Monday, 30 May 2016

Awake, Asleep, an Everyman's Compendium of Mind Games

As I grow old, I am reminded how true it is what they say about recalling times past more graphically than the day before. Some of my memories are peopled with family, old friends, lovers and colleagues, even those I only ever knew as friendly faces with whom to pass a pleasant evening at a local bar after a long day of getting nowhere fast.

I do not summon these ghosts, rather vice versa, as if to heap me with regret and/or unanswerable questions as to why we no longer see each other. Did we simply drift apart or was there never any question of our staying in touch anyway? In the latter case, why should I recall them at all? What is it about certain people that they leave such a lasting impression on us? I suspect it tells us less about them than about ourselves if we care to probe further which is perhaps why we rarely do…in case we don’t like some of the answers we may come up with?

A prevailing image of memory I have is of two cruise liners; one, carrying us along with those who have truly meant something to us in life (for good or ill) and another carrying those we recall for reasons we cannot or prefer not to articulate. So they - and we - journey across time and space, passing each other from time to time like ships in the night, each with its ‘live’ cargo of assorted shadows.


As I walked into a crowded room,
everyone stopped talking,
stared at me as if I were a stranger
and had no right to be there,
an uninvited guest, gate crasher, someone
sure to disturb their peace

I approached someone I once knew
to kick-start a conversation,
cue for everyone to start blowing
pretty bubbles of words
that hit the ceiling, burst, spilling questions
on each and every one of us

‘Tell me, how are things in your world
since last we got together?
Why must Time so hoard its past
as if it were a collector gathering evidence
to prove some point or other,
as if world history isn’t always reminding
of our hits and misses, successes
and failures, well-intentioned interference
in other people’s affairs as likely
to end in tears as assumptions all well laid
plans of mice and men will see
the cold light of day as tall tales written
into custom furniture and fittings?’

Silences tickling my ears, like no-answers
to a single question dripping me
like raindrops, leaving puddles in my wake
as I negotiate paths opening up
to let me pass, courtesy of people I’d loved,
let slip away or simply forgotten

No welcome hugs, kisses on each cheek,
only looks probing my thoughts
from bubble faces soaking me in memories,
half memories, pretend memories
for all I know, pulling at lesser heartstrings,
sleepwalking me into other selves

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

Sunday, 22 May 2016

D-R-E-A-M-S, Faces at a Window

A friend recently commented there can be no disputing we live in a dangerous world that is the stuff of nightmares.

The threat of terrorism leaps to mind, but there are everyday threats closer to home as well; racism, homophobia, street crime, gang warfare, cyber bullying, certain religious and cultural issues such as FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and the more barbaric aspects of Sharia law etc. etc.

Is it any wonder then that dreams and nightmares sometimes merge into a hideous quasi-reality? As for a face looking passively in at it all, that could belong to just about anyone, even one of our own personae that the conscious self we know and love either fails or refuses to acknowledge…in case it feels obliged to act rather than remain a critical bystander unwilling to get involved in someone else’s affairs. here comes a time, though, when we have to acknowledge that, like it or not, as part of the human race, we are helping, any way we can, to ensure not only its very survival, but its survival for the better.

Enter the metaphysical poet John Donne ‘No man is an island entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind...’ (MEDITATION XVI )


Faces looking in
at a window
on my dreams
are always mouthing words
I can never make out

These faces looking in
at a window
on my dreams
always have a smile for me
no matter what

One face looking in
at a window
on my dreams,
it wears a wry expression
(knows me too well?)

I struggle to imagine
what they see
as my dream-self
explores all time and space
of a subconscious
indulging in freedom
from restraints
along the lines
of religious dogma playing
war games
with mind, body, and spirit
or the temporal
manipulations of various
acting out an ages-old parody
of human justice

Faces looking in
at a window
on my dreams
seem to approve what they see  
for having a say

This face looking out
of a window
on my dreams
mouths back that I am as I am
(no strings)

Waking at first light,
in time to watch
a lively shadow play
on my ceiling of dark forces
beating a retreat

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Cat on the Roof OR Heavens Above

As a child (I am 70 now) I was stroking a cat one day, happened to look up and could make out a cloud in the shape of a cat. I asked my mother what a cat was doing in the sky. She told me that cloud is a gauze curtain that takes many shapes through which God can see what we humans are up to on Earth. Rain, she added for good measure, is His tears because he rarely likes what He sees, especially when little boys misbehave.

