The theme for today’s #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge is ‘We are Sailing.’ Now I have never been on a yacht. I am awkward getting in an out of small crafts. But I adore ferries. Nor do I get seasick (which was one reason why my husband demurred on taking a trip to Orkney with me. One epic bout of seasickness back in the 1970s has forced him to avoid lengthy boat crossings. The shortest is always the best. Even then he keeps his head down while I roam the deck.) So the Poetry Daily is inspired not by my first experience of a ferry; there had been two cross-British Channel trips before the one that I am memorialising in the Poetry Daily today. The route the Poetry Daily poem takes was Stranraer in Scotland to Larne in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The year was 1980.
Interesting that I am writing this ‘up north’ where we travelled to attend the first of what could be quite a few 70th birthday parties for handsome man that grew up in the Country Armagh.
The crossing was rough., loos filled with sick past Ailsa Crag. Ridiculous I'd been made of tougher stuff. On deck, inhaling cold, salt air, revelling in the swell and roll.
Then, through the mist, the gull's caw. Landfall within sight. For the first, and last, time in my life I felt the Land not just call me but pluck out my heart. "You're mine now!" I wanted to fall on my knees on deck awash, splashed with rain and sick. I was lovestruck by Antrim's outline. The Land shook me, called my name. I answered. From then on our lives intertwined.
The theme tune for today’s #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge promp is ‘Sentimental Journey.’ We were asked to reconsider places of fondest memory or where we feel our best selves dwelt, or places of pilgrimage. But, nope! Maybe it is because I hitched my wagon to a man who likes to explore new stars. We have never been a couple to go back to the same places, unless we are visiting family. Even then you are tracking the changes since the last time. What’s new? Perhaps the haze of golden memory is the only place for sentimental journey. Today’s Poetry Daily reveals just how hard-hearted (or hard-headed) I can be.
There's more wow in now than in nostalgia. The costumes change since when, not to mention that scenery shifts happen. I cannot revisit a shabby London Town where love struck me again. They've gentrified the old neighbourhood. It's gone all hipster beard, flash rail links. Coffee bars replace Turk's Working Men's Clubs. We have all moved on and out. There's no one left. They've even changed the library's name where we first met and you knew that I'd be your wife (as strange as a thought as that). No, it's better to not look back. So concentrate on this precious moment - the rain's soft pattering on the gladioli. There's more wow in the now than in nostalgia.
The theme today in #30DaysofSummerWritingChallenge is ‘fiesta.’ While it could be a literal religious festival cum carnival (childhood’s Maria Assunta celebrations floated through my mind) or weeks spent eco-camping at Earth Song when I could still just about contemplate waking under canvas, the celebration that I finally fixed on was a wedding. Our wedding, which happens to have happened at the end of this month. So an anniversary poem seemed appropriate for two people who first encountered each other in the Hackney Poetry Circle one dark November evening nearly forty years ago.
We Do! (An Anniversary Poem)
Marry under a marque in August is a prime example of hope triumphs common sense. Our only insurance was the Infant of Prague (£2.99) outside our front door. Which, according to local folklore, made sunshine a dead cert.
It was the sunniest day that summer. Tea and home-baked lavender biscuits served on the lawn after the ceremony. Tree planting, singing, patio speeches, laughter ringing out over the acres. Barbecue supper - but slightly gourmet - Waldorf salad and kohl rabi cole slaw. Compostable cutlery, plates and napkins - we tread lightly in love. (Even the cake was organic carrot.) We were toasted and quaffed sparkling elderflower cordial made with blossom from Drumcliff Churchyard. The ghost of W.B. benignly gazed, smiling from his otherworld bean rows while we vowed to companion each the other's greatness. We do. And we did. And we still do day after day the sun sets on our bless'd heads.
My writing routine is all topsy turvy today. The Poetry Daily is delayed because I went out to a pub music session and sang along with many more into the wee hours of the morning. The bar lights went out; the beer stopped flowing from the taps. But we kept on singing and my husband (yer man from Dowra) and the three travelling minstrels from Dublin played on. And the locals kept up with the recitations, the jokes, the songs, and pastiches of songs. We sang Happy Birthday twice. And we crept down our lane and put the kettle on for the nightcap cuppa tea at 2:30.
But first, the little dog needed a rest stop outdoors. We live without light polution. It was the most amazing clear night. These are the hours of the amrit vela, those magical hours of darkness before dawn, and I figured I better use them while I was awake anyway. The prompt from #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge was posted already – Moon Landing. I have done a number of moon poems recently. The historic event was one that I tried to ignore, as I sat reading in a corner of the family living room, while the rest of the household was rapt watching the television.
No, the starry night sky was pleading for some attention. So I went at this slant.
The Sky This Night
No cloud this night. Above, the sparkling vault, so vast and a shimmer, that one single glimmer beckons to draw me into its infinity. I am lost. I am found. No Perseids shower will wash or gloss me more completely than this convex dome that flying buttresses me into belief in divinity - though at a distance. And I am at peace with my unknowing, my unscholared wonder at its power. Also, gracious imperviousness. That poise in its own glory beyond myth or even story. It just is. Sparkles. That shot the darkness like some fantastic fabric created for Scheherazade. Yet are just winks and blinks of atmosphere.
When I looked at the #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge theme this morning my heart sank a little. Summer in the City…and hadn’t I just blown some of my best moves in the Mint Julep poem yesterday? (https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/08/06/heatwave/). You may have missed it given the WordPress wobbles yesterday. (WordPress seems to have worked out its glitches this morning after three fraught mornings trying to get the Poetry Daily early edition out.) But then the synapses began to flash. Memory is always the beginning of a poem. And I was back in the back seat of our family car in the the summer of ’68 (probably). My sister was driving, Mom was in the front passenger seat. We had spent a day culture vulturing in NYC. It was full dark and as we drove past Newark the skyline was completely alight. A riot was happening somewhere off to the right of the highway.
In my head, summer is riot season. High temperatures just ratchet up all the ugly feelings, the multiple injustices overflow in cities whether it is in Newark or Philly or Hyde Park in Leeds.
It's a radical act to do nothing. Maybe it's too hot to bother setting the city on fire, sending some missiles of empties full of petrol through the air. Summertime and living is a riot waiting to happen and inhibitions falling with each article of clothing. The neighbours play their music way too loud. Some idiot just lit a barbecue in a bin lid. The air is full of smoke and smells of lighter fluid. Voices, shouting, amplified by beer and talking over everyone else, the awful playlist.
It's a radical act to do nothing, sitting inside, quietly perspiring, not playing with matches or menacing. Listening to the fan's white noise over the police chopper, beaming its spot light ball, bouncing it off the bedroom window's wall.
The servers over at WordPress must be having a little meltdown. It’s taken me over ninety minutes to be able to hop and and begin to post day six of the #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge theme poem. Cue frustration with not being able to post the Poetry Daily and get on with other tasks that beckon. But I am hard at it playing catch up after posting the finished poem for the day on the group’s Facebook page two hours ago.
Today’s theme is Heatwave. Which is a relative term since a few days over 25C/74F qualifies as a fullblown Irish heatwave. The tar on our lane begins to melt because really, why would you put on the pricier stuff that resists higher temperatures if there may be not need over twenty-four months. When the mercury hits 20C a lot of Irish strip off shirts and air pasty white chests to catch a few rays of sunshine. It turns folks heads. Their brains curdle a bit in the unexpected sun and heat.
Having been reared in the NE USA, winter temps were routinely below 0C for months on end. Likewise, there were stretches of weeks with the mercury above 30C with a 99% humidity when I lived in Washington, DC. I know heatwave. And I don’t like them one little bit.
Days of relentless sunshine. Walking through a Turkish bath to join commuters worrying their deodorant. Standing back from the weird guy who goes without donning some.
Office air-con alternates between Arctic and air trickle. Personnel hours are spent on discerning its temperament, fiddling about its dial.
Then rewind the morning journey. More photochemical smog in Turkish bath, commuters wilted, less morning fresh now.
Home. Pull out the bourbon bottle. Fill a tall glass with ice cubes. Slug it full. Add some sugar. Top with a bush of mint. Take your mint julep to porch,or easy chair before TV. Naked if necessary. Take your ease. Proceed to get pie-eyed, self-anasthematised.
The prompt for today’s #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge is ‘Surf’s Up!’ Counterintuitively what flashed into my mind was an image of beachcombing one January back in 2011. That became the basis for today’s Poetry Daily.
The beach is my happy place. I’m not sure how I have managed to remain so inland or landlocked all my life when my heart and soul yearns for the ocean. Recently in Bundoran one steamy day I saw a toddler racing towards the water’s edge. I was getting ready to run interference when dad did a rugby save, scooping her up just before she touched down toes in the sea. But it reminded me of an anecdote my mother told me about my infant experience of the seaside. I, too, ran straight for it. I was likely 18 months old at the time. She regretted not teaching me to swim then, because I never really got the hang of it when I finally had lessons at the local pool. The Y pool also gave me one awful ear and sinus infection. I never took the final test for the certificate. And I am still loathe to put my face into pool water. But I don’t mind being smacked by an ocean wave. I can still fondly remember my brother Steve instructing me in how to ride the waves when I was probably about four.
We went to the beach every summer of my childhood because my mother’s beloved sister lived half a block from the Atlantic Ocean. It had also been where my mother lived out her teen years before she trained as a lab technician in Philadelphia and began a career that took her to West Virginia, North Carolina, the US Coastguard and then the Bronx, before she married and had a family.
Which segues into the Poetry Daily poem for this Monday. It’s not about Sligo-side surfers, but my favourite beach pastime – beachcombing.
Beachcombing for Gravegoods
My sister and I paced the Atlantic's fringe in January's arctic wind. Show had frozen on the boardwalk. We paces with eyes on the ground for seashells strewn on F. Street Beach.
Just as in summers after supper was done my mother and I walk the beach in setting sun. One year my brother, some yards behind, laughingly pointed out our footprints in the sand, mother's and daughter's gait being the same rhythm and kind.
Not that that would be true untill the end of her time. No. But each summer we foraged for ocean's treasures to take hom. We made a display in an old cookie tray - sand saved, some razor clams and scallops, mussles, sand frosted shards of glass, bits of old cord and driftwood.
One year my sister scored a giant conch. I have it still. When I am six feet underground it will accompany me. Just as I made a posy of F Street seashells to sail with my mother when she set out into the fathomless sea.