One’s Weak at the Cave at Jack’s Cove

Cave at Jacks Cove

By Timothy Gillis

Day 1. Six a.m. and no one’s up. I’m making coffee and reading the newspaper and having a cigarette. The cave at Jack’s Cove is filled with water now. The tide is high and I’m moving on. I wait for the recession and go spelunking with my mom and middle sister, down the green hill behind our new house, across the brown and white and once green fields, onto the path past the stonewalling wooden gate, through the mud down the trail until we reach the round-rocked beach buffeted on both sides by craggy cliffs, and then down to the left where I’m told at low tide the cave emerges, accessible by the seaside. We go the three of us and of course the dog, Wyatt. Slip on seaweed, go slow with coffee thermos, cups of black dark roast, the moon rising on the horizon even though it is midday, and into the cave at Jack’s cove. What will happen?

Day 2. Up early for coffee and cigarette and to run the washing machine, locate my new pen, stolen like Biff Loman in his boss’s office. Now seated in front of the early morning soccer, I roll another smoke, my son still stirring in the bed upstairs. The ocean must be the east, highlights from midweek, and the pen warms to the task, something written before the game gets me back to morning. A short story called “Boxing Day with Heart Rocks.” My heart rocks at Hard Rock. Rocky dog in the cave at Jack’s Cove, around the bend from Sobs’ Corner. The horizon is pink where it meets the water, then lightening as it rises so blue at the shore, deeper and darker until it meets pink orange yellow and into the light sky softer yet same color as the sea seemingly completes the circle, but doesn’t.

Day 3. Sobs’ Corner so called because so many drivers wound up on its rocky wall like whales beached. Boys drive the fast distracted course to tragic adulthood, slowed by nothing but their mothers’ anxiety. Then sped up again by the same beers, same talk of girls, some smoke and the radio blaring songs so familiar. Tackled head-on another car coming so when compensation meets surprise the boys—and the radio now the cell phone one hand driver one-hand texting—and the other car’s driver (no matter the age or experience going slow even to avoid an accident and) overcompensation, sends them back, the carload crashes into the wall at Sobs’ Corner. You get the name.

Day 4. That first time, too, you understand the needle in the year, the sting upon the bee, the first girl’s rejection, the song too long at the dance hall, the wall too close or so far away. The next line rises again to meet the pen. The page comes up and greets the ink, and the resulting composition yellows with age and her. Most times writing about the next one when the pen falls to paper, weak with the coffee’s last gurgle, cream warming on the counter, sugar sitting waiting, spinning in the bowl. The day’s sunset, slowly carnivorously turning today’s plans for toast and bacon and eggs into toast and eggs anyway or at least toast.

Day 5. The game. Everyone else is tuning in tomorrow for the big game, but for me and my ilk: it’s the world version of football, not the American one that they all crave. I make coffee but not a pot, just a single serving Italian roaster. Roll a French cigarette. I add the U to words like colour and favour so sights and assists turn European, give me a foreign name, soothe my stomach with stuff from away. The French cigarette is a spliff, a bozo, with skunk honey weed and Dunhill tobacco. The path out back leads to an American beach, but the rounded rocks on its shore roll under my weight in kilograms not pounds. The sea salt’s come from overseas, the sand’s shifted over there. I sit and sip and smoke and slide from my pocket an Arden classic—Much Ado About Nothing—and open to Act I. What of the rising tide? What for the distant shore? To who the page lifts and turns? And wherefore? The dog sniffs someone else’s dog, the mess he left behind. The cave at low tide, cliff at high, opens and fills out on my left, a No Trespassing sign on the rocks on my right. Richard Brautigan’s 4/17th of a haiku. The coffee cools as the pen’s ink warms.

Day 6. Vert, I go, in green ink. Sit, start from dreams, grab nightstand notebook and pen and write as the sunrise pours yellow light upon the page. The ink is almost gone, victim of a thousand late nights, a dozen false dawns. The temporary job is done. The part-time girlfriend shortly after it. But evening’s images still flicker their Chinese New Year torture, after all the traditional holidays are shut, that last one late one hosted by her friends, who gather and discuss the holidays and work and all the world they’ll see in all the in-betweens. Meanwhile, I rise over the recent sketches. The coffee spurts and gurgles and perks. The foggy cigarette rolls itself, the ocean just woke up while I was relieving, and the dew is rolling back into the woods. His prayer rug matted with his and his father’s knees, frayed at each end – by Judaism on the left, Christianity on the right, rolled now into his mind’s spiritual corner, a naturalist’s wonder. The dog drops his ball, no bounce, and looks for someone to throw it. His master’s gone. “The old dog barks backwards,” the Frosty poet opined, slowed the line with D’s and B’s, so the reader (like the dog) rhymes behind, regrets. I refill my thermos cup without getting up. The poem’s next line fuels the mind. “I can remember when he was a pup.”

Day 7. Red-Letter Day and writing in red ink now. The sun rises angry this morning, up over restless seas and a rocky path walk to its shore. The dog limps behind me, still sleepy and tottering like the young cow from another cold poem. Wyatt still hasn’t eaten his breakfast, the leftovers from last night, and seems to sense the news I’ll get later, that my sister’s dog has died a surprise death, discovered by her daughter, such a sensitive, animal-loving soul. Wyatt’s cousin had lost his job, bringing joy and dancing days to his human mother, sister, brother, and all the dogs gone by. Man’s best friend dies too, it seems, leaving the long walk to the morning shore so much colder and alone. The moon sits opposite, hesitant to go down on the night and its still unbegotten news. The ducks float on by, cackling in the wind and riding today’s crest, then falling on its other side, the coolness like the other side of last night’s pillow, feathers scrunched from last night’s head in its unmade bed. I can hear my mother puzzling away in the other room, the edges of a thousand-piece picture of an image from our younger European days. She persists, puts pieces together although she knows one is missing. I look over the leftover pieces and perceive the shortfall, and then the floor and consider my dog, dying one day too but not for now. For now, just secretly digesting puzzle pieces.

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The old, faded photograph

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By Timothy Gillis

The old faded photograph – I rip it out of its frame, a small one she gifted me. I fold the photo in half, creating an unsmoothable crease between us. It’s a photo her friend took as she passed us by. We are facing each other in folding seats where the bench in front of the Maine College of Art used to be before the school had it moved when the sideway was repaired, sliding the bench down two notches to in front of the public cable television station. Capitalism and communism arm-in-arm, or at least hesitant bedfellows. The surprise and mutually beneficial union moved the smokers from in front of MECA’s façade, but here we sit smoking anyway.

I am wearing a blue blazer over a white collared shirt with medium blue squares, blue jeans, and loafers with no socks. The shoes were my father’s. I took to wearing them after he died so I could walk in his shoes, you know, literally. I am smoking a cigarette in my left hand; it’s burned about halfway down. On my left wedding ring finger, I wear my dad’s family ring. Heavy. Gold. Destined for my older son, one day, when his fingers are big enough.

She was wearing… well, she could have worn anything she wanted. She is holding my umbrella over her head, wary of the rain and its effects on her auburn curls, graying but deterred by a home coloring hair kit. I am mid-ramble, smiling, sallow-cheeked. She looks on with what at first appears to be a smile but is, in fact, upon closer inspection, a grimace – half pained wince; half jeer; with a dollop of readiness to countermand, just for good measure.

In the background, a bike is locked up at the bike rack. Security and order. A newspaper stand gives away free copies of itself. It’s not the newspaper for which I write. Proximate is a circular trashcan, a more fitting receptacle for my own words.

And now, I try to conjure in letters what she was back then and where she is now. In the photograph, it was raining. Real or figurative moisture later damaged her half of the picture. Was it me who left it out in the Maine Spring? Did I cause her to wither and fade? Or did she fade from me of her own accord? I cannot seem to find the right letters to force out an answer. Maybe I will never know. Maybe I am not supposed to. Or maybe the search will produce answers to other questions I would have been better all along asking. I fold the photo back in half and place it in my left breast pocket. I head outside for a cigarette, a quick puff, and the lightning that smoking inhales.

Bloomsday’s Back

By Timothy Gillis

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AIRE Theater is bringing back Bloomsday for Beginners, its celebration of June 16, the day that the action takes place in James Joyce’s much revered but perhaps lesser read master work, “Ulysses.” In one hour, the troupe will take you through the perambulations of Leopold Bloom, the main character and Irish Odysseus who wanders the Dublin streets and pubs and, at for one point, a brothel. It is there that he meets up with Stephen Daedalus, the artist Joyce paints a portrait of in his earlier, more accessible work. Bloom is chaste in the scene, and spends his time trying to sober up Stephen and keep him from the missteps of youth, as if her were his own son, Rudy, who dies as a child. Meanwhile, back at his house, his wife, Molly Bloom, has been the opposite of her “Ulysses” counterpart, Penelope, who kept her suitors at bay, weaving and unweaving.

This marvelous, myriad cast of characters is brought to life through dramatic readings, in full brogue.

