Weekly Poem and a Change of Scenery

I am treating this as an exercise separate to NaPoWriMo this year since I am juggling writing projects and teaching. For instance, today I completed the first draft of a poem for a friend’s birthday. Under Lockdown, it can be hard to source birthday presents. I asked her if she would like an audiobook. She went away to think about it and came back with the request for a poem just for her. Her wish is my command!

Likewise, on the teaching front we have been deep diving into form since March. The NaPoWriMo Day 3 prompt introduced the concept of the Personal Universal Deck, which is a really handy tool to get your poetry going. But it takes a long time, especially under Covid timelines. (Well, doesn’t everything take longer?!) We used some session time to work on it as all of us are juggling projects, jobs, and in some cases home schooling kids. Though we seemingly have all the time in the world under Lockdown, time still seems to be in short supply. I drive my husband mad with what he calls my ‘infinite to do list’ that is running through my mind. However, he benefits from that organizational mental gymnastics!

And yet, as of yesterday, our restrictions have loosened somewhat. We can move around our county and the kids are all back doing in-person schooling. My husband will get his first Covid-19 vaccination this Friday. We celebrated these milestones by going for a woodland walk about 8 miles from home. Glenfarne Demesne was carpeted with wood anemones. We stopped to pat the pillows of sphagnum moss on the rocks. The greenery in the woodland was positively psychedelic. A little shower did not deter us from wandering along a 2 kilometre trail and stopping to stare at Lough MacNean. We filled our hungry eyes with a change of scenery.

But to the weekly poem. As opposed to an occasional NaPoWriMo daily offering that I am tossing at the blog as time allows. After playing with our Universal Personal decks in Zoom class last Saturday we took a quotation from a Tom Paulin poem as a jumping off point.

In the meadows of the spirit

I kiss the word

Tom Paulin, The Other Voice
Kiss Each Word

I kiss each word that spells out
the magic in imagination.
I shut my eyes and I am there
in the meadow beside the Shannon Pot,
full of  as yet uncut cowslips,
pyramidal orchids, buttercups.
I am the child running waist deep
in grass and reeds
her yellow hair swishing left and right
in the late afternoon summer sunlight.
ViviLnk

Mothering Sunday

While in North America this Sunday is the day when the clocks ‘spring forward’, in Ireland and the UK it is Mother’s Day, also called Mothering Sunday. The latter name came from the era of armies of domestic servants who were allowed home, brandishing Simnel cake, on that Sunday in March, often close to Lady Day. For many in domestic service this was the only day off a year. (Simnel cake is also a British Easter cake and is topped by little marzipan balls, which might also double as eggs.) Lady Day falls on March 25th, the old Gregorian calendar New Year’s Day. Coincidentally, it was also the date when tenant farmers needed to pay their landlords the annual rent.

I missed out last Sunday to mark International Women’s Day with a poem since I was busy with a Zoom workshop. So I decided to write a bonus poem this week.

Mothering Sunday

It is pouring outside.
Like that milk that pours
from that bottomless urn in the night sky.
We are millenia
and thousands of miles away
from Hathor pouring from her night sky jug.
She is up there, invisible
this rainy Mothering Sunday in Ireland.

We complain of the rain,
but never the constant flowing milk of mother love,
that distinctive kindness continually raining down-
meal after meal,
the relentless tide of washing,
the wiped snot, the iodined hurts,
the tears wiped,
the home work, hand-made and patch-worked,
the loneliness

that is only told to the Milky Way
some nights reserved just for mothers
when Hathor rains down from her realm
that mother love
for the tired, tried, and tested
mothers' whose udders ache
from their continurally lactating love,
milking the final drop left
on this parched planet
as they ceaselessly hold up the sky.

Copyright Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.
 

Featured image Photo by Christopher Martyn on Unsplash

Dragon, Damsel, Dance and Fly!

I love how synchronicities work. This week’s poem began as a creative writing warm up exercise with my fellow Word Alchemists last Saturday. In an exercise called “Word Salad” I haul out my mammoth Oxford English Dictionary and randomly pick six words I literarily close my eyes, open a page, twirl my finger in the air and then light down onto the page. Once we have six words, I challenge us to use all of them in a quick piece of timed writing. It is fun. It can be ridiculous. It can also be quite illuminating as you make formerly unseen connections.

One of those random words was Odonata, which refers to that order of flying insect life that includes the example of dragon and damsel flies. I am very fond of both who zip in and out of our lives. One dragonfly once buzz bombed me down our lane while walking the dogs. Another hummed around the polyutunnel one day as I was tending the tomato plants. In my more fey moments I think of them as the way fairies morph for transport in a way that won’t startle the humans, kind of like a Fairy Aeroflot.

So I had reworked the Saturday effort for this week’s poem when in walks my husband to present me with an aromatherapy necklace with a dragonfly on it!

Dragonfly Aromatherapy Necklace

Tony was completely unaware of what was emerging from my notebook’s scribblings and crossings out. He chose it principally because I like purple and it amuses him to think he is living with a dangerous (b)older woman who wears a lot of purple. Please do check out the Jenny Joseph poem that he is alluding to….https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/warning/

BTW, I also like its complimentary colour of yellow and have added a rather fetching mustard boyfriend cardigan to my 2021 wardrobe. Sometimes you just to have to stop living and go online shopping instead, to paraphrase the BB King song.

In any context, I always feel that dragonflies and damselflies bring some magic into life. What one of us could not do with a sprinkling of magic into our days these days? For (b)older people like myself who will have to wait a while for our Covid vaccination, we have a fairly long stretch in Lockdown Land for the foreseeable future.

The Dragons and Damsels Dance and Fly

The cranes are dancing in Japan...

Where would they deign to create a folkdance
to celebrate the order Odonata?
Where would we see them zip and pond dip
in costumes of emerald and peacock blue?
See the damsels curtsey to brother dragon.
They do not jeté or  or swank about 
in Swan Lake chorus line. They still  dance and fly.

When summer feels a one ten thousandths
polar distance away...
Oh, when will we meet again at crossroads
to sing and dance on St. John's Eve?
When shall we see familiar faces flickering
on  that midsummer Bonfire Night?
For now, we remain horror-struck
in a wind chill factor wintertime.

The cranes are dancing in Japan
in the snow, where they bow and bow
their necks, issuing the invite
to their fellows to do-si-do.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Erik Karits on Unsplash

March Gambols In

The energy has shifted. Apart from dwarf narcissi blooming, I have sourced and received seed potatoes delivered to my doorstep. Onion bulbs still are hard to find between Brexit and the pandemic. Peas have finally been sourced. Sometimes in the oddest places, like the petrol station in Manorhamilton! This week I sowed garlic and broad beans, which is a profound gesture of hope against potential frosts. Fortunately, they are made of fairly stern stuff and like cold conditions. March arrived sunny and warm after some early morning mist and an overnight ground frost; which may not be a good sign for the rest of the month. I will take my weather auguries with a pinch of salt. As one old neighbour, long past his passing, once said, ” A fair February crushes the rest of the year.” And as another colleague once noted, “The old signs no longer hold…” Which pretty much sums up climate change. Nothing is normal these days, so we may as well take each day at a time as it comes and deal with it accordingly.

I am treating my body like the temple I never before worshipped at these days. Full disclosure: I am from the most unathletic family. The rules of ball games confuse me into brain freeze. As a teenager I fretted that my gym grades would pull my grade point average down to a point that I would not get the scholarships I desperately needed to get me to a college out of state. As the youngest of four whose mother had already been a widow for thirteen years by the time I was due to enter college, it was imperative that I get that financial aid. I was never built to be a jock and I was enough of an in intellectual snob to eschew all things athletic.

Yet, here I am approaching sixty-five taking my first fitness class ever by Zoom. And, truthfully, the only reason I am there is because we can turn off the video. There are no judging eyes there to body shame me. Because my weight has always been a bone of contention and smoking is really not a healthy way of weight control. (Tried that. Loved it. Gave it up after ten years.) But now that I am needing to mind my blood sugar levels (my sister is a a Type 1 diabetic) and my BMI is out of control, I am finally stepping up and putting on a pedometer every day. I loved baking too much in Lockdown 1 and I loved eating the cookies I baked even more. Being both a greedy eater and a good cook is not a helpful combination.

(As a digression intrepid readers… I speak to my bestie in England each evening and we often talk recipes and culinary methodology. Well, I am only going to food shops for the past year after all! And the pandemic has meant a certain inventiveness is required to avoid too much menu repetition. I was complaining about how Yotam Ottolenghi is always lacing his recipes with sumac and what the heck was that anyway?! And where on earth would I find it in rural Ireland? Pen sent some as Christmas present because you can get it in the shop attached to her local post office in England. And…yes it is a useful addition to flavouring soups and stews.)

However…that kind of radical self-care takes a lot of energy when you are unfit and over sixty. But I am gradually creating a new life balance. I am teaching poetry to a small group, which fits perfectly in terms of creating conditions of creative colleaguality. I am also facilitating a short class in spiritual autobiography, again to a small group. I have shifted the time to suit me and my energy levels rather than consider participants’ needs over mine. So, no weekday evening class this season, while I build myself up after the New Year injury.

Putting my own needs first was a huge challenge. Probably because women of my generation were conditioned to think that is selfish. Even those identifying as feminist are not immune to those subtle socially pervasive messages.

And so to the weekly poem, which has emerged out from under the gardening, the household maintenance, the supply chain fulfillment, and exercise regimes. It was a comfort to read in the Guardian Review the weekend before last that many writers have experienced writer’s block during this pandemic. All this time and yet so little output!

Look Up!

Look up! A cloudless blue sky bright
as the Crayola ™ Crayon of that name.
For months I've had the ground in sight,
the endless go round of the same old same.
I measured our days making meals,
planning menus, the thirty minute slot
for exercise. Evening's newsreels
unspool while stirring tomorrow's soup pot.
Will the weather forecast ever
cut us a break from dark, overcast days?

March arrives lamblike, outward favour.
Some daffodils are out, small bouquets.
I sowed some seeds out yesterday.
Look up! Hope and pray for fairer weather.
Grow broad beans and garlic, stout and pungent.
This year, bring us savour and abundance!

 
 Copyright  © Bee Smith 2021. All rights reserved 

Featured image Photo by Andréas BRUN on Unsplash

Close the Door, Open the Window

The theme of doorways has been much in my mind these past weeks. Partly, this is because of the lunar eclipse on 30th November and yesterday’s solar eclipse. Astrologers view them as liminal events. When an eclipse encounters points on an individual’s birthchart they signal endings and beginnings. Or, as some might put it -a door closes, but a window opens.

My brother-in-law, Ford Rogers, is an artist. Each year he creates a calendar for family and friends based on his drawings. Last year’s was of the sun. A little bit spooky, given how the virus is depicted and the ‘corona’ element they share. 2021’s theme is doorways. Which also feels prescient to me given the eclipses and the Grand Conjunction of Saturn and Pluto on 21st December. The latter is considered an augury of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Then a student mentioned that doors were a recurring dream motif.

When things come in threes, like the proverbial, longed for No. 56 bus, then I pay attention. So doors had to feature in the weekly poem.

When it came to poetry practice today I have struck onto an unconventional rhyme scheme for a sonnet. You may see me wrestling with this poetry form a lot in the coming weeks.

Solar Eclipse

In the dark, not knowing, you inch towards
the door at the end of the unlit hall.
The door is closed. But a fall of light seeps
from underneath the crack. Wait. Creep closer.
Press your ear to it. Can you hear the voices?
Muffled. A muttering. No distinct words
can be heard. Slowly, test the door's handle.
Is the door locked? Have you the heart to knock?

A door closed always is waiting to be opened -
onto a room, a passage, a pasture,
the midnight sky full of stars and the moon,
shy with its light, eclipsed. Its hinges groan.
The door swings open. There is still shadow.
Wait. 
          Then all is revealed under the sun.

 
 Copyright  ©Bee Smith, 2020. 

Featured image Photo by Philip Wahl on Unsplash

Enter Winter

It has been a week where rain has been turning into sleet. We have had hoar frost for a couple mornings this week and a distinctly unbalmy -1C at dawn today. Which is blooming cold for Ireland! The Light in the Window: 21 Days Journey through December’s Dark Days e-course started winging into email inboxes last Tuesday. We have our first Zoom fireside chat in a couple hours.

And yet, what I want to report on is the amazing play of light and cloud at both dawn and sunset this week. Also, fog banks hovering on the horizon. As I tap out this blog outdoors is a white mist. We have an orange alert fog warning tonight. But it is also very beautiful. I am wont to say we live in Tir na nÓg, and weeks like this tend to prove my supposition.

Most days I have been running around with a camera to capture some of the gorgeousness on display. I like winter since moving to Ireland. Or maybe it comes from living out in the country. Either way I have been seriously excited about it many days this week.

At dawn I was looking out at the frost and fog and felt some tanka coming on. So you get a bonus weekly poem.

8:30 AM, St. Nicholas Day, -1C

Each twig is outlined
Trace tree's bare bones with the frost
Backlit by pale sun
Fog freezeframes this whitened world
The blackbird looks in at me.
10AM, St. Nicholas Day, -1C

Gold light glimmering
Frost crystals shiver teardrops
Eyewatering cold
A good day to be alive
If you have a place inside

Which leads into a segue regarding this Christmas. Spare some cash for whatever local charities who are supporting the homeless. This is what one organisation is doing to provide support with Virtual Santa Boxes during this time of Covid19. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2770392549878979. The pandemic has done one good thing. It has really made people think creatively and laterally to achieve what is needed. I hope we keep it up once the virus is under control by spring.

Workshop’s Weekly Poems

Zoom

The weekly poem is back on Sunday this week. Tuesday is looking a bit too busy for long contemplation and poetry composition. Preparation for the e-course A Light in the Window: A 21 Day Journey Together Through December’s Dark Days, is going apace. I am also teaching two Zoom creative writing groups each week. In November we have been working on poetry.

And so, I will share with you some of the in session poems written this week. Given the two hour time limit I tend to concentrate on short poetry forms. We have been working with a number of syllabic forms; one introduced to me in a workshop by Angie Peita in June 2019, the shadorma, and the seguidilla. That made a lovely five, six, seven line progression.

The first form is a quote, something from the past, an action, the theme, and then the future. I drew some quotes from the Emily Dickinson Divination cards to give us a head start. These are the ones I wrote in the two hour session.

No lid has memory - 
yesterday, a month, a year ago 
is all in the clay pot - smashed.  
Last week is in shards and dust,
pieces picked up for tomorrow. 

The shadorma is a six line form that goes 3,5,3,3,7,5 syllables.

Lockdown Shadorma

How are you?
Are you shut in too?
All of us
goldfish swimming round our bowls
looking out from in.

The final poetry form is, like the shadorma, Spanish in origin. It was originally from a dance song tradition. It is also syllabic form, the lines running, 7,5,7,5,5,7,5. There is assonance rhyme in lines two and four. Also, like in some Spanish dances, there is a pause, in the dance for an instrumental interval. So there is usually a full stop at the end of line four. In my seguidilla, I ranged back to the Emily Dickinson quotation.

The lid on Memory's off
and the clay pot smashed
to Smithereens on the floor,
past lost, time forgot.
What pieces picked up
by the dustbroom and shovel
make up tomorrow.

I hope you are doing okay in whatever Lockdown you are experiencing. Stay well.

How Could They?

I have lived nearly forty years away from the motherland, but apparently the heartstrings go deep. They have never plucked more strained, anxious and frayed as these past four years. While we had a brief rejoicing over the Biden/Harris electoral victory and the bells of churches around Europe chimed for democracy saved, we see an attempt to put one over the electorate, calling everything a cheat.

I really hope that does not happen, because it would mean that the oldest democracy in the world is gone. And that is dangerous for all of us no matter where we live.

As an American abroad I have fielded questions these past few days about how could those 70 million people have voted for Trump. In our media here it is clear he is dangerous and probably clinically mentally ill. We know about the kids in cages, which alienated all who have a fully operational moral compass. Less well known is the post office interference in this election. My ballot was issued from Washington, D. C. on 19th September. It still has not arrived, though they correctly addressed it. (I rang the Board of Elections and checked.) It takes seven days for post to cross the Atlantic. I downloaded, printed out and posted a Federal Backup Ballot, which is available to voters abroad. I can see from my registered post tracker that it was ‘delivered to Agent’ by the US Postal Service on 21st October. Yet it is still not on the system as ‘received/counted.’ How many others has this happened to?

But thinking more deeply, I think that what the 70 million vote reflects is a referendum on white fragility. (The economy isn’t doing THAT well to have swayed so many.) Too many people think they are not rascist, but what is clear is that there has been a concerted and vocal heightening of anti-semitism and rascism against people of colour over the last four years. Wanting to hang on to your privilage is, actually, rascist.

Yesterday, the Republican party launched their attack on the the 74 million American voters on the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht in 1938. They blame George Soros. Who happens to be Jewish. On Kristallnacht, Hitler’s fascist brown shirts and secret police burned books, smashed Jewish businesses, synagogues, beat, arrested and murdered Jewish people. It was the beginning of the Holocaust and millions upon millions of people – not just Jews, but Romany people, socialists, communists, gay people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Slavic people – were imprisoned, were enslaved labour, were tortured, medically experimented upon, and murdered on an industrial scale.

Ever since the Reconstruction failed after the Civil War (1861-1865), there has been a policy of denying people of colour their full rights. Ex-slaves registered to vote post Emancipation Proclomation, but terrorism by white supremecist groups like the Ku Klux Klan stole that vote. Everytime there is legislation to redress that wrong, someone comes up with another cheat and strategy to keep their white privilage. Which is the same as white power over people of colour, a demographic that is rapidly becoming the US majority.

Fear and fragility in the face of the perception of losing face probably lay at the deep subconscious of the 70 million voters for Trump. They will deny it until they are red in the face, but deep down we know the guilty truth.

I can say this because I am white. I can say it from the distance of forty years of living away and seeing things from the outside with an insider’s knowledge, empowered by a really thorough 9th grade Civics teacher. I can say this because, though I criticize, I know I have a very deep affection for the motherland. I only found out how deep these past four years.

As one of my brothers said to me in a phone call this weekend, “but 74 million voted otherwise.” Probably more if there were people like me whose franchise has disappeared down some postal black hole. But as another friend said on her blog, as she paced around Gettysburg Battlefield, spotting other tourists she asked herself, “Did they vote for him? And that one?” It is not a time to feel safe and secure. And she is white. How must it feel to be a person of colour?

There is much work to be done. There are myriad investigations into corruption that are urgent. But the most urgent work is to finally reckon with the evil of slavery and how it was the foundation of the fledgling republic. We need not so much a reconstruction as a truth and reconciliation commission.

The Declaration of Independence stated that this is self-evident, that “All men are declared equal… ” (And do not forget the ladies, Abigail Adams pleaded with her husband John Quincy.) It’s still a major work in progress. We were only a few states short of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 1970s. Since then it has been erosion and backlash.

Time to get to work on that.

Fragile

What made you so weak?

You knew
what you had built was on such shaky ground.

Is this why you won't listen
while others speak?

Is this why you drank that bitter brew
and created this uncivil battleground,
made such seismic divisions?

Property and power over is what you seek.
For years and years the balance has been askew.
This was not the ideal upon which we founded
this state and its long promised vision.

It is one thing when an icon breaks,
quite another when governance is by hate.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Jenny Marvin on Unsplash

Best of Times,Worst of Times

Who, in the English speaking world, has not read Charles Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities at some point during their teens? It was a set text when I was in 10th grade in the early 1970s. But that was a world ago. Do teenagers know Sidney Carton’s heroic speech these days? At any rate, those opening sentences resonate with this year. Well, some may not be feeling it for the former, but the tale of those two cities does illustrate how that sentence can be true.

We are not quite a week into Ireland’s second lockdown, which we are told will last until 1st December. In truth, I barely registered that it was a bank holiday in the Republic yesterday and it almost escaped me that today is Tuesday. I nearly forgot that today is the day I post a weekly blog. And ideally, a new poem.

What emerged is very rough and raw. It is a monument only to my commitment to keep up the practice. It is not for want of idleness. I have a couple projects in train with only twelve days off between the end of my Zoom Short Fiction workshop in October and the Poetry one that starts the first week in November. I am currently writing a e-course provisionally titled A Light in the Window: A 21 Day Journey Through December’s Dark Days. The plan is for participants who register to get a daily reflection and journal prompt in their email inbox for twenty-one days. As a bonus, there is a Sunday Zoom ‘Virtual Fireside’ where participants can check in, share and companion one another as we journal and journey our way to winter solstice. Watch this space for full details to get released early in November.

I also have a grant proposal to write before 6th November, as well as prep for the Poetry workshops in November. So I may be living in splendid isolation, but I am far from idle. The side of my brain that engages with prose is more active at the moment. It felt like I had to wrench it bit to get it into gear for the draft of poem that follows. Or there may be two poems inside this particular draft. I have not got the bandwidth to decide today! Only some revision time will allow for me to decide. But that may not be until Yuletide!

  The Best of Times, The Worst of Times
 
 Which, in truth, tremulously hover 
 between terror and hope.
 Just this year we said goodbye
 to the Indian cheetah
 the Sumatran rhino,
 turtles, paddlefish, macaws.
  
 Perhaps we only truly feel grateful
 once we have destroyed, 
 then indulge in nostalgia. We mourn
 with crocodile tears from a croc
 with a ticking clock inside.
  
 We will only know them as figures
 in the illustrated guide to ecocide,
 or as shadows behind the rice paper
 sliding door separating us 
 from our own transmutation
  
 into hungry ghosts wandering,
 not knowing that our life – the old life-
 with its morning rites like
 tea and toast or coffee and brioche
 has gone. 
We can only watch it, 
looking from outside in
through the steamed up glass of a transport caff.
  
Once there was a child who dimpled
as it smiled for no particular reason,
flexing its thigh muscles as it got used
to the their power as they bounced 
up and down for the admiration
of a doting giant.
  
 Once that child twirled itself round and round
 before hurling itself onto the grassy ground
 to feel the pull of the world as it revolved
 on its skewed axis. And it knew happiness
 as it watched cloud and sky fly past.
  
 Perhaps it was always thus.
 That only when we sacrifice for the sake of love
 do we know the best in the worst
 and time stops
 being relevant. 
That then there is only
 
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
 And
 We miss you. 
 We miss you. 
 We miss you.
 
 Copyright ©Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved. 

Featured image Photo by Daniel Joshua on Unsplash

How Weird Is Your Normal?

Some people embraced the New Normal early on. Others railed at it. Still others pointed out that what is now normal is really weird. Which got me thinking that this may always have been so. Darwin observed that species adapt to survive. Under pressure, some humans adapt more easily than others. But was the old normal really so ‘normal?’ It may have been the routine or the convention, but viewed with de-scaled eyes was normal not a little bit weird?

I am reminded of my first visit to Belfast in December of 1980. The Hunger Strikes were happening. There were armoured military vehicles patrolling streets. An armed squaddie in full combat dress walked the shopping precinct. If you wanted to park your car in a Control Zone you needed to leave someone in it to prove that there was no bomb threat. During the Christmas sales a tightly permed elderly lady dressed in a twinset frisked me before I could enter Woolworths to buy a teapot. She ran a metal detector over my then boyfriend. The Europa hotel was behind metal hoarding, fending off the next bombing.

All of that was normal for residents of Northern Ireland during the 1980s when I vistited. But how weird does it sound to you? After thirty years of living with an eye and an ear for potential threat, how weird must it have felt to see the gradual dismantling of the military presence stand down. There goes the fortified police station in the border town. Up go a block of flats in its place. Even though that happened in 2013, nearly fifteen years after the Belfast Treaty was signed.

So, here we are in these chaotic times. Chaos is our new normal.

The world is on fire

and you are wondering what 
to cook for dinner.
But the fire is faraway,
even as the ash
drifts ever nearer, nearer.
But not close enough
to scorch or singe your lawn.
Still, you know your world
is on fire, but dinner needs
making, the children
have homework for tomorrow.
You can learn to live
with smoke, rubble and embers.
The house is okay,
though dinner's served a little
late on broken plates.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved

Featured image Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash