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. https://www.poetryireland.ie/news/poetry-day-ireland-2020-goes-digital.

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 https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/04/30/something-returns/

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.

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.

Tomato
 
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

Christmas Morning

Over much of the 365 consecutive days of writing a poem a day writing I did between September 2018 and 2019, I was awake during the early hours of darkness, alert before dawn. While I have happily back slided into more slothful habits since then, this week in the run up to Christmas has seen me waking in the dark again. This morning I had to itch to write a poem , which I have been rationing to once a week while I have tended to other projects. But this morning, with the cat who three years ago was an uncivilised feral purring at my side, I reverted to how I welcomed Christmas this time last year. Little did we know then that he was destined to become my muse. He was then an outcast, who has now come in from the cold.A little poem is my Christmas present to my readers. I am grateful to all who have faithfully commented, liked on Facebook, and kept me on task.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 Christmas Morning 
  
 The sky is a greyish white as the first of day's feeble light 
 illuminates the charcoal outline of bare limbs 
 on winter's trees. Today, we sing out hymns 
 to the evergreen, and of a star bright enough 
 to pierce a world whose soul is toughened up
 and feels plunged into deep, darkest night, 
  
 that cries out to be rescued and saved from ourselves 
 who for centuries have long so misbehaved 
 to our discredit. We have pained one another, 
 lost the thread of our kind and our love. In vain
 we refrain All is well! All will be well! 
 There speaks faith and hope. That's what we tell
 ourselves is the gospel of love. We wave away 
  
 for just this one day the state of our dismay 
 with gods and worldly fates. And with our hate. 
 Let there be love in hearts and hands. 
 Let the outcast come in and the stooped stand. 
 The crooked is straightened like that angel 
 perched up over the nativity's manger. 
 For one day let us all know this pause and poise.
 Let there be peace on earth and in every voice. 
  
 We dream of this miracle but once a year
  in the darkest nights, so hope may give us cheer. 
  
 Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved 
   

Featured image Photo by Imran Ali on Unsplash

The Republic of Crochet

This is a re-blog while I am hard at the revision process. And many of the poems that have appeared in second or third draft here are getting remade and reshaped, some with subtle tinkering and some with complete repurposing. And some off cuts are getting a new life of their own in another poem. Even this poem has been re-jigged. The August 12th version is slightly different if you are interested in that sort thing – process – and want to take a look.

I especially wanted to re-blog this particular poem as a tribute to my Friday morning textile art teacher, Morag Donald, and the women who I am getting to know in my community as we needle felt, weave, and collaborate in creating art work, relaxation and connection. We meet in Dowra Courthouse from 10am until noon. We have tea, biscuits and a talking stick. Come on down!

This was originally written #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge. It was Day12 and the prompt was ‘Cruel Summer.’ I did write a tanka(ish) five liner on the theme. But what really was itching to flow from my pen came when the phrase “the Republic of Crochet” popped into my head. Our niece, an ardent crochet practitioner, had been here over the weekend pet sitting. But we had also had conversations about a community art projects and some of her own envisioning that would use crochet as its medium.

Textile art rocks!

The Republic of Crochet
For Hannah Daisy

Flowerchild conceived long after The Summer of Love,
your flower power blankets us with
'Chain Stitch One,Chain Two, Chain Three,' linking
us softly in wool.

Everyone loves a flower. Who can resist them?
Petal confetti love bombs us.
But in crochet. Single
stitches mend us one at a time -

the lonely, the odd,
the angry for lack of some love -
with a flower, or a blanket,
some soft wooly love.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Shreena Bindra on Unsplash

Sentry on the Crossroad

Well, sometimes life comes along and shakes up the morning writing routine. I was up late knitting last night, so I was not writing my poem with the dawning day. I was hitting the snooze function on my phone alarm when the Septic Tank Man Cometh. The poetry writing was on hold until later. He was early. The Poetry Daily was going to be slightly delayed.

One of the realities of living in a rural setting is that every now and then you need to have your septic tank emptied of its earthy contents. It’s a big production because our percolation is around seventy metres from the house and it is a challenge to find a provider with a long enough hose.

