Weekly Poem: Of Octograms, Anchors and Hope

The first Zoom of the “Writing the Light in the Season of Darkness” sessions began this past Sunday. It coincided with the first day of the eight day Jewish holiday Hanukkah and the first Sunday of Christian Advent. I was looking at stars, (being bodies of light) and stumbled upon the Octogram, an eight pointed star that seems to have worked its way into just about every religious (and secular) tradition you could imagine. It figures into Goddess spirituality as the Star of Ishtar and Hinduism as the Star of Lakshmi. It appears in Judeo-Christiantradition as the Star of the Magi and kabbalah, and symbolises Islam in the character Rub el Hizb. Buddhists use it to represent the Eightfold Path of the Buddha. Michael Moorcock designated it the Chaos Star and I found an obscure reference to it as The Warrior Star. But to Native Americans an octogram signifies Hope. And hope was the theme for our writing prompts this past Sunday.

Coincidentally, there are eight women who signed on for this Zoom workshop, too! So athe group is also an octogram.

We started with some of the usual symbols of hope as prompts: anchors, rainbows, birch trees, butterflies, as well as that old Emily Dickinson chestnut “Hope…that thing with feathers…” (There was some rebellion in the Zoom Room as a few took exception with Emily, especially since one of our number had just been nipped by her parrot!)

I played around with a few things but what challenged me was that phrase “Warrior Star” and how it connects to Hope. Mostly because I resisted the idea of yoking hope and warrior…but poety is the path of surprise and this is where it led me.

Maybe Hope

Maybe hope is what keeps you fighting your corner...
Maybe hope is the courage that anchors...
Maybe hope is what never shall be moved...
Maybe hope is the motor of survival...
Maybe hope is the highest stake against high roller odds...
Maybe hope is the adreneline rush  with the pay off...
Maybe hope is the warrior that wears wings...

What is hope to you? An anchor, a butterfly, a rainbow, a thing with feathers, a tree? Can you write eight things, people or events that fill you with hope? Light a candle to them.

Featured image this week is Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Thanksgiving Grace and Gratitude

It’s been forty years since I left the motherland and I have only partaken of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey celebration meal a couple handful of times over those decades. Sometimes I travelled back to family. At other times, I celebrated with other ex-patriots in England or Ireland. This does not, however, prevent me from contemplating gratitude on an annual basis. That is bone marrow deep. I don’t miss football games, parades, marathons or anxiety over gravy making. But my husband has often commented that having an annual day for gratitude is A Good Thing. So this morning, instead of making stuffing and pumpkin pie in preparation for the Great Feast tomorrow, I contemplated current events and gratitude…and the state of grace.

I write in Ireland when the L word has not been spoken, but rising infection rates are causing government to somberly talk of ‘extra measures’ and a plea for office workers to go back to working from home. With the riots against increased Covid restrictions across the continent this past weekend they are taking a softly-softly approach. Now Northern Ireland is also asking folk to work at home…but humans are social animals and after so much isolation they appear reluctant to give up on their face-to-face life. And, it has to be admitted, the seclusion and isolation has had a big impact on the collective mental and physical health. High Covid infection means elective and non-urgent procedures get delayed. For want of ICU beds a cancer patient’s delayed surgery may mean they get a terminal sentence.

Ireland has reportedly one of the highest take up rates of the vaccine available to eligible people. But the vaccine is no silver bullet to this viruses. Keeping our distance and wearing masks indoors is going to have to be a feature of our lives for some time to come.

Everything takes four times as long to get accomplished under Covid measures. Everyone is frustrated and sometimes that bubbles over into anger. No one is immune from this pandemic symptom. I suspect even saints are having a hard time of it these days to hang on to their haloes.

The great themes of 2021 have been Safety and Liberty. We have seen time and again great migrations of people fleeing war, civil unrest, the threat of gang rape, torture and death. Who can blame a family for taking to the road in the hope that they have a better chance of surviving. They seek a place of safety. Just as those of us in our various Lockdowns tell others in virtual messages to ‘Stay Safe.’ We do not just want to stay well., we want to stay alive from a virus stalking the globe.

On the other hand, there are the ones I think of as the Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry Brigade. Yes, civil liberties are under threat. But, for the time being, the virus is winning the Four Horseman of the Acopalyse Steeple Chase. Medical staff are quitting because the stress of dealing with this virus has stretched human and institution to snapping point. Even if the virus does not kill you, whether you choose to vaccinate or not, the more freely and widely we mingle we may asymptomatically spread it and unwittingly harm someone. That is a huge responsibility. We may hold the fate of a stranger in a breath we exhale.

