Weekly Poem and a Change of Scenery

I am treating this as an exercise separate to NaPoWriMo this year since I am juggling writing projects and teaching. For instance, today I completed the first draft of a poem for a friend’s birthday. Under Lockdown, it can be hard to source birthday presents. I asked her if she would like an audiobook. She went away to think about it and came back with the request for a poem just for her. Her wish is my command!

Likewise, on the teaching front we have been deep diving into form since March. The NaPoWriMo Day 3 prompt introduced the concept of the Personal Universal Deck, which is a really handy tool to get your poetry going. But it takes a long time, especially under Covid timelines. (Well, doesn’t everything take longer?!) We used some session time to work on it as all of us are juggling projects, jobs, and in some cases home schooling kids. Though we seemingly have all the time in the world under Lockdown, time still seems to be in short supply. I drive my husband mad with what he calls my ‘infinite to do list’ that is running through my mind. However, he benefits from that organizational mental gymnastics!

And yet, as of yesterday, our restrictions have loosened somewhat. We can move around our county and the kids are all back doing in-person schooling. My husband will get his first Covid-19 vaccination this Friday. We celebrated these milestones by going for a woodland walk about 8 miles from home. Glenfarne Demesne was carpeted with wood anemones. We stopped to pat the pillows of sphagnum moss on the rocks. The greenery in the woodland was positively psychedelic. A little shower did not deter us from wandering along a 2 kilometre trail and stopping to stare at Lough MacNean. We filled our hungry eyes with a change of scenery.

But to the weekly poem. As opposed to an occasional NaPoWriMo daily offering that I am tossing at the blog as time allows. After playing with our Universal Personal decks in Zoom class last Saturday we took a quotation from a Tom Paulin poem as a jumping off point.

In the meadows of the spirit

I kiss the word

Tom Paulin, The Other Voice
Kiss Each Word

I kiss each word that spells out
the magic in imagination.
I shut my eyes and I am there
in the meadow beside the Shannon Pot,
full of  as yet uncut cowslips,
pyramidal orchids, buttercups.
I am the child running waist deep
in grass and reeds
her yellow hair swishing left and right
in the late afternoon summer sunlight.
ViviLnk

Will You NaPoWriMo this April?

sunflower

I think this is my fourth or fifth year of writing a poem a day every day in April, which is both National and Global Poetry Writing Month. It may sound daunting, but there is no better way to up your poetry writing game than by writing regularly. With the daily prompts and supporting material from websites like https://www.napowrimo.net/ you can really exercise your poetry writing muscles. I like to think of it as a kind of poetry jocks’ annual event. Which is sort of cognitively dissonant since most poets are the antithesis of jock. But, hey ho!

Tarot afficionados may like Angela T. Carr’s April poetry prompts based on the Rider Waite deck. Here is the link to that: http://www.adreamingskin.com/fools-gold-30-days-tarot-writing-challenge-napowrimo-2021.

Exercising the poetry muscles might just be the kind of training you need to compose and submit a poem that might well put one of Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark on the Poetry Map I am curating. You can find out more about the project on a past blog here: https://sojourningsmith.blog/2021/03/21/happy-unesco-world-poetry-day/.

You can email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com for submission guidelines and support material on the geoheritage of many of the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark sites.

But back to NaPoWriMo or GloPoWriMo as those of us living outside the USA may style it…There is an early bird prompt to get us warmed up. I did a little yip of delight (and there have not been many of them here lately) when it was revealed that the prompt is based in one of my happy places on this globe. As a family used to visit it regularly from when I was a tween and most trips back to the States have incorporated a visit to the Met and the Brooklyn Museum of Art to see Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in the Feminist Art Wing.

Finally, because April 1 arrives a few hours earlier for many of our participants than it does for us at Na/GloPoWriMo headquarters, we’re also featuring an early-bird prompt today. Today, we’d like to challenge you to spend a few minutes looking for a piece of art that interests you in the online galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

napowritmo.net

I wandered many galleries but always seem to gravitate to the Impressionist to visit Monet’s Bridge over Waterlilies and to say hello to Vincent Van Gogh’s work. The last visit was with my 15 year old niece who went on to study art at college. She was working on a GCSE project at that time and commented that one of her classmates was doing her project on a Roy Lichtenstein and here she was looking at one in person, not in some book or online. Seeing art in-person really is an entirely different experience.

My own first draft was compelled from early memories of ranging round the Met galleries.

Impressionable

The water lily pond could wash you away!
So massive, taking up all a gallery wall,
dwarfing a twelve year old, who in memory
shuddered at the huge canvas' dimensions, all
majesty and "Look At Me!" - how minute
the ambitions of lesser imaginations.
Let the colour and brushwork engulf you -
one artist's grandeur, an act of diminution.

I preferred the paintings more human scale.
Monet did do flowers very well - sunflowers
in a Japanese vase. Gauguin is alleged
to have said Van Gogh's were much better.
I agree. Even sunflower husks dredged
have more heart beating in every strand of his brush.
I bought a print from the museum shop.
Years on, I went to A'dam on the Magic Bus
to have sunflowers and night stars make my heart stop.

Happy GloPoWriMo/NaPoWriMo!

Hone those Poetry Writing Skills

We have a week left for March to roar out and then it will be April. If it is April, then it is NaPoWriMo – time to write a poem a day for a month. NaPoWriMo is a great poetry apprenticeship. It challenges you to get out of your writing comfort zone by offering you new poetry forms and introducing you to all kinds of poets, both historic and contemporary. It is like getting a poetry gym membership for free for a month.

Given that I will be calling out for contributions to the Geopark Poetry Map (see Sunday’s post here (https://sojourningsmith.blog/2021/03/21/happy-unesco-world-poetry-day/), NaPoWriMo is a good way to get in training to hone that poem on one of Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark’s sites. To get more information about submission guidelines and general Geopark information email GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com.

Calf Hut Dolmen, Cavan Burren Park, Ireland

The project is being funded by Geological Survey Ireland’s Geoheritage Fund and we will be looking for poems with a decided geoheritage theme of the particular site.This is how they define geoheritage.

Geoheritage encompasses features of geology that are intrinsically important sites or culturally important sites offering information or insights into the evolution of the Earth; or into the history of science, or that can be used for research, teaching, or reference.’

Geological Survey of Ireland

If it is Tuesday, it is Weekly Poem Day. This is not a new one, but it is one that was inspired by the Cavan Burren’s Cairn Dolmen. Basically, the earliest tombs were piles of stones – cairns. Ireland has many cairns on mountain or hilltops. Cuilcagh, the mountain that straddles the international border running through Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark, has one. A later era decided to innovate and began building the megaliths, like dolmens, those slabs of rock that were the earliest mauseleums. In Cavan Burren Park, they built a dolmen on an existing cairn. Waste not seems to have been ingrained in the ancestors. Another dolmen became an improvised cow shed in the 19th century; it is now known as the Calf Hut Dolmen.

The Cairn Dolmen in in the forest and is a magical place. I personally call it the Fairy Cairn, which will not impress the scientific minded, but poets must be allowed their fey turn of imagination. The poem was first published in The sHop in 2007.

Cairn


A cairn is just a pile of stones 
like so many abandoned cabins
littering the landscape.
One is a grave, a mound over bones.
One is a grave, the skeleton of a home.

It’s all a Close the door!
It’s all an Open the door!
It’s all a haul it all down.
It’s all a going into the dark.
It’s all a blow the rooftop off.

It’s all an Open the door!
It’s all let some light come in.
Open the door!
Open the door!
Let me in! Let me in!

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2007 By permission of the author.

Happy UNESCO World Poetry Day

Cuilcagh Mountain

Each year March 21st rolls around. Some years, like 2021, it is also the spring equinox (or equilux as I like to think of it as we bask in lengthening daylight). But it is always UNESCO World Poetry Day. And, if you are not already familiar with it, UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. After UNICEF, it is probably the most high profile of the United Nation’s work, other than sending in military peace keeping missions in hotspots around the globe. UNESCO World Poetry Day is also a landmark in my own life as I launch an exciting poetry project that I am curating. But first, let’s have a little digression as I unpack the acronym and it’s context.

UNESCO covers, broadly, what is our world heritage. That is why Skellig Michael, Newgrange and the Giant’s Causeway and Coast have earned the UNESCO World Heritage site moniker. The science bit covers the land we live on – the rocks, the waterways, the weather that sculpts the land over time – in an ice age or in a weekend when a fierce storm blows through. The land pretty much dictates our culture as we adapt to our habitat and create art and customs informed by our geographical location. Education is how we transmit both heritage, scientific knowledge and culture.

The Shannon Pot where the Shannon Rivers emerges from underground is a Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark site

The United Nations was always in my consciousness from an early age. When we lived in Queens, there was a United Nations Village beside my sister’s and eldest brother’s primary School, St. Nicholas of Tollentine. So they had classmates of children whose parents were working at the UN. The actual building where those parents worked was across the East River and opened in 1952. I went on a tour of the building in 1963 when it still was spanking new and very modern. What lives in my memory is a mural that was very abstract. I asked the tour guide what did it mean. I earned indulgent chuckles from the audience. Little children often ask the questions that the adults think, but also reckon will make them look unsophisticated.

Which brings me to another UNESCO designation that is close to my heart and where I make my home. I live within the demesne of the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark. It is a global geopark because it straddles an international boundary; Fermanagh is in the UK’s Northern Ireland and Cavan is in the Republic of Ireland. It was the first cross-border global geopark on the planet. That it was created in the wake of the Good Friday Belfast Treaty in 1998 is a cultural monument to co-operation after over thirty years of civil strife. The geology of this area has huge international significance and the artefacts from the previous millenia tell the story of how our human inhabitants developed their culture.

A glacial erratic in Cavan Burren Park called Fionn’s Fist is an example where geology meets mythological tale

What better way to transmit that heritage then with poetry? The first dwellers probably sang songs of successful hunts, lamented loved ones who passed, celebrated births and the seasons’ passing. Those first stories will have changed over time as each age changed the tune and timing, but the great themes are eternal and connect those of us living today with our mitochondrial mothers. Science helps us excavate new facts and amazing discoveries where we can alter our view about how this living organism -Earth – lives, breaths and shape shifts. Poetry transmits how we interlink with other living organisms. The work of poetry is to make connections.

SHakeholeCladdaghGlen
Shakehole Claddagh Glen

Which brings me to the perfect marriage of my biophilia and poetry. Today, we launch a digital project with Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark where we will be mapping the geopark poem by poem. Five established poets have been commissioned to create new work on the geoheritage of sites across the geopark. I will be curating the project and reaching out to new and emerging poets asking them for their own contributions. Twelve of those poets will also feature on the Geopark’s digital poetry map. As schools reopen I will be doing outreach with the 9-12 year olds who have visited geopark sites where they live for contributions.

The project has been funded by the Geological Survey of Ireland’s Geoheritage Fund. Cavan Arts Office is funding my work as curator of the project through an Artist Development Award. We are also grateful for Cavan’s Ramor Theatre contributing professional actors to recite the work and to record sound files.

Ultimately, the Geopark Poetry Map will be on the Marble Arch Cave UNESCO Global Geopark website. later in 2021. You will be able to click onto the digital map and read the poem off the screen and click on the sound file and hear it in your ear. Poetry is both a visual and aural experience. The Geopark Poetry Map is a vehicle for doing outreach from a safe distance in these pandemic times.

I live in what feels like a miraculous landscape. My hope is that the poems will educate, entertain and inspire the public to cherish this precious place where I have been graced to live these past twenty years.

If you would like to know more about the Geopark Poetry Map, how to submit a poem for consideration, or to just get more background information about some of the seventy sites around Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark, please email

GeoparkPoetryMap@gmail.com

I look forward to reading the poems that will celebrate the great geoheritage of this landscape.

