Spooked?

Samhain, or Halloween, ’tis the spooky season, of ghosties and ghoulies and unexplained stuff that goes bump in the night. So it makes sense for this Sunday’s Weekly Poem to take inspiration from that wavey pavey line that divides our world from whatever is next. (If you believe in that kind of thing.) There is plenty of debate about that. If you watch The Good Place on Netflix you might play around with ideas that the otherworld is a kind of Medium Place where souls are stuck. As my young friend with a psychology Ph.D. observed, ‘being stuck’ is the flag that says you need therapy. If souls or spirits or ghosts are stuck, it would seem that even the dead can be in need of therapy!

Yesterday was the Day of the Dead, aka All Souls Day. It’s also my birthday, so the ancestors were much on mind even as I was savouring a pumpkin cheesecake made for my birthday tea. Halloween, or Samhain, was a three day feast back in the day when the pagan Celtic kind of people lived on this island. When Patrick Christianised Ireland the old customs would not completely die. So now we have the three day feast of Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Both traditions acknowledge, to a greater or lesser extent, that that the line between the world of the living and the dead is particularly permeable at this time of year. Some cultures celebrate the beloved dead, like the great Day of the Dead festivals in Latin America. In our more northern climes we are a bit more nervous of perhaps too close an encounter with the skeletons in the family closets. In Ireland the fairies were said to be particular active and might take a fancy to steal your child. Hence, dressing up and pretending to be dead, or something particularly unattractive for fairy snatchers. (NB: Fairies, we apologise for this libel on your character. This is a public service announcement.)

But the dressing up also allows us, whatever age, to explore being someone else, to live out some unlived life – the accountant masquerading as a pirate, the assertive woman fainting into one of Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Women in Peril,’ the sexually shy woman vamping it as Morgan le Fay. You can be an angel or a devil. You can flirt with The Good Place, the Bad Place and even the The Medium Place for what it is on The Other Side of that permeable curtain. (If you believe in that kind of thing…which I guess a lot of us do, because it can’t all just be a Hallmark plot to sell more cards.)

‘Tis the season after all.

Sinning Sainthood

All hail the saints!
All hail the souls
who missed the mark
but were beloved still.

We do the best we can
with the arrows of our intention
aimed at impossible targets,
that fail to launch
or fall wide of the bulls-eye.

Some saints tried to do their best,
slipped, missed,
but eventually
did better.
They improved their eye.

All hail the saints!
All hail the souls
who miss the mark,
but vow to do better
with their hands and eyes.

Our beloved dead
did the best they could
even when it should
have been better.

But then,
we who live
are not always
so well understood.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

It’s About Time

Our clocks went back to universal time at 2am this morning. I woke up just after 6am in the chilly twilight and felt immeasurably better.I burrowed back under the heft of the duvet and extra blanket. But even with the lie in, I was up early penning the Sunday Weekly poem. This is the time of year to make like the bear or small furry animals who disappear down tunnels into their dens. To parlay a Mary Oliver quotation differently… my “soft animal body” loves this time of year. Which does coincide with my birthday at the week’s end, so perhaps not quite so surprising. I revel in this dark part of the year, called Samhain in Ireland, and unlike many folk, feel quite energised by it. I am digging into the darkness.

We are not only setting the clocks back and diving into the darkness of Samhain, as we call Halloween and the month of November here in Ireland. (We even get a bank holiday for Halloween! It’s the ancient Celtic New Year. Yet another example of how we ‘do the double’ with two celebrations for New Year.) . It is also a New Moon in Scorpio. Those who live in environments with a lot of artificial light will never fully appreciate just how dark a dark moon can be at the darkest part of the year. You can understand why they thought the ancestors and other spirits roamed the countryside. It feels like the point just before the bang went off and the cosmos was born.

The early hours also had me looking at the etymological roots of the English words burrow (since I was so enjoying my snuggle in) and barrow. The latter can be a handcart and essential gardening tool in one sense. But the sense I was seeking was its life as an ancient burial mound. Long, long ago we put the ancestors to bed in what was not unlike an animal’s den. My favourite ancient monument on the Cavan Burren is called the Cairn Dolmen. First they buried their beloveds under a pile of stones. Later, the neolithic people plopped a dolmen on top of the pile of stones. Now, time is making it subside into the mound. It begins to look like a barrow.

My own personal name for this is The Fairy Cairn.

The Cairn Dolmen, Cavan Burren, Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark

I will only be giving you one poem this Sunday. Which is not to say that I have not been scribbling other drafts. But they were really only fragments.

I did have my first meeting with my mentor/ editor this week, beginning the revision process that will eventuate in a solo collection of poetry that began life in the 365 consecutive poem a day project that ended in September 2019. What you see in this blog is basically a second draft, occasionally a third tweaking. I am now beginning the slash and burn process. A friend of a friend calls this the ‘Kill Your Babies’ stage. My wise editor reframed this as…”think of it as separating conjoined Siamese twins and putting them in their own cots.”

This is how one unconjoined Siamese twin breaths in this new micropoem.

Her reading glasses
folded
lie on the bedside cabinet
with the paperback,
it's bookmark
three-quarters the way through
forever.

My etymological survey this morning ended up at a website on Paracelsus who had some very esoteric terminology used by theosophists. But it became my word play sandbox for the Weekly Poem. The title, Yliaster, is defined as the primordial matter out of which the universe has been formed in the beginning of time.

Time is very much on my mind this morning.

Yliaster

First
there was brine
so much
it sank into the earth.
It fell from the sky.
Those salty tears
became
the scaffolding of the cosmos.

Next
came brimstone,
the noxious engine,
the truth that no light
comes without
a spark
and a parp
keeps things moving.

Last,
quicksilver,
scattershot,
inspired,
all too, too
self-aware,
a realisation,
a dashing away -
flighty, fickle, unfair.

All so like us.

Chaos begat Chronos
from salt, sulphur, mercury.

We got
Time.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by NASA on Unsplash

All Hallows

Isn’t She amazing? That is one of the Macnas puppet sculptures made for the Samhain parade this year in Galway that was published on Facebook.  Julia Dinen captured this amazing moment where the two worlds are side by side. Just as we are this Halloween.  Which is a big enough holiday to warrant a bank holiday weekend each year. It is Celtic New Year’s Eve tonight.The Irish for this celebration in Samhain. (Say it Sow -like the female pig – in). This is the night when our world is separated from ‘the other’ with a tissue thin veil between us. We can see things we would ordinarily not be able to discern.

To me that puppet in the photograph is the Cailleach, the oldest female ancestor. She is said to have created the world – or at least the Irish part of it – by emptying her apron of stones to pile into a cairn that became Eireann.  This is the night for connecting with the ancestors beyond the veil. And while some are spooked out by that thought – hence disguising your pretty children so they will not be spirited off stage left behind that curtain veil, – others know this is the best night of the year to do any form of divination. It is a time to both let go of an old year, as well as look to the future and what it holds. And it is well to leave an offering out – for the ancestors or the fairies – to garner blessings of good luck in the year ahead. A tot of whiskey or poitín (or tea if you have taken The Pledge), some honey and cream or milk are good to leave on your doorstep. Make sure that the birds and other critters have something, too. They are all part of the ancestral tapestry.

So it seems appropriate for today’s poetry practice to take a kind of incantory feeling.

 

All Hallows

 

Tossing the ancestral bones.

See how they fall.

Inscribe a rune on a stone.

See how they fall.

 

Speak to us from the beyond.

Watch how they fall.

Speak in the flick of a flame.

Seek direction.

 

Night has fallen upon earth.

Watch how it falls.

The dead feel close this dark night.

Speak from beyond.

 

Tossing the ancestral bones.

Inscribing runes on a stone.

Scrying from our hearthside flames.

Seeking tarot to declaim.

 

See how they fall.

Watch how they fall.

Part the night’s veil.

Beloved dead we hale.

Speak from beyond

before the next dawn.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

 

Featured image by Julia Dinen at Galway’s Macnas Samhain Parade 2018.