The New Weekend Normal

How do you keep track of which day of the week it is if you are not working a regular job, at home or otherwise? What routine is part of your Covid 19 New Weekend Normal? One friend confessed that she ordered out for takeaway food each Saturday. Partly it was to take a break from cooking. Mostly, to have some kind of marker in the week that was regular. Although getting a takeaway these days means collection is by appointment and a masked and gloved person slides your order to you on a tray. It feels faintly illicit. For me, now that NaPoWriMo is done, it is getting back to my Sunday Weekly post. That is my New Weekend Normal.

Ireland began Phase 1 of its Roadmap to Reopening last Monday. Although there was an initial rash of more people stopping and having a shouted chat from the lane to us in the garden, things have slumped back to the quieter rhythm. It is as if now that we have had a little ration of other faces different from the ones we have been looking at for the last two months and more, that we have crept back to our old cocooning ways. That Ireland’s two month drought, which coincided with the Call to Cocoon, broke this week, does not mean there is a rush for tiny outdoor tea parties. At writing, there is a storm, heavy rain for sure, but also really blustery wind over 40 km an hour. So this weekend the weather has us indoors.

The New Normal also means that every diary date that has been noted in January is cancelled. This Saturday I was scheduled to give a Mindfulness Walk in the Cavan Burren. On Sunday we should have been fine dining at the MacNean Restaurant, celebrating our niece’s 28th birthday. At this point, I am looking forward to FaceTiming with her and thinking that, all being well, we might get to see her August 11th! As for the Sunday lunch, I shall have to hope we can get a 2021 slot.

Though I have to say that the Phase 1 of reopening seemed to unlock my ability to tackle re-writes, to edit individual poems for the manuscript that has languished between adjusting to our Covid19 New Normal and the diversion of daily poem writing for NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo. Anecdotally, I learned that many people had difficulty concentrating in the early days of Stay in Place. Although in many respects our lives did not change radically, it is often the subtle readjustments that throw us. Like when your cooker goes kaput and you are cocooning. For the first time ever I have invested in White Goods by looking at a photo of shopfloor model and paid by credit card over the phone. The delivery on Monday should be interesting. Nonetheless, things are shifting. The energy is subtly different.

Here in Ireland
This week, we opened the windows a crack.
So suddenly things felt a whole lot more people-y.  
Though news travels tractor pace
up and down our lane, more cars passed
Monday, May 18th, and people didn’t just wave,
but pulled up, hand braked, to shout out catch ups.
Surprise that our neighbour next door went back to hospital
was it two weeks ago now. Shock that the cocoon funeral
actually had shoulder-to-shoulder pall bearers!
But the craic is the director has six family members on call.
There were pickups of garden cuttings set out on our wall
with shouted debates on how to avoid cultivation errors.
Just when we could have invited a friend round
for an outdoor cup of tea sitting two metres away,
the two month drought broke.  The great wind
that might wind up being called Ellen blusters.
The willows are bending over at their waists
performing hourly ritual prostrations.
We remain in.

Cocooning prior to Covid-19 meant a time to go within, to regroup and recharge. It is especially sacred time for introverts to take time out when things just get too people-y. Here’s a poem I wrote before our current context.

Given the re-writes, the jigs and reels of submission guidelines, the brief fever of flash fiction writing this week, I am going to offer a tanka as the Sunday Weekly poem today. In terms of reopening from cocooning, I feel as if we may have cracked the pupa, but I feel like a very dozy caterpillar. The weather turned heavy this week as the low pressure system approached and a number of us (myself included) have felt zonked some days.

