Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Free Fall With Mars Poems

Hello Reader,
Got imaginative-travel?

I’ve always liked how travel writer H.V. Morton would not only describe places in the present day, but also paint a word picture of caravans, ancient markets and battles. Truly we can add a certain appreciation to travelling in our everyday world by imagining, say, characters from English literature, or, The Earth Under the Martians which was part of the 19th century classic of H.G. Wells.

There is only one real world—how mundane!—but we can imagine many worlds. As we did at my weekly Friday Free Fall on December 7th, Pearl Harbor day… Laura-Jean, who is a young mother, imagined boys at puberty learning to like girls; Paul imagined a nurse driving a pilot to an undamaged aircraft during the tumult of the air attack. It was a good meeting. Today I present one of my pieces from that day, and then two relevant poems.

when do I see the pretty birds?

Did I ever tell you about the time I went to a place that Mary Poppins did? “Twas a place that I have had in my mind ever since reading Red Planet, (by Heinlein) where they wanted to put a boy’s pet in the London zoo. Yes, I was in London, time to go to the London Zoo. After all, I had already walked around some exotic “real English streets,” and before that I had been on Primrose Hill where one of the invading Martian cylinders had landed:. H.G. Wells had walked to the top of that hill to survey the London sky-line, seeing the gash in the dome of Saint Paul’s cathedral. 

Later, I was to go home and write poetry about the zoo being awash as the Martians destroyed the drainage systems, and the plight of the animals. But now, this sunny day, it was time to enter, for the first time in my life, the London Zoo. 

I went straight to the information counter, just in from the gate. I walked up as an excited tourist. “Where,” I demanded, “would Mary Poppins take the children?”

They didn’t know. 

Truly the zoo had changed since those days of barred cages lining the streets.   Now there were natural enclosures, and you watched creatures at a distance, and—I couldn’t believe it—a human sized tunnel complex to show a ground hog colony, complete with little domes, water proof, where you could pop up and look around. Next to it was apparatus for the children to play like primates.

At last, accidentally, I stumbled upon a penguin slide, and a big penguin pool: Everybody knows that in the movie version Ms Poppins plays with the penguins. So there were the walks and slides, but no little black-and-white flightless birds. The whole edifice had to be kept in place, deserted, because it was a heritage site. Well. I see the British like their Mary Poppins heritage. 

Maybe those folks at the info counter will be a little wiser when the next Poppins movie comes out, very soon, starring that lady with the nice voice from Gnomeo and Juliette: Emily Blunt. Something the British have over us is lots of stages, giving their film actors lots of practise, probably more practise than the ones in Hollywood get.

I wondered where the pretty birds were. The term is aviary, often using a net for a ceiling. I did a Martian poem about that too, with the net hanging desolate.

Mars Poems

This poem happens when the terrible Martian fighting machines, high on three legs, have moved on from London:
Broken Zoo

London lived by a delicate mathematics.
Rain fell to grass on Primrose Hill and seeped to grates
and flowed downhill past the canal by the London Zoo
past canals sturdy and straight, or winding in public gardens
with measured populations of ducks
through covered roadside pipes, along calculated gradients.

In the canal along the zoo
a red Chinese restaurant once floated.
Now it is burnt to the waterline.
The canal has been blasted,
quicksilver shimmies across the zoo grounds.

A rare Peking swan will never breed:
feathers matted, cold body twisted, 
caught on still rubble, as waters flow by.

The Martians couldn’t know.
No one could have guessed.
Nature would have her revenge.

This poem happens when the Martians have recently departed the British Isles’ during a time of peace and finally enough food, but still no money for anyone to travel to Africa.
Near the Zoo

With the London Zoo desolate, 
black nettings torn and drooping,
I may never get to witness a covey of cranes.

How comforting to think that over in Africa 
there are still prides of lions.
How nice that over here we enjoy droves of fat sheep.

Nobody ever said a “phalanx” of Martians, 
not when towering Tripods 
were spreading out across the land as individuals,
so terrible. 

I cherish a memory:

On primrose hill a Fighting Machine stands mute,
tentacles limp,
as a few crows circle the cowling
where so many hop and peck.