The rollicking performance piece was written by AIRE Artistic Director Tony Reilly, using scenes, songs, and lots of humor to explain the story line.

“I had read Ulysses and several other Joyce books, but I wasn’t a fanatic, as I soon learned a lot of people are,” Reilly said this week. “Since that initial production, AIRE and the MIHC have done many Bloomsday celebrations, including readings of the book by local Portland celebrities, pub crawls and readings at local landmarks, such as Monument Square, the Portland Public Library, and local book stores.

The MIHC plans to keep the tribute going with an exhibit of their collection of Joyce’s books, memorabilia, and a showing of the film “The Dead,” John Huston’s final film starring his daughter Anjelica Huston. Many cities in the US such as New York, Buffalo, and San Francisco have their own unique ways of celebrating, and with a blooming literary scene, Portland is throwing in its dented hat.

Last year, the MIHC held a program at their library, buoyed up with help from a Maine Humanities Council grant, featuring a reading of Joyce and other notable Irish authors.

“We’ve added an amazing amount of eclectic gatherings here in the last year,” said Vinny O’Malley, executive director. “And made some movements to encourage non-Irish folks. We want to be active, and have people come here to a real community center.”

Their slogan is “All are welcome,” and they have been working towards expanding their reach. “We’re an Irish center, but we want to make a space for all immigrant groups appearing here in greater Portland,” he said. “Some people can be intimidated by this place. They still think it’s a church. We have had wedding and funerals here; it’s not like some of that is not still going on here. But we’re so much more than that now.”

Last year, the MIHC hosted the 1st annual Welcome the Stranger, a local organization that helps new immigrants with issues surrounding their refugee status and seeking of asylum.

While broadening their scope, the center is still the main repository in town for all things Irish. Situated and steeped in the old neighbor of Tyng and Tate and Danforth Streets, and anchored at its opposite end with the statue of John Ford, the center brags of being the school of the acclaimed Hollywood director who got his education on these streets and at Portland High School when he was still “Bull” Feeney.

The center offers DNA testing and genealogical studies, and since 1994 when the old St. Dominic’s was closed by the Portland diocese and the MIHC was born, Dubliners have been feeling at home there.

“My wife Susan and I came up here to Portland to live in 2003. We had a previous relationship with the MIHC (Maine Irish Heritage Center) and our goal was to establish an Irish theater company, which we did. AIRE (American Irish Repertory Ensemble.   In 2004 members of the MIHC wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of “Bloomsday” — June 16th, 1904, the day the events in the book James Joyce novel Ulysses are set. Everyone had good ideas but they were having a hard to implementing them. I very foolishly stepped up and said that I would put together a theater piece for the occasion.   I sat down and reduced – probably one of the most difficult and important books in the English language – in to a one-hour piece for anyone who has read the book or anyone who never has and doesn’t intend to. It’s silly, fun and fast. And it actually covers the whole book in one hour.

Tony and his wife, Susan, were in a tragic car accident that claimed Susan’s life. Tony’s return to the stage they once shared has been an inspiration to center members, theater fans, and actors everywhere. “We love Tony, and we love that he’s back here,” O’Malley said. His return, though incredibly difficult, has inspired Tony, as well.

“I have to say that Susan was the prime mover and shaker on the Portland Bloomsday activities. Every year, she and a handful of local devotees would work very hard, to make it a fun and memorable event. When I was still in the hospital after the accident that took my wife, I got a call from members of the AIRE board that gingerly said ‘would you maybe consider doing Ulysses for Beginners this year? At the time I immediately said ‘yes,’ even though I don’t even think I was able to walk yet. After the initial yes, I started thinking that I was nuts to do it. But the thought of honoring Susan and her memory was too strong, and it was the best thing I could have done,” Reilly said. “The response that night (June 16, 2015) at the MIHC was overwhelming. ‘Ulysses’ is a funny book that attracts a very strong following. And it’s a very strong part of Irish culture, and that’s what AIRE and MIHC are all about: celebrating and spreading Irish joy.”

 

Bloomsday for Beginners

Friday, June 16, at 7 p.m.

The Maine Irish Heritage Center,

at the corner of State and Gray Streets in Portland

Festive and period attire encouraged. Cash bar.

Flamenco dance project unites music, art, poetry and story-telling

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By Timothy Gillis

There are so many cultural things to do around town that one is never at a loss for an evening of dance, music, poetry, storytelling, or art. But even in these artistic environs, it’s unusual to find them all combined in one show.

“El Lobo y La Paloma” (The Wolf and The Dove) is a flamenco dance performance choreographed by Lindsey Bourassa that will be held Saturday, June 3, in South Portland.

