Ethnic Cafeteria

 

During a spring shower in Holland Park,

I take shelter in clamorous chatter

Of an ethnic cafeteria,

buy orange juice and chocolate,

drink coffee from a paper cup.

After the rain; the scent of tree-lined paths.

Bright green leaves drip on rainbows of tulips

in rectangle boxes of damp earth beds.

On a long wooden bench in the water garden,

two men eat white bread sandwiches spread

on newspaper laps.

Watch the three-tiered fountain splash lily pads

like diamonds in a dance.

Some of the shrubs are still here, he said.

Spring bulbs multiply every year.

Even after the big storm,

most of the trees remain,

but it’s not the same.

All these people,

and no-one to remember my name.

The ground remembers,

His companion said.

The ground remembers everything.

Every step, and every stone.

Every flower, and every tree.

Even you and me.

First published in ‘Listening To The Grass Grow’ 

A selection of poetry by Teri Flynn Anthony O’Neill & Jim O’Donnell

Remembering Minou

September comes in like a ghost. The sun breaks through a while later but the day is changed, the herald of autumn remembered. I remember Minou, my white cat with no ears who has recently left this world. His nine years on this earth were a mixed bag of pleasure and pain, but when he arrived in my house, brought as a present from my youngest son, he was an adorable, tiny bundle of fluffy white kitten. Having been without a pet, cat or dog for a long while, I was delighted to have him. He grew into the most affectionate cat I have ever known, becoming almost lecherous in his attention. When I picked him up for a quick cuddle, slowly, snakelike, he made his way towards my neck until I could have worn him like a scarf, nibbling and dribbling all the while; the experience was not at all pleasant. It soon became obvious that he and I were not going to have a relationship of the cat-purring on my lap type that I was used to. He wanted to be much closer than that and I didn’t like it. But he didn’t reserve his amour just for me, he was desperate to be close to anyone that came inside my door until eventually, he was banned from human cuddling. He was allowed to sit on the sofa in the evenings, but that too had to stop, for as soon as my attention was taken by something else, his sly slithering began, towards my lap, shoulders or neck, depending on whether he had been sitting on the arm or back of the sofa.  Poor Minou, I could see him cringe as I responded to his ardent attempts with distaste, scolding him and putting him back in his place.

By the time he was about six years old, he finally understood that his enthusiastic attention was never going to be reciprocated.  I felt sorry for him, and in truth, I also felt guilty. I gave him everything he needed, food, water, a warm home, he had the friendship of my black cat Geronimo and the protection and body heat of Ruairi, my gently Irish Wolfhound, everything except what he really needed, which was simply to be loved, and yet, there was something special about him. He was incredibly loyal and we could ‘see’ each other in a way that is not of the everyday world. I knew him somewhere inside myself where humans and animals are the same, and I know that he knew me too. For some reason, we had been brought together, to learn perhaps from each other, or rather, maybe Minou was in my life to teach me a lesson about love.

 During his short life, he used up only some of his nine lives. When he was only a couple of years old, he was hit by a car outside our house, the driver didn’t stop. Minou survived the accident with the skilful hands of our vet, his broken leg was mended with the insertion of a tiny pin and he recovered without any apparent ill effects. 

Melanoma spots appeared on his ear, quite common apparently in white cats but they were becoming a cause for concern. The only option for Minou’s continued life was to have both ears removed to stop the spread of any interior growth.  He looked very strange at first, ferret like, not at all cat-like, my distaste was fuelled a bit more, but we got used to seeing him like that and I think he didn’t mind too much, at least he could still hear. He made another good recovery, he had my dutiful attention but my heart still wasn’t his.

Another couple of years passed and Minou’s life was just like any other cat, he came in and out of the cat-flap as he pleased, even when it was locked, he simply kept bashing at it until it opened, he was determined to assert himself and indeed, it was clear that he was top cat over Geronimo and even poor Ruairi was intimidated at times by him, but he was resigned to his lack of control over whose neck he would dribble on.

His last six months were a trial of mouth, teeth and gum infections. He became very poorly, couldn’t eat properly and lost a lot of weight. The melanoma had left its mark inside him. His immunity was low and his self-esteem probably just as bad. He was never a big cat but now he was hardly any cat at all, he was a baggy bundle of bony sick cat, confused and not doing a very good job of cleaning himself, but my heart melted when he blinked his eyes at me every morning, with such un-judgemental, un-conditional love, which only added to my guilt.

His mouth infection cleared somewhat. With the help of antibiotics he was able to eat properly again but he wasn’t keeping any weight on. A tumour began to develop around his left eye and the day came when it was clear that his suffering should end.  The vet said the tumour was a particularly nasty one and it would be kinder, he agreed, to let him go. I had already faced this prospect weeks before on a previous visit to the Vet.  Minou in his cat box, on the front seat of my jeep was quietly blinking those eyes at me. It was like receiving a gentle embrace. I prayed to the greater being, to the universe, to God, and asked for the right decision for Minou.  I wanted to give him this last chance, to stay or go, and I would accept the result with love and devotion, he gave a few little mews every now and then as if to reassure me. 

Minou had already had all the blood tests. The Vet prescribed more antibiotics and day after day, I cared for his poor little body, gave him his medicine, tried all kinds of food to build him up,  but it really wasn’t working. He became lazy in his cleanliness and started to mess in the house and in all honesty, I was fed up with him, tired of the responsibility of looking after this troublesome cat. To acknowledge these feelings made me feel ashamed, it is something I have to live with, but when the end finally came, I held him in my arms as the last injection was administered, the last one Minou would ever have.  The emotion that overwhelmed me was unexpected and completely draining.  I think, in a way, I am still grieving, maybe not for the fact that Minou is gone, I am happy to know that he is free, but grieving for his sad life and my inability to love him properly. I hope I learned my lesson from Minou for I will always remember the soft embrace in his eyes that I was at last able to return unconditionally too.

Graffitti In The Gazebo

Graffiti In The Gazebo

We shall not cease from exploration.

And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started,

And know the place for the first timeT.S. Eliot ‘Little Gilding’, Four Quartets

 

There is a gazebo at the end of the garden. It overlooks the estuary. When the tide is in, sea water pools around seaweed covered rocks below. The sound is peaceful, meditative. I drink an early morning coffee in here, listen to little birds sing their songs and watch a spider spin his fragile life between timber beams. Pressing the point of a cheap bic biro into the soft wood of a weathered wooden desk, left behind by previous owners, I carve my initials. I have never felt compelled to leave my name anywhere before, the mark is faint, maybe I will use something sharper, later.

Beyond the hedge, a rolling mist drifts in from Hook Head, devours a cargo ship on its way to safe harbour in the Port of Waterford. Like a lost soul, the muffled sounds of engines trail far behind. High tide swells urgently now. The mist is lifting. The sun is just above the horizon and rising.  The estuary shimmers and sparkles like a crystal pathway beneath a fishing boat on its way to open sea. A small thing moving slowly towards its goal.  Reluctantly, I leave the Gazebo and its world of quiet contemplation.

Purifying Water

 

A week after my decision to become a non drinker, I was in England for my sister’s wedding, staying overnight at ‘The Bull Hotel’ in the very lovely English Cotswold village of Fairford, Gloucestershire. We enjoyed a delicious meal with other wedding guests and I can unreservedly recommend the steak. My resolve to remain a non drinker, though really tested, remained intact. The Bull Hotel, in the centre of the market square in Fairford, is dated around the 15th century when it used to be a Monk’s Chanting house.  During recent improvements, a secret tunnel was discovered from the hotel to the 500 year old St. Mary’s Church.  The other part of the hotel is thought to have been a 16th century hall for a merchant or trade guild. There are  stories of ghosts that have been seen in the older part of the building but fortunately, I slept well and wasn’t disturbed by any bumps in the night. There is a relaxing old worlde atmosphere to this quirky place, I really felt at home and would definately stay there again.

For more about The Bull Hotel, look up www.thebullhotelfairfordco.uk

A stone’s throw from the hotel is  the very upmarket Allium Restaurant where the wedding reception was held. Champagne was offered by friendly waitresses as soon as we arrived.  I love Champagne,  perhaps I could indulge this once. After all, I’ve managed to last a whole week without my usual tipple with my evening meal, far longer than any previous attempts which have lasted no longer than three days. My system is surely cleansed. I am really tempted; just for today. HOLD ON. How easy it was to convince myself. How weak my will. I scold that voice inside my head.

Ok, it replies, let’s just hold the glass for a while. It feels nice doesn’t it. Champagne suits you, all those dancing bubbles, it makes you feel good just looking at it. It’s such a happy drink, maybe you should stick to champagne from now on, it’s probably better for you than wine anyway.

I try to convince myself that I won’t give in, but aware that I could so easily take a sip without even thinking, glass in hand equals automatic reaction to drink. What then?  I am on the edge here, I need help.  From somewhere unbeknown to my tempting voice, a stronger will emerges and I return the glass of sparkling champagne to the waitress and ask for a glass of water instead.  My lovely daughter does the same, she is my strength today.  We are in this together. The waitress looks surprised. So am I. She pours water into two clumsy tumblers which we quickly exchange for champagne glasses, and the two of us enjoy a memorable five course meal without any alcohol whatsoever, though reluctantly refusing white wine, red wine, and more champagne, but enjoying the company and happiness that is so evident on this wonderful day, when my little sister got married to David.  It was the best week-end I had in a long time and I remember everything about it.  Cheers dears

 

 

 

 

 

Geronimo

Geronimo is a cat but he thinks he is a dog. He loves Ruairi.  They sleep together often, except for when Geronimo sleeps on the red velvet curtain, folded into a deep windowsill of the little cottage window. The window is above a radiator and is a warm place for a cat to be. He licks his paws, claws spread wide, pausing every now and then to look at something beyond the glass. He stretches, his body arched like a tunnel, his front legs lowering at full stretch until his shoulders are almost down, his rear follows the same movement and when all four paws are tucked beneath him, he sleeps, face towards me, eyes closed, his blackness complete.

Geronimo was missing all day yesterday; he didn’t come back for his dinner in the evening. I imagined him tucked in somewhere dry and warm, perhaps in the stable next door, on top of a bale of straw and far away from the cloud of soaking rain that quickly developed into waves of the softest soak.  There are blue skies and sunshine today but still no sign of Geronimo.  Ruairi has finished his three course breakfast, a whole red apple, two handfuls of mixed ovals and a rawhide chew, leaving a soggy mess of dribble and bits of apple on the kitchen floor.  Minou, a white cat with no ears, drank half a pint of full cream milk . They follow me out to the garden, sit and watch as  I turn on the outside tap. The tap connects to a hose that is fed through the louvred glass of the greenhouse, conected to a very simple sprinkler. The tomato plants appreciate the long drink, water pours out from gaps between glass and concrete until a bright stream trickles over the shingle path to the washing line. When it is done, I turn off the tap and open the door.  Out runs Geronimo, freshly showered, his fur sparkling with water drops.  His protest is small, his relief is huge.

Some sights and sounds of July

 

Sand, shells, rocks, seaweed, quiet tide.

On the beach this morning, a soft water wash in all shades of grey. Seabirds calling to a reluctant tide.  Footprints in wet sand.  Brambles and long ropes of ivy that tumble over the cliff edge.  I meet neighbours returning from their morning dog walking exercise. Feargul says my Irish Wolfhound Ruairi, reminds him of an elderly gent on holiday in Nice.  Back home again, in the garden, feathery grasses bask in the shelter. Globe thistles outlined against the sky are dying to be photographed, swallows swoon, glide and feast on summer insects. The sound of Ruairi’s panting and the silent presence of clouds that reveal deep blue holes of other worlds beyond.

Going Real

On Saturday, May 22nd 2010, I poured an almost full bottle of red wine down the sink and offered myself up to God, the universe, or whatever, with hope and hopefully determination, to give up alcohol.  The decision was reached after attending a birthday celebration the previous night. Having taken a couple of Paracetemol tablets and a lemon Strepsil to soothe a sore throat and threatening cold-sore, the evening passed in a very enjoyable way. I managed to consume four small (bar-size) bottles of white wine which probably amount to about six good glasses, not a huge amount of alcohol over a period of around 5 or six hours but the following morning, I was totally washed out, over-tired and desperately trying to ward off a full-blown flu virus. Slow brained, fed up with feeling under par, and aware that my vulnerability to every passing cold probably has something to do with age, but I’m not over the hill yet, and after the difficulty I had in getting there, I have no intention of going down the other side for a long time.

From now on, I will face the world alcohol free, fingers crossed. However, I acknowledge that I need help and support to keep me on track.  I hope it arrives, from God, the universe, or whatever.