I was very close to my mother. She was a very Christian woman, and although she was far from being one of those people inclined to inflict their own views on others, her words put me off religion forever if only because I did not like the idea of any God spying on me; nor did I much care for the implied threat that I should behave myself …or else. Even so, her words haunted me for many years as I grappled with various concepts of religion and God, eventually discarding both in favour of nature. Nature would offer the young (gay) man I became, a sense of spirituality that came free, no strings (or dogma) attached yet contained within the organized chaos of a time frame-cum-continuum to which the Muse in me could easily relate.

It took me many more years to even begin to articulate on that offer, but was happy to settle for the warm glow it awoke in me and the subsequent poetry it has never ceased to inspire.

This poem is a villanelle.

PHOTO: from the Internet


Cloud cover
come another dawn
(like cat fur)

All a-shimmer
(a lonely, weepy sun)
cloud cover

heavens for everyone
(like cat fur)

‘Live’ mirror
(humanity looking in);
cloud cover

demanding our attention
(like cat fur)

Fine promises
caught out on the turn?
Cloud cover
like cat fur...

Copyright R. N. Taber 1999; 2016

[Note: revised (2016) from an earlier version that appears in The Third Eye by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2004; revised e-format in preparation.] 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Existentialist

Rarely are our thoughts processed more intensely and tested than as we ponder questions about life and death, especially the latter if only because it represents The Great Unknown and we human beings prefer to know (for sure) what we are up against. Throughout our lives, we have at least the semblance of some control, but over the time and nature of our death we have little or none. More disturbing still, what happens once we are cut free of a life that so loves to play us like puppets on a string and go into free fall? Something or nothing…?

Those who subscribe to a religion think they have the answer while those of us who don’t take hope from nature’s cycle of renewal.

Whatever, thinking about such things, homing on any conclusions (however arbitrary) we may reach and acting on them, is probably as good a preparation for life and death as we can aspire. 

There is much to be said for the old adage, look before you leap, but it has to be said that the looking eye does not always see; it is the inner eye, as prompted by searching thought, that is more likely to home in (or not) on not only what is it looking at but also looking for.

Looking, finding, reworking, whatever...  life, art and science owe much to its wannabes and wanna-knows.


Squatting on a patch of waste land,
imaging the growing emptiness
of wishful thinking feeding streams
of consciousness running through
alleys, backyards and housing estates,
watching the living and the dead
vying for time's favours in diaries
and poems they were always meaning
to write

Addressing the apparent insubstantiality
of shadows, inner sight focusing
on the human spirit playing host to body
no more or less than the flow of blood
feeding its veins as myth’s muddy waters
close in, re-assessing attitudes scrawled
in everyday graffiti or glued to pasteboard
points of view; scientific, religious…
(does it really matter?) ever attempting
to win us over by fair means or foul
since that first day at school,now exposed
for the saddest, cruellest trick of all

Articulating on ‘soul’ by steeling spirit,
preparing mind and body to chance
a coming of age, despite envious gods
and their petty tyrannies if upstaged
by human selfishness, stuff of immaturity
feeding an ego-led imagination
(Oh, and whatever happened to that?)
and leading us astray who so love to think
we know it all

Focusing on and interpreting the purpose
of one starry eye watching out for us
who are frantically rummaging mortality,
for a kinder fate (surely?) than to be left
drifting in full view of old gods gathered
to gloat, our humanity come less than right
for running the gamut of human history
posed by selective readings between lines
of cautionary tales told by one, Jonah,
from the belly of a whale last seen spouting
gobbledegook to hunters well up for the chase
no more or less than for its own sake

Reconstructing damaged mind-body-spirit
in the wry twinkle of an eye...

Copyright R. N. Taber 2010; 2016

[Note: This poem has been revised from an earlier version that appears under the title ‘Death Star’ in On the Battlefields of Love by R. N. Taber 2010; revised edition in e-format in preparation.]

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Running the Gauntlet OR The Undefeated

As it deepens, despair takes us into the very heart of human darkness. There may well be a pin-prick of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but sometimes it is but a blur. Yet, if we can manage to focus even for just an instant, the blur becomes a lantern that will guide us back into the daylight and sunshine of what we laughingly call ‘normal’ life.

I made this journey in my early 30’s (I am 70 now) and it is the closest I have ever come to experiencing an epiphany.  Where I had never found any comfort or inspiration in religion, a drowning mind and body  sensed and reached for a spirituality in the nature of all things reassuring me that Earth Mother had not given up on me and I must not give up on myself.


Eyes glowing in a premature darkness
like cat’s eyes on a loping highway in a storm,
padding its way with stealth and guile,
brushing giant leaf and fern in Brobdingnag
concrete jungle spread all around;
wings of steel pitted against natural instinct;
dirt tracks strewn with primeval litter,
secret paths to Earth Mother’s hand written
poetry and prose

Hear the lion roar, rearing and pawing
at the sky, unbowed by heaven’s wary eye;
flashes like daggers at Caesar’s back,
taking the Beast through its paces till it drops;
apes swinging here and there,
mock a weary lion but taking care to steer
well clear, avoiding confrontation
else a feast of claws devour even salvation,
torn pages of Darwin

Ah, but let the Beast rest while it may;
hunters and hunted will find each other out
soon enough, about to discover
what (if any) creature can match us
eye for eye, tooth for tooth,
and for whom the wind composes a eulogy
where darkest poetry and prose read,
old gods (and new) mocking our inability
to understand a word

Tunnel caving in, barely a pin-prick of light;
human spirit, running the gauntlet...

Copyright R. N. Taber 2004; 2016

[Note: Revised (2016) from an earlier version that appears under the title ‘Heart of Darkness’ in 1st eds of The Third Eye by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2004; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]

Monday, 9 May 2016

Ode to a Foot Soldier

Across the modern world, freedoms are being whittled away by the very socio-cultural-religious and political forces that purport to support and endorse them; freedom of speech (cannot even agree to differ without causing offence in some quarters); freedom to assume whatever sexual identity we feel appropriate (as if gay or transgender folks have a choice…); freedom to protest, put our names to a legitimate petition or such documentation as may be considered ‘indiscreet’ by Intelligence sources (ask Julian Assange   …) etc. etc. etc.

In places like Saudi Arabia, young people risk crucifixion, for protesting against a vile regime which many western politicians and other leading figures like to cosy up to if only for its wealth and oil.

Whoever and wherever we are, we should never take what freedom we have for granted, but neither should we assume it is the last word in what freedom means; those freedoms we don’t have or any that are at risk will always be worth fighting for as and when required.

Have two terrible world wars taught so much of humankind so little about freedom?

'Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast.' (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet) a quote the EEU and the Arab Spring of 2011 would have done well to keep in mind...?


Weary, a foot soldier
forever trudging human highways,
byways, country lanes...

Maybe arrive by nightfall
or needs must press on till daybreak,
destination unknown

Under orders from a skylark
last seen soaring into a tearful dawn
(looking for Heaven?)

Apollo offers hope in time
to lighten the heartbeat, put a spring
in the loneliest step

Centuries-old aspirations
discarded on the slopes of Parnassus
recovered, read aloud

Where life no less precious
on highways, byways, country lanes,
find bitter-sweet poems

Human spirit, alive and well
among earthworms researching poems
of love, peace and war

Apollo, on visiting the grave, 
has been known to throw light on it all
among those who listened

Freedom, foot soldier, lives on 
in open minds and hearts of free spirits 
across time and space

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

Saturday, 7 May 2016

H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, Paved with Excuses

One of my favourite subjects at school some 50+ years ago was History, not least because we had a teacher who made history come alive in in the mind’s eye. I well recall Mr Vickers - fondly known as ‘Chopper’ by generations of schoolkids - telling the class to bear in mind that History hates to lose face. He went to comment along the lines that, just as many if not most of us are inclined to be less than honest when reflecting on home truths, so it is with history. Consequently, he added with a characteristic chuckle, history is paved with excuses. 

I have since come to understand how it is invariably in the light of these excuses that events are recorded, re-recorded and often ‘adapted’ to reconcile with contemporary opinion according to this or that point of view.  

Fortunately, I also had an excellent English teacher at the same school [ 'Jock' Rankin] who taught us how to identify elements of bias in both factual and fictional writings as well as various media presentations. There is nothing wrong with bias, he would say, so long as we recognise it as such and make up our own minds.

On the whole, I hated my schooldays, but looking back I see now how, as an Education for Life, they excelled. Even so...50+ years ago, and what's changed?


Should global warming kill us all,
even Earth Mother may not survive
but as one among stars poised fall,
among its remains, nothing left alive

They say humankind fails to consider
that nature might turn and retaliate
for killing off trees, failing to nurture
respect for bird or beast until too late

We hear much talk of saving habitats,
ending world poverty, famine, wars,
as the poor grow poorer to feed fat cats,
old gods and new settling old scores

Oh, but there’s politics, sure to save us  
from worms haunting its mass graves?

Copyright R. N. Taber 2007; 2016