“This work was inspired by the loss of my own father but also includes the universal experience of loss — that of losing a loved one, a homeland, a freedom, a right, an identity,” Bourassa said last week from her Forest Avenue studio, which she’s owned since 2014. “It’s about the reconstruction of our relationship with our lost being through the process of grief and healing.”

In addition to the original dance stylings of Bourassa and dancer Megan Keogh, it features Arabic singer Talal Alzefiri, oud player Thomas Kovacevic, and the paintings of Khosro Berahmandi, a Canadian-Iranian artist.

Videographer Ali Mann gives the live performance a visual backdrop, with images of the recurring wolf and dove symbols, and Molly Angie designed simple but symbolically colored dresses that move from dark to light. The Iraqi poet Kifah Abdulla translated original verses, odes to the dead written by Bourassa and her father, into Arabic.

This dazzling line-up of cultures and art forms is supported in part by a project grant from the Maine Arts Commission. It’s the liveliest of creative performances, but it has its origins in a difficult grieving process.

In 2015, Bourassa’s father, David, was dying of pulmonary fibrosis. She had recently returned from a year of studying flamenco dance in Spain, and able so spend some treasured time with him before he passed. She subsequently resolved to create an artistic response, a way out of her grief.

“I’ve always made work based on life experience, so that was the starting point,” she said. “During the time he was dying, I came to believe in the possibility of building a spiritual relationship with those who have passed … the choice of Arabic music to accompany the flamenco dance reflects one branch of flamenco’s ancestry, which guides the unfolding of this story.”

The story Bourassa created involves a wolf and a dove, symbols she kept encountering in the months leading to her father’s passing.

“My father named the wolf his spirit animal,” she explained. “In studying the meaning of animal symbolism in diverse traditions, I came to discover that wolves represent pathfinders … (and) that the dove is a symbol of the maternal spirit messenger who comes to lead her children safely from struggle.”

Later, when going through her father’s things, she discovered poems he had written when he lost his mother. Bourassa decided to write poetic responses to his odes, crafting the eventual narrative.

When it came to choreography, she had several options to choose from. In flamenco, there are many styles of dance—maybe 45 styles, according to Bourassa—each with its own melody or feeling. She selected seven different flamenco and Arabic styles. Kovacevic then created oud music for the seven paired-poems (Bourassa’s father and hers), and Alzefiri “sang in a way that went with the music,” she said.

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Providing the sonic textures and backdrop needed for Bourassa’s flamenco show are oud player Tom Kovacevic and Arabic singer Talal Alzefiri.

The project was a return to the past for Alzefiri, who is from Kuwait City and moved to Westbrook in 2010. He grew up with a family of singers—his father, Ebra, and five uncles—and experienced music as part of daily life. When he left Kuwait, that all changed.

“I stopped singing when I came here,” he said. “I was focused on finishing high school and was facing a hard time with my grandmother’s death. I turned away from singing. But when I first saw this flamenco dance and the style they do it, it reminded me a lot of my culture and brought me back to my childhood. That’s when I really started to go back to singing.”

Alzefiri has even more to sing about lately. Last year, he got his United States citizenship, after a five-year process.

“It’s wonderful to finally have a piece of paper in my hand. Now I can travel,” he said. “And that’s the most beautiful thing about this project: Lindsey is a very hard worker—how she was able to bring so many cultures together.”

Cultures combine, and the performance whirls in and out of genres. Behind the unfolding works of music and dance, two poems are simultaneously narrated. These verses are layered atop video imagery of the natural world that is interspersed with digitally projected paintings.

The production represents an end and a beginning for Bourassa. She completed her Certificate of Professionalization in Flamenco Arts in Spain in 2012 at El Centro de Arte y Flamenco de Sevilla. When she returned to Maine, she wanted to start something.

“There was no flamenco in Maine, and I wanted to create something based on these rhythms,”] is because this is the reasoning behind creating Olas – to create something reminiscent of flamenco, but with local artists of diverse genres. Olas lasted from 2008 to 2016. El Lobo y La Paloma is my own work, a Bourassa Dance production, and departs from Olas. It was made in collaboration with several artists, three of which were also members of Olas (Megan Keogh, Tom Kovacevic and Molly Angie). Talal, Khosro, and Kifah are all new collaborators to my work.

The flamenco community in Maine is still small, but it’s growing. I’m trying to teach as true to the art form as I can.”

“El Lobo y La Paloma,” performance by Lindsey Bourassa | Sat 7 pm | June 3 | South Portland High School Auditorium 637 Highland Ave., South Portland