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.

HumpDay Haiku

Being that I am still deep in re-write mode on the solo poetry collection, I am introducing a little mid-week haiku to relieve my own state of anxiety. Books, it appears, are rather like delivering babies. I have been carrying this project around for more than six months. It is beginning to feel heavy, unwieldy. I am informed that in the eighth or ninth month of pregnancy many women just bark “I want this baby out!” I’m at that stage. I am impatient. My mentor temporises saying “You want your baby to have all its fingers and toes!”

There is also the shadow stuff that rears its ugly head…the ‘am I good enough?’ tape. Then there’s the experience of something akin to imposter syndrome. Call myself a poet?! This is Wobbly Wednesday stuff. Which is all self-indulgence. Then I take myself and the dogs up the lane to the holy well and say a prayer that the work will be good. Publishable good.

In the meantime, here’s something for Hump Day. One for sorrow…there is a lot of that going around in the world. The haiku shoguns will get their knickers in a twist because there is some end rhyme…quite unconsciously done, but there you are! There’s no pleasing some days.

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

Wednesday Haiku Wisdom

In the midst of some marathon re-writing, cutting and pasting, arranging the sequence of poems for my debut solo poetry collection, I felt the need to haiku.

I have written (and failed to write) many haiku, senryu and tanka in my day. Often when I am busy, but have poetry simmering on the back burner of my brain, haiku is my go-to form to keep my hand in. Then I take a little fun time out illustrating it with Adobe Spark. Or you might call that avoidance activity. Both might be correct assessments. Stirring the creative pot takes many different forms. Either way, it helps keep me going when the neck pain and scrunched over the laptop shoulder hunch are knocking me out.

After the storms, the blink of sunshine that made for some Sunday afternoon gardening and outdoor tea drinking, we now have…

Now…back to work!

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

Divination

I am going to be taking a midweek dip into the archive to review some of the oldies from the year of consecutive 365 poems a day. This one still appeals to me.

Sojourning Smith

Still recuperating and finding mornings are on go slow. I am cutting myself some slack. Sometimes I don’t want to do this poetry practice. Or feel that it is impossible. There cannot possibly be anything more to say. I am out of words. But then there is some thought that I think I might be able to something with…but I beg indulgence.And will spare you the ruminations I started with this morning…”what is poetry actually for?!” under the headline…Squeezing the Pips…of Poetry.

Instead, this came out of the real poetry practice.

Divination

Diving deep into the deck
let me just ask some questions
of You, God.
Ones somewhere between
bone to pick
and petition.
There's the two big ones.
And what do You know
about money?
I mean, really...
How much change jangles
in God's pockets?
That's like asking
what is the sound
of a single clapping hand...

Which…

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