Category Archives: poetry
While Spring officially started at the beginning of the month back home in Ireland, in Spain we are still in the middle of winter, with the next season only set to start in another month on the 21st of March.
It is, I admit, the height of skiing season, but even here, the daffodils are shooting up and will soon burst buds, the crocuses in the parks are spotting the grass, and I even saw a few daisy and dandelions the other day. The trees are mostly still bare, but showers of catkins have popped out on a few.
Mostly, though, you can just smell it. The air is different. Despite the snow that we had last week, there’s a feeling of spring that even humans living in a city still experience.
Spring is here, as far as I am concerned.
And summer isn’t far behind. For I saw the bats take their first flight of the year and it reminded me of a poem I wrote last year on the subject of signs of summer, more than spring. It’s perhaps a little premature to be thinking about butterflies and bees, but since I haven’t posted a poem in a while, here it is.
Signs of Summer
There are many signs of summer coming, here,
Starting perhaps with cuckoo calls and swallow sighting
And the return of the swifts, or
The first flight of the bats at twilight,
The scent of honeysuckle through open balconies and
The abundance of butterflies on the garden lavender,
Some are specific to Spain, like closing the blinds
Against sunlight to keep the house cool, and
Sleeping with the windows open all night
Pouring water to fill the swimming pool and others
Seen only in this city: setting up the tombola,
Putting the fences around the flowers in the park
In preparation for the festivals and digging up
The road to get it ready for the running of the bulls,
And lastly, putting up with the stench of piss
Upon opening up the street door every morning.
The Rains Return
The sky weeps;
Hills soak to refill rills.
Upon the porch, we sit still.
The rain – snow in the high ground – has finally returned to much of Spain, bringing some relief to the drought we’ve been experiencing this year.
The spring that supplies our village in the Valdorba is still flowing at a trickle, though. It will take much more rain to raise the water table and refill the reservoirs.
the spring last week above, the same spring in September below…
But everyone has been happy to see the rain, despite the need for umbrellas instead of sunglasses.
This is a photo of one of the beaches in San Sebastian, aka Donostia, taken when I was there last week.
I sat on the beach and wrote this poem.
Donostia, December 2017
On the breakwater, as tide rises,
Shielding eyes to see gleaming mountain
Snowmelt trickle by.
We shouldn’t be able to see the mountain from the beach at this time of year, for the blanket of cloud that normally shrouds the city.
But what is normal anymore?
Anyway, I wrote a few poems that afternoon. It reminded me of another poem I wrote a few weeks ago, which describes a little of why I’ve written so little recently, and posted less.
But maybe we’ll get back to normal sometime soon…
Words Come Forth
They say our words won’t be kept down;
They bubble up, under pressure, like lava
Pushing through a fissure,
Bursting forth if they can’t flow.
But instead, they are drawn
Under empty sky,
Sucked out by silence,
Pulled forth by the vacuum
Of open space,
Giving them a place to emerge
Timidly into tranquilly
Like deer from the thicket at twilight.
The cranes started passing over Pamplona yesterday evening.
They were chased by the rain that came in overnight. The first in weeks.
Autumn has thus officially started.
And hopefully also this means the end of the fire season for this year.
While Ireland braced for an almost unheard of hurricane in the North Atlantic, in northern Spain and Portugal, forest fires were killing even more people than Ophelia killed.
There were dozens burning over the weekend and until Tuesday, when the rains helped to finally extinguish them.
Unlike hurricanes, though, which are terrible, and indirectly related to man’s activities, these forest fires were only wild in the sense of the untamed destruction they could wreak. They were not natural. They were man made, purposefully started, and repeatedly so.
After so many deaths, there are now questions being asked of politicians as to how these arsonists can be stopped. Spanish news has little else, other that the Catalan situation – politics and fraud, even football has been put in the background by the terrible scenes of people trying to escape burning villages only having to turn back as the roads are flanked with flames, and others park inside a motorway tunnel to wait rescue, or let the fires pass overhead.
Because these fires have been a part of summer in places like Galicia for years. As soon as the weather dries, huge tracts of forests go up there. All directly caused by humans and usually set intentionally, with a few the result of stupidity and neglect.
The people of Portugal are naturally outraged, after a summer of huge fires has been followed by an autumn death toll almost as terrible, with dozens of people claimed by the flames.
The perpetrators must be caught and jailed for their murders, but also, the politicians and police, if it is the case, must be held responsible for letting this situation get to this state. Why have these people not been caught for their previous fires? – because there’s no way these conflagrations were started by first-time arsonists.
Why do people go out of their way to set fires, driving along highways in the middle of the night with fireworks tied to helium balloons?
It’s clear they have nothing better to do, and they’re assholes of the highest calibre, but there must be some other, external, motivation for most of the fires. What is it? Why has it not been identified years ago and why has it not been removed?
There are forests that could burn just as badly and even more easily in other parts of Spain, so why are there not so many fires elsewhere? Galicia has 40% of all fires in the country, and half the area burnt every year for the last decade.
Surely the arsonists are spread out in a broader swath across the country. Or is there something about the mind-set of Galicians that makes them excessively prone to arson?
The gorse fires and heather fires we have seen in Ireland in recent years were all set intentionally for financial gain – the current agricultural subsidy system means that farmers make more money if there land is considered in use, even if it’s not.
Ultimately, stopping them will require a change in the EU farming subsidy system to allow land go fallow without farmers losing money.
Is there a financial motivation in Galicia and Portugal for setting huge fires?
According to Ecologists in Action, this is only the cause of a small proportion of the fires set.
What other factors are in play?
The use of fire for farming practices is permitted much more freely than elsewhere.
In most of Spain it is not permitted to light fires in camping and picnic areas and other recreational areas during times of fire risk. Not so in Galicia.
Vehicles are also allowed onto forest paths in Galicia during the summer, which is prohibited elsewhere.
AND they allow fireworks in village festivals during the summer, which is just asking for trouble.
But as I said, the summer is over.
The cranes, luckily, don’t stay long in Spain during their migration.
When they passed before on their way north I wrote this poem. Hopefully it will ease the depression of these fires. Watching the birds certainly lifts the spirit.
The Great Migration
I’ve not yet seen the Serengeti,
Nor the caribou upon the artic plains
But up above my house in the hills,
I’ve been privileged to witness
The cranes migrating, calling
Eyes aloft to observe their long
Strings streaked across the sky
Huge wing beats by the thousands,
And can’t but wonder where
Those numbers bide in other times,
(Amazed such spaces yet exist)
And where they will find abode
In other climes.
A little poem as we note the start of spring here.
The bats indeed did come out that night and now, a week later, there are lizards and frogs about, as well as cranes coming back north and storks reclaiming their nests.
Leave Off the Light
Leave off the lights
At least until the light leaves;
Let us feel it while it lasts,
Catch sight of birds flying to roosts, crying
As it dies, and perhaps bats will wheel past.
Let night descend inside, too, before
Filling our night with brightness,
Let the life outside touch our lives a little,
For at last there is light as twilight arrives.
This is a little embarrassing to post.
As a wildlife enthusiast, I should not admit to not taking my kids out into the wild often enough that my son has heard his first birdsong only after he’s been walking for three months…
But life is hectic with a one-year-old and a five-year-old doing dance and swimming lessons in winter, and even though Pamplona is a small city with wildlife all around (including BEAVERS in the river not 200 yards from my house as the crow flies) it’s damn hard to get out of the brick and concrete on a daily basis.
We do go to village on the weekend, where there’s plenty of birdlife (kites and bee-eaters etc…) , but the evening birdsong is not something I’ve experienced with the kids recently.
I consider myself privileged
To see hills at a distance from
My window over the garden,
Graced by more than mere sparrows;
But my son has just heard birdsong
Today, for the first time, I had time to
Take him to city’s edge and embrace the
Twilit twittering of tits and thrushes
Scolding one another in the gloaming,
And experience, absent the ubiquitous din,
A blackbird’s sonorous cry to spring,
And say, “listen, hear the birdies sing.”
Peace on Earth; at least This Part.
Sun rises over the mountains Christmas morn,
Shreds lingering mist strings off the oak slopes.
Starlings sing across vale from barn and shed,
Sparrows flit back and forth on tree and hedge.
Windmills steady, cows still not lowing, nor
Dinging. Dew dries, roof drips, while kite
Shifts on bough, readying to take to clear skies.
Robin skips in goodwill, trilling to a lone soul
Soaking silence embracing peace on Earth;
This piece, yet in the absence of men.
Wrote this on Christmas morning, sitting in that sun – it’s a remarkably relaxed time in Amatriain, where mass was the day before, and, dinner was very late, and lunch has usually been taken care of already (and doesn’t consist of turkey).
Hope everyone has had a nice holiday season and that we will have some peace in 2017.
I’m about to start edits of Silver Nights Part 2, Leading the Pack…. almost as excited as a kid at Christmas!
It’s an important day in the US, and for all of us, given the way the world is heating up.
I know it’s a bad idea to dis the President if you want to get into the country, but for the secret service dudes reading this, please understand, this is an exception…
So here’s hoping it’s a happy holiday for us all, and we can see some people who went to see the musical Hamilton paid attention, and we can stop thinking about how bad things are going to be in the New Year, but instead have some hope. Here’s a couple of poems to mark the occasion.
The Clown Fools Us All
Remember when we thought this guy was a joke?
And now it seems so serious; yet still,
Even at this late stage, he could
Be red flagging us:
Showing us he’s seriously taking the piss,
Waiting for us to see it for what it is,
And pull the plug.
Remember when we used to say:
“Jays, we were blest with the weather today,”
As if we’d got lucky, and we didn’t worry,
Nor wonder what was coming?
2016 has been a fuckin’ doozie. Apart from the usual shite happening in politics and war and another 12 months of carbon added to the atmosphere, we’ve had a long list of inspirational people pop their clogs so far this year. All that’s left to make a fucking mess out of it is for David Attenborough to kick the bucket – hang in there Dave!
But I’ve had an interesting year at home. 12 months ago my son was born and he’s a lively character. We just celebrated his birthday (he was a bit surprised at the sudden bouts of singing, but loved the toys) and it made me think of a couple of poems I wrote then that after a year might be al right to reveal to the world. It’s a strange time, waiting, wondering if despite the ultrasounds etc, things might not turn out exactly as we hope.
Still no photos of the sprog himself, so he can’t get angry with me when he’s older.
Outside the Maternity Hospital, Three AM
Me and my equivalent of a cigarette
The silent night air, empty of all but the watcher
Waiting, wondering of all that is to come
Compared to what went before, and
Content for that moment in between.
Emotion on the Birth of my New Boy
The work is done – wasn’t done by me;
I was but a watcher of the night, but
It wasn’t easy from where I was standing.
And the last worry lingered as the time went by
Until eventually he emerged, and a tear slid
Similarly out to see his face amid the mess,
So similar to my sibling, so obviously okay.
Haven’t posted in a while because real life is keeping me from any sort of writing.
I am back to work – the day-job stuff. Since I haven’t been flooded with movie option offers, or thousands in royalties, I’ve still got this nine-to-five teaching stuff to do.
And getting time to write fiction is very complicated; it’s hard to get some intellectual space to enter any imaginary realms.
This year I have increased my hours in the school so that I don’t have to do the evening classes I have been doing. This doesn’t give me more time to write. In fact, it gives me less.
I used to have a chance to get a few hundred words done in the spare hours between classes. Instead, the new schedule gives me time to do the things people do with their kids – collect them from school, go to the park, take them to swimming and dance class. Then there’s going home to have baths and prepare dinner. The six hours between 3pm and 9 go by faster than the six between 9am and 3pm!
Collecting conkers in the park…
It hasn’t helped that my daughter broke her arm two weeks ago, and so can’t cycle her own bike, among many other inconveniences and incapacities. That means I spend more time commuting back and forth, to collect push chairs and catch buses.
I have had a chance to read a few pages of novels while the kids play or take the bus, but I haven’t written anything other than a shopping list in the last two weeks. I am one of the last letter writers left, and I love to write and receive them, but I just sent a birthday card to my sister and I didn’t include a handwritten latter – for the first time in the sixteen years I’ve been away from home.
Not only have I not had a chance to write letters, but I can’t keep up with my emails. I usually read or delete the mails in my inbox within a day or two. Sometimes I leave one or two pending – longer mails or links to articles. At the moment I have four hundred to get through. Many of them with links to longer texts. I open my mail each morning hoping that I can delete as many as possible without even opening them. Much of these would be interesting if I had time, but my priorities don’t include reading mails.
I have also been busy living life. I’ve been out collecting mushrooms in the beech forests north of Pamplona. I am not much into mushrooms myself, but any excuse to get into the woods is good, even at dawn. And foraging is my second favourite food collection method after hunting!
Pickin’ mushrooms with the lads.
I’ve been collecting veggies and making tomato sauces for jarring, roasting and preserving peppers, and I have prepared my patxaran, a local liqueur like sloe gin but with anis. These are all excellent ways to spent time, both in terms of healthy eating and zero-kilometre food, and in the simple manual labour tasks that are communal and relaxing.
not a big fan of this myself, but friends and family love them, and it’s foraging – second only to hunting in my favourite food collection methods!
My tomato sauce stash, made from fruits picked off the village veggie plot. Should keep me for the year.
And while such activities don’t remove the urge, and need, to write, they are therapeutic in their own way – better than colouring books, in my humble opinion, in reducing stress. Which reminds me of a poem I wrote back in August, when I had time to think. Apologies to my friends who are fans of adult colouring books!
Colouring Books for Adults
I know someone who bought a book
To colour in, in her spare time.
It’s the new trend in stress relief,
She says; takes her mind off thinking,
Relaxes in its repetitive actions,
Easy, simpleminded tasks that pass
The time of a dark evening
Much more calming than movies
Or reality TV.
I think it’s akin to knitting;
If you didn’t have a niece who needed a scarf,
Or whittling sticks; since who wants to hoover
Up the shavings off their sitting room floor?
Or darning socks that are too darned thin to bother nowadays,
Or jarring jam, or bottling sloe gin, or
Washing up; which filled in time, once upon a time,
As we talked between dinner and sleep.
An Absence in Abundance
Lavender lays sideways under the weight of wind and blossom
But the bees clinging to the swaying stalks are few and far between.
An exuberance of blooms festoon the garden; from geraniums to clover,
But the butterflies are almost all white. Where is the abundance?
The humming profusion we should see before us?
The insects are ever scarcer on the farm – apart from houseflies –
And sparrows are ousting the house martins.
Those looking closely can see the cracks and give voice
To our misgivings that something’s got to give.