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            Calloused as an Old Oak Burr

Walking in the forests of a wide valley

Rimmed by cliffs above us, rolling mist

Over the slopes out across the blue vastness

The vultures glided across the blue sky from

One side to the other, while kites and kestrels

Worked the fields where the woods were 

Cut when first men walked within the walls.

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We stood under the canopy of branches

In the shade of old oaks, ages growing

Slowly seeking their sunlight, ever taller,

Thicker boles, holding aloft leaves and,

Even when those died, in winter, green

Epiphytes; a host of other lives, for centuries,

Saying to all in the forest: “Behold, I am here.”

Feeding feast for insects and birds that eat them;

Showering grazed ground with acorns for boar;

Robins following rootings, under those, creating

Holes where night-time animals hide yet.

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One had recently fallen, after perhaps half a

Millennium spreading seeds and supporting

Epiphytic ferns: now hanging upside down 

From the bough that held them high so easy

Over which we climbed on the clean bark.

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And I thought of those who carried an axe 

Into these woods to gather firewood,

To create charcoal from the oaks:

Brought perhaps as soon as they could walk 

And pick up a twig to help their father,

And kept at it until they could walk no more:

Years of seasons spent sweating and freezing alternatively

Snacking on dark bread and forest berries,

Bring back home a snared rabbit if one was had.

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How many injuries did they accumulate,

Inflicted by such occupations? A series of

Splinters, cuts, bruises and bones broken;

But shrugged off and shouldered on

Until calloused, like the knots and burrs 

Of the trunks we touch: the pollarded boughs

Wounded, but budding forth once more for fifty years,

Until the axe of those weathered workers eventually fell again.

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For even great oaks are eventually tumbled,

Even if only by time. And those ferns and lichens

That thought they clung to a solid structure are thrown 

Over, to cling and seek the sun as best they can.

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We sat upon the curved bough and ate our own victuals,

Thinking of those workers who listened to the same scene

Of songbirds and wind, and wondered of what life was

Like outside these woods, these walls of valley wide

Yet long and uneasily walked out of, and wished 

For more, for escape, easiness, for freedom from their destiny,

But accepted, their lives would be lived, alongside these trees.

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Then the telephone took my attention for a time:

A thread landing in my lap with a crack-like impact of

A snapping branch upon me,

And I sat upon a stump and sipped water to keep down the lump

In my throat at this long twitter list of lads and lassies 

Of a too young age who’d taken their own lives, the last option:

Locked in the loss that seems so extensive in these times

Of lockdown, long as a valley apparently without exit;

The looking out at a world that looks so perfect, looking back;

The pressure like storm clouds gathered above the cliffs,

Building until smooth wood cracks and saplings snap.

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If only they could have come to this forest, felt the breathing branches,

The soft sunspots, the birdsong rest upon them.

If only they could have stuck around long enough, to resist

Instead of rejecting the pain, the splintered spirit, the bruised soul.

If only they’d stayed a little longer, told another their wishes:

Shouted, screamed, even to a pillow, “I am here and I exist!

“I have a life that is well lived, and will be lived if given 

The chance; a hand, a hug, a kiss.”

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For even those who never had to lift a stick or chop a log, can 

Build up burrs, callouses, train themselves to toughness,

Over the course of a century or half, from the finer grain

Of slow winter growth gaining perspective to appreciate this:

‘Tis only at the end we can reminisce.

Looking back, we can count up mistakes, regrets, 

See the setbacks we withstood, taking bad with good,

Standing tall till Nature takes us, rather than the blade,

If only because we owe it to the saplings stretching in our shade.

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Though only the beasts and bugs it gave life to

Knew of its presence, tall as it was, and only those, who

Were touched by its life will note its fall, 

And all the rest of us are ignorant of what it meant to them,

For a tree, that is perhaps enough;

And if we could but be as wise, it would

Too, be sufficient for us.

For those who have fallen too soon….

Landscape Poems

            In the Mist

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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.

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            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.

The scene from above the village of an evening.

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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!

Enjoy the Silence before the coming Squall

 

I wrote this a few weeks ago, when the weather was colder – now it looks like we’re far from having a white Christmas.

But we can still enjoy the simple things, even if it is only by ignoring the difficulties awaiting us in the new year and beyond.

The snow starting in the pines – if you zoom in you can see the haze is all flakes of snow. The camera never does justice to the scene, of course.

           Silence before the Squall

Snow falls past pine trunks 

Like solidified silence: almost

An extension of dawn’s tranquillity

Before squalls scream across canopy

Sending flakes flurrying down

To pale box and holly’s leaves.

As hours slowly pass, and white quietly

Deepens, the wind weakens and settles 

Like drifts. Then, as evening stretches,

A strip of cloud opens to allow sunlight

Illuminate the scene before twilight,

Suffusing with diffuse golden radiance

The shifting mists along the ridges, red

Shrouding windmills. Imbuing soft sunset

With orange fire across the ice instead

Of another storm sending us scarpering 

Inside to hide, it seems such gentle 

Splendour shows us the scenes 

Awaiting us after all our playing, and

For all our attempting to prepare 

For her vagaries, in the end, we will

Flit like flakes upon her wind, for

We are but Nature’s playthings.

The scene before sunset (lower down were less snow fell) – the sun was beginning to get down to that break in the clouds to light up that mist that hung all along the mountains to the left, while my kids were playing just out of shot and distracted me from taking a photo of the later colours.

Happy Christmas everyone!

For those looking for a quiet read, or a nice E-reader gift, check out my books….

Some of them are on sale with Smashwords from today!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/djmobrien

Winter Poem

Closing up Camp

 

Fish flash lethargically argent in the creek,

Creeping upstream, gleaning the last

Of the caddis flies until torpor takes them.

 

Sun beams golden in glowing leaves but slants

Lower now, more weakly heating us, huddled

On the morning porch hugging our mugs.

 

We don’t swim before breakfast, only

Paddle after our afternoon nap, picking black

And other berries to boil jam and packing

Pumpkins for the car; chopping lumber

 

For the evening fire still keeps off falling

Chill, but within weeks we will give in to

Winter’s grip and slip away to the city.

 

Closing shutters against storms and snow,

Emptying water tanks and pipes from icing,

Clearing closets of anything attracting rodents

Or racoons and slowly strolling round the

Leaf-strewn lawn, taking one last long look

Out across the fall-reflective lake, then forsaking.

 

Still, thinking of spring keeps back sadness,

Slipping through seasons until suddenly

It’s our last, and we must shut up for good,

Or have it opened sadly in our absence,

Our passage through camp just a forest path.

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I write this back in September, thinking of the camp of my friend Tamir, who would have turned 60 a few days ago. I don’t have many photos of his summer place in autumn, but I am sure right now it’s deep in snow and the lake is starting to freeze over till springtime. Thus is life, as long as we still have springtime. And memories that shine like sunlight to keep us warm meanwhile.

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The Many Versions of the Werewolf Tale

I was in the Basque speaking area of Navarra last weekend, up in the hills.

Very green.

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We went to visit a museum made by a very interesting guy called Iñaki Perurena, whose famous in the region for having Guinness World Records for lifting stones, among other things.

He has some amazing sculptures and lots of interesting paintings of characters from Basque Mythology on huge rocks dotted through the woods.

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The Basques have a lot of strange characters that live in the woods. A much richer diversity than the simple fairy and leprechauns of Ireland, to be honest.

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They have a type of Faun, mermaids, goblins, their own Santa Claus character, a cyclops, giants…

And…. another creature who you might bump into while walking the woods in such remote areas where houses are separated by large tracts of land, and visiting your neighbour involves a trek up a mountain.

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Gizotso, is werewolf  in Basque, and is said to be an extremely strong savage beast that lives in the woods and is made by sexual intercourse between humans and wild animals.

I’ve a long-held interest in werewolves, of course, and my kids speak Basque in school, but I’d not heard of this particular thread of the great tapestry of werewolf tales.

It’s fascinating how many different versions there are of this story. One of the things that unite all human societies are the similarities in our fireside tales of others who live just outside the light spread by our hearths. And the werewolf is perhaps the most ubiquitous of all, more than even the dragon.

At the same time, it’s disturbing how easily every society can alienate others and reduce them to the status of “savage animals.”

Perhaps it not so difficult to see how such stories of werewolves can spring forth in our imagination from simple ingredients such as deep woods, woodland dwellers, people we don’t like, and people we desire.

Of course, nowadays, nobody believes in werewolves.

 

 

leavingthepackbydavidjobrien500

 

 

Fall Poem

Fall to Forest Floor

When golden leaves strew the ground,

When wind turns swirling, frisking clothes and shoulders,

Then the deer seek company in copses,

And the wolf inside awakens, opening equally amber eyes.

wolf eye

copyright EmoRobotics (http://emorobotics.deviantart.com/)

Back to writing second drafts of my werewolf novel sequels as November rolls on into winter… don’t seem in too bad shape so far.