Poems dedicated to my son, so that he does not forget that his mum is primarily a poet…
Thoughts on Fish
Beginning at Twilight, in this land of early darkness, not like England,
where the sun kisses the earth in dusk colors for a long time. No, here
the sun sets quickly and one has to grab twilight if one loves the early
setting of time here near the equator. Once in a while, the sky, like
England, shows forth Laura Ashley colors, of duck egg blue and
flower orange, just to remind all of days past, of history before
Independence. But, at this time of day, I see the fishing boats,
the lights twinkling off in the distance, those cacthing tomorrow’s
lunch, dinner, tea, if anyone has tea here anymore. I do, but only a
sweet thing, like a ring of figs, or small croissant with cream to
quench my afternoon blues. My biggest meal, as in the monastery,
is at noon, pastas with fish things, and sausage, or with the bare
minimum depending on my budget for the day, and yet, the boats
I am watching from kilometers away catch shrimp, octopus, squid
and other local fish, like St. Peter’s, which the English call
John Dory. The lights move, fade and come again and I am reminded
oddly of the shrimp boats in the Gulf of Mexico, finally allowed
to fish off the coast of Bay St. Louis after Katrina so long ago.
What a thrill for all when the fishing began again, and life seemed
normal, seemed, like today with the bobbling lights in the sea.
But, nothing is really normal, the lights move slowly, these northeast
to northwest, in patterns established two millennia ago by other fishers.
Such were the men who brought St. Paul and companions ashore, just
a few miles up the road, to preach and teach and make this island
at one with the plan of God, which tragically unravels daily here.
One cannot stop the darkening of the light, and now, the sea is black
like the sky and the only way I can tell it is there is by the lights of
the boats, faithful to their duty and trade. I think of Peter and Andrew,
up all night catching nothing, and I remind Jesus that I am catching
nothing, nada, only flea bites from the many cats of Malta which
instinctively know I am a cat person and rub up against my legs, daily.
For the record, something with Deet costs eleven euros, the price of one
of those really nice pastas, an Americano and sparkling water or two small
meals. So, I shall skip a meal in order not to be a meal for these fleas,
which leave warts and which are as small as the lights on the Middle Sea outside
my window. I wait to hear a voice across this land, a voice which I desire
to hear more than any other voice, but which makes me wait, wait, wait.
Like the lights floating on the sea, the voice seems far, far away, but I
wait, as that is my job, to wait on God, for God, to God, like the men
waiting beyond my recognition for their catch. But, tomorrow I shall see
and hear them in the street, yelling their wares in their language, cutting up
bits and pieces on demand to the same women, lay and nuns, who come to
buy these fish from his open sided truck, scrunched up outside the Church after Mass
several days at week. I looked at the salmon and asked from where this fine specimen
came, “From Alaska, overnight!” “Only nine hours from being in the sea.” I wondered
which way this beast of a salmon has come to make that time. Nuns comes and
the salmon is cut up and taken away. I look at the fish, decide nothing is that
good, and I laughed and walked away, as I lived once, among the Northern stars,
and did not have to eat salmon packed in ice and flown far, far way to this hot
land. The fishmonger did not know why I was laughing. He told me he could divide it
up into smaller parts, but I refused his offer, and went on my way to the Fisher of Men
in Adoration down the road apiece. Such is my day, but the black sea and black sky
remind me that evil also waits, to snare me or those who do not see the growing dark.
For these and for myself, as I look far into the distance from my hill at the blackness,
I pray. It is only time before this small place knows the battle we all witness today.
Like the men who battled here and in my sea, the sea around England, those brave
ones who won money at the cost of their health and lives. Our Lady Star of the Sea
still looks after each and everyone, even here, even the ones who lie about how
old the salmon is from Alaska.
As I watch the black sea and black sky becoming one, I wonder why I can
write here and in certain places and not in others. Why? Is there poetry in
the air of Malta, Ireland, England? Why have I not been able to write my verses
of love and longing in certain states of America? I wonder, as many come here
for lust, and maybe a romantic tryst, maybe there is something of love in the
air, as I feel it as soon as I am here, like a fish seeking the cold waves on a hot day.
I really wonder why the creative life of God touches me here and not in
the cities of the Midwest, except, except for a few, so few exceptions. Few…
Wondering does not answer the question, but I think it has to do with Love.
