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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.
So I finally went and done it.
I published a collection of short stories.
Something I’d had on the long finger for a decade thereabouts.
And the cover is a photo I took a few years ago now, on the Eastern Cape, where springboks bounded past just moments before the sun began to set. It’s one of my favourite photos, and it’s the background for my blog homepage (behind the cover of Unleashing the Pack ) and my youtube channel, as well as my personal facebook page.
And it’s part of the inspiration for the title story of the collection – 23 of them, all from various points in the places I’ve visited and lived in over the past thirty years, from home in Ireland, to Scotland, Madrid and other parts of Spain, to the USA. Of course, many could have been written anywhere you find humans.
Sometimes short stories are perhaps more prone to being analysed for signs of the writers own life and ideas. When writing a novel there’s always a little incident from life you can put in – usually only a few people pick up on them, and they’re like Easter eggs, in a way. With short stories the incident is most of the plot, and so some of these might seem like they’re just me putting down pieces of my life I considered worth recording. But they’re not. There might be a germ of an idea engendered by something that I saw or heard, but the rest is pure speculation on my part, putting my ideas into the being I created on the page, or more often, imagining what ideas such a person might have.
So I hope you enjoy them for what they are, a sketch of a growing body of prose sculpted by an amateur who aspired for self-teaching to reach pinnacles he hasn’t quite attained yet.
Well, another year’s over, and a new one, just about to be begun…
And what have we done?
Well, we hung on in there, I hope. It’s been pretty crappy. There has been a flood of shit news, and it’s not getting any better, nor will it anytime soon, if it ever does.
I know it’s not nice to think of depressing things this time of year, but after the floods in Pamplona (and then downstream in the days afterwards) a few weeks back, I wrote this poem….
I don’t hope you enjoy it, but do read it.
And watch Don’t Look Up while you are at it, this new year’s break.
It’s Only Getting Worse
The recent flood recedes from fields;
Ducks return to the river, magpies
Scan the sodden banks for stranded
Shells of drowned snails and worms
About the larger flotsam: scarves of
Polytunnel plastic wrapped round trees,
Piles of pallets and branches, miscellany.
The older bridges have weathered well,
While barrier walls and fences will
Have to be mended. The stench of
Fetid faecal matter mulched in mud
Hovers over the flood plain as men
Spray down streets, machines sweep
Up debris, sewers are pumped clean.
The greatest flow of water recorded,
The worst flood in living memory; but
Just another on a list occurring during
One news cycle – Bolivia got battered
And a mile-wide stream of tornadoes
Thrashed six US states, leaving deaths
In its wake as well as destruction of wealth.
And it’s never getting better, as a
Song says: the slippery slope we sang
About is beneath our soles now, and
We’ll slide ever faster, repeating wreckage,
Building back broken bridges, other
Constructions lasting less time until
The next deluge or other artificially-
Exacerbated natural disaster.
The things we counted on for
Christmas will be dependant on
Whatever’s already arrived: the
Shipping and chips yet pending
Slows supplies perhaps until a
Year passes, but the shortages
May last till we die; living again
With scarcity, like our ancestors
In times past we thought we’d
Superseded, but let ourselves slip
Up, back, due to too much greed.
So these scenes we’ve seen recently
Are those to keep upon our screens:
Fond memories of former times
When our world was right, and we
Never accepted the sun was setting
Till we saw nothing but dark night.
I know we have just too many things on our minds, and that it’s easier to stick to the day to day, but this is going to be our day to day soon enough if we don’t drag our so called leaders into the daylight.
So I’ve been quiet recently – working on finishing my WIP before Xmas! And it looks like I might get there, if I ignore everything and everyone else around me! So, no. I might get there before the end of the holidays!
I have been enjoying the early autumn here. We have finally had some rain, and leaves are falling fast now. The cranes have flown past, one flock right over my house at low altitude, which was quite the experience!
Halloween was wonderful this year. I went collecting mushrooms and chestnuts up in the beech woods, and had a brief encounter with a huge red deer stag, which swiftly did an about turn upon spotting me between the trees.
And what wonderful trees.
This one, an old, old, chestnut, was just perfect for the night that was in it, though I’d not like to hang around after dusk here, just in case it woke up and wondered if an Irishman might fit in that maw!
Meanwhile, my YA paranormal novel is available in paperback now! It, and my young reader novel are also on the shelves of my local library (and in Deansgrange, for those in Dublin!) Thanks to the folks in Yamaguchi Library, Pamplona!
They put this photo up on their facebook page, and when I was in there a few days ago I was delighted to spot it on this shelf, with the other new books.
I also met this charming young lady there, who gave the book her utmost praise (especially after Chapter 6!), though she’s too young to post a review on the internet, unfortunately!
She has given me permission to post her photo, and I have at least one parent’s permission too. Hope I don’t have to ask for the aunty’s!
I have a few teachers reading both books and it looks like they’ll make their way into a few school libraries, too, here in Pamplona.
A few of my students have also bought the paperback of Adam Short and brought their copy in for me to sign, which is a real honour.
Unfortunately, the original reviews have been wiped with the re-publication, so I’d really appreciate anyone who can post one anywhere they can. Thanks! and Enjoy the Autumn!
Peter and the Little People republished!
And a poem that the Little People would understand from a longer term perspective than humans seem able to take…
I hope summer is going well for everyone and the new (for us fifth) wave of infections is not affecting you.
I have some news: I have republished my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People, since the original publishers have sadly closed recently. I took the opportunity to re-edit it, so it reads a lot smoother, especially in the first chapters.
It’s available on pre-order now, and will download automatically onto your kindles etc. on the publication date which will be August 15th!
AND it is available in Paperback! So you can pre-order it now and it will pop in the post for you, too.
Till then, here’s a poem that was inspired by a different book written and set in Ireland.
Children of the Rainbow is a book from decades ago, but it’s well worth reading if you have any connection with the Island.
At the same time, I was reading Barry Lopez’s Horizon, which was quite impactful, too.
So the poem that came out is not quite as hopeful as Peter and the Little People regarding our planet. But I hope it’s still beautiful.
For there is yet beauty all around us if only we appreciate it and preserve it.
The Fading of the Rainbow
Our grandparents grew up under the bow of wonder
Shades of beauty forty-fold and more, so vivid
The colours were within reach, like the hand of God,
Life bursting out of every bud and bloom, butterflies
And bees humming just one tune in Nature’s symphony
But today, we stare across a broad sweep of fields, all
Furrowed into one with faint lines left where once
Grew hedgerows; rooks caws accompany cows now,
Gone the curlew call and corncrake, cuckoo only
Heard on distant hills: a sound of childhood, half
Remembered. The skylark leaves a faint line upon
The heart where before flew nightingales and chorus
Of dawn songbirds, silenced like the wolf and other
Wild animals swept away before the sheep browsing.
Now even that centrepiece of pristineness, poster
Child of evolution in isolation and archipelagos lies
Lessened, the frenzy of breeding becoming bare as
Feral goats graze the spare seedlings, dogs attack
Basking iguanas, cats and rats run riot, into ruin
One of the last remaining untouched outposts upon
The vast planet, pinched a little smaller each season,
Swept into sameness, as only colonisers cling to barren
Land. If these distant places are as doomed as our city
Streets, what place has hope this side of the rainbow;
Faded, bleached, and ragged, can it even hold any
Hidden at the end, like a crock of leprechaun gold?
The Lilacs Have Already Faded
We wait as children for Christmas,
The bursting forth of buds, spread of
Poppies along bearding barley fields;
Delighting in drifting aspen down.
But if we perchance glance away
During spring’s apotheosis we find
The lilacs have already faded, and
Summer swiftly advances unto autumn.
Just as a blink allows the bastards
Take flame and machine to the trees,
Scraping drains in absence of rain,
Leaving shoots shorn dead as winter.
I wrote this last week when I was in my garden, seeing that the patch I didn’t mow the week before now sported a lovely little orchid.
But the lilac I had planted just beyond had lost its one flowerhead, having faded to brown already in the space from one weekend to the next.
And I thought of how quickly the spring passes, as usually, even when we vow not to miss it. It’s too short, even when its only summer on its way, we all know where summer leads….
Then I saw while on a cycle what the local roads authority had done, in May, to the hedges and scrub alongside the roads around the village – gone along with who knows what machinery and razed everything down to the ground. Of course, if they discovered plastic rubbish under that bush, they left that there.
What kind of mindset allows this to happen? Where are the leaders?
The locals just shrugged it off. It seems they think all this can be infinitely replaced, not that it’s a last bastion of such beauty.
Is it not possible to see that we are losing things before they’re lost, or are we doomed to miss only what we have completely exterminated?
The village in the north of Spain is not the only place where such destruction takes place, of course. Just last week a huge swath of Killarney National Park was burned by negligence or intentional malice.
On the other hand, I just finished reading Anne Frank’s diary for the second time, after about a 35 year gap… and I was struck by her passages about Nature.
Just like many during the lockdowns we went through, Anne realised that joy and peace can come from looking at the sky and the trees. Of course, even at thirteen and fourteen, Anne Frank was a very self-aware person compared to most around her, even then, never mind now.
I took snaps of the paragraphs. She wonders if her confinement indoors so long has made her so “mad about Nature” which is probably true to some extent, just as it was for many others. But she sees it as a medicine, “which can be shared by rich and poor alike,” and “the one thing for which there is no substitute.”
My question is whether that last line has sunk into our collective consciousness, or it is just that we can’t fathom our existence without Nature – even it if is out there, waiting for when we want it, after we’re released from prison, or our confinement, or we fancy a walk away from our computers? Until it isn’t.
And can we act as if something is lost before it actually is, giving us the chance to save it at the last minute.
Because we’re down to the last minute.
In the Mist
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.
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.
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!