Category Archives: poetry

Planting for the next Century

 

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Where Should I Plant this Sapling?

 

They say a man plants

A tree, not for himself, but

For his descendants. Well,

I agree, and have seen

The benefits of a mulberry

Planted by a man I never met,

More than a century past.

 

As the sentinel starts to sag

I’ve saved a sapling from

Between its roots and would

Take the next step for my

Generation before it falls.

 

But where would it prosper?

I fear the weather

Will not favour the same spot

As its forefather for much longer

Than half its lifetime,

And ere it gives fullest fruits

Will stand in different clime.

 

So, where should I plant this sapling

In a changing world?

 

Where its roots can anchor the eroding soil

As farmers harvest down to the last?

 

On a slope so the children of this village

Can reach the lower limbs

To stain fingers and lips on

Summer afternoons, should

Any remain after rains have

Deserted the landscape?

 

In a ditch to take some advantage

Of rich dampness as the rest

Of fields blister in the sun?

 

Or on a high knoll to stay dry

While surrounding ground soaks

Under incessant thunderstorms,

Turning this aridness instead wet?

 

It seems a bet to hedge;

I should plant a score

From hill to shore.

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Oasis

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Oasis

 

I rested upon some leaves of grass this morning;

Dabbling as the park drakes dipped in the rippling

Pond shimmering sunlight reflections against green:

The distant traffic as irrelevant as desert sand dunes

Beyond the screen, for all the notice the ducks took,

And us, aware of such, see what they mean

By oasis.

 

Escaping the City

Though the rains have returned, it’s still kinda nice enough to get out of the city these days.

And it’s so nice to do so.

The orchids are up in the Valdorba, and the thyme blooming.

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Unfortunately, the rains have increased the erosion in many places where there’s not enough vegetation to hold the soil. This bunch of thyme is clinging on, but you can see the rocks breaking away from the side of the gully behind it.

And yes, that is recently burnt vegetation behind the orchid… some farmers just don’t get that scrub serves to hold their soil from washing away down to the Ebro and silt it up, which they complain about later when the farms on the floodplain… flood.

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Hopefully the other plants can grow and help slow down further breaks.

 

Here’s a poem I wrote recently about getting into the countryside.

 

Birdsong Outside the City

 

Something calls, unseen, to me

Hidden in a willow tree of a copse

Alongside a swift river tugging

Tangled dangling fronds and

Flooding islands, a place

Providing people only invitation,

 

Unheard above the cars of

The city where blackbirds scream,

 

A small, soft, birdsong twittering

Like a signal, reverberating in

This stillness, resonating

 

As far as childhood; deeper,

Into bones, birth, bringing

Relief like a lost boy seeing

Family, safety, a memory.

 

A song saying stay, for whenever

Could one return?

 

 

 

Spring has sprung… or has it started?

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.

 

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the walls of Pamplona dusted with snow

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.

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my daughter gathering snow for a snowball fight before it melts

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 Drought Breaks

 

The Rains Return

 

The sky weeps;

Bent low,

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.

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the spring last week above, the same spring in September below…
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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.

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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 End of Fire Season… until next year?

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.

 

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Forest fires across Galicia, photo Diario Sur

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.

 

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European cranes. photo wikipedia – need a better camera myself!

 

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.

 

 

Leave off the Light

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.

First Birdsong

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.

 

First Birdsong

 

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

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!

The College Election

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.

Mixed Blessings?

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?