Sunday 16 November 2014

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

And in the end what are we all,
A brick from the old Berlin wall?
Somebody’s question or someone’s answer
A puzzle spinning like a dancer?

What are we all? I asked before,
Creatures we are, under the floor,
The maligned rat, the tiny mouse,
In darkness roaming through the house.

We are the dust that in the wind
Became the song that Kansas dreamed
We are the chords of the guitar
Carrying our life’s score very far

What in the end are we, us, all?
The misheard word, the miskicked ball
Sometimes shaming us for years to come
Till we learn that of the bread we’re but one crumb

Is this us in the mirror, us all?
Is this our reflection, no fear to fall?
Or is it the mask we don for the show
Shielding our selves, our ids, our souls

We can be lovers, good friends or traitors
Of our exhibit the sole curators
Of our performance we’re the one actor
One piece, one act. The theme? Fear factor

What are we all, in this one life?
We’re gain and loss, accord and strife
We are the hauling, dragging and pulling
We’re also the thrusting, shoving and pushing

And in the end, what are we all?
Same question, yes, but, please, don’t call
Phone down, give me no answer
I am still learning from the dancer.

Two things first. It is my birthday today and for only the third or fourth time in my life I have dared to write a poem in English.

To the first one of these two things. Although it is an occasion for me to celebrate – and indeed I am celebrating – this birthday poem was inspired by a recent sad experience. Earlier this year we lost an unbelievable colleague at the school where I work. She was a nursery teacher who had been a member of the staff for many, many years, to the point where some of the current teachers and teaching assistants were taught by this amazing teacher when they themselves were little. I got to know this incredible human being very well, despite the fact that when she died I had been at my primary school for less than a year. Some people make you feel welcome just by looking at you. My colleague was one of those people. She also had a great sense of humour. About a year ago to the day she and I attended a training session near King's Cross station. There was a tube strike that day which affected our journey. I got to the venue about ten minutes before she did. But when she came into the room it felt as if she had just lit it up. Some people have that effect. As our headteacher read the tributes written by the staff, the first line of today’s poem started sounding in my head: what are we all? In the end, what are we? That line took my head as its abode and didn’t leave me alone from that day until recently. I knew I had to do something but I didn’t know what or how.

The second thing today. I knew I had a poem in me. Not a short story. I knew it had to be a poem because that line ended in “all”. And I could come up with all kinds of rhymes and combinations to develop the theme. The theme of what? I mentioned fear factor in the poem, but it’s more than that. It’s the theme of mortality and the way we see ourselves and our selves. Whether we believe that we have accomplished everything by the time the Grim Reaper pokes its ugly head in, taps us on our shoulder and tells us it's time to go or we think that there’s a lot of work to be done still. And are we humans really that far apart from the “others” (plants, animals, dust, etc.) that we can afford to behave in such a solipsistic way?


We’re connected in a way of which we might not be aware sometimes. This idea of a gigantic network of people, things and animals might have been hijacked by the New Age brigade and its spin-offs but strip the layers that make us who we are and at the core you will find the dust, the - beautiful – contradictions and the tiny mouse.

I couldn’t give two monkeys about the quality of the poem or lack of it thereof. I really don’t. It's not praise I'm after but steam I'm letting off. I don’t care which style (if any) the poem falls under. That’s why I don’t think I could ever belong to a writers’ collective or rise up to the challenge of writing a sonnet, or haiku, or suchlike on commission. I just couldn’t do it. I feel jealous of people who can, though. I like making up and breaking my own rules. And because I “discovered” the English language on my own at a young age, I have always believed that English and I have a special relationship. Like two brothers or a brother and a sister, or two good mates who fall out every now and then (all those “likes” and “sos”, "sortas" and "kindas" and rising intonation at the end of statements?) but who always find their way back into the friendship.

That still does not deviate from the fact that writing in a foreign language is very hard. Terribly hard. Believe me; I do it day in, day out, week in, week out. I do it as a hobby and professionally. At the same time there’s a pleasure to be had, mixing, stirring, decanting and tasting sentences, words and connectors. I wouldn’t be able to write this blog if I didn’t derive pleasure from doing it.

So, there you have it. A poem inspired by the life and work of an extraordinary person who is sadly no longer amongst us, posted on the day I celebrate adding another candle to this cake I call life and which you might call something else. I would like to raise a glass of apple juice (I’m teetotal, remember) to you all and ask you to keep posing the same question to others and to yourselves: and in the end, what are we all?

© 2014

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 23rd November at 10am (GMT)


  1. Happy birthday and a great poem. I heard "Dust in the Wind" playing in my mind as I also thought of elements from T. S. Eliot. Well done!

  2. Well I think it a very nice poem, whether you are just letting off steam or not. Sorry for the loss of your colleague. Happy Birthday!

  3. First off... thanks for visiting my blog; second, your poem is very, very good in English( I'm involved in an on-line poetry group in which you should take the time to visit where weekly we are challenged in our craft); third, a Happy Birthday and thanks for share your poem today; fourth, sorry for your loss... your emotions are reflected in you poem

  4. i wish she could read that poem, inspired by her.... very cool... some people make us feel better by just being around... i know some as well but you don't find them too often... sad that she had to leave so early... enjoy your birthday... cheers - and here's to many more poems!! smiles

  5. Great verse indeed at your feed. can sure rhyme away as you prove at my bay. And Happy Birthday!

  6. Felicidades amigo!
    En la tristeza uno se pone poético ya que los sentimientos son sensibles y nos sale la poesía, esas palabras que salen de tu corazón y que tu buen amigo las va a entender.
    Un abrazo.

  7. Whenever I read your posts (and now a poem), I have trouble remembering that English is not your first language. It's not evident in your words. You write beautifully. And this poem and post in honour of your colleague and friend is proof of that. I'm so sorry for your loss.

    We are indeed all connected. Of this, I have no doubt. Happy Birthday to you.

  8. Happy birthday.
    Not only connected, but entwined. And so many things (including some we don't like) are integral to who we are. And will become.
    Great poem - and amazing use of a language which you have surely made your own.
    And I am sorry for the loss of your friend. It sounds as if many lives are diminished now she is gone - and that they are still richer for knowing her.

  9. Happy birthday - and such poignant reflections. But because we all end up as dust (in my opinion) it is essential that we treasure each other, that we treat each other kindly, in the few years we share together.

  10. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! What a beautiful poem. You have a true talent for poetry. So sorry about your friend. I lost a co-worker who was a very close friend a few years ago and it was devastating. Your co-workers become like family--in fact, much of the time people spend more time with co-workers than their actual families.

  11. You know, Cubano, I would never for a minute guess that English is your second language. Of the many dozens of English language learners I've known, worked with, and taught, I have never seen anyone write with such elegance and depth as you. The language flows from you as though you were born to it. Which brings me around to saying I'm glad that you were born and a very happy birthday to you.

    Today I was asked to give a 2-word response to the question "What would you say to your younger self?" and out came the words "Fear not." I'm sure there are plenty of better responses to that question, but somehow it does seem connected to what you've written today.

    I hadn't heard of Monica de Nut, but love the Cantocha de Mala Ghana recording. It's so full of forward-moving energy on your birthday!

  12. Happy Birthday!
    Glad you liked the artwork. :)

  13. Ha! Congratulations! On your birthday and your poem! How do we know the dancer from the dance? You are still finding out as are we all! I thought the lines re these old shames we feel were terribly compelling. I hope you are not feeling any today! Take care. And great boldness--it is so hard to write in another language--wonderful! k.

  14. We share the number 16, CiL, which does not surprise me, although your month is in the autumn and mine is at winter's end. (Remember, I am a bit superstitious.) Anyway, with my brandy and Coca-Cola this night, I salute you with a birthday wish for good fortune and much happiness.

    We also share the same feelings toward a woman colleague/co-worker/friend. My event was more than a decade ago, and I still think of her quite often. In fact, I told a story about her to others Saturday evening. She was the freest woman I have ever known (freer than nearly all men I know), intelligent, one who sought adventure, an excellent writer and grammarian .... well, very remarkable. I think I know how you feel, although "our ladies" here might have been quite different in personality.

    And, I enjoyed your poem for a number of reasons. I liked the style, your voice; I liked that you were writing about things I think about (again, too) often; I admired your mastery of the English language (maybe, I should say I envied your mastery of any language, something beyond my abilities); I love it when people dare to move beyond their comfort zones and say: "Like it or not, here is who I am and what I think."

    Finally, to quote a friend of ours:

    Unreal City.
    Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
    A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many
    I had not thought death had undone so many.
    Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
    And each man fixed his eyes before his feet ....

  15. ¡Felicidades Marioooooooooooooo! Por tu cumpleaños, por cómo escribes, en inglés y en castellano, en prosa y en verso. Muchas, muchas felicidades. Y gracias por mostrar me a Mónica de Nut, compatriota desconocida y alucinante. Besos desde Galicia.

  16. First let me wish you a Happy Birthday!

    I believe your poem is beautiful it is intimate and introspective and it forces you to think. I think some of the best poetry is freestyle. I have difficulty expressing myself through the limitations of form as well.

    She sounds like an amazing woman and I was reminded of my grandmother. She lived fully which is amazing. Death always makes us question our purpose and our content.

    I think we are the universe

    I have a prompt site and there is an ongoing prompt there at the moment that might interest you

    I wrote some of my own thoughts on this and have received some amazing submissions so far which you can read by clicking on Mister Linky and then the names

  17. Belated birthday greetings, Cuban.

    Isn't it marvellous the way certain people can enrich our lives just by being there. By the sound of it your friend was an inspiration and your poem proved it. Excellent piece of work... I loved it.

  18. Happy Birthday! Great poem it reminds me of Emily Dickinson's "I am Nobody."

  19. First of all, A Very Happy Belated Birthday!!
    And secondly...if this is how you write poetry in English...then all I can say is: MUCH MORE PLEASE!!!
    This is fantastic.
    I truly believe your wonderful colleague would have felt honoured to be the inspiration of so deep and "human" a poem.
    This piece has touched me, Soul level.
    So beautiful :)

  20. So good to hear from you!! Sending you wishes for a beautiful year ahead ~ happy birthday! Love your words honoring your friend...I don't believe that a poem has to follow any rules...just your heart, whether it is made to be silly, happy, sad or to make you ponder.

  21. Wonderful poem! And yes, we're all connected - I just wish we would remember that more often.

    Oh, and happy birthday!

  22. Hello, greetings and good wishes.

    My belated birthday wishes.

    Very thought provoking write up. You have delved deep into a human's life.

    While reading your fantastic poem, I was reminded of another poem which ends like this;


    Best wishes

  23. What are we all? Does it matter?
    We are the centre of our own Universe, most of us, maybe not all. Apart from that we are what is left in the minds of others when we leave, like your colleague.
    Being to you what she was is surely a wonderful thing.

    Poems in English are hard for me, almost impossible. I would never call my own efforts poems.

    Do you think we (foreigners) are particularly concerned with our adoptive language, more so than native speakers? I certainly think so. I am always (mentally) correcting people. Only today I worked myself into a tizz over a weather forecaster because she keeps saying ‘also as well’ in the same sentence. When she adds ‘too’ I shall throw my shoe at her.

    Happy Birthday!

  24. What are you all like! :-) I said I letting off steam not interested in praise.

    Thank you very much anyway. It means a lot.

    Yes, I agree that those of us who learn English as a second language, especially the grammar, syntaxis, phonetics and stylistics can occasionally be a tad bit harsh on solecisms.

    Saturday evening I had a few people over. Marvellous evening with just the right mix of friends. I cooked a mix of different meats with dates. I wish the dish had been spicier as the recipe dictated. Yesterday, Sunday, my actual birthday, was spent at home mostly. I did go out for a run in the afternoon but that was only for an hour. came home, we ordered an Indian takeaway and watched a beautiful film made as far back as 1961. Set in Scotland but produced by Disney the movie is called Greyfriers Bobby and I would recommend it to anyone who is still enchanted with the magic of cinema.

    Thank you all for your birthday wishes and for your kind words about my late colleague. You're all right, she was one of a kind.

    As for Monica, I want to get her album so badly. What an amazing singer. Her voice is pure passion.

    Greetings from London.

    Greetings from London.

  25. Carry on with meaning, dear. Wishing you more birthdays, and even more joy & wisdom

    ALOHA from Honolulu
    =^..^= . <3 . >< } } (°>

  26. A philosophical poem that played like a song in my head... certainly fitting for one's birthday...

    I'm very sorry for your colleague. She will live on, in many ways, in all those whose lives she has touched.

    I hope that you had a wonderful birthday and I wish you many happy returns of the day.

    Thank you for visiting my blog! Much appreciated! :-)

  27. Enjoyed the poem a great deal. There must be much more in your well of creativity. Keep posting them. And Happy Birthday!

  28. Beautiful writing, and Happy birthday my friend!

  29. Belated Happy Birthday... May you have a wonderful year ahead...

    Loved your poem and the write-up.

    "And in the end what are we all,
    Somebody’s question or someone’s answer"

  30. Happy birthday and I enjoyed reading your poem - it's particularly difficult to write poetry in a foreign language.

    Sorry for the loss of your colleague.

  31. I wanted to say that I particularly like the opening of your poem. I visited the Berlin Wall at age 8--one of my strongest memories actually--hopefully we are not so divided! Thanks. k. Manicddaily

  32. Happy birthday! I remember your loss and your poem is the perfect way to remember her. Your verse is so lyrical that I first thought your poem was the lyrics from a song. Maybe you could put it to music?

  33. First off, a belated happy birthday to you. I hope it was a good one.

    Now, for your poem. You don't have to follow any rules to write the most wonderful poetry. To me, the very best poetry strips off all the veneer and speaks straight from the soul... directly to other souls, and in a universal language. That's exactly what your poem does,and it honors your colleague beautifully. How much more can any of us possibly aspire to than to inspire someone to honor us so beautifully after our deaths? Well done.

  34. Now that I am old and can see the end not to far off, I ask myself those same questions often. Congrats on your POTW and it is much better than any poem I ever wrote!

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