Since this is a poetry blog I better finish with a poem. The poem is dedicated to Dr. Kirsten Lemon, who was the geologist who taught me and the other Cavan Geopark Ambassadors about the wonders of the earth beneath our feet back in 2011.

Iapetus
For Dr. Kirsten Lemon

The primordial soup
boiled over,
a neonising tsunami
overflowing,
making a subtropical hollow
ocean
over iron stained desert floor

Ebb and flow , 
sun up and down,
landmass creaks and groans.
Still - the magma goes.

The Cailleach never shrugged.
Not at all!
Nor she shirked. 
She bore the granite load,
lugging it, going heave-ho!
Playing pat-a-cake,
She mixed mud and stone,
taking the two and making one –

an island of halves,
bi-valved, being both, 
doing the double,
tied with her apron’s strings.

Running her giant’s thumb
down the seam
the Cailleach made her mark
with a spit and a lick.
She sealed its secret,
calling it a promise.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. By permission of the author.

Lockdown St. Patrick’s Day

Greetings from Ireland where we are still in Level 5 Lockdown. So…not a traditional St. Patrick’s Day of parades, silly lepruchaun hats, or costumes of fake butt cheeks sporting ‘Pogue Mahone’ (that translates as kiss my you know what), or children playing tin whistle and showing off what they have learned in Irish dance classes the past year on a temporary stage in the middle of the town. There are no wailing accordians or jiggy fiddles playing. I didn’t even see shamrocks for sale in my local supermarket this year. The closest I come to any of these in these lockdown days is my cat Felix doing what I call the Pogue Mahone during Zoom sessions. I gather from online posts that some people are celebrating by baking Guinness cake. Which is fitting since baking has practically become a competitive sport online since Lockdown 1. BTW, in Ireland it is not a corned beef and cabbage menu day, because that it Irish American. We tend towards boiled gammon and colcannon traditionally. Also, corned beef is called salt beef here. Besides, we have gone very foodie here this past decade. I add seaweed to my vegetable soup these days and all manner of ‘exotic’ vegetables are available even in my village’s Spar grocery store.

St. Patrick’s Day has always been a bit bittersweet for me. Once we moved to Ireland it had its festive years or was a good day to start planting the spuds since we had the day off work. The first time I encountered a shamrock was in 1962 when Leona Doyle pinned an emerald green pipecleaner shamrock on my dress. She was one of the choir ladies who were busy setting up the lunch for the mourners returning from my father’s funeral.

From the beginning of this month I returned to hosting poetry writing classes on Zoom. We are fiddling about with the sonnet form at the moment. There were two of us in the group who wrote lamens to Lockdown. It has been a long winter and even with the daffodils blooming we still have an indeterminate time in full Lockdown unless you are a primary school child or taking your Leaving Certificate exams this year.

When Will It Be Over?

Annie, I am beginning to feel as if that henna
which you lavished on my locks last January before last
and  held fast, fading but still lingering at the ends  -
that it's a sign, one that's occurred arbitrarily.
 I long for my hairdresser's business to come back
so she can hack off those ends, make it all be over.
My magical thinking releases all of us from this train wreck
year, that the ordeal is shed with my hair on Nuala's floor.

My fevered imagination has me growing out the plague.
I care not one whit for the regrowth that is silver and grey.
In this eternal meanwhile I am growing more awake.
I have grown a new measure for all our long, long days -
on rosary beads, going 'Click, Click, Click,' in collecting groceries,
masking, unmasking, washing, growing, writing poetry.

Copyright 2021, Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

This photo is one of my own of the high cross and round tower on Devenish Island in Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh. Those medieval strongholds were the legacy of St. Patrick’s mission to Ireland.

Devenish Island high cross roundtower
The high cross and roundtower on Devenish Island in Lough Erne

The featured photo is of St. Patrick’s Holy Well in Belcoo, Fermanagh.

Both places visited in pre-pandemic times when we were not confined to 5 kms from home except for essential journeys of the medical or grocery kind.

Dragon, Damsel, Dance and Fly!

I love how synchronicities work. This week’s poem began as a creative writing warm up exercise with my fellow Word Alchemists last Saturday. In an exercise called “Word Salad” I haul out my mammoth Oxford English Dictionary and randomly pick six words I literarily close my eyes, open a page, twirl my finger in the air and then light down onto the page. Once we have six words, I challenge us to use all of them in a quick piece of timed writing. It is fun. It can be ridiculous. It can also be quite illuminating as you make formerly unseen connections.

One of those random words was Odonata, which refers to that order of flying insect life that includes the example of dragon and damsel flies. I am very fond of both who zip in and out of our lives. One dragonfly once buzz bombed me down our lane while walking the dogs. Another hummed around the polyutunnel one day as I was tending the tomato plants. In my more fey moments I think of them as the way fairies morph for transport in a way that won’t startle the humans, kind of like a Fairy Aeroflot.

So I had reworked the Saturday effort for this week’s poem when in walks my husband to present me with an aromatherapy necklace with a dragonfly on it!

Dragonfly Aromatherapy Necklace

Tony was completely unaware of what was emerging from my notebook’s scribblings and crossings out. He chose it principally because I like purple and it amuses him to think he is living with a dangerous (b)older woman who wears a lot of purple. Please do check out the Jenny Joseph poem that he is alluding to….https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/warning/

BTW, I also like its complimentary colour of yellow and have added a rather fetching mustard boyfriend cardigan to my 2021 wardrobe. Sometimes you just to have to stop living and go online shopping instead, to paraphrase the BB King song.

In any context, I always feel that dragonflies and damselflies bring some magic into life. What one of us could not do with a sprinkling of magic into our days these days? For (b)older people like myself who will have to wait a while for our Covid vaccination, we have a fairly long stretch in Lockdown Land for the foreseeable future.

The Dragons and Damsels Dance and Fly

The cranes are dancing in Japan...

Where would they deign to create a folkdance
to celebrate the order Odonata?
Where would we see them zip and pond dip
in costumes of emerald and peacock blue?
See the damsels curtsey to brother dragon.
They do not jeté or  or swank about 
in Swan Lake chorus line. They still  dance and fly.

When summer feels a one ten thousandths
polar distance away...
Oh, when will we meet again at crossroads
to sing and dance on St. John's Eve?
When shall we see familiar faces flickering
on  that midsummer Bonfire Night?
For now, we remain horror-struck
in a wind chill factor wintertime.

The cranes are dancing in Japan
in the snow, where they bow and bow
their necks, issuing the invite
to their fellows to do-si-do.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Erik Karits on Unsplash

And then Cailleach Beara Laughed

…at my last post,which implied Spring was a coming in here in Ireland. And it was, pretty much, until the last few days. Then on Thursday we had the most astonishing sunrise. More astonishing still, I was up and at the digital memorialising of it even though the temperatures were sub-zero. Because you know it’s cold when you have to put a hot water bottle on the (outdoor) calor gas drum to coax it to flow so you can have your breakfast porridge!

Red sky in morning, shepherd’s warning and all that… We woke up to a very different dawn, with a barely there light and snow coming down. Only around two inches like, but that is enough for orange snow and ice warnings for the area from MetEireann. My husband fed the birds and I walked the dog before 9:30 am during a lull in the snowfall. The mountain in the sunrise photo was obliterated between heavy cloud and snowfall. The wind, on a yellow warning, did some damage; between the weight of the snow and the wind, a long tear seared the polytunnel’s skin. (Not to worry, since it was scheduled for a re-skinning this spring.) So it has felt as if the Cailleach Beara, or Mother Winter, really was having a laugh at my precipitous statement.

However, it livens up what I am now terming Pandemic Groundhog Day. For those of us who have really stuck to minimising our essential trips (most to the village that is 3km from home) and taking exercise within 5km, it amounted as a major change of scenery to take the general waste to the tip 20 km away. We also needed the nearest health food store 32 km away, last visited the first week in December after Lockdown 2 lifted, for items unobtainable in the village. It felt like visiting Babylon.

And while I have continued my haiku/senryu/tanka a day journal, I really have felt the flame of inspiration sputtering and guttering. At least I know I am not alone in this. Here is my friend and sometime creative colleague, Morag Donald’s, recent blog. (https://moragdonald.wordpress.com/2021/02/05/creative-spark/?fbclid=IwAR3c4coU7wfTGBzWqrKIvamRWrPNRX2Dn0VKL-yaa3Nf3ZlFaK-WsYgSTuE). Brigid’s Day 2020 saw us co-faciliating a day retreat of craft and poetry. I look forward to days when we can co-create in person.

The sheer grind of keeping the household tidy, supplied, hygienic, fed and watered, as well as taking our prescribed thirty minutes of daily outdoor exercise has been energy sapping. It may, in part, be the toll the January injury took, but I am now coming round to the conclusion that there is a chink in my pandemic stoicism. There has been a death from Covid in the next village over from us, according to the local undertaker’s wife. (The things you learn while doing the weekly shop!) And I posted off two Recuperation CARE parcels in the past ten days. This variant is picking off the younger generations and hitting them hard.

Yes, the Cailleach laughed. Winter is not over yet. Even so, I did a panic online shopping spree last Sunday when I saw a report that Brexit has slowed plant and seed supplies into Northern Ireland, where our nearest garden centre is located. A quick online snoop had me ordering willy nilly from various Republic of Ireland sources, alarmed at all the ‘Out of Stock’ labels. Still need to source spuds and yellow onions.

Meanwhile, my friend Morag’s blog post seems to be pointing me in the right direction for digging myself out of my creative funk. My zoom classes and students probably kept the creative flame kindled in 2020. I need to acknowledge that I receive so much from that contact and be grateful for them. It might be time to make contact with those creative colleagues again to keep inspiration’s flame alive. I am thinking that it might be time to recommence the poetry workshops, starting with a two month dive into a handful of poetry forms.

I do have a poem in the works, but it is not fully ‘cooked.’ In the meantime, I am pointing you towards a video show I participated in last Sunday, hosted by my friend John Wilmott of Carrocrory Cottage and Labyrinths. I read four poems at roughly thirty minutes into the show. One poem is in the archive, but the others are probably new to blog followers. (https://youtu.be/sfIofvscCyY).

The poem that is in the works was ‘sparked’ by the theme of that day’s show. Hope you get some inspiration. Meanwhile, renewal is on its way. The snowdrops are blooming and the daffodil shoots are braving it through the snow. I just need to be more like them.

Spring Really is Coming…at least in Ireland

Belated greetings for the feast of Brigid, goddess and matron saint of Ireland. Her feast runs from the eve (31st January) to 2nd February. Celtic festivals generally run three days. But feasts are flexible things – if you go by the lunar calculations it was just past 10pm last night in my time zone. Spring comes slowly. Just as healing often does. Brigid, both as a goddess and saint, is associated with healing. Which I have – impatiently – been doing.

Keyboard typing still tires and feels sore if I overuse it. But I did not want to miss out on sending out harbingings of renewal. I picked green rushes on Monday in the rain and wove a few St. Brigid’s crosses to give to friends and family. I also hung out my Brat Bríde on Sunday night to collect St. Brigid’s blessings and healing energy. It has been suggested on Brigid’s Way’s website that we should hang out our face masks. Good idea. Last year I used mine as the inner layer of my first handsewn face masks during Lockdown 1. This year I sent some to people I know recovering from Covid19.

Brigid’s Day is ideal for a celebration in isolation. It was, until recent years, a home made celebration of hearth and farmyard. Its myths tell of the Winter Hag, the cailleach, who tries to hang on to her season. Yet, the maiden, the new life, will have its season. She is coming, inexorably, inevitably. Even the frosted snowdrops know this. They can feel the earth beneath us warming. The hibernating animals known their drowsy days are numbered.

