Lockdown Fatigue

8 of swords

It’s a real thing, a recognised phenomenum. We are so over the restrictions of staying in our 5km zone and here in Ireland we are waiting, waiting and waiting for our vaccination notification. But, even those who have been vaccinated have few places to go; only essential travel – work (which has been mostly at home for a year), medical, pharmacy and grocery. That’s it! I live in a very beautiful place and have a garden. I feel a bit ashamed to make this admission given that I am privileged to have pretty fine technology -phone, internet, devices – and natural beauty. But we want to reach out and actually touch the far flung loved ones. We keep hoping to see one another and the dates recede and recede. Maybe summer. Maybe in late summer, outdoors, we will be able to give a masked pandemic hug.

Also, I am fortunate in having Zoom students where we can air our experiences and compare how things are being handled in Canada as opposed to Ireland. It is thanks to one of those students that I have taken up the challenge to build a poem around some quotes from our conversation last Saturday. The second poem also reflects a telephone conversation with another friend. She cares for her 94 year old mother who has pronounced that this pandemic is worse than World War 2. Sure, they faced death. But living didn’t threaten your life. “We could go to dances. If we were down in the dumps we went next door and had a cuppa tea with a neighbour and had a moan.” Peggy fell in love and married 75 years ago at the end of the war. She has a point. The Guardian newspaper writes articles with headlines such as “How the Whole World Lost Its Libido.”

We compare anecdotes from England and the USA , where the vaccine roll out has been gaining traction, and feel like we are living in corsets. They hope to have all the kids back into in-person schooling by 12th April, but…the numbers of infection dictate everything. The week after Mother’s Day weekend and St. Patrick’s Day saw a jump in reported cases. Easter weekend, four days of no where to go, will be the final temptation.

Safe to say that the phrase ‘stir crazy’ has taken on layers and layers of texture. It’s more a cri de cœur.

Thanks to Susan for stating this challenge.

We are so over Covid

"We are so over Covid". "But it's not over us!"
Life is slow as treacle in a January
freeze. Framed in a five kilometre square. It's messed
up. In my head it's a convention of fairies'
wishes washed up ashore after a hurricane.
How is it that days inch by at warp speed? Because
I'm taking my reality cues, hemmed by routine.
But everything is always strange. It's collaged.
We have taken scissors to what used to pass as
society. Some days I feel as if I hold
a beating heart, lifted up, out, by blood soaked hands
during transplant surgery. I want to be told
"It's time. It's done. Close her up. Let her live again."
However we repair, or process, will we transcend
what is lost? We count the cost, regretting offence.
But have we built a world with more walls and fences?

Telephone conversations that crossed oceans, seas or just down the road a piece inspired the next poem.

Truly

Truly, I am glad that my sister can drive out
to a mountain cabin in another state now.
But here, we dream more modestly.
My friend, connected by telephone, and I
we dream of when we might venture forth, ranging
into the county, say.  Or maybe even ten kilometres wide.
That would take us both to separate forest parks, larger sky.
My friend's 94-year old mother, now fully vaccinated, perked up
after twelve weeks (more!) feeling incarcerated.
"I can go out in two weeks!" Said triumphantly.
"But where?" countered her carer.
The fleshpots of Tesco beckon, her prospect
of living the high life now.
In England, my friend reports they can sedately
cluster in groups of six outdoors
in the fresh air from this week. Where
we remain locked up and downcast within
our prescribed five kilometre zone.
Even a trip to the dentist is welcome excuse
to travel passed scenery not seen for months past.

So I am feeling a little bit green, in all its varying shades
from this Emerald Isle, from nausea to envy,
and dream of Blue Ridge hills or the ocean waves that break
upon a shimmering sandy strand , 
but not viewed in video clip.

Copyright ©Bee Smith, 2021, All rights reserved.

The featured image comes from Biddy Tarot. https://www.biddytarot.com.

It’s the 8 of swords and that pretty much sums it up!

Lockdown St. Patrick’s Day

Greetings from Ireland where we are still in Level 5 Lockdown. So…not a traditional St. Patrick’s Day of parades, silly lepruchaun hats, or costumes of fake butt cheeks sporting ‘Pogue Mahone’ (that translates as kiss my you know what), or children playing tin whistle and showing off what they have learned in Irish dance classes the past year on a temporary stage in the middle of the town. There are no wailing accordians or jiggy fiddles playing. I didn’t even see shamrocks for sale in my local supermarket this year. The closest I come to any of these in these lockdown days is my cat Felix doing what I call the Pogue Mahone during Zoom sessions. I gather from online posts that some people are celebrating by baking Guinness cake. Which is fitting since baking has practically become a competitive sport online since Lockdown 1. BTW, in Ireland it is not a corned beef and cabbage menu day, because that it Irish American. We tend towards boiled gammon and colcannon traditionally. Also, corned beef is called salt beef here. Besides, we have gone very foodie here this past decade. I add seaweed to my vegetable soup these days and all manner of ‘exotic’ vegetables are available even in my village’s Spar grocery store.

St. Patrick’s Day has always been a bit bittersweet for me. Once we moved to Ireland it had its festive years or was a good day to start planting the spuds since we had the day off work. The first time I encountered a shamrock was in 1962 when Leona Doyle pinned an emerald green pipecleaner shamrock on my dress. She was one of the choir ladies who were busy setting up the lunch for the mourners returning from my father’s funeral.

From the beginning of this month I returned to hosting poetry writing classes on Zoom. We are fiddling about with the sonnet form at the moment. There were two of us in the group who wrote lamens to Lockdown. It has been a long winter and even with the daffodils blooming we still have an indeterminate time in full Lockdown unless you are a primary school child or taking your Leaving Certificate exams this year.

When Will It Be Over?

Annie, I am beginning to feel as if that henna
which you lavished on my locks last January before last
and  held fast, fading but still lingering at the ends  -
that it's a sign, one that's occurred arbitrarily.
 I long for my hairdresser's business to come back
so she can hack off those ends, make it all be over.
My magical thinking releases all of us from this train wreck
year, that the ordeal is shed with my hair on Nuala's floor.

My fevered imagination has me growing out the plague.
I care not one whit for the regrowth that is silver and grey.
In this eternal meanwhile I am growing more awake.
I have grown a new measure for all our long, long days -
on rosary beads, going 'Click, Click, Click,' in collecting groceries,
masking, unmasking, washing, growing, writing poetry.

Copyright 2021, Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

This photo is one of my own of the high cross and round tower on Devenish Island in Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh. Those medieval strongholds were the legacy of St. Patrick’s mission to Ireland.

Devenish Island high cross roundtower
The high cross and roundtower on Devenish Island in Lough Erne

The featured photo is of St. Patrick’s Holy Well in Belcoo, Fermanagh.

Both places visited in pre-pandemic times when we were not confined to 5 kms from home except for essential journeys of the medical or grocery kind.

What Water Remembers

This poem, probably the first properly new one of 2021, was a long time stewing on the back burner. I am still not sure if it is done or that it needs more time. But it is a gesture (Blast! Belay!) at the creative torpor that has descended this year. But, I am reassured by my friend Morag and from an article in the Huffington Post, that I am not alone in experiencing pandemic funk.

Spring is back. The snow melted away by Sunday and we have had days that are practically balmy at 10C. There have been little intervals of sunshine most days. The daffodils are pushing there way out. Soon we will be out tidying up the garden and sowing some of the first seeds. The birds seem fairly merry.

The weekly poem took root on 7th February when I appeared on my friend John Wilmott’s Carrowcrory Cottage Sunday Sessions , which you can find on Facebook or YouTube (https://www.facebook.com/groups/Carrowcrorysessions). The Q&A discussion brought up the topic of the Memory of Water. I am afraid I went away with the faeries for a bit and then my mind floated on the the topic of water as purifier. Fire is also considered a purifier. And Brigid has both fire and water as elemental symbols associated with her cult.

Eventually, my wayward imagination came to play with the purification symbolism of water…and memory.

 What Water Remembers
  
 In a lough pooling, river flowing, 
 a sea boiling, a cascade weeping  tears
 on stone as it is tripping down the mountain,
 the village pump, the kitchen tap dripping,
 atoms dancing in liquid form.
  
 Is forgetfulness an act of will
 or a wilful washing, a rubbing and scrubbing
 at the stubborn stains of memory? 
  
 Bit by bit the stain lifts.
 It shifts its patterns, the parts
 that fade leave rumours
 of grease, old grime, and whispers
 For shame
  
 What tried, tested and true failed to keep
 that memory sharp as the day it marked
 with a blood red letter?
  
 When does the memory stored
 spool out like old cine film getting
 plunged in its silver nitrate bath?
 And rinsed and rinsed and rinsed
 until the shadow show
  
 is in reverse
 What is memory? What is water?
 Quencher, purifier, a  drowning, a drunkard.
 What is washed away?
 What stays?
  
 The memory of water
 is not forgetfulness.
 It is forgiveness.
  
 Copyright © Bee Smith, 2021. All rights reserved.
   

The Magical Light

be the light

Tomorrow will be the shortest day in our northern hemisphere – the winter solstice. It will also be the day when shortly after sunset, if we do not have heavy cloud cover, we should see the Grand Jupiter Saturn Conjunction. Although I have to say that cloud cover can be a fairly constant feature of an Irish December. So we shall see. On Christmas Eve, it is forecast to be dry and clear, so maybe we will glimpse the Bethlehem Star on that night.

Counterintuitively, I tend to wake early, before dawn in the winter months. (And lie abed in summer; go figure!) And when I do wake early, I write in the darkness, though I draw open the curtains to see the slow curling of twilight dissolve into a pinking sunrise around 9am.

I woke early this morning and did not turn over to drowse on. I took out my pen and notebook after reading a quotation of Audre Lorde in a Brain Pickings blog post. It spurred a fairly formal effort, though I know of no name for it – a regular rhyme scheme with a capping couplet. Perhaps it is a longtail sonnet?! It is what it is, I guess. Here is the quotation:

The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realised.

Audre Lorde

She goes on to speak of poetry, but I stopped there and decided to take up writing a poem.

We Pursue Our Magic

We pursue our magic and make it so -
shake, rattle the kaleidoscopic light-
marvelling at patterns and the colours.
Sometimes incantations make the world glow
on days of this perpetual twilight,
which plunge us, forcing us to discover
the content of our character on show
(only to our most private self). Less bright,
perhaps, than we might like. Even dimmer
than this midnight of the heart and soul.

Delicate beauty may come to light,
nuanced, that peripherally hovers,
that uncovers truth by way of shadow,
overcoming the blinded, dazzled bright
of favoured, mythic, eternal summer.
We pursue our magic by our own light.
And make it so with all the words we write.
 
 Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved. 

This will be a holiday season like none we have known in our lifetime. Collectively, we are pausing in the dark of the year. Stay well, my friends. It may be a lonely time for many, but pause. Read some poetry. Poetry is our magical connection.

There may be another poem on Tuesday. Or, depending on how my baking and other preparations are going, I may post closer to Christmas.

Stay well. Stay connected. Good Yule. The light is returning.

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

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

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

The New Weekend Normal

How do you keep track of which day of the week it is if you are not working a regular job, at home or otherwise? What routine is part of your Covid 19 New Weekend Normal? One friend confessed that she ordered out for takeaway food each Saturday. Partly it was to take a break from cooking. Mostly, to have some kind of marker in the week that was regular. Although getting a takeaway these days means collection is by appointment and a masked and gloved person slides your order to you on a tray. It feels faintly illicit. For me, now that NaPoWriMo is done, it is getting back to my Sunday Weekly post. That is my New Weekend Normal.

Ireland began Phase 1 of its Roadmap to Reopening last Monday. Although there was an initial rash of more people stopping and having a shouted chat from the lane to us in the garden, things have slumped back to the quieter rhythm. It is as if now that we have had a little ration of other faces different from the ones we have been looking at for the last two months and more, that we have crept back to our old cocooning ways. That Ireland’s two month drought, which coincided with the Call to Cocoon, broke this week, does not mean there is a rush for tiny outdoor tea parties. At writing, there is a storm, heavy rain for sure, but also really blustery wind over 40 km an hour. So this weekend the weather has us indoors.

The New Normal also means that every diary date that has been noted in January is cancelled. This Saturday I was scheduled to give a Mindfulness Walk in the Cavan Burren. On Sunday we should have been fine dining at the MacNean Restaurant, celebrating our niece’s 28th birthday. At this point, I am looking forward to FaceTiming with her and thinking that, all being well, we might get to see her August 11th! As for the Sunday lunch, I shall have to hope we can get a 2021 slot.

Though I have to say that the Phase 1 of reopening seemed to unlock my ability to tackle re-writes, to edit individual poems for the manuscript that has languished between adjusting to our Covid19 New Normal and the diversion of daily poem writing for NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo. Anecdotally, I learned that many people had difficulty concentrating in the early days of Stay in Place. Although in many respects our lives did not change radically, it is often the subtle readjustments that throw us. Like when your cooker goes kaput and you are cocooning. For the first time ever I have invested in White Goods by looking at a photo of shopfloor model and paid by credit card over the phone. The delivery on Monday should be interesting. Nonetheless, things are shifting. The energy is subtly different.

Here in Ireland
 
This week, we opened the windows a crack.
So suddenly things felt a whole lot more people-y.  
Though news travels tractor pace
up and down our lane, more cars passed
Monday, May 18th, and people didn’t just wave,
but pulled up, hand braked, to shout out catch ups.
 
Surprise that our neighbour next door went back to hospital
was it two weeks ago now. Shock that the cocoon funeral
actually had shoulder-to-shoulder pall bearers!
But the craic is the director has six family members on call.
There were pickups of garden cuttings set out on our wall
with shouted debates on how to avoid cultivation errors.
 
Just when we could have invited a friend round
for an outdoor cup of tea sitting two metres away,
the two month drought broke.  The great wind
that might wind up being called Ellen blusters.
The willows are bending over at their waists
performing hourly ritual prostrations.
 
We remain in.

Cocooning prior to Covid-19 meant a time to go within, to regroup and recharge. It is especially sacred time for introverts to take time out when things just get too people-y. Here’s a poem I wrote before our current context. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/10/24/cocoon/.

Given the re-writes, the jigs and reels of submission guidelines, the brief fever of flash fiction writing this week, I am going to offer a tanka as the Sunday Weekly poem today. In terms of reopening from cocooning, I feel as if we may have cracked the pupa, but I feel like a very dozy caterpillar. The weather turned heavy this week as the low pressure system approached and a number of us (myself included) have felt zonked some days.

A tanka is a haiku followed by two seven syllable lines portraying a complete picture or mood