The desert rocks, the dust of Africa, the water of Middle Sea speak to me
of Love. What can I say? What can I answer, but love to Love, in words,
like the psalmist, who could only think of God and His Creation, His goodness,
His beauty, there in his barren land, like landscape which reaches out to the sea.
The same beauty which called Charles de Foucald and others to desert places.
Mysterious life flows here, eluding explanation. Perhaps the centuries of the Knights
healing the sick or fighting for real freedom; perhaps Nature, which wants to remind
us of Paradise before the Fall, before too many cars, cigarettes and indifference.
Paradise is in me, in you, in all who follow the One Who Is All in All. But, why
does one realize God here? Perhaps it is because life is simpler, slower, cheaper,
less precious, but more intense. One can imagine Mary walking these roads…
Now, blackness covers this part of the earth, only challenge by those who want
to make money or watch sport, or play into the wee hours, fighting the natural
ebb and flow of the sea, which says, so quietly, “Be still, sleep, while I watch”.
Weddings in Malta….
Every time I come here there are weddings, in this chapel and that, in this city and that.
I cannot count the times the stairs to my church became a road to a fairy castle, festooned
with tulle and babies’ breath. Some couple seems to be getting married each weekend,
no matter where or when, in heat, in the cool breezes, in the morning, in the night,
what the season of the year. White roses, daisies, and other flowers unknown to me grace
altars, pews, celebrating new love and new dreams. The brides look like models, long hair
flowing out of veils and live flowers, beaming in youth and gladness, confident, while
the grooms seem suitably sober, with many friends standing by, like guards, like brothers.
So many weddings here and elsewhere, I have encountered in small chapels, in large
cathedrals, in homey parishes , none, thank God, by the sea. Maybe it is the air of Malta,
maybe it is the family code, or the love of children, but marriages happen here, there,
everywhere. My priest is relieved that there will be several weeks of lull before the
Advent and Christmas onslaught. This year’s colors are earth tones, deep mustard,
soft browns, dark reds and sunset oranges, the colors of the rocks and earth. I wonder
how many ladies will wear these autumnal tones in church this month, before the
radiant and metallic greens and reds take over charm and novelty? But, brides are
always in white and much lace, long veils are in again, and demure jackets of satin.
After the wedding days, when I return to daily Mass, the cleaning lady asks me
if I want the left-over flowers, as all the flowers stay in the church for the weekend.
I say “no” as my Bridegroom gives me flowers on the Promenade, in the Upper
Baraka Garden, in front of the houses on my street, where roses bloom even now,
white, red, orange, pink, purple, defying gravity by dripping over the walls, like
ladies talking from their verandas in the sun and shade. These are my wedding
flowers from my King Who owns all and shares with me, who owns nothing.
I go back to my rooms and look at the poinsettias which are now beginning to
bloom, telling me winter is coming soon. This is my flower, there on the altars
of God the day I was born, and there for my walks to see my Love, who waits
for me in silence.
So glad to have food
There is something good about a people who like to eat.
Families running restaurants which close at night in order
for Papa to be with Mama and kids….
seem a million miles away from fast food and “grazing”.
Yes, there is something good when people want you to
like their cooking, wait for a response, smile warmly
when you praise their pasta or pizza….
Here in this place food is more important than in
the cold climate of my youth, where eating is to
feed one’s body to do something else, not a gift
in and of itself, where food fuels work, school,
creativity, making money, not a thing is and of
itself like here…Food is a member of the family,
a way of loving, a way of being grounded…
Perhaps that is why saying grace is not merely a
prayer, but a way of life, gratitude pouring out in
the market, or at the gourmet butcher’s or at the
cafe, where the joy of meats and eats adds to life’s
wonder. Gratitude washes the vegetables and cooks
the chicken. I do not know the name of the fish I eat,
or the way the sausage is made, or the kind of
greens which rest next to my omelet, but here
I am grateful for food, the pepato cheese and bread,
not merely to keep walking on uneven pavements,
up these long and steep hills, or running to the bus, or
praying intensely , or listening to those who cannot pray,
but for the sake of sharing in the talent of someone’s
cooking, or my own, with familiar things I have
bought and made year after year here in the dying
heat. How easy it is to make a friend who makes one
dinner happy, merely by praising the well-done beef
or the seasoning on the octopus. How easy it is to make
a young man, barely out of school smile, as he runs the
restaurant kitchen for the first year, on his own, a youth
becoming a man, working like a man, smiling like an angel.
I, who know how to be abased and how to abound, having
lived months, even years with one meal a day and a few
things to tide me over, living in a place where people want
me to be happy with their culinary arts, enjoying the give and
take. I had someone over for my usual bread and brie,
but within hours of her leaving, a large bag of goodies appeared
at my door, as if St. Nicholas knew I needed more now, earlier
than for his feast coming up soon; jelapeno cheese, Chianti,
goat’s cheese from Gozo, halvah, the famous Maltese
bread, all gifts; food is life and life is gift here. If one does
not want to eat, people are worried, begin to diagnose illnesses,
physical or mental, something must be wrong if one does not eat.
But, some of the old Catholics keep the old fasts on Wednesday,
on Friday, even though their bishop lets them eat meat.
These older ones remember the days of the long fasts, the rationing
of war, the trials of real poverty, unemployment, death of the wage-
earner father, curses of those who hated them and so on….they fast
and pray, knowing that tomorrow, Mama will make something to
tempt them back to this material world, away from the spiritual.
I fast some days out of necessity, when money runs low, or when
some prayer request seems to hard without extra suffering.
My local shop sells ten different kinds of bread, all delivered
daily, sweets like qaghaq tal-Ghasel, little berry tarts, left over
from British rule days, the ubiquitous croissant a la crème patissiere.
Nothing is left by eleven in the morning, even the bachelors
shop early to get the fresh bread, standing with the stout women waiting
in line, gossiping, and all shouting as if arguing–the Maltese way.
Bread without butter, cheese eaten the same day—life on this island
resembles older days, and the older ways sustain the small towns
and neighborhoods. No WalMart here, a few German groceries, but
still, the way of shopping reminds me of my married life in England,
where Mr. Butcher knew what cuts I liked, and Mrs. Baker kept the
crown bun for me on Tuesdays. The ebb and flow of relationship
surrounded my trips to the markets. I hope friendship and food never
are separated here in this place of shopping in the glow of the Our Father.
The churches in the towns and cities are full in the mornings and these
faithful will march to the shops, like I do, almost daily, to get what is
more than necessary—a rhythm of life challenged by the younger, who
use their cars and go to the big groceries, challenged by the tourists who
eat out all the time, not seeing the gifts waiting for them in the local shops,
and the friendships one can make over food. One feels that God taught
Adam and Eve not only sewing, but how to eat like the Maltese…with joy.
I sat with six friends who were planning a luncheon at church. For an hour,
they discussed who would make what and how these things would be made.
After this meeting, I asked my dear friend if planning a luncheon always
took so long, as we Americans would just say, “I’ll bring the potato salad,
Mary the chicken, Ann the salad and Grace the drinks.” “No”, she replied,
“It is out way to talk about every detail, what kind of cheese will be served with
the tomatoes, what type of cake and icing will be brought, and the ingredients
of the salads”. No utilitarianism here,only life with food, and the
end of the story was that the same women brought the same types of
treats each time they had this dinner—yet, all had to be discussed, approved,
blessed with gratitude, as if the conversation had never happened many
times before. We may think, we do not have enough time to talk of food,
or where one will buy the drinks, or what recipe will be used for the voluvents.
But, friendship involves food here, and food involves friendship.
Grace before meals….
For God Alone
I think of you as I watched the sea, off and on today,
between chores and talking and listening and praying.
In the early morning hours, the water lay in dark grey
mysterious motions, unyielding, beautiful in a martial
masculine strength, reflecting the God Who made it.
Later, by accident after busy hours, I saw that the sea
basked in turquoise glory, like a jewel in the crown of
Creation, reminding me of your glory and kingdom.
Again as the day grew on, I saw the sea in white satin,
like the bride before the Mass, nervous in white, waiting
for love for a change, for something new, exciting.
Then, now, in the early twilight, the sea wraps herself
in lilac lace, like an old woman going to Church in her
Sunday best, even on a Monday, just because, because…
And all is silent, except the incessant traffic, which becomes
a monotonous backdrop, not marring my meditation, as I wait
as usual, for You to speak some word to me, any word, as I love
to hear Your voice.