In my recent sojourns I visited stoney landscapes. When I was musing over the subject for the Poetry Daily I flicked through past snaps. The stone walls of various destinations I’ve visited are frequent subject matter. Orkney has a distinctive style of stonewall building that is quite different from the way they erect field walls near where I live close to the Cavan Burren (burren meaning a stony place). Last year I was in the southwest of England and in Cornwall they built their own distinctive ones of slate.

Clockwise from far left, stone walls from Avebury, Wiltshire, Orkney, Scotland, Tintagel, Cornwall and the Cavan Burren, Ireland

Of course, walls have been historical boundary markers. Living as I do close to the Brexit contentious Irish border we have lived for the past twenty years with a ‘soft border’, an invisible line that exists on a map and in some people’s state of mind. But I was brought up short in a Easter workshop when an eleven year old talked about the “Teresa May’s Wall”. In the child’s mind the talk of a ‘hard border’ had been conjured as a wall, rather like the one Donald Trump wants to build.

Given that I grew up during the Cold War with an Iron Curtain and a Berlin Wall, I am not a fan of walls. Like the so-called ‘Peace Walls’ built in Belfast and Jerusalem I view walls as a failure of imagination and negotiation.I understand the practicality of being able to keep your cattle corralled. After all, I do live in the country and know the hazards of cattle wandering the long mile of a country road, blocking the rare motorised traffic. It’s not easy to coax a ton weight of cow to move when it is happily grazing on the verge’s cow parsley. Truly, I appreciate the validity of psychological boundaries. I simply object to humans trying to categorise other humans as cattle that need to be penned and kept out of particular territories whose ownership or stewardship is always a matter for debate. That is, in nugget form, history, which is often a continuing saga of ownership as theft and grievance. And grief.

However, I do appreciate the skill and aesthetic of a finely crafted stone wall.

This morning I was a bit stumped for poetry practice subject matter. You can probably gather that I had a long rumination on walls before I plumped for the more medival subject of anchorites. If this is an alien word to you, an anchorite was a Christian ascetic (often also a mystic) who chose to be walled into a small cell, usually adjoining a church. There was a narrow opening where food and communion wafers could be passed. St. Julian of Norwich is probably the most famous example in the English-speaking world.


Fill it in
stone by stone
with me sitting
as the mortar sets
the mason's scrape
the only sound
bar the faint
hiss of prayers breathed
from my lips.

The fasting
is a way to become
light in a dense world
of sin and shame.
I do not do this
in the name of self.
One day I could no longer
without stain or blame.

I could live
touch or small talk
this small space and
the love of these walls
their relentless matter
my very
hollowed out
which some call
the chaos of
my soul.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

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