Plant a Tree and Reforest the Earth

We are living in a season of grief. We are living in a season of mass bereavements – from Covid19 or other causes – where we are limited in our expressions of mourning. We are also facing grief for injustices done. Sadness is an appropriate response. Anger is an understandable response. In my own sorrow I turned to poetry. This is the book I plucked from the shelf.

Alice Walker brought out this complete collection by The Women’s Press in 1991.

Before I tell you about the poem that I turned to, I want to speak as some one who grew up as a white person in a small town that had one black family and two mixed race families. In 1968 I was eleven and the land of my birth was being shriven with unrest caused by civil rights withheld and a foreign conflict that many did not sanction. Protests that turned ugly were on the 6:30 news most summer evenings. (We religiously watched NBC’s The Huntley Brinkley Report in our household.) That raised my consciousness, as well as the assasinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. What I had to help educate myself and build empathy was good reading matter.

My elementary school publicised a subscription book club where you could buy cheap paperbacks every month. I spent a lot of my weekly allowance with that Book Club. As a book worm tween I was able to buy and read books like Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and a biography of Mary MacLeod Bethune. Because I was also hungry for biographies of women (which were thin on the ground in the 1960s), I understood on some unconscious level the desire of having someone who looks like you reflected in the world. In those days we had a new phrase “role models.” I might not have had the same skin colour as Bethune, but golly she was a Mighty Woman! What reading did for me was educate me about lives that were different from mine, but were interesting and powerfully inspiring. It also gave me context for what was happening contemporaneously. Reading forged a connection that transcended social, racial, religious, and gender differences. It also exercised my empathy muscle and prepared me for reading The Diary of Anne Frank. By puberty I was well informed at just how low humans could go in terms of harming fellow human beings.

So, readers, please give your children books that will give them context to help them understand the why of what it happening at this moment. It will help them in so many ways.

Now, to the poem that helped me write the Sunday Weekly poem and also to navigate my sadness with this moment in our history. The poem is Alice Walker’s “Torture” that runs through a litany of “when they torture your…” loved ones with the response “Plant a Tree.” The final verse runs thus:

When they begin to torture

the trees

and cut down the forest

they have made

start another.

Alice Walker “Torture” from Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful
Let Us Breathe

All the millions cut down
robbing the biozone of CO2...
All the millions burned
in a Holocaust where we learned
nothing.
                  Enough is enough.

Plant a tree for George Floyd.
Then plant another and another.
Plant a tree for the strange fruit
hanging for 400 years
from innocent trees. 
Plant a tree in memory. We too soon 
forget.
                  But, enough is enough.

Plant a tree for the named and the nameless.
Plant a tree for all those who could not breathe.
Plant a tree of all of us who still cannot breathe.
Plant a green lung to ventilate the planet.
Let us breathe.
Let us breathe. 
Plant a tree.


Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
Tree on Yeats Lake Isle of Innisfree
Tree on Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree in Lough Gill, Co. Sligo, Ireland

Featured image is a Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

Eclipsed

June 5th marks the first of three eclipses within thirty days. We have two lunar eclipses with the full moons on the 5th of June and on 4th July. Sandwiched between, on the same day as summer solstice,we have a solar eclipse on 21st June. In reading an email from astrologer Chani Nicholas about this tumulutous thirty days, I feel she makes a very pertinent remark that speaks to the world’s current condition. Eclipses, in her view, purge toxicity. We usually get two sets of solar and lunar eclipses every year. 2020, very unusually, offers us an extra set. To have three within thirty days is also an astrological rarity. And what she feels this period asks of us is to “investigate the connective tissue of our world and our lives.”

What connections have been eclipsed? What has been shadowed? How does this illuminate our current condition? Two articles I have read this week have made a great impression upon me. Both are intrinsic to my interrogating my white person’s privelege. The first is an early release of of Anne Applebaum’s article “History Will Judge the Complicit”, the cover story for the July/August edition of The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/trumps-collaborators/612250/ . The second arrived in an email from Maria Popova’s Brainpickings website that includes a dialogue on race (from Rap on Race) between anthropologist, Margaret Mead, and author James Baldwin.

We sideline our past at our peril. How often are we encouraged too soon to “move on?”

“Moving on” often encodes other people’s agendas for us. It can sow a spurious forgetfulness of pain. “Moving on” sometimes skates on the surfaces, denying the depth of pain or grief. It can lead to stuffing down emotions that are not validated, where they go to live in some shadowy corner of our body and mind.

“Moving on” can become an excuse for avoiding responsibility. At worst, it is a conscious tactic to shirk responsibility and guilt. It is a ducking down, avoiding getting caught in the act of complicity. It can even disguise itself and become a strategy to avoid being identified as the cause that effected the pain. “Moving on” can be like forgoing an autopsy on an unexplained death and going without the Medical Examiner’s pathology report that fully explains the damage inflicted from ‘the gross insult’ to the person.

And, going down metaphor lane, we can extend this to mean not just the gross insult to a physical body, or person, but also to minds, to a community, to a group of people who have had a label hung around their necks like a yoke is put on oxen.

Which happened to some slaves on American soil. They were human beings classified as chattels, listed as property in wills and tax records. The story of enslaved human beings on the soil that became known as the United States of America began in 1619. We have had four hundred years of racism. The US capital city, the White House, and Capital itself, was built by enslaved people.

I do not want to move on from this moment in history if it means the continuation of oppression.

This is where James Baldwin’s and Margaret Mead’s discussion is thought provoking. Mead cannot accept Baldwin’s assertion that he is responsible for the perpetuation of racist attacks. Why? Because he did nothing to stop them happening. He addresses the state of our – all of us – complicity. “All of us have produced a system of reality which we cannot in anyway control; what we call history is perhaps a way of avoiding responsibility for what has happened, what is happening, in time.” And, by his lights, atonement is called for. Then there can be forgiveness and history is no longer an excuse note.

Considering that long history of oppression on US soil, I remembered an 18th century American man who made concerted life-changing decisions not to remain complicit. Like Saul before him, this devout Quaker had a Damascene moment. His employer asked him to write a bill of sale for the purchase of a human being. He was so appalled by this action that he refused to do so again and found alternative employment that aligned with his conscience.

John Woolman, 1763

Behind the unfamiliar 18th century turn of phrase, he acknowledges how the selfish spirit, ever strong, can be rooted in the oppression and exploitation of others. Long before Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King were espousing non-violent direct action, Woolman was interrogating his own responsibility and complicity in the oppression and violent harm to others. He was a Recorded Minister in the Religious Society of Friends, but he preached with gentle persuasion and explanations as to how his conscience had decided (or ‘convinced’ him to use Quaker terminology) upon his course of action. Always, he took long, prayerful consideration of what Jesus would do in any circumstance. He resisted his white privelage as best he could under the circumstances of colonial, pre-Revolutionary America. By the time he died he had convinced all Quakers to free their own slaves and begin the long compaign to change the hearts and minds of others to outlaw the slave trade. In effect, he galvanised Quakers to consider that their faith was intimately connected with effecting social justice for other than themselves. That, in effect, social justice activism was the connective tissue of their religion.

It began by addressing his shadow, his sense of guilt towards another human being and his responsibility as a humble clerk, a tiny cog in the system that was evil. He did his best to atone.

By The Light

When his employer asked him, a clerk,
to write a bill of sale of one human being
 to another, he stopped.
                      He would never do it twice.

Not for the sake of a wage. There could be other
employment - tailoring, for instance. But then - 
cotton!  Picked by slave labour.  So 
he stopped

                       and wore flax instead.  
He travelled in the ministry to share the light 
of a Christianity out of step with many. 
He listened

                       to where the words came from.
Even when they spoke in different tongues
he felt for the Spirit moving within
his Friend, his Neighbour.

And he coveted none that belonged to them,
like their dignity.  Guest at plantations he paid slaves 
for their service, gently asking his hosts to honour 
his Conscience 's dictates.  

Not theirs.  (Not yet.)  An early exercise
in consciousness raising. Like not taking sugar
or drinking rum, small acts accumulate into petitions
to deliver us from great evil.

He was only one, and mostly unsung.
He did strive to live in The Light, awake,
considering how one may live  away
from the Valley of Shadow, with Darkness undone.
 
John Woolman Quaker Tapestry
John Woolman’s panel from The Quaker Tapestry project

The Day the World Ends

I have been on a bit of a digital break over the holidays, but here we are with the first Sunday Weekly poem of a new year and a new decade. I fully intended to do a 2019 reflection on 30th December, but as it happens I became fully engaged in baking for an alcohol-free New Year’s gathering with friends instead. The days slipped by and then Sunday morning rolled around and I needed to write the weekly poem. This is not to say that I did not write over that week, because I did, but that is material that has been submitted to an anthology of women’s writing with the working title Bloody Amazing!

No sooner than the New Year’s decorations were taken down, I looked onto social media and I find words like Armageddon and apocolypse being bandied about. Immediately, (I am not lying) Archbald MacLeish’s sonnet The End of the World came to mind. Macleish lived through World War I, served with the precursor of the CIA in World War II, saw the Cold War and atomic bomb threat, and wound up his days in the Library of Congress. According to the text book anthology I used in college, The End of the World was published in 1926.

While perusing some the the decade reflections in print media I noticed that 2016 is considered the worst year in the 2010-2019 decade. Yet, it was the happiest for me as I married my long-time love that year. (Though at the time some friends did say it was the anticipated happy moment that was keeping them going and reason to get out of bed in the morning.) Anne Lamott echoes this observation in a book I got for Christmas, Almost Everything. (Canongate, 2019). This quotation in the Prelude inspired today’s Sunday Weekly poem. As did Dickens in Tale of Two Cities when he observes that it was both the best and worst of times.

Love is why we have hope.

Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

 
 The Day the World Ends
 
 Love is what opens eyes to a new day
 even by lunchtime you will metaphorically and
 literally be standing in a pile of poop and
 are cursing the thoughtless owner
 of some beloved dog who eyes that human
 with unconditional regard.
  
 Who is pawing and cajoling the beloved
 to just get up one more day. Even if 
 it may be the End of the World today.
 Have you seen that internet meme
 of the rescued kangaroo hugging and clinging
 to its human saviour? Love, it seems,
  
 will always be there in the fray.
 Remember that couple leaping from 
 the inferno tower, hand in hand, on 9/11?
 Or all those last phone messages left , every one
 saying I love you and Hug the kids.
  
 Hold each other on days when you are not
 beloved. When the one you loved is lost forever,
 has turned its back or gone on without you.
 On that bleakest of death knell days,
 go! Reach past the fire and flood threatening
 to engulf and obliterate, because
  
 even on the day that is the day that is
 the End of the World, you will open your eyes,
 stretch your hands and  arms and arise
 the miracle of yourself who loves and
 can be loved in return and today may be that day.
  
 And that shall never be obliterated by
 false moves, mistakes, flood or wildfire burn.
  
 Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved. 

Featured image Photo by Dan DeAlmeida on Unsplash

Patchwork or Collage?

Quotations, lines of other people’s words, just keep drawing my eye and beguiling my creative life these summer days. Last autumn, when I was was making a concerted effort to try different poetry forms on a daily basis, I stumbled upon the cento. It is a patchwork poem made up from lines of verse from other poets. You can find my initial effort at https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/11/07/cento-on-hope/.

But it is not just limited to poetry. It is a literary collage. (I loved collaging as a kid and did many for extra credit as a 7th and 8th grader. We didn’t call them vision boards back in the day. It was play with words and image, jumbled together, contrapuntal, onto poster board. Collage is still one of my favourite activities for relaxation and/or inspiration.)

So the cento is a collage poem. Or patchwork poem.

Opiod of the People

I will be living with chronic pain
for the rest of my life.
Owning our story can be hard...
being afraid to ever be happy again.
People have begun to believe in God again.

It's impossible to get at the truth
without pain.
(Not nearly as difficult
as spending our lives
running from it.)
Ask their forgiveness for the fact
bcause there is no other hope.



Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.


The persons who lent their voices to this patchwork, or collage, poem are: Brené Brown, Sonya Huber, Svetlana Alexeivich, and Caroline Moorehead. It’s a different kind of exercise doing this mash up of disparate voices speaking about the opioid crisis, the Soviet Union and ex-Soviet Union, and vulnerability.

Brene Brown quote
Cento – Patchwork or Collage Poem

Hero’s Return

You would think it would be all triumphal on the hero’s return. But actually, this is a really tough stage of the hero’s journey. You go back to ‘sort of’ normal. Except nothing ever will be normal again. But you need to build a new normal.

Hero's Return

You can never go home again
once you have been away.
It's just a bit scary to those who stayed.
They don't know you anymore.
They have not seen what you saw.
They don't know what to say,
do not wish to imagine
what adventure's trials wrought.

Sometimes
with luck
there will be one who recognises the spark
who shares your pluck
who will then set sail with you
to new horizons
who will build you a home
in both your hearts
who is your return in hope and love.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image: Photo by Gabriel Bassino on Unsplash

Blooming in Winter

We have certainly experienced such mild winters as this one (so far) since we moved to West Cavan seventeen years ago. I do remember a Christmas Eve dressed in just a light pant suit with a scarf at my throat, not needing gloves. But it is also very dry, instead of wet, too. And I like to record these observations, that some Januarys are full of frost, ice and snow. Others see the snowdrops six weeks early in raised beds and other bulbs popping up.

Blooming in Winter

The azalea in bud on Stephen's Day
bloomed one single blossom the day she died.

I remember a January day
nearly forty years gone, seeing roses
in Victoria Park, Hackney, London,

blooming despite what felt like bitter
damp and cold, bone soaking and searing all
simultaneously, a mystical

wonder, or wonder of some sort, some kind.
There in a two-faced month of dark and cold
that bulbs would peep out and there are some bold

enough to bloom early, pioneer plants
at the vanguard, with a differant
narrative. They wear lanyards spelling hope.

Nothing can be completely done or dead.
Some bloom early and others late, wither,
die back, return. We each find our own thread.

See the length stretch out. Await the scissors
or harvest scythe. The cut. The gathered fruit.
The miracle there will be blooms again.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image: Photo by TOMOKO UJI on Unsplash

Advent

advent wreath

Last Sunday I wrote about the tradition of the Advent or Sunwheel wreath in my blog.https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/11/25/long-nights-short-days. Advent translates as arrival, or a coming.  Tonight at sunset our Jewish friends will light the first candle on the Hanukkah menorah. Christians will light the first candle of their Advent wreath. We are all celebrating light in a dark season. We are blessing the light, rather than curse the dark.

Traditional Christian Advent wreaths are three purple and one pink candle, with a central white one with the arrival on Christmas Day. Each candle has a symbolic meaning. The first week is lit for hope, or prophecy. The second week is for love, the third for joy and the last week is peace. Although some churches may celebrate peace in week two and love in week four.

Pagans lit their Sunwheel candles last Sunday at sunset.  I observe the traditional Christian symbolism each week.  So I lit a candle for hope last Sunday and will light one for love and hope at sunset tonight. So today’s Poetry Daily offers Christians a little poem/song for Hope and Pagans a poem for Love. It came to me like a humming along to a traditional English folk tune. See if you can find your own melody.

I am deliberately not putting a copyright notice on these poem/chants. They are public. Please use them wherever you feel they are appropriate.

Light a Candle for Hope

I light a candle for hope
for faith and prophecy.
I light a candle for hope,
for it to set us free.

I light a candle for hope
when I feel angry.
I light a candle for hope,
when we all can agree.

I light a candle for hope,
for life can be blowy.
I light a candle for hope
as I sip my cup of tea.

Light a candle for hope!
Light a candle for hope!
Light a candle for hope
to bless the dark.
Light a candle for hope
to bless its spark.
Light a candle for hope
that we all might hark.



Light a Candle for Love

I light a candle for love
to cast out fear.
I light a candle for love
to warm our hearts, my dear.

I light a candle for love
in days austere.
I light a candle for love
of the whole unisphere.

I light a candle for love
though you might think it queer.
I light a candle for love
to clear the atmosphere.

Light a candle for love!
Light a candle for love!
Light a candle for love
to  bless the dark.
Light a candle for love
to bless its spark.
Light a candle for hope
that we all might hark.

Here is a wee video of the tune that was playing in my head as I composed the poems.

https://youtu.be/Df3J08djsYg

Long Nights, Short Days

long nights short days moon

I woke with the just past full moon shining brightly in the west window of my room. it was a comforting light and I left the curtains wide there to moon bathe a bit. Later as dawn was approaching it was still there shining, making the morning brighter than one might expect with a month to go before winter solstice. It reminded me that it is time to bring out the Advent wreath (for Christians) or the Sun Wheel wreath (for earth based religions.)  A wonderful blog on this tradition that can be adapted for all faiths or those with none, to mindfully walk through the weeks as the Northern Hemisphere’s sun dies so that it can be reborn at Solstice..https://www.owlsdaughter.com/owls-wings/

One tradition calls the Full Moon just past the Mourning Moon. Now you know why. A friend has sent a link regarding the Advent/SunWheel wreath that says each candle lit at dusk represents a quality. The first Sunday you light the candle is for Hope. So I felt that today’s poetry practice needed to reflect that somehow.  My dawn poetry practice, at the liminal opposite pole in the day, is a virtual candle being lit. Although I am assembling a wreath and I will light a purple candle tonight and send the intention of hope out into a world where many feel it in short supply.


Long nights, short days

Long nights, short days
Frost full moon
The mourning moon
 
The juice all gone
Leaves blackened
Grass wizened white
 
Long nights, short days
Moon is high
Even as the sun rises
 
Day breaks rosy tipped
An amber trapped glow
The light will be reborn
We’ve not so long now to go
 
Short days, long nights
Before the sun will come again
Casting some long shadows
For now we have its fossil glow
 
Meanwhile, Mother Moon
Hangs her lamp
To thaw the frost
 
Short days, long nights
Not all is ever lost
Hope dangles from the moon
 
Light lives in long nights
Light lives in short days
Dark lives in long nights
Dark lives in short days
 
Hope lives in light’s rays
Hope shelters in the dark
Hope lives on in short days
Hope is night’s bright spark.
 
Copyright© Bee Smith2018


I really did pad out in my slippers with my iPad camera when I let out the Old Dog this morning. I wanted to capture Mother Moon with her lamp raised high.

long nights short days
Moon hanging high about forty minutes before dawn today at my homeplace.

Cento on Hope

For today’s poetry practice I thought I would be a bit lazy. Except it turns out that what I picked is not as easy as I thought it would be. I was researching new poetry forms to give a whirl and the cento appealed. Poets. org set out the guidelines for a cento here. They call it a patchwork poem, which does have alliteration. But I kind of feel it is a Mash Up. My own attempt does not use complete lines from a poet in every line. Some only use a fragment, or, in one instance, literally mash up two in a single line.

In view of my gratitude brief for November in terms of subject I feel today’s poetry practice celebrates my thanks to the lineage of poets stretching back into antiquity. The subject, Hope, may reflect what some are feeling today.

 

Hope Mash up

 

I stood out in the open cold.

The dark, too, blooms and sings.

We all approach the edge of the same blackness.

 

When the world falls in around you,

the sun rises in spite of everything.

A joy, a depression, a meanness…

 

When the worst thing happens

Time flies, hope flags, life plies a wearied way.

You see behind every face the mental emptiness.

 

Hope is the hardest love to carry.

The thing with feathers doesn’t need anything

from my old bitterness.

 

And just for those who are interested in knowing which poets got picked for the patchwork poem, this is the line by line reference.xds  p

 

Richard Eberhart

Wendell Berry

Elaine Feinstein

 

Naomi Shihab Nye

Derek Mahon

Rumi

 

U.A. Fanthorpe

Christina Rosetti

T.S. Eliot

 

Jane Hirshfield

Emily Dickinson/Naomi Shihab Nye

Antoniio Machado

Everyday Exultations

I was browsing some WordPress blogs I follow and I was impressed by the suggestion of A.M. Pine 100 Bits of Gratitude to expend some energy by concentrating on what fills you with gratitude. I am still in the full flush of a multitude of birthday well-wishing yesterday, so this particularly resonates. I still keep a kind of gratitude journal, although it is more a visual record than a word journal. I will paste in cards from friends and loved ones that kindles a particular thanksgiving in my memory.  You can see a picture of the gratitude journal I collaged in this post. Gratitude Journaling and Thanksgiving.  I have a feeling that these practices may become useful tools in the weeks ahead.

This segued into another phrase I encountered while I was perusing last Saturday’s Guardian this morning (yes, I have become my mother and am way behind with reading the current affairs media. I thought this was shocking when I was young. I guess I am no longer officially young!) The phrase was ‘everyday exultations’, which is perhaps a byproduct or kissing cousin to gratitude. At any rate these were the sparks for today’s poetry practice. Incidentally, I have completed six week!

 

Everyday Exultations

 

a sound cooking pot

rising bread dough

a voice with a song

the company of a wren at the window

 

this is the somehow of the someway

the human race gets up to meet and greet

every day

also with jokes, some word play

 

delight is stone on flint for the candle wick

can turn around a curse

heals the sick

greases the axis of the universe

 

the line of thousands stretches way far back

so I could one day become a daughter

some bread, some water, a sound cooking pot

the blessing of a wren to share the crumbs

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image:

Photo by Jan Meeus on Unsplash