Category Archives: poetry
Marching bands and ballerinas
Parade the street, pulling public,
Producing impromptu dances
Around pushchairs and infants
Held aloft; cheering and chants
And stampings, stampeding
Children screaming gleefully
Gobbling up potato chips, fried
Calamari, scampi and such snacks
Washed with beer and wine,
Vermouth and gin and an ever-
Growing list of sin, resisted
Until the wee hours under stars,
Revelling unrelenting. Renewed
As sunlight reveals debris and
Blinkered vision revolves to
Another village, a different festival,
Of a reencountered countryside
Ready for recreation after a year
Of restraint and restriction. See
A need for sun burning, but
Another urge underneath fuels
This seeming endless summer:
A sense of a September looming
Despite peaceful scenes.
Heat will resist yet, bringing
Only waves of pain. Winter comes
Indeed, but carries no snow,
Nor silent ice-glazed stasis,
Only storms. The wars await,
Worse than after a former August
And this is our last cabaret,
Held under a hammer cocked,
A trigger primed, and all
Staggering at the tipping-point.
We were finishing up the festival of San Fermin Txikito, or little San Fermin, last weekend, which was kind of the last festival of the summer – one which had the youths going to as many festivals in as many villages round Pamplona as they could get to, after the two years they missed out on because of the Covid restrictions. And I just said to myself – good luck to them. They’ll have shit shovelled out in front of them soon enough. We have had a terrible summer in terms of exacerbated “natural” disasters, but as the weather gets cooler, we can only look forward to a winter, if not of discontent, then of a realisation of how bad things are going to get (in the privileged west where it hasn’t actually started yet unlike many other places) on our current global trajectory. We just have to turn down the thermostat here, and shorten the shower times, while in other places they’re kinda sorta fucked, as it were.
After I’d written this poem, someone on twitter, commenting on the current fiasco in the UK compared it to Weimar economics, and look how that ended up – suggesting we have a final cabaret.
So it’s not just me, of course…
I have few photos to illustrate this poem for obvious reasons…. who wants their photo on the internet with a pile of beer bottles etc. round them? I wouldn’t! But no judgement if you’re enjoying yourself – a drink before the war, as Sinéad sang…
We have finally got some decent days of rain – and who’d have thought we’d be saying such words even a couple of decades ago?
September has returned, and the swimming pools have closed – an important part of the end of summer even in this cooler part of Spain.
So here’s a short poem inspired by the last dip a couple of weeks ago…
Chill seeps through skin and up
Legs creating a repelling shiver
Shaken off at last, reluctant leap,
Sweeping sweat away in one
Stroking refreshing lengths of
The clear water, vibrant, energized,
Once out, heat resting upon
The village becomes welcome again.
Soaking afternoon sun
Seems summer holds yet
Tight to the terrain. Still
Leaves left lying upon pool tiles
Tell a different tale:
September has returned;
Trees not dry of drought turn,
Blackberries shrivelled on brambles
Sloes fallen from thorns, walnuts
Weakly cling to limp twigs;
Chestnut spikes lie scattered
On forest floor, surprisingly, as if
We’d somehow forgotten
Autumn would come, and
At first, as evening chill envelops –
Our inertia preferring to ignore it.
Yet, when jumpers dug out of drawers,
We’ll embrace the breeze:
As bracing as this latest bathe.
Drought Triggers Fall like Frost
The forest climbs either side of the valley
Up from the river gulley, glinting pools and
Protruding rocks, grey against green,
Except where steeply narrows, now
Auburn, gold and orange like autumn
Came in August as trees let their leaves
Fall on the shallow soil rather than farther
Toil for little gain under the strain
Of such a fiery glare all summer long.
Of Plastic and Plasticity
Peering out over open water: green wash,
No spot of black to mark a seal, nor sight
Of white to indicate ice upon which to strike,
The bear turns about, towards dry land,
And trundles away from the shore,
Following a novel scent, not so sure
To signify a meal, but more appealing
Than sterile saline. The stench of humans
Almost overpowers hunger, pull of putrefaction,
But cautiously the bear pads across scraped
Gravel and strands of soft stuff –not snow – and
Colourful lumps, shiny hard strips and bits.
