The Whooper Swans Arrived this Week

The Sunday Weekly Poem turns out to be a series of poems in this edition. While I may not write a poem a day these days, I find that I feel better if I do write something fairly often. I have drafts of three poems and a haiku from this week, which also included leading an outdoor walk and writing workshop with some Reluctant Writers from Loughan House Open Prison. It involved walking around a blustery Cavan Burren from just before 10AM until nearly 3PM, a picnic lunch, and then some writing. The outing began with a brief shower. The heavy shower mercifully held off until 2pm (thank you, weather gods!) by which time we were hunkered down in the Visitor Centre with notebooks out and writing exercises underway. We wrote to the patter of rainfall on the shelter of the plastic roof, on picnic tables on the side of the centre avoiding the prevailing wind. We were out in open air, but writing in a building with only gable ends for walls. That in itself must have been a bit of a culture shock for some guys who until recently will have spent time in cells for twenty-three hours of every twenty-four.

Nature can be a great inspiration, even a healer. Those half dozen workshop participants can wander an open prison’s campus, itself a bit of an adjustment initially I am told. Some find it difficult to walk outside their rooms when they first arrive. One past resident confided in my husband that the sight of a full moon after five years made him weep. To then look down upon that very campus from a height, surrounded by mountains and loughs on all sides, has to shift perspective on some level. To walk in the woods and smell spruce, lichen and moss is to breathe a new kind of clean air. To walk among dolmens and wonder at how on earth they shifted those rocks to build them sparks questions, as well as the imagination. A walk in the woods among megaliths really can take you out of yourself. The ancestors are very palpable on the Cavan Burren and that did not go unnoticed by some. One participant said he had not realised how close to wilderness they were here in West Cavan and you could see the awe.

One thing these guys teach us is never to take this glorious landscape for granted. It’s a privelege to see it with fresh eyes again and again.

Cavan Burren
Cuilcagh Mountain viewed from Cavan Burren Park

It’s autumn for sure now. Our Virginia Creeper has gone crimson. On Monday there was some sunshine between showers and it was warm enough to sit outside. At least for a bit.

And Just Like That

As if
in response
to my own despondency

the clouds rolled in
blotting out
the sun
breezing in a spit spot
of rain
on my writing thumb

driving me
and semi-dry laundry
indoors again.

That may have been
the last blink of sun
for sitting out
now autumn
has truly begun.

I chide myself
not to take nature
so personally

but somedays I feel
we are one
body.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Then on Tuesday, as if to underline the official arrival of the season, I heard the whooper swans return to Lough Moneen where they overwinter from Iceland. The Whoopers have yellow bills instead of the orange ones. They also have a honk that some mistake for geese. Their winter sojourn in Ireland lasts between October to March. They are earlier than usual this year, with some friends reckoning they don’t usually turn up locally until near Halloween. On Wednesday, I saw a formation flypast. They often return to the same loughs each winter. One New Year’s Day I opened our front door and the first sight of the New Year was a flight of swans. Which certainly counts as a very special omen. But that was before I knew about the Omen Day tradition. (https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/26/the-omen-days/)

whooper swan
Whooper swan in Kileforna from Wikipedia
Yesterday
I heard the whooper swans
trumpet song

Arriving
in an elegant slide
on water

Neighbour's lough
their winter home,
they honk 'Halló'

A long trip,
eight hundred miles or more
for six months

That's their flight
back and forth from Iceland.
'Bless, bless' Bye!

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

The days shortening light is inexorable and noticable now. Dawn is nearly 8AM. Darkness descends before 7pm.

Then the Half-Light

Then the half-light
either morning, at first
or early evening's
gloaming

Before dazzle
of full light
or confusion
of deepest darkness

We either
flinch or squint
shielding our sight
blink, blink

the shading hand
turns grasping
in our night
blindness

Then the half-light
delicate shadows
some light
some dark

We never fully see
We hark what we want to hark.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

I spotted pumpkins on sale in the supermarket this week. Halloween will be here soon. The clock’s will go back and we will be plunged into the darkest part of the year.

