Breathing

Where I live, in one of the counties in the Republic of Ireland bordering Northern Ireland, we have been put on Covid19 Level 4. Basically, we can move freely, so long as we stay in our own county, but only essential businesses remain open. No one is meant to visit our home. Restaurants are takeaway only and pubs are shut. Worship is back online, though churches remain open for private prayer. Third level, further education is online, too, though primary and secondary schools, as well as creches, remain open. For the time being. Unless things get worse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given home developments and the fright shows in the motherland, my usually very well-controlled asthma has flaired up in the past fortnight. The past week has seen me getting a flu jab for the first time in years and mailing my Federal Backup Ballot vote, tracking its progress by registered post. (The Federal Backup vote is available to voters abroad; my ballot, requested last August and marked as issued on the Board of Elections system, still has not arrived.) It also involved a trip to my GP to see the practice nurse, Audrey, who assessed the asthma, tinkered with my medication and listened sympathetically to my underlying anxiety.

While we can still venture beyond five kilometres of home, we took advantage of the sunshiney Sunday to visit the Cavan Burren, one of the UNESCO Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark sites close to home. We walked into the woods, away from the established trails, to my favourite megalith. It is signposted as the Cairn Dolmen, but I call it the Fairy Cairn. Cairns, essentially a high pile of stones, were the first kind of spiritual or burial sites built eons ago. Dolmens were the next technological advance. In the Cavan Burren woods you can see how they plopped a dolmen on top of an established cairn. It is probably fair to say that it is a unique example of megalithic building, at least in Ireland.

Moss and heather covered dolmen on top of a grasses over cairn in Cavan Burren woodland, October 2020

I stood before my favourite megalith in the whole world and sang to it. Choir singing used to help regulate my asthma, but regular choir practice fell away in the past couple of years for a variety of reasons. But that deep diaphragmatic breathing was the best medicine. Deep in the wood’s green lung I sang to the stones and the trees.

Breathing

Standing with the trees
before the piled stones,
I lift my voice
in tones of AH -EE-OH
over and over.
I-EE, I-EE sung sharply, 
is yipped into the crack in the sky,
straight through the dappled light.
Spruce megaliths surround
the dolmen slouching
into the ground, resting
on the greened cairn, and just
for that moment
in their embrace
I was uncorked,
uncontained,
breathing.


Copyright ©Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved
Trees encircling the Fairy Cairn, Cavan Burren Woods, October 2020.

Walking back along the path I stopped to notice the mushrooms forest critters had been nibbling. Mushrooms grow in the dark, underground. They create enormous mycelium fields that stretch and connect over great distances, out of our sight.

Humans have their own version of mycelium fields. We are all connected. We all want to breathe freely. If this virus teaches us nothing else, as its pathogen robs its host of oxygen, it is that we all need to breathe, that we must allow everyone breathing space.

I am writing this post on Monday because I have plans for Tuesday. Tomorrow I will be participating in a free Zoom Art Therapy Play Day for artists, sponsored by Cavan Arts Office. Self-care is essential these days. Grab it with both hands whenever and wherever it is safely offered. It is another kind of breathing space.

Is Memory Always Author?

When we ventured forth these past few days I saw the first rowan berries. There were leaves that had the first blush of autumn on their leaves. This week Storm Ellen blew threw and knocked out our electricity for nearly twenty-four hours. Then there was the knock-on effect to the internet server up on Arigna Mountain when their backup generator gave up. The sky has often had interesting splashes of Prussian Blue on its palette. In the meantime, in the long hours when I was conserving the juice in all my devices, I wrote pages of longhand. All of it prose. Not a jot of poetry.

Some is prep for the online creative writing workshop that will begin on 1st September. There is a single space left! So if you have been humming and hawing over it, grab it while you can. Full details here: https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/08/18/creative-writing-workshops-on-zoom/.

The hours of prose breaching the margins of my notebook is thanks to an online course I have been following, courtesy of the Cavan Arts Office. Online courses are a very good way to fill the creative well. You never know where they will take you. I have been looking at one being offered by the Cavan County Writer in Residence, Anthony J. Quinn, Wild Storytelling: Nature and Landscape.(http://www.cavanarts.ie/Default.aspx?StructureID_str=6&guid=188). In the murky light as the rain poured down and the wind raged, toppling trees and decapitating gladioli, I surprised myself with the flood of memory pouring onto A4 pages in my notebook.

Now my life is not all writing. I have spent many hours as a Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark guide, leading tourists around Cavan and Fermanagh and the Geopark’s fringes. Nature and landscape are really important to my life. But the very first exercise pulled me back to a very different geography.

My childhood was spent in Marcellus shale country, not in the border country where the two pieces of Ireland rub shoulders. Memories flooded in. What was meant as a nature and landscape piece became page after page of an inscape, a memoir of growing up in a small Pennsylvania town in the 1960s.

This came as a complete surprise to me. Quinn did lead me into the wild, into the unexpected terrain of long ago memory. The Celts reckoned that memory was the fount of all poetry. Perhaps. At the moment it is the fount of prose. I have a very messy draft. But then wildness is not known for its tidyness.

The craft of writing is about clearing up after your messy drafts. But I am still deep in the flotsam and jetsam of the memories storming across the pages. I need to allow it to blow through me onto the page and then move to the screen where it will get shuffled around, arranged and rearranged. There will be cuts. Those always hurt. But I remember what my mentor said about thinking of those edits as conjoined twins. You are not killing your baby. You take that sliver of infant writing and put it into a separate incubator. Hope that it may survive and thrive to have a life of its own in a separate piece.

Over the next few weeks the Sunday Weekly may be more about prose than poetry. We shall see. But I do have a poem for you this week. It is only at third, or possibly the sixth or seventh (whose counting?) draft stage and has been lying in its cot for a month or so. The Relic Road is the local name for a lane that used to lead to the old Protestant cemetery, which nature has obliterated. It is heavily wooded now. Every storm brings down limbs and branches that litter the narrow lane’s way.

If Marc Chagall Painted the Relic Road
 
Every fragment is sanctified,
flesh long saponified salts the earth,
skin slipped off like a gown. 
 
Souls of the departed sail, swooping
in the singing trees - their echoes hoop
where no one lives but the Pleiades.
 
The ground is grit of knuckle bone.
Also luminous as winter’s bright aconite.  
The shivering trees are acolytes looking on
 
at tombstones long past subsided, 
swallowed by earth, erased by wind, the wind,
season upon season. No names remain.
 
No descendants survive to look on and remember.
Just the trees.  Their murmuring. The sky.
The music of ghosts flying past.
 
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Michal Ico on Unsplash

Late Summer Misty Morning

It is probably hot most everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Even in Ireland it was 22C yesterday and with the general humidity of an island climate, it felt pretty steamy to the likes of me who is heat averse. I was awake at dawn, unusually for me now that I no longer write a poem a day. It was a pleasant reunion with the amrit vela, the darkness before first light. I watched the sun rise over the wind turbines on Arigna and then a mist roll down until it stopped right at our property line. The willow trees that soak up the sogginess and bogginess of our acre were completely gilded with dawn light. The global axis turns down into autumn; it is, to me at least, the most breathtaking time of year anywhere in the world here in Ireland.

The Sunday Weekly will be brief this week. There is garden produce to process. There is a funeral in the neighbourhood and we are negotiating the new rituals of Covid19 that have altered centuries old mourning traditions. Masked, I handed a cake into my neighbour’s home yesterday for their visitors. The door stood open since it was a fine day. One person stood across the length of the small sitting room, while the other sat masked by the door. It is a tight fit for social distancing in these old cottages and houses. I asked the local funeral director what the drill is to be: 50 in the church, the rest out in the car park for both the removal and funeral. Masks mandatory from Monday and Monday is the funeral. Hand gel is at the church door – the new holy water, I guess.

But I return to nature and the seasons, the immutably mutable of life. I turned my hand to a tanka for this week’s poem.

Mist's incoming tide
Dawn's sun gilds the blackbird's beak
Crowns his willow home
Heat haze recedes -the tide's out
Leaves just bathed in topaz light

Have a good week. Get yourself some time out to bathe in nature. I have produce to process and put in the freezer. I fancy some peach cobbler for supper. The warm weather is set for this week, which may mean more opportunities for me to meet the amrit vela of the day and watch the light pad across our acre from the east.

The featured image is a Photo by Helena Gunnare on Unsplash

NaPoWriMo Day 10 Good Friday

After the fiend of a yesterday’s concrete poem, today’s prompt is a little bit more in my comfort zone. It is a spin on the spare haiku form. Calling itself Hay(na)ku, it is still the familiar three lines. But instead of syllabic counting you need to count words. Line 1 has a single word. Line 2 has two words. Line 3 has 3 words. You can stop with a single stanza or you can link them a bit like a renga.

Nature does not come into it necessarily, like it would for a haiku. Although nature wanted in when I started writing. Also, I realise that I am a product of my religious upbringing, so other certain seasonal imagery crept in. My creative colleague, http://@HelenShay, did a Maundy Thursday poem instead of the concrete poem yesterday, which may be why my own poem today is straying into that territory. Also…I am a product of my religious upbringing, no matter how lapsed I may now be.

(NB: NaPoWriMo is a bit of a community. It is good to connect!)

But before I give you the hay(na)ku, here are some photo images of nature as it is unfurling this spring in my townland in Ireland. I know that for city dwellers this lockdown must be a lot harder than for us country dwellers. Being able to look at nature, even digitally, is supposed to be good for our immune systems. So this is my contribution to shut-ins’ daily dose of immune boosting nature.

townland home
The townland I call home

Communion
 
Leaves
On twigs
Emerged overnight, tiny
 
Blossom
On blackthorn
Appeared communion veiled
 
Trees
Stand. Say
“Take this. Eat.
 
We
Are memory" 
Twig, leaf, thorn
 
Flower
Bud, fruit
Beech mast floor
 
Tree
Branches bare
You and me
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
 

The Nature of Truth

Just when I think it’s time to change things up with the Poetry Daily and NOT do a quotation poem, a stray tweet reported in a newscast comes along and it so beguiles, despite the charmlessness of its author, that I just had to see where it would take me .Given the environmental policies that have emitted like CO2 from certain departments, it’s a strange statement to be made from someone who I reckon has spent little time in nature at all.

That statement jostled in my mind with a Bible verse from John 8:32 “and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” I am not a great Bible scholar, but along with “Jesus wept” it’s a favourite. I certainly hope truth can save the US Constitution from the paper shredding its been having the past two years. It’s not a perfect document, hence the need for amendments over the span of two centuries. It was written by imperfect mortals. But its aspirations are laudable.

Nature teaches us of the eternal cycle of creation and destruction. So, too, does truth. It smashes illusion and delusion. But it also sets us free to create, redeem, and save what can be saved.

the nature of truth

.

Fractal

I slept long and late, secure in the fact that I do not need to be in the classroom before 1pm. Our house was as still as Sleeping Beauty’s castle until nearly 10am. Certain threads of personal cogitation have tangentially found their way into the late morning’s poetry practice.  Fractals, ancient rock art, cup and ring marks….Today’s Poetry Daily is in blank verse. Sorry there is no image. I just could not get an upload to play…and I must be away into the day! (I remedied this later on.)

Fractal

Consider nature, the fractals in trees,

the ever repeating pattern growing,

growing larger and larger and larger-

the swirling out of sunflower seedheads,

the upwards spiral staircase in pine cone,

the rippling of waves on an inward tide.

We imitate the lines and curves we see.

The  cup and ring marks inspire labyrinths,

ancient showing ancient a deeper way

of seeing how the world is being made.

Just as the whorls on the palms of our hands

are regular, but unique, patterns made,

which ancient ancestors laid in ochre

on cave walls -even the baby’s – handprints

waving at us from beyond time and grave.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith

 

hand in cup and ring marks

Spring Flow

Irrefutably, it is springtime. At least in our far corner of West Cavan Spring has arrived. The narcissi Tete a tete have flowered, not just in the pots, but out in sheltered parts of the garden. The first croci and hydrangea are starting to bloom. Of the wild flowers, the bold aconite has been out for a couple of weeks, outfacing the snow and frost at Brigid’s Day. The hellebores are in flower. The first of the primroses are flowering, too, again in a sheltered corner of the garden.

Yesterday was the first of what my husband terms ‘laundry days!’ Mostly sunny, mild,and with a breeze that promises it will dry your washing if you hang it on the line outdoors. Given the humidity in Ireland, outdoor drying is something of an art and whim of nature. Yesterday was the first time in many months that I chanced pegging out washing on the line.

We have now had the official opening of spring in my part of Ireland. Which happens to be a stunningly beautiful area. So much so that UNESCO recognises its significant natural and built heritage by naming it as a geopark. I live in a geopark community on the first village on the River Shannon after it pokes its head out from underground caverns and begins to flow towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Poetry practice may have an element of spring fever to it today. But indulge me a little as I have been up since dawn’s earliest suggestion of light. The dawn over the Playbank was a full on kiss this morning.

Arteries

Peachy rose gold threads
brocading the light
coming up over the Playbank.

The throated notes of waking up song
Is it a robin?
I do not know for sure.

The trickle of the flow-
ditch, spring, stream to out from, feed in
the River Shannon down below.

A clear light. A song's note.
Springtime.
A rise in bloodheat.

The snow on the Playbank
melted ages ago,
a cataract tear

flowing down the drumlins
sculpting  the karst below over ages
with the seasons' flow.


Nature Poem

Having a meme for 30 Days of Gratitude is a helpful prompt for poetry practice. Because somedays it can feel a bit blank. I need something more than caffeine for a kickstart. And so I consulted the meme my niece posted on Instagram. And if it is 8th November, then Nature is the theme. Which I can relish. Not everyone may realise that I live in Paradise. It’s part of a wider region known as the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. And a geopark, for those who are scratching their heads, is a UNESCO designation for regions of outstanding international significance for both natural and built heritage. I sometimes am incredulous that we actually stumbled on this area when we moved from Yorkshire.

So before I post the poem, let me give you a wee slide show of my corner of the universe.

nature

Bee Smith River Shannon nature

nature

I mustn’t neglect to include a cow picture. This is cattle country after all.

nature

And some cow parsley that festoons our lane every May.

nature on our lane

I suppose I could have gone for a lyrical pastoral poem. But we live close to upland country. It is much more wildish in West Cavan.

Nature

 

green

bronze  gold

moss

lichen

 

sky

canvas

cloud

drop cloth

 

lake

water

still

presence

 

tree

rooted

bare

sleeping

 

stream

flowing

down

river

 

sea

roaring

tide

turning

 

bird

feeding

wings

flutter

 

sun

rising

day

starting

 

moon

waxing

month

cycling

 

night

skywatch

owl

hooting

 

all

nature

is

changing

 

like

Luna

we

return

 

like

daylight

too

returns

 

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018