Monthly Archives: February 2021

            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.