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

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