Finding Comfort in Small Joys

I am typing this blog sitting on a hot water bottle. Blessings upon the inventor and patenter of this rubber vessel of comfort to those aches and pains that assail the body. Blessings upon all their descendants, too, for that matter! I have two furry muses close by me – the little dog and Felix, the ex-brawler feral turned lover (most of the time – he’s not completely lost the brawl in his nature, but it is most often incited by a protectiveness toward the smallest critter in the house, the feline princess.)

We are digesting the news that the second wave of Covid19 is well and truly begun in Ireland. Dublin is on Level 3. No ‘wet’ pubs for them, though elsewhere in the Republic they opened. (Madness!) Northern Ireland has also introduced new restrictions. Just don’t visit people at home; well, only one other household allowed to mix with another. Domestic transmission seems to be the one getting the blame this go round. The rationale is that there is more control of potentially infective behaviour in public spaces. Yet the two potential cases I have heard of anecdotally are in schools. Judging by the rugby scrum of teenagers queueing outside a supermarket in Carrick on Shannon during their lunch break last week this is hardly surprising. Young ones crave connection as much as any human; teenagers, however, have much less impulse control. One wonders what the long term behavioural effect of Covid 19 will be on the next generation.

Today is equinox, the equal length of night and day, here in Ireland. It was this day in 2001 that I arrived in Ireland and pitched up in Dowra, the first village on the river Shannon. Which was the sole fact I could glean on Google about the place where we had found a house to rent as our initial disembarkation point in the Republic. Little could I have guessed that this small village – yes, the first one on the River Shannon – would become the place where I have lived the longest in my lifetime.

There was a brief flutter of months in Queens, NYC, when I was born. Then the next longest stay was spent in a small town in Pennsylvania. University took me to Washington, DC for some six years in total. London in England equalled that span before we moved north to Leeds for fifteen years.

During the pandemic I am especially grateful that we took the risk of moving country and also, crucially, moving into the countryside. I cannot imagine not having the ability to get outdoors, to not have a garden to get away from the four walls, or a lonely lane to pace up and down with the dogs during Lockdown. No wonder urban dwellers are so keen to get out and about despite the risks.

No one who knew me in that former life would have ever guessed the deep contentment in living so off the beaten track would give me. But there is the fact of it as we sit outdoors looking at the landscape stretching from Cavan through Leitrim to the heights of Arigna in County Roscommon. “A fine mess you got me into, ” my husband often quotes fondly, since I was the one who lobbied hard to move to Ireland in the first place. The Belfast Treaty and his eldest sister’s death at age 54 dissolved his objections.

Nature has been the great comfort during this trying year. (Also, baking!) In my Zoom Creative Writing workshop this past week we touched on Creative Nonfiction. The ‘homework’ assignment took inspiration from a chapter heading in M.F. K. Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf ; write an essay on how to give comfort. The alternative is to write on Ten Essential Things to Do Before You Die.

The year is dying, even if the virus is not yet. I woke at 6am to darkness. I watched the last shaft of sunlight pierce through cloud last night around 7:30pm. We ate our lunch and supper outdoors on Sunday and had a socially distanced cup of tea with a friend outdoors yesterday. This morning felt like autumn had arrived right on schedule. It is time for warm, fuzzy, woolen socks. I walked on the beach in sandals last Friday. That will be their last outing until summer 2021.

I did not plan to have a poem for this post. I thought that it would be strictly prose, which is the focus of the next five weeks for me as we move into Short Story in our Zoom creative writing workshops. But then…Surprise! Like joy, a poem randomly turned up.

Comfort/Joy

This morning
I sense the wind is singing,
catch its joy
as it blows past in the breeze.

Hold it - briefly -
to my breast, swaddled
in the soft wool nest
of my oldest sweater. 

Some images spotted this week that gave me joy.

Pace, pace, pace

The Sunday Weekly is a bit later than usual. And there are good reasons for that. Since I started my Zoom Creative Writing workshops on Thursday nights and Saturday midday, the rhythm of my working life has changed. There are also the other considerations of living in a world riddled with Covid-19. Everything takes longer. Also, a lot of people are complaining of fatigue, myself included. My husband reminded me that I need to not ‘over do’ things and to cherish my back. Living with sciatica during a time when I am unwilling to visit my gifted masseuse means I need to balance walking around time with sitting down time, monitoring how much I stretch when doing simple household tasks.

So something had to give. And for me it means I really do need to rest on a Sunday. I sit a lot on Thursdays and Saturdays; on a Sunday I need to gently move around. And sometimes do some of my own creative work.

While I am working to this teaching schedule I plan on blogging on a Tuesday for the foreseeable future. So look out for a new ‘weekly’ post each Tuesday.

If you like to read it on Sunday, I will be sure to put out social media reminders on that day.

Balance seems like a worthy intention in the week when we will experience the autumn equinox – or equilux as I like to call it. A time of equal light and darkness. We will be sinking into the darkness of winter soon enough here in the Northern Hemisphere. Sitting in that silence and stillness is the friend of creation. Perhaps the intention for everyone in these Covid-19 times is to do less and focus more. It is not the quantity, but the quality we should be considering in all spheres of our lives.

So I shall follow the example of some of the furry members of our household and rest on Sunday for the next few months.

A sleepy Sunday last winter, the late lamented Ellie and her special feline friend Sparkle

Until Tuesday, may all your own intentions for balance and temperance be made manifest.

A Clearing

Some people do Spring cleaning. But the autumn equinox is a similar good time to clean up and clear out. In our household we have been in a process of turning out cupboards, emptying boxes, donating to textile banks and charity shops, and generally reorganising everything. And soon enough we will be attending to the outdoors, clearing the gutters and putting the garden to bed for the winter. We have a lot of green tomatoes and these will have to be turned into pie and chutney.

All this clearing is really about trying to achieve some symmetry, a pleasing harmony out of what is often unruly and messy. Therefore, human. We strive for balance. But will settle, quite happily, for tidier.

Others refer to this week of equal day and equal night as one of the two hinges of the year. Some years you barely hear a creak. But this year it must have been rusty for all the groaning. I am writing this in the evening of the new moon in Libra, that sign of harmony and balance. This is what we all say we want, but gosh the world is awfully addicted to drama! Nor am I immune, given that I was having vulnerability melt downs over the writing on and off all week.

The Sunday Weekly Poem considers this time of year, the clearing, the exertion for balance.

How was your Equinox week?

A Clearing

She died Monday
just after the sidereal clock
said equinox.
Equal light.
Equal night.

Though this year
there were a few more days
before it was truly
equal light and night

and they laid her down
with her final rites
on that day that was
equally day and night

This is balance.

A beloved, ancient lady
surrounded by
five generations
descending

as she was put into
the ground
that day when hours
were equal day and night.

This is balance.

This is balance.

Though
difficult to negotiate
those clefts
in the heart

where the love's let in
and the artery
flushes
sorrow out.

Like the eye
in the sharp needle
where the angels dance
en pointe.

Or the loom's shuttle,
the warp and weft
its in and out
back and forth

the thread,
the sharpened scissors cutting off
and the darning back in
of that loose tail end.

This is balance.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

Life after 365 Poems a Day

…is strange. I had never imagined the wrench of a change in routine after completing the full cycle of writing 365 Poems a Day.. On Monday, the 16th, I did wake up out of a dream full of terrorist menace. I wrote two poems, but didn’t post. On the 17th I woke up and wrote. But then, the demands of life changed the morning routine and I went for two days not writing in the morning. what I found was that I was a bit cranky. Things felt off. We were busy and productive in this house, but still…I got back in the writing saddle on the 20th and did a free write, trying to get my world from feeling askew. During that session my fountain pen began to kibbitz and the ink fade out. Even my usual tools were feeling off. Or I was projecting it on to them, blaming the ink for being blue black instead of jet. Inspecting the nib for blockages, I changed out the cartridge. It felt a bit better, but…I am considering that there was more being in my humanity last week…

Then I had to deal with the terror, the nameless one in the dream and the named ones that stalked my waking hours. While I had had a few editting and reading sessions during this past busy week, by yesterday I realised that the process of selecting poems and shaping a collection was daunting. If I weren’t already the colour of milk, I would say that the propect made me blanch. I thought I had a plan mapped out and had made a longlist. After researching potential publishers and realising that the pickings are slim and the odds enormously not on my side, I was dissolving into sweats..

Which were partly accounted for by the the Irish version of Indian Summer, foolish a name for a European heatwave in September that it is. But the relentless sunshine broke yesterday around 3pm with some rain. It’s still not as cold as it would normally be, but the rain has been caused by a shift around of the weather vane. Maybe I will settle more this week into defining life after writing a poem a day for a full year.

We are a day away from the autumn equinox, just about my favourite time of year in Ireland. Today is the eighteenth anniversary of my arrival and taking up residence in Ireland. Having been a rolling stone for a good deal of my life(first move aged three months), I have lived in our home here out the bog road for as long as I lived in the family home before I left for university. Slightly longer actually. Never in a million years could I have forecast that this would be the place that would become what feels most like home. I seemed destined for all things glitzy and urban. But it is this rural corner where Cavan and Leitrim and Fermanagh touch borders, and where the River Shannon rises and runs through the village that now feels most like home on our dear, beleaguered planet.

It’s been a busy week between the strike for Climate Change and Ireland’s Culture Night on Friday, where my husband and I ran a Kid’s Cabaret in the village. But here I am on the soulful Sabbath offering a weekly poem…or two actually.

Overnight

russet and gold
licked the creeper

the rowan is a naked lady
wearing only her rubies

caught starkers in the warm daylight
standing on her tip toes

she's leaving the building
without her clothing.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

The Last of Summer

Dew slightly frosty
a chill an hour past
the later dawn

ground mist
like a turlough hovering
underneath the mountain's ridge

disappearing with
hot sunshine searing
the sky

cloudless
a silken
azure blue

hedges plump and laden
blackberries, rowans, haws
a wild harvest


The postman announces
that a front from the Atlantic
is coming

tomorrow
that is never
good news to deliver

The heat will go until May
after the equal night and equal day.
And that will be that
for summer.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Perhaps the earth’s poise will recalibrate me internally, too. Perhaps the terror of editting and shaping a poetry collection will begin to subside. Right now I am cogitating a twist on the cliché ‘right as rain’…maybe more ‘write as rain…’ Rain feels more the natural climate for re-writes and edits.

In the meantime, I offer a gallery of garden snaps taken during this extraordinary extra bit of summer we have had this week in my corner of Ireland where Cavan meets Leitrim and Fermanagh, and a river runs through the village.

Equinox Eve

Poetry practice was delayed until evening today. But I have kept up with a poem a day now for a week. Wouldn’t Miss Mildred be impressed if I had been as diligent with my piano etudes as I have been with pounding out words.

The sunset last night was inspiration for today’s offering. Yesterday was very rich in countless ways. Wholly, a gift. The Haiku PoeTree Walk on the Cavan Burren had a relaxed group. A frog hopped out at us at the Calf Hut Dolmen, which felt like I little benediction from the haiku master Basho. (Who was a cat man if his haiku on Love and Barley is to be believed. Given that that this week a certain cat has often hovered close by during poetry practice. I suspect he is auditioning for the position as muse.)

But it isn’t haiku, but a kind of elation that came upon me as I walked our little dog Obe back home down our lane.

At 7pm on Equinox Eve

I want to go out like September
in the bonfire blaze before sunset
such that all will remember
its juice and its shine and jewelled light.

I want to go out and bathe in its truly blue sky,
all crisp and cool, with wisps of cottonwool cloud
writing omens that scud by.

I want to go out like this September night
with its equal light and shade
where nothing at all is vague
in its angle of light.

I want to go out like September
that wears it heart on its shirtsleeve
when it comes time to take my leave.

For a life to sink gloriously down
just as this September sun shows me how.
I want go out as elated
as this evening’s last light.

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

“The End”

It would be difficult not to contemplate endings at this time of year. And yet, it was at autumn equinox seventeen years ago on a Saturday that I began my life in Ireland. Cycles of birth, growth, death, and renewal define life and living. There is a time for everything Ecclesiastes would remind us. The truth is that season’s turn, just as the tides do. Everyone has their time of endings before there can renewal.

Equinoxes, like the solstices, are liminal times in the wheel of the year. Equinoxes are, to me at least, moments where we stand right on the threshold. It is the half and half point between light and darkness. We have not committed to going out or staying in. Nothing is quite at an end. But then neither can anything quite begin.

So, to the daily poetry practice. These were my scales played this morning.

“The End”

comes right after
the “happily ever after.”
(Now, take a bow!)
The proscenium curtain
creaks and sweeps down.
Only the stage’s work lamp
is left on.

The blank stage
inanimate, set broken down,
the show rolled up.
The blank page,
the before to the afterwards,
with only the work lamp
left on.

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

Equinox or Equilux?

I am not sure why the vernal and autumnal points of equal light and night have, seeming by default, come to be known as equinoxes. They could just as easily be called equilux, equal light. Today’s poetry practice is inspired by one of my favourite times of year. It is especially dear to me because we moved to Ireland in September. Seventeen years ago at Equinox/Equilux I arrived in what has become my place of belonging after a previously very nomadic life. I realised recently that this is the longest I have ever lived in any place in my lifetime.

Equinox/Equilux

There are storms spinning out in the Atlantic.
The sunflowers’ petals shatter in the rock and sway,
their heads splayed. But the bees still come
and feed on summer’s last supper
despite low cloud, a dense afternoon gloom
needing electrification.
My husband has tucked the garden up.
I bring the winter clothes down.
The earth is getting ready to say,
“Good night!”

There are showers and rumours of rainbow.
Rosehips, haws and rowanberries
Smack their lipsticked lips in the wind,
which alternates hot and cold in September custom.
Sloes wait their turn for frost to
add their snap to jars of gin.
Sometimes the angle of light when I look up
into the sky could bring me to my knees, down
onto the earth getting ready to say,
“Oh, sweet light!”

Copyright Bee Smith 2018