In the Round

If Turning was last week’s post then Round and Round seemed logical for the title of this Sunday’s Weekly. Actually, the poem for this week is a rondeau, so you have been warned.

The earth energies – the weather that is not externally climactic, but inwardly true – have been stressful this week. The elderly dog, who has made guest appearances in past poems in this blog over the years, is declining. A new problem appeared this week. While she does not seem to be suffering she needs to be seen by the vet this week. In these days of Covid-19, the waiting time to be seen at the vets is much longer than usual. Normally, we might be seen in two days when ringing for an appointment. We had previously made a check-up appointment that involved a nine day wait. The sweet receptionist did some diary contortions to move Ellie’s appointment up from Friday to Tuesday. There is no avoiding the fact that she is a biggish medium-sized dog and she is past her 17th birthday.

If that wasn’t enough to surge the adrenaline in one week, I launched the Zoom workshops this week. Just to spite me, the cyber demons locked me out of my tablet two days before launch day. Thanks to our local Computer Guy – shout out to Charlie Connor of We Fix Computers in Belcoo – I had an unlocked tablet by 3pm Thursday. The laptop where I do my writing is ancient. I suspect computers age in dog years. This one – whom I love and treasure – is still Windows 7, but is over nearly eight years old, and well past menopause. The backup was a mini-Ipad. But I didn’t fancy having to host a group peering at a seven inch screen. It is difficult enough with an 11 inch tablet! The audio and video on the old laptop was poor and Zoom felt counterintuitive. Two hours before launch time, a friend was helping me do a dummy run to make sure everything was going to work. Shout out to Siobhán for being the friend in deed!

I disapprove of drama on the home front. Specifically, I disapprove of electronic devices throwing hissy fits in time sensitive situations.

But I have just named four instances of people being kind to me this week. And that does not even include those who belatedly delivered my husband’s 70th birthday present. Last February, I commissioned one of the lads at Loughan House to wood burn some lines from Tony’s favourite poems on signs to dot around the garden. Also, there was one adorned with a guitar and bees, saying “Tony’s Garden”, the design suggested by the Sign Maker. (I am incredibly indebted to the visual artists in my life who know what I want better than I do.) The signs were ready early, but I asked the Sign Maker to keep them until closer to Tony’s vernal equinox birthday. I wanted it to be a surprise.

Then, of course, the biggest surprise of them all – Lockdown. And even as restrictions eased the gates at the local open prison remained closed. Credit where credit is due, the Irish Prison Service has zero Covid-19 cases because of the protocols they put in place. Not all countries can claim to have cherished their incarcerated as well.

The very first day the Education Centre at Loughan re-opened the Sign Maker approached one of the teachers to help organise Tony getting his present. Later that day, five months after his birthday, one of the Education Centre teachers who lives locally delivered his present to our door.

Wasn’t that kind?

The cyber angels smiled on us Thursday night. The wifi fairies held the signals steady for both weekly sessions, barring a few moments of wobble from the eastern fringes of County Cavan Saturday. The transatlantic participant flashed a view of a Rhode Island harbour for her new mates to glimpse, much to delight all of us who are new scenery starved. The first unit of Pick n Mix is complete and we move on to Poetry in Week 2.

More reasons to be grateful.

One participant needed to drop out but didn’t want a refund. That made a scholarship place for someone who really appreciated the opportunity.

Wasn’t that kind? The scholar was incredibly thankful.

In a roundabout way this Sunday Weekly has come round to kindness and gratitude, even in a week that has been fraught. Life offers much to surprise. Much like a good poem.

With poetry next week in mind I shifted gears and decided to flex my lyrical muscles and practice a tight form this week in poetry practice. It has been a while since I concentrated on technicalities. A book opened onto a page outlining the rondeau. It has a refrain and my eye had picked up a phrase from a past notebook that was rattling around my imagination. .

A rondeau is usually thirteen lines, though the prompt I read suggested making one fifteen lines long, with each line is between eight and ten syllables. There are three stanzas: a quintet, a quatrain, and a sestet – five, four and six lines per stanza. There are only two rhymes in a rondeau. The first line becomes the final lines of the second and third stanzas. The repeated line is a well used device in the poetry tool kit.