A tanka is a haiku followed by two seven syllable lines portraying a complete picture or mood

Poetry in Pandemics

Some people count the weeks that they have been cocooned, quarantined or locked down. Until this morning I had not. I knew the date that was the last time we had driven outside of our village. We went to the nearest town twelve miles away to carry our some essential life laundry tasks and skittered back home fast. I was gloved up for that outing and have masked and gloved up since, even though Leitrim has the lowest infection rate in the Republic of Ireland. That was 52 days ago. Since then we have stayed within 2 kilometres of our home. Tony, celebrated his 70th birthday in March as cocooning was announced; he has been happily cocooned and busy in the garden. We realise how blessed we are to have it and our rural setting during this pandemic Chastening Time. I shop in the local grocery and post office/hardware for essentials. Anything we cannot get locally we buy online or is shopped for by a young neighbour, who also gloves up and masks, when he goes to the county seat each week. I sanitise like OCD is a fashion and not a mental disorder.

This week the realisation sank in that even as other parts of the world are loosening quarantine, this is now our new normal and will be for a long time to come. Technically, we could invite two non-related friends round for tea outdoors with our chairs spaced six feet from each other. In practice, I don’t think many of us are quite ready for that just yet. A kind of pandemic agoraphobia has set in. So while others may be planning a trip to the garden centre tomorrow, I have been contemplating the logistics of winter in the Chastening Time, which is now my name for this collective pandemic experience. Generally speaking, I am an optimist. But I respect science and historical experience.

I did some Googling around what people were reading during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. According to a YouTube documentary I watched this week it was misnamed. The origins of that virus was in the American rural heartland when it jumped from pigs to humans. Spain got the name because it announced to the world that this killer virus was sweeping the nation. Elsewhere there had been cases but due to media censorship during World War I, the infection was more rumour than public health bulletin. The troop movements exacerbated the virus finding more and more human hosts globally. The last landfall of that particular virus was Australia in 1919.

Of course, the horror of mechanised war was what dominated the poetry publisher lists. Siegfried Sassoon and Rudyard Kipling must have been an interesting juxtopositioning on the Publishers Weekly lists. W. B. Yeats published his Wild Swans at Coole that included his poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Sara Teasdale’s Love Songs was awarded a Pulitzer in 1918. In 1919 Margaret Widdemer’s The Old Road to Paradise shared the poetry Pulitzer with Carl Sandburg’s The Cornhuskers. Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot were just beginning their poetry careers in the UK. They were also mourning poets killed by the war like Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas, who was a close friend of Robert Frost.

Even though the Spanish Flu could strike you stone dead within twelve hours there is not a great deal to hint that this pandemic was killing more than the considerable casualties of the Great War. But, as a friend who studied Public Health Administration told me in a phone conversation, that generation was used to people falling ill and dying. They did it all the time. They did not have antibiotics. Recovery was a miracle; invalid relatives appear in novel’s marginalia all the time in the 19th century. Beth March is probably the most famous example. They all visit the seaside, but linger as shadows and then die. Yellow Fever and cholera epidemics were within living memory. Tuberculosis was rife. So numbed by the sheer scale of military casualties, the Spanish flu barely ripples across the pages of poetry. That people should fall ill and die was in the normal purview of the Grim Reaper. That a generation of men should be gassed, maimed and suffocated in muddy trenches was something new and horrifying.

But here we are a century on, innured to the medical magic bullets of antibiotics and vaccines. Except this particular virus has all the wiliness of a fox and the whole pack of hounds on its heels can simply not run it to earth. Or, at least, in no time in the near future. And for those who object to blood sports, I apologise to the fox in the metaphor above.

All this rumination comes from contemplating how you can be preparing a manuscript to send off to publishers (many of whom may go to the wall in the economic crash) without somehow referencing this collective experience. Or, as same friend in a phone call relates, the only thing that remains the same in one’s life are the seasons.

So for this Sunday’s Weekly poem I concentrated on one of the eternals in life.

