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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.

As Winter Comes

It comes for all of us.

But some of us are waiting. And we’re not going to be made to leave so easily.

And sometimes we can see the beauty in it all.

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            Winter Takes Grip of Us

Clouds fall, darker as they drop down upon the valley.

Night draws onwards, quick as winter wind, whistling

Along eaves, whipping at chattering apple leaves, 

Stripping trees, snapping stalks in the garden.

Bamboo poles that have supported peppers and 

Tomatoes all summer bend over, while the plants 

Are sapped of green, and shrivel even as ripening

Sole fruits dangle in the gusts. Only life remains 

It seems in hard cabbages and cauliflowers

Curled over to cover hearts from coming frosts.

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Still, we sit, after gleaning the garden for all that was

Tasty and tender, those last mouthfuls of summer

Not too damaged or dried up after stalks snapped,

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Refusing to leave even though no leaves are left, and

The night leaves us bereft of light: lingering outside

In twilight until winter takes the whole, sole

Sitters separated from the stalks that once sustained

Us, supported strongly, holding up only memories of

The sunshine that once suffused the blossoming apple

Grove, and unbent seedlings sprouted all around us.

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The allotment at dusk, Pamplona above with the last light of sunset. Pepper plants in the foreground, cardo – pig thistle and cabbages in the background before the tree. The peppers are frost damaged now.
The tomato plants, dead and shrivelled yet with a few fruits still edible held on. Pamplona cathedral is at the top right of the photo, silhouetted against the sky.

Cathedral Leaves

            Cathedral Leaves

November sunlight shines at right angle

To catch leaves like stained window panes

On cathedral trees, lining riverbank, flanking

Dancing stream gleaming like black marble.

Drakes draw diamond wakes through dark

Water, songbirds call sonorous cries flying

Through timber, sweet as a child’s choir.

Marvelling at this flowing manifestation of

Nature’s majesty, I stand in reverence:

An experience as solemn as sacraments,

Holy as the spirit infusing these trunks

And tender tendrils dangling delicate

Leaves twisting daintily in the breeze.

And I wonder why those who kneel for

An invisible being in the sky, don’t even stop 

To breath in, appreciate this display of 

Beauty splayed out before them, inhale

Divinity in every breath of autumn 

Dampness, soaked up sounds like dewfall,

Absorbed through skin as golden photons;

On shoulders felt the gentle hand of eternity.

A hilltop in a local park with sun shining in the trees – I never actually took any photos of the scene with the river… mostly just look, and then hope the poem paints the picture better than my phone camera can….

Passing in the Night

So despite our quarantine, and shut bars etc., we can at least leave our homes so far during this second wave, and that’s a lot. A walk, a stroll, a chance to stand and smell fresh air (when you can lower the mask, of course) to stare up at the sky and relax your eyes, is not to be dismissed anymore.

And it’s a delight to know the natural world is still spinning on despite our stupidity.

I don’t have any shots of the cranes at night because I just watched rather than fumble with phone, but I have posted some shots from other days – one of the cranes going low over town during the day, and of course, our constant companions all summer in the south, Jupiter and Saturn. Mars is in the east these days. It’ll never be easier to see so look up this weekend.

Sunset with Jupiter and Saturn already bright in the sky on the left.

            Passing in the Night

I stare out from the city walls, waiting

For migrating cranes to come calling:

Glimpse against low city-glow clouds.

Bats pass but no birds; Mars my only

Other midnight companion, with

Jupiter and Saturn at my back, a

Spider spinning draws eyes down

From treeline to the damp stone:

Seeing mites crawling across lichens

White in the street light, changes

Perspective. Some comfort comes

From knowing creatures will roam

Over these stones even if crumbled;

And the bodies above me will circle

Unceasingly in their great migrations,

When neither walls nor men yet stand.

The new moon, Jupiter and Saturn in a line across the sky with the citadel of Pamplona in the lower background
Cranes flying over Pamplona centre.

The Winter of Our Discontent?

          

a local park in Pamplona… pondering the leaves, the pigeons, the life about the park benches and how long we’ll be allowed to look at it this fall – will the gates close before the last leaf falls?

   The Winter of Our Discontent?

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We sit and watch autumn fall upon us, daily;

The park employees still sweep up leaves,

Now the last grass mowing has past.

Pigeons and ducks tuck into tossed bread, 

Filling up for colder times, robins arrive from 

Colder climes, while we wonder whether 

Gates will weather open all the way to winter:

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A thought neither here not there for the

Twittering finches in the turning trees

Above the bench as I write, depressing

Ideas of Christmas devoid of cavalcades,

Parties or people we would gift our presence.

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To live with this disease in our midst, we need lifts:

Standing amid pines, or plans to participate,

Smiles and simple hugs: scenes to celebrate.

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While robins free to fly away in warmer weather 

Pigeons will persist on unswept seeds, 

Finches filled with felicity, we will sit inside,

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Pining, and chastising ourselves this idiocy;

Sitting watching screens instead of celebrations,

Imbibing wine in place of cherished faces.

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.

 

Learning Lessons

 

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?

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Long grass in the local park. Perfect for kids to get back to nature rolling around in. Notice absence of feral cats.

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.

Inhale

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I can’t Breath

 

I cannot respire

Fast enough to inhale

All the perfume

I desire hanging

From blooms

On my short cycle

Under a stand of trees

Between streets

Breathing fumes.

Dumb Animals and Unnecessary Death

Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age. But I don’t think so.

This kind of thing has always pissed me off – see the poem at the bottom of this post, written in 2000…

So, I’m pretty much okay with killing animals when that’s what has to be done. Sometimes it’s for food (though individuals might not agree with that) and sometimes it’s for human safety. As I said in a recent post, there are always priorities, and human safety is paramount.

But I don’t agree with the killing of two animals recently (a park deer and a pet dog) – though they were done in the name of “human safety.”

They were actually done through 10% laziness and 90% sheer fucking stupidity.

When an animal has to suffer the consequence of some human’s stupidity it really fucking gets my goat. Really.

I must admit that have a real problem with stupidity.

Okay, we all do something stupid now and then.

It was pretty stupid – in hindsight, perhaps – to walk into an enclosure with a testosterone-crazy animal that weighs more than you, has more muscles – and legs- than you, and is armed with 14 spikes coming out of its head, alone, unarmed. But the dude didn’t know much about deer – the deer are normally very standoffish, and the rut is a different thing altogether.

That’s not the stupidity I’m talking about.

I’m talking about shooting the deer, afterward, as if the deer has turned into a man-eater, or a nuisance bear liable to break into someone’s home and attack their sleeping children.

It’s a fucking deer. Put it back with the rest of the herd and let it fight the other stags, and there will be no further problems. Though, of course, make sure the workers know not to make the same mistake again.

No, the deer made the mistake of being a dumb animal. And a tasty one at that – so what if it’s not in the wild and we’re not hunting it? We have an excuse, and a stupid excuse is better than none. So the deer died for doing what it does, which is why it was brought to the park in the first place, and we’ll make the same fucking mistake with the next deer that knows no different (they’ve already allowed a younger male to be in the same situation, alone in one part of the park with only humans to take its interest – there’s not even a bush to spar against). And then we’ll lament and shoot that deer.

Right now there is a lone deer in the same place which could attack a lone keeper.

That’s what I’m talking about.

This is institutional stupidity – the kind of stupidity that happens again and again because it’s ingrained in the system and you can’t seem to find anyone who has responsibility for something that actually understands a fucking iota of what they are supposed to know about.

That shit really pisses me off.

I mean the kind of errors that lead to the killing of a dog called Excalibur – yeah, pretty fucking over-the-top name for the runt it was, but that’s beside the point – are the same fucking dose of idiocy that might lead to the death of a shit load of people, not just in Alcorcón, Madrid (a place I taught English in for 2 years and got to know a lot of folk) but all around Spain, if not corrected pretty fucking quickly, and by that I mean last week already.

For those who don’t know, Excalibur was the pet dog of the Spanish nurse who was the first person to contract Ebola outside Africa during the current outbreak. She went hospital, her husband went in beside her, and her dog went to the biohazard fire.

The people who might be infected from this nurse will hopefully not get infected, and will hopefully not have pets.

The big mistake the government made – and it’s the minister of health, the one who refuses to resign even now, who made Mistake Number One – was to bring infected people out of Africa to let them die at home (they died) in the first place: creating the possibility of spreading the virus to a whole new population. All the eminent virologists in Spain are rightly up in arms about not being even asked their opinion. But that’s the point – those in power could give a fuck about the scientific and medical opinion, because they don’t want to follow advice: they want to do what they want and will do it. And they won’t apologise for it, and they sure as fuck won’t resign.

Even after international experts said it would be better to keep the dog alive to at least test whether human dog transmission is possible – information we might fucking need soon enough as we are embroiled in a breakout if these clowns don’t get their shit together – they went ahead and killed it.

Said they’d nowhere to keep it.

Like a dog can’t sit in a cage in a hospital ward – it’s not like your average appendicitis patient is going to be sleeping next door to the Ebola sufferer. Okay, maybe it’s not easy, but it can be done.

AAAnd they didn’t bother taking any samples. Why would they do anything clever like that? The dog has to die because it might be infected, but lets not find out, in case someone says we didn’t need to kill it. Whether or not it was infected, you didn’t need to kill it: it was scientific information on four legs, fuckwits!

There was a huge backlash against the idea of putting down the dog – the animal rights folks turned out in flocks and blocked the road, etc. It was nice to see – it would be nice to see the same reaction next time they think of bringing infected folk back home to die, or letting the president (the embodiment of stupidity having no glass ceiling in politics) return from wherever he has fled to avoid questions on the crisis.

Maybe the deaths of these animals – guilty only of being made dangerous by human stupidity (though the same can be said of bears and lions and many others) – will serve as an impetus to make us join together and get rid of the idiots? After all, it’s not just us they are endangering, but a whole planet full of other animals too.

Meanwhile, here’s that poem…..

 

Accidents will happen

 

A kid sliced his ear off the other day;

Down by me in the field, on a swing from a tree.

We used to have a swing there when I was young.

Anyway, he lost it somehow when swinging;

Cut clean off apparently.

 

So who was to blame for this minor tragedy?

The authorities, for not having a playground;

Or at least not preventing kids from making their own?

Probably the parents, for not taking proper care.

His peers, for forcing the obviously incompetent kid

Up the tree to launch off leaving his ear?

 

It was no one’s fault of course –

It was just a freak accident.

 

No. Sorry. Actually; it was the tree’s –

They cut it down next day.