What Remains

In Ireland, death is highly ritualised. Wherever a person dies, almost invariably ‘the remains’ are brought home. There is the wake with neighbours, friends, and extended family visiting the deceased, who is usually laid out in the best room, all coming to say goodbye, praying the rosary, drinking tea, eating sandwiches. Then the house may go private to family only before ‘the removal.’ The remains are removed from home to the church the night before the funeral and a service is held to welcome the coffin.  There are forms of words and people who may  not have visited the funeral house line up to sympathise with the family, shake hands, say “I am sorry for your loss.” Then the funeral, the commital for burial or cremation. Over three days, the bereaved waver on that liminal place of letting go. Each sympathiser dins the reality home. You have lost a loved one.  That is a sorry thing.

This poem circles around that certain funereal terminology – the remains.

Remains

1.

The remains.

Not corpse.

Not carcasse.

Not cadaver.

The sinew

the beloved bones

the convex and concave planes

of beloved face.

 

2.

A wood coffin.

A casket full of a once bejewelled life.

A willow woven basket

its warp and weft a living thing.

The stone sarcophagus.

A memorial cold as

the cold, cold ground.

Catacombs.

A city  of the dead

skulls and crossed bones huddled together.

Balm for those extrovert spirits.

Purgatory for solitary souls.

The Crem.

Burning what remains to ash.

Remembering how we began as dust

and to dust we shall return.

 

3.

When the dust settles.

When the motes no longer dance.

Those atoms waltzing in a certain slant of light.

What remains of settled dust?

The light. The light.

That remains.

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith

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Hold the Space

I was travelling between 24th April and 6th May, which made the last leg of NaPoWriMo2018 a bit frantic and hectic. Travel is a bit of a brutality. Home is the reverse. Travel, however, does instruct. I was surprised by an attack of homesickness and nostalgia for Ireland that seems best expressed by the Irish word cumha. Yes, I missed my man, my very own Green Man, my Joyful Giver; but I also missed the land itself, the Celtic knottedness of home and belonging. It has happened before, but I rather discounted it. It is an identifiable pattern now.

Home is not birthplace or even where I hang my coat. It is the moss and tree limbs, stone, peat and clay of West Cavan. And as I was mentioning visiting Stonehenge and Avebury to a friend who has walked with me on the rocky Cavan Burren, he exclaimed, “What it is about you and stones?!” Cannot quite articulate a rational explanation just yet, Mick. But I have always slipped a pebble into my pocket, left them at graves even though I am not Jewish, gloried in fossils witnesed on beaches, threw an Irish pebble  into my parents’ Pennylvania grave. But wherever I go I play with stone. I found a sort of stone quern overlooking Merlin’s Cave at Tintagel. Someone had placed a shard of slate in it. I built a wee prayer cairn.

Hold the space
Travel breaks all habits. Home is the ritual space. Which includes getting back into writing routine, attending to the work diary, household chores. One can love one’s life. Being away and returning is a bit like falling in love all over again with everything that is beloved.


Hold the Space

On the page

In the room

With the body

Wholly present

Hold out your hands

Feel the atoms on your palms

Like dust motes

Dancing

What is their rhythm?

Slow your heart

To beat

With them

In time

In that space

Hearts

Beating in sync

The moment is the magic

Hold it, then

Release that fledgling

Into the wild

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

On Being a Bad Woman

Shame is a feminist issue. Brené Brown, the social worker academic who researches shame, has said in various written and video sources, that shame does seem to narrow down to certain gender categories. With men it seems to centre around being seen to be not in control. With women, the shame is about imperfections. And let’s face it, the multitude of mixed messages about womanhood and femininity are land mines we step on daily. It is exhausting trying to uphold perfection when the goal posts are constantly moving and competing on both sides at times!

As I prepare for guests to arrive I am walking the Slut Walk of House Beautiful & Hygiene Shame. Most of my friends accept that country living, two dogs, three cats and a husband whose mother preferred to read than clean house (bless her!) and therefore is blind to dustbunnies, is just how it is in our home. There are many more exciting, life enhancing things to do than wash the cobwebs from the kitchen cupboards.

But let the prospect of ‘company’ be on the horizon and I am crippled with shame over my the general level of slovenlyness. We are not rich enough to outsource cleaning. Also, some vestigial German hausfrau DNA is horrified at that prospect. I tell myself I should do better. The feminist in me tells myself not to care. Then I feel guilty for caring. Or ashamed, if I allow my mind to make it toxic, for both caring and being a House Slut.

Fortunately, these attacks pass and I just nibble away at the tasks, often a shelf and drawer at a time. And, let’s face it, if I am going to obey some rubric of femininity I will obviously opt to bake a cake, rather than sweep the floor daily.  Because, you know, the byproduct is CAKE! I can enjoy it and also watch others enjoy eating it. There is a higher ratio of satisfaction even when you have a day of bad cake karma.

Women are hard on themselves. And, as Elena Ferrante pointed out in last Saturday’s Guardian, women can be hard on each other. “Not only is female power suffocated, but also, for the sake of peace and quiet, we suffocate ourselves.” Which may have been at the root of my wanting to photograph the interior of my newly resplendent, sparkling and hygienic fridge to have my friend Jo show her 91 year old mother.  I quelled that impulse. But just note that I am still preening myself publicly.

So, after throwing in a load of laundry, I penned this as my weekly poem exercise.

Being a Bad Woman

Undoubtably, she will come to a bad end

Desperado housewife, bandit, the less loved

Desperation being the operative word

For the one with nerve

For the one who got her maths wrong

In so many ways over so many months and days

 

She is the one with the gimlet eye

Peering over her vodka stinger

Stink eye glare, the shoulder shrug devil may care

The one with the iron jaw

Who won’t take it on the chin

The one who relaxes the rictus grin

 

She is the one

Who can’t do the dance on stilts

She is the one

Who can’t paint on a face anymore

She is the one

Who is all  “too much”

 

Once, she was the leggy little girl

Who saw nudity

And has since dispensed

With clothing

And power dressing

Entirely

 

She is hairy and fanged

The bitch on heat and permanent virgin

The handmaid, the house angel

She is Mary

She is Lilith

She is mitochondrial Eve

 

She is this everything and all

Or nothing. But now

She is done with being

Woman – Professional Version point

An infinity of naughts since

In this world, goodness has no just desserts

 

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

Image by ArtsyBee found on Pixabay

 

 

 

 

Haiku Poetree Walk

My blog schedule is a bit disrupted. But you try leading four workshops within seven days and nursing sciatica on the ‘off ‘ days! I did actually draft this blog twice, but each time the iPad crashed and I lost the draft.  But maybe the universe was telling me I needed some crash time of my own! Third time lucky on the trusty steam laptop. And besides, in the interim one of the haiku walk workshop participants sent me some lovely images and haiku she wrote on the day. Morag Donald has kindly given me permission to share them with you here. (But you might also want to visit her WordPress blog over at Morag Donald Reiki Master & Teacher).

It was Irish Tree week last week and the snow and sleet earlier on had yielded to mist and soft rain and a practically balmy 6C! Those of us living in Fermanagh and Cavan, the lakeland counties in Ireland, are well equipped to deal with most weather eventualities. So my band of hardy haiku poetree walkers arrived well dressed for the occasion.

haiku poetree walkers
Ready to ginko down Claddagh Glen at Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre

 

We met at Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark Visitor Centre. Many of you know I am also a local Geopark Guide. And in March 2018, that has roared in like a lion, I am being intrepid enough to host two outdoor poetry events in Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. This first, with a haiku walk down lush Claddagh Glen, was an appropriate venue for celebrating all things arborial in Irish Tree Week.

Irish Tree Week
Lush moss, lichen and fern make Claddagh Glen an evergreen year round walk

And here is the haiku that Morag wrote, inspired during the walk.

haiku Claddagh Glen
Wood elf Copyright 2018 Morag Donald

Along with a tiny notebook, a camera of some sort is often a boon for a haiku walk anywhere.

haiku walk notebook
A tiny notebook like this A7 one with a waterproof cover can be useful on haiku walks. Fits in a pocket. I also recommend fingerless glove!

Haiku celebrates our natural heritage, as well as our relationship with nature. No more than seventeen syllables, the traditional  Japanese poetry form is often seen in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. But in English that can sometimes feel a bit stilted, so the format has altered somewhat. A seasonal word to anchor the reader in the wheel of the year is also traditional.

As we drove up over Marlbank to Marble Arch Caves Centre, I composed a haiku of my own

Gorse flowers blaze bright

Through the mist and the mizzle

Spring creeps on soft feet

 

haiku poetree walk
Mist over Marlbank, Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark

Although on our haiku walk down the glen it wasn’t sheep we spotted, but some rather splendid antlers on feral goats. They were both too shy and too quick to take a reasonable photo, but here is a haiku snapshot.

haiku by Morag Donald
Copyright 2018 Morag Donald Haiku inspired by wild goats on our haiku walk in Claddagh Glen, Marble Arch Caves

 

It is true that aroma of goat announced their presence on the opposite bank of the Claddagh River.  My own jotting at the time:

River’s negative ions

Feral goat sweat wafts across

Go wild!

And my! The way they were scrambling along a thirty-five degree angle was an impressive sight. Sure-footed is no exageration. They were practically balletic!

 

 

This is their habitat – rock, river, trees. Claddagh Glen is one of my favourite walks. They have an expression ‘to shower my head.’ Which actually sounds more like ‘shar my hay-ed.’  Which translates as getting your mind clear. Whenever I see the  Cascade along the path I feel like I am showering my soul.

haiku poetree walk claddagh Glen
The Cascade waterfall in Claddagh Glen on our Haiku Poetree Walk during Irish Tree Week

 

Haiku walks – or ginko – are ideal opportunities to ‘shower your soul’.  The Japanese practice something that translates as ‘forest bathing’. A haiku walk in scenic splendour has a similar replenishing effect.  I will be planning more in 2018 in and around Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. If you would like to take part in one, please fill in the contact form below, letting me know when you will be in our part of Ireland.

 

Writing Spirit

Spiritual autobiography can take many forms. It does not always choose prose, or even a linear narrative. It can be about as slippery as that piece of tofu that is dodging around your plate. You can get the sauce into a spoon, or lick a chopstick, but that chunk of tofu can disintegrate right back onto your plate if you are not dexterous and quick. And then you go chasing it all over again. Such it is when it comes to writing about, not so much spiritual matters, but Spirit.

Put another way, spirit is Spirit, one of those words regarding divinity that is likely to offend the least.  Or it could refer to the fifth element in the medieval alchemists, who also called it quintessence (LOVELY word!). In the Chinese world view they thought of metal being the fifth essential element after fire, water, air and earth. So take your pick!

Quietly, in a closed group of trusted friends, we have been writing our way through the elements with respect to our spiritual autobiographies. This week the vote went to add the fifth element – ether (not in either the anaesthetic or alcoholic sense of the word). Or spirit. Or Spirit. Or metal.

Given that I have three workshops to run this week and a Risk Assessment walk to vet a walking route for Cavan Youth Arts Lab, I am a bit time famished. But I am also committed to writing a new poem each week to get in training for NaPoWriMo2018 from 1st of April. To learn more about the thirty poems in thirty days challenge, check out NaPoWriMo2018. So I am ‘doing the double’, using one exercise to fulfill two committments.

I am curious about word origins.  During the doodle that is often the shitty first draft, I got hooked on the origin of ‘scape’, as in landscape or seascape. And that opened all sorts of thematic horizons.

 

Scape

 

Somewhere else entirely

with completely porous boundaries

where the indoor and the outdoor escape

the doors slide free into another kind of scape

one without bleating goat,

the sort to have a stake for the Puck King

 

Watching now from my window I see

trees. There are also weeds.

A blue tit taps at the glass and then…

There. It opens. I step out.

The edges have all dissolved

inside me

 

The outside me

matters not at all. To be sure,

I have been swallowed whole

like a communion host

that does not linger

sticking to the roof of the  mouth

 

The scape always hands you

your royal prerogative

Ornamented land

Jewelled tide into the timeless

As slim as a feather’s shaft

As fine as an insect’s antenna

 

© Bee Smith 2018

 

True North

This week’s main event for Britain and Ireland has been the Siberian weather front being characterised as #BeastFromTheEast. It seemed all a bit of a hum to us in the west of Ireland. On Wednesday morning it was indeed very cold, but sunny and dry. I chatted with the Foróige coordinator of our Cavan Youth Arts Lab session about whether we should cancel for that evening, having noticed a trend for early cancellations.West Cavan schools were open. There was none of this snow and ice from yellow to orange alerts the Met Eíreann was on about. We joked about those soft Dubliners who didn’t know how to cope with a bit of weather. By lunchtime it was clear that the #BeastFromtheEast was heading straight for the Atlantic, stopping by us on its way. The entire of the Republic of Ireland was on red alert.

Yet the snow that has arrived is, unusually for us, dry powder. So our lane, under normal freezes an ice rink, is passable. We were able to drive on empty roads across the border to fetch some parcels from the Parcel Motel along with milk, eggs, bread and spuds. Being cautious, I ventured out with my walking stick, but it really was redundant.

The wind, however, is cruel. The pets are sensible to the biting cold and only stay out long enough to answer the call of nature. Or, in Ellie’s case, to make a snow angel before dashing back indoors. The dogs enjoyed the change of venue with the car ride to the shop though.

So Friday arrives and it is time to address writing my weekly poem. I was helped by the timely arrival of an email fromVisualVerse, which offers a pictorial prompt along with the challenge to write between 50-500 words within an hour. So I rattled off a submission. Which was a good five finger poetry writing exercise. But then there is the evidence of my training for NaPoWriMo2018 here to consider. So, with the #BeastFromTheEast as muse, this is my weekly offering.

True North

A wind to make your jaws ache

Rictus grinning into gale

A wind to cut through you

Making you wish chain mail could be thermal 

A wind to sear the snowdrops

Droop the daffs and immature aconite

A wind to sting a false Spring

February playing us will crush the rest of the year

A wind of dips and flake drops

Of polar ice cap taking its hat off

Copyright Bee Smith 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

I respect thoughtfulness. I respect prayer and I practice it often. But I admire most a phrase that I think I encountered in some Quaker literature – Love in Action.  Which simply restates the adage ‘Walk Your Talk’- but with the addendum of walk in love. In a week where there have been a lot of thoughts flying around the interwebs, and most surely a lot of prayer, I have crafted a spell. And since auld Samuel Beckett said “all poems are prayers” this is my weekly poem. Which is also a heartfelt spell working. There have been too many Parklands, Pulses, Sandy Hooks. And may the little children lead us. They certainly are demonstrating a raw fearlessness in the face of tragedy. May they be surrounded with Love as they take action.
Thoughts and Prayers

Enough of thoughts

Enough of prayers

Enough of tears

 

Banish the fear
May Love disarm you

 

Enough of being bought

Enough of anger

Enough conspiracy jeers

Banish the fear
May Love disarm you

 

Enough of siege and SWAT

Enough of all coming to naught

Enough of the primacy of crackpot

Enough of the always all too sure shot

 

Banish the fear
May Love disarm you

 

Enough of cowering in closets

Enough of bandoliered bigots

Enough of ideology driven budgets

Enough of guts and gore as year-round climate

 

Banish your fear
May Love disarm you

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

Featured image is a painting of Samuel Beckett by Barry Hodgson, owned by the author.