While Spring officially started at the beginning of the month back home in Ireland, in Spain we are still in the middle of winter, with the next season only set to start in another month on the 21st of March.
It is, I admit, the height of skiing season, but even here, the daffodils are shooting up and will soon burst buds, the crocuses in the parks are spotting the grass, and I even saw a few daisy and dandelions the other day. The trees are mostly still bare, but showers of catkins have popped out on a few.
Mostly, though, you can just smell it. The air is different. Despite the snow that we had last week, there’s a feeling of spring that even humans living in a city still experience.
Spring is here, as far as I am concerned.
And summer isn’t far behind. For I saw the bats take their first flight of the year and it reminded me of a poem I wrote last year on the subject of signs of summer, more than spring. It’s perhaps a little premature to be thinking about butterflies and bees, but since I haven’t posted a poem in a while, here it is.
Signs of Summer
There are many signs of summer coming, here,
Starting perhaps with cuckoo calls and swallow sighting
And the return of the swifts, or
The first flight of the bats at twilight,
The scent of honeysuckle through open balconies and
The abundance of butterflies on the garden lavender,
Some are specific to Spain, like closing the blinds
Against sunlight to keep the house cool, and
Sleeping with the windows open all night
Pouring water to fill the swimming pool and others
Seen only in this city: setting up the tombola,
Putting the fences around the flowers in the park
In preparation for the festivals and digging up
The road to get it ready for the running of the bulls,
And lastly, putting up with the stench of piss
Upon opening up the street door every morning.
An Absence in Abundance
Lavender lays sideways under the weight of wind and blossom
But the bees clinging to the swaying stalks are few and far between.
An exuberance of blooms festoon the garden; from geraniums to clover,
But the butterflies are almost all white. Where is the abundance?
The humming profusion we should see before us?
The insects are ever scarcer on the farm – apart from houseflies –
And sparrows are ousting the house martins.
Those looking closely can see the cracks and give voice
To our misgivings that something’s got to give.
The heat here disappeared and a storm saw the start of the school year last night but the next festival in Pamplona is already setting up…
The city of Pamplona used to be divided into three Burgos. This is mine.
The celebration of the privilge of the union of these three (592 years ago) takes place on the 8th of Sept. Small San Fermin, or San Fermin txikito takes place at the end of September.
For me, September started with dental surgery, but I’ll save you the photos of that…
Anyway, ’twas a good summer.
Apart from sitting on the beach and visiting home, I watched three seasons of Mad Men, read half of MR James’s Ghost stories, and all of Lonesome Dove, wrote a novella, and almost all of a novel (still not ready for submission, albeit) I put on a few kilos, saw several species of raptors every day and a few foxes and roe deer around, but got few decent photos, made a saw horse (as well as cut and constructed a few walls of logs) and mounted a headboard in the village house.
What I haven’t done is write many blog posts, but I hope to rectify that this autumn..
I did scribbled a few more poems, one about mountain biking, which I didn’t do enough of this year, really – sticking to my desk instead.
Here are a few more of these…. two are inspired by having a child ask the questions we never got good answers to in our day… at least I didn’t.
Along Hallowed Paths
Old friends we seldom saw
Except in photos or in a bar,
But who shared a hobby, such as
Biking or hiking, where we are alone,
Never enter our thoughts upon the
Mountain; only when we return to recount.
However, now they are gone from those
Groups in the bar relating their days in
The saddle, their face comes to mind any time
We sit upon a mountain bike, it seems,
Every crazy climb and mental descent,
Every path picked over rocks and
Gravel track or long asphalt road
Through fields and forests
Is hallowed ground.
Dogs don’t go to Heaven
They told me dogs don’t go to Heaven.
If so, then much less the wolf,
Nor would the fleet deer flee.
If there are no dogs allowed,
Then neither birds nor bumblebees
Enter, I’m sure. Who visits flowers, then?
None need, for they are also absent.
Mountains there are equally bare
Of the forest that covers the one before me.
When they tell me of Heaven, I can hardly
Imagine how the water flows and falls there,
Or why one would swim in the wide blue sea
Without a fish to see.
They tell me
Dogs don’t go to heaven, so I’ve decided
That’s not somewhere I’d for ever want to be.
Thoughts on Obvious Questions Reappearing as a Parent
Why did Cinderella have to go home by midnight anyway?
What kind of fairy godmother gives a taste only to take away?
Was it because young ladies do not linger out all night?
Yet for the rest the party was in full swing when she took flight.
Control and strict rule sets of the time seems to be at base,
For readers to learn early how a suitor should give chase
And girls be given freedom only in small doses, lest
They reject the men who’d take them and clutch it to their chest.
The Poplars and the Church Tower
The church tower of Olleta has stood five centuries
In the fork between the river and the gulley;
The row of poplar trees four fewer, but for forty
Years now have stood a few feet taller; a monument
Of Nature making the village square shadier.
But they won’t stand longer,
For they’re coming down this week;
Some to make room for renovations to the church wall,
Lest it fall in ruins – after all, ’twasn’t built to last this long –
And the rest to return the view
Of the sun-drenched sandstone
From before it was shielded by such tall trees;
Proving man prefers to gaze upon
The wonder of his own creation.
Sometimes it feels like a nuisance, as a writer, to be a poet too.
So many hours can go by just making some short poems as perfect as I can make them…
But you can’t escape the way the writing comes.
Here are a selection of this summer’s work…
The Weight of Centuries
From the hilltop, the plain extends into haze,
A mosaic of mixed farming and forests
Even against the noise of the swish of
Windmills, the insects persist, cicadas trill, drill
Butterflies flutter across this pre-alpine meadow
Which has persisted despite pine plantations
Roads cut into the red earth
I sit on a fallen stone wall on which so many days have stretched,
Spying small valleys into which vineyards have been etched
And I feel the weight of centuries.
I have returned from my homeland to my adopted home
And wonder now where to take my holidays.
I watch tourists of my same shade trail past
This terrace exploring the old town of Pamplona,
Its small cobbled streets, of which I live in the thick.
It’s a privilege to drink this beer here, in holiday clothes
With nothing to do but write and raise my child, and
While aware this is my own particular “first world problem,”
I wish still to somehow, for some days, “get away from it all.”
The ultimate experience of
A walk into the wilderness
For most – that stroll in swimsuit
Along the surf alone
While the family builds sandcastles,
Untethered to anyone – is now tainted
By the telephone taken along.
Last Bastions for All to Admire
The last bastions of utter luxury
And we can look upon them
What it must have been like
Who were able to enjoy them
Before the rest of us arrived
Upon the sand.
In an Old Farmyard
Sun warms a wall, formerly whitewashed,
Now sand blasted to expose the beauty of
Raw stone and soft mortar in irregular mosaic.
Similar pillars stand centuries, supporting
Painted red gates that seldom open upon
A lane left to the birds and other wildlife,
Now a road to nowhere in time, like byres
And empty stables into which swallows
Still swoop to suspended nests of soil through
Slit windows, simply monuments to former toil.
At the Waterfall
Waterfall echoes white noise,
Breeze whispers through oaks.
Observing butterfly lawn,
Lounging on picnic blanket
Under piebald white and blue sky,
But unable to block out banal
Banter and utter bollox of
The barbequing family
Who parked their car beside us.
I’ll Take the Moon
Over festivals all very stimulating,
With curves as wonderful as any in creation
During a night as long as stars can sustain,
A concert of the songs of our
Latest pandemic’s potentially greatest loss,
A spectacle of lights and dazzling objects,
I’ll take the moon,
Rising orange in third quadrant
Past the Pyrenees.
That feeling you get when you’re writing a novel and you finally get to the point where you can see your way out of the middle of the book and know there is an ending….
You’ve been trashing around the marsh that is the book’s middle for weeks and now, though you’re covered in mud and still have a slog through boot-sucking bog holes ahead, at least you know what direction you’re going, where the dry land is ahead, and that glimmer of hope you held for so long turns to confidence you’re not, in fact, going to sink into the middle of all this shit without even a story to show for it.
I got that today.
That means I deserve to start outlining the next project, right? Right? Oh…. oh well…
let me just get this boot back on…
Meanwhile, here are a couple of poems: one for easter, the other for spring. Yes, already distracted…
A Watcher on Calvary
A man named Barabbas was once heard sighing,
From an alley on the path to Calvary, upon spying
A raucous crowd, carrying crosses to the top, go by,
And saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Lured, like a bee to the bloom,
The scent of narcissus arrests my senses,
Dancing swallows draw eye away
From swirling script, distracted by the act;
Evening singing wins me over,
Dawn chorus charms me from my slumber,
Calling cuckoos invade my concentration.
The flowering pulls me from my room;
Sucking from the soil such beauty,
So I wish to sit before them, soaking
All they display, watching every form unfold.
So August wasn’t so treacherous this year. I got the final edits and cover art for my second novel, Five Days on Ballyboy Beach ready for its release on the 19th, I did some more rewriting of a novella and had it accepted for publication in the new year with Tirgearr Publishing, and I wrote a short story based on my safari in South Africa last year, called At Last Light on the Sage Flats, which will be the title story to a collection of short stories I’m putting together for the end of this year. Oh, I finished that first draft of The Ecology of Lonesomeness, too.
I also started the sequel to Leaving the Pack – not quite sure of the title yet, but the working title is Leading the Pack.
And I am three-quarters way through reading The Count of Monte Cristo, which I have had on my shelf for about twelve years! I didn’t get around to season five of Breaking Bad yet, though – but the autumn is coming (feels like it even here, too – we didn’t have what you’d call a Spanish summer this year), so I’ll get to that, when I have a second draft done of Lonesomeness….
Meanwhile, here is one of the few poems I had a chance to finish, about doing very little….
Getting Old, Slowly
Along the ridge a row of windmills go slowly round.
You can hear them when the wind turns south.
Twenty-five years they’ve ringed the valley
And show no sign they’re soon to fall.
Similarly, we inhabitants stand around,
Eating from our gardens here, seasonally
Watching flight of swallows and their fellows,
Observing numbers (often) ebb and (seldom) flow,
Grass get cut instead of grazed and oak trees grow tall,
New abodes are built and others crumble to the ground,
Sitting upon a porch of an evening, the sky yet
As wonderful as youth, and starry as can still get,
Achieving only that act of getting old slowly.
Deadlines have been on my mind as my release date approaches for Leaving the Pack.
Most of them are dates made in my own mind, but it’s hard to keep writing inside when there’s so much going on elsewhere.
What is a deadline? And how can one stand
Against the rush of a riffling stream past
Skinny legs of a standing heron over rounded stones,
Against the draw of deep water held behind a weir,
Against the rippling wind whipping through ripening barley,
And expanse of blue sky extending above a verdant plain,
Against the weight of sunlight upon a shoulder,
The swell of one’s chest at the sight of a field full
Of poppies and vetch, fetching delight at feeling,
Beating steady bass against the body, against the
Somniferous drone of bees through the blooms,
For whom the afternoon includes no siesta, or
Press of dancers in a crowded room, screaming
Swirling of swallows, flinging slight bodies against
Flies upon the wing, and insistent singing thrush
Trilling an announcement at all this end of daylight,
Making last flight and call to unseen nest?
How can anything resist the soft accumulation of
Seed cotton drifting down from dangling catkins?
The only dead line is that which marks the death of days,
Staying under sunlight as long as last its rays
Our only object, for the sun will set soon enough,
And the darkness will wash over all that was lit before it.