NaPoWriMo 2021, Day 4

I have been faithfully writing a poem a day this year, even if it is just a haiku or senryu in my bedside journal. For NaPoWriMo 2021 I am not being slavish about posting every single day. For instance, the past three days have been warm and sunny in my part of Ireland. When you live in the country you work with the weather. I despatched nine loads of laundry to line dry, and then launched into some house and garden paint projects to freshen us up. Keeping active and creative is good for our mental health, especially this winter of Lockdown. Changing the hobby creative activity itself can reinvigourate your writing. So that is what I did for the first few days of NaPoWriMo, working away in the sunshine by day and writing last thing at night in my notebook.

I congratulate those poet FBF who have been faithfully posting on their page daily. But this year I have decided to be flexible in terms of daily posts. I have my hands fairly full with managing the Geopark Poetry Map project. Also, I am mindful that I need to pace myself given the toll of Lockdown Fatigue. Last week, I was fortunate to have a Zoom workshop for Cavan Creative types with Miffy Hoad of Mental Health Ireland. I have been working hard on keeping my five pillars of mental health upright this past year: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give. I need to do some work on Take Notice. Which I am doing. Pace, pace, pace. As Cristina Baldwin writes: “Go at the pace of guidance.”

I loved the NaPoWriMo Day 3activity of creating a personal universal deck as a writing tool. I will get round to it this week, but must check my card stock stash first. It strikes me as a really useful tool for prompts that I will pass on to my students.

But now for the Day 4 2021 NaPoWriMo prompt:

Poetry often takes us to strange places – to feelings and actions that are hard to express except through the medium of a poem. To the “liminal,” in other words – a place or sensation that exists at or on both sides of a boundary or threshold, neither one thing or the other, but something betwixt and between.

In honor of the always-becoming nature of poetry, I challenge you today to select a photograph from the perpetually disconcerting @SpaceLiminalBot, and write a poem inspired by one of these odd, in-transition spaces

NaPoWriMo.net, Day 4, 2021
@SpaceLiminalBot
Closed For Renovations

One is never so derelict as to become
transfigured - no project ever too arduous,
or mountain high to climb. We have plans for glory!
From ruin, the decrepit wreckage that is
hollow shell, many storied splintered timber
becomes the body of a dream. Before what is...What
shall transition from a slippery becoming
into solid being? For time, lubricious
quantity that it is, even tenses overlap.
What is past ruin? Where is current plan? Future
can be both perfect and imperfect, the fairy
that grants wishes and mischief. We are, for now,
closed. In need of refreshment and refurbishment
before we open fully to all the glory.

Have a restful and safe Easter holiday weekend.

Lockdown Fatigue

8 of swords

It’s a real thing, a recognised phenomenum. We are so over the restrictions of staying in our 5km zone and here in Ireland we are waiting, waiting and waiting for our vaccination notification. But, even those who have been vaccinated have few places to go; only essential travel – work (which has been mostly at home for a year), medical, pharmacy and grocery. That’s it! I live in a very beautiful place and have a garden. I feel a bit ashamed to make this admission given that I am privileged to have pretty fine technology -phone, internet, devices – and natural beauty. But we want to reach out and actually touch the far flung loved ones. We keep hoping to see one another and the dates recede and recede. Maybe summer. Maybe in late summer, outdoors, we will be able to give a masked pandemic hug.

Also, I am fortunate in having Zoom students where we can air our experiences and compare how things are being handled in Canada as opposed to Ireland. It is thanks to one of those students that I have taken up the challenge to build a poem around some quotes from our conversation last Saturday. The second poem also reflects a telephone conversation with another friend. She cares for her 94 year old mother who has pronounced that this pandemic is worse than World War 2. Sure, they faced death. But living didn’t threaten your life. “We could go to dances. If we were down in the dumps we went next door and had a cuppa tea with a neighbour and had a moan.” Peggy fell in love and married 75 years ago at the end of the war. She has a point. The Guardian newspaper writes articles with headlines such as “How the Whole World Lost Its Libido.”

We compare anecdotes from England and the USA , where the vaccine roll out has been gaining traction, and feel like we are living in corsets. They hope to have all the kids back into in-person schooling by 12th April, but…the numbers of infection dictate everything. The week after Mother’s Day weekend and St. Patrick’s Day saw a jump in reported cases. Easter weekend, four days of no where to go, will be the final temptation.

Safe to say that the phrase ‘stir crazy’ has taken on layers and layers of texture. It’s more a cri de cœur.

Thanks to Susan for stating this challenge.

We are so over Covid

"We are so over Covid". "But it's not over us!"
Life is slow as treacle in a January
freeze. Framed in a five kilometre square. It's messed
up. In my head it's a convention of fairies'
wishes washed up ashore after a hurricane.
How is it that days inch by at warp speed? Because
I'm taking my reality cues, hemmed by routine.
But everything is always strange. It's collaged.
We have taken scissors to what used to pass as
society. Some days I feel as if I hold
a beating heart, lifted up, out, by blood soaked hands
during transplant surgery. I want to be told
"It's time. It's done. Close her up. Let her live again."
However we repair, or process, will we transcend
what is lost? We count the cost, regretting offence.
But have we built a world with more walls and fences?

Telephone conversations that crossed oceans, seas or just down the road a piece inspired the next poem.

Truly

Truly, I am glad that my sister can drive out
to a mountain cabin in another state now.
But here, we dream more modestly.
My friend, connected by telephone, and I
we dream of when we might venture forth, ranging
into the county, say.  Or maybe even ten kilometres wide.
That would take us both to separate forest parks, larger sky.
My friend's 94-year old mother, now fully vaccinated, perked up
after twelve weeks (more!) feeling incarcerated.
"I can go out in two weeks!" Said triumphantly.
"But where?" countered her carer.
The fleshpots of Tesco beckon, her prospect
of living the high life now.
In England, my friend reports they can sedately
cluster in groups of six outdoors
in the fresh air from this week. Where
we remain locked up and downcast within
our prescribed five kilometre zone.
Even a trip to the dentist is welcome excuse
to travel passed scenery not seen for months past.

So I am feeling a little bit green, in all its varying shades
from this Emerald Isle, from nausea to envy,
and dream of Blue Ridge hills or the ocean waves that break
upon a shimmering sandy strand , 
but not viewed in video clip.

Copyright ©Bee Smith, 2021, All rights reserved.

The featured image comes from Biddy Tarot. https://www.biddytarot.com.

It’s the 8 of swords and that pretty much sums it up!

Lockdown St. Patrick’s Day

Greetings from Ireland where we are still in Level 5 Lockdown. So…not a traditional St. Patrick’s Day of parades, silly lepruchaun hats, or costumes of fake butt cheeks sporting ‘Pogue Mahone’ (that translates as kiss my you know what), or children playing tin whistle and showing off what they have learned in Irish dance classes the past year on a temporary stage in the middle of the town. There are no wailing accordians or jiggy fiddles playing. I didn’t even see shamrocks for sale in my local supermarket this year. The closest I come to any of these in these lockdown days is my cat Felix doing what I call the Pogue Mahone during Zoom sessions. I gather from online posts that some people are celebrating by baking Guinness cake. Which is fitting since baking has practically become a competitive sport online since Lockdown 1. BTW, in Ireland it is not a corned beef and cabbage menu day, because that it Irish American. We tend towards boiled gammon and colcannon traditionally. Also, corned beef is called salt beef here. Besides, we have gone very foodie here this past decade. I add seaweed to my vegetable soup these days and all manner of ‘exotic’ vegetables are available even in my village’s Spar grocery store.

St. Patrick’s Day has always been a bit bittersweet for me. Once we moved to Ireland it had its festive years or was a good day to start planting the spuds since we had the day off work. The first time I encountered a shamrock was in 1962 when Leona Doyle pinned an emerald green pipecleaner shamrock on my dress. She was one of the choir ladies who were busy setting up the lunch for the mourners returning from my father’s funeral.

From the beginning of this month I returned to hosting poetry writing classes on Zoom. We are fiddling about with the sonnet form at the moment. There were two of us in the group who wrote lamens to Lockdown. It has been a long winter and even with the daffodils blooming we still have an indeterminate time in full Lockdown unless you are a primary school child or taking your Leaving Certificate exams this year.

When Will It Be Over?

Annie, I am beginning to feel as if that henna
which you lavished on my locks last January before last
and  held fast, fading but still lingering at the ends  -
that it's a sign, one that's occurred arbitrarily.
 I long for my hairdresser's business to come back
so she can hack off those ends, make it all be over.
My magical thinking releases all of us from this train wreck
year, that the ordeal is shed with my hair on Nuala's floor.

My fevered imagination has me growing out the plague.
I care not one whit for the regrowth that is silver and grey.
In this eternal meanwhile I am growing more awake.
I have grown a new measure for all our long, long days -
on rosary beads, going 'Click, Click, Click,' in collecting groceries,
masking, unmasking, washing, growing, writing poetry.

Copyright 2021, Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

This photo is one of my own of the high cross and round tower on Devenish Island in Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh. Those medieval strongholds were the legacy of St. Patrick’s mission to Ireland.

Devenish Island high cross roundtower
The high cross and roundtower on Devenish Island in Lough Erne

The featured photo is of St. Patrick’s Holy Well in Belcoo, Fermanagh.

Both places visited in pre-pandemic times when we were not confined to 5 kms from home except for essential journeys of the medical or grocery kind.

Cognitive Dissonance

How can it be so sunny outside and yet so dark? We are living in a state of prolonged cognitive dissonance. Reopening after lockdown and quarantine does not mean Covod-19 went away, magically. It is still there, travelling in droplets on air. Not that you would notice by the way some people behave. Consequently, Ireland is now stalled in Phase 3 of the Roadmap. Everyone will be required to where masks in shops from tomorrow. But as one friend said during an outdoor, socially distanced tea party, “I wish they had just told us to do it from the very beginning instead of making everyone just make up their own mind.”

Minds can be very tricky things. As my husband has said at times, “the mind is not your best friend at times.” We rationalise actions that may not be in our own best interests. Which can be summed up in the definition of cognitive dissonance, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

Any quick newsclip confirms that we live amidst collective cognitive dissonance. Did I not see an unmasked traffic warden on the main street in Enniskillen chatting virtually shoulder to shoulder with a passerby this past week? Even with signs reminding everyone to socially distance two metres? Behaviour like that had me sprinting to the getaway car without my hard to get items I had on my list. I could do without.

Pandemics are never sprints. They are marathons. This one is unique for a generation raised on vaccination. Sudden death may take form in random violence, but rarely by illness. Even our most terminal diagnoses usually involve heroic attempts to stem the drowning tide.

This week’s Sunday poem is a reminder from Lockdown. The poem was shortlisted in the Fish Lockdown Poetry competition. In case you thought that the virus has disappeared just because shops are open for business, here is a reminder. Lockdown was hard. Safely emerging from our cocoons is even more difficult. I was incandescent this week when it was reported that there were Texan tourists roaming around the Irish countryside who failed to quarantine for fourteen days before touring around. Small business owners, with a duty of care to their employees and an eye to their already exorbitant insurance costs, turned them away. But why should they have to have been put in that position in the first place? The new minister for Tourism got a sharp email from me. North American tourism may be (have been?) a big wedge of Irish economy. But a single asymptomatic, infected tourist getting tipsy, ignoring social distancing in a pub and lustily singing rebel songs could take down half a small county in Ireland. What were they thinking? (The airlines, the tourist, the government trusting people to do the right, uncomfortable thing, when people think they can go back to the old way of doing things.)

See how the mind can sometimes not be our best friend?

Our world has changed. Change is uncomfortable. The longer people continue with the collective cognitive dissonance the old normal way of life recedes and recedes and recedes. The discomfort – and far worse – remains the daily reality for millions.

Have you a fever? Do you cough?
 
It is really very tiring waiting for the other shoe to drop.
We unlearn our helplessness by training ourselves
with endless YouTube tutorials. We remember, vaguely,
how to sew and cook without a recipe book.
Though what shall we substitute for an avocado?
 
We queue and are let into shops two by two.
We are re-creating The Ark in our new Anschluss.
In the supermarket we cruise the one-way aisles
where no one makes eye contact.
 
It is very tiring to have to sanitise all your groceries
along with our worry and uncertainty. Inside, we lifestyle
our bunker’s décor for diversity, celebrating our make do and mend
individuality.  The avocado, grown from a pip, fails to fruit.
It droops and quivers on the windowsill each winter.
 
It is really very tiring despite all the sleep I get
in ten hour shifts. I dream of Sleeping Beauty, her castle.
I feel climbing in my chest its choking vine.
And when I awake, I feel tired.  I feel tired
all the time.

Stay safe. You may not be comfortable with the new normal, but adapt and survive as they say. Mask up! Keep up the social distance!

covid19 mask up!
Mask up! Keep your distance!

Photo by tam wai on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Fusion Medical Animation 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

Le Weekend a la Lockdown

The prompt from NaPoWriMo Day 18 would have us thinking about Saturdays. That, inevitably, invites a contrast between before lockdown and what a weekend means now that we are in lockdown. Because without external cues, we might lose track of what day it is at all. My husband had to check with me a couple days ago. My reply was that I checked on my tablet everyday to keep track.

Our optional prompt for the day also honors the idea of Saturday (the Saturdays of the soul, perhaps?), by challenging you to write an ode to life’s small pleasures. Perhaps it’s the first sip of your morning coffee. Or finding some money in the pockets of an old jacket. Discovering a bird’s nest in a lilac bush or just looking up at the sky and watching the clouds go by.

http://www.napowrimo.net/

I figure I have written a good deal of poetry about small pleasures. They feature largely in our life out on an acre and quarter in West Cavan and give it much of its rich texture and rewards. Again, to quote the husband who says (ironically), “Another fine mess you got me in.” Which is a Stan Laurel line.

One of the features of our life in lockdown, and semi-retirement, is to have self-imposed routines. So my topic zeroed in on a new feature in our home routine of the small pleasure kind during lockdown and staying at home. My husband is very fond of cake, but when there was a dearth of flour and eggs early on in lockdown I brushed off some of my American cookbooks and returned to my native tradition of cookie baking. There is more bang for your buck in terms of ingredients. Also, they last a whole lot longer in this house.

The poem that finally emerged in my notebook and got tarted up when typing up, does steal a phrase from Stephen Colbert’s “A Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” I daresay he hasn’t trademarked it (yet) and I hope I will be forgiven for snatching it to go in the final stanza.

Le Weekend à la Lockdown
 
There is no bustle or rustle of thick newspaper.
The supplements have grown thin, though remain rich
There still remain some weekly landmarks to savour,
because if it is Saturday then it is time for Kitchen Witch
to wave her magic spoon, take her shift as shaper
in cookie dough of flour, sugar and butter.
Will it be this week orange and cardoman? Or vanilla?
Coconut or chocolate? Or peanut butter?
What’s left in the cupboard to set out in tray flotillas
of sweetness in a world that is full of bleakness?
Reading those headlines when we can get newspapers,
there is just one story. There must be some uniqueness.
 
Quarantine-while, millions get up to all sorts
                                                       of at home capers.
But if it’s Saturday, then here in my home
                                                     I am a cookie baker.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Rai Vidanes on Unsplash