Poem – Pulling down trees

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Last year was hard on a beautiful tree in our garden – the late snow, followed by drought, killed a cotoneaster that gave us shade in the summer.  The bees loved its blossom, and the birds came in late winter for the berries. We had fieldfares and redwings hungrily stripping it when the fields froze.  And another tree too, a cedar, that was rather cramped in, died in the drought.  It had lovely grey green leaves, and was a favourite perch of the pigeons who watch for food.

So this poem is a tribute, a thank you, to the trees.  I was intending to write about both, and gave it the title I did because I pulled on the rope that brought down the cedar, but it was one tree that ended up filling the space.  I’ve kept the title, in a kind of echo of another poem, Pulling up trees , as it seemed to work for this one too.

The garden looks so different without them, and I couldn’t bear to have the cotoneaster taken out completely right away.  I wanted something to remember it, and some time to adjust to the loss of it.  I’ve been thinking of replacing it with an apple tree or two, to echo the shape, and the bark, and the blossom and fruit.  I still may plant an apple, but, on clearing around the base, we found there was already something new growing, ready to take advantage of the light and the open space.  So, we’ll see.  The garden has its own plans.

 

Pulling down trees

Dark now, the chainsaws growl on
under lights, taking down
the spreading tree I loved,
with its blossom and berries,
its deep shade in summer.
Full of birds it was,
its arched branches
chattering with life.

They leave the dead trunk behind,
for now, for remembrance,
for that wild rose to climb.

Tomorrow, when the sun rises,
I will see how bare the sky looks
without it,
how wide, how open the space.
How light.
And I will see, too,
at the base, sheltering, a
bending sapling,
holm oak,
already growing.
Such a gift,
always,
there is a gift.

 

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Poem – Throwing sticks for the Black Dog

Today is the day some call Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year.
Here in Suffolk, though, we have had some sunshine, and the frost has sparkled, so it’s less gloomy here – at least meteorologically – than it has been for weeks.

I thought I’d share this poem with you.  Churchill called his depression his Black Dog, and it seems a good name for it.  I have tried to express the care and nurture we wish we could give ourselves, and those we walk with, when we notice the Black Dog is beginning to sniff around.  Those gentle nudges towards the things that used to bring life and joy, in the hope that they will again. I hope that has quite a different feel to injunctions to pull up your socks, or whatever.  It’s more a hope of holding on to the capacity to notice what does you good, and to keep on doing that, even when you don’t feel the good being done.

I hope it is a simple and gentle hand to hold.

The Blurt Foundation offers compassionate support resources online, as do many other organisations.

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Throwing Sticks for the Black Dog

When I’m walking, I pick up sticks,
they feel rough and dry in my hand.
I have been collecting them for a while,
just in case.

And that black dog, well, can you see him?
Is he walking with us –
sloping through the undergrowth?
Or there, breathing at our heels?

I will throw some sticks.
Maybe he will turn playful,
maybe he’ll run after them
and not come back.  Maybe.
Maybe he’ll leave us alone for a while.
I can try.
Here are a few I have gathered:

Beauty, any sort of beauty
that takes you unawares
so the mind halts in its circling tracks.
Green beauty of growing things,
beauty that comes from the human
heart and mind –
words that build castles in the air.
Look, there they are!

Light, and the patterns it makes
through these leaves,
and darkness, when it is soft,
when, awake at night,
sitting by an open window,
I hear the owl – can you hear it?

Movement and prayer, together,
if movement and prayer remain possible.
Good food, that grows in the earth,
its colours and smells as I chop, chop.
Friendship, and kindness –
either given, received, or witnessed.
Love.
The memory of good things past,
the faintest trace of hope for
good things to come.
For good things may come.

And so, I carry this armful of sticks,
ready to throw – ready to give away –
like this,
and this,
and this.

 

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Here is a link to my poem Sorrows

Poem – Crow, on the lawn

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My first home-attempt at lino cut

 

Here is the second poem I have written about the crows who have increasingly appeared in my garden.  You can read the first, and something of the background, here.

It’s a small story, but not small for the crows.  It intrigues me to think that, as I go about my daily life, noticing or not noticing the lives around me, so many creatures are living fully, experiencing – well, we can’t know what, but what we see leads me to suppose that there may be some more commonality of experience than we tend to assume. I am trying to notice more, to see more of that commonality we share, creatures of earth that we are.

I still remember the blackbird who stood guard, in what looked like a vigil of grieving.  You can read that poem here.

I have seen various birds of pray above the garden – kestrels, a buzzard, and, greatly to my delight, a red kite.  I have seen the kestrel in pursuit of a pigeon through the trees here, and the pigeon got away.  It gives me great pleasure to see these magnificent birds, and to know that the land is healthy enough to sustain them.  But I have also seen feathers on the lawn, and blamed the neighbourhood cats.  I know now it isn’t always the cats.  And on this occasion, I saw the aftermath of the grim event.  I hope this poem honours the community of crows.

I do not know how long these crows will stay.  I think they need taller trees than the ones in my garden.  I shall keep watch, and see what they do as they search for a home.

 

Crow, on the lawn

And through the window
I see a sleek small grey bird,
with a yellow-rimmed eye,
with a curved beak,
that stands on the belly
of a crow lying on its back.
Its black flight feathers are
curled up, ruffling in the breeze
as if it lives.

And the hawk pulls on the flesh
of the crow until what remains
is light enough to carry

And then it flies,
with a low, slow flight,
leaving behind
ruffles and pom-poms
of black feathers,
a strange mourning.

Later, though, I see two
crows flying fast and straight
across the sky, intercepting
the curved, grey shape of the hawk.
They circle it close,
cawing, chasing, harrying.

And the hawk has not returned,
and the crows above me
fly in slower circles now,
and the black feathers
still tumble across the lawn.

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Poem – Crows

A few weeks ago we were away, staying near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.  I loved the deep steep valleys full of trees, with farmland and moorland above. I also loved the way we were close to towns, and railways, and the busy life of people. We were near Haworth, Bronte country, and staying at Hardcastle Crags, which some of you may know from the Sylvia Plath poem.  I hadn’t realised quite how close we were to the places where Ted Hughes grew up and lived, and was so excited to come across the occasional little plaque in the landscape referring to this poem, or that. My backpack carried collections of poems, and notebooks, as well as chocolate and water.

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So, I’ve been reading them both lately – Plath and Hughes – as well as beginning to turn some of our walks into poems of my own.  It’s taking a while, but reading Ted Hughes has reawakened my curiosity about the crows who visit our garden.  I remember doing an English project at school on Crow, and have come back to look at that collection again, in all its darkness.

What I noticed about the crows that I have come to know a little, here, is their sociability, their memory, their communication despite the apparent sameness of their cries.  They seem intelligent and sociable creatures, and I have written a couple of poems from here, in my garden.  It helps to pull things together – lived experience, and the inspiration of others – and to add a small voice to the other voices that sing songs in our landscapes.

I have also loved the wonderful exhibition at The Sainsbury Centre, UEA, of Elizabeth Frink’s work.  I have been so looking forward to that ever since I heard it was coming, as I have felt drawn to her sculptures for quite a few years, and wanted to see more.  The birds particularly struck me.

 

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Crows

Now it is winter, the crows have come back
with the north wind, with the darkness.
They land softly, and in number,
at their old roosting place –
what remains the great beech
just there, ahead of us.

And then they rise again, suddenly.
They land and rise and caw,
and land, and rise, and caw.
The branches shake their dry leaves.
Can the birds tell the tree is dead,
not sleeping?
They do not settle,
whatever they know.

They crisscross the sky in dark lines
above me in the garden.
They land first here, then there.
They try the blackthorn,
and the sycamore.
They drench the holm oak
with their dark wings,
and strip it of acorns.
Their sharp black beaks and
shark black claws work and work.

All the time their cawing calls,
they seek a new place,
they keep tied to each other
with these black lines,
with these cries,
as they fly restlessly
to and fro,
to and fro.

 

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I have  recently, and unusually for me, done a day’s workshop in lino cut printing at The lettering arts trust.  It was such an inspiring environment, surrounded by such excellent work.  I reminded myself to be inspired, not daunted! We had a very talented tutor, Louise Tiplady, who shared very generously of her time and talents.

I wanted to experiment with trying something at home.  It’s really satisfying to gouge away at the lino, letting shapes emerge.  The top of these two is the lino itself, and you can see how I’ve printed sometimes in red, sometimes in blue, taking out more as I felt I needed to.  I don’t have proper inks yet – I was using old ink stamps – and that might account for the blurry, grainy texture.  It’s something I’d like to keep trying, seeing if I can capture some ideas visually, as well as in words.

 

Dorset Poems – Autumn lambs at Upcot farm

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It’s a long time since I shared a Dorset poem with you – it was last October when we went there, and there is still much in my notebook to turn back to.  They fill up with words, these books, like ore, which can be taken up to the light, and sifted, and cast into something to keep, to help another day.  They fill up with things you rediscover, and see afresh.

If you would like to go back to a few other pieces from that time, you can do so here:

Dorset Poems – Scrumping in a Hurricane

and

Dorset Poems – St Gabriel’s Chapel, 1
So, while I am preparing and mullling over some more recent work to share with you – and I will do so – I thought I’d bring you this.  While we’ve been out and about walking this autumn, I remembered hearing these lambs last year, after a day of many miles and many hills, and wondering if I was imagining things.  The wind was whipping about very strangely, and I was in need of tea and cake. Rounding the corner and coming across this farm, it felt like a strange, sheltered place where, rather than things falling into decline, and ending, and growing darker, we were looped back to spring, and hope, and the almost reckless persistence and optimism of life and new beginnings.

It’s very gloomy here today in the UK.  It has grown suddenly cold.  The clocks have gone back, and it’s dark early.  I felt I needed this today, to remind me of the strange tenacity of hope.

Autumn lambs at Upcot Farm

A high thin bleating carries
on the wind
as we draw close to the farm.
It sounds like lambs, I say
It’s October, you reply,
yes, but even so,
even so…..

Twins, newborn, their chords still visible,
blue, elastic bands around each tail,
short, white wool,
ears like pink shells
full of light
with the sun behind.
Soft, new, wide-eyed,
wide-mouthed.

And another mother,
and lamb
and another
and a hen with a
cluster about her
cheeping like spring,
as the gale gusts
and blows sharp leaves
in our faces.

Here, amid the berries
and apples
and bright golden leaves
there is still the sound
of life, there is still
unexpectedly,
wonderfully,
the bleating of new lambs.

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All photos by my husband, Peter.  With thanks.

 

 

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Poem – Moment/Joy

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The Sower  Vincent van Gough

 

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So, I thought I would offer you another poem, quite simply.

As I’ve been trying to deepen a prayer practice of stillness, of patience, I’ve found other things can begin to  emerge in the quietness of each moment.  They include – at times – acceptance, gratitude, joy, blessing.  At other times, I feel I am constantly lassoing my thoughts, and asking them to rest and wait quietly for just a minute.

Stillness and waiting and being present, now, can feel awkward.  And yet, it is daily bread, not worrying about tomorrow, manna that must be eaten now, while the sun is still above the horizon.  It is gentle work.

 

Moment/Joy

It has to be made afresh
each day
like bread.
It is only for today,
only for now.

My fingernails are thick with flour,
I breathe warm yeast,
my arms ache with the kneading,
the stretching,
feeling it come alive
in my hands.

I have done it before, and before,
and before,
but the warmth of the dough,
the smell of the bread,
are enough.
I roll up my sleeves,
pour out soft flour.
I begin again.

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Poem – Like Noah’s raven, and the dove

 

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Artwork by Amy Rose Moore

This poem emerged slowly, over weeks, as they sometimes do.  I let it sit for a while in the cold and the dark of our late winter. Looking at it again, I haven’t been quite sure whether it’s come to a place of rest, but I feel that now’s the time to let it fly and see if it finds a place to settle.

I’ve always found the story of Noah quite disturbing and unsettling, and although I feel I have made some peace with it now, it’s often these troubling places that drive you to engage with the original story in a different way.  This one in particular feels that there are depths to be plumbed, sunk into, with an imaginative and almost intuitive reading, which is what I sought when I did my retelling for Lion

 

The rains swamped valleys and plains, and crept up the sides of the mountains, until all was swallowed up in black, endless water.  As they drifted helplessly over it, Noah and his family knew that all living things left behind on the land had been drowned.  They were alone on the ark. When, after 40 days, the rain finally stopped, the silence was as cold as the waters.

Noah’s family loved their precious cargo of animals: the only other living, breathing creatures left on the earth.  They fed them, and cared for them.  As they did so, a wind blew, and the waters began to sink slowly down.  Then, one day, they heard the keel of the ark beneath them scraping and shuddering.  The ark juddered to a halt, for it had struck the top of a mountain.

Every day they scanned the horizon, longing for land, and after many weeks they saw distant purple mountains breaking free of the water.  Noah waited 40 more days, then set a raven free.  It criss-crossed over the waves, looking for somewhere to perch.  But there was nowhere.

A week later Noah tried again, sending out a dove.  It came back with an olive twig.  Noah held the bird tenderly in his hand, hope rising within him.

A week later he sent the dove out again.  This time, it did not come back.  It must have found somewhere to perch.  At last, the flood was drying up!  Noah’s face broke into a wide smile as glistening land slowly emerged and dried.

From The Bible Story Retold

The image of releasing the birds from this narrow, confined space stayed with me, drawing on my memory of Emily Dickinson’s wonderful poem Hope, which is well worth having by heart for difficult times.

I thought of the raven, how it is a carrion bird, associated with death.  Although reading the symbolism of such a long-ago story is best done humbly, I do wonder if Noah’s releasing of this bird first suggests he was expecting there to be carrion around, that it was a bird released into a imaginative landscape of death, not life.  And yet we find, later, there was now something green and growing, something to sustain and anoint and bless – the olive – and that the world that was emerging from all that destruction was peaceable, and hospitable, a place of the dove and the olive. It is a new beginning.

We are not there yet, though, at the moment of this poem.  We are at that point of wondering if we dare hope.  Wondering if it is worth the costs of hope.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves it’s good to look for signs of hope, even when all seems lost.  It takes courage, and discipline, and persistence.  But learning to read the signs in our own landscapes, shifting our focus up and out, can begin to lift us.  And we can find that, astonishingly, green growing things are appearing.

You can listen to the poem here: https://andreaskevington.podbean.com/e/poem-like-noah-with-the-raven-and-the-dove/

 

Like Noah’s raven, and the dove

Can I let hope fly, send out birds
to brood and hover
over the chaos,
like Noah, with the raven,
and the dove?

For too long, there
has been nothing
on the horizon,
no fixed point
on the Earth’s
endless circle.
How would you ever know
if the water was falling,
or rising?

So can I now find courage to
cup birds in unsteady hands –
raven-black,
dove-white –
and throw them upwards
one by one?

To let fly a dark hope
even though there is
nowhere for it to rest,
even though it returns
like a gift
that comes back unopened.

Can I try again
and again,
in case something
living and growing has
pierced this water,
until finally a gentle bird
does not return.
Until, at last,
there is somewhere
other than this poor boat
for it to land.

May I have such birds to release.
May I let them fly, like Noah,
with the raven, and the dove.

 

Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the shroud a butterfly.
Till, taught by such we see
Beyond all creatures, thee
And harken to thy tender word
And its “Fear not; it is I”
Christina Rosetti

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.
Basil the Great

From Prayers and Verses

Walking after Edward Fitzgerald.

So, we’ve been been on our feet quite a lot as part of my husband’s walking project.  We thought we would stay local last weekend, and as we’d been talking about the poet Edward Fitzgerald recently, we thought we’d explore some of the places where he lived and worked and saw his friends.  My husband has just finished reading a book he gave me some time ago, The Artist’s daughter written by the late Sally Kibble.

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It’s a lovely book, a fictionalised memoir of Ellen Churchyard, daughter of Thomas.  It shows the group of friends, The Woodbridge Wits, who took great pleasure in, and inspiration from, each other’s company and cast of mind.  EFG was part of this group. There are accounts of their meals and walks and conversations.  The book is full of the lovely soft pictures of Churchyard, and some of these were of locations that you can still trace, and recognise, today.  Personally, I would have liked a bit more of the poetry of EFG and Bernard Barton, but I’m trying to fill those gaps with my own reading.

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View of the River Deben, Thomas Churchyard.  Painted near the railway bridge – you can see the steam train bending away towards the station.

We  planned a walk which was just shy of ten miles in the end, quite ambitious for me, but it took in many of the places where EFG lived in and around Woodbridge, Suffolk.  The first place on the itinerary is also, probably, my favourite.

The Quaker poet Bernard Barton’s tiny crooked cottage was the place where they often met – these Woodbridge Wits – to eat cheese on toast.  For that was all they could cook over the fire, the only means of cooking.  It seems to have been one of their favourite places, too.  Bernard and his daughter Lucy were clearly good company and warm hearted hosts.  Their simplicity and equality of life appealed to EFG.   The artist and lawyer Thomas Churchyard lived up the road, and it’s lovely to think of them together, talking in the firelight with the smell of toasted cheese.  These two poets were also friends with other writers – Tennyson, Charles Lamb, Robert Southey and Anne Knight among them.   I am trying to track down some more of Barton’s poems, and you do occasionally find his lyrics in an old hymn book, such as these, which seems apporpriate for a walk.

Despite Edward Fitzgerald’s privileged background – his family lived nearby in Boulge Hall – he preferred simpler settings. He had rooms above a shop on the Market Hill, and you can see a stone plaque marking the spot – very like the one on his rooms in King’s Parade, Cambridge – just up the hill from Barton’s cottage, and even nearer the Bull Inn where Tennyson stayed when visiting him. From here, after buying eccles cakes from The Cake Shop to sustain us, we meandered around past other places where he had associations, on the way to Boulge Hall, with the church next to it.

Boulge Church, the main focus of our walk, has been snagging at my mind.  It is where he is buried.  I had been before, on another walk, with a friend, but my husband had not.
I remembered it was hard to find, that there was no lane to it, and that the paths did not seem to follow the OS map – not even when we used the one on the phone rather than our battered paper one that was giving way on the creases.  And so it proved to be this time.  We saw one sign from the road – at the site of the lodge cottage where EFG had lived in preference to the Hall – which said “No access to church” but there was no sign telling us which way to go.  After much meandering,  a walk along what looked like a long-gone drive between trees, and a short dash along the private-no-right-of-way lane, we found the church.

Perhaps it had been the private church of the estate at some point,  it didn’t feel like a public space.  But it was open, and clearly used, with hymn books and information and welcome. The congregation must be adventurous, and dedicated. There were instructions as to how to turn on the lights – it was an old church with small windows,very dark despite the sunshine. So we turned the lights on, and sat and rested in the peace.  Sitting there, I saw in a side chapel some plaques up with the Fitzgerald name on them, but they were not for Edward.  There wasn’t any of his poetry about.  I was wondering if there might be some kind of memorial, or stone with verse, or a card, but I couldn’t see one.  It was almost as if the long-ago family tension was still exerting an influence.

Outside, in the graveyard, is an elaborate family vault, with a simple granite slab next door for Edward.  There is a rose planted at the head. The rose is a descendant of that on the tomb of Omar Khayyam, whose great poem EFG translated.  There is another rose at the foot.  It seems that it was his request not to be buried in the family tomb.  As he had lived at the gatehouse on the edge of the grounds of the hall, reading and writing and having his friends for simple meals, so he was buried outside the vault.

He loved simplicity, friendship of the mind,  and left behind an astonishing piece of work, in his translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  Maybe some in the family disapproved of this work, from a Persian mathematician and astronomer.  It only came to be generally respected after his death.

As we sat on the bench in the churchyard, eating our snack, I wished I had brought the book with me.  My copy is hardbacked, and quite heavy, but a quick look on my phone brought up the following lines.  They seemed appropriate for reading under the tree where we were.  They celebrated something very profound, a kind of communion.
A simple meal of bread and wine, and companionship, these are riches indeed.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
I thought these words were in keeping with the spot.

We carried on walking, taking in some more places where EFG had lived. The pattern of roads and lanes and paths has been the same for so many generations.  So many other people, remarkable in their way and in their time, have walked here.  It felt good to remember and honour them, the ones who thought of themselves as ordinary, the ones who have been forgotten, and know that our steps succeed theirs, and in turn will be succeeded by those who come after us.

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Churchyard – a windy day near Melton

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.

 

pigeon

Photograph by Africa Gomez

 

It calls to mind another pigeon saga…..Nest