Memorial

Those readers who will have seen my Armistice Day poem, Collateral Damage, last 11th November will probably have guessed I have a strong pacifist allegiance.  As one with early Quaker ancestors in my motherline  perhaps those tendencies are written onto some chromosome. In the land of my birth this is Memorial Day weekend.  Which led me to contemplate the memory in the word memorial as much as the monuments we make to the dead. Living as I do in a mythic part of Ireland that was home to megalith makers, my mind began to roll over a few rocks. (“What is it with you about rocks, Bee?!” I can hear My friend Mick query.) This is the Poetry Daily for Memorial Day weekend.


Memorial

What is it within us

so millenially deep,

this need to mark in stone,

to resurrect rocks to stand,

to surround and ground our dead?

Stone memory of them

who have become bone, ash, dust,

who have become the light

that once danced in falling star

that met magma, became man.

Here lies someone, who’s ours,

even those nameless remains

we remember, mark rock.

Stone makes us immortal,

takes us back to the cosmic.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith

Walls

In my recent sojourns I visited stoney landscapes. When I was musing over the subject for the Poetry Daily I flicked through past snaps. The stone walls of various destinations I’ve visited are frequent subject matter. Orkney has a distinctive style of stonewall building that is quite different from the way they erect field walls near where I live close to the Cavan Burren (burren meaning a stony place). Last year I was in the southwest of England and in Cornwall they built their own distinctive ones of slate.

Clockwise from far left, stone walls from Avebury, Wiltshire, Orkney, Scotland, Tintagel, Cornwall and the Cavan Burren, Ireland

Of course, walls have been historical boundary markers. Living as I do close to the Brexit contentious Irish border we have lived for the past twenty years with a ‘soft border’, an invisible line that exists on a map and in some people’s state of mind. But I was brought up short in a Easter workshop when an eleven year old talked about the “Teresa May’s Wall”. In the child’s mind the talk of a ‘hard border’ had been conjured as a wall, rather like the one Donald Trump wants to build.

Given that I grew up during the Cold War with an Iron Curtain and a Berlin Wall, I am not a fan of walls. Like the so-called ‘Peace Walls’ built in Belfast and Jerusalem I view walls as a failure of imagination and negotiation.I understand the practicality of being able to keep your cattle corralled. After all, I do live in the country and know the hazards of cattle wandering the long mile of a country road, blocking the rare motorised traffic. It’s not easy to coax a ton weight of cow to move when it is happily grazing on the verge’s cow parsley. Truly, I appreciate the validity of psychological boundaries. I simply object to humans trying to categorise other humans as cattle that need to be penned and kept out of particular territories whose ownership or stewardship is always a matter for debate. That is, in nugget form, history, which is often a continuing saga of ownership as theft and grievance. And grief.

However, I do appreciate the skill and aesthetic of a finely crafted stone wall.

This morning I was a bit stumped for poetry practice subject matter. You can probably gather that I had a long rumination on walls before I plumped for the more medival subject of anchorites. If this is an alien word to you, an anchorite was a Christian ascetic (often also a mystic) who chose to be walled into a small cell, usually adjoining a church. There was a narrow opening where food and communion wafers could be passed. St. Julian of Norwich is probably the most famous example in the English-speaking world.

Anchorite

Fill it in
stone by stone
with me sitting
within
silent
as the mortar sets
the mason's scrape
the only sound
bar the faint
hiss of prayers breathed
incessantly
from my lips.

The fasting
is a way to become
light in a dense world
of sin and shame.
I do not do this
in the name of self.
One day I could no longer
remain
without stain or blame.

I could live
however
without
touch or small talk
within
this small space and
the love of these walls
their relentless matter
containing
my very
hollowed out
heart
which some call
the chaos of
my soul.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Hold the Space

I was travelling between 24th April and 6th May, which made the last leg of NaPoWriMo2018 a bit frantic and hectic. Travel is a bit of a brutality. Home is the reverse. Travel, however, does instruct. I was surprised by an attack of homesickness and nostalgia for Ireland that seems best expressed by the Irish word cumha. Yes, I missed my man, my very own Green Man, my Joyful Giver; but I also missed the land itself, the Celtic knottedness of home and belonging. It has happened before, but I rather discounted it. It is an identifiable pattern now.

Home is not birthplace or even where I hang my coat. It is the moss and tree limbs, stone, peat and clay of West Cavan. And as I was mentioning visiting Stonehenge and Avebury to a friend who has walked with me on the rocky Cavan Burren, he exclaimed, “What it is about you and stones?!” Cannot quite articulate a rational explanation just yet, Mick. But I have always slipped a pebble into my pocket, left them at graves even though I am not Jewish, gloried in fossils witnesed on beaches, threw an Irish pebble  into my parents’ Pennylvania grave. But wherever I go I play with stone. I found a sort of stone quern overlooking Merlin’s Cave at Tintagel. Someone had placed a shard of slate in it. I built a wee prayer cairn.

Hold the space
Travel breaks all habits. Home is the ritual space. Which includes getting back into writing routine, attending to the work diary, household chores. One can love one’s life. Being away and returning is a bit like falling in love all over again with everything that is beloved.


Hold the Space

On the page

In the room

With the body

Wholly present

Hold out your hands

Feel the atoms on your palms

Like dust motes

Dancing

What is their rhythm?

Slow your heart

To beat

With them

In time

In that space

Hearts

Beating in sync

The moment is the magic

Hold it, then

Release that fledgling

Into the wild

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith