Something Returns

This is the final post for NaPo WriMo/ GloPoWriMo 2020. April comes to an end in Ireland with Poetry Day Ireland. Before lockdown, there were plans for me to visit five national (primary) schools in West Cavan, giving workshops to the classes. Then Poetry Day Ireland had to go digital. Somehow I felt unequal to recording a video of me reading a poem (though I am grateful others that have) or put something onto SoundCloud. It has been enough of a challenge to simply face the blank page each morning, to write, to revise and then post. And all going along side the wider news, staying connected with far flung family and friends, taking some daily exercise, helping in the garden, and getting creative in the kitchen while limiting shopping expeditions. And, of course, “sanitise, sanitise, sanitise. ” The theme for this year’s Poetry Day Ireland is “There Will Be Time.” If you would like to read the poem I have written for the day, you can read it on this separate post.

For the past two years, I have spent the latter part of NaPoWriMo on the road. In 2018, I was visiting the sacred sites of southwest England with friends – Stonehenge, Avebury, Tintagel, Glastonbury, cathedrals. Last year my creative colleague, Morag, and I were motoring through Scotland to make it to Orkney by Bealtaine. Both May Days dawned chilly and here at home it seems like we will have a similar chill start to the month of Beataine.

But, the final poetry prompt from NaPoWriMo is on the theme of “something that returns.” For us, what we harken to is the cuckoo. I mark the date when we first hear its call in my diary. Given that I married a Cuckson, it feels familial.

Each April we listen for the cuckoo’s
calling out for a mate. We tsk if it is late
from its migrate up from Africa.
They leave their larger egg in unsuspecting
foster household nests. Yet, their own offspring
make their way south bound, homing.
What goes up, like the sun, comes down.
Just as the moon moves to full partum,
then sheds her baby weigh to nothing.
Perhaps the seasons are best trusting,
the year’s wheel turning, following
the light as it returns after darkness,
with, or without, natural justice.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

The featured image is a photo by Vogelartinfo – Own work, GFDL 1.2,


Happy Poetry Day Ireland

While many friends and strangers have been writing their poem a day for NaPoWriMo/ GloPoWriMo 2020, which ends today, here in Ireland we celebrate Poetry Day Ireland. This year I should have been working with the kids in my local primary school, but such are the lockdown realities that PoetryDayIRL has had to go digital. I am grateful that many poets have created videos or shared sound files. Follow this link and you can find virtual/digital events that have been created on the hoof given lockdown realities.

The theme for 2020 is “There Will Be Time.” The ‘spark’ came from a poetry resource from NaPoWriMo, which referenced both Robert Browning and Emily Dickinson. As they say…poets steal.

There Will Be Time
Past present, yet to be –
where we once again tread
upon enchanted ground.
When once we cried out time
was all that we wanted,
It was, actually,
the remedy needed.
Not sands dissolving down
the hour glass, or ray’s
tracing shadow over
sundial or yardarm.
No. Enchantment succeeds
by threading the needle
in the haystack. And still
drops, when all time has stopped.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

The cuckoo clock that is the featured image is an invitation to visit my final poem of NaPoWriMo GloPoWriMo 2020. Click here

Praise Song for A Tuxedo Tom

The penultimate day of NaPoWriMo/ GloPoWriMo2020 invites us to pen a paean to a pet. Those who follow me on Facebook from way back in 2016 will be familiar with the saga of The Taming of a Tuxedo Tom. He appeared in the summer of 2016 and slid in through the kitchen window, which we use as a kind of cat flap to save ourselves constantly opening and closing doors and windows. (We had two cats back then. We swelled to four and now are back to three. Also three dogs, now just two. ) Eighteen months later he was the Cat Who Came in from the Cold. There have been many cats who have padded through my life and won my heart, but this tom really wowed me. If familiars are soul friends, then Felix is my feline anam cara. Also, as my husband might say, my bit of rough.

Felix has an autoimmune condition, feline leukaemia, so we know we have been his life savers. But I am also aware that he may only be on loan to us. He is four years old and doing pretty well. Love sometimes is the best medicine.

The Taming Of A Tuxedo Tom
Consider my familiar, Felix, a formerly feral
feline fellow, who took his time to shapeshift
from spit and drawn claws, accepting a human’s
outstretched paw and promise of domesticated bliss.
First came the head bumps, then accepting a head scritch
in exchange for Cat Milk, tinned Whiskas and kibble.
He began his career as cat burglar, sneaking in to snitch
the other cats’ Whiskas. But inside all that street swagger
I recognised a less bumptious soul, one hungering
to come in from the cold. He looked in our window
from outside at Christmastide and saw all the animals
lounging, ranged round. But he needed some better manners.
Courtships go as courtships go. There were spats.
Some requiring antiseptic. There were lectures on the benefits
of being a lover rather than a fighter. Finally, wounded,
he trusted in me. The vet said he had all the makings
of a great pet. He was read the House Rules.
(Be in by midnight. Don’t biff The Girls. Don’t nip or bite.)
It’s  hard to resist a reformed Bad Boy.
He got with the whole Love Programme thing, yet
there remain the embers of his former life -
the odd irritable tail flick, a wildish
snap in his agate eyes, the scarring on his pink nose,
the occasional raised hackle and fur fly.
He loves – wholeheartedly.  Made friends with one other cat.
Will share some affection with other, stranger humans.
Sometimes, if I will be very still and give up
my daily bustling round,  he insinuates himself
onto my hip. He purrs. He restrains himself from tangling
my wool as I knit.
                              To love and be loved in return.
To have the courage to lower a defending paw.
To give fealty based on mutual loyalty.
Oh, my kingdom, for Felix, a cat.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020.  All rights reserved.

And if you are a real glutton for cute kitty videos I include one of our conversations from October 2017 when he was considering moving in, but hadn’t really bought into the whole family dynamic yet.

The Taming of the Tuxedo Tom

A Room of One’s Own

We are nearly at the end of April and NaPoWriMo. April 30th is also Poetry Day Ireland. Yesterday brought sad news of the death of Irish poet Eavan Boland, a recent editor of the Poetry Ireland Review, at age 75. I once heard her on a BBC Radio 4 broadcast years ago recount her query to women poetry workshop participants. She asked if they would go back to their homes and tell people they were poets. One woman balefully responded, “Why no! They would think I was the kind of woman who never washed her curtains!” Shocking! Which became an example for me. I write poetry. I rarely wash my curtains. I only dust because I have allergies. Today’s prompt is sourced in another woman poet who greatly influenced my life, if not my poetry style. That was Emily Dickinson, who I first encountered in a child’s biography in the Berwick Public Library. I bought a thin volume of her poems from my weekly allowance instead of expanding my Nancy Drew collection.

The NaPoWriMo Day 28 prompt includes an excerpt by Emily Dickinson’s niece, describing the poet’s room, a prompt devised by the Emily Dickinson Museum. “Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s description of her aunt’s cozy room, scented with hyacinths and a crackling stove, warmly recalls the setting decades later. Describe a bedroom from your past in a series of descriptive paragraphs or a poem. It could be your childhood room, your grandmother’s room, a college dormitory or another significant space from your life.

I scrolled back to my bedroom when I was eleven and first encountered Emily Dickinson.

A Room of One’s Own
is always, in memory, golden.
See my bedspread? It matches the finish
of the glass fronted bookcase, marketed
as the 1960s version of ‘Antique Gold.’
It’s full of volumes by Alcott, Emily Dickinson,
and hand me down vintage Nancy Drews.
I liked things to be mellow and old, too nervous
a child for psychedelic acid yellow and rock n roll.
This was my place to retreat  
inside pale green walls of a castle built of books.
I could dream of a life where one day
I would see a moor and sail out overseas
to the origin lands of my foreign doll collection,
all neatly arrayed on their peg board display –
the Dutch girl and Indonesian man, the Greek boy,
the kimonoed geisha brought home
from the New York World’s Fair.
None of that would have done for Emily.
But it was much, much better for me.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Review the Language of Water

The challenge for Day 27 of NaPoWriMo would have us go at it slant. “Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem in the form of a review. But not a review of a book or a movie of a restaurant. Instead, I challenge you to write a poetic review of something that isn’t normally reviewed. For example, your mother-in-law, the moon, or the year 2020 (I think many of us have some thoughts on that one!)” With only four months out on 2020 it might be a tad early to do the year in review despite Coronapocolypse. I have already written about my mother-in-law on her birthday earlier this month. We have had our first daytime rain shower in a a very long while, which is unusual for Ireland. So I took water as my subject for review. And again, there are reviews and there are revisions.

The Language of Water
Sometimes it’s easiest as mother tongue,
though after a drought you can stumble
with its declensions. You need to review its
vocabulary. Best not to take it for granted,
like the opposable thumb. Oftentimes, it can stun.
It can have all the mystery of the foreign.
In some lonely places off the track
there are springs whose water slips like silk
and softens your fingers.  Then at others,
if you pause to drink, you taste the iron or peat.
Locals search for the one that is sweet.
Soft or hard, icy or warm, contained in a cup
or in a stony wellhead, it can overrun.
It can drown. It can cure or quench. It can be
rampant as forest cataract in spate.
It can be fresh, or salty as our tears,
as regularly irregular as ocean tides.
We barely know ourselves well enough
to describe our elemental being. Fluency
does not come easily. It becomes life long
study, revise and review. It takes constant
speaking, writing, reading the sky,
its clouds, and watching how the rivers run.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

And then, because for those who are in very strict lockdown who are confined to quarters, or even those of us who are a bit restless for different scenery and want to revisit places in memory…I offer you memories of water.

The Almanac Questionaire Poem

NaPoWriMo’s prompt for the final Sunday confused me. They do provide a questionaire, not unlike those Proustian ones we used to see asked of celebrities in the Sunday supplements. Almanacs are different things entirely. I used to love the old Farmer’s Almanac’s for its arcane horticultural tips mixed in with astrology and astronomy. That sent me down the rabbit hole of etymology. Almanac is originally derived from Spanish Arabic from the time when the Arab world led mathematics and science, including astronomy, while Europe was still blinking in the Dark Ages. Publication of data and observations eventually lent its name to the annuals like the Farmer’s Almanac and the World Almanac, which so fascinated me in my youth. This data was mostly gobbledygoo to me, but it was actually considered useful information by some people who knew how to interpret the code when it came to planting crops! But then I grew up a townie.

From the questionaire I extracted three that eventually made it into today’s poem: weather, today’s news headline(s), and ‘you walk to the border and you hear…’ There were twenty-two to choose from, but many of my answers were a bit lacklustre. But somedays with NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo, you just pat yourself on the head and tell yourself, “There now. You’ve done it. Now go away and play. Or work. Or nap. Or anything that is not poetry.”

Cloudy Conditions

Scholarly Moors watched night skies intently,
plotting star and planet movements, then
publishing times of future high tides and eclipses.

Who could have predicted the fallout this year
of Saturn's and Pluto's conflict and collision? Or
that they are related in any way to discussions

in the HSE re: plans to increase virus test capacity.
Or how Neptune or maybe even Manannan mac Lir himself
created a virus border down the Irish Sea.

You'd have to be able to walk on water to cross
that frontier border. But you would still get the order
"Stand clear!" and to make sure its two meter standard.

The featured image today is a Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Hymn to Life in Lockdown

I need to give you fair warning. The prompt for Day 25 is long and complicated. It did not give me much scope for compression. It also asks you to pack a lot of various elements into a single space. “The prompt, which you can find in its entirety here, was  developed by the poet and teacher Hoa Nguyen, asks you to use a long poem by James Schuyler as a guidepost for your poem.” I invite you to click on ‘here’ and see the vastness of the spec. You are welcome to count up how many I managed into the poem. It is, by necessity, long. I am posting a bit later because, yes, today is a laundry day. I have been jumbling my routine slightly to relay between first draft, admiring husband’s handiwork at putting up the new washing line, washing items, hanging out, and then cracking on to second/third draft. The title is an echo of James Schuyler’s own ‘Hymn to Life.’ I plead for the reader’s patience. It is a lot of words for me.

A Hymn to Life in Lockdown
This is my new routine:
I wake, grateful, and take a few deep breaths.
Go visit the toilet. Then heed the plaintive pleas
of hungry cats. I let the dogs out for their pees.
The kettle boils for my tea. I pick up my rosary beads
and then say seven decades of
"All shall be well. All will be well.
All manner of things shall be well.
We are enfolded in Holy Mother Love."
All the while picking at those beads restlessly.
My mind strays to ways of obtaining things
I want to eat, but are not available within
two kilometres of me. I see some jackdaws
pick at the suet balls as a golden light plays
on the willow tree. In the distance, I hear
some unidentified feathered species go cheep-cheep.
It is sunny. The sky is a clear blue, which means that
it must be a laundry day. The washing machine
is bust, so I hand wash in the kitchen sink.
I put socks on my hands like mittens and suds them up
for the new routine twenty seconds.
I gauge my strength.
Not a day for duvet covers or sheets. It is probably
a day for knickers, socks, tea towels. And maybe
scrubbing the husband’s garden denims.  I am reverie-ing.
Time to get some writing done. This can take up
a few solid hours before breakfast. Or lunch.
Before the distractibility of social media. Then
I walk the dogs.
It is 2,500 steps to the holy well
and back again. I call in to chat with the
statue of  Mary, tell her the news, say my please
and thank yous.  Also, if she can hold the hands
(metaphysically, you understand) of the dying
since nobody else can. The flower posy before
Our Lady is still fresh. The purple tulips
and grape hyacinths seem to be holding up
though the pale narcissi is withering.
On our way back home
I count all the new species that have popped up
overnight, like the dog violets.
I BAAA!  back at a cross mother sheep
whose little lambie has strayed too near
to the road’s hedge.
Our neighbour’s dog Susie barks
at their boundary line. This gives the old dogs
their daily excitement.
I wave up the hill to the neighbours
and we yell across twenty meters.
I carry on. What’s for dinner?
What can I make that I actually want to taste?
Now I put on my magic piny to innovate
recipes while washing a mound of crockery
that’s accumulated. My hands are rough
and dry. I am out of hand cream.
Will organic coconut oil do?
Conceive a menu, immune system boosting,
as well as tasty. Will tuna casserole be a win…
or shall I bake cookies?
No – nutrition first. Dessert last.
In the kitchen I flick through You Tube
audiobooks of Golden Age crime
and videos on tarot. I ration the news
for well before dinner.
Thereafter, I ring my friend in England each night
just after 8. She finally has had her pneumonia jab.
They were out of stock last winter.
She’s feeling flop. I sympathise.
She tells me the odd comfort of a nurse
in full battledress and riot shield mask
for one who had been at the barricades
in the 1970s and 1980s.
After ringing off I settle down  and think
maybe some comedy is the remedy…
find Vicar of Dibley. But that only reminds me
that poor, daft Alice is dead
(the actress who played her that is).
I begin to knit or start stitching 
some  hand sewn face masks from patchwork off cuts. 
I send them off
in envelopes to so many hot spots.
My brother in Brooklyn answers his phone
"Corona Central."
How many ways can I say
"I love you." 
Is the orange with white spots too jokey
or not camp enough?
This is his second plague.
I feel like once again
some angel has brushed rusty ram’s blood
on the lintel of our family’s door.
This is my new routine.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Finding an image to put with this post was a bit of a challenge. There are so many images. In then end, this coffee mug saying ‘Begin’ spoke to my condition. Image is a Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

You Say Tomato

and I could say tomato so many different ways by truly looking at one for today’s poem. The NaPoWriMo Day 24 prompt has asked us to turn to the theme of fruit. “What does it look like, how does it feel, how does it smell, what does it taste like, where did you find it, do you need to thump it to know if it’s ripe, how do you get into it (peeling, a knife, your teeth), do you need to spit out the seeds, should you bake it, can you make jam with it, do you have to fight the birds for it, when is it available, do you need a ladder to pick it, what is your favorite memory of eating it, if you threw it at someone’s head would it splatter them or knock them out, is it expensive . . . As you may have realized from this list, there’s honestly an awful lot you can write about a fruit!” While we may treat the tomato as a vegetable it is actually a fruit. So it counts! The poem might have gone the Wallace Stevens way and degenenerated into 13 Ways of Looking at a Tomato, but in the end, things took a different turn. I also have some actual horticultural experience of trying to rear them here in Ireland, so I have knowledge of their full life cycle from seed to the fork that is poised over my plate.

Tomatoes probably are my favourite fruit. I love my veggies, but fruit…not so much. As a child the only vegetable I spurned for a while were peas. They made wonderful missiles to send across the dinner table at my brother Steve. But I fast grew out of that game and settled down to eating all my greens and leafies with relish. My mother did have to be inventive in ways of getting fruit into me. But there was never any problem with a tomato. Our next door neighbour had an organic garden before it became fashionably sustainable and we were well supplied with gifts left on our picnic table overnight. Here in Ireland I have nurtured them in our polytunnel, but I have to say they are kind of high maintenance. If we have a cloudy summer they may fail to thrive. But the cherry tomato, Sun Gold, does do well and it is like having a sweet shop at the bottom of the garden. They did make it into the poem.

They can look a bit like herds of leggy mini-skirted
girls out on the town, shoulder to shoulder,
carousing around.  Delicate yellow flower buds
attract all the attention.  Give them some air. Their drooping,
unfertile, lateral friends get  snapped off the stem.
There is that distinctive whiff – not quite aroma of mint –
more earth and zesty juiciness as they are culled.
These girls want to salsa, rumba and tango every day.
Of course, this far north we have to hot house them
so they don’t lose their sense of rhythm.
They miss their native heat – and the sunshine.
You have to coax them along to ripen in Ireland
from green to blush and then the boiled lobster face
you want to see on your plates. Yet, sample this one
sweet, sun gold cherry off the vine. Or, if you rather,
a hearty beefsteak slice slathered with mayo, some salt,
a dash  pepper, served up as a white bread sandwich.
Boil pound after pound until they all simmer down
into sauce. Or, as they say in New Jersey, red gravy.
Can it. Bottle it. Sun dry and dehydrate it. Make it into ketchup.
This nightshade cousin is the migrant
that is always welcome, everyone loves,
and wants round to have for supper.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Alphabet of Trees

Here we are the morning after Earth Day with a new moon in the earthy sign of Taurus, the sacred bull of Baal. Or the protective milk producing mother of calves, if you prefer. The prompt for Day 23 of NaPoWrMo wants us to write a poem about a particular letter of the alphabet. But how to choose? How could I play favourites? I thought: What would Emily advise? And she replied: Tell it slant. So, in the spirit of Earth Day it occurred to say it with trees. To celebrate Earth Day I took my exercise down our lane and around our acre, admiring the trees – the blossom on the blackthorn, the uncurling of leaves, the still tight bud that should be hawthorn blossom in another week or so, and the varying colours, sheen and texture of bark.

Ancient Ireland had an alphabet based on trees known as the ogham (say that like the meditative OM, the g is silent.) The alphabet remains. How exactly it was used is shrouded in Iron Age mists. There are stones with it carved into the rock. So…ripe for poetric license.

Alphabet of Trees

Semiphore flags - the leaves -
the alphabet of trees long ago etched
in standing stone. Ogham.
Its survival a mystery of seed,
trunk, limb, right up to
leafy canopy clammer of things
to signify.

My name could be a combination
of straight birch, white fir and witch elder.
My clan's surname is a snaking fence
woven of multiple willow withies.
Gorse in full flower is an exclamation.
Add the white thorn's flower 
and you have springtime's yell hallow.

Time is holly, yew, vine and poplar -
prickly, ancient, tenacious, 
also flexible to the way the wind blows.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020, All rights reserved.

yew tree ogham tree alphabet
Hugging an ancient yew tree in Armagh’s Palace Gardens many years ago

NaPoWriMo Goes All Proverbial

Day 22 of NaPoWriMo explores proverbs from different cultures. This prompt was fun and stretched me some. If you want to spend a little while today exploring how other culture’s proverbs cryptically and eliptically convey certain home truths, then do visit the link that is at the bottom of the quote explaining today’s prompt. What really fascinated me was how geographical near neighbours could have a very similar allusion, but have subtle differences in meaning. Compare and contrast the Armenian “Stop ironing my head.” (i.e. stop anoying me) with the Turkish “Don’t iron my head!” (i.e. don’t go on and on about it!). One implies an active command and lets you know how unhappy they are with you, while the other feels more passive, like a plea to just stop talking over and over about a topic, like your granny who keeps repeating the same story.)

Our (optional) prompt for the day asks you to engage with different languages and cultures through the lens of proverbs and idiomatic phrases. Many different cultures have proverbs or phrases that have largely the same meaning, but are expressed in different ways. For example, in English we say “his bark is worse than his bite,” but the same idea in Spanish would be stated as “the lion isn’t as fierce as his painting.” Today, I’d like to challenge you to find an idiomatic phrase from a different language or culture, and use it as the jumping-off point for your poem. Here’s are a few lists to help get you started: One, two, three.

The poem I finally wrote is a mash up of three different culture’s turns of phrase – Hebrew, Ukrainian, and Estonian.

At the End of the World
turn left.
It’s generally a good rule of thumb
if not a finally tuned tool for navigation.
You’ll find my cottage is at the edge,
one and half country miles from
nowhere everywhere.
The lights are on but no one’s home.
The door’s open. Give the dog a bone.
Feed a coin to the meter.
You’re very welcome.
Turn right to find your way back
from the edge of the end of the world.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.