-pictured bar had said he could feel his tombstone shaking even though he was not dead, or at least was moving; but the morning shone as clear and calm as one always imagines tomorrow will shine.

The sun lit the sea-town, not as a whole, from topmost downreproving zinc-roofed chapel to empty-but-for-rats-and-whispers grey warehouse on the harbour, but in separate bright pieces. There, the quay shouldering out, nobody on it now but the gulls and the capstans like small men in tubular trousers. Here, the roof of the police-station, black as a helmet, dry as a summons, sober as Sunday. There, the splashed church, with a cloud in the shape of a bell poised above it, ready to drift and ring. Here the chimneys of the pink-washed pub, the pub that was waiting for Saturday night as an over-jolly girl waits for sailors.

The town was not yet awake. The milkman lay still lost in the clangour and music of his Welsh-spoken dreams, the wish-fulfilled tenor voices more powerful than Caruso's, sweeter than Ben Davies's, thrilling past Cloth Hall and Manchester House up to the frosty hills. The town was not yet awake. Babies in upper bedrooms of salt-white houses dangling over water, or of bow-windowed villas squatting prim in neatly treed but unsteady hill streets, worried the light with their half in sleep cries. Miscellaneous retired sea captains emerged for a second from deeper waves than ever tossed their boats, then drowned again, going down down into a perhaps Mediterranean-blue cabin of sleep, rocked to the sea-beat of their ears. Landladies, shawled and bloused and aproned with sleep in the curtained, bombazine-black of their once spare rooms, remembered their loves, their bills, their visitors, dead, decamped, or buried in English deserts until the trumpet of next expensive August roused them again to the world of holiday rain, dismal cliff and sand seen through the weeping windows of front parlours, tasselled table-cloths, stuffed pheasants, ferns in pots, fading photographs of the bearded and censorious dead, autograph albums with a lock of limp and colourless beribboned hair lolling out between the thick black boards.

The town was not yet awake. Birds sang in eaves, bushes, trees, on telegraph wires, rails, fences, spars, and wet masts, not for love or joy, but to keep other birds away. The landlords in feathers disputed the right of even the dying light to descend and perch.

The town was not yet awake, and I walked through the streets like a stranger come out of the sea, shrugging off weed and wave and darkness with each step, or like an inquisitive shadow, determined to miss nothing - not the preliminary tremor in the throat of the dawnsaying cock or the first whirring nudge of arranged time in the belly of the alarm clock on the trinketed chest of drawers under the knitted text and the done-by-hand watercolours of Porthcawl or Trinidad.

I walked past the small sea-spying windows, behind whose trim curtains lay mild-mannered men and women not yet awake and, for all I could know, terrible and violent in their dreams. In the head of Miss Hughes, 'The Cosy', clashed the cymbals of an Eastern court. Eunuchs struck gongs the size of Bethesda Chapel. Sultans with voices fiercer than visiting preachers demanded a most un-Welsh dance. Everywhere there glowed and rayed the colours of the small, slategrey woman's dreams, purple, magenta, ruby, sapphire, emerald, vermilion, honey. But I could not believe it. She knitted in her tidy sleep-world a beige woollen shroud with 'Thou Shalt Not' on the bosom.

I could not imagine Cadwallader Davies the grocer in his near-to-waking dream, riding on horse-back, two-gunned and Cody-bold, through the cactus prairies. He added, he subtracted, he receipted, he filed a prodigious account with a candle dipped in dried egg.

What big seas of dreams ran in the Captain's sleep? Over what bluewhaled waves did he sail through a rainbow hail of flying-fishes to the music of Circe's swinish island? Do not let him be dreaming of dividends and bottled beer and onions.

Someone was snoring in one house. I counted ten savage and indignant grunts and groans, like those of a pig in a model and mudless farm, which ended with a window rattler, a wash-basin  shaker, a trembler of tooth glasses, a waker of dormice. It thundered with me to the chapel railings, then brassily vanished.

The chapel stood grim and grey, telling the day there was to be no nonsense. The chapel was not asleep, it never cat-napped nor nodded nor closed its long cold eye. I left it telling the morning off and the seagull hung rebuked above it.

And climbing down again and up out of the town I heard the cocks crow from hidden farmyards, from old roosts above waves where fabulous sea-birds might sit and cry: 'Neptune!' And a far-away clock struck from another church in another village in another universe, though the wind blew the time away. And I walked in the timeless morning past a row of white cottages almost expecting that an ancient man with a great beard and an hour-glass and a scythe under his night-dressed arm might lean from the window and ask me the time. I would have told him: 'Arise old counter of the heartbeats of albatrosses, and wake the cavernous sleepers of the town to a dazzling new morning.' I would have told him: 'You unbelievable Father of Eva and Dai Adam, come out, old chicken, and stir up the winter morning with your spoon of a scythe.' I would have told him - I would have scampered like a scalded ghost over the cliffs and down to the bilingual sea.

Who lived in these cottages? I was a stranger to the sea town, fresh or stale from the city where I worked for my bread and butter wishing it were laver-bread and country salty butter yolk-yellow Fishermen certainly; no painters but of boats: no man-dressed women with shooting-sticks and sketch-books and voices like macaws to paint the reluctant heads of critical and sturdy natives who posed by the pint against the chapel-dark sea which would be made more blue than the bay of Naples, though shallower.

I walked on to the cliff path again, the town behind and below waking up now so very slowly; I stopped and turned and looked. Smoke from one chimney - the cobbler's, I thought, but from that distance it may have been the chimney of the retired male nurse who had come to live in Wales after many years' successful wrestling with the mad rich of Southern England. (He was not liked. He measured you for a strait-jacket carefully with his eye; he saw you bounce from rubber walls like a sorbo ball. No behaviour surprised him. Many people of the town found it hard to resist leering at him suddenly around the corner, or convulsively dancing, or pointing with laughter and devilish good humour at invisible dog-fights merely to prove to him that they were normal.)

Smoke from another chimney now. They were burning their last night's dreams. Up from a chimney came a long-haired wraith like an old politician. Someone had been dreaming of the Liberal Party. But no, the smoky figure wove, attenuated, into a refined and precise grey comma. Someone had been dreaming of reading Charles Morgan. Oh! the town was waking now and I heard distinctly, insistent over the slow-speaking sea, the voices of the town blown up to me. And some of the voices said:

I am Miss May Hughes 'The Cosy', a lonely lady,
Waiting in her house by the nasty sea,
Waiting for her husband and pretty baby
To come home at last from wherever they may be.

I am Captain Tiny Evans, my ship was the 'Kidwelly'
And Mrs Tiny Evans has been dead for many a year.
'Poor Captain Tiny all alone', the neighbours whisper,
But I like it all alone, and I hated her.

Clara Tawe Jenkins, 'Madam' they call me,
An old contralto with her dressing-gown on,
And I sit at the window and I sing to the sea,
For the sea does not notice that my voice has gone.

Parchedig Thomas Evans making morning tea,
Very weak tea, too, you mustn't waste a leaf,
Every morning making tea in my house by the sea
I am troubled by one thing only, and that, belief.

Open the curtains, light the fire, what are servants for?
I am Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard and I want another snooze.
Dust the china, feed the canary, sweep the drawing-room door;
And before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.

I am only Mr Griffiths, very short-sighted, B.A., Aber.
As soon as I finish my egg I must shuffle off to school.
O patron saint of teachers, teach me to keep order,
And forget those words on the blackboard - 'Griffiths Bat is a fool.'

Do you hear that whistling?- It's me, I am Phoebe,
The maid at the King's Head, and I am whistling like a bird.
Someone spilt a tin of pepper in the tea.
There's twenty for breakfast and I'm not going to say a word.

I can see the Atlantic from my bed where I always lie,
Night and day, night and day, eating my bread and slops.
The quiet cripple staring at the sea and the sky.
I shall lie here till the sky goes out and the sea stops.

Thus some of the voices of a cliff-perched town at the far end of Wales moved out of sleep and darkness into the new-born, ancient and ageless morning, moved and were lost.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Touched At Birth

BULOSAN HUMOR for the holidays, in time of relative peace. That this story and a lot of others collected in a book of the same title received attention only because America needed something exotic to laugh at during the war, as some people say, is bullcrap. And that a writer of such serious issues as racism and social injustice could write hilarious, self-deprecating pieces is amazing. The guy was good, and this Binalonan piece deserves space in the magazine, wartime or peacetime. A few days early for this post, but next week will be crazy at home and work. So as they say in Alabama--Merry Christmas, y'all!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Heavenly Peace

A Hanunoo house after the sun goes down.  Photo by Jacob Maentz

Anger Management

SHERMAN ALEXIE QUOTE from his young adult book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, banned in some schools. I see your point now, got it. The principle behind the craft reminds me of David Mura's (how apt his name) powerful and incredibly angry poem from the nineties "Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto and Mr. Moto" where he trashes American racism and colonialism, subjects I've never tackled as far as I know. Nothing has changed much in America since then, the situation made worse by a moron of a president who has no care and interest in people other than his kind. But gooks are here now, massa, growing in number by the minute like Gremlins in a cesspool. We tearee down your door!

from "Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto and Mr. Moto"

I am the dance the drum the sneaky inscrutable body ...
of a Jap who knows at last my brothers 
are creatures of adobe and Sand Creek and those who bowed massa
yes, sir, all the good niggers and the mute buffalo herds 
all the torrential unconsecrated nauseating flood, each
singing the old imperial clichés — whip marks and sweat, harvest, bone and blood ...
and yes I’m raving, asphyxiated and incurable and now proclaiming...
and here in my uterine mind something is cleaving, beating, growling ... 
and it is rising in Soweto, in Wounded Knee 
in Savannah and savannah, in the Indonesian junk shops 
and the smell of the hanged man or the shoyu-stained tables of hana 
in the Andes and terrifying inner storms of the Caribbean 
sordid, visionary alleys of São Paulo, the alchemical, Amazonian jungles 
and we are all good niggers, good gooks and japs ... 
obsequious, ubiquitous ugliness, which stares at you baboonlike, banana-like 
dwarf-like, tortoise-like, dirt-like, slant-eyed, kink-haired, ashen and pansied ...
we are whirling about you, tartars of the air, 
all the urinating, tarantula-grasping, ant-multiplying, succubused hothouse hordes
yes, it us, it us, we, we knockee, yes, sir, massa, boss-san, 
we tearee down your door!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

How About That?

VERY OLD FICTION with Christmas lights. I wrote about a different kind of caregiver in the nineties when I was a dreamy kid living in California. It appeared in The Likhaan Book of Poetry and Fiction 1998 through the invitation of its fiction editor, the prizewinning writer Charlson Ong, who wrote in his foreword that it was "a Fil-Am story that might yet extend, if not rival, the tradition established by Carlos Bulosan and Bienvenido Santos." Thanks for the kind words, Charles! But to me it is still a rookie story with problems. I am posting it here for fun, to see how it differs from the New York caregiver poem in terms of tone, language, character, what-have-you. And it's good to learn how to embed a PDF file. Credits go to Dennis Lockwood, Fritz Lederer, Zuki and Isaac Friedlander for the woodcuts.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Man Friday

BLACK FRIDAY POEM. Apologies to the gentlemen whose picture I used.

Friday, November 17, 2017

More In Memory

FROM THE ARCHIVES. I am not a fan of Villa, and he did not die this month, but what the heck. Good to see the commas and "The Emperor's New Sonnet" again. And the not-so-Cyclops self-profile. What was that famous quote again from Hamlet when he held that skull-- "Alas, poor Yorick!" or "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark!"?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

In Memory

MY AMERICAN tribute to a Mindoro literary legend who died this month eighteen years ago, with these American editions of three of his books.  I never met the man, but maybe my mother the schoolteacher did; how else will she get a signed copy of the first edition of his book Seven Hills Away (1947) in Manila the year it came off the press 70 years ago. A Bible of sorts when I was in high school, handled to this day with the same reverence and care accorded to the good book. Next is The Bamboo Dancers (1961) from the library of a now-defunct Jesuit seminary in Westchester County, found in an obscure bookshop in the Lower East Side. Last is a copy of Selected Stories (1964), which I don't remember where I got from, maybe a bookstore in San Diego.

NVM Gonzalez, Sept 1915-Nov 1999

And while we're at it, let's get to know this unfamiliar publisher, who also passed away this month, with this brief biography from the Syracuse University Library website:

"Alan Swallow was an American poet, editor, teacher, and publisher. He was born February 11, 1915 in the windswept prairies of Powell, Wyoming. Realizing at an early age that he was not suited to a life of farming and ranching, he entered the University of Wyoming where he received a B.A. degree in literature. He earned a fellowship to Louisiana State University where he received an M.A. degree. At LSU he studied under Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks. He was an instructor at the University of New Mexico  and associate professor of English at Western State College. He then taught at the University of Denver as assistant professor and directed its writing program, later becoming director of its University Press. In 1940, he became the founder, owner, and single employee of his publishing firm, Alan Swallow Publishing, printing high quality yet affordable books. He sought to promote the poetry and fiction of contemporary writers who are often unrecognized by the larger commercial publishers. His list included J.V. Cunningham, Thomas McGrath, Janet Lewis, and the more well known Anais Nin, Yvor Winters and Allen Tate. Swallow has also written and published several books of poems and has edited anthologies of poetry and prose. He lectured at various writers' conferences and was a member of the Western Writers of America, Colorado Authors League, Denver Westerners, and American Civil Liberties Union. His tireless work as an editor and innovative publisher gave him much integrity, while rumors of his marital infidelities and his fondness for fast cars earned him a different notoriety. He died on November 27, 1966 in Denver, Colorado."

Sunday, October 29, 2017

In Memory

I TOOK A COURSE called History of Cultural Minorities under Henry King Ahrens (aka the great William Henry Scott) when I was a student in UP Manila after dropping out of the Ateneo and before moving to Diliman. He wrote me this letter of recommendation for a scholarship in an American university which I did not get, but this document and his gesture were more than enough for me. His death after what was considered to be routine gall bladder surgery is still baffling.

William Henry Scott, Jul 1921-Oct 1993

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Language Of Special Interest

I DID NOT KNOW when I started working for the Feds that speaking the wika would be a skill that pays. Tagalog is apparently considered by the agency as a "language of special interest" in the mission against terrorism. So around Thanksgiving each year (after the previous fiscal year ends in September), Uncle Sam pays me an easy Black Friday bonus just for employing it to process passengers and interact with cruise and container ships crewmen (90% Pinoy, they offer you food from the galley) when boarding vessels for inspections, Abu Sayyaf or ISIS operatives apprehended or not. The union says this is another program in danger with Trump; enjoy it while it lasts.