Christmas Morning

Over much of the 365 consecutive days of writing a poem a day writing I did between September 2018 and 2019, I was awake during the early hours of darkness, alert before dawn. While I have happily back slided into more slothful habits since then, this week in the run up to Christmas has seen me waking in the dark again. This morning I had to itch to write a poem , which I have been rationing to once a week while I have tended to other projects. But this morning, with the cat who three years ago was an uncivilised feral purring at my side, I reverted to how I welcomed Christmas this time last year. Little did we know then that he was destined to become my muse. He was then an outcast, who has now come in from the cold.A little poem is my Christmas present to my readers. I am grateful to all who have faithfully commented, liked on Facebook, and kept me on task.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 Christmas Morning 
  
 The sky is a greyish white as the first of day's feeble light 
 illuminates the charcoal outline of bare limbs 
 on winter's trees. Today, we sing out hymns 
 to the evergreen, and of a star bright enough 
 to pierce a world whose soul is toughened up
 and feels plunged into deep, darkest night, 
  
 that cries out to be rescued and saved from ourselves 
 who for centuries have long so misbehaved 
 to our discredit. We have pained one another, 
 lost the thread of our kind and our love. In vain
 we refrain All is well! All will be well! 
 There speaks faith and hope. That's what we tell
 ourselves is the gospel of love. We wave away 
  
 for just this one day the state of our dismay 
 with gods and worldly fates. And with our hate. 
 Let there be love in hearts and hands. 
 Let the outcast come in and the stooped stand. 
 The crooked is straightened like that angel 
 perched up over the nativity's manger. 
 For one day let us all know this pause and poise.
 Let there be peace on earth and in every voice. 
  
 We dream of this miracle but once a year
  in the darkest nights, so hope may give us cheer. 
  
 Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved 
   

Featured image Photo by Imran Ali on Unsplash

The Shortest Day

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere the shortest day, winter solstice, will arrive around 2am this Sunday, the final Sunday of Advent. Moreover, the moon is in its balsamic, or darkest phase. On Christmas Day (or the early hours of the 26th where I live that we call Stephen’s Day) the moon will be reborn. In fact, there will be a lunar eclipse. So we arrive this midwinter with a dark night sky and a daytime light that is scanty, especially if there is any cloud. The Sunday Weekly poem takes some of its tune from our natural world this winter solstice.

While there is lots of merriment abounding at this time of year, there is also a sense of melancholy. I think of holiday films like The Holly and the Ivy or,one of my all-time favourites, It’s a Wonderful Life. (It wasn’t an immediate box office hit. Hollywood thought it was a bit of a bummer for a holiday film. But it’s tale of suicide prevented turned out to be a slow-burn classic. ) Families come together and it can be stressful as unhealed issues resurface. The dark days of this season can trigger depression in some people. So some of the seasonal cheerfulness can feel both a bit forced and enforced as well. For those who have loved ones who have passed away at this time of year, that anniversary cannot but help colour the collective festivities. I had a college friend whose father had fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, which was marked by an especially bloody Christmas Day; he could never be cheery on that anniversary.

 

The Shortest Day

There are absences. There are the closed doors

that make surreal all this talk of salvation lore.

But, resolute, we face the openings in store,

even if we cannot quite be merry or

sing a halleluiah chorale. Our more frivolous

wishes might have resurrected that once

 

innocent wonder in lights and sparkling colour,

the delights in delicious smells – eggnog’s liqueur,

the shiver of nutmeg on the lip of its stirrup cup,

evergreen’s resin, ginger, cinnamon. Sip its over-sweet up

as the electric fairy light strandis slipped over

and wound around the live tree’s indoor bower.

 

It’s a day dawning late after a no moon night.

It’s a day that rapidly resigns its pale light.

May it be a portal to our safer future, bright

and warm as the Yule log’s blaze. We dig down deep

into the Santa stocking’s far toe, the gift it keeps –

chocolate as dark as midwinter’s day and just as semi-sweet.

 

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights

Featured image Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Advent Joy Sunday

Next Sunday is Winter Solstice and the fourth Sunday of Advent. The theme for the third Sunday, when you light the single pink candle, is joy. Yet I am aware of many souls who are feeling less than joyful just now. There are those on the edge of tears for reasons they cannot even fathom. There are the harried and harassed. There are the children imprisoned whom Santa Claus will forget.

The first Advent candle is for hope. The second candle is for love. These are two of the three principle virtues. (And isn’t it interesting that faith doesn’t get a look in?) Then comes joy and peace. The final, central, candle is lit on Christmas Eve. It made me ponder and it seems that joy is almost a sacred duty. It is an especial reminder at the darkest time of year that joy must always be found. It paves the way for peace.

Take joy in simple things. Sunrises and sunsets. A cat’s purring. The words on a page that comfort or lift and convey you into a new day or new life. Give presents. Be present. Feed loved ones. Make art.

We are not enjoined to be happy. We are enjoined to find joy even in the darkest of places and times. To do that takes courage.

Our Lives Are Speaking

Our lives are always speaking,
so much so, that every atom of me,
my story, becomes part of you,
your story. Speak to me.

You live, a husband and wife,
in a place where courage
smells of stew and hand-made bread,
where the local water tastes
of iron from the hills all around.
They echo with thunder rolls
and then the rain comes pattering down
like a heart’s steady beat.
The kiss hello is the same
as the one for farewell.   And few
will ever be able to tell

the differance between my life
and yours, how they belong
to each other and speak
of our small joys and great peace.

 Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

A Pool of Light

This Sunday is the second week of Advent. We are two weeks away from winter solstice, the darkest part of the year in the Northern hemisphere. The Sunday Weekly poem is definitely conditioned partly by the weather. Even with the moon approaching full this week, the weather has been stormy and cloudy. The nights only reveal the odd glimmer of moonlight. The skies are low and grey and twilight seems to draw in earlier than what the almanac’s say is technically sunset. Despite the bugs going around, we humans seem to want to huddle together. It was a far more social week than most for me, with us out for two very, very late nights into the wee hours, singing in a pub ceilidh. The night outside was stormy and foul, but inside we were all snug, singing our hearts out, bantering, laughing, making music with each other, applauding each other, appreciating every contribution to the night’s entertainment.

McHugh’s Pub is tiny even by Irish standards. It has a narrow bar for regulars and a larger, but not large l-shaped room where we crammed in with guitars, bazooki, mandolins and djembe drum. Twice a year, three travelling troubadours from Dublin pitch up in Glenfarne and lead this old-style session. Pat Trimble amiably draws people out to contribute a song or recite a poem. In between, Pat, Terry, and Vince play (along with my husband Tony) any number of tunes from any amount of styles – folk, rock, Irish trad, country, with a few rousing sing-alongs thrown in- throughout the evening. Yes, there is drink, but the high spirits are really music inspired. The publican’s daughter brings out her concertina and gives us a few tunes inbetween helping at the bar and getting the midnight supper sorted. It’s that kind of hospitable place.

McHughs Pub Glenfarne
Ben McHugh’s Pub, Glenfarne, Co. Leitrim
A Pool of Light

A splash in this December night, the motley
assembly of voices raised in chorus,
virtual strangers picking out harmonies,
humming along when words fail, beating
time to the tunes , clapping, snugged up
in this small country pub, turf fire warming
the crowd of bodies at the bar and we are

singing, singing, carried along by
melody, cameraderie, joy's memory.
Hope sounds like our rowdy laughter,
applause, the respectful murmur of 'good man' ,
the parting glass wishing all a 'Good night!'
as Ben holds open the door, formally shaking our hands
as we leave that pool of light and walk out
into winter's dark night.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured photo Photo by Ryk Naves on Unsplash

Some Sunday Joy

It has been a fruitful week. The Sunday Weekly Poem reflects a moment in a week that is known for Thanksgiving, even if you don’t live in a country where it is a national holiday. It is also the first Sunday of Advent even if you are not Christian. Last year I wrote a sequence of Advent poems for each Sunday for those who perform this mindful ritual, whether they are Christians who light the Advent wreath candles or pagans observing the Sunwheel each Sunday before Winter Solstice. This is what my 2018 Advent wreath looked like https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/01/advent/.

The first Sunday of Advent’s candle is for hope. But I was so startled by a quiet flush of joy this week that it is my theme for the weekly poem. Gratitude, hope, joy…we need to celebrate these in the dark days of winter. Even if they only appear as glimpses.

The Morning After Thanksgiving

Staring out my window I am stabbed by
a joy in the smallest of things:
how the stars wink in those minutes before dawn
begins to pink the horizon,
how when winter's brilliant sun breaks
and shines it outlines the intricate delicacy
of the hoar frost mantilla yarrow and hogweed wear,
how light stretches itself lazily in a slow promenade
in soft soled slippers across the field, melting
the frost very, very slowly and, also,
how it persists all day on the lane's edges
all crisp and starched as an altar boy's surplice.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

This Sunday’s Weekly Poem

Meanwhile…I continue to revise like a demon as well as churning out new poems. I have been working on a sequence of poems inspired by the full moon, though we are actually coursing towards the dark moon as I write this weekly chronicle of my writing life. Let me just say this. Revision is far harder than the initial phases of producing drafts of a poem. I can chaw over two lines for days, change a word of two only, and then worry some more as I walk the Little Dog down the lane. On the other hand, I find that I slash lines without any emotion at all. Some lines just don’t pay the rent on their tenacy ; you just have to be a heartless landlord and evict them. Many poems that originally appeared in the 365 Poem A Day Project now look quite different. There are new ones too that I am holding back from sharing in the blog. You need surprises in a solo collection.

The thing to take in consideration is that when writers are not writing, often they are writing. The dog walking is not just exercise, it is mulling over those lumpy lines. Housework, too, can allow your mind to free float on titles and phrases. The late Dermot Healy was absolutely right when he said that reading counted as writing. Writers are like magpies. We spy nice shiny ideas and we horde them for when we can take them out and upcycle them.

Switching off is important for the writing life, too. The textile art class I take in our village plays a big part in flipping the brain hemisphere emphasis. A movie marathon with friends this week was also pure indulgence. A technical hitch with one of my devices has basically unplugged me from social media while the iPad mini is in the repair shop. (I keep the laptop for email and writing work and then plug into social media on another device. It helps with the focus is you don’t have messages pinging at you. I have just decided I will not freak about lower stats. Who needs to find me will find me and my work.)

The point is just to keep at it… And I have, diligently, often for hours on end, kept at it these past few weeks, writing, walking away from the draft, reviewing it a couple days later, tweaking some more. Repeat.

This Sunday’s poem is still fairly fresh, with the ink committed to page just yesterday morning, though the idea had been rolling around in my head from the day before that. So it is still technically a work in progress. Inspiration came from just looking out my windows.

  Blackbird and Hawk

High up, they spy,
looking out from their tree tops,
and catch my eye,
facing me as if to speak.
 
Blackbird’s beak blazes bright
in early morning’s gloaming.
Then, in afternoon’s dying light
Hawk surveys, appraising me.
 
These are the day’s gatekeepers.
the swinging open, the shutting close.
One sings. One is poised to leap and dive.
I do not begrudge Hawk the mouse,
 
or its race against hare.
We feed Blackbird’s fellows well.
Hawk needs other fare,
its fiercesome eye, chilling blood.
 
Both see from on high.
Blackbird sings us stories.
With Hawk, all is nigh,
saying it straight, without the fable.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by Milind Ruparel on Unsplash

Hibernation Moon

The Sunday Weekly poem looks back a few days to the full moon on 12th November. Without outdoor light polution, the full moon is particular noticable where we live in rural Ireland. Even the waning moon last night cast a luminous glow down our uncurtained corridor. It’s unavoidable when it is cloudless. And if it is cloudness in an Irish November then it is cold.

Indigenous peoples had names for each full moon. Some work with the climate in Ireland, other’s less so. Sturgeon is not part of our culture. But Grain works for what is happening in our August Irish climate. While there may be no beavers in Ireland,we certainly have known frost some mornings this week here in Corrogue.

Somewhere it is snowing already and some mornings we could characterise it as a Frosty Moon. However, we have had a day of literal deluge at the full moon this week. Others have experienced flooding as the high tide went higher and broke records. Another of the November full moon’s names seemed appropriate for this week’s poem – Hibernation Moon.

 Hibernation Moon
 
That day it poured enough to warrant both paddle
and ark-sized boat. All domestic livestock gathered,
hunkered in, lying close to their humans.
Sleet spattered windowpanes. Thunder folderolled. 
Knuckledusting cold had to be taken on the chin
if you opened wide the door of your winter cabin.
 
We are all become bears in our day dark dens,
listening to snores, counting out the number of naps
(though who drowsily keeps score when to sleep
is to invite dreams to shake you awake moonstruck
in pre-dawn gloom?)  Only the cold, cold moon penetrates
the seamless dark of our hibernation’s nest,
the still, stark truth of our dream-filled designs.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash