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.
Like many in my situation, living as an emigrant, I’ve been wondering about when I’ll get home, and certain things make me think of Ireland…
The Smell of Rain
Not the petrichor: that scent at
The first few splats of heavy plashes
As a high cloud unburdens its humid load,
Stinging the nose with its distinctive smell,
Nor the nostril flaring storm at first,
Suddenly splashing the unsuspecting
Then spattering along the streets,
As if to sweep them from the scene,
To shelter and, swiping eyes, appreciate
The spectacle. Not either the drizzle,
Softly seeping into hair and shoulders,
Seemingly seeking to stay aloft like fog,
Hovering above the soil as if unimpressed
With landing, but accepting settling
On stems and leaves, leaving shoes
Darkened should one step through the grass.
None of these, is the smell that sparks
My senses, resurrects memories.
But later, when it’s soaked in after
Several repeated storms, then
The smell of wet earth, seeps
Into sinuses, springing forth
Almost feared forgotten scenes
Of rolling streams through soggy ground,
Sodden peat and spongy moss,
The sparkle of water wringing the island
From sunlit rainbow down to buried rock,
Reminding me of Ireland, only Ireland.
Thus, Shall we Dance
We shall dance, as the waters rise to sweep us under,
Clinging to one another as the cold creeps up.
As the fires near, burning all before them, we shall dance, locked in our final embrace, and thus they shall find us, as in the ashes of Pompey.
We shall dance, when the soldiers bang upon our doors, to take us away to the place nothing leaves except than screams and dead bodies.
We shall dance, to remember the disappeared, to hold their souls in our hearts, to follow their footsteps forward.
We shall dance the rains down upon the parched soil, the grass up into the sun. We shall dance the acorn out of its shell, the herds through their great circles,
We shall dance the great dance of the Earth, to the thunder and the birdsong, the cascade and the pulse of blood.
We shall dance our dirge to the tiger, the rhino, the great and diminutive wild brothers we have lost.
We shall dance to the Great Spirit, who sees all these deeds, all this destruction in the name of what you can not eat, what does not sustain, to sustain ourselves.
We shall dance, as we have done, for that is what we do. Thus have we always. Thus has it always been.
And if we live long enough, we shall dance upon your graves, and those of your ancestors, drumming them into dust for all this.
I wrote this poem during quarantine, when my family had a writing challenge to keep us entertained – we had to write something beginning with the phrase “we will dance” but in Spanish. I of course, wrote it in English and translated it for the zoom call! But it wasn’t quite the happy story everyone else wrote to cheer us up and pass the time.
But time passes, and little changes. Some things we want to change and some we don’t. And the things that stay the same seem to be the ones we want to change and those that do are sliding away from the wonder we have before us.
But we will go on.
The last few days have been busy with schoolwork. The central government and local governments have been trying to figure out how to organise the end of the school year.
Some people want every student to pass. Some want kids to go to school in July.
The instructions the dept. of Education have given schools are so vague they’re like the bible – you can interpret it any way you want. We have to decide and defend what we decide to do. To anyone who gets their back up if things aren’t the way they want. Usual shite.
We are trying to decide now, how many percent each term gets, how much up or down a kids grade can go if they don’t hand in the work we’re doing now …
But, really, there are more important things.
They’ve only now figured out how they are going to organise letting our kids out to go for a walk, to feel the sunshine on their faces, to feel the breeze on their skin, to look up at the sky and clouds, to see the trees already in leaf and flower, to run and jump and roll in the grass. Compared to that, who really gives a toss about their grades?
This is the hamster wheel.
They want us to keep worrying about the things they tell us are important, keeping up, getting ahead, cramming our days with lessons and assignments for fear others will leave us standing and we’ll loose out in the rat race.
It also stops us from pausing and thinking, what is important in life? All the consumerism and getting bigger cars, or seeing our loved ones, going for a walk?
There were paediatrics and psychologists on the TV the other day, saying kids are fine inside for a few more weeks. That they’re adaptable.
