Breaking the Lammas Loaf

It’s been a tumultuous week! And I am not just talking about the news cycle. On a personal level, I began to promote my Zoom creative writing seminars that will start with an introductory month in September. Each week you get to try out a new genre – it’s a taster to see which one may be you particular favoured form of creative expression. But as with all new ventures there are hiccups. In my case it is the registration form on the blog post https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/07/31/zoom-into-creative-writing-this-september/. Needless to say, my first few punters alerted me to the issues and I have referred them to WordPress. I hope to have that unsnarled within the next couple days. Do keep trying and add comments about your experience.

Also, the Celtic Wheel of the Year has cranked into the season of Lammas, or Lúnasa as we call it Ireland. That is also the Irish for the month of August. The season’s theme is the gathering in of the first harvest, as well as releasing. I spent the past few days in activities very much in keeping with the holiday. I sorted out seeds for saving. I made like the squirrel and added more items to the emergency winter provision cupboard. And, quite unconsciously, I found myself baking a loaf of spelt bread on Lammas Eve. (For that, many thanks to my English friend who sent me dried yeast in the post. All through Lockdown there was none to be found in any local shops. Maybe they figured the nation would only bake soda bread at home?) We took the first cut on August 1st. And very tasty it is, too! I am getting more proficient at this bread baking lark.

As for my releasing, that was the announcement of the Zoom courses I am devising for anyone’s delectation this autumn and, with any luck, into the winter. I sense we will need some diversion at home for the restof this year. Flexing one’s creativity muscle is the best kind of exercise, especially in the months at the dark end of year.

In the meantime, it is Sunday. And yes! I have a seasonally appropriate poem!

Lúnasa First Light
 
Dawns can be sketchy –
a tease of cobalt cloud shot through
with gilded light, threading Midas like.
 
The lupins, aquilegia and foxgloves
have dropped their heads.
I empty seeds out
 
into paper envelopes.
Not tumbrels. No fanfare. No drumroll.
Just the cutting
 
into the spelt bread I baked
on Lúnasa Eve. The ancient grain
ground down. The pips dibbed in
 
sweet sour raspberry jam.
Seeds saved for sowing in another season.
Not all is lost, even at our most careless.
 
The light takes a downward slant,
Like a sharp blade angling to cut –
the whoosh and whir of the scythe’s brush.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
 

Sorry there is no pretty picture today. For some reason – either our internet is running like treacle or WordPress is having issues, I have failed to load the featured image after attempts over the past thirty minutes. So…until something smooths the path of pretty pictures…

If only all lives really DID matter…

These past weeks I have been processing my grief over the state of the world, and especially the state of my motherland. If I see one more ‘All Lives Matter’ meme on social media my patience will snap like the taut and frayed rubber band it is some days. Because evidence is very clear that all lives do NOT matter. Ask people of colour. Ask people who are disabled. Ask the single mum juggling multiple jobs and is constantly in debt. Ask any nurse anywhere in the world who is STILL low paid and risking his or her life everyday in our COVID19 world with inadequate PPE. Heck, if you even want to look at the privileged end of the spectrum, ask the female news co-anchor who earns less than her male counterpart!

Everyday we see evidence that ALL lives do not matter. It is not just a divided world, but a deeply unequal world because the operating system is that all lives do NOT matter. There is plenty of evidence that some lives are credited to be worth more. Often they have higher bank balances.

To say ‘All Lives Matter’ to people who have first hand experience that this is not true is to rub salt in a raw wound. It has the same ring of truth to it as “Arbeit Macht Frei”, the slogan over the gates of Auschwitz. Work did not make anyone free there. It was a slogan to pacify. It was propaganda.

Aside from the fact that the phrase has become a dog whistle for white supremacy, what some literalists really are saying is that All Lives SHOULD Matter. That is not the same thing at all. The majority can probably (hopefully) unite behind that qualifying ‘should’ in that phrase. But unity is not exactly part of our operating system either. One would have hoped that a deadly virus disrupting the planet might have had some tonic effect. Sadly, it has not.