Little wonder we are anxious…

Who is not vexed to the point of exhaustion with not seeing loved ones, or having a celebration with more than a handful of people, with the one with the cold masked in the corner. Love now comes with a health and safety risk assessment attached it seems. How much have we mingled before meeting indoors? Who does not want to hug? How many lateral flow tests can you do before your sinuses rebel? How many lockdowns before the economy, if not the health service, falls down?

My Thanksgiving meditations swung from the collective energy around to St. Brigid (random, I know!) and then it settled upon grace.

Gratitude and Grace

The grace for the bread we break.
The grace of the friendships we shape.
The grace of time to create.
The grace of the lucky escape.

The grace when we first awake.
The grace with fading heart ache.
The grace to hold and contain.
The grace, feather light, unexplained.

To partake. To not forsake. To sustain.
Just the same, grace and gratitude remain.



I wish you grace and its filling joy thi Thanksgiving.

Weekly Poem – We Need the Eggs

How are you doing? There are solar flares and who knows what else out there wrecking havoc. It has been a week of multiple frustrations. One step forward and two, sometimes three or more steps back This week the car battery became as extinct as the dodo. The oven door fell off and smashed to smithereens. It felt like a good metaphor for my state of being. My nervous system feels hyperstimulated; to ground myself I am doing hand work. I darned my husband’s gardening jumper. I ordered more wool for a knitting project. An Post virtually teleported it to me so I began last night. Pity the courier has lost my new boots into some black hole somewhere in Ireland since 25th October.

Enough of my kvetching! I also started some deep breathing exercises and saying my gratitudes out loud. Gratitude is not just about being thankful that bad things have not befallen you by comparing yourself to others’ troubles. (Although that may be gratitude’s warm up act some weeks.) It is about the basic wonderful things. My husband is often vocally grateful for his electric tooth brush.

One of the wonderful things this week was appearing on John Wilmott’s Nature Folklore channel. I read the poem that appeared in last week’s blog. I also got to see my friend Suzy Venuta, who was coming into the studio from British Columbia. If you would like to listen in here is the link:

In which I read the poem Silence and Juice

If you listen in you will get a snippet of update on the Geopark Poetry Map project and a Zoom online writing workshop I am leading each Sunday from 28th November to 21st December, “Writing the Light in a Time of Darkness.” Message me your email address if you are interested.(DM on Twitter @irishblessingst). Also (Spoiler Alert!) Suzy aced the audition for TedX Surrey! YAY! Watch this space. She has amazing stage presence and authenticity. Shout out for her blog https://www.suzannevenuta.com/

Part of our conversation on the show was ‘where do you get your inspiration for a poem?’ I partially answered that question, but I can speak directly here to what sparked this week’s poem. It is related to the hand work I mentioned in the opening paragraph. Somehow, I fell heiress to my mother’s wooden darning egg. She showed me how to use it once, but I grew up during the peak polyester decades, so did not have much opportunity to practice. But the darning egg as an objet d’art appealed to me as a thing of beauty. With a move to Britain and Ireland where woolen sweaters are very useful garments, the darning lesson came in handy.

My Mother’s Darning Egg

Here is the hole that made a moth’s feast.
Here is the tear from some careless wear.

Here is the needle trailing its tail.
Take the darning egg. Tackle the beast.

Here. In. Out. And over. And under.
Here. Trace your way back home again.

Here’s where the heart is frazzled and frayed.
Here’s where rent garments are cherished, saved.

Here is the way to weave in and out.
Here is the hole we mend, in and out.

Here’s where we hide what's been torn open.
Secrets escaping, into the open.

Here is the egg that once hatched a moth.
Here is the needle that pieces wrath.

Here is the old that looks lightly new.
Here’s the pattern in fabric renewed.

Here is the egg that opens the hole.
Here is the egg that mends and makes whole.

When I Am Not Writing I Am Writing

Samhain season is here. The clocks have fallen back in Europe and North America. This is the season of the Cailleach (sounds like call-yuck). She is the Old ‘Un, considered the creatrix of the island of Ireland. The myth says that this Mother Winter piled stone upon stone to create this island in the North Atlantic. While autumn temperatures are still nmild here, and the Virginia creeper was slow to turn crimson, the darkness has crept in. I want to be a bear and sleep in my den. Maybe that has to do with solar flares, or the clock time shifting around, or the darkness that requires artificial light in at least some corners of the house all day. How did they cope before electrification? Most any time of the day requires some extra light for reading or writing or any close work…

While not ascribing to writer’s block, I do believe there are creative lulls. Sometimes it just needs to be pen down. Meanwhile, I have hoked out bag after bag of comfrey root before dibbing in many kilos of narcissus bulbs to naturalise. I also felt an urge to make an effigy of the Cailleach. Tis her season after all! And then I still had some wool and made her a Wyrd Little Sister. Or Maid. Or Assistant in the creation of the world. While the Wyrd Sister has the button face that many folk Bridéogs have had, I really felt that the Cailleach needed a blank face…sort of like Original Face, since she is Origin. I also found a piece of felled tree branch that works as a stick for her to lean on and into the winter gales. She is a giantess and the Wryd Little Sister is considerably smaller even with her bending into the wind. They have stones in their aprons in accordance with some legends and stones at their feet as they empty load upon load. Creation begins…over and over.

Which really does prove that putting tools down and getting away from the screen or the page can fuel your creativity. Sometimes, some other creative activity will fill your well. I play with wool, collage, cook, bake; I specialise in garden demolition work! The words will come eventually, but first I need to shush the mind chatter and emotional whirlwinds. I need the silence. Perhaps silence is the writer’s equivalent tool to an artist using chiaroscuro in a painting. Silence helps delineate the light and shadow.

Onward to the Weekly Poem in its infant form… It arises from a interrogating myself on what do I want and need to myself at this Samhain time.

Silence and Juice

I want more...
silence to quell the deep uncertainty out there beyond
our small sanctuary of green beginning to sleep,
beds caped against frost, for the frost will come,
it will bite, it will bleed the juice from the comfrey
that will wilt and blacken and lie flat
down on the ground, macerating.

I want
some of that juice. Let it flow.
Let it allow something new to grow.
Let it be strong and useful and somehow
even a little bit beautiful.

I need some of that juice from the get go.
Also
deep sleep, like some bear in its winter lair.
I need this darkness
though some may feel despair...

There is the soft heart beat
of seeds waiting for more light, 
for more warmth,
for some water and some wind,
some thing...

I need to just put my ear to the ground
counting earth's twenty-three beats per minute
even in the winter,
even in the dark,
even in the cold.

I want silence for myself, but I need the beat.
I want the beat for myself in the silence.
I need the silence to hear the beat.
I need the beat to soften the silence.

I need to trust the unexpected.
I want to pay the price of all with my all.

If you need a little light in the season of darkness I am going to be conducting some Sunday Zoom reflective writing sessions from the first night of the Festival of Light, Hanukah, until Winter Solstice on 21st December. Because this is a spendy time of year I am only requesting a donation, pay what you are able. Sometimes you just need to have a lighthouse in your living/dining room and beam it out so others don’t run aground. Message me if you are interested in joining.

Weekly Poem – Entropy

Correction from last week’s blog! The clocks did not go back last Sunday. We had the Halloween bank holiday last Monday (yes, Ireland has a weekend holiday each year to celebrate Halloween, or Samhain, as we call it.) The clocks go back on actual Halloween, the 31st, which is this coming Sunday. It gets a bit confusing (I was not the only one, which is always a comfort!) because many times the clocks do fall back over the Bank Holiday weekend. Given the low cloud and the dusky dawn that can stretch on through the day one would not be faulted for thinking that the Samhain darkness has already descended.

And the bank holiday also affected my blog post schedule for this week because Monday jobs and appointments migrated to Tuesday for this week. And the older I get the more I like to not have to multi-task too much on any day. Either its age or the pandemic lockdowns have re-wired me that way. Too much of anything – exposure to any outer stimulus – can be overwhelming and exhausting for an introvert at the best of times. These ain’t those! And I am trying to be a normal human who does see people outside of my property (with safety measures, masks, etc, in place.) Despite a 90% double vaccinated population cases are rising. This may be in part because the Irish population is vigilant in regularly self-testing and safe guarding elders and children who are not eligible for the vaccine. But it is a worry. Enough of one that younger ones have brought it up in conversation in passing with me this past week.

But before I get on with the weekly poem, some snapshots taken during our daily constitutional my beloved and I took down our lane a showery day last week. Hopefully the misty, betwixt and between atmosphere will help you get into the the proper Samhain mood.

The weekly poem grew out of a growing sense of frustration with…will anything get Done done!?! If you reckon I swallowed the lexicon, well, tough! It has been a dictionary and chocolate cake kind of week! As my mother would have said, “Go look it up!”

Entropy

has its own primogentive power
with a quirky, random order of succession
one item migrating to another
pile to clear one tiny space before another
"tidied" item can be effaced or dis-
played/placed/posed of *pick one or all three options*-
bin, bag, chest, drawer, cupboard, under covers-
before parthogenesis immaculately
happens, your home overrun. Books  unread/
read/to be re-read, the dust resettling itself
as the polish slides across the surface.

Face it! Housework is Sysiphus' job's worth.
All uphill and roll down again, toiling daily.
The pen precisely placed. The cup washed, drained.
Constant repeat and still disorder reigns.

I hope you have a festive All Hallows! Whether you dress up in costumes or not, feel the thin veil between us, our world, and the land that is Not.

Weekly Poem – Pivot

pivot hinge doorway samhain

There is a hard rain pelting on our roof this morning. Outside it felt way too dark to actually be close to 9am. But then again, we are that point of the year when the clocks go back. In Ireland this Sunday the clocks ‘fall back’ and we will be plunged into the darkness of Samhain time. This is one of the main pivot points in the Irish year. Traditionally, Samhain, or Halloween as it is known elsewhere, is the Celtic New Year. We are entering the season of endings and beginnings. Winter is a time where the earth is sleeping and, in our high northern latitudes, the light is too feeble for any growth. But the legends say that this is a time when Mother Earth is gestating. We must be patient, wait, and let the darkness do its own essential work.

Over in my Word Alchemy group we have been working on the theme of Light considering that what we see more of reflected in the outer world of media is deep shadow. This led on to the topic of joy. The prompt for one of our in-Zoom writing sessions was “What Brings You Your Greatest Moments of Joy?” Our further discussion touched on joy as a consciousness…and a conscious decision, one that does not refute the sadness or pain, but can be one where you can lace your fingers around a cup of hot chocolate and sip of something other for a moment.

Here is an excerpt from my own musings.

Sunset on the beach, the light slipping below the horizon, sending a burst of magenta, marigold and blue ink across an oceanic slate… the splash and plash of low tide rolling across sand and pebbles, sweeping up shells, sandblasted glass, cork, seaweed…watching the tideline rise and recede and my ankles sinking deeper and deeper into the sand…seeing fossils etched in ancient rock, the stars and spirals from which we all come from there to remind us of the spiral waltz of stardust that comes down to find a body who can stand at the tideline, ankles lapped by salty seawater that sink lower and lower into the silty sand, making a pearl inside of an oyster shell of a human body…

Moments of Joy, Bee Smith, 2021

Nature, the people and pets in our lives, our five senses, memories from the past, the now of the present, the hopes and plans for the future all weave a tapestry of joyfulness.

So many times over these anxious weeks, I stop myself and breath and pay especial attention to giving gratitude for the everyday…the roof over my head sheltering us from the pounding rain, the neighbours up and down the lane, the technology that helps us reach out and connect with those physically far from us, the cup of hot chocolate that does not deny the trouble and strife, but lifts us in a moment. And I give thanks for the cocao farmer and I hope that their family is well and free from suffering, too, and getting a fair exchange for their skill and labour. Little may they know or imagine what joy they are bringing in higher latitudes as rain pelts down and the year winds down to one of its pivot points.

Pivot

It's just the hinge needs grease
to ease its creak.

Just get at that rusting point.
Anoint the joints.

Just move back and forth,
back and forth. Do it smooth.

It's just metal won't give or grow.
A hinge opens. And it will close.

It's 180 degrees, you know? You're thinking 360.
That kind of swing sheers off everything

To a point that the point can
lose all its meaning.

You've only so much room
for manoevering.

A door remains two-faced. Replace grace for grease.
Then. Pivot.

Copyright Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

I invite you to recount your own moments of joy this week like you might say your prayers on rosary beads. Write it, paint it, crochet it – choose whatever creative activity gives you pleasure and joy. As another student commented in our Zoom Room last Saturday…creativity is an act of self-actualisation. Yet while we are actively shaping ourselves, we are also shaping and becoming the world we live in. We can take a conscious act to shape it and make it one of joy.

As we approach Samhain’s hinge of the year’s seasons, may your own pivot points be joyful.

