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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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….
In the Mist
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.
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.
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!
They’re Only Daisies
Spring mildness brings blooming back
A splash of buttercups, daisies
And dandelions, and my
Heart soars to see these
As if the summer burst forth
In fullness of fuchsia, orchids,
Roses and hydrangea,
Even though they’re only daisies.
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.
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.
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
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
We reap the short-term
Gains until the true harvest of
Our disdain, ignorance, apathy
Ripens in silent screaming of
Ecosystems stretched to snapping.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.