Cursing Stone

There is, on private land adjacent to the ruined St. Brigid’s Chapel in the townland of Kilinagh, a glacial erratic with nine bullaun stones placed in its hollows. We live in a geopark that is littered with these large rocks that the ice age slid down off Cuilcagh Mountain back in the mists of eons bygone. They were both first tools and material, as well as a part of nascent cosmology. This particular rock formation is called St. Brigid’s Cursing and Blessing Stone, the new Christian religion taking over a site dedicated to the old god Crom Cruach. The tradition is to turn the stone the the left and leave a coin under the bullaun stone for a curse. Turn the stone sunwise and you bless.

Curses are all about deep time. They reverberate for generations. In the heroic tales of Ireland this might be for five, seven or even nine generations. A story never ends where you think it ends. The plot is thicker than any witch’s concoction and many of the characters who think they have starring roles only have cameos in the grander scheme of things.

And why should I be thinking of this as I contemplate the Poetry Daily on this morning where the sun is trying to chase the rain and keep it at bay? Maybe because we need to widen the viewfinder on our ideas of story, how it chases our tails and becomes what we know as history. That the long ago then is also are ninety-minute now.

Cursing Stone

Sometimes you know a story is not done.,
but the climax doesn't satisfy.
The lovers don't walk hand in hand toward sunset.
The mean foment more mean, no justice done.
Oh, but what if we could just simplify
life to a made for TV version?
Ninety minutes of conflict to conclusion.

In reality, bitter people
who take their ball of no hope, feuds and grudges,
go seek their redress at a cursing stone.
They leave at this altar their gall, bile's brew.
Although there is another ritual that blesses
by reversing the turn of bullaun stones.
Forgiveness remedies what needs atoned.

No story's compiled in a single tome.
It's eons of layers, all known in stone.



Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved




St. Brigid's Cursing and Blessing Stone
St. Brigid’s Cursing and Blessings Stone

Into the Wild Wood

I am writing in haste this morning before I depart to learn how to identify butterflies, their habitat and how to survey them here in wildish West Cavan. The topic for the Poetry Daily comes from the #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge – the wild wood. Immediately, images of my beloved local Cavan Burren Forest, with its trees, mushrooms, bilberries and glacial erratics came to mind.

Into the Wild Wood

I go out to meet all the tree people
to commune with god in their upturned limbs,
the canopy the greatest cathedral.

I go out to meet all the tree people
who are congregation, altar and pew,
their stillness reaching towards the eternal.

I go out to meet them to be prayerful,
the trees breathing both below and above,
the one organism, earthly, celestial.

I go out to meet my wild angel,
to explore its paradigm and its whim,
to go out and greet this old tribe, my people.

I go out to greet my ancient people
that die and live and grow for clues
how we wander borders of the eternal.

I go out to greet my fellow people
where wildness and peace are hand in glove
as one organism, one world, eternal.



 Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.
Cavan Burren woods rock art
Rock Art Cavan Burren Forest Park, Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark
Wild Wood Cavan Burren dorest park
Into the wild wood, Cavan Burren Forest Park
Beech tree Cavan Burren Forest park
Fairy Beech Tree in Cavan Burren Forest

Mountains High

Mountain High and River Deep is the theme for Day 15 of the #30DaysOf SummerWritingChallenge, the writing prompts that are helping me get over the 365 day marathon of the Poetry Daily. The finish line is September 14th, 2019. August 15th is also the Catholic feast of Maria Assunta, when Mother Mary is believed to have ascended bodily into heaven. Coincidentally, it is also the third anniversary of our cat Zymina crossing Pet Rainbow Bridge. She is buried under a little cairn in the garden she loved.