Anyway, it was teeming rain and it was all hands to the pump. Well, not literally. That was just Frank. His truck was as wide as our lane. One of us had to remain at the house and another needed to walk down the lane to the crossroads to warn any oncoming traffic that the way was blocked.

I volunteered for that duty to be away from the noise and activity. Way too busy for me first thing. I stood sentry at the three-way cross that in Britain they call a T-junction, but in Ireland is still considered a cross. And why not? You can have three-armed Brigit’s crosses as well as the traditional four-armed one.

There were four cars in all who passed that way, which kind of counts as rush hour for us. Three wanted to turn off the lane on to what locals call the Relic Road, since it passes by the ruins of the old Protestant cemetary. I only had to turn one driver back and he didn’t entirely believe me and wound up having to reverse into the neighbour’s barn yard and come back on himself. Perhaps, with less than one cup of tea in me, I was not forceful or positive enough in my messaging. Or maybe he’s the kind of man that never trusts a woman’s judgement when it comes to driving down a road.

I was not over perturbed. I had me a nice beech tree to shelter under as the rain teamed down. Frank, the McBreen Environmental Man, sent my husband to fetch me back into the house out of the rain. Rain not being a fitting place for a wife I suppose. I held my ground under my beech tree. Damned if I was going to have my nice poetry forming thoughts interrupted by all that busy-ness.

And as it turns out I will be on sentry duty again tomorrow morning, because the hose wasn’t long enough to reach the final chamber of the percolation. Better get to bed early tonight! Or I shall be thinking poetic thoughts under dripping boughs again tomorrow morning.

Standing Sentry at the Relic Road

Standing under dripping tree limbs
with beech mast at my feet,
the nuts hanging above
clinging on with their velcro fuzz
and me considering seraphim.

Stop and stand in a single spot
you either notice everything,
or ignore the whole lot.
It's just your thoughts and leaves
becoming a green, blurred blot.

But then I began to name the neighbours
both the relics and the living, too -
hazel, birch, alder, beech
and the red squirrels that come
to this crossroad for nuts to eat.

The fireweed has taken up residence
where the ground has been disturbed.
We're both blow-ins, fireweed and me.
Or maybe we are all emigrants.
Even the seeds of these trees
deposited season's past by passing birds.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Cursing Stone

There is, on private land adjacent to the ruined St. Brigid’s Chapel in the townland of Kilinagh, a glacial erratic with nine bullaun stones placed in its hollows. We live in a geopark that is littered with these large rocks that the ice age slid down off Cuilcagh Mountain back in the mists of eons bygone. They were both first tools and material, as well as a part of nascent cosmology. This particular rock formation is called St. Brigid’s Cursing and Blessing Stone, the new Christian religion taking over a site dedicated to the old god Crom Cruach. The tradition is to turn the stone the the left and leave a coin under the bullaun stone for a curse. Turn the stone sunwise and you bless.

Curses are all about deep time. They reverberate for generations. In the heroic tales of Ireland this might be for five, seven or even nine generations. A story never ends where you think it ends. The plot is thicker than any witch’s concoction and many of the characters who think they have starring roles only have cameos in the grander scheme of things.

And why should I be thinking of this as I contemplate the Poetry Daily on this morning where the sun is trying to chase the rain and keep it at bay? Maybe because we need to widen the viewfinder on our ideas of story, how it chases our tails and becomes what we know as history. That the long ago then is also are ninety-minute now.

Cursing Stone

Sometimes you know a story is not done.,
but the climax doesn't satisfy.
The lovers don't walk hand in hand toward sunset.
The mean foment more mean, no justice done.
Oh, but what if we could just simplify
life to a made for TV version?
Ninety minutes of conflict to conclusion.

In reality, bitter people
who take their ball of no hope, feuds and grudges,
go seek their redress at a cursing stone.
They leave at this altar their gall, bile's brew.
Although there is another ritual that blesses
by reversing the turn of bullaun stones.
Forgiveness remedies what needs atoned.

No story's compiled in a single tome.
It's eons of layers, all known in stone.



Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved




St. Brigid's Cursing and Blessing Stone
St. Brigid’s Cursing and Blessings Stone

Between Seasons

There is definitely a nip. The air has gone crisp. I needed to put on a pair of socks for my walk. I am shaking out sweaters and greet them as old friends. Yes! Autumn in on its way. September is one of my favourite months – along with May. They are Goldilocks months. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right. Cool enough for porridge for breakfast. Warm enough that the rain doesn’t chill your marrow when you get drenched during a walk. It’s a season of rainbows and intense shots of light and then a lowering dark. It is a season to believe in miracles. The Poetry Daily began in this wonderful month and it will conclude the cycle of 365 days of a poem a day in September.

The nights are drawing in.There is a greater chance that I may wake in the amrit vela, the ambrosial hour, when the day is not yet born. It is a very special time, when you can feel the pulse of the earth. And while I was up, our internet had been knocked out, but was swiftly restored by our great local, rural internet provider Groupnet.


Between Seasons

It’s not full on
like midsummer's bright
clap at the crack of dawn.
No. It’s much more mellow.
The new day yawns.
It stretches. There is a chill
 
in the air. Time to pull on
a wooly or a fleece
to drink tea. To just sit
facing the blank day,
to see if my mind
can be empty
 
of the world’s cares,
its need for prayers.
It’s not half-light nor full dark.
Soon the days
and the nights, too
will know the perfect poise
 
the betwixt, the between,
have the equilibrium
and grace of ambling spider
pirouetting capers in its nets -
this time out of time,
the bliss of not yet.
 
Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Walking to the Holy Well

If you don’t live in Ireland,or other parts of what we know call the Celtic world, you may not be familiar with the concept of holy wells or sacred springs. But these are very much a feature of the Irish landscape.They are, however, not exclusive to Ireland. In Derbyshire, in England, each June they dress their wells with elaborate floral artwork, usually depicting some Bible scene. Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury are in the older religious tradition. The reverance for holy water and sacred spring is much older than Christianity. Unbeknownst to us when we bought our house, there is a holy well in a townland called Tubber, which is the Hiberno-English variant on the Irish tobár, meaning well. It was in disrepair for many years until a farmer neighbour realised it was on land he owned. He took up the role of ancestral well keeper and renovated it and had it rededicated and a curse lifted from it. (It’s a long story for another time. Just take it as read that we take this kind of thing for granted here in rural Ireland. Stuff like this happens. You deal with it the best you can. Or not. Which then becomes a curse.Then you need to deal with that, too.)

There was a new moon on the 30th and they are always useful for setting fresh intentions. Writing as much as I have been doing this past year I am really not very physically fit. It has really become noticeable to me. While I do take short walks with the little dog most days (we take turns on the exercising front), I decided I needed to start taking the longer walk up to the well on a daily basis. Of course, then there was torrential rain on the day. But yesterday I went up to the well and said some prayers for the many who ail or in trouble. There is always someone in trouble. I have written about holy wells before (https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/01/20/when-the-well-runs-dry/) if you are curious about them.

For a bit of soulfulness on a Sunday I share with you a walk that I have taken many times over the past two decades. And there is a little snippet of video of its sanctuary in wet ash woodland.

Walking to the Holy Well

Once it was for everyday and everyone,
but sacred still all the same. And I walk
like ordinary and everyday pilgrims
of old. Supplicants all, of miracles
and small favours, walking the pattern of prayers,
the round and round and round of intentions.

The gnarled hawthorn wears clooties and rosaries.
An old neighbour said that once Our Lady
appeared here, to long ago, before Fatima,
before the Great Hunger and The Flood dispersed
the village named after its well to all corners
of the earth. Still, we keep walking up the hill.

Walkers need small favours and miracles,
seeking the cure for the curse of caring,
for the knowing of despair, its powerlessness,
the grief for love lost, the howl for justice.
The Lady stands there in mercy and mother love.
We all walk to her with our secrets,
unburdening our pain, speaking our dreams, wishes,
which is what wells were forever more for...

washing the woe, the worries, bathing in wonder,
laying al faith and hope in loving heaps
at The Lady's feet, tying beads, headbands, hankies
in thanks. And hope. On that gnarled tree.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved