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


Back in the (Writing Practice) Saddle Again

The new fountain pen arrived on Saturday. A pristine notebook was beckoning. There was no excuse but for a daily writing practice to resume. On 15th September 2018 I began to post a poem each day. After three months I wondered if I could keep it up for a whole 365 days. I did it! Which is to say that the month of July was actually brutal and at times felt like forty days in a desert. So close to the end, but that last lap was really tough. I signed onto Angela T. Carr’s 30 Days of Summer poetry prompt e-course which got me through the writing dog days of August. (She is doing a similar course for Samhain this year. Check it out here: https://www.adreamingskin.com/spellbound-30-days-samhain-writing-challenge if your writing practice needs a nudge.)

I actually have been toiling for the past couple of weeks on a piece of creative non-fiction to submit for competition. Inthe early Noughties I wrote a regular column and contributed features fairly frequently to Sagewoman magazine. So I was used to churning out 2,500 words of prose on at least a quarterly basis and could knock things off in a pretty business-like manner. But I shifted more towards poetry in the past ten years and I have to say, composing what turns out to be something like 2,200 words has felt like a bloodletting.

They do say writers open a vein and bleed ink. Rather melodramatic and also a bit like P T Barnum doing your promotion. But still…writing is not easy. Trying my hand at a formal piece of creative non-fiction after such a long interval has been a real challenge. Writing can be hard work.

What writers don’t often mention is the amount of time you are thinking about the piece when you are not actually sitting in front of your laptop or doodling in your notebook. You read things…you see things… you stare out the window at the bird feeder and think idly of something, nothing, then another thing and then THE thing. And you walk the dog and think some more about THE thing and wonder to the aloud to the deaf dog if it fits into the heart of the piece. And then determine, as Maggie Hannon said to me during the poetry mentoring of 2019, if it a Siammese twin that needs surgical separation and to be put into its own cot!

I can offer some first drafts of poems from this morning’s writing practice this week.

We are the Mycelium Field

An underground life 
can be just as -
or more -
widereaching than
the width and breadth
of forest floor.

Airborne
fungi send their spores
below goes
above
and over
and down
and round again

Just watch a puff ball go
POOF!

An underground life
dreams
what we will see
not just the trees
not just the forest

Underground breeds
whole federations of trees and
above ground their leaves
rustle in the late summer afternoon breeze.

They do their alchemy
so we all can breathe

Some fungi I photographed on our Sunday walk in the woods. The air was heavily scented with ‘shroom!

The Townhall Cavan had a exhibition last month created by artist Jane McCormick divertingly called The Museum of Broken Things. Read more about it here: https://www.anglocelt.ie/2021/07/09/the-museum-of-broken-things/. I was so beguiled by the title I wrote a little fragment of a poem on objets cassé.

A Bunch of  Broken Things

The bust watch face
for which time never stopped

The chipped mug
that cuts your lip with every sip

The ragged wedding veil
that moths made into a sieve for your vows

The tarnished cigarette lighter
its flint rusted stuck

You
Me
the severed limb of a tree

Have a good week. I hope you have a creative practice each day. The world needs us to be creative. Find a sliver of each day to dedicate to your creativity. Even if it is during your lunch hour. I wrote a lot of haiku and micropoems over the years during lunch hours.

The Weekly Poem – Moving

It has been a week of shifts and movement. A friend announces the birth of her first grandchild along with the arrival of a litter of kittens. Prayers go up and come back answered. A quiet space is carved in a weekend of torrential rain where the introverts cozy up with their individual activities – crochet, writing, reading, puzzle solving – comforted by knowing their pack is quietly present in our shared cave.

Rest up, folks! It’s a bumpy month out there in the world. The news is not terribly cheerful on the climate front. A lot is happening out in the world. My personal strategy is to occupy a still space. Harvest. Make. Preserve. Pray. Breathe.

Also, clean and organise our cozy cave as I squirrel away and prepare for winter. But before I launch myself onto a cleaning jag preparatory to repainting my living room and kitchen space, here is the weekly poem.

Moving

Tongues of fire licking forest floor clean
Flood water lapping spills over sandbags
Earth surface sinking, cracking, fissuring
The wind has turn its back on itself, us

Somewhere someone is dying, as we will
too, the silky caul of birth slips its veil
off the perfect newborn,  fearless, serene
As the Buddha passing through the sabre-toothed
Jaws of the gaping Lion’s Gate					
					Present
imperfect also has perfect logic
that is its magic
			Dance with angels on
That pinhead, our needle sharp future

For now, kittens’ downy pelts snuggle up
To suckle in a huddle, mother prone
Feeding their soft perfection as paws knead
Her loosened belly in a closet where
No fires burn or floods rage
				Ill winds still
The earth is her firm and steady heartbeat

Everything moves with its own logic
That is the magic in the present
We brood love and faith and hope with our young.
Empires are lost
			Lullabies are sung on

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

Featured image is Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

Weekly Poem -In the Grip of

It is very hot for Ireland this week. Which accounts for my later posting of the weekly poem . While our temperatures are in the 25-27C range, (which sounds laughably cool to many people) with the humidity in the 80 percentile it is not comfortable for folks used to summers where a few days at 21C is a cause for rejoicing and the populus turning lobster pink as we boil in the unusually relentless sunshine.

Consequently, I am rising early and doing activities that are…well, active before noontime. Air conditioning is unheard of in Ireland except in public buildings. The supermarket was cool, but my ice cream cone (that I ate outside where I could take off my mask) was a bit melty by the time I finished it. The lane’s tarmac weeps once we go over 25C. So I am walking our little dog between 7am and 8am each morning to preserve his wee paw pads. Even by 8am the exertion makes me sweat. There is a race to water, weed and harvest in the garden before I swoon from the sun. Also, to do any cooking since putting on the oven or using the gas stove only adds to the heat. So, I only settled down (wearing my bou-bou from Mogodishu, a gift from a South African friend) to write the weekly poem well after lunchtime. It is, in part, inspired by a stray fact gleaned from the Long Read in today’s Guardian by Zarlasht Halaimzai. I commend it to you.

In the Grip of a Death Cult, we

bomb the Kabul maternity home
making it a grave for so many newborns;
exhume the septic system of Tuam’s
Mother & Baby Home. 
Count out the tiny remains-
the hundreds and hundreds not unlike
those found out the back of the Kamloops Institute 
(except they were not white)
buried toe to toe. Who knows

who actually loves children?
We would like to think the future.
Certainly not the past. Or even  the now.
We prefer to love them in utero
where so many hearts bleed over
embryonic potential, adoringly viewing
the ET finger waving home from behind
the scan’s screen. Who knows why

we treat them so differently once they
cross the line into actuality, handing them
a fate where they starve, are bombed out,
hounded, tortured, caged for the audacity
of birth that so many swear is their greater good.

Over and over we lay this Isaac on that altar 
to a god hungry for blood, 
one who does not stay Abraham’s hand. 
Nor do we question said authority
demanding that the little children shall suffer
even as we sentimentally mourn the many lost
in their potentiality. 
Even in the face of their brutal actual 
brief lives – short of breath, snuggle, succour and love.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2021. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Garidy Sanders on Unsplash

Weekly Poem – Magpie

While there was a little lull in the Geopark Poetry Map proceedings I have been catching up with some house and garden tasks put on the (very) long finger. But now I am again reading submissions, this time from the school children of Curravagh National School and Florencecourt Primary School. With both groups I had introduced the haiku on previous visits pre-Covid 19 and as a preparation lesson before my school visit. In the session I also introduced the poetry form of the cinquain. It is a five liner, but unlike a five line form like the tanka you do have license to rhyme if that is how the muse leads you. In addition, we had to talk about the geoheritage and Geopark site element that was an important component to the poems, too.

While only two children had never visited a Geopark site before, many had visited a wide range of sites across the Geopark – Castle Archdale, Ely Park Lodge, Devenish Island, White Father’s Cave, Pollnagollam Waterfall, as well as sites closer to home like Marble Arch Caves, Claddagh Glen, Shannon Pot and Cavan Burren Park.

However, I was really struck by a poem written by a child who is considered educationally ‘challenged.’ While he did not write a poem about a Geopark site, his poem about the den in his garden was a standout. It had vivid images. His simple language conveyed a contentment and feeling of security and serenity that is marked in these uncertain times. I wish I could include it, but sadly it does not fulfill the geoheritage criteria. But I made sure to write his principal to ensure that he gets some praise heaped upon his head for his very well conceived and executed poem.

It really is both a pleasure and a privilege to be reading all these submissions.

For the weekly poem this week I decided to write a cinquain, too. The five liner runs 2-4-6-8-2 syllables per line. The subject has been haunting me these past few weeks, sometimes, rather unnervingly, peering straight at me through my bedroom window in the morning. Yesterday on my dog walk up to the holy well I happened upon a found object.

Magpie

Feather
edge cobalt blue bleeds
to coal black, finally
transitioning to bottle green:
magpie


Meanwhile, it is back to the house and garden tasks. I have a half-finished bedroom that needs the final wall painted. The (fully vaccinated) niece is calling next week and wants to have a peek at all the do it yourself rehab going on. There is also a lot of bindweek and cleavers that needs to be weeded out and burned at the stake!

I hope that you are finding some summertime joy safely, in uncrowded places.

Featured image by Natasha Miller on Unsplash.

Weekly Poem- Longest Day

We have passed the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. We have had not just long days and short nights. Even the nearly full moon was blasting away at 2am when the cat that was the muse of last Tuesday’s weekly poem scratched at the window to be let indoors. I only opened one eye, but I did sense a very pink moon. I know that last full moon was technically the Blood Moon, but this upcoming Strawberry Moon was just as pink!

We are having cool temperatures and not a great deal of rain. Mercifully, as I type this we are having a good shower. Everyday brings gardening tasks of one sort or another. Always some weeding. We do not use artifical weed killer, so it is done by hand, with burning or drowning the most pernicious ones. Some are just wild plants and if they are not interfering with the vegetables then they are left in peace. Unless they are bind weed or cleavers, locally known as ‘Sticky Willy.’ weeding them is the Sisyphus task of my life, plucking and burning almost daily this month.

After a very, very cold spring and late frosts, things are beginning to green and grow. While I understand that the USA is having a plague year of cicadas, this year the midges are having a rave up in my part of West Cavan. They love me too much. When there is no breeze I am essentially under house arrest. Which brings me to the Summer Solstice on Sunday when I was forced to stay indoors to avoid being midge meal on a banquet scale. I stayed insided composing the Weekly Poem.

When you live in the country and have such an abundance of nature, it often leads to wild crafting remedies. My friend Morag plucked some bog myrtle from a nearby bog for me. Half of it is mascerating in a jar of almond oil to make midge repellant. So far, it has been the most effective prophylactic from the bites that I react to so badly. The other half is still in its bunch for me to keep beside me. I do actually see midges flying indoors – impossible to keep them out in a land that does not believe in screen windows – do a ninety degree turn around when they come close to me and I have it on me!

Of, course, now that we have had a good rain shower, the slugs will be patrolling. The vegetables most tasty them them (and us) are in raised beds with copper tape stuck on the perimeter.

There is a great satisfaction in growing some of your own food. It also cuts down on food miles and is better for the climate. It’s an activity I can see myself dedicating a great deal of energy to in the years to come. It is also an exercise in learning how to cut your losses. It humbles any notions of being in control right out of you.

Also there is still poetry… here is this week’s offering

Longest Day

A stillness where nothing stirs –
not leaf or blade of grass,
no bird song or bee hum –
agitates.

One yearns to break the stalemate
silence.
Its’ haunting absence makes me
walk round and round the rooms
picking up objects. Then putting them down
again.

Cats’ whiskers quiver so they say
with foresight, feeling
earthquake,
or the tsunami about to break making
land fall.

I feel like those cats.

Yet without their Cassandra instincts
complete.
Unlike them, I do not just make myself scarce.
Instead

I sit with this stillness where nothing stirs.
Except
every fibre in me.
I hold its eerie.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

The Weekly Poem – Birch

This post is written in haste. The poem was written in advance because today we will travel north of the border and meet much loved relatives after the long Lockdown separation. Our nephew has not been seen since Christmas 2019. Our niece did visit briefly last September, but it was a sad sojourn of making end-of-life decisions and saying goodbye to the dog of her childhood; Ellie came to live with us when her Mum was hospitalised and it became clear that the dogs should stay with us. (Ellie has been immortalised in some poems on this blog; https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/01/30/cailleach-conditions/.) So this is the prospect of a joyful reunion, released as we are from Lockdown, into a post-vaccination world of pandemic hugs. I am so over-excited I cannot say if I am beside myself or over and above myself!

So…without further ado…on to the weekly poem! Which was generated from the Personal Universal Deck that NaPoWriMo 2021 suggested on Day 3. It has actually turned out to be a very fun poetry tool. And the birch tree feels like a worthy totem for our brave, slightly tentative, pandemic new world.

Birch

Whether white, silver or gold...
I have sipped your sap,
chawed on a peeled strip of bark
that is your fat, your taste
unmistakeable, both fresh
and keen as new beginnings
that you know will somehow
turn out sweet as the hull
of the canoe transporting you
on that next adventure.   

I have seen seven birch trees
dancing in a huddle together
on a bog in Fermanagh
under their sister Pleides
that small gourd offering all
refreshment after a long, long
drought, Drink a long draught.
Stand tall once again.
Listen to the rustle of the catkins
early in the season, itching
to dance with spring's fair wind
even when it still feels cold.

Tree of second chances...
starting up and over, one that knows
joy even in the coldest, the darkest
of places on earth. It knows it is
truly a good earth for all, even
for the mistaken and the misguided,
that the lost need their chance to be found
once again, at the last, which is at
the very optimistic heart of 
this tree's very hard wood.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

The Weekly Poem – Tuning Fork

During a pandemic is is nice to have a routine engagement in the diary. If it is Tuesday, then it is time to write and post the weekly poem, even though it be a first draft. I have been working hard on the MACGeopark Poetry Map project, so it was like rediscovering play this morning when I realised I could write anything at all that I wanted. The sheet was blank. So was my mind, too!

But I took up my Personal Universal Deck, a little activity set during NaPoWriMo2021 last month, and pulled some cards to see what sparked. If you want to create your own set of poetry prompt cards I refer you to that original NaPoWriMo post on Day 3. They post a link that tells you how to make your own. ttps://paulenelson.com/workshops/personal-universe-deck/. It’s quite a long process as my students and I found out. This was the first time I actually put them through their paces.

The benefits of word play…and I stress the play element, is not to be underestimated. It has been a cold, rainy Spring here in Ireland and some outdoor projects have been put on the long finger. Temperatures have been so low at night time we have delayed planting. So play has to devolve to indoor activities a good deal of time this past month. Anyway, a bit of whimsy and word play is a bit of fun on a damp Tuesday.

Tuning Fork

Strike it on my cast iron hearth.
It trembles, quivers as it vibrates, hums
just like my husband's, quiet breath
in tune with his internal beat and flow
(a great favourite word of his).
Even as the cats' whiskers twitch, as do
the little deaf dog's ears alert,
then subside back into slumber. Whose tune?
What melody line flirts around
the kitchen and the living room? Airwaves
stroke like long fingers in concert,
musician's hands working the afternoon
Palm Court crowd supping  fancy tea,
wiping melted butter oozing off crumpets.
All in time to the sweep and sway
of stringed instuments, sometimes lulled, sometimes
breathless with tension,  suppressing
excitement, the breath shallow, chest heaving.
What key do we play in today?
Can we learn to sight read the shivering
airwaves, divine the call for right
response? Or let them dance like dust motes play,
suspended in the late afternoon light.

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.


If it is a dull day and you fancy trying your hand at writing a poem, you could do worse than peruse the poetry prompts I have been posting to inspire geoheritage poems to be submitted to our digital Geopark Poetry Map. I have been making daily posts the past ten days and will do a fortnight’s worth in all. Hope you can have some fun word play today, too. And if it is rainy this weekend you have some inspiration at hand.

Featured image Photo by Magic Bowls on Unsplash

The Weekly Poem – The Do Over

Bearing in mind that Mercury goes retrograde on May 29th, the poem for this week contemplates all the ‘re’ words. For the non-astrologically minded reader of this blog, Mercury going retrograde is associated with all kind of technological snarls, travel delays and episodes of “What on earth were you thinking?!” Some astrologers say that it can last longer than the irksome three weeks with a shadow period. In which case, the complete fiasco with my Zoom Soul Journeys and Maps group this past Sunday was right on cue. So I am backing up all my Geopark Poetry Map files for sure!

Those words beginning with the prefix re are said to be well-starred during Mercury Retrograde periods, while we are gnawing our elbows over technical snafus and equipment collapses.

Speaking of the Geopark Poetry Map project, each day this week and next I am posting a daily poetry prompt based on one of the sites featured in a marvelous document compiled by Martina O’Neill, Development Officer for Partnerships and Engagement. at Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark. So check out the blog each day if you want a bit of poetry prompting and motivation. Anyone anywhere in the world is welcome to submit a poem, though only people in Ireland can visit the sites in person . And that is only fairly recently when travel restrictions were eased.

One of the things we are doing again now is taking walks in local forest parks like Cavan Burren and Glenfarne Demesne just over the county line in Leitrim. I like my lane for walks, but a change of scenery is very welcome. Some snaps from Sunday’s walk. The internet may have let me down, but nature never fails to uplift.

The Do Over

Rewind and now resurrect.
Go back and now retrace steps.
Review all of one's options.
Reconsider a career-
perhaps as Mary Poppins.

What life could have been like
if one had only veered left...
Review every little thing,
done or left undone, incomplete -
like that long abandoned college
course credit just short of a degree.

Slip off the snakeskin of failure.
Throw away that winding sheet.
I  t is only made of paper.
Remove to Boston, fly away
to Australia if only
in your imagination.

Reconsider your options.
What is done? What is do over?

Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.

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.
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