Category Archives: poetry

Reasons to have kids in your twenties

It’s my son’s birthday today. He’s three. I’m nearly 45. Not necessarily a problem, but my back is not as good as it could be when he’s climbing up on my shoulders…

Yesterday the downstairs neighbour phoned at 7.45am to ask if we could get the child to not run along the hall so loudly.  Not the child’s fault. This nice 1860’s house we live in, though, tends to reverberate like a 13kilo kid is Harrison Bergeron stomping through the rooms.

It reminded me of a poem I wrote a while back, though. I’ve plenty of ex-students who, though fifteen years younger than I, started having their kids at the same age as I. They didn’t get the good sense from their former teacher, but they’re showing their intelligence all the same!

Regardless of your age, I hope you enjoy. Sorry I’ve no photos of actual kids – mine aren’t allowed on the internet.

 

Reasons to have kids in your 20s.

They’ll say you’re stupid; it’s too early,

But don’t listen to their insistence on

Being stable, for kids are earthquakes

Set to undermine any well-laid foundations

So have them while your world is still whirling.

 

Forget that financial comfort buffer,

Which could crack as easily as the flat-screen

You can finally afford. It’s easy to deny

When you don’t have to give. Best let their

Screams of injustice at the sound of no

Echo in an empty house you don’t even own

As you spend decades in a shithole renter

Which becomes somebody else’s problem

Once you leave the safety deposit behind

Along with crayon on the wall and peeled paint.

Better that than they destroy the decent

House you deserve by your forties, and tears

Are indecent in front of a toddler, no matter

How he gouges the hardwood floor, or

Scratches the CDs you kept all those years

Nor tears the copy of the Hobbit you took

To three continents before “settling down.”

Children’s laughter sounds sweeter living

In a house where there’s nothing much to break.

 

The sleep you’ll never get with young kids

You don’t even need yet.

You’re awake all night now, so why not

Stick a bottle in a baby’s mouth while

Watching midnight marathons of Netflix films?

 

In your forties, eight hours is no longer a luxury;

It’s a necessity. But they’ll be out at pyjama parties,

If you’re smart, in other people’s houses.

 

One thing you learn when you become a parent, is

You’re never ready, nor ever could be

No matter how long you wait

So have them early and

When everything steadies, you’ll be ready for

Relaxation while you’re still young enough

To be worth going on holiday with.

 

After all, all the energy you yet have

Once they’re grown up and gone,

They’ll have use of just as much as you;

When the grandkids come calling

And they’re crawling and climbing, finding

Fragile items for pawing, and falling.

 

 

Advertisements

A blogpost in place of a poem

I lost a friend the other day, died of cancer, the way many do, after a decade or more living with the disease in varied bouts of beating and being beaten.

I often write a poem when someone important dies. This time no words came out of the void in a shape that made me think it should be a poem.

Perhaps it was because I found out the news over the internet – one of the few positive points about some social media sites that at least some use it for good, if sad actions. Many of his friends found out the same way. At the time I was in work, teaching in a school where nobody knows nor knew Tamir Teichman. As I found out when my grandmother died while I was in Boston, school kids don’t need to know about what’s going on behind the smile when you greet them in the classroom. The show goes on. So I’d little time to digest the news and let my memories return the way it would be needed to write a poem.

Instead, it’s a blog post.

Tamir bikeride.jpgI worked with Tamir for several years when I lived in Boston. We were two of three people in the CHS science dept., along with Anna Power, who’d been Tamir’s student teacher. They taught chemistry and physics, while I taught biology. We had three classes in a row, mine in the middle, joined by interior doors. We went in and out of one another’s class all the time, often leaving the doors open if one of us needed to use the bathroom. He made reagents for my experiments when I ran out, and was a great colleague. He was also a great teacher, who taught me a lot, and I hope in my own career some of what I learned from him has stuck and been transmitted to my own classroom.  He never varied in his frank and honest approach to his classes and the students. He was the same person in the classroom and out. His methods sometimes clashed with the administration’s views of how classrooms should be run, especially those of a new headmaster who after a couple of years fired Tamir – the laws in America are not usually much help to employees. The union had been ousted before I started in CHS and we had a right to work agreement in place of a contract.  Tamir saw the writing on the wall, but never changed the way he went about things. As far as the students are concerned, his way was clearly the right way to do things, as his friends could see on social media when a huge number of people declared he was the best teacher they’d ever had.

He was one of the best colleagues I ever had, I can tell you. And one of the best friends. We spent a lot of time together during the seven years I lived there, from going out for drinks on Fridays with the other teachers, to cycling along the Charles River on Saturdays, to a road trip we took in a U-Haul truck, taking some of his mother’s antique furniture from storage down in Boca Raton up to Brookline – a trip from Miami to Maine, all told. Living in rental accommodation, I was delighted to help him out in his garden, doing a little bit of landscaping in his house and the summer camp his family have on the shores of one of the lakes of Maine, where he’d invited me and my wife and we’d take in the wildlife and the silence. I’ve experienced fewer more peaceful places in the world – even in Wicklow the wind is always in your ears!

1935587_118775593689_6361097_n.jpg

Tamir on the open road

 

1935587_118787963689_3164299_n.jpg

At Kitty Hawk

 

1935587_118802188689_2743639_n.jpg

Tamir and my wife out on the lake

A dedicated environmentalist, he saved everything, from school materials to bike parts. One of his, and my, great disappointments was to see the old vintage benches of the labs torn up and thrown out rather than taken by an antiques dealer – it would have made an amazing pub bar. Before he left CHS, we donated lots of old chemicals and materials to one of my former student teachers who’d started in a charter school that needed stuff (in America, many schools rely on charity to do the best they can for their kids). He taught me how to cool a house at night and keep the heat out during the day, and for drinking glasses he used really lovely old jam jars to serve freshly squeezed orange juice in the humid summer.

He died after a long illness, which though debilitating at times never stopped him from his work as athletic coach, nor slowed him down on a bike ride – he outpaced me easily. He’d left another school since then, and was working in a less stressful job when I last talked to him.

P1070377.JPG

Our last bike ride along the Charles.

His mother had moved in with him, but she’d died just recently, coincidentally, or perhaps not. He was single, with two siblings living overseas and their children, two aged aunts and some cousins.

1935587_118693948689_4434350_n.jpg

Tamir in his mother’s car before we took a drive around Miami

 

Yet he leaves many, many mourning his passing. He leaves a multitude of memories among his friends and colleagues, and he has made a significant mark on the lives of his students. They will keep him alive. His actions have their ripples though the times to come, having helped form adults who will work to make this world, their world, a better place than the way it was when they were thrown it.

Whatever your view on the afterlife –I’ve no idea of Tamir’s, since we never talked much about religion, other than about his family’s history of having survived the Holocaust – one thing I’ve learned from this sad episode is that your actions during life will reflect on what happens when you die. Perhaps you’ll have a lot of kids to attend your funeral, have family to pray for your passage through purgatory and onto the pearly gates. Maybe you won’t. Yet even if you don’t, never think that your life hasn’t touched someone, that someone won’t mourn your absence, won’t think wistfully of the time you smiled at them, offered help, extended a hand, said a kindly word, gave your honest opinion and made them ponder, wonder, reconsider, feel some emotion.

As I said on social media, mostly directed at my (our) former students who knew Tamir, nobody dies who lives on in memories. Tamir will never be lost from the thoughts of those who knew him. His positive energy will reverberate though our worlds.

Sometimes when a person dies, we say, well, thank god they’re gone. Think of Margaret Thatcher…. I’ve experienced a few of those thoughts. There are some people who are just arseholes. Even children and grandkids can be glad to get shut of their elderly parents and grandparents, truth be told.

Other times, after the sadness comes a smile, a contentedness, a (cold) comfort, that at least you had the privilege to meet that man, to know that woman.

That’s what I feel now, a few days later. I know my life has been enriched for knowing Tamir and hanging out with him.

1935587_118714943689_6904338_n

chilling out in Saint Augustine, Fl. Rest well, T.

I only hope a little of his teaching style rubbed off on me, and that when I die, some at least will say something similar of me.

 

Winter Returns, for now.

Winter Returns

 

News at Nine, now. And our first story of course is

What everyone’s talking about today. The weather.

Yes, winter has hit, and hard. Lots of traffic

Snarl-ups this morning, with tailbacks of two hours,

Cars sliding on the icy surface after the first snowfall

Of the season. Hundreds of hub workers literarily

Frozen in gridlock on their way in from the suburbs:

Even those who left well before dawn to get a jump

On the rest forced to a slow crawl behind snowploughs

And salt spreaders – an army of which were out

All night, trying to keep the cars moving, and will be

In force for the rest of the cold snap.

 

Yet, it didn’t get

Any better during this evening’s commute, people

Still on the road as we speak. We’ll be taking you

Live, later to our on-site reports from a host of

Highways and byways, where there’s not much

Headway being made at all.

 

And what a shock

To the system; suddenly, the hot weather

We were all becoming so accustomed to, has gone

For now. The beer gardens and restaurant

Terraces, that were teeming last weekend, now

Deserted but for a few forlorn sparrows seeking

Crumbs under the drifts of their new white home.

While we’re faced with a whole lot of inconvenience

For the foreseeable future. Especially those travelling

Long distances, another thing we’ve become used to.

Wheel chains compulsory on certain routes; time to

Change to all-weather tyres and fill up on anti-freeze.

Perhaps only the kids are happy, with a delayed

Arrival at school and perhaps a free day tomorrow,

As it’s set to freeze hard again, especially in the hills

While the rest of us just shrug and get on with it,

Hoping there won’t be a power cut and we can get

The drive shovelled before our extra-hour-long drive.

 

Nevertheless, it’s worth reminding ourselves

That we used to be used to this, this used to be usual,

And for once we can go skiing or sledding, so get that sleigh

Out of the shed, and if you have kids make a snowman –

Making sure to film them, for they mightn’t remember

All this in twenty years, and think it a fairy tale.

Take them to the woods at least, for the first time

This year, perhaps, without worrying about tick bites

Lyme Disease and the other nasty bugs they transmit.

The flies, too, are dropping like they’re famed to, but

Have been plaguing us on our patios till now, and

The mosquitos are also finally dying so Deet isn’t needed

To keep West Nile virus and Yellow Fever at bay, till spring.

 

Next spring there might be fewer lines of those

Poisonous processionary caterpillars for your dog to

Get mixed up with, if this hard frost penetrates their nests,

Giving foresters a break in their pine plantations, too.

The farmers will also be happy, since the grasshoppers

Aren’t nibbling at their sown winter cereals now, and

Perhaps a crop will come up green before next year’s

Eggs are hatched and ravenous at the sprouting stalks.

 

As for traffic, well, better have your car buried

By snow, which at least you can dig out of, than have

It carried off down the street by a flash flood, like

We saw during last month’s devastating torrential rains.

 

So, before we go to our roving reporters, a quick

Recap of international news, including new warming

Recorded in the Greenland icecap, and a typhoon

Threatening the already soaked and suffering Bengalis.

The End of the World is Nigh

The End of the World is Nigh

 

When the end of the world is nigh

They will tell us nothing, but let us

Go on, for what is the point of panic?

 

Hence we hear only a faintest whisper,

From those who have little time left

And no fear of living the chaos

 

Impending, no impact by outside rock;

But we have passed the point of no return:

Internal combustion causing climate

Change equal to our own destruction,

Plastic pollution disintegrating

Micro-particles integrating until

Clogging molecular mechanisms

As much as albatross digestive tracts,

With equal effect on our own baby.

 

Making the same silence met when

They found out and failed to raise

A finger, much less act, resound now,

For what worth screaming as we fall?

 

 

 

I know it’s been pretty depressing reading that.

But think about it.

The most recent IPCC report basically says we’re fucked if we don’t move like yesterday.

It is clear that action is the only option. It’s so much cheaper to stop the train than pick up the pieces after it crashes, unless you’re selling sandwiches on board…

The Vineyards of Spain are already seeing that climate change threatens the future of their brands.

Yet ecologists are still bickering about how to convince governments to do something – some think we need to show how much money the natural world gives to us for free or they won’t listen. Which is depressing – It won’t matter much if the environment breaks down. They’ll be convinced of it’s worth when it’s gone, like so many songs say.

Of course, we can have robot bees… (fuckwit idea right there just shows what we’re up against.)

Since the 70s, we’ve been warned, worried and have yet to act to do anything about Global Climate change.

Well, I say yet to act in any meaningful necessary way. I certainly try to use less energy than I could. I do all the right things in terms of waste and buying less, – I’ve even taken fewer flights and cut down on meat. But the big boys, they’ve done fuck all. The ones who could make a difference. The decision makers, as W used to call himself.

I remember the line in The War of the Worlds, where the parson’s wife says, “No, Nathanial no. There must be more to life. There has to be a way that we can restore to life, the love that we have known. And if one man can stand tall, there must be some hope for us all, somewhere in the spirit of man…”

Is there hope?

The world is being fucked by the 0.0001 % of the population. 700 out of more than 7000.0000,000 have the vast majority of the wealth. More money than they can ever use, even in their extravagance. And yet they don’t use it for good. A few do a couple of nice things, but really, what do they do except hide their money from us and the slim taxes they might have to pay?

As a meme asked the other day. “What happened when we all found out they were scamming us in the panama papers?

Nothing.

A much higher percentage of their money is spent paying lobbyists than on philanthropy. And if one of them decided to spend money getting the governments to go the other way (yes, I am assuming that they’re corrupt and influenced by these lobbyists. Let’s be real here.) perhaps it would save us.

Yet, even the good ones piss around playing with rockets.

Are they afraid to go directly up against the rich ones around them? Is there some code, some club or what?

Just countering the oil and coal men might do a great deal. Of course, perhaps that’s just a waste of money – the oilmen would counter with more of their own money.

So is there a solution?

I don’t know.

Part of me is convinced there isn’t. The time to act was back in the 70s and 80, or even the 90s, when there was something approaching a global vision of our planet. Now, we seem to be going backwards, to nationalism, xenophobia, intolerance and zero-sum game one-upmanship, even as the climate crisis forces millions to migrate – just a fraction of the number who will be dispossessed in a few decades if we don’t stop the train.

If there is a solution to the emergency, to me it is beginning to look a lot like revolution. It’s hard to boycott hedge funds and Wal-Mart. They have their fingers in so many holes.

 

I remember once when I was a kid, watching an interview with John Lennon, talking about his song and revolution.

He said we’d need the institutions that are usually broken in revolutions. People break infrastructure and burn down post offices and all that. Which were useful things people would need after the revolution, so it was stupid to destroy them.

And yet, the premise is becoming less and less robust as we progress. If we were to destroy the whole of New York City, wipe out the stock exchanges, the banks and government buildings of the major cities of the planet, it would still be better than allowing business as usual, given the scale of the damage these intuitions are doing to us.

It’s gotten that bad.

Which is why I’m writing this.

Of course, they won’t tell us that.

They don’t want us to panic.

God knows what we’d do if we were to panic…

We’d certainly clog up the roads and perhaps over run their golf courses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Universal Connections

 

 

Universal Connections

 

I sit upon a hotel terrace,

Gazing out at grebes

Diving between white and yellow

Water lilies, trying to grasp our universe.

 

This Dark Matter they say

Gives gravity to our galaxy

Must mingle with us here on Earth,

Else why do I feel such linking

With other species, the lake life teeming?

 

I am entwined with these trees

More than merely exchanging molecules.

 

Reincarnation is reality. A part of me

Exists outside myself, with which I can commune;

 

Fragments of my former lives abound in this pond,

Fine portions of prior bodies populate the forest.

There’s a strand of me in that serene swan

Stately sliding, signets drawn behind like magnets.

These geese gliding in on the twilight and I

Share atoms. The stones under our feet,

Still throb with the vitality of ancient seas;

Our electrons once spun in the same shells

And yet retain the memory of those orbits.

 

Since the energy of starbursts vibrates on in ourselves,

These connections are impossible to erase,

We are one: our earth, the stars and empty reaches,

Really only fractals of an elementary existence.

 

 

I wrote that a couple of months ago while staying in this hotel, having breakfast on this terrace. Just to show there are positive poems going round my head too!

IMG-20180528-WA0003

It was in the Netherlands, and the lake was man-made, created when dredging to make higher land elsewhere in town. The motorway went past behind those trees, but it was still wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and the waterfowl didn’t care how their home was made. It shows that nature can come back strong when given a chance, even in the midst of our habitations.

Here’s another in the same vein, one of a few I was inspired to write that week…

As you can see from the photo at the bottom, it’s hard not to be inspired in that light.

 

Twinned with an Egret

 

They say every electron has a twin;

In space and time, while even atoms

Exist in two separate places at once.

Well, that would explain this affinity

For egrets and owls and willow trees.

Motes might not have the energy to

Escape gravity, but bits of bodies split:

My twins vibrate in other entities.

 

IMG-20180528-WA0017

 

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

 

At the End of the Days

 

Ultimately, if our civilization

Can’t continue without further

Ecological destruction and

Genocide of tribal peoples,

It’s not very fucking advanced.

 

5/8/18

I wrote this the other day after Reading Gary Snyder’s The Old Ways.

Then I heard that August 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Here’s a video.

The main point about allowing people to live the way they always have is to understand that they are not “Stone Age,” nor primitive, and that if they have not already become part of our globalised civilisation it is because they do not want to, not because they’re too ignorant to know better. They do know better. They have heard of the ways of the world outside and they have rejected it. Sometimes because of a very real fear for their lives.

Second thing is to understand that the land they live on, if it belongs to anyone, belongs to them. We need to stay the hell out of there – and that mostly  includes loggers, miners, ranchers, palm oil producers… all those nice people…

Here’s another video. As it asks, how long could you last alone in the forest?

On the other hand, how long do you think it would take one of the Yanomami kids, currently being affected by a measles epidemic,  to figure out how to play FIFA on your playstation?

Five minutes, is the answer to both….

mail.jpeg

As Snyder said back in the 70s, to be able to survive off what the land under your feet provides is a sign of extreme advancement. Our society can’t do that. it needs so much more…

here’s another poem.

 

Equilibrium

 

Balance comes in all we observe;

It is a fundament of our Universe:

Strong forces and electromagnetism

Keep atoms unified or flimsy, gravity

Balanced with a satellite’s speed keep it

Spinning instead of spiralling away.

So too on our planet, as the mountains

Rise, so the earth underneath goes ever

Deeper. In our humanity we see the same

Climbing by pushing down others: leisure

Comes only by enslaving or exploiting,

Creating peasants and proletariats;

Cites spread by denuding vast areas outside;

And imperialism depends upon

Ecological destruction.

5/8/18

 

I donate 10% of my royalties on the Silver Nights Trilogy to Survival International.

The planet needs them, and they need us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lepidopterist’s Dream

Turning on a mountain track

We stumble upon a lepidopterist’s dream:

Butterflies abounding, bouncing from

Bramble to buttercup, clover to cornflower;

A dancing profusion of colour in heat

Haze of August morning amplified

By the addition of dragonflies, damsel

Flies, hoverflies and bumblebees, with

A host of other insects humming and

It occurred to me, that there were once

Such sights in my own suburbs, along

The hedgerows down below and beyond.

That once everywhere outside the city

Centre was an entomologist’s dream, and

The countryside the same for ornithologists

Now they lament the stark scenes

Silent callows empty of corncrakes, and

The bees barely seen in park trees,

Moths no longer litter windscreens

Of a night drive, and these hills, though

Still roamed by pigs and roe, seems so

Similar to those of South Africa, they should

Also hold antelope, lions and leopards

And once they did, until all were lost,

Along with the bison, auroch, and rhinos.

 

As for the sea, it also should be teeming

They say in the seventeenth century,

Thrashing tails were seen from shore.

Now trawlers roam for days, and only

Coral reefs this century remain, as

The bramble banks of the sea. Yet

How long can its rainbow dance continue?

We watch their wonderful choreography

Holding on to those tiny joys to keep going

But the world is crumbling, we are bumbling

While the coral is bleached clean. Unless we care

More than before, these brambles will be as bare.

 

 

20180722_105619.jpg

if you zoom in, you should be able to see some of the hundreds of butterflies up along this track. I took a video, but it wasn’t very steady…

Planting for the next Century

 

20180518_083948.jpg

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.

Oasis

20180511_090738.jpg

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.

20180429_172053

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.

20180429_172649.jpg

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?