The mountain prompt and the pet cairn reminded how we have a rank of mountains (well glorified hills, but they are OUR mountains) that have cairns on top of them. Knockninny in Fermanagh is farthest east. Then there is my local Cuilcagh Mountain that straddles the Cavan-Fermanagh border. Travelling west, Benbo in Leitrim has a cairn, too. Then as you reach the Atlantic coast in Sligo, the cairn or all cairns, Queen Maeve’s tomb on Knocknarea.

Cairns, while looking like a just another pile of stones, were the earliest tombs (along with modified glacial erratics that stored cremated remains. In Cavan Burren Forest there is, deep in the woods, a Cairn Dolmen. Layer upon layer of archaelogy and pre-history is literally present. Dolmens, the first of the megalithic tombs, succeeded the cairns and modified glacial erratic as sacred places associated with death rites.

So the Poetry Daily is just concentrating on mountains today. The highest one locally is Cuilcagh, at 666 metres. It has a cairn on top, which can be reached by the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ that helps very sturdy tourists mount to its summitr from the Fermanagh side. But please, leave no trace! Would you leave a plastic bottle at your granny’s grave?

Cuilcagh Cairn

Nipple on the mountain tip
offers itself to suckle the moon.
Tickled by the wind, it is erect.
What secret, ancient queen sleeps
beneath your pile of stones that
were scraped and shaped by Ice Age
freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw?
What do the tourist hordes understand
as they puff and pant
up the Stairway to Heaven?
This is the Queen of Heaven's last throne,
Her inauguration seat
built over her body and bones.
Leave each sacred stone in place.
There is no earthly blessing
She can impart who is the one
that intimately knows Sky's heart.


 Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved
Cuilcagh cairn
Cuilcagh cairn

Mythic River

After seven years campaigning the Republic of Ireland legislated a ban on fracking the land in 2017, in the only private member’s bill  to ever pass in the Dáil.  Just over the border, the company vanquished at the eleventh hour from doing a test drill is trying it on all over again. Lack of planning permission was the obstacle last time and now they are making moves to gain those permissions. All within five miles of the border with the Republic of Ireland. The country with a fracking ban down river from where they want to frack. Because they want to drill within miles of the source of the River Shannon, the longest river on this island, the one that runs right down the country, meandering inland and then emptying herself into the Atlantic Ocean in Limerick. The impact is particularly potentially catastrophic since Ireland’s economy is mostly agriculture and tourism. Put hundreds of fracking drill pads across southwest Fermanagh and you destroy not just local lives and livelihoods. You impinge upon a geopark, an area that UNESCO reckons should be recognised and conserved because it is part of the world’s heritage.  We keep its heritage – both natural and built – not just for ourselves but for everyone. And so we are resolved to continue doing so.


Shannon

A river runs through us all

crossing borders underground, in secret,

stealthily raising Her watery head

over The Pot’s lip.

She streams quietly over that parapet,

slips down the rocky slopes.

Breathing easier, she eddies and flows

around Lough Allen, stretching out, 

flexing her new muscle, 

swimming across the Midlands,

stroke upon stroke to meet

the Atlantic Ocean.

What story do we tell ourselves?

How Síonnan reversed

all the Elders’s spells?

The old magic had its strength

before the stench of guilt,

its shiny shaming,

greed grabbing for me and mine, 

absconding before any blame

could be laid, or blood shed.

That, too, is a river.

Just as long.

Poison still circulates

because its the law of flow.

The more dilute, 

the more it lays waste.

What happens upriver

will never stay there.

That’s not just a story.

It’s how a river’s nature goes.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Summer Solstice Sunset Senryu

The long light evenings give way to leisurely after dinner walks with houseguests. We found ourselves up on the Cavan Burren yesterday evening just as the angle of light was its brightest before it gradually began to fade into the long twilight. Some summer solstice senryu seems to be in order for poetry practice this morning. We were up in the park a half hour before the gates close at 10PM. After a day of on and off rain the light show showed up a luminous green from the moss and lichen.