Not a murder of crows:
a vengeance of dark angels.

Sean Crawford
Got imaginative-TV? 
~On the BBC News homepage website, down on the right, there are 10 “most read” pieces to click on. No time for sports or entertainment in that news column, except… On December 9 it was legitimate news: There would be no Doctor Who series (season) in 2019. A lot of people wanted to know.

~Some years ago, I was moved by a little story that was published all around the British Commonwealth. According to my memory: Instead of giving an actress’s long entertainment biography of shows and plays, and instead of often referring to her by her real name… They kept using her character’s name, to share with the world the news: Doctor Who’s long time companion, Sarah Jane, had died. Such a legacy. All around the globe people mourned.

~ (link) Here is a six minute Youtube audio, with still photographs, of the tenth doctor, David Tennant, in his own natural accent, reading aloud his forward to her book.

From the above Youtube comments:

When I first watched "School Reunion" I only knew that Sarah Jane Smith was a very popular companion from the classic series. After I had watched the episode I instantly understood why she was so popular. Elizabeth Sladen brought a kind of magic to that role. You couldn't help but feel with the character. While I was already hooked on Doctor Who at that point, it probably was her performance that made me the complete and irreversible whovian I am now.

When she passed away I had only known about her for about 3 months and I still cried.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Free Fall Christmas Fun

Hello Reader,
Got a fun attitude?

“Not life, but a good life, is expected of every citizen.” 
Dusty old Ancient Greek tradition.

Surely part of “the good life” is hobbies. At my weekly gathering for free fall writing our members include a lady who plays a saxophone, a gal who gardens, someone in a weekly choir, someone else in a weekly church choir—and of course all of us have a hobby of writing.

“Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.”
Some writer for the comedy hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

There’s a time to witness to the woes of the world, 
a time to delve into exciting educational matters
—but today, let’s just have fun: 
That’s what we did at this week’s Friday Free Fall where my favorite line of the morning was the complaint, “Why so busy this time of year; we should just go off to a spa.”

none of the traditional Christmas food was on the table

You  know what’s nice about being a bachelor? With three bachelor brothers visiting? On a dark December night? Paper plates. Mother’s not here, we can have paper plates. And no broccoli. It was December the 24th, which, for you mathematically inclined, meant it was Christmas Eve. Everything was brilliantly lit inside. 

As children, while mother liked elegant lamps, the boys all preferred strong overhead white lights—even in the front room. “All the better to read by, my bros.” Even when watching the idiot box. “You can’t read all the time, not when Star Trek is on, or Hockey night in Canada.”

We were under my roof, at my table, and I announced, “No taking your food into the front room. Hockey doesn’t start until 8:00, we have plenty of time. Of course, desert is optional.” The bros all glanced at each other: Hockey or desert? Never mind, eat that plate when you get to it, for now: food, Food FOOD!

But none of the food was traditional Christmas fare: We were bachelors, and we loved our Pizza, and anchovies, and West Moresby Fighting Haddock, and Cornish game steaks, marinated, from North East Alberta. No broccoli. It was Christmas on earth.

Carol finally fell asleep under the mistletoe

Carol kicked a snowshoe out of the way. Normally we rack them outside, but things were sloppy this Christmas day. “We are,” she said, looking at each brother in turn as if she was an archer with an arrow, “going to have a Christmas party this evening.”

All we could say was, “Uh…”

“This means we invite the Barber girls, and Judy too, and a certain dark handsome man who is not so tall, and don’t any of you dare spoil him for me…”
Now she looked like she had a heavy-duty hand-cranked crossbow, with a poisoned tip quarrel.

We all looked away and murmured, “We’ve got no quarrel with that; don’t get cross; if you want a party, we’ll oblige.” In another life I’m sure Carol was Captain Bligh.

“Sean, go shovel the sundeck; Paul, start packing up the small odds and sods; Mike, start moving stuff over to the door. Everything gets put outside for the party.”

…Of all the chalets in Ravenshead, I am sure we had the merriest party. Crammed in together, no inhibitions. At the end we passed out happily, and Carol finally fell asleep under the mistletoe. 

Bob and Carol organized their divorce party over Christmas drinks. I mean, why not? I think of them, as snow flakes dance down past the windows, well heated from within. Why not? No one is called a “divorcee” these days; even the royal family has been known to divorce. Too bad princess Margret lost her chance to marry a divorced Battle of Britain pilot.
But these are modern times. Women wear pants and have jobs. Families are small, and in their case, no kids at all.

So they drank their favorite drinks, looked back on their favorite times, and knew life was too grand to be petty. They were Americans: Can-do spirit, optimism, and a crazy confidence that baffles the rest of the world.

No dogs to decide custody of, no cats. He didn’t want her mother’s knick-knacks, and neither did she, but he wouldn’t take them. She wouldn’t take his carved wooden duck decoys, although he tried to press them on her. “No,” she said, “let’s drink to a simple life.”

“It’ll be simpler after we sell the house and divide the profits.”

“Yup,” she said, “I’m going to get a studio apartment and wear a beret.”

“Oh. I can’t pull off wearing a beret. I’ll get a ship’s cabin, paint it white inside, and hang my paintings of stags at bay. And Star Wars.”

Carol shuddered, “Not the painting of the Wookie, with the big rocket launcher, surely.”

“The very one.”

“This divorce,” said Carol, “will be good for my poor eyes. Surely you won’t—oh you have to—have it prominently on the wall for our divorce party.”

“I will, if you hang your Kandinsky upside down.”

“I will, but if no one notices then you have to be the one to announce the fact.”

Want some rhubarb leaf tea? I smiled down at Junior when he asked that. It was about lunch time, the time when kids have parties, and we were all set with hot dogs and potato chips, to celebrate the birthday of the Christ child. Junior could cook his own eggs in the microwave, get his own pre-sliced bread, cook all sorts of micro-snacks like you see on TV, and even, using his child sized pantry table, make tea.
I looked at his little Peter Rabbit pot. 
“Did you really make tea?”


“With real rhubarb leaves?”

“Yes. You said how our pioneer ancestors made tea from everything. Even stinging nettles.”

“Uh yes, well… From everything except haycorns and rhubarb. So we need to—” I said, pouring out the pot “—make something else.” Poor junior had his mouth in an upside down smile.

I said, “But how wonderful this is, for you have pre-heated the pot! Now it will make extra warm, extra long lasting, exciting new improved… (but what?)”

“I know! Lemonade! Hot pink lemonade!”

“Of course, just what we need for a party for Jesus. Shall I make it?”


“I’ll be a host—” as I poured and stirred “—for the party.”
We sat. Junior took a really big bite of hot dog. As his cheeks bulged I said, “I’ll be a host for the Holy Ghost, as we eat the most, as, as the devil is toast.” Junior just nodded, cheeks still full, I continued, “Angels say forget the devil, Good will towards men, and boys, and mankind, and humankind—”

Junior swallowed and added, “And dogs.”

“Er, yes, and dogs, and hogs, and people who live in bogs.”
We grabbed our mugs, “Lets’ drink to that.”

Free Fall List-prompt, 
Christmas wish list
I was going to put down peace on Earth, but that would mean a deserted planet
I was going to put down a trip to Mars, but everybody says it’s still one-way
I was going to put down “all I can eat,” but my wife would have me eat arsenic, as she is on a diet.
I was going to put down a tread mill or an exercise bouncer, but we already have them gathering  dust downstairs.
I was going to put down an electric guitar, but no, think of my poor ears

Sean Crawford
In Allah’s Alberta

~The prompts are written on paper slips, beforehand. After the rhubarb tea prompt was read out, Susan advised us that it would be poisonous. My favorite line from that prompt was  of a character stating, “You’ve never made that tea before, I’m sure.”

~At home, my plaque-mounted abstract painting by Kadinsky has two slots for hanging, top and bottom, so I can boggle people’s minds when they say it’s upside down. I can walk over and say, “It is? Well, so it is.” And then—switch!—Turn it upside down as they gape.

~Back in Ireland, we used to say that married couples had to stay married for the sake of the children, and then, after the kids were all grown up, stay married for the sake of other couples with kids. But now it’s legal to divorce. 

A man with a wheelchair told our rehabilitation class that a priest wouldn’t marry him as he couldn’t procreate. Indeed, Ireland only decriminalized private gay sex in the 1990’s. We of the One True Religion believed that sex was a sin unless for procreation, but… after the last child was born then a couple could continue to have sex, without it being sinful, because the husband had to keep in practise for in case the wife died and then he had to remarry and procreate some more. As my friend from Bible College explained to me.

As for Christ, he had nothing to say on the subject; in fact, some of his best dinner companions were sinners.

~Recently Ireland passed a referendum allowing abortions for women (they were crossing the Irish Sea to England)  To unflinchingly look at the need for social change is not weakness, but strength. 
Only people in a not-yet-democracy would ever think to call the Irish decadent.

Allah willing, we will continue to have a changing, living culture under a living God. 

~Free Fall will continue to meet before and after Christmas (But “after” will be at Parkdale United Church, with 60 parking stalls, hurray!, as the c-Space building will be closed that day)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Hello Reader,
Got demonizing?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Hey, how ’bout that War on Terror? And our boys in Afghanistan? 

This week a British Member of Parliament said that his Brexit vote-decision is about the hardest thing he has ever had to do in all his years in parliament. The only thing harder, he said, was the decision on whether to put British servicemen in harm’s way. I understand. In a democracy, surely, war should be harsh to contemplate, not easy. Here’s the thing: 

On a big American blog some people—the majority—didn’t know why folks would “demonize” the terrorists that their armed servicemen would be shooting and capturing. How could they not understand? To me history is clear,  but not to those blog commenters. They weren’t stupid, in fact many were science fiction nerds, but they were uninformed.

My aunts and uncles could speak of history, as they nearly all served in WWII. Back when my father was overseas fighting fascists, he would snarl at “krauts.” Back in the homeland, my mum would not eat “sauerkraut:” she only served liberty cabbage, and she referred to her friend’s “German Shepherd” as an Alsatian. In other words, out of solidarity with my dad plunging a bayonet, Mother would demonize the enemy too.

It goes without saying that war is bad, and therefore temporary, while blessed peacetime is the default. Then it is fine to say, “I only work here,” and “It’s none of my business.” But during a temporary war, in a democracy, the war is everybody’s business. Hence Mum would speak of being a part of “the war effort” and recycling “for the duration.” (of the war) The alternative is grim: To say the war “belongs” to Darth Vader and his storm troopers, while the rest of us as non-citizens say, “I only live here.”

I guess writers would know a little more history than most people—for example, in The Handmaid’s Tale the treatment of women is based on present and past history. (The author said so) Here in Calgary I attend a monthly writer’s group at Owl’s Nest bookstore, among a bunch of sensitive artists that includes at least one police detective, and at least one social worker. I am sure that for even for the scummiest of criminals those two will have contempt but not feel hatred. Instead they stay professional, never needing hatred—but then again, policemen and social workers never need to shout, “Fix bayonets!”

In peacetime over here (unlike in certain non-democracies) we don’t enjoy (or teach) feeling hatred, nor demonizing; to us hatred is unworthy of ladies and gentlemen. In fact, expressing hatred can be a crime. 

To me the way out of our discomfort of feeling war-time hatred, the way into feeling temporary permission to demonize, is to think of a judge’s warrant for what would otherwise be a crime: wiretapping. 

To underline the gravity of the act, the judge will say no wiretapping before (date) and no wiretapping after (date). Regarding war, the first “date” is the declaration of hostilities. If towns are in flames at midnight— be it only a month, a week, or a day before the blessed date of peace— then to fraternize with the enemy is an awful thing. But the day after the armistice? On that very day the energy of hatred may freely dissipate. (My Mum, although Irish, hasn’t needed to hate the English (when sober) since Ireland became a republic—and no, Brexit will NOT mean North Ireland finally joining the republic, not even to prevent a “hard border”) 

To me, the day after after peace is declared, it’s fine to come home with a Japanese bride, as in James Michener’s novel Sayonara. I once flew in a Canadian Armed Forces plane to Germany beside an older German lady who had married a Canadian soldier. As I see it, if a Nazi fighter pilot, the day after peace, is willing to burn his red swastika arm band, then I am willing to have him as a beloved uncle. And have him join the Royal Canadian Legion, too.

As for those strange blog readers who didn’t believe we should demonize terrorists, I don’t suppose they see themselves as social justice warriors or long haired hippies. I think they are simply ignorant that if their government is “of, by and for” the people, then something as grave as war is not the government’s business: It’s the people’s business. 

On that blog, commenting to those who, unlike my dear mother, have never tried to walk in the shoes of frightened men wielding bayonets, what I could have said was this:

When our troops kick down Iraqi doors at night and scare families, (a common tactic in the search for the enemy and his weapons) they are perceived by the Arabs as not being justice warriors, but rather, as being storm troopers “recruiting for Al-Quaeda.” Too bad we don’t have civilian women from America, Arabic-speaking, going along as interpreters during those night raids, to talk reassuringly to the families. —But wait! What if my sister were getting her degree in Arabic Studies, and spoke Arabic? Should she quit university? And then grab a long pioneer dress, and go be an interpreter for Americans in Iraq? 

After all that effort, surely the Americans would give her free room and board if she volunteered in Iraq. However… 

My advice? “Colleen, don’t sacrifice your degree. If the American people can’t be bothered to demonize… if they mouth “war” but stay slumped on their couches, eyes half-closed, leaving things to the civil service and the armed forces, then the American people are unworthy of you.” 

Sean Crawford

~Here’s a link to the facts that inspired The Handmaid’s Tale, such as rulers in Argentina taking babies from fertile women. 

~Korea was a “police action”—hence “the forgotten war;”  Vietnam was officially a “conflict,”—hence the conflict at home and abroad.

~I would hope that all loving, sensitive, scruffy artists, during temporary wartime, would make propaganda posters that showed the enemy in a very nasty light. 

~I suppose anger, too, is like a wiretap warrant: useful only to give energy within narrow dates allowing action in the real world… not for “action” in some past or present fantasy daydream. 

~I can imagine some foreign readers looking very, very surprised at the above thought: 
Question: “But isn’t hatred good and beautiful?… Especially after what their great-grandfather did to my great-grandfather?” 

Answer: I don’t have left-brain words for you, but I can recommend to you some right-brain art… 
I, like everyone in the audience one night, was very moved by the stage play, set in no particular time or space, called Death and the Maiden. I presume the movie version, with Sigourney Weaver, is set very precisely in place. Here (link) is what film critic Roger Ebert thought.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Free Fall Philosophical

I like our Free Fall Fridays, 
definition: as invented by novelist W.O. Mitchel: We have a prompt, (topic) we write very fast, no stopping to edit—just go! Then we read go around the table reading aloud.

Hello Reader,
Got philosophy?

Maybe for post secondary students, when it comes to philosophy, December could be the best month for those boy-and-girl-over-coffee discussions of “the meaning of life.” (Because if you don’t know your class material by now, you never will, so you may as well relax) Now it’s December, so here are some philosophical writings from our Friday Free Fall. Today is all nonfiction.

Generally, after each prompt,  I write fiction, “because I always do nonfiction at home.”  Recently, for my FF nonfiction, I went through a phase of modelling long thoughtful descriptions off of Marilyn. 

Marilyn told us she told her mother I was doing so, telling her mum this disappointed her “because then I don’t hear Sean’s voice.” She was glad when I went back to being me. I think the pieces below, from 2018, are very much inspired by Marilyn’s style, but are also in my own voice.

this Friday morning
This Friday morning could be the first Friday of the rest of your life. Or you might not make it through the week to next Friday. “Somewhere in my life,” said the author (Ian Brown) of the memoir (Sixty) about his sixtieth year, “I have lost two decades. But I don’t know which two.”

Ain’t it the truth… Or this Friday could be the only Friday in your life. Here. Now. Present in all its power and glory. The glory is there if you see it, the power is there if you seize it. Oh, there are so many way ways to escape your power, and only a few ways to grasp the nettle firmly.

Power up the TV—there’s an escape. Power up the radio—escape. Consume the medication, the cinnamon, embrace the wall of sound, rush to the social gossip platform… or stop still, and know… It’s a god-given Friday. That’s god with a small g, for you atheists. The very firmament and sky are a place of god, in me and through me and if I don’t like it, then I can rumble shut the water-tight doors of distraction. Shut out the perception. I can do so, I often do so, I like to do so—but it’s not as much fun.

This is a Friday, that’s my fun day, a day to skip and run day. A granny told me she hates it when society tries to tell her she’s not supposed to skip. So we skipped down the apartment hall together.

Like alliteration? Friday is for forging friendships in the fire and heat of life, Friday is for forgetting all the ferocious hated liars, and living now… now… now.
My old Greek friends said moderation in all things; so I only do Friday once a week. The Grecian wisdom ran “nothing in excess.” So yes.

Sometimes, stuff doesn’t register. Sometimes, my ears even turn off—and isn’t that a strange sensation? You don’t need fiery letters in the sky when that happens to know that something is not to be faced, usually something that upsets my world-view. But face it I must, and re-arrange, and re integrate to a new improved world.

I suppose we can’t register everything. We just ain’t build for it. See landscape. Or see terrain. Be on the alert for a martial artist to suddenly strike, or… see the flowers and shades in the brickwork. See your own petty concerns, or see the faces and emotional concerns of others. Call me a writer, but my pet peeve is folks who go through the world oblivious. I just can’t live that way. 

There’s a John Prine song called my wife goes to mars where she doesn’t hear, doesn’t see, doesn’t think. Folks like that are another pet peeve of mine. Call me an artist, but why go through life if you aren’t going to be alive to to the life around you? In a world full of color, why see black and white? There is something special about learning photography, or painting, or poetry: Your world is never the same again. Of course, you can always choose to be oblivious.

Sometimes, I read my newspaper and what shall I be oblivious to today? War in the middle east? The ozone layer?

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, comes along as regularly as the rising sun, like footsteps on our way to golden heaven.

The sun it rises gold, or through a cloud dimly, or beyond a curtain of rain. The point is that it rises, as surely as breath. This is our curse and our blessing. For we are all of us children of hope, even as cynical hopeless adults. We stop to view the rain on a spider’s web, we feel the quickening sense of loosening joints, we hope to have a nice dream, we enjoy a nice nap, or water trickling down our throat.

Then again, I remember someone saying with great sincerity, “I want to die!” She was deaf, blind, lonely and in her right mind. And once she had given me a very precious gift of holding me. This memory I carry in my body, as I can hope to hold others.

As the earth revolves I have hope to see things beyond myself. Robins in the spring. Maybe I will catch the last of the butterflies. I hobble over to the federal building for the protest, with the hope that welfare and social assistance will one day be vast enough that no one has to beg. I never give to beggars, not if it means I will wimp out from trudging down to the building to make my views known.

“I will never be poor again!” is the classic cry of someone who still has a tomorrow. And the self confidence to make plans. Others don’t feel normal or able to make plans. Fit of body, but knowing they will never be able to even hold down a job at Taco Bell. Why can normal people do what it takes, but I can’t? Why do normal people use birth control, and have normal boyfriends, but I can’t? Tomorrow is the faint hope of advancing towards normality. It can’t be just magic, being normal, there must be some way that I can learn what they have learned, what ever it is.

I don’t know, but there is always tomorrow.

Sean Crawford

Speaking of student philosophers: Strange how our university years, so important to us then, have faded by middle age…  A man who was honoured to be the student president twice, doesn’t have that fact on his bio; when a lady was written up about being a journalist, in a two page spread  in the campus alumni magazine, there was only a single sentence to say she was once the editor of the student newspaper.

“Is the home team still on fire, 
do they still win all the games, 
and by the way, 
did she mention my name”
Gordon Lightfoot

When I talk to students in secondary and post secondary, I always keep in mind how their team, and being involved on campus, is important to them.