A sharp set of claws upturns tins and other
Things the bear has never seen, and finds skin,
Bones and shreds of flesh of prey never tasted:
Not even raw; changed in a way it can’t fathom.
Other animals abound – gulls and foxes and
Neighbour bears. But she fights for her share
Of the spread-out spoils of some unknown
Carnage, scavenging scraps of flesh amid debris,
Some of which is stuck with string, some
Clinging to wrappers – has to be eaten also –
But are surely shed easily enough
As would be ingested seal skin and bone.
Some men with glasses from a far observe
The animal with consternation, as it with
Relish ingests the refuse: Earth’s greatest
Quadruped predator reduced to such. But
Others shrug at suggestions of contamination,
Considering the data and the sea state –
Since even artic snow and summer rain contain
The same chemicals as the landfill, and
The seals are a dish equally intoxicating
From fish swimming in poisoned brine.
What use, they wonder, a pristine scene
Without seals within reach of a beach,
Other than to produce a perfectly clean
Bear carcass: healthy except for hunger?
The bear, on the other hand, now on land,
Is pulled by the wind past the dump, to
More varied carrion. Carcasses lie in woods:
Caribou, moose, deer and musk oxen;
Moving, the quarry could become new prey
Replacing seals, if bears become plastic enough.
The pinipeds themselves, if they are to survive,
Shall someday have to haul up on a shore to pup;
Walrus, too, must beach for calves to breach.
Eventually, perhaps, an adaptation to such crap
From our waste, awash in any water, solid or not,
They encounter, can give a chance for all species
To scarcely subsist somehow in a new balance.
But such hopes fast melt in plasticity’s absence.
Not the most up-beat of poems, but in some way a tiny bit optimistic for the predator if not species of large mammal facing the most precarious future of us all….
Holding Gold Dust
The kids are in the river, scooping up fry in the shallows,
Squashing half as they let them go again as we leave.
We try to release them alive, all the time remembering
When once, we could, well, afford to kill them
In their hundreds: seeing thousands more teem between
The rocks of even city rivers and streams.
Like we did with insects: snatching ladybirds and bees,
Finding moths and crane flies in bathrooms, woodlice
By the dozen, catching starlings, titmice and sparrows,
In traps and jars and crabs in buckets on the beach.
Such abundance we scattered shells like sand;
But soon, when the water is sterile if not dry
We will shake our heads and cry, understand,
When we were young we held gold dust in our hands.
I have no photos at all to illustrate this – I could post a photo of the gravel beach where the kids were scooping the minnows, but the city council have cleared away that beach now, to free up the stepping stone bridge before the winter floods, which had deposited the huge load of stones. The fish seem happy in the shallows now.
Anyway, you’ll either be familiar with the former abundance, and thus perfectly able to picture what I’m talking about, or you won’t…. in which case, I’m really sorry, but no photo I can post would do justice to what’s gone. Well, at least at the beach, most of us are able to spot a few crabs, and perhaps catch one or two, for a while to show the kids before letting them go again…
The title comes from a song by Tori Amos, who I’ve listened to since I was of an age where there was yet abundance! I heard of her from a friend just after Little Earthquakes came out. This is one of my favourite songs of hers, and one I wish we could all be mindful of – the things we had, the things we yet have in our hands, and we should care for like fallen nestlings.
Been reading this book,
It’s pretty informative.
And it inspired the following poem…
Along with this little guy…
My youngest child, holding his newest toy,
Up overhead, like a talisman: a soft doll
Sewn in the shape of a turbaned genie,
Pronounced his wishes would the words
Only carry the power of the fable.
“I would have Geniousious – its given name –
Kill Putin, and make it not be able
To have any animal in danger of extinction.”
A sad assertion for a six-year-old.
Which sunk my soul deeper into my bowels.
From reading an outline of human history
From the fall of the Roman Empire to
The fall of the Third Reich, I could
Summarise the centuries of papal succession
Crusaders and invaders swaying
To and fro, back and forth over the soil,
Staining with flesh and blood the Earth,
Sweeping millions to their massacres,
In thrusting, thirsting, for supremacy,
In short sentences: shit happened
That never should have, had we only
Stayed on the savannah with mere spears.
The bastard causing my son such sadness
And the statement bringing me to tears
Is just the latest in a long list, I insist:
He is not alone. Regardless of their tone
The rest of the pantheon are playing
As if the planet is actually replaceable
Or simply a stepping-stone to the next
Star system they can subjugate.
Too late to save those of the second wish
From their fate: the genie would have to
Hold the secret of time, to travel back
To the time of tribes seeking new lands,
Stop seafaring, sledding, steel science…
The systems we created to control
Have slipped from our own, and seem
Destined to deliver us back our destiny:
We shall stumble, back to our beginnings
As just another species on a rock
Awash with water and organic molecules
Transforming from one shape to another
As all are eaten, even the ones with weapons,
Until our form of life dies out, along with lots
Of other sorts, and some others evolve, I surmise,
We shall suffer, I am grieved to say, son, for
We are already, sliding, and, Jesus wept,
Seem inept at dodging, not just bullets aimed at us,
But oncoming steam engines of our own devising,
From far off with a blinding light beckoning at us.
We sleepwalked into a new disease creation,
Let it clutch enough of us so it shall cling on
Like a long list of poxes yet to appear, but near.
The heat waves and fires washing over white houses
Have had no effect on our behaviour any more
Than the waves of refugees fleeing from its results:
Even now the crisis erroneously seen as rideable
Rather than a rising tide set to swamp.
The swimmers so far stamped upon by standers, yet,
Littering the sand, shall pile up like plastic:
Become numbers on an ever longer set of statistics,
Of deaths, in the desert resulting from our
Immoral immigration legislation, letting
Famine fell far more than the virus, multiples
Of anything we’ve seen over the millennia
Of Mongols and Huns and Hitler’s gas and guns.
The lessons of History seem serving only to
Prepare some for the suffering to come:
Send us into the trees yet green to gather up
The tiny glories all around us while we can;
Create a wealth of memories with one another which
Might help us weather better our dour destiny,
Hoping we’re able to die a natural death
From mere bad health before it all dissolves.
And if there’s a third wish left upon the table,
Let it be this: that my children stay off such lists,
And choose to spread ideas instead of seed:
Leave poems, not progeny, for words
Do not suffer such as sentient beings shall.
I haven’t even finished reading the book…
This is the page I am on now – coincidentally in a chapter on the Spanish Civil War….
I read this headline today in my local newspaper. It translates to “the Navarra shop owners are against Sanchez’s measures to save energy. Some foresee insecurity if the shop windows have no lights after ten pm.”
The photo caption reads “Complaints about the heat in the market.”
This photo here is some storm clouds gathering over the dry dry (and, as you know, quite extensively burnt) landscape I stare out over every evening as I sit and write.
I’ve posted this photo because there is a fucking storm brewing. The actual storms come stronger than ever, and they do little to help the thirsty land compared to the rain we used to have in Spain.
But also, it’s very beautiful.
And soon enough we might only see beauty up above the landscape, because the landscape will cease to be beautiful by itself.
That newspaper headline tells us how quickly that might happen…
We can not even turn down the AC. We can’t even agree to turn off the lights, the ones that aren’t even being used… (I wrote a poem about that, actually, which I must post some time.)
And that’s to just lower energy use by 15% so we can help the rest of Europe, which will have a colder winter than we will in Spain.
In a war.
How can we hope to avoid the worst of Climate Change in light of this kind of stupidity?
I, as you can see from the poem, fail to have much hope at all.
There are realities and there are coping mechanisms.
My six-year-old is a big nature fan. And I am faced with the task of explaining the fate of nature in addition to its wonder. And sometimes it’s too hard. Thus the poem.
Planting a Flag Upon the Shifting Baseline
Passing an afternoon in the local park
Beyond the playground with youngest
Child exploring our natural world around
Appears bare over and above weeded beds
The park hosts ducks and if lucky a few
Unseen moles given away their holes in
Tight mown lawns . The pond produces
Not a dragon nor damselfly these days;
Frogs do not call nor drop from Lilly pads.
Starlings must suffice for birdsong in
The absence of other sopranos. Sparrows
Tweet where warblers once had trilled.
Cherry blossoms bloom only for humans it
Seems: no bees now humming about branches.
But the sun still burns as the Earth turns,
And instead of telling tales of yore;
The beings which beautified our world before,
I plant my flag upon the shifting baseline
And allow my boy appreciate the birds and
Insects that are left: ants on the rocks,
Grasshoppers blending into the too-late left
Unmown blades; daisies and dandelions yet
Lovely even if aren’t orchids and goldfinches
No longer glorify the scene as they seek seeds.
The ducks are enough to look at despite there
Once being more dainty denizens in the reeds:
For thus we seize upon the joy we need,
The only hope for wonder left clinging
After the stupid, searing, sundering of greed.
Although on this blog I mostly post poetry, it’s usually poetry inspired by events that have been happening to me or around me, and I have often posted my thoughts on political events in the past.
These events have always been about places I know, from having lived there, or at least visited and know enough about to have formed an opinion. Thus I haven’t written about the Arab spring uprisings, nor the civil war in Syria, nor, despite the horror of it, the war in Yemen.
In some instances I’ve been reticent because it’s hard to say much without offending som people who I’d rather not. As an author, I don’t want to alienate my readers, nor nail my colours to a mast in full sight of the world when there are many colours and many masts, all of which may (or may not) be valid, when it’s not my place to get into, for example, US politics. I wasn’t a fan of Trump’s, but I know that millions there were, and I know some of these personally. I’d rather everyone read my books, not just people of one persuasion, and I hope they’ll find something in my books that might sway them to think the way I do.
In the present case, however, it’s impossible not to opine.
Although I don’t know much about Ukraine, and the nearest I’ve been is Prague (or Leningrad – not sure which is closer), it’s Europe.
I’m a European.
I’ve said many times that my family is fully committed to the European integration ideals.
My kids have two passports and speak three languages and have a mix of many cultures. Tell them to decide what they are and the only answer is European. They can’t split themselves into any single country or culture. Nor should they have to.
If Ukraine wants to be part of the EU, then they should be welcomed. And we in the EU should not worry about losing our identities if we have a stronger union – just as being Basque doesn’t mean you can’t feel Spanish too, or more correctly, being in a country called Spain does not mean you can’t be Basque, so being in Europe doesn’t mean we’ll be less Irish.
The invasion of Ukraine is so clearly wrong that it’s uncontroversial to condemn the actions of Putin and the generals who obey his orders. The poor bastards doing the fighting are not to blame, nor the Russians, and Belarusians who’ve had to live with corrupt and psychotic megalomaniacs running their lives for the last twenty and more years.
As an Irishman (I do only have one passport and my 4 languages are really 1+ fractions) I’m sensitive to the questions posed on social media about what one would do if it were our country being invaded.
Well, that’s an interesting question.
Ireland had an invasion a long time ago.
We didn’t completely succeed in getting rid of them. Some would say we’ve not quite finished with that task.
It’s a complicated situation.
And at least in the place I lived in, it was not encouraged to involve ourselves in anything about it, though we knew of people who did.
The point, in the case of Ireland, a part of Europe – as the recent Brexit debacle has clearly shown everyone, even those people who had as much idea of our place in the world as they had of that of Ukraine until Mr Trump’s impeachment – we don’t solve such conflicts with tanks and bombs and guns (like the song laments).
The cultural connection between Russians and Ukrainians are very probably similar to that between British and Irish. We’re not the same, but sometimes outsiders mix us up, and that’s because we’re closely tied, which should make us allies rather than enemies, who can solve our differences peacefully.
To return to the question, however, of whether the citizens of the Republic of Ireland would take up arms to defend our country if the British (to use the obvious example – the Scandinavians are hardly likely to take to their boats again) came over the (so far invisible, but who knows what might happen if they leave Johnson in charge of the place) border.
The answer at least for me, is yes.
We aren’t going back to that shit again (a sentiment probably felt by the Ukrainians after eighty years of control by the USSR, I suppose, though we suffered ten times longer).
In my case I don’t want to be in a war zone with the supply of insulin – and electricity needed to keep it cool – gone while we’re besieged (not that Dublin has a metro where anyone could take shelter from falling bombs to begin with). I’d rather die swiftly by lead poisoning during the fight than slowly succumbing to diabetic ketosis. If the war could be ended faster by my actions, if my daughter could survive on the insulin I’d thus not need, then it’d be worth it.
But I’ve lived a good half a life, and most of the people called to their country’s defence are those who have plenty to live for, in any place they can find that will take them in (often hard to do – look at the poor bastards who’ve tried to get into Europe from Morocco in the last few days, as Spain says one thing looking north with open arms while speaking volumes by actions as it turns its back on the south).
The Irish “put up with” the “English” for so many centuries because they’re inclined to grumble and get on with life – the bastards at the top all alike in their eyes. Even when we had our periodic revolutions, those that took part were not necessarily admired by the general populace, never mind emulated.
Again, it’s complicated, and nobody has any good answers.
I read a twitter feed yesterday about battalions of Chechen soldiers who have joined the Ukrainians, having been exiled (for whatever reason – forced or chosen) from their homeland after Putin’s war there. Some were saying they were traitors to their homeland (since Chechnya is still officially part of Russia), and other’s that the Chechen soldiers fighting for Russia (for whatever reason, too – money, lack of alternatives, etc.) were the traitors. This reminded me of the controversy of the Irish battalions who fought for the UK in the First World War and the opinions of the general public towards them – varying from heroes to traitors, too.
One must go with one’s own conscience in this respect, but I think at the least we have respect the choice of each to fight or not, as long as it’s not for the wrong side. And if someone is forced to fight for the wrong side, simply encourage them to do what they can to resist in any form they can – on a scale from simply being nice to the civilians to proceeding as slowly as possible without being court-martialled, to direct sabotage.
So, in conclusion, we should all do what we can, and in some cases that means big steps forward, in others it means putting on an extra jumper and turning down the heating.
To each their own, and all forward in the right direction. Too many around us, though, are dragging us backward. Only by mass movement can we catch them and sway them our way.
The Enjoyment of Spring
February leaves light frost on the park grass,
But the birdsong cutting the chill silence belies
This skin of sparkling crystals; harkens from
Recently breakfasted birds animated to action
As the era of excitement approaches, already
Cold soil broken by budding narcissus prepared to
Perform their demure golden pouts and beside
The warming morning rays upon me shows
The strengthening sun will soon scatter the ice
And afternoon will even induce disrobing, thus
Dallying in sun-drenched dales.
Yet, still, I feel
Almost ill at enjoying these delightful days when
We know elsewhere gale forced storm surges
Swamp grasslands with salt, wind whip trunks
Down like twigs, just as most we need them
Growing. The mountain slopes are bare of snow:
Instead several fires on-going, and a bushel
Of other evils await.
Even here, these trees
Are leaving too soon; petals, peeping weakly
Into shape shall feed few bees this spring,
And we fear for their fruits come summer.
For the grass beneath the white seems damp,
But even the soil is dry, and blades soon scorched
As we wait for rains, disappeared more than delayed,
During a drought seeming set to last till March.
I wrote this poem after a pause in the park on the way to work, the same day I saw this video of the storm surge back in Ireland where they were hit by several named storms while our farmers in Spain were desperate for rain.
I wrote this poem after a recent weekend away – just a 30 min drive to a little village. It made me think of why sometimes we’re not aware of what we’re missing with our bare, biodiversity impoverished agricultural landscape, especially in Ireland.
The Pull of Pastures
This scenery spread out from the village, splashed
With sun, fills one with joy of a morning:
An unfiltered boon as we run to the pool
Through fields of wheat under the evergreen
Oak-clad steeper slopes and hearing the hidden
Mistle thrush and goldfinch from the thistles,
Tangled juniper thorns and brambles
Enticing animals excitingly close
To our gardens along such scrubbed inclines
That goats would grub but tractors cannot grade.
The grazing sheep and cattle have gone,
Without battle, deer and boar and other
Beasts browse, but when by driving north
An hour I arrive in another world, where
Fields unfold before one: green grass rolling
Up slopes to autumnal oaks or out flat past
Hedgerows – or even if there’s nothing else
To be seen but green dotted with cowpats
And sheep shit – that simple fact gives gravity,
Pulls me towards such pastures, like a string
Tied within, knotted well when life was spring.
It’s this kind of feeling that gives Ireland its “green” image… it sometimes may as well be painted green for all the life it has other than cattle and sheep. But we love what we know, and unfortunately we’ve been educated to love a barren ecosystem, and younger people are growing up even worse than us older folk.