Hence, some days I am in deep grief. I am beyond the denial stage. I have experienced the pain and guilt. I have spikes of anger. I have days of depression, crushed by the weight of the wickedness that many deny. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (or righteousness in some translations) for they shall be satisfied.”

Of course, we will not have that hunger and thirst satisfied until we all start behaving as if all lives actually do matter. That we will have to love the perceived enemy and turn the other cheek just as the late Representative John Lewis did, he who forgave the Klansman that beat him senseless, he who accepted that man’s repentence and apology. That is the true meaning of grace.

Our hearts will have to open up a larger and larger space for that to happen. There will need to be less of the ‘I’ and more of the ‘we, ALL the people,’ not just the person who looks like one’s self, or acts the same, or holds the identical beliefs and opinions. We will need to accept our guilt and repent and then get to that final stage of grief where we find new motivation, become inspired and rediscover hope.

I am waiting to be satisfied. I’ve been feeling mighty hungry and thirsty for a long time. I want to be hopeful. Consider this poem I wrote back in 2016, my longing then for a change in the collective heart, for a world where we find that mislaid moral compass and act with magnanimity. It has been a long time coming. I pray for that collective state of grace every morning.

What Really Matters

It’s been that kind of week
where I have wandered stunned,
blinking my eyes furiously,
weary, wordless.

It’s been heavy weather.
It’s hot somewhere. Somewhere
someone is getting shot
and it’s not so random

who gets to be the duck
in the shooting gallery.
I am weary and tearful, wondering
how it feels

to go through life knowing
you have a target
on your back
for someone to bait and hate?

How does it feel to be
the mother of some son,
permanently on alert,
trying to hide that

big, round bull’s-eye on her
sweet child’s back
just because he is
brown or gay or black?

I want to weep
but there has just been
too much hate this week.
We need so much more

than a safety pin trying
to hold the centre
together.  Risk all for love!
the poet wrote. He was Muslim.

It might start with standing up
to bullies on a tram.
It might end by being
on that same firing line

with the guy who has had
a target on his back
all his life
but this time

he won’t be alone.
It’s not right that it
might matter more
to some

the one who would not let
that guy with the bull’s-eye
on his back go out
into that dark goodnight

on his own. But
it does matter that he
did not go alone.
It matters

that the world
not have a heart
the size
of a pickled walnut.

That someone take a hand
out of their pocket, grab hold
of that marked man,
that they duck and dive

together
trying to stay alive,
getting home to hug
their mothers and their lovers.

Now that would be a good night.
That would be a better day.
There might still be
a few tears,

but Love
would not have taken
yet another
fatal hit.

© Bee Smith 2016


As I see Moms in yellow t-shirts and Dads with leafblowers in Portland, I see people extending the hand that repents, apologises, that wants to get a son and daughter home safe tonight.

The featured image is an official portrait of the late Rep. John Lewis from Wikipedia.

Cognitive Dissonance

How can it be so sunny outside and yet so dark? We are living in a state of prolonged cognitive dissonance. Reopening after lockdown and quarantine does not mean Covod-19 went away, magically. It is still there, travelling in droplets on air. Not that you would notice by the way some people behave. Consequently, Ireland is now stalled in Phase 3 of the Roadmap. Everyone will be required to where masks in shops from tomorrow. But as one friend said during an outdoor, socially distanced tea party, “I wish they had just told us to do it from the very beginning instead of making everyone just make up their own mind.”

Minds can be very tricky things. As my husband has said at times, “the mind is not your best friend at times.” We rationalise actions that may not be in our own best interests. Which can be summed up in the definition of cognitive dissonance, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

Any quick newsclip confirms that we live amidst collective cognitive dissonance. Did I not see an unmasked traffic warden on the main street in Enniskillen chatting virtually shoulder to shoulder with a passerby this past week? Even with signs reminding everyone to socially distance two metres? Behaviour like that had me sprinting to the getaway car without my hard to get items I had on my list. I could do without.

Pandemics are never sprints. They are marathons. This one is unique for a generation raised on vaccination. Sudden death may take form in random violence, but rarely by illness. Even our most terminal diagnoses usually involve heroic attempts to stem the drowning tide.

This week’s Sunday poem is a reminder from Lockdown. The poem was shortlisted in the Fish Lockdown Poetry competition. In case you thought that the virus has disappeared just because shops are open for business, here is a reminder. Lockdown was hard. Safely emerging from our cocoons is even more difficult. I was incandescent this week when it was reported that there were Texan tourists roaming around the Irish countryside who failed to quarantine for fourteen days before touring around. Small business owners, with a duty of care to their employees and an eye to their already exorbitant insurance costs, turned them away. But why should they have to have been put in that position in the first place? The new minister for Tourism got a sharp email from me. North American tourism may be (have been?) a big wedge of Irish economy. But a single asymptomatic, infected tourist getting tipsy, ignoring social distancing in a pub and lustily singing rebel songs could take down half a small county in Ireland. What were they thinking? (The airlines, the tourist, the government trusting people to do the right, uncomfortable thing, when people think they can go back to the old way of doing things.)

See how the mind can sometimes not be our best friend?

Our world has changed. Change is uncomfortable. The longer people continue with the collective cognitive dissonance the old normal way of life recedes and recedes and recedes. The discomfort – and far worse – remains the daily reality for millions.

Have you a fever? Do you cough?
 
It is really very tiring waiting for the other shoe to drop.
We unlearn our helplessness by training ourselves
with endless YouTube tutorials. We remember, vaguely,
how to sew and cook without a recipe book.
Though what shall we substitute for an avocado?
 
We queue and are let into shops two by two.
We are re-creating The Ark in our new Anschluss.
In the supermarket we cruise the one-way aisles
where no one makes eye contact.
 
It is very tiring to have to sanitise all your groceries
along with our worry and uncertainty. Inside, we lifestyle
our bunker’s décor for diversity, celebrating our make do and mend
individuality.  The avocado, grown from a pip, fails to fruit.
It droops and quivers on the windowsill each winter.
 
It is really very tiring despite all the sleep I get
in ten hour shifts. I dream of Sleeping Beauty, her castle.
I feel climbing in my chest its choking vine.
And when I awake, I feel tired.  I feel tired
all the time.

Stay safe. You may not be comfortable with the new normal, but adapt and survive as they say. Mask up! Keep up the social distance!

covid19 mask up!
Mask up! Keep your distance!

Photo by tam wai on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Finding One’s New Normal

Are you feeling tired, too? It is taxing to figure out all the new details of our new normal. I feel like a tortoise just beginning to stick its head out from its shell after a long spell of hibernation. I am also locomoting at tortoise pace. Like me, other friends have noticed feeling tired. Though it might just be that the whole world is feeling tired. It’s been a pretty stressy few months.

It takes energy and imagination to re-vision how you are going to work while taking into consideration that your very breath – an explosive laugh, a sneeze, a cough, a sung note – could fell a healthy person into a clearcut forest. A lot of folk still not cannot get their heads around that they could wreck that kind of devastation when they don’t feel sick at all. But they can. And they still do.

I realise that it is easier for introverts to stay away and stay in, especially when they have beautiful scenery to look out onto and a garden to sit in for carefully placed socially distanced tea parties. But it also takes energy and imagination for introverts who earned most of their income from freelance teaching to figure out if they have any career mileage left. Because I love my 70 year old husband and am taking no chances with exposing myself, and therefore, himself, to havocking pathogens. This week, I have had many light bulb moments, some really inspiring zoom meetings and telephone conversations, and some typing time working on proposals, chiselling out what might just be my new normal working life.

It is exciting, but also very, very tiring. I needed a Sunday lie in.

It can be really tiring creating a New Normal. How is your’s looking? Feeling edgy? A bit like a cliff hanger in a serial?

Precipice

Worlds are always vanishing.
They become collectables plundered in corners
of junk shops, or thrifted, or dusted off
found things in granny's attic after she has died.

Some worlds come out for a day
to be celebrated or elevated to heritage
status. But this is just some other version
we tell ourselves at bedtime to send us to sleep.

Worlds are always in the making,
brick by brick, then the mortaring in.
Some fear, some love, some hope converges,
the sum of your faith filling in what is a life.

How a cliff edge and the cleft in your chin
are fear and love and hope
that it all will not cave in, stay -
edgy, sharp, beyond the vanishing point.


Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Pagie Page on Unsplash

Hat Trick Eclipse

The Sunday Weekly poetry post coincides with the third eclipse in thirty days. We had a full moon lunar eclipse on 5th June. Then came the solar eclipse that coincided with Summer Solstice. Then the very rare third eclipse within thirty days. Eclipses generally only come in pairs. We will have to wait another eight years before we see the triple eclipse in a month phenonmena.

I am still doing practice runs on Zoom, figuring out how I want to format creative writing Zoom worshops online with my band of volunteers. Yesterday’s exercise involved some rapid associations with the word eclipse. Other than the astronomical and ornithological definitions, it is also used in comparisons to say X has surpassed Y somehow. Also, “to obscure the light.” I asked the usual six questions of what, where, who, when, why and how light is or can be obscured. Then…go!

My own in class cogitations resulted in this word doodle that concentrated on the Lilith – Adam- Eve triangle. I always characterise lunar eclipses as being Lilith kinds of events. Because she was said to like to be on top, which led to a very stormy marital bed with Adam.

Eclipsed

The sun and moon collide.

The full moon rides the sun
like a witch astride her besom.
Lilith left Adam in the shade.

Eve found the desire to know
had a bewitching, heady perfume.
Eve stayed with Adam in shadow. 

Paradise - delayed.

This stormy morning that alternates between heavy rain showers and brief bursts of sunshine, I had another stab at the theme.  Wallace Steven’s sublime 13 Ways to Look at a Blackbird always feels like a suitable poem to read on the Sabbath.  That is a masterful poem, but also a useful reminder to look at a subject from as many angles as possible. This morning I managed eight.


Eight Ways to Watch An Eclipse

1.
Two lovers
astride, ride out the night,
extinguishing each other's light.
Sun. Moon. Wonder.

2.
The blinds drawn
to shut out the cold night.
Also, the heat, the glare
of too harsh daylight.

3.
The closed door
at the end of the dark corridor.
The muffled shouts.
The shove. The fall. The doubts.

4.
A small girl
struck dumb, undone,
the less favoured one
sucking her thumb.

5.
The costume -
a mask, a cloak worn
with dagger drawn beneath its folds.
All is shadow.

6.
Silhouette -
the inch of light seeping
from under the door ahead.
What can we expect?

7.
The pitch spread
repairing the holes in the road.
Look how green shoots so soon
poke through, embed.

8.
Let it fall!
All his beautiful plumage show,
the feathers on the floor before
a new world, in embryo, can grow.


Copyright ©Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

 

NB: Never look directly at a solar eclipse. It can cause severe visual impairment or blindness.

Featured image is a Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Who Was That Masked Man?

Another week and this Sunday’s post marks the end of the deepest cocooning of Ireland. From tomorrow we can travel whereever we wish in the Republic and we can get a haircut! We are going to have to wear masks on public transport and are being strongly encouraged to do so in supermarkets. As an enthusiastic masker from the beginning, and usually the only one in my village doing so, I really hope it is embraced. But I am aware that people balk at it on a really visceral level. And in Ireland there is none of that politicisation nonsense happening. So why do some people have such a problem with masks?

These past couple of weeks I have been pilotting a small creative writing class on Zoom with past students with the patience to hold my hand as I fumble through the new technology. While many are plotting their way back outside again, I am plotting a way to get some income through the winter months when weather can cancel classes. Also, I am creating a safe burrow because I do not think Covid19 will magically disappear in winter when Irish hospitals routinely deal with the winter vomitting bug and various strains of flu. I love people, but my more introverted nature is hard-wired for happiness holed up in winter. Fortunately, my husband is similarly hard-wired and we are content with each other’s company though we pretty much tinker away at our own projects all day. We like the quiet life.

So keep tabs on this space when I announce 30 day modules of creative writing Zoom classes this autumn and winter. The dark months in the Northern Hemisphere are perfect for incubating lots of creative projects.

I asked my class to mind map around the subject of masks and then to write a short piece, either flash fiction or a poem. I also sent them a video of Maya Angelou reciting her poem “We Who Wear Masks” before the session as an inspiration. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HLol9InMlc

You might want to try that exercise to find all the various associations you have with masks. See where your wild mind will take you.

My own mind map was all over the place with lots of arrows and squiggly lines that sort of connected disparate elements. For instance, if you excavate the genesis of Halloween costumes and masking children you go back to the folk belief that the veil between our world and the ‘the other world’ or parallel universe was tissue thin. They wanted to fool whatever malignant spirits might want to whisk away their beautiful child to the other realm. So they dressed up children in ghoulish garb to make them unappealing to travelling spirits. Halloween dress up was all about protection.

While protection and survival was one strand on my map, there was the trickier element of the Lord of Misrule, those Masked Balls so beloved by licentious Regency aristocrats and lusty carnival goers in Venice. There was the secret self that is given license to throw off inhibitions or social conventions for a spell. Then there were the superheros and justice warriors like Batman. Many of those Marvel characters mask the upper face rather than the lower part of the face.

Immigrant Muslim women who choose to veil the lower part of their face have received wide disapprobation in the West. Is there something in our Western culture’s collective psyche that is freaked out by not seeing a person’s mouth? We don’t all have to lip read after all! If we consider eyes as the mirror of the soul and you can see a person’s eyes with an upper mask, what social cues are we missing when a person masks the lower face?

Some human beings are gifted at dissembling, for projecting a ‘false face’ even when not wearing a physical mask. So why so much resistance, when wearing a mask can be a matter of life or death for some individuals?

I will let you walk around your own mental labyrinth on the subject. My students came up with very individual ways of entering into that maze. See where it takes you and what revelations await you.

In the meantime, the weekly poem…

 
“Who Was That Masked Man?”
 
Halloween tricksters about!
Hide your beautiful children!
Let them remain unseen
in costumes of Skeletor or Spiderman.
 
Here promenades the Plague Doctor
in our own version of divine commedia dell’arte,
nose full of bitter herbs
masking the stench of destruction.
 
We laugh. We drink.
We dance at the Masked Ball.
At midnight, we unmask our fear of desolation,
left standing, holding our secret selves.
 
We wait for the Lone Ranger and Tonto
to Heighho, Silver! Away!
They ride off to happy end another week’s
episode of injustice.
 
Take up your facial shield and buckler.
If you can see the smile
in the whites of their eyes,
you are standing too close.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.
Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as the Lone Ranger and Tonto in the TV series that ran from 1949-1957 on US television

I will leave you with my own pandemic face mask anecdote. We needed to get some items from the town 20km over. As we were there already, we picked up some items from the supermarket and used the post office that shares houseroom with the market. I know the postmaster by name and greeted him. When he saw me wearing the mask he queried, “Customer of Bandit?”

We had a companiable laugh.

Noticing

A lot can happen in a week’s time. This week I piloted my first creative writing Zoom session with a handful of volunteers who are helping me find my way towards the most workable method and format. I have been facilitating creative workshops in the Marble Arch Caves Geopark region now for nearly ten years. I know I will need to alter some of my teaching methods, but I also want to maintain the integrity of the sharing sessions. Besides, come winter when we are all holed up, we will need these kinds of interactions as we isolate to keep the bugs at bay. We have another session at this week’s end which I hope will tease out the details of how I will operate in the Word Alchemy Zoom Room.

Also this week, our Taoiseach announced that the Roadmap to Re-opening is being accelerated since we have maintained our flattened curve. From next Monday we can drive anywhere, not just stick to our county or venture 20 km if we have to cross county boundaries. We still need to mask on public transport and in crowded shops, but we are also asked to be sensible and leave anywhere as the it begins to build a crowd. And, as always, maintain two metres social distance and wash your hands! But I cannot say I am hankering to go any great distance. I can now book a hair dresser appointment and get a trim from my local hairdresser who will be in mask and PPE and providing for customers likewise; I am waiting patiently for my appointment. That may be about as much excitement as I can take. Appointments with Nuala are generally jolly.

And I guess it was like this for our ancestors before the advent of the car or automotive mass transit. We stayed local. We knew our locality intimately – the blades of grass as much as all the human inhabitants. Currently, I am slowly savouring an excellent book written by a fifteen year old from Northern Ireland. Diary of a Young Naturalist shows me so much of what I do not notice. I wish I could match the all of the bird species to the songs I hear. Sadly, I may know many by sight, but few by sound.

My Zoom session picked up on a quotation from an article in the 13th June Guardian Review section. Several writers were asked what they had learned under lockdown. I picked up on one quotation from Kiran Millward Hargrave.

What lockdown has taught me is to notice. My luck, yes, and also the many blessings of where I live.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/13/overcoming-fears-discovering-nature-what-i-have-learned-from-lockdown

We have just passed one of the great axis points of the year. In Ireland, summer solstice happened at 10:43 pm last night. The wind was wild and the rain sometimes quite fierce. Then we have the solar eclipse (a new moon) at 4:45am. Yes, I did set the alarm and I scrabbled around trying to get the live feed to the Solstice Gathering in Glastonbury. (I visited at Bealtaine 2018; Chalice Well gardens are beautiful.) But they had some tech difficulties with the wind and weather and the opening was a bit delayed. By the time of the peak of the eclipse it was 7:40. The rain had stopped and wind eased, so I took my drum out onto our new patio area and drummed prayers of gratitude to the land that has held us in its verdant palm through the months of maintaining the collective quarantine.

Love the land and the land loves you back
What I Noticed In My Cocoon

I saw:
the early purple orchid for the first time in eighteen springtimes
I have walked up and down and up and down again
and again on the lane just outside my front door.

I heard:
the cuckoo calling and calling from week three of staying put.
Out in the garden one day my husband called out to me.
A great buff cuckoo had flown over our nest.

I smelled:
anxiety in my sweat. Sometimes it hurt so much to think about... 
I would lean into the kitchen sink and think 
"Brace! Brace! Brace!" and wait for the wave to crash.

I tasted:
so I cooked up whatever deliciousness made from the anything to hand. 
And I baked, rationing out the butter, eggs and the sugar 
to make sure we always had some sweetness on our tongues.

I touched:
I could pat the dog and carry around the cat.
I picked flowers from the garden and arranged them artistically.
I held my husband's hand. Sometimes guiltily. Because I could.

Then:
one day when I pegged the washing on the line I looked up
and saw a jet stream's track arching across a clear, blue sky.
I asked:
Why?

I wanted to write something that was included both the summer solstice and the eclipse. I tried some haiku, a senryu and tanka. In the end, I was most satisfied with the tanka.

weekly poem each Sunday by Bee Smith
solstice eclipse tanka
The weekly poem each Sunday

Keep in touch each Sunday with this blog when I will announce when creative writing workshops will be up and running in the Word Alchemy Zoom Room.

What Everyone Knows Matters

I was scratching around for a jump start for the Sunday Weekly poem this morning. Having had a good week of manuscript re-writes it just felt like the gears were grinding to get back to writing the first drafts that get published here. It has been an unsettling week out in the world beyond my townland. Bucolic does not mean completely disconnected or uncaring. In the end, I pulled the poetry anthology Tell Me the Truth About Life off the bookshelf. The page fell open to W. B. Yeat’s poem The Second Coming, very apt since yesterday was auld Will’s birthday. It is also a poem that speaks to the condition of our times. “The centre cannot hold…” What is truer of our polarised world?

Then I read the lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s poem “Everybody Knows”. Here are some lines from the first verse.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

…..

Everybody knows the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

June 19th will mark the 103rd birthday of my mother. June 19th is also known as Juneteenth, the celebration by many African Americans of the emancipation from slavery. The tradition began in Texas where, on June 19th 1865, a Union officer read the declaration to Texans that slaves were freed. The Confederacy had lost the civil war, but the struggle for full civil rights had only just begun. We know that the granting of full civil rights to African Americans has been an uphill struggle ever since then. I grew up as bit by bit schools were desegregated. When I arrived in Washington, DC in 1974 you could still see block upon devastated block of ‘riot corridor’ in the aftermath of so many civil rights set backs and Dr. Martin Luther King’s assasination. Equality for all has been a very long work in progress.

My mother taught me that discrimination matters, that it is unfair and it was wrong to harm in word or deed anyone who was not the same religion, social class, or race as us. She was particularly clear that racism is wrong. Now this might seem a bit unlikely for a woman who spent her childhood years in Jim Crow North Carolina. (Jim Crow was the codified segregation and oppression of African Americans post- Emancipation Proclamation.) In part, an unlikely alliance and friendship that bloomed in a school library between 1929 and 1932 may have been responsible for her stance.

My mother was a shy woman. In 1929 she and her sisters were living in New Jersey. Their parents had separated. Academically gifted, my mother had skipped two grades and was was placed in high school along with both her elder sisters where she graduated aged 15. Sparing the full details, let us just say that, for my mother, the years between 1929 and 1932 were fit for a novel by Charles Dickens without any silver linings. In her High School Yearbook the year she graduated the song assigned to her was “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” It was a mean spirited, but probably fair, assessment. For barring her sisters, it probably felt that way to my mother.

My mother only ever spoke of one friend from her high school years – Nellie Gator. Nellie was the sole African American in her high school class. At a time when her world was chaotic, frightening, and insecure, that connection was important to her. Nellie must have been very kind to Mom because she seemed to have been paying it forward from that day on.

This Juneteenth my birthday present to my mother is a donation to Black Lives Matter. Because they do. Nellie Gator mattered a great deal to my mother.

What our mothers teach us matters. We need to be more like Nellie and Elma.

What Everyone Knows

We like to say to ourselves that
all lives matter, but
everyone knows that some 
are worth more than those
who rattle loose change in their pockets
and others who are down to their last dime.
We look down our noses
if you aren't somehow known,
haven't got the bluest eyes
or are someone else's fair-haired fellow.

What everyone knows is plain to see.
It's in our turns of speech, but mostly
we are too yellow to face up to facts
(the kind that must have plagued old Job)
that most everyone knows
we don't treat equally our kind,
that everything has fallen apart,
we've lost our minds, mislaid our hearts.

What everyone knows when lying awake
in the dark at 4am, is that it is time
to matter, one by one by one.
The alarm has rung. Ask anyone
what everyone knows. 

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Elma Russell Smith 1917-2011

Plant a Tree and Reforest the Earth

We are living in a season of grief. We are living in a season of mass bereavements – from Covid19 or other causes – where we are limited in our expressions of mourning. We are also facing grief for injustices done. Sadness is an appropriate response. Anger is an understandable response. In my own sorrow I turned to poetry. This is the book I plucked from the shelf.

Alice Walker brought out this complete collection by The Women’s Press in 1991.

Before I tell you about the poem that I turned to, I want to speak as some one who grew up as a white person in a small town that had one black family and two mixed race families. In 1968 I was eleven and the land of my birth was being shriven with unrest caused by civil rights withheld and a foreign conflict that many did not sanction. Protests that turned ugly were on the 6:30 news most summer evenings. (We religiously watched NBC’s The Huntley Brinkley Report in our household.) That raised my consciousness, as well as the assasinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. What I had to help educate myself and build empathy was good reading matter.

My elementary school publicised a subscription book club where you could buy cheap paperbacks every month. I spent a lot of my weekly allowance with that Book Club. As a book worm tween I was able to buy and read books like Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and a biography of Mary MacLeod Bethune. Because I was also hungry for biographies of women (which were thin on the ground in the 1960s), I understood on some unconscious level the desire of having someone who looks like you reflected in the world. In those days we had a new phrase “role models.” I might not have had the same skin colour as Bethune, but golly she was a Mighty Woman! What reading did for me was educate me about lives that were different from mine, but were interesting and powerfully inspiring. It also gave me context for what was happening contemporaneously. Reading forged a connection that transcended social, racial, religious, and gender differences. It also exercised my empathy muscle and prepared me for reading The Diary of Anne Frank. By puberty I was well informed at just how low humans could go in terms of harming fellow human beings.

So, readers, please give your children books that will give them context to help them understand the why of what it happening at this moment. It will help them in so many ways.

Now, to the poem that helped me write the Sunday Weekly poem and also to navigate my sadness with this moment in our history. The poem is Alice Walker’s “Torture” that runs through a litany of “when they torture your…” loved ones with the response “Plant a Tree.” The final verse runs thus:

When they begin to torture

the trees

and cut down the forest

they have made

start another.

Alice Walker “Torture” from Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful
Let Us Breathe

All the millions cut down
robbing the biozone of CO2...
All the millions burned
in a Holocaust where we learned
nothing.
                  Enough is enough.

Plant a tree for George Floyd.
Then plant another and another.
Plant a tree for the strange fruit
hanging for 400 years
from innocent trees. 
Plant a tree in memory. We too soon 
forget.
                  But, enough is enough.

Plant a tree for the named and the nameless.
Plant a tree for all those who could not breathe.
Plant a tree of all of us who still cannot breathe.
Plant a green lung to ventilate the planet.
Let us breathe.
Let us breathe. 
Plant a tree.


Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
Tree on Yeats Lake Isle of Innisfree
Tree on Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree in Lough Gill, Co. Sligo, Ireland

Featured image is a Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

Fledglings

We are all fledglings these days. We can learn a great deal from nature. Certainly with cocooning we have more time now to carefully observe nature in our New Normal.

Just eleven days ago, as Ireland began Phase 1 of our Roadmap to Returning, my husband discovered a nest of baby blue tits in the cavity of some concrete blocks that had lain fallow during lockdown when some hard landscaping work had ceased. Tony, being a Franciscan at heart, immediately began to create a fortress to make sure Mama Bird could get in and out while our cats were not going to be allowed to indulge in any serial killer instincts. This Sunday, we can announce that they have flown the nest. Also, there is only one starling that is still rooming in the eaves over my writing space. The fledglings have begun to go out in the world, though Tony reports that one of the baby birds has been visiting him and watches him while he works in the garden. Perhaps the bird feels comforted by Tony’s protective presence.

We are all fledglings now. Cautiously, for essential tasks, we admit strangers to our homes. And then, if you are me, you spray every surface they could potentially have touched in the process of putting in copper gas pipes so I could make dinners. All delivery people and installers are masked, but it can be hard to stay with them in a heat wave. Well, for us, anything over 21C (70F) is a heatwave. We are languishing in afternoon temperatures rising to 24C this weekend.

Which is why I am posting the Sunday Weekly poem a bit later than usual. I am a shade plant. Though I am not really a morning lark by nature, in hot weather if I am going to be anything other than a slug, I have to perform essential tasks like the long(ish) dog walk, as well as some housework and garden weeding and watering before I reach melting point at 11am. We have a breeze today, so I made it to 11:30.

Ireland tends to feel shorted on summertime, but this year of lockdown has seen long, long periods without rain, lots of sunshine and now, temperatures that are warmer than we are used to experience at this time of year. The hawthorn blossom is spent and the elder is flowering early. A friend also noticed that the orchids we have around here seem to be out earlier, too. The springtime palette of purples and yellows is now yielding to the pinks of celine, lupin, foxglove and snapdragon. The rose Galway Bay has bloomed. The mallow, which had self-seeded all over the place in the poorest of conditions, is flowering early, too. Summer is looking very magenta pink this year!

Because it has been a busy week, with bursts of social interation with trades people, as well as unaccustomed heat, I have cut myself some slack on the Sunday Weekly Poem front. I have written a tanka again this week. Summer has come in. We have lots of work to do and have to pace ourselves through it.

Smell the roses if you can while you still can…

Rose Galway Bay