Blog Archives

Planting a Flag on the Shifting Baseline

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.

My son on a recent trip to the wilds of the Burren, looking for flowers and insects. He found an alpine gentian and a few orchids.

            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.

There are no insects evident here despite the huge amount of chestnut flowers begging for bees, but it’s good for the soul anyway to get here from the city.

Thoughts on War

A dream of many: Ukraine in the EU.

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.

Enjoying Spring?

.

.

            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.

.

The rain came, finally, to wash off the delicate petals from these early-flowering trees, in early March. And record rainfalls in some places, like Alicante, with highest ever 24hr precipitation on March 4th… not so good for the fields at all.

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.

The Attraction to Sheep Fields

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.

Sheep pastures rolling up the hill. A delight to look at, despite having few thing worth looking at in them.

            

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.

the village of Oskotz not too far north of Pamplona, but a different climate to the village where I normally go, which grows wheat while this grows sheep.

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.

What Would We do Without Wooded Banks

The Arga along the edge of Pamplona’s older parts just outside the old walls. A flock of cormorants roost just around the bend here.

.

.

            What Would We Do Without Wooded Banks?

.

Walking a dammed riverbank, autumn evening,

Scanning still water for a hint of beavers,

Seeking signs of these elusive animals, 

Watching for ripples in the reflection of the gloaming.

See a shimmer sent out to midstream but

Just a wind eddy as aspens shiver overhead,

Their yellow leaves tied tenuously to baring branches.

Below, a pale place in the gloom of the bank shows 

The scene of beaver eating on a poplar bole,

But no body approaches, so I pause and pad across

A footbridge to pause and snap a photo of autumn:

.

The trees arch out over deep water, and I wonder

What life could live in a river without the banks 

Well wooded? Where would these cormorants aloft 

Alight for the night? The herons roost? Dropping 

Guano to recycle. Kingfishers eye the minnows below

Before dropping down to snatch the flashing fish, 

Well fed on fallen leaves and dung. What would become 

Of them? What would hold the water when it rises, 

Hold holts for otters to hide within? How would 

We hope to halt in our walks, to take in these 

Scenes of such reflections, all glittering and glinting, 

Hinting at the invisible, holding hope? 

.

And only 

When darkness descends over thoughts do I 

Give up on the hunt and head home.

when the banks are well wooded, there’s plenty for beavers to eat. and for everything else

Sometimes I see a tweet from home of the destruction done unto rivers and the shredding of any foliage along their banks. Here, there are beavers back from past extinctions, and it can be a nuisance if they bole an old poplar on a part of the riverbank well-frequented by walkers and with few other trees to shade us, but a bit of chicken wire protects the most important and moves the beavers off towards this end, where there’s plenty to eat and a few trees felled will only add to the diversity of the river.

It’s for the Kids!

            Saving the Next Generation

.

Wherein comes the urge to chastise

Children chasing chaffinches, ducks;

Picking wildflowers for bunches just 

To steep in water and later pour it out?

.

These innocent actions seem almost 

Painful for some of us to see, since 

It seems every seedling, even insect, is 

Particularly precious in this sinking era.

.

Now we need to encourage kids to 

Lie down on a lawn, plucking daisies

As they please, ripping leaves and 

Flicking petals to the breeze, immersed

.

In the verdure that surrounds us. Thus

They will in turn appreciate the wonder

Of these tiny treasures of orchids, clover,

Cornflowers as especially as do we mourners.

Getting close to the Geology of Ireland in the Dargle

I’ve been offline to a certain extent so far this summer. But I’ve been outside a lot, enjoying the nature left to us, as you can see from these photos ( I don’t publish anyone’s face in this blog), and with my kids in Ireland.

On our way to the Sally Gap. Saw a sika hind into the bargain!

But I have republished Peter and the Little People, and it’s out in paperback!

It’s for the Kids!

Of course, anyone of any age can enjoy it, so go ahead and pick up a copy. It’s perfect for reading aloud, too.

Like everything we do, it’s for the kids who will have to visit places much changed and degraded unless we stop what we’re doing.

I don’t let my kids pick some wildflowers, like orchids, but then the local roads authority or the farmers come along and strim or spray the ditches and hedgerows…

The view from Killiney Hill might be slightly different towards Shankill in the future if we’re not pro-active to prevent it.

The news this summer is of course pretty depressing, with the IPCC pretty much saying we’re in big trouble unless our so-called leaders act like we need them to…

So have a read of Peter and the Little People, and then help your children write some letters to the Taoiseacht or whoever supposedly leads your government telling them they’ll have a place in history – good or bad is up to them.

The End of the Rainbow…

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?

Horizon

            Looking Back Beyond Our Own Horizon.

Archaeology appears a never-ending 

Expanding occupation as we explore

Our earth and find more lost lines of

People from the past. Why were they

And their way of life so often severed 

Thus that these must dig for hints of 

Their hopes and aspirations, methods

Of machinery, imaginations, machinations,

Left shadowed in splinters and shards,

In discarded tools and dwellings abandoned?

.

Is it so easy to snap these threads?

Or is it the exact opposite: only 

Possible if families never leave, and 

Children have time and inclination to 

Listen to old folks round the night fire?

.

The burial mounds and dolmens 

Scattered across our island are

Not our own; the céide fields and

Golden torcs were of a different folk

Who we replaced: pushed out; or who

Simply upped one day and walked away.

.

.

.

.

I have been fairly quiet these last few weeks. Hope all are well.

I am reading Barry Lopez’z book Horizon. It’s not an easy book to read, but an important one. It provides food for many thoughts and one of the was this, that we should know more about our ancestors than we do, and perhaps its because they are not our ancestors at all…

I have been writing a little – a few more poems to post soon – and working through some new chapters of my major work in progress, Palu and the Pyramid Builders.. which relies a little on Archaeology, and a lot on my imagination of what a certain ancient civilisation might have been like..

Happy Halloween

Halloween is a strange time for me.

I’ve been in the ER twice on Halloween, back in Ireland, as a kid and a young man who should have known better. Actually, the kid should have known better, too.

But shit happens.

full moon rising over Pamplona, with Mars beside.

It’s also one of the times when I most feel homesick, when I feel most proud to be Irish – those who know me know I care little for sport or other ritualistic nationalistic shite.

I am always aware of the entities that might collide with my life on Samhain.

This year, we’re all wearing masks, and we can’t go and ask for any apples or nuts or even sweets, since this year things are scarier than they used to be, and going to the ER is not a nice idea even for a cough.

I actually have an appointment after nightfall – at the PCR testing point. Not for me, but I’ll be cycling along under the full moon with my mask and perhaps a bit of disguise, just in case the spirits are soaring over Spain.

So stay safe, everyone, and hopefully this nightmare will be over (not before Christmas, though!)

Here’s a poem about twilight, and the tricks our eyes can do, even without the Samhain imagination to help them. There are good things we can see if we try.

And when you look up at the moon, ponder this – which is scarier, the myth of the werewolf, or the truth?

http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/OBrien_David/leaving-the-pack.htm

moon rising over mountains at sunset day before yesterday. This view is filled with swifts in summer.

            Optical Illusions

It is in the gloaming that the eye is

Overcome by the clear view of

Imagination. More than the shapes of

Shadows becoming beasts instead of 

Branches, shades seeming to move

When still steady stones, it creates

Shifting scenes swapping some 

Creatures instead of others. 

The tree leaves sway in the breeze

As if waves were washing seaweed

Sideways to the shore, before me;

Staring up at steely sky turn dark,

The heart-pushed corpuscles in

Retina rush across my vision,

Taking forms of those dear departed,

Heaven-skating swifts, and I wish

They could go on thus until the

Stars transform the sky to diamonds,

Transporting me through the air

Unblinking as if I could follow there.

The Smell of Rain

            

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… 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_9917-copy.jpg
Raindrops gathered on a cobweb in gorse. From a recent hike out in the hills

           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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_9916-copy.jpg
misty rain collecting on a cobweb on gorse. It could be Ireland as easily as Euskadi.