I spent Monday writing poems, too. Because Brigid is the matron of poetry, too. She also is the Skill Woman, the smithy at the forge, creating by changing. She encompasses all the elements – water of the holy healing wells, the forge’s fire, the whisper of balmy air some days, the earth that is silently greening even under the frost or snow.

Imbolc is considered a threshold time of year. St. Brigid is said to have been born on a threshold. The folklore is that her dairy maid mother was taken in labour while she was milking. The legend says that she grasped the doorframe to support her as her daugher slid to earth just as dawn broke. Sort of a double liminality – dawn and doorway.

St. Brigid's Day

The hinge creaks, stiff with winter's ice and cold,
wind battered, rain rusted. The door's swollen.
It needs elbow grease to give. Go Heave-ho!
The door's wood's expanded, shut tight, chosen
to block out winter's worst. But now it's time
to open the door, welcome this season.
There's still snow on the mountain if you climb
but down low the pasture is beginning to green.
The birds have changed their polyphany, too.
This morning the blackbird turned, stared me down,
daring winter to stay. We have got through.
Light after darkness. The wheel circles round.
The door opens. So it creaks. May it sing!
The blackbird knows that it is time for spring.

Elementary

Just this...that all we have is each other.

This earth I stand upon and walk
is my spine and skeleton bone.
Water that runs through us, underneath.
surrounding, was amniotic ocean,
arterial flow, a body glowing,
sap in each limb rising, reaching
to sun and air. Oh breathe, Tree! Inhale!
Exhale your sweet self so I may inhale.

Lightening was fire's first spark, electrified.
Thunder rolled off the mountain,then came rain,
wind swept and angled, falling fast and hard.
Huddled in caves with each other we yearned
until flint on flint sparked, lighting dry twig.

May you feel the blessings of increasing light and warmth this Imbolc season.

Copyright ©Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

Selective Remembrance

Today’s poem commemorates a century since the ending of ‘the war to end all wars.’ Which hasn’t happened again and again and again worldwide, in civil disputes, freedom fights, and far ranging involvements that have resulted in more war and less peace.  Remembrance Day 2018 salutes the fallen who served when called. But on this Remembrance Day I also want to be thankful for those conscientious objectors, many of whom I met when they were in their 80s and 90s back in the last millenium.  I knew COs who served in the merchant marine in both world wars. I knew those who served in the Friends Ambulence Unit. I knew those who did social work in the bomb ravaged East End of London as alternative service. I even knew a CO who was a jail bird. Rather than parlay his engineering reserved occupation status, he went to Stangeways Prison and rewired their electrics. I remember them today.

The poem’s title is inspired by a project a Quaker friend of mine participated for this Remembrance Day. She was here last summer and crocheted numerous white poppies to create wreaths of remembrance for those who suffered the collateral damage of war. You can find out more about this Peace Pledge Union project  here.

The white poppy has become the pacifist way of remembering on the 11th of the 11th month each year. I am remembering with a poem that was also in part inspired by a BBC documentary where a German World War I combatant described how his first kill affected him forever.

The featured image is a photograph I took in Litchfield Cathedral last April. In a side chapel they had an exhibit on the first World War. This sculpture calls to mind the many (about 300 if my memory of one statistic floated is serving me correct) shell-shocked soldiers who were executed for ‘funking.’ I remember those men, too, today.

This is a revised version of a poem originally posted here in 2018

Collateral Damage

Killing is nothing personal

so long as it is wears the other uniform.

One who knew the trenches spoke,

remembered the moment

he saw the eyes of the man

he bayonetted.

How strangling, beating

and stabbing were their day’s work.

No problem…

except he still woke some nights,

haunted by that Frenchman’s eyes,

his hand,

which otherwise he would have taken and shook.

Then there were the ones who came home broken –

even after Armistice those absent

while sitting around the dining table.

There were Dads who disappeared each Christmas

down a bottle, refighting the Battle.

There were ones who drove family away.

Home has no place for combat.

Lest we forget the shell-shocked comrades

stood blindfolded before firing squad

knowing the Pals taking the parting shot.

Lest we forget survivors who escaped

bombs and bullets in cellars. And rape. Or not.

The victor can spoil. They’ve lost the shellac.

It leaves a wildness in the blood and bone.

War spoils,

both survivors and civilians back home.

That peace bugled at Last Post

never sounded an easy note.

Lest we forget the price of peace consider

the cost in collateral damage

It’s colossal.

It’s personal,

whites in eyes.

Like a bayonet into a belly.

Truly, that is the business of war.

All are lost.

Lest we forget.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2020

I discovered this photo on Facebook in a post by Nikki Phillips of an art installation by Jackie Llandelli of Ghost Soldiers overlooking their memorials in St. John’s Churchyard, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

Ghost Soldiers

			

Best of Times,Worst of Times

Who, in the English speaking world, has not read Charles Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities at some point during their teens? It was a set text when I was in 10th grade in the early 1970s. But that was a world ago. Do teenagers know Sidney Carton’s heroic speech these days? At any rate, those opening sentences resonate with this year. Well, some may not be feeling it for the former, but the tale of those two cities does illustrate how that sentence can be true.

We are not quite a week into Ireland’s second lockdown, which we are told will last until 1st December. In truth, I barely registered that it was a bank holiday in the Republic yesterday and it almost escaped me that today is Tuesday. I nearly forgot that today is the day I post a weekly blog. And ideally, a new poem.

What emerged is very rough and raw. It is a monument only to my commitment to keep up the practice. It is not for want of idleness. I have a couple projects in train with only twelve days off between the end of my Zoom Short Fiction workshop in October and the Poetry one that starts the first week in November. I am currently writing a e-course provisionally titled A Light in the Window: A 21 Day Journey Through December’s Dark Days. The plan is for participants who register to get a daily reflection and journal prompt in their email inbox for twenty-one days. As a bonus, there is a Sunday Zoom ‘Virtual Fireside’ where participants can check in, share and companion one another as we journal and journey our way to winter solstice. Watch this space for full details to get released early in November.

I also have a grant proposal to write before 6th November, as well as prep for the Poetry workshops in November. So I may be living in splendid isolation, but I am far from idle. The side of my brain that engages with prose is more active at the moment. It felt like I had to wrench it bit to get it into gear for the draft of poem that follows. Or there may be two poems inside this particular draft. I have not got the bandwidth to decide today! Only some revision time will allow for me to decide. But that may not be until Yuletide!

  The Best of Times, The Worst of Times
 
 Which, in truth, tremulously hover 
 between terror and hope.
 Just this year we said goodbye
 to the Indian cheetah
 the Sumatran rhino,
 turtles, paddlefish, macaws.
  
 Perhaps we only truly feel grateful
 once we have destroyed, 
 then indulge in nostalgia. We mourn
 with crocodile tears from a croc
 with a ticking clock inside.
  
 We will only know them as figures
 in the illustrated guide to ecocide,
 or as shadows behind the rice paper
 sliding door separating us 
 from our own transmutation
  
 into hungry ghosts wandering,
 not knowing that our life – the old life-
 with its morning rites like
 tea and toast or coffee and brioche
 has gone. 
We can only watch it, 
looking from outside in
through the steamed up glass of a transport caff.
  
Once there was a child who dimpled
as it smiled for no particular reason,
flexing its thigh muscles as it got used
to the their power as they bounced 
up and down for the admiration
of a doting giant.
  
 Once that child twirled itself round and round
 before hurling itself onto the grassy ground
 to feel the pull of the world as it revolved
 on its skewed axis. And it knew happiness
 as it watched cloud and sky fly past.
  
 Perhaps it was always thus.
 That only when we sacrifice for the sake of love
 do we know the best in the worst
 and time stops
 being relevant. 
That then there is only
 
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
 And
 We miss you. 
 We miss you. 
 We miss you.
 
 Copyright ©Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved. 

Featured image Photo by Daniel Joshua on Unsplash