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The Dear Loved Boy

The romantic is cursed with a delicate type of blindness, a reckless folly that begins by meaning no harm yet which in the end will taint its imprudent victim with a painful destiny.

“He gained the love of ladies gay
None e’er to him weas coy
Ah, woe is me, I mourn the day for dear Gilderoy”

The romantic sentiment is made from a fey alchemy: soft feelings, gentle indiscretions.  It is responsible for the quiet dismissal of reality; replacing it with an insidious fancy that invades the dull fabric of reason like a golden thread.

“With muckle (much) joy we spent our prime
Till we were baith sixteen
And oft we passed the langsome (long) time
amang the leaves sae green”

Admittedly such a deadly attitude is not as common now as it once was.  This is a cynical world.  But centuries before it was not so much the case. Imagination was different – like prisms, thoughts of love and romance was split like gems to achieve an entirely new purity, a new light.  Men saw a woman’s pale skin as a fleshly metaphor for virtue and truth – though the feminine tint was laced with arsenic.  And women saw romantic possibilities in the dark eyes, slim figure and the feel of restrained muscular strength of her gentleman as he held her on the dance floor.  This was a generation easily deceived by their feelings, more than willing to travel the labyrinth of ardor that stretched before them.

“O, that he still had been content
with me to lead his life,
But ah, his manful heart was bent
to stirring feats of strife,”

Patrick Roy McGregor, known as Gilderoy, Gilleroy, Gilder Roy or Gillie Ruadh (“the Red-haired Lad”) was an outlaw of democratic tastes:  he was a robber, a blackmailer, a cataran (cattle thief) and a murderer.  He and his band of criminals terrorized the lands throughout Aberdeen during the early 17th century.

But he was pretty.  His white skin and auburn hair were not reconciled to his violent tendencies.  And the ladies loved his beauty and were happily blinkered from his misguided daring.  He was ‘bonnie’, ‘handsome’ and ‘winsome’.  Their yearning and tributes appeared in stories, ballads, prose and verse.

“My Gilderoy, baith far and near
was feared in every toon,
And boldly bore awa’ the gear
of many a lowland loon (peasant, rogue)”

The ‘arch rebel’ was finally apprehended in 1636.  McGregor stood trial in Edinburgh with his associates John Forbes, Alistair Forbes, Callum Forbes, George Grant, John McColme, John McGregor McEane, Gillespie McFarlane, Alistair McInneir and Ewin McGregor alias Accawisch.

“At length, with numbers, he was ta’en,
my handsome Gilderoy”

The charges were many; a miscellany of achievements of a dubious personality:  “tressonable usurpatioun of our Souerane Lordis royal power”,  “pat violent handes in the persones of the said Alexander (Hay) and his wyfe, tuik thame captives and prissoneris, for thair ransome and libertie”, involvement in a number of “crewall slauchters” or murders.    His choice of victims was an egalitarian one, preying on common folk, lairds and ministers.  He was supposedly betrayed by his mistress Peg Cunningham, and was able to stab her to death before being arrested.    Even more flamboyant tales claim that he robbed Cardinal Richelieu and picked Oliver Cromwell’s pocket…but a ruffian’s accomplishments had their limits.

He was found guilty on July 29.  The pleasantly fitting Scottish word for verdict (“doom”) was that McGregor be “drawin backwardis upone ane cairt…to the mercat (market) cross of Edinburgh.” Along with John Forbes he would be hung until dead on a gibbet that was considerably higher than that of their associates.  They were also to have their “..heidis be strukin af from thair bodies, with their richt handis, and the said Gilroy his heid and richt hand to be affixit on the eist or netherbow poirt of Edinburgh, and the said John Forbes his heid and richt hand to be put upone the wast poirt thairof.  (heads be struck off from their bodies with their right hands, and the said Gilroy his head and right hand to be affixed on the east or netherbow port of Edinburgh, and the said John Forbes his head and right hand to be put upon the west port thereof)

“To Edinburgh they led him there,
and on a gallows hung;
They hung him high above the rest,
he was sae trim a boy”

Such was his fame that a garden of ballads blossomed directly after his execution, such as “The Scotch Lovers Lamentation:  or Gilderoy’s Last Farewell…To an excellent new Tune, much in request”    Such popularity speaks of an ill-conceived pride, a stumbling thrill, a naïve delight…the ingredients of a misdirected affection. There are times when a passion gallops like an unrestrained fever, and its victim is unprepared to deal with the machinations of its subtle sickness – the extravagance of undisciplined emotion.

Thus having yeilded up his breath,
I bore his corpse away;
With tears that trickled for his death,
I washed his comely clay;
And safely in a grave sae deep
I laid the dear loved boy,
And now forever I must weep for winsome Gilderoy.

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The Sparrow

Every afternoon I visit my mother – to lift her fluttering spirits, to sift through the mail, to discuss issues with the family cat, to wash some dishes, to see that the garbage cans are on the curb, awaiting their departure. The past few years have not been…winning, and I would do all I can to combat their reckless demoralization.

I visit her because her happiness is a vital catalyst to my own contentment. It is an elusive ingredient as treasured as a pool of gold coming to life in an alchemist’s hand. Her wit and laughter is incisive, subtle and madcap – a cat’s cradle spun by a lovely mind. And I would have that fabric remain strong, and not become bleak and threadbare.

I visit her not only because it is a daughter’s obligation, but it is also my tendency, my preference. By myself, I can be bleak and quiet. But together we are comical, critical and satirical. And in the end I always come away with my pride in my mother, in our unique, magnificent relationship, affirmed and confirmed.

And every afternoon when I leave I give my mother a hug. I can feel her bones as small and delicate as a bird’s. And I hug her hard, to keep her safe and to keep her from flying away like a wayward sparrow eager to rejoin her kin.

Happy Mother’s Day – I’ll be over tomorrow, and for days and days after that.

I love you very much.

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Vegetable Curves

VegetableCurls-GiordanoWrithing in vegetable curves

Coiled like petticoats

Wrapped around a woman’s ankle

Neither bud nor blossom

A garden invader

Spinning green and modest

And as workmanlike as a salad

Wound tight as a shell

Like the helix of the ear

It grew close to the earth

A stairway of leaves curved to listen

Not to the sea

Not to words

But to the botanical life

That breathed and rippled

Through the maternal silence

Of its earthy crib

The Many Small Details

 

The seasons change in an alchemist’s patois – using a language that is rich in subtleties and mystery.  It is a sum of transmutations that have been distilled in an earthly alembic ever since the world spun itself into existence.

The change is as delicate yet invasive as a drop of paint falling into a bowl of water, spreading in a fading bouquet of coils and tendrils.  The cusp between seasons is a time of winsome details, tiny births and hushed deaths.  There is an anthology of detail to regale one of what is to come, a silent speech of promises to be fulfilled once the threshold is crossed.  This new dialogue, rough and poignant, contains a revelation of detail that curves into being every three months.  It begins with a change as delicate as twilight dripping into dawn, as elusive as the stars twisting into a new formation.

It is on a periphery, a borderland familiar yet altered, a soft and gradual rift.  If one is clever enough to look and see, to gather together the many small details like a bouquet the change does not go ignored and Nature’s herculean sweat will not be wasted.  Nor will go unheeded the four conversions of the year: fraught with as much magic as a forgotten chemist’s lab, hung with colored glass, philosophies and saucers of bubbling gold.

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Edward VII Reviews Field

“The simultaneous movement of those hundreds of white arms, the rustling of robes, the flashing of the jewels made him think of a scene from a ballet.”
‘To Marry An English Lord’, Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace

The prince lowered his head
As he stood inside the chapel
And wrapped around his temples
He felt the rhythmic carving of gold
With all apprehensions
Responsibilities
And weary years
Impaled on each prong like worms
Suffering with promise
And the ache of the future

When the king raised his head
There was a luminous movement
As one hundred peeresses
Raised their tiaras with round and powdered arms
In a frisson of light
And synchronized loyalty.
Flesh under a king’s review,
A soft population
Bred for discretion
And immodest seclusion

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Spirited Souls

One gilded afternoon in 1899, the Wyndham sisters were seated together on a couch, pliant yet statuesque, within the velvet recess of their drawing-room in Belgravia.  Their satin dresses, weightless and ethereal, merged into an ivory cloud, dimpled with lavender and gold.  Their limbs were slim and exhausted, starved of all bourgeois musculature by centuries of aristocratic breeding.  Ballerina necks balanced on nests of bones, smooth with the lazy flesh of diaphanous bodies.  Their chilly, patrician hands barely had the strength to hold a teacup – warmed only by the bronze liquid that shattered the porcelain into shards of light.

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These ladies – Madeline Adeane, Pamela Tennant and Mary Constance, Lady Elcho – were called “The Three Graces” by the Prince of Wales, Windsor’s glittering roué. They should have been content with their decorative existence as royal favorites, draped across sofas like animal skins, clothed like the sea in gowns of froth, their fashionable spines bent by the bones of whales.  But there was a wary intelligence, entwined with the bland vanity, which lurked in each of the sisters’ faces.  Like a predator, it waited: within eyes as dark as Pandora’s Box, under the brows’ dusky horizons, trembling on subtle lips.

Pamela, the youngest and prettiest of the three, had the misspent spirit possessed by those cursed with such charms.  Overly aware of her advantages, she had the disconcerting habit – though possibly excusable in one so lovely – of rising from the dinner table and facing the wall if she felt she was receiving insufficient attention.

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Lady Mary had the discipline and logistical talent to seamlessly govern a large household, a philandering husband as well as a string of noteworthy lovers.  Her amours ranged from Prime Minister Arthur Balfour to the poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt – long past but never over his affair with the courtesan Catherine ‘Skittles’ Walters.  Mary traveled with Blunt to Arabia, where she would bear his child, in 1895.

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Madelaine was looked on as the forgotten Wyndham, only because she had to audacity to be content with her lot.  Shy and gentle, she was the closest to the Edwardian feminine ideal.  Happy, with a talent for needlework and bringing up her children, Madelaine seemed to embrace all of the housewife’s virtues.

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The Wyndham sisters shared a DNA of foolishness and restlessness, tempered with a soupcon of quietude.  But their dreaming wisdom was designed for speculation and fancy. They had the leisure for thought.  Because of these serene qualities they were prominent members of a unique social group called The Souls.  (Lord Charles Beresford supposedly said: “You all sit and talk about each other’s souls — I shall call you the ‘Souls'”.)

Weary of salons absorbed with politics and gossip, The Souls sought to distance themselves from such mediocre concerns.  They were bent on pleasure, but pleasure of a superior kind…their intellect was both arrogant and amusing; their arguments louche, ridiculous and brilliant.

The Souls sculpted their dialogues as if they were works of art, with wit that was nimble and flirtatious.  Lovers and ideas were shared with incestuous abandon.  They were daring, but beautifully so.

The Wyndham sisters’ lives of exclusivity, culture and indolent wisdom would end – as it would for all members of their élite class – with the First World War.  In 1918 peacetime, tethered with a new cynicism, began…but their exquisite lives had ended many years earlier.

“I am and always shall be sorry for wounding the feelings of anyone I care for but otherwise it is difficult to wholly regret days of beauty and romance.”

– Mary Constance Wyndham

“Should 2016 Be Forgot…”

“Should 2016 be forgot
I wouldn’t even mind
Twelve months seem to have come to naught
With goodness all denied

With goodness all denied, this year
Has won in every way
I’ll take a cup of wine you bet
To wash defeat away”

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Hopeful for the Holidays

I am not a strong person, nor am I a violent one – but if I were, this year would not stand a chance.  It just happens that I am a staunch believer in just punishment…so can one hang a year in effigy?  Give it a little Guy Fawkes taste?   Perhaps there is someone I can talk to about this.

So if I am so disgusted, why do I even bother celebrating the holidays this blighted year?  Because I must – to ignore the celebrations would be despair’s definitive high-five of victory.  The erasure of joy is the key that locks the door and, my friend, just guess which side of that door you’ll be on.

Therefore we must be happy.  Find a way to lift our spirits.  Secure a remedy for petty annoyances. No matter what, there is still so much to welcome and embrace.  For instance, I will be going to a holiday dinner tonight, and I fully intend on wearing my Christmas tree earrings – tannen-baubles – and getting spectacularly drunk.  You see, sometimes it is just the small things that can keep us hopeful.

Is anyone up for a group hug?  Let me know.

Happy holidays, my little ones.

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Thankful

I have always believed in the existence of two worlds.

First, there was the one for which the blame could be placed at humanity’s feet. It is messy, contentious, sometimes graceless, oftentimes not. Its gears wheeze like a quarrelsome factory.

The other world is the natural one – the verdant, growing and once the only one – that began millennia before man made his debut, his awkward challenge. This is the world that witnessed battalions of formless creatures crawling out of the sea, gasping before their gills disappeared forever.

Now, I find much in our combative world that disappoints; the things that bear the scar of mankind’s twisted humor. This year has been bloated with its indignities.

But to despair, to complain is foolish: for the other, older, world waits outside. All it asks of you is one sense – sight, touch, scent, taste, hearing – in order to share its manifold gifts. It asks that you look at the stars, touch the earth, smell its growing life, taste the air, listen to the beguiling animals.

Can one world outweigh the other? I think so. Nature has her clever ways. Her wit and creativity, her ever-busy mind, will always be an encouragement and an inspiration.

So what can you be thankful for on November 24? Or on any day? Has mankind let you down? Then look to the lady spinning her wonders outside, and she will comfort you.

Then go inside and eat a hearty dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Silks

“Silks” – postcards framing squares of silk decorated with silk embroidery – were graceful communiques that were popular during a graceless and ugly quartet of years, 1914-1918.  They originated in France and Belgium and disappeared shortly after the Armistice, their fey romantic prettiness no longer needed.

Soldiers passed their bloody and shaking hands over the soft prisms – the colored threads that formed flowers and flags.  The patriotism was a comfort, a sentimentality that seeped through their fingers like new blood.  Thus encouraged, they scribbled a few sentences and mailed their cards home, soaring like iridescent birds to a home front that waited with clasped hands.

I own a few of these icons of loneliness.  One bears the badge of the Royal Regiment of Artillery.  The years, “1914 – 15 – 1916”, indicate that the card was sent in 1916.  Or perhaps the soldier was being optimistic, thinking to add the war’s span of years, from beginning to end. The silk is spotted, the embroidered knots are coming undone, but the stitching is still intact.  It traces the motto of the regiment “Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt” (Where Right And Glory Lead).  Draped across the howitzer is a banner quoting “Ubique” (Everywhere).

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The artillery was a key element of the British arsenal.  But to be important in battle also means being a target.  Kings, bannermen, gunners.  During World War I, over 49,000 members of the RA died.  This soldier would have been in the thick of it – each detachment composed of 5 or 6 men, working in an awful harmony to prime and fire their laborious gun.  If he worked a trench mortar, he would have some protection, if a howitzer of 18-pounder, he was out in the open.

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I hope this fellow made it through the war, settled into a comfortable life, embraced a family full of compassion and understanding.  But at the same time I hope he never forgets the sodden trenches, the filth, the stench, the months of boredom, the minutes of staggering fear; the muddy clouds of Ypres, the deadly sun of the bombardment on the Somme:  the kaleidoscope of war.  I hope he had the strength to accept this mosaic of memories, despite their ability to savage the emotions like wolves.  I hope he was able to live with the grief, yet to have the strength to cry, silently so, as he watched future generations march to their own wars.

In 1925 The Artillery Memorial was unveiled at Hyde Park Corner, dedicated to the casualties the Regiment suffered in ‘The Great War’. Whomever the man was who sent this lovely card, I hope he lived to accompany his family to their annual excursion to the memorial, that he could see his silhouette as well as those of his comrades in the bronze statues and stone reliefs.

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I hope he was not a memory, carried like a postcard in a pocket, as they lay their bouquets of blood at its base every November 11.