Selective Remembrance

Today’s poem commemorates a century since the ending of ‘the war to end all wars.’ Which hasn’t happened again and again and again worldwide, in civil disputes, freedom fights, and far ranging involvements that have resulted in more war and less peace.  Remembrance Day 2018 salutes the fallen who served when called. But on this Remembrance Day I also want to be thankful for those conscientious objectors, many of whom I met when they were in their 80s and 90s back in the last millenium.  I knew COs who served in the merchant marine in both world wars. I knew those who served in the Friends Ambulence Unit. I knew those who did social work in the bomb ravaged East End of London as alternative service. I even knew a CO who was a jail bird. Rather than parlay his engineering reserved occupation status, he went to Stangeways Prison and rewired their electrics. I remember them today.

The poem’s title is inspired by a project a Quaker friend of mine participated for this Remembrance Day. She was here last summer and crocheted numerous white poppies to create wreaths of remembrance for those who suffered the collateral damage of war. You can find out more about this Peace Pledge Union project  here.

The white poppy has become the pacifist way of remembering on the 11th of the 11th month each year. I am remembering with a poem that was also in part inspired by a BBC documentary where a German World War I combatant described how his first kill affected him forever.

The featured image is a photograph I took in Litchfield Cathedral last April. In a side chapel they had an exhibit on the first World War. This sculpture calls to mind the many (about 300 if my memory of one statistic floated is serving me correct) shell-shocked soldiers who were executed for ‘funking.’ I remember those men, too, today.

This is a revised version of a poem originally posted here in 2018

Collateral Damage

Killing is nothing personal

so long as it is wears the other uniform.

One who knew the trenches spoke,

remembered the moment

he saw the eyes of the man

he bayonetted.

How strangling, beating

and stabbing were their day’s work.

No problem…

except he still woke some nights,

haunted by that Frenchman’s eyes,

his hand,

which otherwise he would have taken and shook.

Then there were the ones who came home broken –

even after Armistice those absent

while sitting around the dining table.

There were Dads who disappeared each Christmas

down a bottle, refighting the Battle.

There were ones who drove family away.

Home has no place for combat.

Lest we forget the shell-shocked comrades

stood blindfolded before firing squad

knowing the Pals taking the parting shot.

Lest we forget survivors who escaped

bombs and bullets in cellars. And rape. Or not.

The victor can spoil. They’ve lost the shellac.

It leaves a wildness in the blood and bone.

War spoils,

both survivors and civilians back home.

That peace bugled at Last Post

never sounded an easy note.

Lest we forget the price of peace consider

the cost in collateral damage

It’s colossal.

It’s personal,

whites in eyes.

Like a bayonet into a belly.

Truly, that is the business of war.

All are lost.

Lest we forget.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2020

I discovered this photo on Facebook in a post by Nikki Phillips of an art installation by Jackie Llandelli of Ghost Soldiers overlooking their memorials in St. John’s Churchyard, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

Ghost Soldiers


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

Tuesday Thoughts

I am going to be getting my head down to editting and putting together my solo poetry collection. But I know there are some hardcore Poetry Daily readers out there and I figured I couldn’t let them go cold turkey. So last month I stashed a few little ones so they don’t get the shakes from an abrupt withdrawal.

There will be a weekend edition of some new poems. So keep an eye out for longer poems at the weekend in the Weekly Poem. Just so I can use the time with editting and dreaming the collection.

I am using the quotation poem format. Because who doesn’t like a bit of proverb or wisdome in capsule form. This one comes from W.B. Yeats, whose mother’s people came from Sligo, not a million miles from me. The landscape inspired some of his best loved poems.


Day 365 of Poetry Daily

The Finish Line is crossed. I woke in full moonlight coming through the curtain cracks. The final day has dawned. Except it is not dawn yet. As so many days over the past 365 days I have been up early doing my poetry practice. A year ago I began what I thought of as etudes, like those five finger warm ups my long ago piano teacher had me do. Except I was doing them in poetry. I knew I could write a poem a day for a month because I had done NaPoWriMo for two years during April. But somewhere around month three my friend in Maine, Sherri, began to refer to the posts as my Poetry Daily.

And for those faithful readers who have been good enough to stick with me for the year, fear not! I will be posting a Weekly Poem every Sunday. So there will be a poem tomorrow. Because the poetry writing will continue, just not the daily posts. I need to allocate that time to editting and manuscript development. But for the first few days there is a scheduled little poem to help soften the change in your daily routine, too.

By serendipity, in the clearing up and out yesterday I came upon a commonplace book I started with quotations that beguile me. Here is part of one from Ben Okri from While the World Sleeps.

The poet needs to be up at night, when the world sleeps; needs to be up at dawn, before the world wakes; needs to dwell in odd corners, where Tao is said to reside; needs to exist in dark places, where spiders forge their webs of silence; near the gutters, where the underside of our dreams fester. Poets need to live where others don’t care to look, and they need to do this because if they don’t they can’t sing to us of all the secret and public domains of our lives. They need to be the multiple witnesses around the central masquerades of reality in order to convey fully all the unimaginable dimensions of the deity’s terrible and enchanting dance.

Ben Okri, While the World Sleeps

I always think of Ben Okri as ‘the incomparable Ben Okri.’ You read a paragraph of his writing and you feel like you have attended a master class in writing and living. I am in awe of his wisdom and facility of his writing.

So here I am again in the dark. Using the illuminato pen which a faithful reader and friend Siobhán gave me last Christmas to facilitate writing in the amrit vela, these ambrosial hours before the world wakes

Thank you to the readers who have followed me on this writing a poem a day journey these past twelve months. I hope you will continue to check into the blog each Sunday. Some of you are known to me, through Facebook and real life. But others live on anonymously in cyber space. But I see you! And thank you for seeing me here, writing from an betwixt and between corner in rural Ireland.

Unmooring from the Margins

To go into the woods.
To watch as they chop
the last tree down.
To sometimes stick with the path.
To then lift your feet from their margins
to adventure in the dark.
To learn to navigate by moonlight.
To master the fear of your own starkness.

Woods. And trees.
Paths. And journeys.
What else is poetry?

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

The Minim

The trench warfare to reorganise our home goes on. It goes on drawer by drawer. My husband ordered a book that arrived in the post yesterday. It’s called The Minimalist House, written by Joshua Becker, who is an an evangelist for the more of less (which is also the title of another book he has written.) It promises strategies for emptying those drawers and pep talks to strengthen your resolve. This is no time for sentimentality. Each week there is yet another visit to the recycling centre and the charity shop and the clothing bank. Odd socks are being let go.

Every evening now I spend time working my way through the conundrums of keep, charity shop, waste, recycling centre. I canvas friends to see if some item might enhance their life, since it no longer has a place in mine. Because is there really any dedicated space left for that designated keeper? Day 363 of the Poem A Day marathon dawned and what occurred to me was that I needed a bit of word play. A bit more being in the midst of all this doing. One of the things we have kept is an etymological dictionary and I started looking at the first two syllables of minimalist.

Meanwhile, I feel as if I have had the homeopathic remedy for hording stuff that might, but never ever does, come in handy. We arrived in Ireland eighteen years ago with the equivalent of two panel vans of worldly goods. I have radically pared down before. It never gets easier. But once you achieve a certain age you develop a sense of responsibility not to leave too much mess for the ultimate person who will do the last house clearance, the one where you cannot be present.

The Minim

Reduce it to a single drop.
Its quintessence
reduces everything
to the fifth element - ether.

Which is good to put you to sleep.
It occupies
rarified space.
Everywhere. Invisible.

Like radio or wifi -waves
upper realms
in some new republic of air.

Just take your minim. Bottle it.
Unstop its cork
and watch it burn.
This is the smallest, least of things.

One single downstroke in half-time
sounds the half note.
The tone is dropped
with the old Roman coin you've earned.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image: Photo by @plqml | on Unsplash

Everyday Objects That Make You Smile

The Great Cull to make our house much more zen continues. It begins to get compulsive as you plow through drawer after drawer full of stuff that has been cached there out of sight and mind. I think I may have found the camera lead a friend who visited mislaid two years ago! It’s good training for the days after the 365 poem a day routine. Because then editting begins. You need a certain ruthlessness on what needs to go. (Oh, beautiful line, you need to go now. You do not really have a home in this poem. Good bye!)

But the Great Cull has concentrated me on objects that may not necessarily spark joy, but do make you smile. I think this is the great appeal for kitch items. I have to say I have a wee jug of a topless blonde woman who has bare knockers that jiggle; she makes me smile. It is patently silly, but the whimsy wins everytime. These everyday objects, which may not be art, are the stuff that make you smile. For some it might be a pillar box red fridge. Or it could be a seashell.

I reckon that those of us born in the post World War II Baby Boom generation have a special quandary around stuff. We were raised by parents who had known the privations of global economic depression and world war. Some lost everything. Others had next to nothing. We were raised by parents who horded rubber bands and saved gift wrapping paper scraps. You saved everything because you never knew when it might come in handy. And there was always the fear of shortages. We are also the generation that experienced the consumer boom and free global trade. You can get just about anything from anywhere. And it tends to constitute clutter until you cull. But there are still the objects that make you smile to contend with. Those are the tough choices.

Everyday Objects That Make You Smile

Two centuries ago I would be lucky
to own an everyday dress
and one for Sunday best.
They would have hung on pegs
in a narrow room
along with a linen bag
full of handknit stockings and night shift.
There would be two pinafores
to drape overall
to stay the dust, mop up the grime.

What would have made that long ago maid smile?
Was it a length of pretty ribbon,
cherry red or sky blue?
Perhaps some lace to lay on her throat
when she had her one day a month day out.
Or was it the yeasty rise of a loaf of bread?
A tune that kept going around in her head?

Would it be some wheat and poppies
she gathered and placed in a cracked jug?
That cracked jug...
sitting on the windowsill
catching the morning light.
What made her smile in her everyday
of short rations,
with her still hungry eye
for beauty,
that went over and above

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

September Light Falls

Ireland is a country of many seasons. Many, as the joke goes, all in a single day. But there are two months out of each year that are hard to beat whether the rain falls or it is dry. May is a close runner up, but for me, September is the month you cannot beat. It may partly be that I took up residence in Ireland in 2001 just at the autumn equinox. While Spring is fun, it can also feel a bit frantic. Autumn has a much more ‘Hey, man!’ vibe to it. The sunflowers still nod, but they don’t have to put any more energy into growth. They are tall enough. While it may not be relaxing for people herding children back to school, or workers returning from a late summer vacance, the earth energy is mellow. I saw my first puffball a few days ago. The only growth now is fungi. They are incredibly discreet about it. But what slays me most is the slant of light at this time of year. So that is what the Poetry Daily offers you on Day 361 of the 365 poem a day.

The Way the Light Falls

Like no other time of year...
When dark clouds joust
with javellins of light
searing September sky.

Happy tears fall in sunshine
before brooding, petrol clouds.
It's Cathy calling Heathcliff
or Tristan to Isolde.

the meeting on the bridge.
Rainbows grow double
Come quick and look!
What's your dearest wish?

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Waiting Room

I have been perusing the archive of the poem a day over the past year to begin putting together a longlist of poems for my first solo collection of poetry. Bits of my life are layered in. So it came as no surprise that I have drafted the Poetry Daily at least once before in the waiting room of our GP’s surgery. It was routine blood taking today and they start very early. You have to fast. So it was without benefit of caffeine that I penned the first draft of the poem for today as I waited my turn for the blood letting. (Never easy. Just use the left, Audrey! The veins on my right routinely collapse. As the daughter of a laboratory technician I am pretty blasé about this. Four tries later the single vial needed for the thyroid check was accomplished. I have written so much about rock and stone over the year I did begin to ponder ‘getting blood from a stone’ and its applicability to me.)

Sparing any thoughts of Godot, there is also the next breathless twist in the Brexit scenario. Which, in the eventuality of a no deal crash out will have implications for all of us living in border country. Our GP’s surgery is a few hundred yards from the border. Just over the bridge that is the border is the nearest pharmacy to get your prescriptions. We go to and fro with ease without a hard border these last twenty years. But a no deal Brexit could change all that. There has already been one bomb on the border defused already. Although the good news is that Peace V will carry on the twenty year journey working towards peace and reconciliation on this island. Because it takes a generation to really make change.

So millenials in Northern Ireland, make sure you are registered to vote. A general election is coming and the majority in Northern Ireland wished to remain in the EU.

 Waiting Room

That taut air of held breath
in the space where we wait
for the other shoe to drop.

Some drum their fingers.
Others fold their palms
and temple their thumbs.

The studied yawn.
Staring at phones.
What's the news this dawn?

Some stare straight ahead,
seemingly can't blink, but
maybe we all need their kind of meds.

In balancing on the high wire
Don't look up! Certainly,
don't look down!

It saps your inner fire
does waiting - for a birth. Or a death.
Just anything definite.

Though long-term you acquire
a grace and patience
that furrows even the smoothest brows.

But better the bad that you know
than the worse that might come.
Waiting is never ever any fun.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image: Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash

Prodigal Soul

We like to keep the Sunday mornings extra still, a bit sleepy. Non-doing means more being. There has been plenty happening in the house over the past week or so. It’s great to have a quiet day before a week ahead that has several daytime appointments. To have the slow start in the gloomy half-light as the day begins feels extra special as I begin the last lap on the 365 poem a day Poetry Daily marathon begins. This is Day 358 of writing a poem a day. Seven more to go.

But first I did a little reading and I came across a post that is really appropriate for some Soulful Sunday reading. Over the past year I have considered lost souls, or those who give theirs away piece by piece. I commend to you this poem by US poet laureate Jo Harjo for some Sabbath succour.

So the poem turns out to be very short after I scribbled out the first doodles in the notebook.

Prodigal Soul

The one who wandered away
from their soul
who went chasing after
or got chased

came back
re-discovered its true keepers
beside a sanctuary lamp left lit
in perpetual vigil

Drink wine!
Break bread!

See before your own eyes
how our guest

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Have a day with more being than doing in ways that will replenish your soul. A lot is happening in the world.

Featured image Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

In Dark Ages

Ah, my writing routine is back to its Planet Normal. Wake up in the half-light, half-dark. Gradually come to. Rise for tea, some non-verbal chat with cats as I wield tin and spoon. Then return to notebook and pen and the blank page to see what will turn up for the Poetry Daily. There is only one more week to go when I reach the 365 Poem A Day mark. I have written a poem a day since 15th September 2018. I have posted it on this blog everyday bar one, when my internet service was down. I posted two the following day. I posted as a way to keep a check on myself. If I didn’t post I might have become a slacker to the poetry practice.

What first emerged in my morning’s cogitation was a spin on a prayer from my childhood. Actually, it was only a line from a half-remembered prayer and then I began to riff on that. Which I will not share. But it took me into deeper waters of consciousness. Deep time keeps cropping up and also what was termed in my infant school history books as The Dark Ages.

In Dark Ages

What made the Dark Ages go dark?
Was it barbarian hordes sacking Rome,
making it burn,
along with Alexandria's library
turning all knowledge to ash?
Was it the temple's collapse?

What makes a world a civilisation?
When is its bright firmament a vacuum?
What makes its light go dark?
When exactly does it jump the shark?

Was it greed and hubris that made it dark?
or the rape and pillage leaving indelible mark?
Pity and terror is the classical definition
for the appropriate response
to tragedies' transitions.

But those Greeks lost their world.
It crumbled to ruins., too.
Yet in all that age and its gravest days
there must have been someone
who kept alive some vital spark.

Much was lost. But much was retained.
Probably by a black-clad granny
keeping the family tinderbox safe.
She knew what to do, how to take
flint and some sticks and chafe them
into fire to make food,
to be able to see each others face.
The light returns, if not the great.
Empires burn. To some that's a disgrace.

I ask more questions....
what do you love?
what do you vouchsafe?
what gentles you in chaos and
rescues you from the inevitable pathos?

What tools have you been left
to strike the light
to allow you to discern
what is a dark age
and what is your immediate concern?

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash