In Transit

The theme for #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge is ‘At the Station.’ Regular readers of Sojourning Smith will be familiar with my distaste for airport departure lounges. I have taken trains and buses a fair amount over a lifetime, and become infatuated with ferry terminals at times. There were vivid memories of getting trapped in an Amtrak bathroom before the train had even set off for my transcontinental trek back in 1978. (I did eventually release myself.) But in the end the title demanded its hearing, as did the journey remembered from early childhood. I may get back to stations at some later date though.

In Transit

" Are we there yet?"
We clop lopped over concrete slabs
of the northeastern extension
of the PA turnpike.
We were a long way
from there yet.

So we made up games,
listing each new state's
car license plate.
I learned how to rhyme
in a Studebaker backseat,
defeated by orange.
Determined to make
a new word up.

Pitstop Neshaminny Howard Johnson's.
Prepare to hold your nose in Bristol
going past rotten egg Rohm & Haas.
Cross the Delaware River
to Grandmother's house we go.
View the ships in bottles,
great-uncle corraling clippers
in glass. But we're not there yet.

Pass the Chinese supermarket
in Brown's Mills before skirting
forlorn Pine Barrens
more Brother's Grimm
than sylvan

"Are we there yet?"
said somewhere near Lakewood
when nose began to sniff and give
a feral quiver, an atavistic
sense of subtle shifts

in ozone, air recalibrating.
Then the definite tang of salt,
rotting seaweed, crossing
Barnegat Bay's old metal bridge
rattling over onto the barrier island's sandy spit.

Roll down Ocean Avenue,
hang a left at the Catholic Church.
Stop, pile out of station wagon
to peels of aunt's laughter
as it goes up and down the scale,
our cousins' clammer.

Later, after a noisier than usual dinner
we go down to the street
to see the Atlantic Ocean.
Walking the beach, getting feet wet,
we face the edge of earth
to look out at the mystery.
We are not nearly there yet.



Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image of ‘Old Barney’ from sandcastlelbi.com

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Journeying

We are all sojourners, temporarily resident on this precious planet. I woke early this Sunday morning and broke my usual writing routine. I played with the Saturday paper’s crossword first. Once I had tanked up with a second very large mug of tea I dipped into Ruth Padel’s The Poem and the Journey. Poems, as with journeys, are built on connections. As are all human relationships. Brené Brown has observed that we humans are hard-wired for connection Yet, any number of studies in any number of countries are warning that we are in an epidemic of loneliness, which will shorten a life span faster than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, over-eating, or not taking exercise. No wonder there is a demand for poetry anthologies that offer prescriptions like a literary rescue remedy.

Travellers are often those hungry for new connections. So, too, I believe is true for poets. There are many forms of journeying. But the prefered destination for all is genuine connection.

Two little poems this sunny Sunday morning. The first is for a writer friend who is wrestling with a manuscript while on a sojourn in a friend’s borrowed mountain cabin.. Retreats are often places where we best connect. It’s a quotation poem that takes its first line from Margaret Atwood on writing. The title is robbed from a line in an R.S. Thomas poem. Writers have a tendency for moods swinging between thinking that what they have written is the most wonderful arrangement of words ever and then that all they do is play with a pile of crap.

despair, writing, trail

And emerging from my early morning dreamland.

Night Passage

I sail , Chagall-like,
in inky illumination,
and colliding dimensions,
meeting those close to me
who are also far, far away

in a Dreamworld Departure Lounge
we will all soon fly from,
having checked in,
dropped our bags,
dutifully visited the shop's check out

where we greet each other
with delight, in surprise,
in confusion at our displacement,
this serendipitous meeting
and simultaneous leave taking.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Happy journeying through the next week.

The Beach

While it would appear that in the US the road trip is the most popular form of family vacation, the beach is still a popular destination for a holiday in just about every country with or without a coast. The sea is a powerful lure even in countries like Britain and Ireland where there is no guarenteed sunshine and you often see children paddling in the Atlantic in insulated surf suits. The seaside holiday sojourn rose in popularity of the Regency period, when the Prince Regent routinely decamped court to Brighton. Jane Austen’s Persuasion included a seaside sojourn upon which the plot turns. Something about the ozone or the negative ions in the are, the salt spray, the invigourating chilliness of water on sunburnt skin, is universally appealing. It’s cooling in hot weather. You can legally run around nearly naked (although Jane would disapprove of that sort of disrobing.) The seaside is so damn, well, elemental. One quote I came upon celebrates that fact that you can do nothing far more easily there than anywhere else. Although I would query that definition of ‘nothing.’ Kite flying, beach combing, fossil hunting, fishing, swimming, surfing, rock pool skimming, walking, sunrise and sunset watching. These are not nothing. But they are all ways of leisurely letting your mind go out with the tide.

I am fortunate enough to live fifty minutes from the coast, so we can take day trips as and when we find a window. Winter beaches can be quite as wonderful (and less crowded) than summer ones.

Today’s Poetry Daily celebrates my favourite summer place since childhood. It truly does embody my happy place. The first line is a quote from Umair Siddiqui.

Corleck Head

Everything before written records is mystery and speculation. That makes it a writer’s imagination’s playground. Even archaeologists speculate and best guess on the assembled evidence. But it is palimpsest, the layers of our own conditioning and experience inform the guess. Back at the Cavan County Museum another artefact grabbed me. The Corleck Head was found near Kilbride, Brigid’s Church. From that I infer that the cult of the goddess Brighid was important here before the Christian St. Brigid took over all Her associations and pre-occupations (fertility, poetry, healing, smithcraft). It is supposed that the Celts thought the human soul resided in the head, although I am unclear of the provenance of that belief. Brighid was a triple goddess – the triune maiden, mother, crone – and the Corleck Head with it’s three-way visage does echo that, although the faces look quite masculine to me. 

At any rate this Sunday you can have fun making up your own story!

Corleck Head

Back to back

Facing out three ways

Who know what might

Be met at the crossroads?

One to watch. One to fight.

One to sound alarm and live

To tell the tale.

Walls

In my recent sojourns I visited stoney landscapes. When I was musing over the subject for the Poetry Daily I flicked through past snaps. The stone walls of various destinations I’ve visited are frequent subject matter. Orkney has a distinctive style of stonewall building that is quite different from the way they erect field walls near where I live close to the Cavan Burren (burren meaning a stony place). Last year I was in the southwest of England and in Cornwall they built their own distinctive ones of slate.

Clockwise from far left, stone walls from Avebury, Wiltshire, Orkney, Scotland, Tintagel, Cornwall and the Cavan Burren, Ireland

Of course, walls have been historical boundary markers. Living as I do close to the Brexit contentious Irish border we have lived for the past twenty years with a ‘soft border’, an invisible line that exists on a map and in some people’s state of mind. But I was brought up short in a Easter workshop when an eleven year old talked about the “Teresa May’s Wall”. In the child’s mind the talk of a ‘hard border’ had been conjured as a wall, rather like the one Donald Trump wants to build.

Given that I grew up during the Cold War with an Iron Curtain and a Berlin Wall, I am not a fan of walls. Like the so-called ‘Peace Walls’ built in Belfast and Jerusalem I view walls as a failure of imagination and negotiation.I understand the practicality of being able to keep your cattle corralled. After all, I do live in the country and know the hazards of cattle wandering the long mile of a country road, blocking the rare motorised traffic. It’s not easy to coax a ton weight of cow to move when it is happily grazing on the verge’s cow parsley. Truly, I appreciate the validity of psychological boundaries. I simply object to humans trying to categorise other humans as cattle that need to be penned and kept out of particular territories whose ownership or stewardship is always a matter for debate. That is, in nugget form, history, which is often a continuing saga of ownership as theft and grievance. And grief.

However, I do appreciate the skill and aesthetic of a finely crafted stone wall.

This morning I was a bit stumped for poetry practice subject matter. You can probably gather that I had a long rumination on walls before I plumped for the more medival subject of anchorites. If this is an alien word to you, an anchorite was a Christian ascetic (often also a mystic) who chose to be walled into a small cell, usually adjoining a church. There was a narrow opening where food and communion wafers could be passed. St. Julian of Norwich is probably the most famous example in the English-speaking world.

Anchorite

Fill it in
stone by stone
with me sitting
within
silent
as the mortar sets
the mason's scrape
the only sound
bar the faint
hiss of prayers breathed
incessantly
from my lips.

The fasting
is a way to become
light in a dense world
of sin and shame.
I do not do this
in the name of self.
One day I could no longer
remain
without stain or blame.

I could live
however
without
touch or small talk
within
this small space and
the love of these walls
their relentless matter
containing
my very
hollowed out
heart
which some call
the chaos of
my soul.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Wanderer’s Return

I am home. Having slept long in my own bed, I am feeling that poetry practice should be a bit frivolous. There is a dream I need to unpick and hold like a talisman. It is not for sharing. At least not yet. Scotland was epic. But I do feel a loyalty to my mountains that are technically not  mountains, not on the same scale as the Cairngorms or Glencoe at least. But they are my  mountains, the ones I see and know that I am close to home. Scotland also has a great sense of humour and the absurd. It is also a land of makers, which was generous enough to fill my own creative well during my sojourn. Today’s poetry practice takes imspiration from a witty customer ‘polite notice’ in P&O’s toilets. My own verse version is more preachy. But any opportunity for climate change PR! 

PLEASE DON’T FLUSH



Your iFone or your maxed out credit card.

There’s a fleet of tech and plastic floating

In the sea already. It can be hard

Not to flush down your sick fears and spite.

Stow ’em! Go lash them to the for’ard spar!

Just consider the first rule of boating:

This recepticle was made just for shite.

The ocean’s not your personal junkyard.


DOWN THIS TOILET

Prime the Poetry Pump

The road trip ends today as we ferry over to Northern Ireland this lunchtime. The final day before we journey home found me wandering happily in a museum and a creative gallery space in Glasgow. (After beaches, my second most happy place.) I wish I were gifted with the talent to make beautiful things with my hands. I am in awe of visual artists and crafts persons. Wandering around exhibitions primes my poetry pump.  One medium meets another. Today’s poem takes its starting point from work in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. The provenance will be revealed at the end of the blog post. The poem acts as a response to the call made by another artist working in another medium who was responding to her reading of an author. That all were women and creative artists was apt. The actual exhibit was placed in a slightly lower gallery on the fringes of larger exhibition entitled Domestic Bliss. That creative artist’s work and living space often overlap, especially for women, made its placement within the wider context especially clever.


Studio Echoes


Study me this list:

Trophy             Treason       Traitor

Friend          Acquaintance         Manipulation

Defunct

Then this:

Prize      Priceless      Imprison

Mate    Pal     Twist

Defeat

Take the salt down from the cupboard.

Cast your circle.

Step into your space.

Learn to forget dirty plates.

They are outside the magic circle,

The frenemy of creativity

Study this:

the twist

of the steak knife

in the cutlery

drawn against

blank canvas

the skin of your memory.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith