From a Distance

How are you doing? The Sunday Weekly poetry post will offer you two poems this week. I have been writing virtually daily though not posting here on such a regular basis. If you want a daily dose of haiku poetry, illustrated with photos taken in our garden, then I recommend that you follow me on Instagram. Look for Word Alchemy for some #haikusofinstagram.

Here in Ireland we are now restricted to remaining within two kilometres of home, except for travel for food shopping or pharmacies or medical centres. Leitrim, which is just the other side of the bridge in our village was the last county in the Republic to report infection. We live in a remote location and can go days just waving at the odd passing car. So not a lot has changed for us, except the new distancing drill at our local supermarket. For such a small village, we are blessed to have a well-stocked shop. While the rest of the world is hoarding toilet paper, in Ireland there has been a run on flour. Apparently, Ireland is baking her way through quarantine.

But before the first poem, so eye candy from the garden.

Cowslip
Cowslip
Daffodils
Daffodils

The first poem came about when my friend in England had a text from her neighbour that the NASA Space Station is visible every night for a brief time. There was too much cloud cover the first night, but I did manage it in a five minute window on Thursday. You can sky watch for it until 4th April. Plug in your location and they will direct you from https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/.

Irish Earth to Space Station
26th March 2020
 
It was a streak, like a comet.
It was a blip. There. Then gone.
So my friend reported from her own
viewing platform
in another country.
 
A crescent moon with Venus
flirting over Her shoulder.
Eyes bisected vectors of horizon,
West, south, east, northeast.
Then. There.
 
In the newly darkened sky a steady
blinking, an elliptical swirling,
a lumbering quasar moving inexorably
in Enniskillen’s direction, an elephant
patrolling earth, crossing borders
 
in air space. No. Make that
outer space, the final frontier.
Wave to those pioneers.
We salute you, space sailors.
Imagine up there if you can
 
all those waves to you from
a distance, before you disappear
behind the cloud cover.
We are waving to you in your
isolation from our own.
 
Copyright ©Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Another bit of eye candy before the next poem…

Quaker Bonnet Primrose
The mauve primrose on the left is called Quaker Bonnet


Pocket
 
A river pebble. A small cowrie shell.
A lock of baby hair tied up with silk ribbon.
An acorn found, picked with foraged morel,
in among crumbs of broken chocolate bourbons.
A shiny penny piece of change to spare,
a bit of luck to give up when the hat’s passed round.
All this collection could be anywhere,
but they are soundlessly secure in their clothbound
world. A pocket. Talismans. Amulets
more valuable than a leather wallet.
 
Don’t let anyone pickpocket your joy.
Jingle your happiness like a carefree schoolboy.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Look out for haiku during the week with Word Alchemy on Instagram. Check in here, too. You never know what might turn up…

Cocooning

It’s a golden Sunday morning in a week that will shape all our lives. I really like that our Taoiseach has called this time of social distancing cocooning. We are waiting for the new beginning, the afterwards when there will be a transformation and a beautiful butterfly will burst forth. I am sure he may not have have all that metaphorical stuff going on when he was writing his St. Patrick’s Day speech to the nation, but…it works for me! Because there is great beauty in the expressions of kindness to one another that are happening. We are called to cherish one another. May the butterfly that emerges from this cocooning time be one of kindness and universal care, that the time spent in isolation will be a cure for our most selfish instincts. Wouldn’t that be something?!

For those who are staying home and want creative activities, Poetry Ireland’s poet in residence is posting a daily poetry spark to get you started. Check out Catherine Ann Cullen’s Twitter @tarryathome. She posts a prompt for kids and adults. I am writing daily and have been finding writing haiku a wonderful exercise in focusing on calm. Spring is here, despite some cold temperatures and hoar frost in the morning. Things are growing and transforming. Our little acre is waking up and looking lively.

Stay tuned for random haiku here on the blog. Even if you don’t have a window and are unable to get out to public gardens to view the daffodils, I will beam you some of nature’s signs that creation persists. Haiku writing can be habit forming though. You have been warned! Given the restrictions of seventeen syllables, a seasonal hint, and making sense in the English language, not to mention having a little Zen something, it can be fiendishly challenging. A bit like crossword puzzles. But so worth it! It really does cure the hamster wheel of negative thoughts going round. Try it!

