Urban Spring-time

Urban Springtime

Petals and broken glass

Line the festal way.

Accidental emeralds gleam

Amid silken pink blossom

Trodden underfoot,

Sodden and sad:

Softness and sharpness

Mingling in the fallen trash.

Ten green bottles

Smashed against my wall,

Ten green bottles

Didn’t accidentally fall.

Drifts of pink petals

Candy-floss coloured

              Blow lazily in hot wind

Drying to nothingness

In a few days, gone.

Some rubbish I can live with.

I wrote this poem some years back when we lived in a large village in the Midlands. It had been a big change from the tiny village in the middle of nowhere, where I could walk at night with only starlight and moonlight to guide me, and where the nights were so quiet I could hear the wind in the wheat on a summer night.

It’s been a bigger and more shocking change to move to a port town, and even walking the ancient woodlands a few minutes’ walk from my home I can still hear the roar of traffic, see the rubbish and mourn the damage.

We are stewards and we have not done our job very well.

Snow at the shoreline

Snow at the Shoreline

Cappuccino waves crash upon the shore

Spin-drift and snow meet at high tide,

Overlap and kiss across a barrier

Made of iced shingle and flotsam,

Feathers and cuttlefish corpses.

Roar of sea and wind drown out

The cries of gulls and the crunch

Of feet through snow and sand.

Breath snatched from my mouth,

I puff and lean hard into the wind

Struggle to stay upright

Gasp at the slash of snow,

Leap from the encroaching sea

As it tries to steal back land.

A few fishermen fight with rods,

We’re mad,” says one as I pass.

I agree but the words vanish,

Lost amid the tumult,

So I shout, “Aren’t we all?”

He nods, fervently and I move on.

A gull hovers above me,

Riding the storm eagle-eyed for scraps.

I trudge home, hands in pockets

Face hidden by hat and scarf,

My eyes narrowed against the gale

An icy Bedouin stamping in snow,

Exhilarated but wearied by winter.

Landlocked ~ a poem about craving the sea

Landlocked

When I wake, I want to feel

The sea breeze creeping cool

Through my open window,

Filling the room with the scent

Of the salt tang and the seaweed.

When I wake, I want to hear

Gulls, not rooks, calling raucously

Beyond my open window

And hear not the soft sough

Of the wind in the trees

But the hiss and gurgle

Of the sea lapping the shore.

On a winter’s morning

When the high winds have raged

Throughout the night,

I want to go outside

And find what the sea has thrown

Beyond the high tide mark

And sift the treasure from the trash.

I want to sit and watch

The sun sink beneath the waves

While a driftwood fire

Dances and crackles beside me

And the sound of the sea

Fills my ears with peace.

The Cherry Tree ~ or how God might see things

The Cherry Tree

I see the cherry tree
Bare of leaves,
Twigs a tangle of algae’d wood
And buds tight coppery knots
Tipping each twig with points of light.
I see it covered in bloom
Double pink flowers like candy floss
Dripping confetti onto overgrown grass.
Newly opened leaves gleam bronze
Fluttering in early summer breezes
Or blow dry and yellow in Autumn gales,
Lie rotting and damp
On an icy winter’s day.
For a minute I see the tree
Outside of time,
Floating free of any fixed point;
A seed, a bud
Sapling, prime tree
And fallen timber
Returning to the soil
And I think:
This must be how God sees.

Shoreline ~ a Poem of the seaside

Shoreline

When
the wind rages

I
share the shore

With
a few brave souls

Driven
from home

By
dogs or inner demons.

We
nod, curtly and pass,

Silent,
heads down.

Today,
the sun shines,

The
waves are mild

And
I share (with bad grace)

My
strand with strangers,

Bred
by heat from streets,

Sunning
themselves on the sand.

I
feel more alone now

Than
when the gales and storms

Kept
the hordes at home.

Endings and beginnings ~ why you need to grieve for the past before you can begin anew

 

Endings and beginnings ~ why you need to grieve for the past before you can begin anew

I’ve always loved Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry but the following poem was recently brought back to my attention by a musical version of it by Natalie Marchant.

Spring and Fall:

to a Young Child

 Margaret, are you grieving
   Over Goldengrove unleaving?
   Leaves, like the things of man, you
   With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
   Ah! as the heart grows older
   It will come to such sights colder
   By and by, nor spare a sigh
   Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
   And yet you will weep and know why.
   Now no matter, child, the name:
   Sorrow’s springs are the same.
   Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
   What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
   It is the blight man was born for,
   It is Margaret you mourn for.

For those of you that are not poetically inclined, the poem is addressed to a young girl who is distressed that the leaves of her favourite woodland are falling. For a child, the seasons have not yet become predictable and the certainty that we as adults may feel that the spring will come and the trees with again be crowned in green is not present. The grief of the child is palpable in the words Hopkins writes; she is too young to have the assurance of spring. And yet, Hopkins does not dismiss this. Indeed, he says that even though as she grows older and becomes more hardened to such things, she will still weep for such things because the origin of the sorrow will always remain. Essentially a poem about the grief our own mortality can bring us, it is one of such compassion and understanding of a particularly sensitive child that I felt it speak to me personally.

Death has become the last great taboo in our culture and the thing that divides us most. People would rather not think about their own mortality at all and those who do are labelled as morbid or negative. Yet the fact remains that we all die. How and where and when are the great unknowns. And what comes next, if anything, is the greatest mystery of them all. Unlike children who learn by experience that after the great unleaving of the trees in Autumn and the cold, cold days of Winter, the Spring returns without fail, we cannot discover by experience and rest easy in that knowledge.

So the smaller deaths in life, the partings and the endings, become focuses for our anxiety and need for reassurance. Moving house, as I have done many times, becomes a grief beyond the mere hassle. So much of my life has been bound up within those walls. Changing jobs. The death of others close to me. All these endings. They’re hard to bear. Really hard to bear. And the temptation is to leap ahead for comfort, to try and see the future where things do not hurt. To know that the Spring will come again.

And yet, this is something that denies the reality of the moment. The death of a friend even when you are sure in your heart that death is not the final curtain but a change of state, should hurt. It needs to, because it returns you to a state of innocence, that of Margaret in the poem, where you grieve in a pure state.

In our busy society, without time or inclination for either rites of passage or time to grieve, to be allowed to grieve is a blessing. It allows healing to happen. If you cut that time short, you cut yourself. And the longer you defer or postpone or refuse that grieving, the more you may find waiting for you later.

  Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to grieve, because in some ways, you are grieving for yourself as well. 

An Antidote to the St Valentine’s Day massacre (aka Rip-Off)

  An antidote to the St Valentine’s Day massacre(aka Rip-off)

 

The most dreaded day of the year for many dawns today (14th February) where husbands quake, wives sigh and singletons hope. Yeah, right, that day. I am not a fan of St V’s, not in the slightest. It comes not so much of being about as unromantic a soul as possible as the powerful aversion to media manipulation and peer pressure.

The ancient Greeks had a number of different words and concepts for love, quite different from our culture of one-size-fits-all LOVE. St Valentine’s Day focuses on probably the least interesting and most ephemeral of those love concepts, that of eros, or erotic, sexual love, and singles it out for special treatment. When the practise of sending Valentine’s cards began, in Victorian times, cards were actually sent to family members and friends, rather than exclusively to romantic interests. I find it sad that this charming practise has now been overtaken by the narrow definition of love.

Love is a complex muddled thing and is far more than hearts and flowers and chocolates and too often romantic expectations lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Love is a deeper, more exciting and eminently more confusing thing than Hallmark would have us believe.

For your delectation today, I have included four poems about love: one humorous, one serious, one somewhat sentimental and one unfinished fragment that starts the explore the darker side of love. 

 The first is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at falling in love. It touches on the pain of unrequited love, but that theme is expanded elsewhere.

Love (2)

Falling in love is much like falling sick:

It wasn’t part of the original plan.

There’s never a right time for it,

But when it happens, there comes

A terrible sense of inevitability,

A point when you can’t put it off

For a single second longer

And you succumb wholeheartedly.

It sometimes sneaks up uninvited

Like a stealthy summer cold.

You kid yourself it’s just pollen

That makes eyes and nose run:

The ache you feel is just overwork,

The heat in your veins merely

A reflection of the searing sun

And the shivers that shake you

Are geese parading over your grave.

But as the symptoms grow

So too does the unwelcome news

That there is nothing you can do

And it must run its true course.

Sometimes you recover, wake

To find the signs have vanished

Much like the glistening morning dew

As the sun warms the new day.

A faint uneasy memory remains

And you bless your luck at escaping,

Getting off so lightly this time.

Other times you toss and turn,

Boil and burn for years on end,

Find no relief, no end, no cure.

You get used to it finally,

Grow to enjoy the constant fever.

You won’t die of this disease,

But at times you might wish to.

Falling in love is much like falling ill,

But it is part of someone’s plan.

It’s timing is never our own,

And what we learn from it

Is both its gift and its curse.

The next poem examines love from another aspect, that of how love is what makes us human and vulnerable. It also touches on the element of divine love, and of sacrifice.

Love (1)

Love wounds us.

Like tribal scars,

Love marks us,

Shows us as new

Initiated beings.

Parallel slashes

Of raised scar tissue

Label us as different.

Love hurts us:

The brief bold cut

Dripping hot blood

Shows us changed,

Reinvented daily.

Only those who share

Our pattern of scarring

Can see and know

The person we have become,

Or see the beauty and power

Of those indelible wounds,

Invisible to those untouched

By Love’s kind blade.

  

The third poem in this cycle tries to examine how love feels, how the different seasons of love mimic the seasons of the year. It’s the poem I feel to be the soppiest, and the closest to the roses and hearts of Valentine’s day.

Love 3

Love is the spring wind

Blowing through the winter reeds,

Melting the edge of ice

And bringing scents of warmer climes.

Love is the electric crackle

That fills the summer air

Before the first thunderstorm

Breaks and rages over us.

Love is the dripping trees

And the fallen leaves of gold

Coating the cooling earth

As autumn chills the nights.

Love is the frozen crunch

Of footsteps through new snow

Treading where no one trod before,

And making a cold path to follow.

Love is the turning year

Where all is renewed

Season by blessed season

For eyes that can see the light.


 

The final poem is an incomplete fragment. I don’t tend to rework poems once I have finished with them but this one has defied me to finish it. I leave you to ponder on why. 

The Dark Side of Love

 

Love has a dark face,

Beyond the softness

and sweetness and the lost days

Of cherished childhood,

Love has a dark face.

Loves says “NO!”

When we want her to say yes.

Love says, “Never!”

To our hopes and dreams.

Is this truly love then, who

Turns our love away?

Turns us on our heads?

 

I hope these poems and thoughts go some way to defusing the bomb that is Valentine’s day, and whether you are single or in a relationship, that love of some kind is with you this day, and I end with a poem that has haunted me for many years, also with Love in its title.  

George Herbert. 1593–1632

  

286. Love

  
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,  
      Guilty of dust and sin.  
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack  
      From my first entrance in,  
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning          5
      If I lack’d anything.  
   
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’  
     Love said, ‘You shall be he.’  
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,  
      I cannot look on Thee.’   10
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,  
      ‘Who made the eyes but I?’  
   
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame  
      Go where it doth deserve.’  
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’   15
      ‘My dear, then I will serve.’  
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’  
      So I did sit and eat.