Let Your Secrets Breathe

Let your secrets breathe. Let truth be set free.
If, as my friend says, the world is a pea
then the mote in the eye - no cause for tears.
Let no storm blight your sight or cause you fears
or leave you bereft, adrift, out at sea.

Yes. If the world is basically a pea,
tight in its pod, no thing is so weighty
an axis for shame to revolve this sphere.
Let your secrets breathe. Let truth be set free.

Though many might - and will - disagree,
preferring to keep the truth mystery.
Avoiding presence in atmospheres
gone silent. Ruminative. Insincere.
Blinded by eye mote that cannot foresee.
Let your secrets breath. Let truth set you free.

Featured image Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Turning

I am sitting tapping out this blog post wrapped in a yak wool shawl made to withstand Tibetan chill. The season has turned here. Primary school age children went back to their classrooms in Ireland this past week. My friend’s secondary age child will start this Wednesday. This also signals that those of us at the opposite end of the age spectrum need to nestle into their cocoons once again. We shall start using the Seniors’ Hours to do the weekly trip to the supermarket. And resort again to online shopping for what cannot be found close to home. We live in a very rural area, but with the exception of one seaside trip, we have stayed within twenty miles of home. We have kept to necessary journeys; the beach jaunt was necessary for my soul.

Young ones need to be able to interact with one another. But it also creates a big unknown in our Covid19 world. It is a calculated risk taken by the government. They are banking on kids only getting mildly sick and not having long-term health problems. They are banking on grandparents not interacting with grandchildren, getting infected and landing in hospital. They are banking on the public exerting a restraint unlike that displayed by certain politicians and public figures who assembled, flouting government restrictions, in what has now become known as GolfGate.

The season’s turning

Whatever eventuality, I am ready to launch my first online Creative Writing Workshop on 1st September with the introductory Pick n Mix course. I reached my maximum number and will now have participants Zooming in each week on a Thursday night and Saturday midday Irish time. They will be beaming in from the East Coast of the USA, Ottawa in Canada, Northwest England, Northern Ireland, and three different counties in the Republic. Even if the parameters of the local world may shrink, we can still meet, participate and co-create through technology. And may the Technology Angels and gods please bless all of us with a good bandwidth and steady signals!

And now to the Sunday weekly poem, in which aforementioned shawl makes a guest appearance.

Turning

The nip at light fabric
during the early morning dog walk

The brave-faced golden splash
of sunflower bloom. And tansy.

The tongue of monbretia
hissing through their tangerine lips

The berries - jewel trees -
garnet, ruby, amethyst sparkling

The red squirrels scrambling -
that feeling of being akin

The honking of wild geese -
their gathering, their leave taking

The fire in the grate
as dusk falls earlier each night

The reaching out - an in -
the yak wool shawl on shoulders

Have a good week. Get plenty of rest. Check your fury so that it does not exhaust you. Read some poetry. Fill your well. Create.

Is Memory Always Author?

When we ventured forth these past few days I saw the first rowan berries. There were leaves that had the first blush of autumn on their leaves. This week Storm Ellen blew threw and knocked out our electricity for nearly twenty-four hours. Then there was the knock-on effect to the internet server up on Arigna Mountain when their backup generator gave up. The sky has often had interesting splashes of Prussian Blue on its palette. In the meantime, in the long hours when I was conserving the juice in all my devices, I wrote pages of longhand. All of it prose. Not a jot of poetry.

Some is prep for the online creative writing workshop that will begin on 1st September. There is a single space left! So if you have been humming and hawing over it, grab it while you can. Full details here: https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/08/18/creative-writing-workshops-on-zoom/.

The hours of prose breaching the margins of my notebook is thanks to an online course I have been following, courtesy of the Cavan Arts Office. Online courses are a very good way to fill the creative well. You never know where they will take you. I have been looking at one being offered by the Cavan County Writer in Residence, Anthony J. Quinn, Wild Storytelling: Nature and Landscape.(http://www.cavanarts.ie/Default.aspx?StructureID_str=6&guid=188). In the murky light as the rain poured down and the wind raged, toppling trees and decapitating gladioli, I surprised myself with the flood of memory pouring onto A4 pages in my notebook.

Now my life is not all writing. I have spent many hours as a Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark guide, leading tourists around Cavan and Fermanagh and the Geopark’s fringes. Nature and landscape are really important to my life. But the very first exercise pulled me back to a very different geography.

My childhood was spent in Marcellus shale country, not in the border country where the two pieces of Ireland rub shoulders. Memories flooded in. What was meant as a nature and landscape piece became page after page of an inscape, a memoir of growing up in a small Pennsylvania town in the 1960s.

This came as a complete surprise to me. Quinn did lead me into the wild, into the unexpected terrain of long ago memory. The Celts reckoned that memory was the fount of all poetry. Perhaps. At the moment it is the fount of prose. I have a very messy draft. But then wildness is not known for its tidyness.

The craft of writing is about clearing up after your messy drafts. But I am still deep in the flotsam and jetsam of the memories storming across the pages. I need to allow it to blow through me onto the page and then move to the screen where it will get shuffled around, arranged and rearranged. There will be cuts. Those always hurt. But I remember what my mentor said about thinking of those edits as conjoined twins. You are not killing your baby. You take that sliver of infant writing and put it into a separate incubator. Hope that it may survive and thrive to have a life of its own in a separate piece.

Over the next few weeks the Sunday Weekly may be more about prose than poetry. We shall see. But I do have a poem for you this week. It is only at third, or possibly the sixth or seventh (whose counting?) draft stage and has been lying in its cot for a month or so. The Relic Road is the local name for a lane that used to lead to the old Protestant cemetery, which nature has obliterated. It is heavily wooded now. Every storm brings down limbs and branches that litter the narrow lane’s way.

If Marc Chagall Painted the Relic Road
 
Every fragment is sanctified,
flesh long saponified salts the earth,
skin slipped off like a gown. 
 
Souls of the departed sail, swooping
in the singing trees - their echoes hoop
where no one lives but the Pleiades.
 
The ground is grit of knuckle bone.
Also luminous as winter’s bright aconite.  
The shivering trees are acolytes looking on
 
at tombstones long past subsided, 
swallowed by earth, erased by wind, the wind,
season upon season. No names remain.
 
No descendants survive to look on and remember.
Just the trees.  Their murmuring. The sky.
The music of ghosts flying past.
 
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Michal Ico on Unsplash

High Summer- It’s a Beach

How was your week? It may sound a bit ridiculous when I say we have simmered and sweltered in the sun; the temperature has had a high of 24C (that’s 75 degrees ‘in old money’, as they used to say in England after they changed to a decimilised currency back in the 1970s.) But it is a very humid 75 degrees. I don’t like sweating. With the windows left open at night to welcome Morpheus, the biting insects also fly in overnight. Afternoon naps have become a regular feature of most days.

And, be clear, many of us very pale persons are just not used to  hours of continuous sunshine. My husband spirited his wilting wife off to the seaside mid-week; regular readers will know the Atlantic Ocean is Bee’s Happy Place. We went early and left by lunchtime as sun broke through the cloud cover. It was low tide at Mullaghmore and I waded out to thigh high, kicked the water and anointed myself in salt water. Is there anything more delicious than licking your upper lip after washing your face in seawater?

Mullaghmore Beach
Mullaghmore Beach- It wasn’t quite this empty this week, but there was plenty of social distancing, especially if you kept dogs on extendable leads.

The other important bit of news I need to impart is that there are just a few more places left available on my Zoom Creative Writing Workshops starting on 1st September.

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You can find full details and the registration form here: Zoom with Word Alchemy in September.

As to the Sunday weekly poem, I am cutting myself some slack this week.  Suddenly, my writing practice has taken a prose turn. It has been a long time since I dipped into writing creative non-fiction and the first draft is a hot mess. But you just have to push through the the merde first draft and see what can be cleaned later. I am 4000 words deep into hot mess first draft and have barely scratched the surface.

So as I looked out my window at an eerily still landscape I decided that a haiku was appropriate.

The restless sleeper
Twists out from sweaty bedclothes
Heat haze shrouds the hills.

May you have a peaceful week. I hope you find your Happy Place, too. And if you cannot physically visit, may the memory of it be vivid and quenching to your parched soul.

Late Summer Misty Morning

It is probably hot most everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Even in Ireland it was 22C yesterday and with the general humidity of an island climate, it felt pretty steamy to the likes of me who is heat averse. I was awake at dawn, unusually for me now that I no longer write a poem a day. It was a pleasant reunion with the amrit vela, the darkness before first light. I watched the sun rise over the wind turbines on Arigna and then a mist roll down until it stopped right at our property line. The willow trees that soak up the sogginess and bogginess of our acre were completely gilded with dawn light. The global axis turns down into autumn; it is, to me at least, the most breathtaking time of year anywhere in the world here in Ireland.

The Sunday Weekly will be brief this week. There is garden produce to process. There is a funeral in the neighbourhood and we are negotiating the new rituals of Covid19 that have altered centuries old mourning traditions. Masked, I handed a cake into my neighbour’s home yesterday for their visitors. The door stood open since it was a fine day. One person stood across the length of the small sitting room, while the other sat masked by the door. It is a tight fit for social distancing in these old cottages and houses. I asked the local funeral director what the drill is to be: 50 in the church, the rest out in the car park for both the removal and funeral. Masks mandatory from Monday and Monday is the funeral. Hand gel is at the church door – the new holy water, I guess.

But I return to nature and the seasons, the immutably mutable of life. I turned my hand to a tanka for this week’s poem.

Mist's incoming tide
Dawn's sun gilds the blackbird's beak
Crowns his willow home
Heat haze recedes -the tide's out
Leaves just bathed in topaz light

Have a good week. Get yourself some time out to bathe in nature. I have produce to process and put in the freezer. I fancy some peach cobbler for supper. The warm weather is set for this week, which may mean more opportunities for me to meet the amrit vela of the day and watch the light pad across our acre from the east.

The featured image is a Photo by Helena Gunnare on Unsplash

Hat Trick Eclipse

The Sunday Weekly poetry post coincides with the third eclipse in thirty days. We had a full moon lunar eclipse on 5th June. Then came the solar eclipse that coincided with Summer Solstice. Then the very rare third eclipse within thirty days. Eclipses generally only come in pairs. We will have to wait another eight years before we see the triple eclipse in a month phenonmena.

I am still doing practice runs on Zoom, figuring out how I want to format creative writing Zoom worshops online with my band of volunteers. Yesterday’s exercise involved some rapid associations with the word eclipse. Other than the astronomical and ornithological definitions, it is also used in comparisons to say X has surpassed Y somehow. Also, “to obscure the light.” I asked the usual six questions of what, where, who, when, why and how light is or can be obscured. Then…go!

My own in class cogitations resulted in this word doodle that concentrated on the Lilith – Adam- Eve triangle. I always characterise lunar eclipses as being Lilith kinds of events. Because she was said to like to be on top, which led to a very stormy marital bed with Adam.

Eclipsed

The sun and moon collide.

The full moon rides the sun
like a witch astride her besom.
Lilith left Adam in the shade.

Eve found the desire to know
had a bewitching, heady perfume.
Eve stayed with Adam in shadow. 

Paradise - delayed.

This stormy morning that alternates between heavy rain showers and brief bursts of sunshine, I had another stab at the theme.  Wallace Steven’s sublime 13 Ways to Look at a Blackbird always feels like a suitable poem to read on the Sabbath.  That is a masterful poem, but also a useful reminder to look at a subject from as many angles as possible. This morning I managed eight.


Eight Ways to Watch An Eclipse

1.
Two lovers
astride, ride out the night,
extinguishing each other's light.
Sun. Moon. Wonder.

2.
The blinds drawn
to shut out the cold night.
Also, the heat, the glare
of too harsh daylight.

3.
The closed door
at the end of the dark corridor.
The muffled shouts.
The shove. The fall. The doubts.

4.
A small girl
struck dumb, undone,
the less favoured one
sucking her thumb.

5.
The costume -
a mask, a cloak worn
with dagger drawn beneath its folds.
All is shadow.

6.
Silhouette -
the inch of light seeping
from under the door ahead.
What can we expect?

7.
The pitch spread
repairing the holes in the road.
Look how green shoots so soon
poke through, embed.

8.
Let it fall!
All his beautiful plumage show,
the feathers on the floor before
a new world, in embryo, can grow.


Copyright ©Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

 

NB: Never look directly at a solar eclipse. It can cause severe visual impairment or blindness.

Featured image is a Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Who Was That Masked Man?

Another week and this Sunday’s post marks the end of the deepest cocooning of Ireland. From tomorrow we can travel whereever we wish in the Republic and we can get a haircut! We are going to have to wear masks on public transport and are being strongly encouraged to do so in supermarkets. As an enthusiastic masker from the beginning, and usually the only one in my village doing so, I really hope it is embraced. But I am aware that people balk at it on a really visceral level. And in Ireland there is none of that politicisation nonsense happening. So why do some people have such a problem with masks?

These past couple of weeks I have been pilotting a small creative writing class on Zoom with past students with the patience to hold my hand as I fumble through the new technology. While many are plotting their way back outside again, I am plotting a way to get some income through the winter months when weather can cancel classes. Also, I am creating a safe burrow because I do not think Covid19 will magically disappear in winter when Irish hospitals routinely deal with the winter vomitting bug and various strains of flu. I love people, but my more introverted nature is hard-wired for happiness holed up in winter. Fortunately, my husband is similarly hard-wired and we are content with each other’s company though we pretty much tinker away at our own projects all day. We like the quiet life.

So keep tabs on this space when I announce 30 day modules of creative writing Zoom classes this autumn and winter. The dark months in the Northern Hemisphere are perfect for incubating lots of creative projects.

I asked my class to mind map around the subject of masks and then to write a short piece, either flash fiction or a poem. I also sent them a video of Maya Angelou reciting her poem “We Who Wear Masks” before the session as an inspiration. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HLol9InMlc

You might want to try that exercise to find all the various associations you have with masks. See where your wild mind will take you.

My own mind map was all over the place with lots of arrows and squiggly lines that sort of connected disparate elements. For instance, if you excavate the genesis of Halloween costumes and masking children you go back to the folk belief that the veil between our world and the ‘the other world’ or parallel universe was tissue thin. They wanted to fool whatever malignant spirits might want to whisk away their beautiful child to the other realm. So they dressed up children in ghoulish garb to make them unappealing to travelling spirits. Halloween dress up was all about protection.

While protection and survival was one strand on my map, there was the trickier element of the Lord of Misrule, those Masked Balls so beloved by licentious Regency aristocrats and lusty carnival goers in Venice. There was the secret self that is given license to throw off inhibitions or social conventions for a spell. Then there were the superheros and justice warriors like Batman. Many of those Marvel characters mask the upper face rather than the lower part of the face.

Immigrant Muslim women who choose to veil the lower part of their face have received wide disapprobation in the West. Is there something in our Western culture’s collective psyche that is freaked out by not seeing a person’s mouth? We don’t all have to lip read after all! If we consider eyes as the mirror of the soul and you can see a person’s eyes with an upper mask, what social cues are we missing when a person masks the lower face?

Some human beings are gifted at dissembling, for projecting a ‘false face’ even when not wearing a physical mask. So why so much resistance, when wearing a mask can be a matter of life or death for some individuals?

I will let you walk around your own mental labyrinth on the subject. My students came up with very individual ways of entering into that maze. See where it takes you and what revelations await you.

In the meantime, the weekly poem…

 
“Who Was That Masked Man?”
 
Halloween tricksters about!
Hide your beautiful children!
Let them remain unseen
in costumes of Skeletor or Spiderman.
 
Here promenades the Plague Doctor
in our own version of divine commedia dell’arte,
nose full of bitter herbs
masking the stench of destruction.
 
We laugh. We drink.
We dance at the Masked Ball.
At midnight, we unmask our fear of desolation,
left standing, holding our secret selves.
 
We wait for the Lone Ranger and Tonto
to Heighho, Silver! Away!
They ride off to happy end another week’s
episode of injustice.
 
Take up your facial shield and buckler.
If you can see the smile
in the whites of their eyes,
you are standing too close.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.
Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as the Lone Ranger and Tonto in the TV series that ran from 1949-1957 on US television

I will leave you with my own pandemic face mask anecdote. We needed to get some items from the town 20km over. As we were there already, we picked up some items from the supermarket and used the post office that shares houseroom with the market. I know the postmaster by name and greeted him. When he saw me wearing the mask he queried, “Customer of Bandit?”

We had a companiable laugh.

What Everyone Knows Matters

I was scratching around for a jump start for the Sunday Weekly poem this morning. Having had a good week of manuscript re-writes it just felt like the gears were grinding to get back to writing the first drafts that get published here. It has been an unsettling week out in the world beyond my townland. Bucolic does not mean completely disconnected or uncaring. In the end, I pulled the poetry anthology Tell Me the Truth About Life off the bookshelf. The page fell open to W. B. Yeat’s poem The Second Coming, very apt since yesterday was auld Will’s birthday. It is also a poem that speaks to the condition of our times. “The centre cannot hold…” What is truer of our polarised world?

Then I read the lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s poem “Everybody Knows”. Here are some lines from the first verse.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

…..

Everybody knows the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

June 19th will mark the 103rd birthday of my mother. June 19th is also known as Juneteenth, the celebration by many African Americans of the emancipation from slavery. The tradition began in Texas where, on June 19th 1865, a Union officer read the declaration to Texans that slaves were freed. The Confederacy had lost the civil war, but the struggle for full civil rights had only just begun. We know that the granting of full civil rights to African Americans has been an uphill struggle ever since then. I grew up as bit by bit schools were desegregated. When I arrived in Washington, DC in 1974 you could still see block upon devastated block of ‘riot corridor’ in the aftermath of so many civil rights set backs and Dr. Martin Luther King’s assasination. Equality for all has been a very long work in progress.

My mother taught me that discrimination matters, that it is unfair and it was wrong to harm in word or deed anyone who was not the same religion, social class, or race as us. She was particularly clear that racism is wrong. Now this might seem a bit unlikely for a woman who spent her childhood years in Jim Crow North Carolina. (Jim Crow was the codified segregation and oppression of African Americans post- Emancipation Proclamation.) In part, an unlikely alliance and friendship that bloomed in a school library between 1929 and 1932 may have been responsible for her stance.

My mother was a shy woman. In 1929 she and her sisters were living in New Jersey. Their parents had separated. Academically gifted, my mother had skipped two grades and was was placed in high school along with both her elder sisters where she graduated aged 15. Sparing the full details, let us just say that, for my mother, the years between 1929 and 1932 were fit for a novel by Charles Dickens without any silver linings. In her High School Yearbook the year she graduated the song assigned to her was “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” It was a mean spirited, but probably fair, assessment. For barring her sisters, it probably felt that way to my mother.

My mother only ever spoke of one friend from her high school years – Nellie Gator. Nellie was the sole African American in her high school class. At a time when her world was chaotic, frightening, and insecure, that connection was important to her. Nellie must have been very kind to Mom because she seemed to have been paying it forward from that day on.

This Juneteenth my birthday present to my mother is a donation to Black Lives Matter. Because they do. Nellie Gator mattered a great deal to my mother.

What our mothers teach us matters. We need to be more like Nellie and Elma.

What Everyone Knows

We like to say to ourselves that
all lives matter, but
everyone knows that some 
are worth more than those
who rattle loose change in their pockets
and others who are down to their last dime.
We look down our noses
if you aren't somehow known,
haven't got the bluest eyes
or are someone else's fair-haired fellow.

What everyone knows is plain to see.
It's in our turns of speech, but mostly
we are too yellow to face up to facts
(the kind that must have plagued old Job)
that most everyone knows
we don't treat equally our kind,
that everything has fallen apart,
we've lost our minds, mislaid our hearts.

What everyone knows when lying awake
in the dark at 4am, is that it is time
to matter, one by one by one.
The alarm has rung. Ask anyone
what everyone knows. 

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Elma Russell Smith 1917-2011

Plant a Tree and Reforest the Earth

We are living in a season of grief. We are living in a season of mass bereavements – from Covid19 or other causes – where we are limited in our expressions of mourning. We are also facing grief for injustices done. Sadness is an appropriate response. Anger is an understandable response. In my own sorrow I turned to poetry. This is the book I plucked from the shelf.

Alice Walker brought out this complete collection by The Women’s Press in 1991.

Before I tell you about the poem that I turned to, I want to speak as some one who grew up as a white person in a small town that had one black family and two mixed race families. In 1968 I was eleven and the land of my birth was being shriven with unrest caused by civil rights withheld and a foreign conflict that many did not sanction. Protests that turned ugly were on the 6:30 news most summer evenings. (We religiously watched NBC’s The Huntley Brinkley Report in our household.) That raised my consciousness, as well as the assasinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. What I had to help educate myself and build empathy was good reading matter.

My elementary school publicised a subscription book club where you could buy cheap paperbacks every month. I spent a lot of my weekly allowance with that Book Club. As a book worm tween I was able to buy and read books like Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and a biography of Mary MacLeod Bethune. Because I was also hungry for biographies of women (which were thin on the ground in the 1960s), I understood on some unconscious level the desire of having someone who looks like you reflected in the world. In those days we had a new phrase “role models.” I might not have had the same skin colour as Bethune, but golly she was a Mighty Woman! What reading did for me was educate me about lives that were different from mine, but were interesting and powerfully inspiring. It also gave me context for what was happening contemporaneously. Reading forged a connection that transcended social, racial, religious, and gender differences. It also exercised my empathy muscle and prepared me for reading The Diary of Anne Frank. By puberty I was well informed at just how low humans could go in terms of harming fellow human beings.

So, readers, please give your children books that will give them context to help them understand the why of what it happening at this moment. It will help them in so many ways.

Now, to the poem that helped me write the Sunday Weekly poem and also to navigate my sadness with this moment in our history. The poem is Alice Walker’s “Torture” that runs through a litany of “when they torture your…” loved ones with the response “Plant a Tree.” The final verse runs thus:

When they begin to torture

the trees

and cut down the forest

they have made

start another.

Alice Walker “Torture” from Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful
Let Us Breathe

All the millions cut down
robbing the biozone of CO2...
All the millions burned
in a Holocaust where we learned
nothing.
                  Enough is enough.

Plant a tree for George Floyd.
Then plant another and another.
Plant a tree for the strange fruit
hanging for 400 years
from innocent trees. 
Plant a tree in memory. We too soon 
forget.
                  But, enough is enough.

Plant a tree for the named and the nameless.
Plant a tree for all those who could not breathe.
Plant a tree of all of us who still cannot breathe.
Plant a green lung to ventilate the planet.
Let us breathe.
Let us breathe. 
Plant a tree.


Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
Tree on Yeats Lake Isle of Innisfree
Tree on Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree in Lough Gill, Co. Sligo, Ireland

Featured image is a Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

Fledglings

We are all fledglings these days. We can learn a great deal from nature. Certainly with cocooning we have more time now to carefully observe nature in our New Normal.

Just eleven days ago, as Ireland began Phase 1 of our Roadmap to Returning, my husband discovered a nest of baby blue tits in the cavity of some concrete blocks that had lain fallow during lockdown when some hard landscaping work had ceased. Tony, being a Franciscan at heart, immediately began to create a fortress to make sure Mama Bird could get in and out while our cats were not going to be allowed to indulge in any serial killer instincts. This Sunday, we can announce that they have flown the nest. Also, there is only one starling that is still rooming in the eaves over my writing space. The fledglings have begun to go out in the world, though Tony reports that one of the baby birds has been visiting him and watches him while he works in the garden. Perhaps the bird feels comforted by Tony’s protective presence.

We are all fledglings now. Cautiously, for essential tasks, we admit strangers to our homes. And then, if you are me, you spray every surface they could potentially have touched in the process of putting in copper gas pipes so I could make dinners. All delivery people and installers are masked, but it can be hard to stay with them in a heat wave. Well, for us, anything over 21C (70F) is a heatwave. We are languishing in afternoon temperatures rising to 24C this weekend.

Which is why I am posting the Sunday Weekly poem a bit later than usual. I am a shade plant. Though I am not really a morning lark by nature, in hot weather if I am going to be anything other than a slug, I have to perform essential tasks like the long(ish) dog walk, as well as some housework and garden weeding and watering before I reach melting point at 11am. We have a breeze today, so I made it to 11:30.

Ireland tends to feel shorted on summertime, but this year of lockdown has seen long, long periods without rain, lots of sunshine and now, temperatures that are warmer than we are used to experience at this time of year. The hawthorn blossom is spent and the elder is flowering early. A friend also noticed that the orchids we have around here seem to be out earlier, too. The springtime palette of purples and yellows is now yielding to the pinks of celine, lupin, foxglove and snapdragon. The rose Galway Bay has bloomed. The mallow, which had self-seeded all over the place in the poorest of conditions, is flowering early, too. Summer is looking very magenta pink this year!

Because it has been a busy week, with bursts of social interation with trades people, as well as unaccustomed heat, I have cut myself some slack on the Sunday Weekly Poem front. I have written a tanka again this week. Summer has come in. We have lots of work to do and have to pace ourselves through it.

Smell the roses if you can while you still can…

Rose Galway Bay