Featured image Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Weekly Poem – Sunday Morning Meditation

This is the mystery of writing. While you may practice it sitting on your arse staring at the blank page or screen, it happens in other ways, too. The late Dermot Healy once said in a master class I attended that all reading is writing. Even when you are slogging in a very muddy garden performing the autumn clear up tasks, writing is happening on some back burner in the brain. We sleep and dream and wake wanting to write it down and unriddle those images that stir us and make us confront the secret anxieties of our waking life. The longer I am at this writing lark I realise that wielding the written word is a coping mechanism for life. Or perhaps, it is more accurate to say that the creative process is what configures hope, peace, faith and love. It’s just that writing is my preferred creative vehicle driven in this life time. Next one, can I please be a visual artist?

We are living in anxious times. It’s difficult to ignore even if you strictly ration the gloomy news. If you duck the gunk going on the macro, the micro news carried by friends, acquaintances and colleagues cannot be given the blind eye. In my Zoom creative writing class this past weekend I used a quotation from a Leonard Cohen song as the spark for our in-class writing.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, Anthem
Goosebumps! This guy is just so good! Bravo maestro!

So the spark for part of the session was about cracks and where the light can get in or out. That is going to be an ongoing exercise over the next few weeks. Even though 92% of the Irish population over the age of 12 is vaccinated, the HSE is still prepping for a “difficult winter.” Medical staff are exhausted, between Covid and the cyber hack of the HSE computer system. Most everyone is flagging emotionally, mentally or physically. Who does not know someone who is down with the ‘cold that is not Covid?’ Resiliance is feeling a bit threadbare. A friend’s 95 year old mother said she felt this past 18 months had been more difficult in many ways than World War II. People may have been dying left and right then, but you could have a cup of tea with a neighbour if you felt down. Or go dancing, while not dodging bombs.

Sunday morning, even though for the first time in a week it was not raining, I woke early and grabbed my notebook. I had a very leisurely few hours of writing ‘downtime.’ The Weekly Poem is the result. It is an abecedarian. It is similar to the acrostic, with lines beginning with a word in alphabetical order over the course of the poem. It was a new form for me to experiment with.

BTW, I recommend finding one day a week for dedicating a morning to just mooch, or lie abed late, or stare out the window for a full hour. It can help steady the centre of world that is fizzing, fizzling, and sending up frantic distress signals.

Sunday Morning Meditation

A milky mist obscures next door’s field, and out
beyond I hear geese honking, a wailing a long way from home. Can it be
Canada is just their summer 'vacance'? Or is Lough Moneen 
   their winter palace?  What is home? I guess it

depends upon how you look at it. I watch them fly
east towards the mountain most days going
forwards and back from the lough, a noisy
gaggle in tight formation, expostulating.

How can we transliterate their soundings?

I look out as the morning gradually takes shape, mist receding over 
    the murky horizon. 
Jays have not visited the garden of late. Are they seasonal, too? 
    How is it that I do not
know my year round neighbours and which are the blow ins 
    from the Arctic?

Listen. Even in October there is some birdsong playlist, several species
making conversation. Or concert? Con-something or other.  Together,
notes make chilled jazz for a Sunday brunch ambience.

Onyx-eyed magpie stares straight at me as I write behind the window’s glass, bemused 
    or beseeching
perhaps. What can a bird want of me? One  likes to 
quantify symbolisms, let the bird’s shape signify, elevate it to messenger from
realms beyond the mist, but by nine o’clock

sunshine breaches this early autumn cloud. The world comes into sharp definition, the day’s light no longer
totally eclipsed. But do you feel the chill
underlying the light? Take the pulse of the unseen, the unheard, untold
verities, a
world of meaning craving anyone’s ear. Or eye. Or heart, offering itself up to be as revealing as the

X-ray that lights up the shadows, showing everything in photographic negative 
     when really what is needed is a very positive
'Yes!' To life. And yes to mourning. And yes to the lost,  and the already gone missing. 
     They are missed. Why did we never notice that once there
     was an ark, but now a

Zoo is an asylum for very nearly, almost, listed, life extinct.

Featured image Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash

National Poetry Day in Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hindmarsh Theory of Instability
In Ribbed Moraines

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Poem – A Clearing

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

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

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

A Clearing

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

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

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

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

Equinox, Anniversaries, Homeplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeplace

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


Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

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

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

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

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

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

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

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

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

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


Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

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

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

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

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred