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Late Rains

            Late April Rains

The rain makes everything all right,

Like blessed water flowing over lips.

Birds sing sweeter as if assured

Life will hang on in for spring,

As insects emerge from dry refuge

To delight in the damp leaves.

Eardrums encounter drips gently

Caress the mind into peaceful ease:

Merged in memories of seasons spent

Naïve as nestlings of summers to come.

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It’s a rainy day today, which reminded me of a poem I wrote a month or so ago, about how the rain is welcome when the land is parched. At least in imagination it staves off the drought to come and we live a little longer.

Another Spring

 

I took a trip to the river some days ago and sat down and thought of how different this spring is – much drier or course, but simply because we can go outside and see it the way we weren’t able to last year.

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           Another Spring

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The soil thirsts for showers, but still

Seeds sprout green and buds flower.

Warblers and mistle thrushes whistle

Busily from the bramble bushes.

Upon thermals, raptors stall, surveying

Below, from distant forests, cuckoos call.

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I sit upon a stone wall, watching

Wagtails bobbing below a waterfall,

Remembering, last year, the view

Of a robin, a tree, we then held dear,

And our feelings thence unfree

Behind our self-made fence

As we waited to leave impatiently,

Even as news came to grieve.

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A brace of ducks take flight as slowly

Afternoon descends to night,

Slapping away the tiny silence, sweetly;

The air is filled with blossom scent,

And as the ducks take wing, I swear,

I shall never miss another spring.

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the small picture view – how wonderful it is just to see this instead of concrete or our own bare walls inside. Long may we leave our houses and be greeted with life.

            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….

Procrastination, Panic, and Priorities in the Pandemic

So for the last couple of months I’ve been living like Hemingway. Well, without the writing, so much.

Or the bulls.

No bulls this year. No fiesta in Pamplona.

But I have been in Spain, enjoying the sunshine, and drinking.

I’ve been getting up early, with intentions of getting lots of writing done.

I have a run, or a cycle, while it’s cool, then have a swim after cleaning the pool.

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A road I recently cycled along with some friends – I usually go alone in the hills.

And I’ve spent an hour or two on the laptop, staring at the screen, as I scroll through my social media and read about the horrible things happening, the shitshow that is the former lone superpower, the rising death rates in various countries, and watching videos of the violent racism so many have to deal with and the violent reaction to any request for such racism to stop.

Then I get breakfast for my kids when they surface from their darkened bedroom around ten, and pretty much any chance to get writing done is gone until perhaps mid afternoon when I wake from a siesta and have another swim to get my brain restarted.

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An outing with the kids to an old windmill in the valley. We normally stay in the village, and I don’t normally post photos of the kids – but they’re unidentifiable here.

 

Of course, it’s a strange time to live. But we’re alive. And in the end, well, what more can we ask for?

People are worried, though. And I was thinking about this – about panic and procrastination in these times of pandemic.

Sometimes we think that when people panic they start doing things: racing around, becoming very busy.

But they don’t.

Instead it seems that they are paralysed and they do nothing.

However, perhaps their reality is that they see that given the futility of the situation, and their imminent demise, there’s basically no point in doing anything. Instead it’s best to just relax and do nothing.

Because doing nothing is in fact the best thing to do.

Perhaps it’s only when we’re faced with death that we realise that we should’ve been doing nothing all along.

The object of our existence is to do nothing.

Doing is not the important thing, it’s just being.

We should just be.

We should just watch, and chill out.

So while it seems that I have done very little in these days, and there are several books that are waiting to get finished and some to get started, I’ve decided to not worry about that because if I do get sick, I’ll probably just stop writing rather than race to get them finished.

I’ll do what I have been doing – looking after the kids, being with the family, enjoying the scenery and the flowers in the garden and the birds around the house.

At the end of the day, does it matter if the book is one third finished one half finished or three quarters finished if the book is unfinished? Perhaps it’s best to nearly finish at least, but I’m loath to spend my last days worrying about it.

Of course, I am not sick, and I hope I’m not in my last days – keeping the head down here!

So I have written some. And I will have some to show people soon.

And I never stop writing poetry.

So here’s some of that:

 

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A view of the olive tree centre of the world in Andalucia… peaceful, if pretty poor species-wise…

Where Would You Go To?

 

Racing downhill, skidding over gravel path between pine peaks.

Slide to a stop beside scarlet-poppy-strewn field of barley, golden

Eagles calling overhead, staring at gliding silhouettes, shielding eyes

Against glare of sun, hot upon shoulders. A lone figure, surrounded

By a chorus of chirps, whistles and warbles, sheet of susurration

Wind through poplar leaves under a blanket of blessed silence,

Among a bouquet of orchids and other wild flowers, wondering

Where would one go from here?

 

Eventually remounting, rolling onwards over eroded pudding-stone

Thinking this is the destination of a multitude, but home to me.

 

Many would trek to get here: the very idea posited as post-retirement

Plan, proposed to stretch the Mediterranean holiday eternally past

A year in Provence; sold to dozens of millions dreaming of this,

Present position I’ve stumbled upon for life. So,

 

Why would I want to do any more than simply be, here?

 

Everything I can add upon this blessing only gravy, icing.

What matter if my works are acclaimed or even hailed?

When their very creation brings my own elation, and this station

Provides all the time, and space to do so at my pondering pace.

It’s only left to me to accept this grace, riding though this pretty place.

 

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The view from our local windmills, one of the places I cycle. The hills on the right are where the golden eagles breed.

 

The Earth Dances

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.

New Year

Happy New Year everyone.

2019 was a stressful year.

2020 might not be much better.

But here’s some advice to keep you going.

Remember this….

Best Medicines

 

The best medicines are, in order:

1 Sleep

2 Laughter

3 Sex

4 Alcohol

5 Hugs from kids (or animals if you’re stuck)

6 Paracetamol

7 Tea

8 Fresh air outside the city

9 Diet Coke

10 A view of hills or mountains.

 

You might have your own order, but you won’t go far wrong when life is shite. Be careful with 4 and 6 of course!

You’re all adults out there…

 

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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January poems

 

These were written mainly over the last couple of weeks and seemed appropriate for

the weather and the midpoint of the month…

 

Lived or not

 

If we don’t stop to watch the sunset,

How do we know we’ve really lived that day?

 

sunset

 

Listening to the Birds and Bees

 

Perhaps people no longer

Stop to listen to the birdsong

Because they’ve taken all the birds away

And only sparrows in the traffic stay.

 

 

 

They Doth Protest Too Much

 

Pensioners protest;

They did their bit and are owed.

What have they left us?

 

 

 

Tea Leaves

 

Tea, thinking each leaf

Left China for Ireland, then

Here, I use bags twice.

 

 

On the Death of Bowie

 

For some, no matter how old they go,

They’re gone too young, too soon.

And all we have left to hold is a song

That we can’t help but sing out of tune.