Script for audio journal Volume 2 Starting Over Again

SQ 17 Is it a Dream?

Entry 17: Is It a Dream? – I love Megastructures and all those other wonderful programs on The Discovery Channel and Nat Geo that explore the worlds of engineering, science and exploration. I have to watch these media offerings at times when my wife is not in the dreamsroom. Just as she has to watch her favourite lifestyle and reality programs when I am otherwise engaged. There is no animosity attached to this for we have a range of shared favourites at prime-time. (Although, in the splintering media landscape- if a landscape can be said to splinter- such a term as media landscape may seem as quaint as quilting before too long.)

patriarchyNow, I have referred to the patriarchal paradigm before in this series, and I would not be surprised if there is something in the idea that men and women are hard-wired to respond to differing ways of engaging with the world- but I am puzzled by the undoubted fact that I am, and always have been, a complete klutz when it comes to the more sophisticated operations in the area of fabrication, manufacture and the manipulation of the physical world. By more sophisticated, I refer to anything beyond replacing a light-bulb or putting up a shelf.lightbulg

And yet, here you will find me, a 19-year old student on vacation back at home in the Glens of Antrim in Northern Ireland watching enthralled as the live pictures of the Moon Landing on July 20, 1969 are relayed in glorious black and white to televisions around the world. Michael Collins, the command module pilot, had designed the insignia for the mission: an eagle holding an olive branch in its talons to signify the wish for peace to be a part of the moonlandingsymbolism of this historic event.

Oh! It was so good to get away from the tensions in Belfast where something wicked was building inexorably. Not much more than three weeks after what I consider the greatest achievement of human endeavour, a mob smashed through Bombay Street in West Belfast and the pogrom started: to quote from Belfast on Saturday August 14 there were 65 occupied houses on Bombay Street, by Sunday night that figure was down to 20. Within weeks the impromptu barricades dividing the protestant Shankill from the catholic Falls had been replaced by corrugated iron peace walls. At the time Sir Ian Freeland, the British Army General in charge of operations, remarked that these barriers would be ‘a temporary affair’. Over 40 years on they have proved far more durable than that!peacewall

Now, you can take tours of the peace walls of Belfast, take selfies in front of graffiti and never think at all that there is something weird about the fact that these walls have outlasted that icon of division in the Western world- the Berlin Wall. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall wrote Robert Frost in his widely anthologised poem, Mending Wall, published back in 1914. But his spirits didn’t have to reckon with the intractability of Irish hatreds.

barricadesBack in 1969, I responded to a call which went out over the radio for boarding students at my college to return early to help the refugees from the burnt-out streets. We hastily set up a reception centre in the college hall and had a crash course in how to be bureaucrats as we helped the bewildered victims fill in emergency relief forms. As I walked down the Falls and Donegall Roads of an evening to visit my girlfriend I could see the corrugated iron barricades going up on the side streets. There was fear in the air and I could feel the prickles on the back of my neck as I imagined being tracked through gunsights from the murky alley-ways I passed.

I listened to Radio Free Belfast at night and wondered what I was doing here. Iradio-free-belfast remembered a schoolboy pact I had made with a friend, that we would visit Australia and watch the cane-fields burn as we worked our way across the exotic continent seemingly as distant as the moon. It wouldn’t be with my school buddy but my girlfriend who became my wife, with whom I would clamber aboard a QANTAS jet in September of 1972, our daughter of three months in our arms, and set off for Sydney.

Over forty years later, now retired, I sit on our back veranda in the winter sunshine and wonder whether ideas have the same solidity as steel, whether the imagery and imagination holding together my songs have the integrity of the International Space Station which journeyed past Venus and Jupiter between 5:31pm and 5:34pm on Wednesday last, another reminder of the astounding achievements possible when human beings work together and set aside ancient grudges to reach for the stars. But maybe we’ll ISSend up like the oysters in this poem:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, /”To talk of many things:/Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax/Of cabbages and kings/And why the sea is boiling hot/And whether pigs have wings.”

Script for audio journal Volume 9 Autumn Road

SQ 108 An Impervious Wall

Entry 108: An Impervious WallBefore I built a wall, I’d ask to know/What I was walling in ora-auden-poem walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence./Something there is that does not love a wall, that wants it down. Truly spoken, Robert Frost. Another poet, W. H. Auden wrote about Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Wall Blues, where he captures the loneliness and misery of sentinels the world over throughout history as they stand vigil on their particular wall and peer into the mist for signs of the enemy, The rain comes pattering out of the sky,/I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.

 a-castleThere is something about walls that engender complacency- in Edwin Muir’s poem, The Castle, the besieged look unconcernedly from the turret walls surrounding the fortress at the foe half a mile distant confident in the knowledge of their ample provisions, brave defenders, stout fortifications and allies drawing near. But… There was a little private gate,/A little wicked wicket gate./The wizened warder let them through. And why? Our only enemy was gold,/And we had no arms to fight it with.

 So-called Chinese walls in financial, commercial and legal institutions are supposed to guarantee probity in matters where conflicts of interest may occur but this does not stop regular breaches of the walls and laws in all of these sectors. The actual Great Wall of Chinaa-chinese-wall is stupendous to look at but failed miserably in its purpose of keeping out determined invaders, who simply rode around it or had its gates opened by traitors. The Berlin Wall failed and one may surmise (indeed, hope) that similar walls still in place around the world, will ultimately fail, too.

Something there is that does not love a wall. Are you listening, Donald Trump? Walls made of unobtainium remain the ideal of oppressors throughout time and place. Such a wall would a-big-wallbe impervious to any agency, method or technology. Impenetrable, resisting any level of energy or density of matter, this wall would serve the wildest fantasies of even the most certifiable of megalomaniacs. But it’s out of reach in our material world. The only place such walls can be forged are in the furnaces of the dogmatic mind. Is there anything in this universe more adamantine than the certitude of the religious bigot or political ideologue?

The wailing wall has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and the practice of leavinga-wailing-wall prayers on scraps of paper stuffed into cracks is one that fulfils a deep human need to connect in a tangible way with sacred places. In the city of Leiden, the Netherlands, there is a modern version of the wailing wall, it seems to me. Two artists, Ben Walenkamp and Jan-Willem Bruins, with the assistance of various civic and philanthropic bodies arranged that on various walls throughout the city you will be able read 101 poems by a range of poets, starting in 1992 a-dutch-wallwith a poem in Russian by Marina Tssvetaeva, concluding in 2005 with the Federico Garcia Lorca poem, De Profundis,

Those hundred lovers/are asleep forever/beneath the dry earth./Andalusia has/long, red-coloured roads./Córdoba, green olive trees/for placing a hundred crosses/to remember them./Those hundred lovers/are asleep forever.

 Assassinated, himself, in shadowy circumstances in 1936, his friend Pablo Neruda, explained that the poet had a premonition of his impending death, relating to him that, waking just before dawn Lorca walked to the ruins of a feudal estate on the outskirts of a village in Castile,

Suddenly Federico felt oppressed as if by something about to come out of the dawn, somethinga-innocent-lamb about to happen. He sat down on the broken-off capital of a pillar lying toppled there. A tiny lamb came out to browse in the weeds among the ruins, appearing like an angel of mist, out of nowhere, to turn solitude into something human, dropping like a gentle petal on the solitude of the place. The poet no longer felt alone. Suddenly a herd of swine also came into the area. There were four or five dark animals, half-wild pigs with a savage hunger and hoofs like rocks. Then Federico witnessed a blood-curdling scene: the swine fell on the lamb and, to the great horror of the poet, tore it to pieces and devoured it.a-feral-pig

So, was this sublime poet, musician and playwright, taken to some pock-marked wall and slaughtered; his body later disposed of in a manner shrouded, to this day, in mystery? Yet another young life cut short. I used to yearn, like the Roman wall soldier in Auden’s poem for the days, When I’m a veteran with only one eye/I shall do nothing but look at the sky. I think, I’ve reached that point.

And I recall the words of Moe Bandy’s fine country song, Til I’m Too Old To Die Young, I will climb the highest hill/And watch the rising sun/And pray that I won’t feel the chill/’Til I’m too old to die young. Why is that too much to ask for far too many?