In the shade of drystone wall
                                                among weeds.
Beside celandine and sedge
                                                two purple
flowering heads announcing that
                                                it’s coming.
All the times I have paced passed
                                                I missed them.
Such is the surprise of joy
                                                in small things –
the cuckoo’s call, smell of earth
                                                after rain,
the hawthorn blossom's sweet scent
                                                of new life
and its promise of decay.
                                                Do not pick
purple orchid or hawthorn in flower.
                                                Let them be.
Allow them to be released
                                                to surprise
summer after summer, again
                                                and again,
a small ration of joy found.
                                                Not foraged.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

By the by, the two of best selling authors whose names still had some recognition a century later were Zane Grey and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Agatha Christie broke out in Publishers Weekly in 1920. So if you can only read light fiction at the moment, you may have something in common with our ancestor’s pandemic reading tastes.

Sunday Weekly, Poetry Edition

Contemplating the function of poetry in these strange times, it seems to me that the themes of impermanence and small joys speak to our current global condition. Elegies exercise grief over loss. Odes, too, can eulogise. Haiku, senryu, and tanka offer a snapshot image and feeling that is already gone except for the paper it is written on. Perhaps nature and love poems are the compensating joys, even if that, too, proves evanescent. The Celtish culture defined poetry as being ‘all memory.’ Memory can be a tricky thing. Holes can appear; we mend and make do to create meaning in the face of the great imponderables. In the face of our inchoate, post-Covid 19 future, philosophy may help us navigate day to day reality, but poetry may actually be what helps us navigate grief and uncertainty.

I know that some of my readers will be in the belly of a polar vortex this weekend. One Ohio based Facebook friend posted a photo of snowflakes on dandelion clocks. Here in Ireland today is chillier, after several days that were 20C (or 68 Farhrenheit in old money.) The sunshine made it feel warmer and I anointed myself with sunscreen for the first time this year, as one step beyond the floppy hat protection. We had the full Flower Moon, the last supermoon of 2020, this past week and astronomical Bealtaine (or Beltane outside of Ireland). As if waiting for its cue, the hawthorn began to unbutton its tight white buds and began to flower. I wrote a long Beataine poem this week that has been sent to a friend who posted me some life enhancing Lockdown light literature – crime fiction by Antonia Fraser, Raymond Chandler and J. M. Cain. I asked what I could send as a thank you and all she wanted was a Bealtaine poem! Classy lady, as another friend commented.

In the USA it is Mother’s Day. On this side of the pond we celebrate that on a Sunday that is close to the vernal equinox; it also is close to Lady Day, the feast of the Annunciation of Mary. Either date, the celebration of Mother’s Day has strong Marian overtones. Bealtaine, the month of May, is also a great fertility celebration as the growing season gets into full swing.

So for the Sunday Weekly I have written some tanka, although I have played a bit fast and lose with the rules in the latter. One is a salute to American Mother’s Day, which must feel rather odd this year for families that don’t share one roof. Lilacs are strong in my childhood memories of the month of May. Partially because there was a bush by the kitchen side door. Also partially because of hay fever memories from the bouquets brought to school for Marian celebration processions.

And this other tanka-ish poem is a nod to my near neighbours. I shouldn’t really say they are noisy, but… Their nest in the roof’s eaves is just above my writing space. So I cannot help but notice them.

Have a peaceful, restful Sunday with many small joys.

Featured image is a Photo by Nellia Kurme on Unsplash

Handmade Gratitude

Day 20 of NaPoWriMo is all out of order. I slept ten hours and rose late for me. It was sunny. So that dictated doing laundry. Also, I had the lines of a completely other poem going through my head as I was waking, so I jotted that draft down before I would forget, as I drank my first cup of tea. So here I am well past lunchtime getting down to the the daily promp for posting . And although I am sort of writing according to spec, I feel as if I am colouring a bit outside the lines. Rather than concentrate on a single item, I found myself in list poem land. Or maybe it is a litany of (handmade) small and great gratitudes.This was the actual (optional) prompt.

Today, in gratitude for making it to Day 20, our (optional) prompt asks you to write a poem about a handmade or homemade gift that you have received. It could be a friendship bracelet made for you by a grade-school classmate, an itchy sweater from your Aunt Louisa, a plateful of cinnamon toast from your grandmother, a mix-tape from an old girlfriend. And whatever gift you choose, we wish you happy writing!
Once, a Celtic knot clock.
Several hand painted silk scarves,
and crocheted woolly ones, too.
A Technicolor Joseph’s coat shawl
way back in the early 1970s.
A cover to keep my iPad toasty.
Jars of pumpkin chutney.
Blackberry jam and apple jelly.
Chocolate chip cookies.
Knitted coffee mug cosies.
The meals my mother made daily
decade after decade,
casseroles from leftover ham at Easter,
and tuna melts on Fridays
when I got off the bus from college.
My father’s hand
as he touched my mother’s shoulder.
She turned towards him
and let me in.
Copyright© Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.
handmade gratitude
My handmade gratitude journal done in a Crafting Your Soul Workshop back in 2018.

Today’s featured image is a Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Inventory of Personal Effects

NaPoWriMo Day 19 dawns overcast and chilly. It’s the kind of day when, since it is a Sunday, calls for pulling on a cardigan that colour coordinates with your pyjamas and call it getting dressed. Sunday, after all, is meant to be a day of rest. Being confined within two kilometers from home has meant keeping pretty busy – not just poetry, but helping in the garden and keeping domestic upkeep ticking over. I have maintained a fairly strict routine, but today I am feeling like I need a flop. Which is why when the NaPoWriMo Day 19 prompt called for “walking archive” I decided to tackle the prompt by letting my eyes do the walking from my bed. This was the full invitation:

Today, our optional prompt challenges you to write a poem based on a “walking archive.” What’s that? Well, it’s when you go on a walk and gather up interesting thing – a flower, a strange piece of bark, a rock. This then becomes your “walking archive” – the physical instantiation of your walk. If you’re unable to get out of the house (as many of us now are), you can create a “walking archive” by wandering around your own home and gathering knick-knacks, family photos, maybe a strange spice or kitchen gadget you never use. One you’ve finished your gathering, lay all your materials out on a tray table, like museum specimens. Now, let your group of materials inspire your poem! You can write about just one of the things you’ve gathered, or how all of them are all linked, or even what they say about you, who chose them and brought them together.

I tend to group items that have caught my eye or have personal meaning and place them on windowsills around my house. They are like mini-altars to…whatever. So I let my eyes rove around like I was a chief inspector trying to learn something about a victim or suspect. (Yes, this has been influenced by some late night reading of a detective novel. Louise Penny, as it happens. I have been rationing the reading of my library books while staying home. That was my last fresh whodunit finished in the early hours.)

Inventory of Personal Effects
1.Conch shell-
   ocean echoes.
2.Driftwood -
   sculpted into hawk’s beak.
3.Talking stick-
   the truth spoken
   over feather.
4. Scallop fan-
    outlines mellowed.
5. Rosewood beads –
    petitions softly speak.
6.  A fossil stone –
    secrets unbroken
    grouped together.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

I hope you have a restful Sabbath while you are staying at home.

Today’s featured image is a Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

Le Weekend a la Lockdown

The prompt from NaPoWriMo Day 18 would have us thinking about Saturdays. That, inevitably, invites a contrast between before lockdown and what a weekend means now that we are in lockdown. Because without external cues, we might lose track of what day it is at all. My husband had to check with me a couple days ago. My reply was that I checked on my tablet everyday to keep track.

Our optional prompt for the day also honors the idea of Saturday (the Saturdays of the soul, perhaps?), by challenging you to write an ode to life’s small pleasures. Perhaps it’s the first sip of your morning coffee. Or finding some money in the pockets of an old jacket. Discovering a bird’s nest in a lilac bush or just looking up at the sky and watching the clouds go by.

I figure I have written a good deal of poetry about small pleasures. They feature largely in our life out on an acre and quarter in West Cavan and give it much of its rich texture and rewards. Again, to quote the husband who says (ironically), “Another fine mess you got me in.” Which is a Stan Laurel line.

One of the features of our life in lockdown, and semi-retirement, is to have self-imposed routines. So my topic zeroed in on a new feature in our home routine of the small pleasure kind during lockdown and staying at home. My husband is very fond of cake, but when there was a dearth of flour and eggs early on in lockdown I brushed off some of my American cookbooks and returned to my native tradition of cookie baking. There is more bang for your buck in terms of ingredients. Also, they last a whole lot longer in this house.

The poem that finally emerged in my notebook and got tarted up when typing up, does steal a phrase from Stephen Colbert’s “A Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” I daresay he hasn’t trademarked it (yet) and I hope I will be forgiven for snatching it to go in the final stanza.

Le Weekend à la Lockdown
There is no bustle or rustle of thick newspaper.
The supplements have grown thin, though remain rich
There still remain some weekly landmarks to savour,
because if it is Saturday then it is time for Kitchen Witch
to wave her magic spoon, take her shift as shaper
in cookie dough of flour, sugar and butter.
Will it be this week orange and cardoman? Or vanilla?
Coconut or chocolate? Or peanut butter?
What’s left in the cupboard to set out in tray flotillas
of sweetness in a world that is full of bleakness?
Reading those headlines when we can get newspapers,
there is just one story. There must be some uniqueness.
Quarantine-while, millions get up to all sorts
                                                       of at home capers.
But if it’s Saturday, then here in my home
                                                     I am a cookie baker.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Rai Vidanes on Unsplash

In the Olden Days…Technology

NaPoWriMo Day 17 has invited us to write a poem about old technology. If you are technically kind of (b)old, then you have seen lots of technology upgrade and go. But the one that I feel is the most radical and historically revolutionary is the typewriter. I began my typing career as a callow fifteen year old learning how to improve my typing skills in a summer school class. I had had my own portable typewriter since I was twelve, a Confirmation gift if memory is correct. By the time I had an office job manual typewriters were making way for electric typewriters, the ever so jittery IBM Selectrics where you had to learn to virtually coo at the the keys instead of bullying them like some of the crankier manual models. I graduated to word processing early on with the first PCs and never looked back. Wow! You can easily correct your mistakes. For someone who was fast, but not always accurate, this was such a wheeze!

So my poem is a salute to the QWERTY keyboard and the manual typewriter in the days when you used five fingers instead of the opposable thumb to tap on a keyboard.

Before the tippety- tap of laptop,
the clackety-clack of a Remington manual
or a Smith Corona.
Before the middle classes worked in pods,
the typist girls swam in Esther Williams’ pools.
Before, three generations were schooled
in Typing and Notehand classes, where
more imaginative teachers urged you to carriage return
in time with the William Tell Overture
after weeks practicing lines about quick dogs
and brown cows dozing in pastures.
Ribbons were primed with ink. You made a mess of a manicure
changing the tape. One’s  missteps were corrected
with white liquid Typex in the days before
auto correct, spell check and Grammarly.  
We memorised our QWERTY, studiously.
You got to know your machine, how some
left their Ts and F’s uncapped whether
you hammered the keys or gently tapped.
A typewriter had personality and originality.
Its’ letter press was as unique as a thumbprint.
With fingers strengthened on piano etudes
a young girl could pack a portable and go forth
into the world. She didn’t have to be a shop girl,
a maid, telephonist or nurse. She could go and try
her luck in the world of commerce, or publishing,
or even reporting the news. She might drink cocktails
and eat oysters such was her big new world.
She just needed to be fast, accurate, literate,
the master of  QWERTY, and then
she could have her own apartment in the city,
and finally be the mistress of her own destiny.
We made triplicate carbon paper copies for posterity.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.