Well, that’s as maybe. Kids in refugee camps adapt to life there, but that doesn’t mean they’re not profoundly and negatively affected.
I fail to see how in 2020 these experts haven’t read about the need for kids to experience nature, to throw sticks and stones in the river, to climb trees, to pick flowers and chase pigeons, to dig (mud or sand) and build imaginary castles. To follow, and perhaps squash, ants, to interact with the world around them.
Kids who do this are much happier than kids who only see concrete and streets and screens.
We need to rewild our kids, and keeping them cooped up has been a step backwards.
Worrying about how to decide who’s passing or failing because they missed out some weeks of school is a disservice to kids, when compared to wondering what they’ve learned about life – what they’ve learned about helping in the home, being nice to one another and their family, if they’ve read books they might not have had time or inclination for otherwise. We should wonder if children have been able to use this pause in normal life to see how unnecessary some of our normal life is, how easily we take things for granted, when they actually are the fruits of many labours, trials and sacrifices (like having a public health service and unemployment payments) in the past, of their own family, of themselves now.
It’s been a few weeks. They can make up all this over the next few years without any problem. Hell, the government effectively took weeks off the school year by changing the repeat exams from September to June in the last three years. Perhaps they can fling that great idea out the window in light of this situation?
It’s not as if the Spanish curriculum wasn’t already overloaded with too much information to memorise and not enough time for understanding.
The government has a responsibility to make sure our education system works for everyone, true. They also have a responsibility to make life – not “normal”– acceptable, worthwhile, enjoyable and beautiful for us and our kids.
That’s why we have public parks and gardens, playgrounds and ensure natural amenities like riverbanks and beaches are clean and healthy to visit.
When asked about taking kids to grass, one government spokesperson said it was better not to, because cats can get coronavirus and might have shit in the grass.
I shit you not.
Where are the feral cats going to have got coronavirus from?
Denying green spaces to kids has been necessary, but the depravation of those, in my opinion, is more detrimental than the deprivation of 6 or 8 hours a day sitting in a desk listening to me and my colleagues talking about the world, however interesting we make it.
If the government wants to ensure that every kid can get their required education while we are going through this crisis, well, ensuring every family has enough money to buy a personal computer, and have decent internet access, would have been nice prior to this.
Decent wages and proper housing policies will go a long way to making everyone in society more prepared and able to adapt to these crises, and I say that in plural because this is neither the first nor last crisis to be dealt with.
We will spend the next month teaching the bare essentials of the courses. The minimum content so that kids can continue in September with the next year’s course without holes in their knowledge. I can’t see why we don’t trim down the course for every year.
As for grades. Well, I’m finally giving quizzes where the points aren’t collected. They are just for the kids themselves, their parents, and me, to see if they understood the material, what they had problems with, and what they should try to revise. The numbers 5, 6, 7 or 8 out of 10 aren’t so important. Everyone will go on to learn more stuff next year. The way it used to be.
My own kids won’t be going to school in July. They’ll be in the village, listening to the birdsong they can’t hear now, running in a garden instead of the hallway, plucking flowers they can’t now see, rolling in grass rather than the floor, looking at the clouds horses and dogs and cats and birds rather than the TV all day – doing puzzles only because they want to, and not because I’ve turned off the telly on them, reading a book in sunlight and not inside.
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
It’s been a while. It’s been busy.
But I’ve been doing a bit of writing.
I have a few poems to share, over the next few weeks, as the summer proper hits us.
Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be on the porch….
The House Stands Built, the Garden Lies Laid
If we needed lumber, I’d gladly go into the wood,
Cut logs and split them all afternoon.
Were there a shelf to put up, a cupboard fixed,
A picture to hang, I’ve no problem lending a hand.
Should the lawn need mowing, or the hedge trimming,
The garden path cemented, a fence erected,
Bicycle mended, stone wall constructed, a pond dug
Or a border weeded, you can count on me;
I’m always happy to go to work.
But the house is built, the garden laid,
There’s left little to do but watch the grass growing
So if you want me, I’ll be on the porch.
(This is a short video of what’s in front of said porch….)