Calloused as an Old Oak Burr

Walking in the forests of a wide valley

Rimmed by cliffs above us, rolling mist

Over the slopes out across the blue vastness

The vultures glided across the blue sky from

One side to the other, while kites and kestrels

Worked the fields where the woods were 

Cut when first men walked within the walls.

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We stood under the canopy of branches

In the shade of old oaks, ages growing

Slowly seeking their sunlight, ever taller,

Thicker boles, holding aloft leaves and,

Even when those died, in winter, green

Epiphytes; a host of other lives, for centuries,

Saying to all in the forest: “Behold, I am here.”

Feeding feast for insects and birds that eat them;

Showering grazed ground with acorns for boar;

Robins following rootings, under those, creating

Holes where night-time animals hide yet.

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One had recently fallen, after perhaps half a

Millennium spreading seeds and supporting

Epiphytic ferns: now hanging upside down 

From the bough that held them high so easy

Over which we climbed on the clean bark.

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And I thought of those who carried an axe 

Into these woods to gather firewood,

To create charcoal from the oaks:

Brought perhaps as soon as they could walk 

And pick up a twig to help their father,

And kept at it until they could walk no more:

Years of seasons spent sweating and freezing alternatively

Snacking on dark bread and forest berries,

Bring back home a snared rabbit if one was had.

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How many injuries did they accumulate,

Inflicted by such occupations? A series of

Splinters, cuts, bruises and bones broken;

But shrugged off and shouldered on

Until calloused, like the knots and burrs 

Of the trunks we touch: the pollarded boughs

Wounded, but budding forth once more for fifty years,

Until the axe of those weathered workers eventually fell again.

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For even great oaks are eventually tumbled,

Even if only by time. And those ferns and lichens

That thought they clung to a solid structure are thrown 

Over, to cling and seek the sun as best they can.

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We sat upon the curved bough and ate our own victuals,

Thinking of those workers who listened to the same scene

Of songbirds and wind, and wondered of what life was

Like outside these woods, these walls of valley wide

Yet long and uneasily walked out of, and wished 

For more, for escape, easiness, for freedom from their destiny,

But accepted, their lives would be lived, alongside these trees.

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Then the telephone took my attention for a time:

A thread landing in my lap with a crack-like impact of

A snapping branch upon me,

And I sat upon a stump and sipped water to keep down the lump

In my throat at this long twitter list of lads and lassies 

Of a too young age who’d taken their own lives, the last option:

Locked in the loss that seems so extensive in these times

Of lockdown, long as a valley apparently without exit;

The looking out at a world that looks so perfect, looking back;

The pressure like storm clouds gathered above the cliffs,

Building until smooth wood cracks and saplings snap.

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If only they could have come to this forest, felt the breathing branches,

The soft sunspots, the birdsong rest upon them.

If only they could have stuck around long enough, to resist

Instead of rejecting the pain, the splintered spirit, the bruised soul.

If only they’d stayed a little longer, told another their wishes:

Shouted, screamed, even to a pillow, “I am here and I exist!

“I have a life that is well lived, and will be lived if given 

The chance; a hand, a hug, a kiss.”

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For even those who never had to lift a stick or chop a log, can 

Build up burrs, callouses, train themselves to toughness,

Over the course of a century or half, from the finer grain

Of slow winter growth gaining perspective to appreciate this:

‘Tis only at the end we can reminisce.

Looking back, we can count up mistakes, regrets, 

See the setbacks we withstood, taking bad with good,

Standing tall till Nature takes us, rather than the blade,

If only because we owe it to the saplings stretching in our shade.

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Though only the beasts and bugs it gave life to

Knew of its presence, tall as it was, and only those, who

Were touched by its life will note its fall, 

And all the rest of us are ignorant of what it meant to them,

For a tree, that is perhaps enough;

And if we could but be as wise, it would

Too, be sufficient for us.

For those who have fallen too soon….

Landscape Poems

            In the Mist

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Calling cranes cross overhead like ghosts in the gloom,

Bells echo down the hillsides from hidden forest horses

Like shots across the valley, voices and dog barks below

Reveal others on the path as invisible to us as we to them

Knowing surrounds only by memory and sounds in the

Silence, the mist expands our senses out like landscape,

Until the sun lifts the veil and sends down into our pocket

Of the earth, a gentle caress of golden warmth and sets

The sky blue brightness shining off mountain cloud

Shimmering across imagined land beneath silver shroud.

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            The Same Scene a Thousand Times

A painter can select one scene,

One view, from a certain lookout,

Turn it into their subject: treat

It a thousand ways, in varying lights.

But can a poet? Write a thousand times

Of one mountain range and valley?

Of all the many shadows and scudding

Clouds along its sides, and all 

Aspects of the mists across its sky.

A painter can settle in one spot,

A cottage on a cliff:

Paint through the window.

A poet may install himself

In the same place,

But can he use words more than once

To illustrate the landscape?

Or once used, need he seek new views

To inspire new vocabularies?

It seems the answer lies in the

Lines, led along by eyes, looking

In ever-finer focus always finds

The mind inspired to write.

The scene from above the village of an evening.

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I have no photos of the scenes that inspired the first poem, but the second poem was inspired by sunset in the same spot I watch sunset most Sunday evenings, and each time it’s inspiring, but can I write of the same valley for the rest of my life? Possibly. It depends less on the inspiration and more on my ability I suppose!

February means it’s Spring in some places

            They’re Only Daisies

Spring mildness brings blooming back

A splash of buttercups, daisies

And dandelions, and my

Heart soars to see these

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As if the summer burst forth 

In fullness of fuchsia, orchids,

Roses and hydrangea,

Even though they’re only daisies.

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Perhaps such sights would send

Soul soaring to much higher delight,

But little low pleasures enchant me

Easily, and I find myself exultant

To discover thus elation on a daily basis.

Well, we’ve survived the first month of 2021, which clearly hasn’t turned out as groovy as we’d hoped, so far.

I am patiently waiting, like the rest of the world, on a vaccine to be offered to me. I hope to get one before summer and be able to travel home to see folks.

Besides that, my life is pretty normal, apart from wearing masks all day.

School is still in session presidentially in Spain, and we’ve had few problems since we’re masking and gelling all the time.

My son’s swimming lessons restarted! other after school activities are going on without problems, too.

The bars were open at 30% occupancy, but are now only open for outside seating, but we can have a pincho on a Saturday afternoon with the kids now that the snow has melted and milder weather has returned.

I know it’s not spring here in Spain till the second half of March, but there are flowers out there, and I always stick to my Irish seasons anyway. Except for August. That’s still summer!

And I am feeling hopeful we won’t be kept inside during spring the way we were last year. Just a walk outside the city walls is all I ask.

I’ve written a fair few poems since Christmas, and I am slowly working through my WIP, Palu and the Pyramid Builders – last third of the manuscript, with 200k written so far.

I’ll be looking for beta readers in a year or two!

Meanwhile, I hope to post more poems this spring, and if you’re looking for a quick read, my novels are all still available for the time being, including my newest novella, The Logical Solution.

Crazy Weather… just who’s the crazy one around here?

They say you never know yourself if you’re going crazy… perhaps it seems those around you are tho ones who are really crazy.

We call this weather crazy, but aren’t we really the crazy ones for not recognising it for what it is, and indeed really basically fucking batshit crazy for letting it happen without doing anything useful to stop or slow it, and in fact being the cause of it all…. and all the time knowing that it’s going to come back and not just bite us on the arse, but beat the shit out of us, till any sense we have left will be knocked out of us.

Flowers share the branch with not-yet-fallen leaves on a tree in November in a Pamplona park….

            The Reaping of Disdain 

Pink blossoms add extra beauty

To an autumnal almond tree:

Orange and auburn leaves left

Before falling with the frost

At least formally expected 

If it arrives as it did normally in

November. 

Sun and clear sky

Seem apt background to marvel

At young walnuts dotted on a

Bare-leaved tree, wondering if we

Will get a second harvest this year.

Like the oilmen grinning as the

Ice melts for their machines to

Begin drilling without awaiting 

Spring, 

  

We reap the short-term 

Gains until the true harvest of

Our disdain, ignorance, apathy

Ripens in silent screaming of 

Ecosystems stretched to snapping.

The walnuts. They were still growing last week, even after a snow squall in between…

Enjoy the Silence before the coming Squall

 

I wrote this a few weeks ago, when the weather was colder – now it looks like we’re far from having a white Christmas.

But we can still enjoy the simple things, even if it is only by ignoring the difficulties awaiting us in the new year and beyond.

The snow starting in the pines – if you zoom in you can see the haze is all flakes of snow. The camera never does justice to the scene, of course.

           Silence before the Squall

Snow falls past pine trunks 

Like solidified silence: almost

An extension of dawn’s tranquillity

Before squalls scream across canopy

Sending flakes flurrying down

To pale box and holly’s leaves.

As hours slowly pass, and white quietly

Deepens, the wind weakens and settles 

Like drifts. Then, as evening stretches,

A strip of cloud opens to allow sunlight

Illuminate the scene before twilight,

Suffusing with diffuse golden radiance

The shifting mists along the ridges, red

Shrouding windmills. Imbuing soft sunset

With orange fire across the ice instead

Of another storm sending us scarpering 

Inside to hide, it seems such gentle 

Splendour shows us the scenes 

Awaiting us after all our playing, and

For all our attempting to prepare 

For her vagaries, in the end, we will

Flit like flakes upon her wind, for

We are but Nature’s playthings.

The scene before sunset (lower down were less snow fell) – the sun was beginning to get down to that break in the clouds to light up that mist that hung all along the mountains to the left, while my kids were playing just out of shot and distracted me from taking a photo of the later colours.

Happy Christmas everyone!

For those looking for a quiet read, or a nice E-reader gift, check out my books….

Some of them are on sale with Smashwords from today!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/djmobrien

As Winter Comes

It comes for all of us.

But some of us are waiting. And we’re not going to be made to leave so easily.

And sometimes we can see the beauty in it all.

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            Winter Takes Grip of Us

Clouds fall, darker as they drop down upon the valley.

Night draws onwards, quick as winter wind, whistling

Along eaves, whipping at chattering apple leaves, 

Stripping trees, snapping stalks in the garden.

Bamboo poles that have supported peppers and 

Tomatoes all summer bend over, while the plants 

Are sapped of green, and shrivel even as ripening

Sole fruits dangle in the gusts. Only life remains 

It seems in hard cabbages and cauliflowers

Curled over to cover hearts from coming frosts.

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Still, we sit, after gleaning the garden for all that was

Tasty and tender, those last mouthfuls of summer

Not too damaged or dried up after stalks snapped,

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Refusing to leave even though no leaves are left, and

The night leaves us bereft of light: lingering outside

In twilight until winter takes the whole, sole

Sitters separated from the stalks that once sustained

Us, supported strongly, holding up only memories of

The sunshine that once suffused the blossoming apple

Grove, and unbent seedlings sprouted all around us.

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The allotment at dusk, Pamplona above with the last light of sunset. Pepper plants in the foreground, cardo – pig thistle and cabbages in the background before the tree. The peppers are frost damaged now.
The tomato plants, dead and shrivelled yet with a few fruits still edible held on. Pamplona cathedral is at the top right of the photo, silhouetted against the sky.

Cathedral Leaves

            Cathedral Leaves

November sunlight shines at right angle

To catch leaves like stained window panes

On cathedral trees, lining riverbank, flanking

Dancing stream gleaming like black marble.

Drakes draw diamond wakes through dark

Water, songbirds call sonorous cries flying

Through timber, sweet as a child’s choir.

Marvelling at this flowing manifestation of

Nature’s majesty, I stand in reverence:

An experience as solemn as sacraments,

Holy as the spirit infusing these trunks

And tender tendrils dangling delicate

Leaves twisting daintily in the breeze.

And I wonder why those who kneel for

An invisible being in the sky, don’t even stop 

To breath in, appreciate this display of 

Beauty splayed out before them, inhale

Divinity in every breath of autumn 

Dampness, soaked up sounds like dewfall,

Absorbed through skin as golden photons;

On shoulders felt the gentle hand of eternity.

A hilltop in a local park with sun shining in the trees – I never actually took any photos of the scene with the river… mostly just look, and then hope the poem paints the picture better than my phone camera can….

Passing in the Night

So despite our quarantine, and shut bars etc., we can at least leave our homes so far during this second wave, and that’s a lot. A walk, a stroll, a chance to stand and smell fresh air (when you can lower the mask, of course) to stare up at the sky and relax your eyes, is not to be dismissed anymore.

And it’s a delight to know the natural world is still spinning on despite our stupidity.

I don’t have any shots of the cranes at night because I just watched rather than fumble with phone, but I have posted some shots from other days – one of the cranes going low over town during the day, and of course, our constant companions all summer in the south, Jupiter and Saturn. Mars is in the east these days. It’ll never be easier to see so look up this weekend.

Sunset with Jupiter and Saturn already bright in the sky on the left.

            Passing in the Night

I stare out from the city walls, waiting

For migrating cranes to come calling:

Glimpse against low city-glow clouds.

Bats pass but no birds; Mars my only

Other midnight companion, with

Jupiter and Saturn at my back, a

Spider spinning draws eyes down

From treeline to the damp stone:

Seeing mites crawling across lichens

White in the street light, changes

Perspective. Some comfort comes

From knowing creatures will roam

Over these stones even if crumbled;

And the bodies above me will circle

Unceasingly in their great migrations,

When neither walls nor men yet stand.

The new moon, Jupiter and Saturn in a line across the sky with the citadel of Pamplona in the lower background
Cranes flying over Pamplona centre.

Shifting Baselines

            Shifting Baselines

I read a story, set in a strange place

But setting off from London in the

Last century, and the strangest fact 

Was the act of dating time: not using

Newspapers, which was his job, but

From the nightingale’s mating song.

Nightingale
Nightingale – a bird once heard in London

How stark the shift from this to

Today’s sad state of scenes: the lark

Sings aloft, a lone clarion upon the

Empty sheep-shorn heath, and yet 

Nobody knows him, nor hardly hears.

From counting skylarks to European Hamsters - LIFE+ Alister - Grand Hamster  Alsace
skylark. still common where there’s only grass…

Our knowledge of the shifting seasons,

The timeless turning of life around

Us, fell away in the meantime: lost

To ever-speedier spinning, electrons

Taking attention from the tunes and

Stories sewn in sinews, to those 

Traced ephemerally on screens, stacked

Up operas in boxes, serial sameness,

Lines listed, twisted until too seems

Our lives, left less sane, tracks too tame

To take notice of what, without, from us 

The gamers have already taken.

Happy Halloween

Halloween is a strange time for me.

I’ve been in the ER twice on Halloween, back in Ireland, as a kid and a young man who should have known better. Actually, the kid should have known better, too.

But shit happens.

full moon rising over Pamplona, with Mars beside.

It’s also one of the times when I most feel homesick, when I feel most proud to be Irish – those who know me know I care little for sport or other ritualistic nationalistic shite.

I am always aware of the entities that might collide with my life on Samhain.

This year, we’re all wearing masks, and we can’t go and ask for any apples or nuts or even sweets, since this year things are scarier than they used to be, and going to the ER is not a nice idea even for a cough.

I actually have an appointment after nightfall – at the PCR testing point. Not for me, but I’ll be cycling along under the full moon with my mask and perhaps a bit of disguise, just in case the spirits are soaring over Spain.

So stay safe, everyone, and hopefully this nightmare will be over (not before Christmas, though!)

Here’s a poem about twilight, and the tricks our eyes can do, even without the Samhain imagination to help them. There are good things we can see if we try.

And when you look up at the moon, ponder this – which is scarier, the myth of the werewolf, or the truth?

http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/OBrien_David/leaving-the-pack.htm

moon rising over mountains at sunset day before yesterday. This view is filled with swifts in summer.

            Optical Illusions

It is in the gloaming that the eye is

Overcome by the clear view of

Imagination. More than the shapes of

Shadows becoming beasts instead of 

Branches, shades seeming to move

When still steady stones, it creates

Shifting scenes swapping some 

Creatures instead of others. 

The tree leaves sway in the breeze

As if waves were washing seaweed

Sideways to the shore, before me;

Staring up at steely sky turn dark,

The heart-pushed corpuscles in

Retina rush across my vision,

Taking forms of those dear departed,

Heaven-skating swifts, and I wish

They could go on thus until the

Stars transform the sky to diamonds,

Transporting me through the air

Unblinking as if I could follow there.