Cuilcagh Mountain cavan Burren park
Cloud shadow and fairy trees process
The way to the holy mountain
Cavan Burren Park
When humans were giants
We walked as tall
Casting long shadows

Cavan Burren cow and calf
Bathe in the long light
The calf and her mother
Bronzed forever



Which segues neatly into a photo of Cavan Burren Park’s iconic Calf Hut Dolmen. Basically, the captstone slipped at some stage to create a saltbox effect. At some point in the late 18th or early 19th century a farmer decided to mortar up one end and make it a cattle shelter for the new born calves.

Calf Hut Dolmen Cavan Burren Park
Calf Hut Dolmen Cavan Burren Park

By twilight we were home for dessert and tea. The guests had an early morning start. It wasn’t dark at bedtime.

I am revelling in the summer solstice light and the full moon’s light. I hope you are bathing in its fey joy, too. We are still three days of the exact solstice and the moon will be waning by then. In the meantime, let the yin and the yang sky dance and bring you delight.

Words and images Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Heartland

Hearts can be sad and joyful, under a cloud or sunny skies. A heart can be open or closed. The region where I live, Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, is described in other marketing tags. We overlap with Ireland’s Ancient East. We are at the head of the Shannon Blueway. Being so westerly, we are also on the fringes of the Atlantic Region.  And now we have also been designated as part of Ireland’s Hidden Heartland.  As taglines go, I think that is my personal favourite. But it also allowed me to contemplate the concept of heartland for poetry practice purposes.

Heartland

Shall I draw you a map? 

Is there an app invented yet

that will lead you on your way

into this special place?

Where a sacred tree grows

that will show you your desire

in its shimmering glory,

that’s both shelter and fire,

rooted by stone no storm

can rock, yet still opens out

embracing the wind’s movement,

foliage shivering,

quickening as it meets

what the day and fate visits.

It remains open. If felled

or fallen, roots exposed,

its pulse interrupted,

stilled, an open hollow

in the ground is where spirit

hovers, always open.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith

And a card drawn by Hannah Dugan, Sketches by Hannah on Facebook

Heartland

Layers

I am not feeling exactly on my game this morning. Either I have really bad hayfever, or I have a cold. This past week I guided local school children on a walk on the Cavan Burren. We are fortunate to walk on land that has been continuously, but gently, occupied for as long as humans have lived in Ireland. Most of these school children come from families with centuries long roots in this place that is very much on the map in the myths told about the first peoples of ancient Ireland. 

I was pointing out how rocks and trees were the big story of this place.  It is thought that high chieftains were inaugurated under a tree sacred to their clan. But we also have the inaugural stone for Clan Maguire not far from us.  The Tuatha dé Danaan are said to have landed first on Slieve Anieran, which is twenty miles or less from them, just over the boundary in Leitrim. The goddess Danu  is said to have married Bile,  the old Irish word for tree.  The school group in Glangevlin lives close to the Belavalley Gap, where the Tuatha’s smith forged their magical weapons. And then, because I have atrocious Irish pronunciation there was a brief discussion between the teacher and children about the word tuatha. Most often it is translated as the people, or tribe, or the children of Danu. But it also has a further nuance, which carries with it  the sense of it being the place, or land, of Danu. 

Which hit me like a big chunk of sedementary rock off of one of those glacial erratics in Cavan Burren Forest. Which also has its fair share of rock art cup and ring marks.


Layers


Once

land was the same word

for people.

It meant

belonging.

As a marriage

can be happy,

fruitful

as a tree –

bud

blossom, fruit

berry.

Just another

layer

of being,

many

and one,

but not

the same.

The land

is layer

upon layer-

sand,

granite,

lime and iron

in rock.

The first people

are the mother cup.

The rings

carve out

the generations

widening out.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith

Deep Time

Poetry practice today is informed by some wildlife – a moth- found on our front door yesterday. Also the walking workshop I delivered to 50+ school kids yesterday up on the Cavan Burren. In a landscape with million year old furniture I was trying to explain when their first ancestors -these were local kids- turned up in Ireland mere thousands of years ago, when sea levels were lower before the last of the big Ice Age melt off. This is background information before these kids make pottery with local ceramic artist Jim Fee.  Humans have been making pots for tens of thousands of years. Writing is a bit of an afterthought – after farming, domestication of animals, megalith making. It was a Bronze Age development. Although perhaps poetry existed in oral form or in singing before that. But the writing down – into stone, onto bark or papyrus- that came fairly late in the day as an art form. The first poetry was recorded by a woman – a princess and priestess- in 3,500BCE in Babylon. Art making was the hand work  that filled the glove of the spiritual and sacred in the ancient world. It was deeper in our DNA even then the urge for food security. As was our human capacity for awe at the workings and movement in nature. We were still part of nature then.

It is one of the great pleasures and privileges of living within Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark that this sense of deep time and survival. Much will pass away, but the art will remain, and the rocks. 

 

So, to the daily poem. I am keeping it short to allow contemplation to be long. A tanka today. A haiku capped with a seven syllable couplet. Which brings me back to that moth. Which my Collins’ “Complete Irish Wildlife” suggests is called the Angle Shade

Angle Shade

Before you are lost

Let me know, name, record you

Survive in deep time

It is just a slip between

A different angle shade

Day 25 NaPoWriMo2019- Bealtaine

Wakening to bright sunshine and blue sky after a nighttime that brought welcome showers on our acre plot. NaPoWriMo’s last Thursday prompt is:

I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that:

  • Is specific to a season
  • Uses imagery that relates to all five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell)
  • Includes a rhetorical question, (like Keats’ “where are the songs of spring?”)

So the season I am writing about is just around the corner. In Ireland we call May Bealtaine. It is pronounced Be-ahl-ta-nah round where I live. Or you can have it as Beltaine in English. It’s also the name for one of the four cross quarter days of the pagan wheel of the year. It marks the six weeks up until midsummer . Or, the three month period up until harvest, or Lunasagh, at 1st August. Seasons are a bit flexible like that in Ireland. Call it late spring. Call it the official opening of summer. Beataine is the most sensual time of year. Living as I do in the West Cavan part of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, nature is providing plenty of sensory inspiration.

Bealtaine Galore

I heard the cuckoo calling
its plaint for a mate quite faint
last Easter Sunday,
but full throated and hearty
the evening of Tuesday.
It will carol the uplands until
the longest day when nights
are shortest and dawn does not delay.

But today...well the bluebells are still out
in the shade, mingling in with
the aromatic of wild garlic,
(which sharpens the appetite.)
its star white flower crowding into
the bluebell dell on the forest floor
along with the white bells of wood sorrel,
that  not-shamrock tasting of lemon spinach.
A munch quenches thirst on walks
through this wooded glen,
the river in full conversation
rolling over the rocks from another epoch,
the fallen trees downed

or bent like the crick in my back
from sowing beans and carrots.
I have an ache in muscles unused
to industry, gone slack
during the dark months.
We mimick all these nesting birds
who already have some hatchlings,
or the energy of gamboling lambs
ridiculous and bucking up their heels.
Calves are appearing in neighbours' pastures
sporting their new eartags.
And the weeds!
Everything is rushing towards being.
The bees are at the nectar.
The butterflies have been released
from self-made cocoons.
The blackthorn blossom is floating down
butterfly kissing our foreheads.
It's a benediction. It's a glory.

Bealtaine Go leor!
Is everything not plenty?
Is everything not enough?
Everything
is in a rush
towards its blooming and being.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.



Beataine Galore
My townland, bog cotton blooming in pasture

Bealtaine Galore
Bluebells

Bealtaine galore
Wood sorrel in flower

Bealtaine galore
The Playbank. The sight that always means I am getting close to home.
Bealtaine is the Irish for the season of early summer. NaPowriMo's daily prompt allows me to riff on the the sensory pleasures of living within Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark.
Bee Smith is participating in GloPoWriMo2019