But here is the Sunday weekly poem. Which was in part sparked by a quotation from an Egyptian poet Iman Mersal:

Poetry is a journey in the dark towards an unknown destination.

Iman Mersal
I Know You Read This Poem
 
I know you read this poem
as if it were some sorcery,
or a conjuring trick, or as if
it were a spell for a way out.
I know you read this poem
with fear in your heart.
 
I know you read this poem
as it if were a map
of an uncharted territory.
And I know! That's an oxymoron,
but they often contain all known
fears at their very heart.
 
I know you read this poem
because you want to learn
how to read your own heart,
because you seek a kind of light
to show you the way out. 
And because you also want
 
there to be more than fear
in your heart. So…
You turn again and again to art.
Which is why I know you read
this poem, which is part spell and
part prayer, from deep in my heart.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.

The Solitude of Social Distancing

It has been some week, hasn’t it?! When contemplating what to write for the Sunday Weekly poem, it felt like it was inevitable that the virus on everyone’s mind would have to be the subject.

But the week was more than just checking in and changing plans and washing hands like we are all Pontius Pilate. Friday was the 58th anniversary of my father’s death. Who, coincidentally, was born in Corona, Queens, New York, and was an toddler during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

I have been posting HumpDay Haiku for the past few weeks. I wrote a senryu on the aniversary of his passing.

I emailed a check in with all my siblings, all over age 65, all considered in the most vulnerable age group. One lives in the Philadelphia suburbs adjacent to the epicentre of the virus in Montgomery County. He is a doctor. And a medical director of a retirement village. Also, a medical professor. Two of his children are teachers . The other brother lives in New York City, which has a State of Emergency. The run on toilet paper meant that his usual grocery delivery service was unable to fulfill this week. My brother-in-law has a medical condition that means they go through a lot. So there was my brother rangeing around stores, most already plundered by people who probably will have a lifetime supply of toilet paper. He came back from that shopping trip on a subway half full. Likely his last trip on public transport for a while.

Thursday brought the announcement of school, university and creche closures in the Republic of Ireland. We live in a remote spot of rural Ireland which now has cancelled Mass and confirmations. During Lent! Funerals are for immediate family only. Given that funerals are such an important social institution in Ireland this is like the seventh impossibility conceived before breakfast.

I wonder if any of the kids will choose St. Corona as a confirmation name?

So for the week ending on the Ides of March, this

The Solitude of Social Distancing

You have nowhere to go.
You can speak remotely,
unless you have no home,
unless you are a refugee.

We can count the benefits,
create our silverlinings
playlist of blessings, until
the day we reckon the cost.

In our isolation
we can begin to contemplate
all our social obligations
in a world the size of a pea, not a plate.

We can pray to the patron saint
of pandemics, or, oddly,
St. Corona, who takes calls
regarding epidemics.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.

In our solitude of social distancing we can do what our grandmothers did – spring clean. Invoke the goddess Hygeia, who volunteered her name to venerate the concept of hygiene.

Thanks for Photo by Joseph Gruenthal on Unsplash that is our featured image.

The Land of Before

Yesterday the wind blew and rain poured down. It looked like it was going to be yet another weekend of stormy weather. But lo! There is some sunshine and the clouds there are not too fearsome. So I am going to keep the Sunday Weekly poem post short. Maybe a bit bittersweet. Because it is Potato Day at the Organic Centre and we need to get there early to have the most choice from the many seed varieties that will be on sale. Along with garlic. Which has great medicinal value for those of you in a panic over the Covid-19 virus. Grow your own. Get fresh air. Wash your hands. And be well!

The Sunday poem this week was prompted by a quotation in a Guardian Review article last week. I often don’t get to the Review section until well after Saturday. I am particularly fond of the image I have chosen for this week’s post. I found it a few weeks ago and though I didn’t feel it fit the post that week, I stockpiled the Unsplash image by Donald Gianatti.

Before
 
As you grow older, you become an immigrant from a vanished country. 
-Rebecca Solnit
 
An immigrant from the Land of Before the present,
tense, softens with nostalgia for the past.
To grow old is to have a longer view
where the youngsters can never visit.
Remnants exist, like celluloid flicker, or
bits of vintage costume taken off the rack
to dress up your granddaughter.
But it’s never ever really true.
 
The young are exiled from Before, where their mothers
led secret lives They cannot be spies parachuted in
to infiltrate, or fillet lies, deputise for the
post-mortem’s pathologist. The juice is gone.
 
Before is a ghost dance. It has a veil draped
over its consequence. It once had
importance. It had its loves and losses,
its feuds and fatalities all caught
in freeze frame.   Before has no blood
left to shed today. It is where all your old
imaginary friends have gone to play.
 
Some better version of one’s self has been left
behind the lines. It rests in some foreign country’s trench.
One can never visit it again. It’s buried along with
your mother and the secret lives of many others.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit!

Perhaps it will work its charm and later on we will have a month without every weekend with orange alert storms sweeping over our heads. Yes, we have another storm, this time called Jorge because Spanish meteorologists saw him first. Jorge has had lorries in Galway being toppled by his mighty gusts. But this Sunday morning I wake to sunshine, albeit with a huffing and puffing of wind, inflating the polytunnel’s plastic like an artificial lung. If Leap Day had been the March lion, we would have been devoured like a Roman Christian in the arena. He’s just a bit growly this morning, like a dyspeptic lion that has eaten too much gazelle in a hurry. All this stormy weather is unsettling. We have had these gale force winds every weekend since 31st January. Simmer down already! I would like to report something else in the Sunday Weekly. Although last Sunday, though very cold, we had a dry enough interval to go out and plant some bulbs. I hope that peony I put in a container has not drowned.

While rain was the general outlook for the entire week, there were the diversions of Pancake Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, opening the Christian season of Lent. Which leads me to the Lenten subject of ‘what shall I give up?’ that even the fairly undevout consider, if only as an excuse to shed a kilo. The Sunday Weekly is no homage to T. S. Elliot’s Ash Wednesday. And I promise that a rabbit does have a cameo appearance.

What to Give Up
 
Just give up your fear for  Lent this year.
Hold up your hands.
Surrender your terror.
Feel the bands of panic loosen in your chest.
 
I know. I know!
It’s not the best of times.
But just think about all those
forty days without your silent fear.
Better than cutting out the beer
or chocolate, though
 you might think you are
on the path to career suicide
seeing as all these seem to be built
on daily doses of lethal
intimidation.
 
Think of it as answering
the hero’s call in the desert,
braving storms, fighting demons.
Accept no imitations.
No cross would be too hard to bear,
no thorny shard could prick your resolve
to its conscience's very quick.
 
You’d shrug off tax demands,
VAT, NCT, and all those other levies
apocalyptically breaching the banks of some Mississippi.
Nothing would faze your glacial gaze.
You would be as serene as the fat Buddha
sitting in your garden, all smiley
transcendence of suffering’s meaning.
(Which may seem counterintuitive. Or
just be a bit countercultural.)
 
Is fear the fire in the belly?
Or is it what gets us out of bed each morning?
Does it turn us into rabbits made of jelly?
Or acolytes fawning over bullies,
subjugated by every bellow?
 
They say the colour of cowardice is yellow.
Or is it the purple of our bruised pride?
Is it more a slow brown stew?
What do you hide? Is it
your leaden defeat and inaction?
The spilt blood of your rage’s actions?
Have you considered Agent Orange’s
decades’ long legacy?
Have you noticed the seeping
of septic envy? It seems that fear 
can make up a whole rainbow coalition.
 
Can you give up fear for Lent,
maybe just for one year?


Copyright©Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

Maybe

For the third Sunday in a row a storm system is whipping through Ireland. We have had rain, sometimes very heavy rain indeed, every day since St. Brigid’s day. This is not to say that there have been pauses, but the intervals of a ray of sunshine or break in showers have been brief indeed.  Each week of February I have arrived on Sunday with a handful of poems to choose to share in the Sunday Weekly Poem blog spot.  Certainly, this is weather to hunker down, to dry out from the forays outdoors that soak. It is knitting weather, sitting with a book or writing weather, weather for making stew, baking, editting, book dreaming, re-writing weather. These long watery spells seem too dreamlike; at times it feels as if you walk between worlds.

We live in County Cavan, which sometimes puffs itself as having a lake for every day of the year. We also have turloughs, those winter lakes that appear in such rainy seasons, and then disappear come summertime.  We were unavoidably out and about in the weather this week and, as if to prove the liminal quality of this landscape, we passed a pub with the name The Stray Sod. A stray sod is fairy enchanted land. If you step on it you enter that alternate, or parallel, dimension.  You enter the multiverse where the laws of physics ruling our own universe do not apply. Such is the mesmeric quality of long lasting rainy seasons that also bring howling, razor sharp, winds.  One does not need to be over imaginative…

But I do not bring you a poem of stray sods or fey encounters. Sorry if this digression has been building you up for that kind of theme. No, this is more of an exposition of how weather works on the imagination and effects creative output. The creative process is one where you walk between worlds, even though you may not encounter any little people from the Other Crowd.



Maybe
 
Maybe.
If I become very still.
If I do not move.
If I just sit
with this
and feel the weight
of it.
 
Maybe,
if I come to sit…
If the this of it…
If it settles, gentles…
Then I
can know the depth
of it.
 
Maybe
if, once I have become…
If I can let go…
If I refuse to do…
I’ll be,
and embrace all
of me.
 
Maybe
if I become one…
If I hold this…
If I can resist,
Then I’ll
be able to embrace
all you.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

Get Happy

The week has been bookended by two storm systems. Storm Ciara wailed away last weekend. Storm Dennis is huffing and puffing in a kind of toddler tantrum way as I type the Sunday weekly poem post. A little turlough was forming from the overflow of our drainage ditch yesterday. Today’s high winds seem to be evaporating some of that local flooding. By all accounts, it has been a week to stay in and write. I have three new ones in the works and some more from past weeks that could have another look to see if there is some life in them. But the one I have chosen to share is hot off the notebook this morning.

I subscribe to the marvellous Maria Popova’s Brainpickings blog, a source of great information and cogitation. The poem today was sparked by a stray line she quotes from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “insistence on the moral obligation of happiness.” For more of that bracing stuff I refer you to https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/03/05/elizabeth-barrett-browning-happiness/?mc_cid=966870fe8e&mc_eid=54fa9531a9.

The ensuing poem is a mash up with memories from a childhood nurtured on winter Saturday television, entranced by the black and white films of the 1930s and the choreography of Busby Berkeley. In 1930, in the wake of the world economic crash and before the New Deal that began to address social welfare, Fred Koehler penned the lyrics of “Get Happy”, which Harold Arlen put to a tune that any evangelical revivalist meeting would find familiar. Its emergence at that particular point of social history is pertinent. Just like Gold Diggers of 1933 could end with the show’s ultimate Forgotten Man number that has”Brother Can You Spare Me A Dime” interleaved after all the lavish choreography of “We’re in the Money,” there is a lot of popular zeitgeist packed into the cultural artefacts of any period. But so, too, is a morality transmitted in those same artefacts. Elizabeth Barratt Browning would have seen a moral imperative in Koehler’s lyrics.

Get Happy
 
Happiness vaccinates,
even in the most homeopathic
of doses.
There is quiet joy in a bunch of tulips-
pink, white, mauve and deep purple –
presented
while winter storms howl and wail.
Consider, too, the resilience of garden croci
and snowdrops,
their white blooms piercing a glum day
clouded, shadowed, grimly
darkening.
 
Be happy. Sing and dance the day away,
even if it is only worth just
the ten cents.
Keep it up. In the intervals
massage your crushed toes and drink a long
glass of water.
Keep it up. Raise your voice no matter
if you think it’s out of tune. You can speak, so
keep it up.
Rise and rise, like the sun.
You know how to make your own fun.
Get happy!
 
Copyright © 2020 Bee Smith

If you want to check out the original inspiration of the poem and listen to Arlen and Koehler’s “Get Happy”, You Tube has a great Judy Garland version from 1950. https://youtu.be/2U-rBZREQMw.

For more thoughts to provoke removing the obstacles to happiness I refer you to the original Popova article https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/02/12/anne-gilchrist-walt-whitman-happiness/?mc_cid=966870fe8e&mc_eid=54fa9531a9