National Poetry Day in Britain

Today is the UK’s National Poetry Day. Since Northern Ireland is part of the UK and my husband was born in Northern Ireland I like that I get to celebrate a National Poetry Day twice a year. Three times if you include my birthplace, the States. But today, I want to wish all my British poetry friends a wonderful poetry filled and fuelled day.

Cuilcagh Lakelands UNESCO Global Geopark is partly in the Republic of Ireland and also in Northern Ireland. There is a UNESCO World Poetry Day every 21st March, too. So we get three opportunities at celebrating our earth’s heritage and the natural environment each year. I felt that today is an appropriate day to give you an update on the Geopark Poetry Map.

As all things in the time of Covid, in a time of remote working and summer holidays, projects can snail pace at times. We are working steadily towards the launch the Geopark Poetry Map. The long short list has been read and re-read, silently and aloud and the final eight poems have been selected from our Open Call. Those who will be included have been informed. In the final formation I am satisfied that we have a balanced representation in terms of geography and gender. We also have poems, cinquain and haiku, from school children from Cavan and Fermanagh so we have also involved young people in the project even under very restrictive circumstances. We were also lucky enough to have Dara McAnulty, who spent his childhood within the Geopark, to agree to writing a new poem for the Geopark Poetry Map even as he was working on his A levels!

Sidebar: I am so grateful that two schools stepped into the project given that they have had a horrid year and incredible academic challenges during Covid. The Fermanagh school has a kind of bell tent pitched so that there is a foot off the ground to allow air flow. This gave us some shelter from the rain the day of our workshops, though the midges were feeling pretty frisky! The Cavan class was very small and they cheerfully carried their desks and chairs outside and remained masked because they shared desk space. Which I found very moving – considerate of others’ health, stoical in the face of current realities and still engaged with the creative process! The principals of Florencecourt Primary and Curravagh National School are heroes in my estimation. Despite all the bureaucracy, both public health and educational, they wanted their kids to be able to do something creative. And mostly to engage with someone who was not the same face seen every day for that past eighteen months. Truly, they are educators with a wholistic sense of welfare for their pupils.

Meanwhile, during this week of UK Poetry Day, Ramor-Townhall Cavan are busy casting the actors and recording the voice overs of the texts written by the five commissioned authors, the four schoolchildren and eight adults selected to have their poems mapping the geoheritage of various sites around Cuilcagh Lakelands UNESCO Global Geopark. We are plugging along and are getting closer to the finished product.

We hope to have a launch date for the Geopark Poetry Map firmed up soon…but as Mercury is retrograde until 19th October and Mercury Retrograde tends to slow down and snarl alll things internet, transport and communication, I am waiting with bated breath…

In the meantime, I include the geoheritage poem I wrote to Poetry Ireland Day last April.

The Hindmarsh Theory of Instability
In Ribbed Moraines

The world is made of caprice and chaos.
Or so it may seem.
Even as the land quakes and is sliding
avalanches, sacred geometry
spirals around ice
its melt, clay and rock.
Though you might not see.
Though the evidence is there at your feet.

Boulder and clay fractured by ice slide.
Dragged like Jayne Torville
in the grand finale to Bolero,
Dean pulling them prone,
their skates scarring tracks across the surface.
Parallel ripples 
evidence of creation’s  mammoth feat.

Minibus bouncing down a Cavan lane,
a verdant hummock,
suggestion of the ribs in the moraine.
More like lazy beds
built for giants’ appetites in times
before potatoes
would be a feed in a fulacht fia.

A lough pocked land where little rivers run
between, twisting,
gnarled like the antlers of the Giant Elk
dropped off at the end
of its last rutting season. Extinction.
Fossil memory.
The sacred geometry in chaos.

The buzzard flying high above can see
the lines that ripple
running down ancient Grandmother Earth’s cheeks.
The buzzard can see
more than we who have all the evidence
there beneath our feet.
Caprice. Chaos. Sacred geometry.

Map of ribbed moraine area that straddles North and southern parts of Ireland

Weekly Poem – A Clearing

I hope you had a good equinox last week. Activity is very much horticultural in our townland. A neighbour has found us a bargain potting shed and my husband has been busy clearing and leveling the space where they will erect it. Not quite a Pennsylvania Amish barn raising, but an Irish example of meitheal – that Irish word describing neighbours pitching in to help with harvest or other tasks. Meitheal is alive and well in our townland where we share seed and recycle handy items. The shed will rest on pallets that another neighbour had just put into a skip after clearing out one of their own sheds. What may no longer be useful to one may just be the solution for someone else’s project. And none of us want to add to landfill unneccessarily.

The week was spent tatie hoking – potato digging in Ulster parlance – and being the Lady of the Shallot’s bed. Also wrapping apples in newspaper from a friend’s tree. Everyone is spreading things around; my apple tree friend had been given crates full of windfall of second hand fiction. That has been parcelled out around the county.

The forecast of showers has proved wrong. I came in from clearing up hedge clippings and weed piles for lunch and after eating my sandwich sat down with my pen and found a sonnet forming.

A Clearing

Season's slide of diminishing daylight-
sudden slant of gold that parts pewter cloud
to stop your breath and break your heart before
the darkening scrolls across from the west.
These days  are spent digging and  lifting spuds
between showers, sweat streaming, a chill wind
plastering damp hair to skull, shivering,
judging Setanta gave a decent yield.

Now a clearing of each bed, laying bare
weed root and lingering fruit, reckoning
what counts as success in a year, whether
by wit, crazy chance or lazy practice.
Rake it level. Crumble it fine. Sow now
something hardy to bear the coming frost.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2021. All rights reserved.
Some of the spuds

I hope your own writing practice is going well. Last week marked the reconvening of many of my Zoom creative writing colleagues for our Saturday virtual gathering. That was cause for great joy. We look forward to dedicating ourselves to projects over the coming weeks as the days shorten and darken.

Equinox, Anniversaries, Homeplace

Last midnight the Harvest moon shone bright. This morning that particularly golden autumnal light is shining as I tap away at my laptop. Twenty years ago at Equinox (22nd September to be exact) I arrived in Dowra, the first village on the River Shannon. It has been my home since then and in a longish, peripetetic lifetime, it is also the place I have lived longest.

My given name is Barbara, which translates as foreigner, the stranger, the other. I am the third one in my family, named after my paternal grandmother and she shared her name with her mother. Both emigrated from Germany. I migrated as well. What is in a name? Quite a lot I think. Don’t name a dog Rascal or a cat Tiger. If you are driven demented by them it may well be your own fault. We inhabit the skin of our names.

In truth, when I lived in the motherland I felt an outsider and was conscious of it even as a pre-schooler. It did not improve with age. That I wound up being an emigrant twice over was perhaps an act of erasing one layer of cognitive dissonance. Of course, I am a foreigner, because I actually am one!

Having lapped up on Ireland’s shores two decades ago with my beloved partner, we found a cottage outside the village and have been, in fits and starts, renovating and remaking the house and garden. Later today we are clearing a space for the new potting shed. I need to be about my business today.

The rural Irish have a wonderful word – homeplace. It refers to the plot of earth that the family has inhabited for generations in some townland with a name that perfectly describes the lay of the land. Our own townland translates as the ‘the briary place’, or so I am told. Certainly, we have plenty of blackberry roots and shoots that we have cut back or dug out over the past twenty years. But briars also confer a tenacity.

The weekly poems I am posting this week are very, very old. The first must be nearly twenty years old and the other more than ten years. But it does chart an internal shift as those metaphorical briars took hold of my soul.

Homeplace

I love the way Eugene Clancy says the words homeplace
This battle-scarred boxer lets the syllables roll.
They reverberate in his throat – homeplace. 
I envy the way he can say it so tenderly.
Just like John Joe up the mountain at Moneen 
where all that is left of his family homeplace is a stone floor,
his father’s name carved on the hearth,
a chimney and what was once his parent’s bedroom.
He carved his name too when he left for forty years
working away but always feeling the tug and dream like draw.
These words are an embrace, a welcome and a safety.
I know that there is no place that I can call homeplace
in the same way as Eugene or John Joe 
with that sound so grounded and assured, 
rooted on a square space where blood and earth mingle. 
It is my earth, too, but not a homeplace.


Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

The heat of sun warming stone
The milky glare of full moon
The vibrant glints of planets and stars
As the plough furrows the night sky.

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

One New Year’s morning I looked up
Welcomed by harsh honking
Four whooper swans flying in formation
Glide to land on Lough Moneen

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

John O’Rourke’s cows now graze in 
Paddy’s flat fold of field,
His blue daubed ewes
Waddle from winter pasture to lambing barn

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

The willow quenches its thirst on our acre
Drinking deeply from rain sodden peat
An oak nurtured from acorn now stands tall
While the ash, as usual, is the last each spring to leaf

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

The cat scratches, chin tickled by dandelion clock
The dogs doze in a patch of sun
Swifts swoop in barn eaves; the cuckoo heralds spring
Wild bees feast on thorn blossom


Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

Gaudy gorse blazes on the hillsides
Meadowsweet shrouds fields in bridal lace
Lady’s Mantle does her juju on the verge
Blood taken from bramble thorn mingles in jam and wine

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

They call this ‘the briary place’ and truth be told
The roots cannot be gone by sickle or scythe or
Smothered or scorched into submission,
Anchoring me to this place where each day I marvel

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred


Back in the (Writing Practice) Saddle Again

The new fountain pen arrived on Saturday. A pristine notebook was beckoning. There was no excuse but for a daily writing practice to resume. On 15th September 2018 I began to post a poem each day. After three months I wondered if I could keep it up for a whole 365 days. I did it! Which is to say that the month of July was actually brutal and at times felt like forty days in a desert. So close to the end, but that last lap was really tough. I signed onto Angela T. Carr’s 30 Days of Summer poetry prompt e-course which got me through the writing dog days of August. (She is doing a similar course for Samhain this year. Check it out here: https://www.adreamingskin.com/spellbound-30-days-samhain-writing-challenge if your writing practice needs a nudge.)

I actually have been toiling for the past couple of weeks on a piece of creative non-fiction to submit for competition. Inthe early Noughties I wrote a regular column and contributed features fairly frequently to Sagewoman magazine. So I was used to churning out 2,500 words of prose on at least a quarterly basis and could knock things off in a pretty business-like manner. But I shifted more towards poetry in the past ten years and I have to say, composing what turns out to be something like 2,200 words has felt like a bloodletting.

They do say writers open a vein and bleed ink. Rather melodramatic and also a bit like P T Barnum doing your promotion. But still…writing is not easy. Trying my hand at a formal piece of creative non-fiction after such a long interval has been a real challenge. Writing can be hard work.

What writers don’t often mention is the amount of time you are thinking about the piece when you are not actually sitting in front of your laptop or doodling in your notebook. You read things…you see things… you stare out the window at the bird feeder and think idly of something, nothing, then another thing and then THE thing. And you walk the dog and think some more about THE thing and wonder to the aloud to the deaf dog if it fits into the heart of the piece. And then determine, as Maggie Hannon said to me during the poetry mentoring of 2019, if it a Siammese twin that needs surgical separation and to be put into its own cot!

I can offer some first drafts of poems from this morning’s writing practice this week.

We are the Mycelium Field

An underground life 
can be just as -
or more -
widereaching than
the width and breadth
of forest floor.

Airborne
fungi send their spores
below goes
above
and over
and down
and round again

Just watch a puff ball go
POOF!

An underground life
dreams
what we will see
not just the trees
not just the forest

Underground breeds
whole federations of trees and
above ground their leaves
rustle in the late summer afternoon breeze.

They do their alchemy
so we all can breathe

Some fungi I photographed on our Sunday walk in the woods. The air was heavily scented with ‘shroom!

The Townhall Cavan had a exhibition last month created by artist Jane McCormick divertingly called The Museum of Broken Things. Read more about it here: https://www.anglocelt.ie/2021/07/09/the-museum-of-broken-things/. I was so beguiled by the title I wrote a little fragment of a poem on objets cassé.

A Bunch of  Broken Things

The bust watch face
for which time never stopped

The chipped mug
that cuts your lip with every sip

The ragged wedding veil
that moths made into a sieve for your vows

The tarnished cigarette lighter
its flint rusted stuck

You
Me
the severed limb of a tree

Have a good week. I hope you have a creative practice each day. The world needs us to be creative. Find a sliver of each day to dedicate to your creativity. Even if it is during your lunch hour. I wrote a lot of haiku and micropoems over the years during lunch hours.

Writing Practice

I last posted a blog 17th of August. While I did post some old posts via social media, I have needed down time from writing. After the great black mould battle, redecoration, entertaining house guests and reconvening a social life within current Covid guidelines, three weeks have slipped by. Since Monday I have considered writing. I have drafted some lame poems. Finally, I admitted how out of practice I am with writing. Yes, I had been on a kind of vacation. But do you ever really take a vacation from writing practice? I haven’t for….a really long time. Probably not since August 2018 actually.

Just as out of practice I was with socialising. I am only talking five people max for tea (or lunch or supper) on the terrace, but gosh it is Exhausting with a capital E. Don’t get me wrong. It’s lovely to see people and especially to exchange ideas. We have had two visits with some Cavan Artists in Residence for the River Residency. Vicki and Paul from Boredom Research really charged me up with an exchange of artistic ideas and concepts; they are a tonic!

You can get plenty of inspiration online. Zoom has been an outlet for creative writing class exchanges. But to have a small group outdoors in sunshine where we can talk, sing, read out poems and excerpts from books grabbed from shelves, tell stories – in person – well, mind blowing!

I have just spent a few hours creakily resuming some form of writing practice. Normally, I write a first draft by hand with my trusty fountain pen. But tragedy struck and the nib that sketched out all those Poem a Day first drafts gave out two days ago. Which left me feeling very sad. Writers are strange beings. We get attached to certain rituals and the demise of that fountain pen left me feeling bereft. It, together with the Quink black ink cartridge refills have given service for at least the past four years.

The new moon was on the 7th and it felt like I needed to start with a fresh pen, a fresh notebook and not a thought or note to sing in my head.

Maybe I was ‘written out.’

Maybe there was nothing left to say…

Which really scared me…

I went on Amazon and ordered the pen on the 8th.

This morning looked at the rough out of an idea for a nature essay and opened the laptop. I aimed to put the meraki into that piece. Meraki is more often used when talking about pouring your soul into your cooking. Given all the entertaining that has happened this past fortnight my kitchen has been the heart centre of much outpouring of love.

Meraki also speaks of pouring something of yourself into your creative efforts and that led me to some autobiographical musing. The writing I have done this morning touches on the major ‘inner happening’ of my adult life. It was twenty-five years ago now, more even. Twenty-five years marks the line before and after neatly. From a distance now I can write without the attachment to the subject I had even twenty years ago.

It’s good to return to a theme or subject when you have made peace with it, with yourself and it.

And I am not sure what will become of what I wrote this morning. Something. Nothing. But I resumed some form of writing practice after nearly a month of pouring my meraki into redecorating my living room and preparing for visitors, cooking and baking and sharing all manner of things – elbow bumps, masked pandemic hugs, coffee, tea, cake, poems, songs, ideas, queries and advice, laughter and sober consideration – at a beach, beside a lough, in the woods and overlooking our garden.

My new pen may arrive as early as tomorrow..In the meantime, I sit at my trusty old ‘steam powered’ laptop. I tap, tap, tap, stop, revise, delete, tap, tap, tap, read. check for verb agreement, spell check, go drink tea, have a sandwich, and come back to it again after an hour.

There is plenty of space for meraki , to leave pieces of myself and my love over the next few months. The garden is beckoning. There are still home improvement projects that should keep me out of trouble over the winter. Some of my students are requesting that I resume the Zoom creative writing this autumn. I am thinking that the theme for this autumn will be “Write from the Heart.” Which is also very meraki!

In a time where the outer world can feel pretty bleak, creative expression – no matter what your medium – done with love offers a shaft of light in the darkness. Art done with love, in love, elevates the creator as much as those who receive that creation as a gift freely given.

Which is a lofty idea that brings me back to writing practice, the craft, oiling those creaking gears of creativity when my new pen arrives soon and the ink can freely flow again.

PS. I also played a LOT of scrabble with my friend Pen who was staying with us. To her

for all the great words!

Featured image Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Cuilcagh Lakelands Global Geopark Poetry Map Update

Did I mention that we have had a name change for our Geopark? What was formerly known as Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark has rebranded as Cuilcagh Lakelands UNESCO Global Geopark. The Cavan Geopark Ambassadors and some of the Fermanagh Heritage Champions were in on the rebranding consultation process and we all were more than satisfied with the final decision. It more completely embraces a truly crossborder identity, marrying the iconic Cuilcagh Mountain that straddles the border along with the many lakes and other waterways that meander back and forth across the international boundary. The mountains and drumlins and the waters winding through and around them are the characteristics that define this Geopark region. While Marble Arch Caves is responsible for there being a Geopark in this region in the first place it limited the identity and confused visitors who did not quite grasp that there are over fifty other sites they can visit in Fermanagh and Cavan as well, each packed with geoheritage significance.

The past couple of weeks have been immersed in other people’s words. There has been the anguished process of drawing up the long shortlist from the nearly fifty poems submitted for our digital Geopark Poetry Map. May were outstanding, some awesome in their execution. But all the poems submitted had a bedrock of genuine love for this region and its geological heritage. Many said they had really enjoyed the challenge of creating a geoheritage themed poem; it was a welcome activity that broke up the routine of Lockdown. When travel restrictions were lifted it spurred on the stream of submissions. Yet, this is an interesting statistic. In 2020, the visitor tickers around the Geopark clocked up nearly half a million visitors; that was the most ever recorded. Clearly, people were returning again and again to this awe-inspiring and uplifting landscape. We needed nature more than ever before, even as nature in the form of a virus was changing our lives utterly. All the submissions had great heart. Which is why the selection process has been so anguishing.

As of yesterday, all the commissioned poets have delivered their poems on various sites. Each is in a very different style, but all have addressed various aspects of the landscape in their geological and mystic wonder. There is an Irish/English poem from Séamus Mac Annaidh on Cuilcagh. Belcoo born poet Maria McManus offers a stunning view from the depths of Marble Arch Caves. Dara McAnulty takes us up to the raptor heights of Big Dog Mountain. Noel Monaghan travels the finger like tributaries of Loughs Oughter and Erne. Anthony J Quinn’s visit to Devenish Island is an exploration of hiddenness, uncertainty and surprise.

The next stage will take these offerings towards their eventual digital home. Watch this space for news of its launch.

I am working on a poem for submission elsewhere so there is only the briefests of haiku from the archive fthis week. But they all celebrate aspects of Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark and geoheritage. And I decided to share some of my Geopark inspired haiku from ginkgo we have taken at various sites in years past.

Shakehole, Claddagh Glen
Fossils under your feet
Because August 15th was the Feast of the Assumption and there was a Mass celebrated at the local holy well. No four-footeds in attendance though

The world is, as the Aussies say, doing it tough, this week. Read a poem, hug a tree, pat a mossy rock or a pet. Watch birds in flight. Listen to their calls. Be well and stay safe.

The Weekly Poem – Moving

It has been a week of shifts and movement. A friend announces the birth of her first grandchild along with the arrival of a litter of kittens. Prayers go up and come back answered. A quiet space is carved in a weekend of torrential rain where the introverts cozy up with their individual activities – crochet, writing, reading, puzzle solving – comforted by knowing their pack is quietly present in our shared cave.

Rest up, folks! It’s a bumpy month out there in the world. The news is not terribly cheerful on the climate front. A lot is happening out in the world. My personal strategy is to occupy a still space. Harvest. Make. Preserve. Pray. Breathe.

Also, clean and organise our cozy cave as I squirrel away and prepare for winter. But before I launch myself onto a cleaning jag preparatory to repainting my living room and kitchen space, here is the weekly poem.

Moving

Tongues of fire licking forest floor clean
Flood water lapping spills over sandbags
Earth surface sinking, cracking, fissuring
The wind has turn its back on itself, us

Somewhere someone is dying, as we will
too, the silky caul of birth slips its veil
off the perfect newborn,  fearless, serene
As the Buddha passing through the sabre-toothed
Jaws of the gaping Lion’s Gate					
					Present
imperfect also has perfect logic
that is its magic
			Dance with angels on
That pinhead, our needle sharp future

For now, kittens’ downy pelts snuggle up
To suckle in a huddle, mother prone
Feeding their soft perfection as paws knead
Her loosened belly in a closet where
No fires burn or floods rage
				Ill winds still
The earth is her firm and steady heartbeat

Everything moves with its own logic
That is the magic in the present
We brood love and faith and hope with our young.
Empires are lost
			Lullabies are sung on

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

Featured image is Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

Weekly Poem – Lúnasa Harvest

If you were paying attention then you may have noticed that I missed posting a new poem last Tuesday. What with the blistering heat finally abating there was enough energy to actually do some garden harvesting and outdoor work without melting. Lúnasa is the Celtic festival that begins on 31st July. We have had a bank holiday weekend just as we do at Samhain. Lúnasa is the Irish name for the month of August. What with one thing and another my week looked a bit like this…

Garden harvest of peas, broad beans, courgette and lettuce with one of the Lúnasa or Lammas loaves I baked this weekend

I recited some Lúnasa poems on my friend John Wilmott’s Nature Folklore Sunday Sessions this past Sunday. You can find him every Sunday on YouTube or Facebook Live. You can ferret through the archive by connecting on his Facebook Page Carrowcrorry Cottage and Labyrinth Gardens. If you peruse his channel you will learn a great deal about the Irish folklore surrounding Bilberry Sunday and Lúnasa and Crom Cruich.

I cannot do the live with him next Sunday so I made a wee video of one of the poems I am posting for you today. He will be looking at the old god Crom Cruich or Crom Dubh next Sunday. This god of the underworld was much celebrated in this region where I live, Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark. (YES! Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark has a new name to more accurately reflect it’s crossborder identity!) The Blacklion-Belcoo region about eight miles from where I live was a great centre for worship of Crom Cruich. The text for one of the poems is below. A video reading this poem and another is uploaded on YouTube. I recorded it in my garden this past Sunday.

Bilberry Sunday

Hurry to cut the hay! Foot the turf!
The blazing sun plays beat the clock
waltz time to tractor engine tune.

The Council officials scythe the long grass
around graves in the old cemetery
dressing them up to be blessed once again.

Sunday is meant to be for rest.
In this most strenuous season
long days of sweat bear first harvest.

Even so, we take the time to climb up
holy heights or circle the holy well
repeating ancient patterns, saying prayers.

Bilberry’s tight fruit, slightly sour,
are offered up on walks taken
in high summer’s brief leisure hours.

Bog myrtle too sprouts from peat rich high ground,
exposed to sun and scorched dry by recent heat, 
splintering like bog oak exhumed, risen.

up from damp ancient underworld,
Auld Crom Cruich’s proper domain,
along with Belcoo’s freezing spring.

The pilgrims visit, praying the pattern,
An elegy, requiem for dying
Summer and all being gathered.

But just now we are too busy.
We must save the seed and preserve
fruits of harvest we don’t consume.

We are too busy to mourn what’s cut down.
It’s enough to know the year is waning.
That seed saved is hope of new beginnings.



Since I missed last week, I will add a wee haiku as a bonus.

Lazy orbiting
Thistle's downy seed head drifts
Summer's surrender
Thistle down

When the Ancestors Whisper…

Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up! I was at my first (outdoor) gathering with more than five people last night. Droímín Creatives Cavan has been having a literature and arts celebratory weekend. My creative colleague and I were invited to the Saturday evening event. It was outdoors; tables and seats were socially distanced, dotted around the grounds of Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff. Droímín Creatives is an intiative to create literature and arts experiences inspired by the Cavan landscape. You can find out more and see my profile on https://droimincreative.ie/

It was a bit freaky to be in a large group of unmasked people for the first time in seventeen months. I have been bubbled with my creative colleague, being one of the handful of folks that we have seen at various socially distanced meet ups in between lockdowns. There was live music, albeit in a slimmed down group – a trio that included The Cavan Man Martin Donohoe himself, Philip Clarke and Hannah O’Reilly, an All Ireland Fleadh Singer Winner. It was The Cavan Man’ssecond gig in sixteen months. We sat at picnic tables with cloths made of a collage of artwork and quotes from Cavan writers.

I sat down at the picnic table to eat the delicious light supper provided ; Cavan County events have the best hospitality on principle. I moved my paper plate aside to see a quote of one of my poems published on this website. You can see the quote here

An Accidental Place Card at the Picnic Table

Over supper I struck up a conversation with a woman who was puzzling over my accent. The answer to the question, “Where do you come from? ” and my answer “Dowra, in the far west of Cavan” didn’t entirely satisfy. We unwound my complicated accent history – an Northern Irish husband, time in London and Leeds, all the way back to my birthplace in New York City. It turned out that she had spent twenty-four years in Queens. “Where?” I queried. “Elmhurst,” she answered. I replied that many of my father’s family lived around 82nd Street in St. Adalbert’s parish. It turns out that that was HER neighbourhood for many years. She even used the term “going up the hill”, which is what my father’s mother said when she set out to visit her parents and sisters who lived near St. Adalbert’s Church. I mentally dropped my jaw. In Ireland there never seems to be even three degrees of separation between us.

Later on I was chatting with poet Rita Kelly and the Cavan Arts Officer, Catriona O’Reilly. We paused our conversation politely while Hannah O’Reilly gave us a song that had the rather jocular refrain that went something like…”sure we’re all related by marriage or birth…” I broke into a grin. I was suddenly reminded that both my sister’s Ancestry DNA reports and my own My Heritage DNA reports had noted that we share DNA with people who emigrated from Cavan and North Leitrim. Indeed, according to Ancestry we had a couple fourth or fifth cousins knocking around North Leitrim now.

We do not know my paternal grandfather’s paternity. My surname Smith is a bit of a fiction, which many other unrelated Smiths share across the world where registrars note that ‘John Smith’ was the father in cases where the mother was unmarried to the biological father.

As of Autumn Equinox this year I will have lived in County Cavan for twenty years. That is the longest consecutive residence I have any anywhere in my nearly 65 years. If you had suggested this to me as a teen that this would be the place I felt most as home I probably would not have known where to place it on the map of Ireland. When we decided to come to Ireland in 2000 I dowsed the map of Ireland and the pendulum swung over Cavan and North Leitrim. As far as I was concerned we were heading to Clare. Yet, by another series of synchronicities here we are and here we stayed. Even when you do not trust them, sometimes they have a way of over-riding the best laid plans and scripts.

You really can’t make this stuff up. The synchronities that cropped up – first mention of my father, then the locality where the family lived for decades and the song lyrics – all seemed to point to a nod from the ancestors. We may never know Joe Smith’s dad’s name, but the ancestors seem to have pulled at some of the threads of his back story and may have brought me back to the landscape that spawned his own paternal lineage.

Joseph Smith with his fiancée Barbara Muller in 1910

Weekly Poem -In the Grip of

It is very hot for Ireland this week. Which accounts for my later posting of the weekly poem . While our temperatures are in the 25-27C range, (which sounds laughably cool to many people) with the humidity in the 80 percentile it is not comfortable for folks used to summers where a few days at 21C is a cause for rejoicing and the populus turning lobster pink as we boil in the unusually relentless sunshine.

Consequently, I am rising early and doing activities that are…well, active before noontime. Air conditioning is unheard of in Ireland except in public buildings. The supermarket was cool, but my ice cream cone (that I ate outside where I could take off my mask) was a bit melty by the time I finished it. The lane’s tarmac weeps once we go over 25C. So I am walking our little dog between 7am and 8am each morning to preserve his wee paw pads. Even by 8am the exertion makes me sweat. There is a race to water, weed and harvest in the garden before I swoon from the sun. Also, to do any cooking since putting on the oven or using the gas stove only adds to the heat. So, I only settled down (wearing my bou-bou from Mogodishu, a gift from a South African friend) to write the weekly poem well after lunchtime. It is, in part, inspired by a stray fact gleaned from the Long Read in today’s Guardian by Zarlasht Halaimzai. I commend it to you.

In the Grip of a Death Cult, we

bomb the Kabul maternity home
making it a grave for so many newborns;
exhume the septic system of Tuam’s
Mother & Baby Home. 
Count out the tiny remains-
the hundreds and hundreds not unlike
those found out the back of the Kamloops Institute 
(except they were not white)
buried toe to toe. Who knows

who actually loves children?
We would like to think the future.
Certainly not the past. Or even  the now.
We prefer to love them in utero
where so many hearts bleed over
embryonic potential, adoringly viewing
the ET finger waving home from behind
the scan’s screen. Who knows why

we treat them so differently once they
cross the line into actuality, handing them
a fate where they starve, are bombed out,
hounded, tortured, caged for the audacity
of birth that so many swear is their greater good.

Over and over we lay this Isaac on that altar 
to a god hungry for blood, 
one who does not stay Abraham’s hand. 
Nor do we question said authority
demanding that the little children shall suffer
even as we sentimentally mourn the many lost
in their potentiality. 
Even in the face of their brutal actual 
brief lives – short of breath, snuggle, succour and love.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2021. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Garidy Sanders on Unsplash