Equinox, Anniversaries, Homeplace

Last midnight the Harvest moon shone bright. This morning that particularly golden autumnal light is shining as I tap away at my laptop. Twenty years ago at Equinox (22nd September to be exact) I arrived in Dowra, the first village on the River Shannon. It has been my home since then and in a longish, peripetetic lifetime, it is also the place I have lived longest.

My given name is Barbara, which translates as foreigner, the stranger, the other. I am the third one in my family, named after my paternal grandmother and she shared her name with her mother. Both emigrated from Germany. I migrated as well. What is in a name? Quite a lot I think. Don’t name a dog Rascal or a cat Tiger. If you are driven demented by them it may well be your own fault. We inhabit the skin of our names.

In truth, when I lived in the motherland I felt an outsider and was conscious of it even as a pre-schooler. It did not improve with age. That I wound up being an emigrant twice over was perhaps an act of erasing one layer of cognitive dissonance. Of course, I am a foreigner, because I actually am one!

Having lapped up on Ireland’s shores two decades ago with my beloved partner, we found a cottage outside the village and have been, in fits and starts, renovating and remaking the house and garden. Later today we are clearing a space for the new potting shed. I need to be about my business today.

The rural Irish have a wonderful word – homeplace. It refers to the plot of earth that the family has inhabited for generations in some townland with a name that perfectly describes the lay of the land. Our own townland translates as the ‘the briary place’, or so I am told. Certainly, we have plenty of blackberry roots and shoots that we have cut back or dug out over the past twenty years. But briars also confer a tenacity.

The weekly poems I am posting this week are very, very old. The first must be nearly twenty years old and the other more than ten years. But it does chart an internal shift as those metaphorical briars took hold of my soul.

Homeplace

I love the way Eugene Clancy says the words homeplace
This battle-scarred boxer lets the syllables roll.
They reverberate in his throat – homeplace. 
I envy the way he can say it so tenderly.
Just like John Joe up the mountain at Moneen 
where all that is left of his family homeplace is a stone floor,
his father’s name carved on the hearth,
a chimney and what was once his parent’s bedroom.
He carved his name too when he left for forty years
working away but always feeling the tug and dream like draw.
These words are an embrace, a welcome and a safety.
I know that there is no place that I can call homeplace
in the same way as Eugene or John Joe 
with that sound so grounded and assured, 
rooted on a square space where blood and earth mingle. 
It is my earth, too, but not a homeplace.


Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

The heat of sun warming stone
The milky glare of full moon
The vibrant glints of planets and stars
As the plough furrows the night sky.

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

One New Year’s morning I looked up
Welcomed by harsh honking
Four whooper swans flying in formation
Glide to land on Lough Moneen

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

John O’Rourke’s cows now graze in 
Paddy’s flat fold of field,
His blue daubed ewes
Waddle from winter pasture to lambing barn

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

The willow quenches its thirst on our acre
Drinking deeply from rain sodden peat
An oak nurtured from acorn now stands tall
While the ash, as usual, is the last each spring to leaf

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

The cat scratches, chin tickled by dandelion clock
The dogs doze in a patch of sun
Swifts swoop in barn eaves; the cuckoo heralds spring
Wild bees feast on thorn blossom


Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

Gaudy gorse blazes on the hillsides
Meadowsweet shrouds fields in bridal lace
Lady’s Mantle does her juju on the verge
Blood taken from bramble thorn mingles in jam and wine

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred

They call this ‘the briary place’ and truth be told
The roots cannot be gone by sickle or scythe or
Smothered or scorched into submission,
Anchoring me to this place where each day I marvel

Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred


Mythic River

After seven years campaigning the Republic of Ireland legislated a ban on fracking the land in 2017, in the only private member’s bill  to ever pass in the Dáil.  Just over the border, the company vanquished at the eleventh hour from doing a test drill is trying it on all over again. Lack of planning permission was the obstacle last time and now they are making moves to gain those permissions. All within five miles of the border with the Republic of Ireland. The country with a fracking ban down river from where they want to frack. Because they want to drill within miles of the source of the River Shannon, the longest river on this island, the one that runs right down the country, meandering inland and then emptying herself into the Atlantic Ocean in Limerick. The impact is particularly potentially catastrophic since Ireland’s economy is mostly agriculture and tourism. Put hundreds of fracking drill pads across southwest Fermanagh and you destroy not just local lives and livelihoods. You impinge upon a geopark, an area that UNESCO reckons should be recognised and conserved because it is part of the world’s heritage.  We keep its heritage – both natural and built – not just for ourselves but for everyone. And so we are resolved to continue doing so.


Shannon

A river runs through us all

crossing borders underground, in secret,

stealthily raising Her watery head

over The Pot’s lip.

She streams quietly over that parapet,

slips down the rocky slopes.

Breathing easier, she eddies and flows

around Lough Allen, stretching out, 

flexing her new muscle, 

swimming across the Midlands,

stroke upon stroke to meet

the Atlantic Ocean.

What story do we tell ourselves?

How Síonnan reversed

all the Elders’s spells?

The old magic had its strength

before the stench of guilt,

its shiny shaming,

greed grabbing for me and mine, 

absconding before any blame

could be laid, or blood shed.

That, too, is a river.

Just as long.

Poison still circulates

because its the law of flow.

The more dilute, 

the more it lays waste.

What happens upriver

will never stay there.

That’s not just a story.

It’s how a river’s nature goes.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Day 19 NaPoWriMo2017

Today’s challenge is to write about a creation myth. As I live not  a couple country miles from the Shannon Pot, the source of the River Shannon, it felt only natural to take as my source the Source itself. The poem is based on folklore about how Ireland’s longest river came into being.

Log na Síonna – Síonnan’s Pot

 

It always begins with a woman

curious, brave

wanting to be wise

 

Síonnan, daughter of mortal

and shining immortal one is

pot-bellied full to the brim

being told ‘no’ – it can turn a soul

truculent

 

being considered other

outside the covenanters

with power.  Bold  Síonnan –

young, lithe, subject to no man

stirred the Pot, undoing any

druid spell, freeing those nuts

 

of wisdom to flow as the Pot

roiled and boiled and rose above

druid ire, chasing Síonnan

as hound after hare

down the country, mile upon mile

making loughs, flooding

 

meadowed plains. Síonnan

ran and ran with that wisdom

running towards her grandfather

Mannanán mac Lir’s embrace

in wild Atlantic wave

finding his loving face

 

It always begins with a woman

curious, brave

wanting to be wise

 

Shannon Pot About to OVerflow