Norfolk coast path – a poem about the bus.

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This year is a year of walking.

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Peter, my husband, is doing the Country Walking 1000 miles  challenge. He’s well ahead of schedule, and it’s a brilliant project, doing him much good. I don’t tend to sign up for things that have quite such a big commitment to exertion, but I seem to be covering a great many miles, even so!  I just reserve the right not to, for instance now, when evening walking leaves me too hot to sleep….

We thought we might give the Norfolk Coast Path a go – Hunstanton to Cromer, as it’s not too far away, and flat, and beautiful, and dotted with lovely B and Bs and tea shops and pubs for rest stops….

And we did!  Before the weather got to be quite as hot as it is now, we walked the distance, with breezes and the cool brown North Sea to keep us going.  Taking on such a, for me, long walk was made all the sweeter by the memory of illness recovered from, health restored.  How good to feel the strength of your body, to rejoice in its ability to just keep on going.  How good to let your feet take you over sand, and marsh, and boardwalk, and lane. It felt good to rejoice in being upright, and in seeing such beauty.

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I’m hoping to write up some more of what filled my notebooks as we went, but, for now, I’m just dipping my toes back in with a poem about a key part of the walk, the coast bus, which made it possible.  You can walk one way and get the bus back, or to wherever you need to be that night.  It’s a bus well used by the locals, who are happy to tell you about good shops, and places to see marsh harriers, and other useful things.  It’s cheerful and kindly as community services often are.

One day, we were done as the schools closed, and it was so good to share a few miles with kids who were clearly happy to be on their way home again.  It prompted another small poem, which I share with you now.

 

Norfolk coast bus

Sitting on the coast bus after
the wild open walking,
the huge sky,
the oyster-catchers,
The saltmarsh, and the reeds,
my legs stick to plastic seats,
the sun strikes hot through glass,

But as I breathe and cool, I hear the
young voices all around me,
laughing, wrestling with
musical instruments,
sports kit,
bags of files,
the weight of
home-from-school.

And when anyone reaches their stop,
one boy, near the front,
says goodbye to them,
each in turn,
and the partings ripple
back down the bus –
he, young as he is,
sets the tone.

You see the web
woven between them,
hot in nylon blazers,
and feel the life of them,
the kindness of them,
despite their loads.

For these few miles
I feel I am in community,
connected,
as I take off my straw hat,
and loosen the damp hair
from my head,
as the sound of voices
surrounds me
as the bonds of friendship
surround me,
I am restored.

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Poem – The courtesie of pigeons

Each morning at the moment, I go outside to see what’s happening.  I don’t get up with the dawn, so by the time I go outside, life has been bursting out for a couple of hours – there’s always something beautiful that makes me catch my breath.

I spend time sitting, meditating, or in contemplative prayer, and then I get out my notebook and try to write what I see, what is happening right now.

Our old bench was beginning to rock and sway, especially if more than one person sat on it, so we have a beautiful new one from Genesis, Orwell Mencap  I particularly like the way that someone involved in making the furniture comes to help deliver it, and see where it will be enjoyed.

 

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Sometimes, sitting on the bench, life’s dramas play out before you. This one, with the pair of pigeons who nest in our garden, felt like part of an old chivalric romance, hence the rather archaic spelling….

The courtesie of pigeons

The pigeons, on the roof-ridge,
or on the black line of the
telephone wire,
begin this dance the same
each day.

She, head bowed slightly away,
He, with a deep murmur,
bows low, his beak sinks
to meet the wire, or the tile.
With a tail elevated to the sky,
he puffs up, more than
his full size,
his wings droop slightly.
He rises and bows,
Rises and bows.

My strength, lady,
is yours to command,
is at your disposal
should you wish it, lady.

But she steps sideways,
and again,
and flies, nonetheless,
but, nonetheless,
she cannot always do so,

for each year, come summer,
plump grey squabs sidle
across the lawn,
feasting on its richness.

 

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Photograph by Africa Gomez

 

It calls to mind another pigeon saga…..Nest

Poem: Lent 1 – Scream

 

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Hunger.

The first of Jesus’ temptations, Luke tells us, was to turn stones into bread.  Our hungers are real, even those of us who live in places where food is abundant, where we eat too much for our own good, and the good of others. Deep hungers drive us without our even knowing.

The lent discipline of fasting has never been one I have observed much.  I have, from time to time, tried giving up some kind of treat, but so far it has always been a form of self-indulgence all the same.  For my own good, for selfish reasons, for reasons of vanity, even.  This year I have been trying to open my eyes to the impact of my appetite on others.  I have been attempting to do so with gratitude for all the things that sustain my life, but I have dared to try to consider those things that were hidden – the hidden impact of my buying and eating in all its various forms.  Too much all at once would be too much for me, overwhelming, but……
but, today, this happened.  It pulled me up short.

 

Lent 1 – Scream

The sound unsettled me
before I knew I heard it –
Standing up straight, skin prickling,
I turned – what was it?
so like a scream,
like many, many screams.

Not the cry of waders on the river –
louder, larger, full of terror,
one to the other
passing the fear, rippling
back and forth.

And then I saw, stopped
at the traffic lights,
a galvanised lorry
dark slits along the side,
the occasional flash
of pink flesh.

Pigs. To market,
to slaughter.
I had been on my way
to the butchers to buy
gammon –
not now, not tonight.

Mushrooms, peppers,
herbs, garlic, roasted, yes.
We do not know what we do.
 

Dorset Poems – St Gabriel’s Chapel, 1

 

We’ve come back from such a tranquil, peaceful break at a National Trust Holiday Cottage – this one was down a long lane which said “No Cars”, and then we turned off to an even smaller lane where the grass swished against our exhaust pipe.  It felt so safe and undisturbed. I felt myself calming as we slipped further away down these winding lanes. While we were there, we did a lot of walking.  Taking the car out was less attractive than just putting on boots and setting off. And while we were there, the remains of Hurricane Ophelia made her presence felt.

She did great damage in Ireland, but where we were, we felt the effects of a dramatic weather event, without the destructive force.  My notebook went with me as we walked, and I tried to record something of the landscape’s response to the storm.

 

 

St Gabriel’s Chapel

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Walks from the door.

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Seatown beach, with Golden Cap behind.  There is an excellent pub, The Anchor to refresh the weary walker! Portugese man of war jellyfish washed up on the beach.

We stayed near the ruined chapel of St Gabriel.  As I sat to write, my thoughts diverged down two paths.  As an experiment, I’m trying to explore both paths in poems, each path taking as it’s starting point the experience of sitting in the chapel as the wind blew.  This first poem follows a more direct path, the one we took over the cliffs back to another cottage where we had stayed as a family years ago, a place full of memory.  It was so good to retrace such freedom and laughter.  Next door Downhouse Farm runs a garden cafe with delicious food, and we enjoyed resting and recovering there, before turning back.  It was a long walk, taking in Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast, and as we climbed and descended, the sky began to turn a strange red, as the dust that came before the storm filled the air.

 

 

St Gabriel’s Chapel, Dorset,
Storm Ophelia
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From inside this small, stone chapel,
over broken walls
I can see the sea –
the wild white water crashing
into the cob at Lyme,
the many clouds moving fast,
as one, the sky sliding
against the earth
as leaves
scratch in corners,
tangle in hair.
Yesterday the trees held
more, far more,
when we walked seven
hard miles of cliffs
and troughs,
back to the place
we were
years ago, when
we were
all so much younger,
and we walked, and ran,
with Bessie the dog,
down, down to the sea.
We retraced those steps
more slowly, yesterday,
but look how far
we walked,
look how far
we have come.

 

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Thank you to Peter Skevington for the photographs.

Poem – Cormorant

cormorant Graham Owen

Photo by Graham Owen

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The River Deben

 

I used to walk by our river most days, with a notebook. I don’t know why I fell out of the habit, as it was a good one, but this week, I knew I needed to begin again.
So I walked along the lane, along the quiet creek, towards the bench where I used to sit and write,  when, just behind me, my attention was caught by an ungainly black shape moving fast.
Startled, I felt the emotions I had been seeking to keep under the surface.
The experience reminded me of the last line of Seamus Heaney’s wonderful Postscript

“And catch the heart off guard and blow it open ”

Like the white swans in their wild landscape in Heaney’s sonnet,  this dark bird on my river was some kind of liberation, revelation.

So I sat down on the bench where I used to sit, and wrote this:

 

 

Cormorant

Why is it, this bright morning,
that the sudden sight
of the cormorant
coming to land on the water
takes me unawares,
startles me open?
The tattered black wings,
stretching back,
the rangy sticks of feet,
the head, sharp as a
stabbing sword.

It lands in a single
fluid act, graceful upon
the slippery shining water,
but for a moment
only,
and then the bird
pierces the brightness
with that fine head
and dives
down into
its darkness.

 

 

 

 

Spiders

 

 

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September – such a rich month.  You can feel the year turning. I love the golden light, and the fruit and berries everywhere.  I love the mornings when spider webs are strung with dew, and there is a nip in the air, waking you up.

Spiders – where are they, the rest of the year?
They seem to be everywhere now, including in the house.  I keep reminding myself of the sterling work they are doing eating the flies, which were bothering me last month….

This is a small poem about the ways of spiders, and the power of waiting.  At this time of year, so much slow ripening is coming to fruition.  I find I have forgotten I watched the bees on the raspberries and the apple trees, wondering what the harvest would be.  I have moved on, thinking of something else.

I forget that much I have wondered about, worried about, prayed about, has turned out all right, after all – not everything, but enough.  I am learning the patience of spiders.

 

 

Spiders – September

Now is the time of spiders –
their silver webs spun between
leaves, and twigs, and blades of grass.
Each one has its weaver,
resting its legs
on fine threads,
its many eyes watching.

For now, warm fat insects
drift dreamily on
the September breeze.

The hedges hang
with berries, I cannot
pick the plums fast enough,
first apples bend branches,
and beans lengthen on their vines.

I am learning the patience
of spiders.
It comes.  What you need
comes to you.  Gently,
when you have almost
forgotten that you ever asked,
or wanted, or longed for it –
here, and here, and here..

 

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I have this on my computer desktop. It helps me remember the power of patience endurance, of not giving up.

 

How to read a Poem

 

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Earlier this week, a friend asked me how to read a poem.  It was a question I have been asked before, and so I felt I should know how to give a better answer than I did.  Of course, it may depend on the poem, and the mind and the training of the mind of the reader.  A good response to the question will take these things into account.

The exchange stayed with me, so I took some of the phrases of my answer, and wrote them in my notebook sitting on the garden bench later in the day.  I found they formed a a small poem themselves, inviting other words to join them – it’s what they seemed to want to do.

I begin with the mind – at school, so many of us ended up approaching poetry as if it were a form of cryptography, as if the pesky poet had deliberately concealed a meaning and we had to puzzle it out. Poetry rarely holds that kind of meaning.  In this, it is similar to story, as I was thinking in my previous post about parables.   The mind is a great resource in reading, and writing, and good academic rigour can seriously deepen our joy in a poem, but, for the nervous reader, it is not a good place to start.

Try starting like this, and see if that helps.

If you like to listen, you can listen here.

 

How to read a poem

Let your mind rest.
Do not pursue it anxiously,
grasping for meaning.

There is no riddle here
that must be solved
or else doom will fall.
No puzzle to puzzle
for a prize.

Let the sounds of the words
soak you,
water you.
Let the colours of the words
fill your eyes.
Receive it all, then,
with a yes,
hold the words
cool and dripping
in your cupped mind.

Come back,
come back again, for
something that snagged
your dreams
like the dark brambles
over an autumn path.

Come back.
In time, the words may
open to you.
You may taste
their sweet sharpness.
They may grow in you,
nourishing you again
and again.

 

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Poem – Treasure, Hidden. Of perseverance and hope.

 

 

 

 

Treasure, Buried

Each morning I find
small divots in the lawn,
dug neatly, completely.

Sometimes, the squirrel
comes while I am there –
both of us, quiet –
and with an arched back
and a bright eye
she digs.

Does she ever find her
hazelnut?
I don’t know.
I haven’t seen.

I do know I find
a seedling growing
unexpectedly somewhere,
sometimes,
and wonder –
was it her?

I push the divots
back into the lawn.
Each day there are more,
and more.

We value persistence,
the squirrel and I,
we value hope.

Poem – Morning Yoga Practice June 2017

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There has been much grief in the UK this week, met with an outpouring of love, and courage, and kindness.  These sudden losses shock us, remind us of our fragility, and the fragility of those we love.  The moments of national grief catch up our own more private losses, bring to mind what has gone before, and can take us deeper into questions – and the capacity to endure the space between the question and anything like an answer.

After reading Malcolm Guite’s reflections on being so close to the terrible events at London Bridge on Saturday night, I too have had these words of Shakespeare on my mind.

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days?

Asking questions seems a good response to the depths,

I am returning to my practice of writing freely, recording what draws my attention.  This morning it was this.

 

Morning yoga practice  June 2017

I bend on the grass,
look up at the bending gladioli
dancing cerise with their
graceful arches

as June’s north wind
rocks the branches,
as the air fills with
white petals –
blossom, roses –
that fall.

Why is it all so fragile,
this beauty?
why does it all slip
through my fingers?
I stretch, stretch out my
heart, and my love,
sending it both near,
both near and far away.

 
Restore them dear Lord,
Make them whole,
may they see
this life this beauty,
as the petals fall about me
in a cold blaze,
life and beauty ripped away,
yet carried on this June wind,
yet landing softly on this
green earth.

Maundy Thursday Retold

As we approach Easter, I’ll share with you retellings and prayers that might help you in your preparation, and might be useful for faith communities to share.  Today, we’ll look at the time when Jesus knelt before his followers to wash their feet, and gave them a new commandment – to love each other.
The word Maundy derives from the word commandment.

Love and serve one another

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THE SERVANT KING (John 13: 1- 17)

Evening came, and Jesus and his disciples were together in the upper room they had been given.  Jesus knew the time had come to leave the world – and those he loved, and would love to the end.  Jesus knew that God had given him power over all things, and so he took a towel, and tied it around his waist. He knelt down before his followers, and began washing their feet.
“No, Lord!” burst out Simon Peter when Jesus came to him. “I can’t let you do that!”
“You don’t understand yet – to be part of me, you must let me serve you.”
“Then wash my hands and my head, too” Peter replied.

Jesus came to Judas.  He knew that Judas had already agreed to betray him to the high priests and the Temple guard, but still, he carried on washing his feet.
“Do you understand?” he said when he had finished. “I’m your Teacher, your Lord, and yet I take the place of the humblest slave.  So you must serve each other, and you will be blessed in doing so.”

BREAD AND WINE  (Matthew 26:20-29, from John13:31-17:26)

Then, they began the Passover meal.  They ate flat bread with bitter leaves, and dipped greens in salt water, to remember the bitterness and the tears of slavery in Egypt.  Once more, they told each other the story of how God saved the people of Israel.  But then, Jesus’ face clouded with sadness.
“One of you is going to betray me!” he said.
“No!” they all answered, pale with shock.
“One who shares my bread,” Jesus said, giving a piece to Judas.

While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, giving it to all of them saying, “Take and eat, for it is my body.”  Then, after supper, he raised the cup, and gave thanks.  “Drink, all of you. For this is my blood, poured out for forgiveness.  It is the blood of the new covenant – the binding promise of God.”

During the meal, Judas slipped out unnoticed into the dark, dark night.

“Now the glory begins, and I give you a new command.  You must love one another.  Your lives will be marked by love, and all will know you are mine because of it. For I will leave you, and you cannot follow yet,” Jesus said.
“I’ll follow you anywhere!” said Simon Peter.
“Will you?  Before the cock crows, you will deny you even knew me three times.”

They were all silent, stricken with sadness.
“You are troubled – don’t be.  Think of it like this.  I’m going ahead to my Father’s house, to get rooms ready for you.  Then I’ll come back for you. You know the way!”

Thomas said “We don’t know where you’re going, and we don’t know the way!”
“I am the way,” said Jesus. And his disciples remembered the many long, dusty roads they had followed him along.   Now, where would they go, what would they do? He saw their sadness, and spoke gently to them for a long time, planting hope.
“I am a vine, and from me grow branches – you. The vine gives the branches life, and they bud and blossom and fruit.  So draw your life from me, and you will too.

“When I go, the Spirit will come, to guide you into all truth. In this world, you will face trouble.  But take courage: I have overcome the world!”

From The Bible Retold

This reading, too, contains one of the great I AM sayings of Jesus.  I have been mulling it over in my mind as I write my next book.  I hope to share more on this with you another time!

Dear God,
Help me to love you with all my heart,
with all my soul and with all my mind.
Help me to love those around me as I love myself.

O God,
Let me learn how to love.
May I grow more patient.
May I speak more kindly.
May I act more humbly.
May I never give up learning to love.

Lord Jesus,
May our lives bear the mark of love.
As we are kind, as we share, as
we are gentle, may your love be seen in us.
Help us, for this is hard for us.

From Prayers and Verses

Please feel free to use my material if it helps you, saying where it is from

And finally, a poem, imagining what it was like for Jesus to wash the feet of Judas.  I used this poem on a Holy Week retreat at  Otley Hall  last year.

Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

That moment, when you knelt before him,
took off his sandals, readied the water,
did you look up?  Search his eyes?
Find in them some love, some trace
of all that had passed between you?

As you washed his feet, holding them in your hand,
watching the cool water soak away the dirt,
feeling bones through hard skin,
you knew he would leave the lit room,
and slip out into the dark night.

And yet, with these small daily things –
with washing, with breaking and sharing bread,
you reached out your hand, touched, fed.
Look, the kingdom is like this:
as small as a mustard seed, as yeast,
a box of treasure hidden away beneath the dirt.
See how such things become charged,
mighty, when so full of love. This is the way.

In that moment, when silence ebbed between you,
and you wrapped a towel around your waist;
when you knew, and he knew,  what would be,
you knelt before him, even so, and took off
his sandals, and gently washed his feet.