Poem: Strawberries

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The main crop strawberries are over now, but these little alpines continue – first one part of the garden, then another, is the place to hunt.  It depends on light, and shade, and water, and when the robins and blackbirds discover them.  We – people in our neighbourhood – are sharing plants, and produce, when we have surplus.  It’s part of the deeper connections we’re working to make, to give and to share.  It’s a kind of abundance and connection that gives me hope.  The Transition Woodbridge movement have been doing a marvellous job of facilitating sharing surplus plants and produce, especially during lockdown, and are continuing to plan harvesting from the community fruit trees as the seasons begin to turn.

 

I wrote this poem when the space under the rosebushes was full of big juicy strawberries – and I took photos, too, but my memory card was playing up, and they were lost. So the pictures are of the smaller ones, which seem to keep going most of the warmer weather. Whenever I eat the big maincrop strawberries, I think of the friend who gave me the parent plants to all I now have.  She lives further away now, but is still growing beautiful things.  She taught me a lot about gardening, especially about listening – to the land, and the things that grow there – and learning from your place.  I miss her, and, when harvesting strawberries one day, I thought of the good fruits of friendship, and its spread and reach, and how it enriches our communities and lives so much, along with the plants and the produce.  We see the goodness of the fruits.

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Strawberries
for Kay

Today I am thankful
for strawberries,
growing under the rose bushes,
festooned with casual netting
like a green scarf.

Some rest on the old
stone path, ripening fast,
others are hidden among
leaves of ladies mantle,
sheltered from sun and beaks,

And most of all, I am
thankful for the friend
I watched as she gently
dug the parent plants
from her own rich patch,
who held them out to me
with a reminder to
plant at dusk,
in the cool.
How they have spread
since then.

Friendship, too,
sends out long runners,
who knows where,
small plants that root
as the moment arises,
and how, years later,
these too give
sweet red fruit,
again, and again.

 

 

Poem: Grandiflora – Lockdown 35

When I wrote this next poem, as the volume of traffic increases, as the number of people we encounter while out walking near our home increases, I felt that it was the last one.  The last one named and numbered for lockdown.  This series had come to a resting place, I felt.  The lockdown was ending, possibly disintegrating.

And there are all the mixed emotions that go with everything to do with the covid crisis.  Of course, it is such good news that fewer people are afflicted with this terrible disease.  I am glad my little local shops are beginning to trade again, and people in my community are able to support their families.  I worry that this is a lull, and not an end.  I worry that we are missing an opportunity to make things better in our scramble to make things normal.

But also, I have really enjoyed this method of writing, and then sharing with you.  Thank you for your company.  I hope these poems have given moments of peace, or thoughtfulness, or connection, or beauty – as they are, and as you need.  I will continue writing like this, and also seeing what else calls to be written.  I think there are new things.  So, there are 35 of these, in this series.  I also wrote seven poems for Good Friday.
That’s quite productive for me, and some recharging of my creative batteries, some reading and thinking and seeing, is required.  Having said that, I may miss doing this so much there’ll be something tomorrow!

This last poem seems to say some things that had been rising up in me for a while.  I am finding, in my response to the multiple crises that are unfolding, that I am trying to understand what is going on, rather than value my own opinion so much.  There is a letting go for me here, which is the first step of learning.  It’s seeking to adopt a beginners mind, or seeking to become like a little child.  There is a reference to the wonderful piece of Medieval mysticism, The Cloud of Unkowing, in the poem, and you can read a bit more about that here.

Thank you again for your time, for sharing your time and virtual comany with me, and for your attention, and bless you.

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Grandiflora  Lockdown 35

I am tired of argument,
although curious,
and seeking understanding.
I am done with the
certainty of knowing.

There is so much more
to be explored in unknowing,
so much awaits
in that soft mist
that rests on the skin.

These magnolia leaves,
rattling in the breeze,
some yellow, and falling,
some green, and shining,
do they know the flowers
will begin to open soon?

The flowers will open,
known or not,
releasing their
creamysweet
scent above me –
joining with
the honeysuckle,
with the rose –
revealing their strange
strong hearts.

Each day,
a new flower
will open.
Each day,
I will receive
their beauty,
and, in turn,
pour out tea leaves
for their dark roots.
I am finding
it is enough.
It is enough.

 

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Poem: The company of bees – Lockdown 34

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This is the last but one of the Lockdown Poems. Something will continue on after, but whatever it is, it’s not quite this.  Whatever strange time we are in now, it’s not quite lockdown, although I know that many are still keeping at home, and we are all missing those we love and haven’t seen for months.  Thank you for your time and company as we’ve been watching this season unfold.

At times during this strange spring, I think we’ve had some painful space in which to consider the ways we live, and the injustices and destruction we have thought were inevitable.  In seeing those injustices and destructive forces stripped bare, and also in seeing the great machine of Mammon halted briefly, we’ve had a glimpse of the hope that lies at the bottom of the well of all that is not hopeful.  Nadia Bolz-Weber’s sermon to prisoners this week speaks so powerfully into the nature of hope, it’s short, and so well worth listening to. I think what we are beginning to see is the struggle of a vision of a more beautiful world, the birthpangs of something more whole and holy, that are real and painful and require effort and will.

So, this next poem started off as a morning contemplation of what was before me, and moved to a brief touching on the tragedy, or tragedies, we are facing and facing up to at present.  There is a folklore that you should tell the bees the news of those who have died, and that seems a hard task right now.

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I had a problem with the memory card in my camera, and by the time I sorted it out, the bees had gone deeper into the bush, and I couldn’t catch them.  Here are the tiny flowers they love. In the winter, the birds will eat the white berries.

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The company of bees  Lockdown 34

I will quieten my spirit
in the company of bees –
so many.
Honeybees to my right,
filling the snowberry bush with
their eager hum,
the tiny flowers constantly
visited, endlessly
searched.

Bumbles – white tailed, and red,
carder, and buff –
to my left,
climbing up the steep
slope of the gladioli flowers.

You should tell the bees
news, they say,
tell them the news
of who has died.
There are so many,
so many now.
We must speak
our sorrows,
even though such
speaking is beyond us.
These lives
must be more than
numbers –
loves and hopes
and the seemingly
endless tide of
breath, ended.
So much had been
lost.

And what do the bees
do with our sorrows?
can they carry those
heavy loads away?
And those bees,
when do they speak
of their own loss,
the meadows stripped bare,
the poison they
bring back to
their hives,
their place of
safety and plenty
dying too?

This small place
of nectar and
kindness, it’s
all I can offer,
for both.

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A mown path through the wild flowers – it’ll be full of yellow when the sun comes round.  What sort of path do we wish to walk, what sort of path do we wish to make? Maybe there is a choice before us.  Can we choose life?

 

 

Poem: Dark Iris – Lockdown 24

The next of these Lockdown Poems also contains an excursion, like the last.

This excursion is different, though, as it is one of memory.  Looking at the irises stirred up three memories.  Although one of the things I am seeking to do with these writings is to stay in the moment, to stay connected to what is before me, other thoughts will come, and this time I welcomed them.  Memory can prove rich when our daily experience is curtailed, and days can seem alike.

The third of these memories is of the beautiful Alde Valley Festival we went to last year, and in particular the huge iris paintings by Jelly Green, which I loved.

Memory can help, and can enrich our presence in the moment.  I am still exploring what those dark tongues of the iris may be saying to me.

 

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Dark Iris  lockdown 24

I am looking out at the
dark irises,
newly unfolding,
stem swinging like
an inverted pendulum
above the singing yellow
of the euphorbia,
looking at their tongues
of darkness,
their deep hearts,
rimmed with purple.

I remember three things –
my last art project at school:
the careful, layered painting
of purple, the sadness
at laying my brush down….

The iris bed at college:
white hard ground,
clear hot sky,
the background
anxiety of summer,
looking into their secret hearts…

Last year, Alde Valley Festival:
when festivals could happen –
those huge canvasses,
the exuberant life of the paint,
the depth of purple,
shading to night at
their very centres.

I am drawn into these
dark hearts,
to listen to the whispering
of those tongues,
to see, from within,
what they are –
and they are
illuminated,
purple and dazzling,
shining
in the high bright sun.

 

Poem: Shadow Tree – Lockdown 19

I’ve been intrigued by the early morning light through a tree in my garden.  The way the shadow that falls on the lawn seems so substantial compared to the dazzling, light-backed living original.  I found myself drawn to sitting within the scope of the shadow tree as I watched the sun rise.

 

This photo was taken a few weeks ago now, the tree is in much fuller leaf these mornings, so the sensation of being caught in the net of shadow less acute. I have loved watching the leaves unfold day by day.  I have even tried to develop a practice of sketching the tree and the shadow, but I am not being very rigourous in keeping that up.  I shall try again, though.

I am keeping up my tradition of the Lockdown Poems, though, so I sat on the ground with my notebook, and wrote what follows.

 

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Shadow Tree  Lockdown Poems 19

I sit on morning damp grass
in the criss-cross light
at the top of the shadow tree –
part of its dark, elegant structure.

The living tree before me
has the sun caught in its branches,
as I am caught in the net
of shadow twigs –
the sun rising,
while lime green
leaves are unfolding
before and above me.

The shadow-trunk curves
towards the base,
to join the living green sap
of the roots, so I see
the tree exists in two planes –
one light, one dark,
one light, one dark.

For a while, despite the
discomfort of sitting cross
legged in my gardening boots,
I shall stay here within
the shadow tree,
seeking its wisdom,
watching its dark leaves grow.

 

Poem: Yellow-leaved Maple – Lockdown 18

The mood of the Lockdown is changing considerably.  It seems fraying and fractured, with grief and anger rising and being held alongside our deep care for each other, our families and communities.

Many are returning, or facing the prospect of returning, to something not normal, but strange and different.  Some are relieved, some are afraid, most are, I suspect, both.

The words of Wendell Berry’s wonderful and sustaining poem, The peace of wild things, keep coming into my mind.  They sum up for me what I am seeking to do in these Lockdown poems, and what I am doing in my life.  Keeping grounded in the beauty and grace I am experiencing in the spring, and finding in them a deeper beauty and grace than the surface, than the expected.  It speaks to something more, within and beyond, as if, by considering the lilies of the field, we may find a deeper truth and insight.

So here is a poem about trees, and also about the shadows that can fall across life, and the possibility of growth, even so.

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I decided to include this one, even though it is imperfect.

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Yellow-leaved Maple   Lockdown Poems 18

I am watching these strange pink
and buttery leaves unfold on the maple,
its long green flowers
covered with bees.

All its life till now
the tree’s canopy leaned back,
partial, growing around the
darkness of that old cedar,
now gone,
as it sought the light.

So now, new leaves are opening
on those thin bare branches
to the south,
exploring that new clear space,
leaves growing where
they did not, before.

Its shape is becoming an
open dome, it will be complete,
and even now is gilded, shining,
and mosaiced with lapis blue light.
Under it feels a holy place.

Patience.  Patience.
When the shadow has passed,
the growth will begin,
and be seen.

Poem: Pencil case Lockdown 17

Another Lockdown Poem to share with you today.  This one is less a grounding in the garden, and more a writing about my pencil case.

I’d been looking for it, ready to go outside in the morning and do my thing, and couldn’t find it.   I went out anyway with my notebook, and there it was, on the bench.  So this is a piece about my pencil – I do prefer pencil – and writing, and the dark.

The next poem will be back to getting lost in noticing the growing things, paying attention to the moment…..

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Pencil case  Lockdown 17

My pencil case has been outside,
on this bench, all night.
As I touch its cold zip,
see its black interior,
I wonder.
Have these pencils known
things I have not?
The meteor shower I missed,
the Milky Way, perhaps,
visible in our now
darkened sky,
The gentle deer,
the owls?

They have known
the chill of night….
I turn over this cold pencil,
soft lead, and dark,
and hold it in my hand,
weighing its qualities.
What might it hold?

Might it be more inclined
to speak of darkness,
things unseen,
unknowable?
Might it brim over
with night?

Yet here I am,
wondering about
hidden stars,
and light that is unseen,
and yet, and yet,
also knowing, also feeling,
its cold, its dark,
as I write, and write.

Poem: What Matters – Lockdown 14, and being on The Verb

This next Lockdown poem looks up to the sky – but it picks up the theme of bird calls,  a theme that has woven through these poems.  We’ll return to today’s poem later, but first I’d like to share with you a little bit about Friday.

Birdsong was the theme of Friday 15th’s edition of The Verb.  You can listen to it by following that most recent link.  I was enormously excited to have my poem, The Blackbird included.  My contribution is a little after 20 minutes in, but I would start at the beginning if you can.  The section on nightingales is so lovely.  It was strange having something that was part of my spontaneous record of lockdown being shared so wideley, and I felt a little nervous, and vulnerable, as it went out.  But I know that is somehow the point of this series, or sequence –  that it is unpolished, private even.  I hope it connects with people reading and listening because of that.  We don’t know where this is going, or where these poems will take us. It is, like everything else, a work in progress, a step into the unknow.

It was so good to find my recording in such excellent company on the programme, opening up, exploring, a love of birdsong, in particular as a means of deepening our connection with and affection for the rest of the natural world.  It is a feature of this lockdown, in spring, that many of us have been able to hear the birds with greater clarity, and deeper joy, than busy lives usually allow.

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Back to today’s poem, also featuring birds and their calls – a crow this time, a very different experience, and very powerful.  As it was a moment of aerial combat, I didn’t take any photos to share with you, but crows have featured in my poems before.  Here are links to two  – Crows and Crow, on the lawn

In the absence of photos, and continuing the home produced theme, here’s an experiment at linocutting to sit alongside the poem.

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One thing many of us are doing during this lockdown is thinking about what matters.  Our priorities seem sharper, and values clearer.  I thought of that as I watched this crow.

What matters  Lockdown 14

Sudden, sharp, deep –
I know that crow-call
and look up, suddenly,
sharply, to see one solitary
bird, small in the wide blue,
small next to the great buzzard
it harries, and parries.

The buzzard twists away,
and edges, back,
and twist, and edges,
back and back,
weaving a brown thread
through the relentlessly blue sky.

Just one crow, keeping them safe,
keeping the nest and the young
and the tribe safe,
for surely the buzzard must know
it’s too much bother to bother
with these, so well defended.

Does the crow feel fear,
anger, rage?
I do not think he makes
a cool calculation of odds.
The crow knows what matters,
defends what matters,
threading the blue with
its black zigzag,
keeping all safe.

Lockdown Poem on the radio!

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I am delighted and astonished to announce that one of my Lockdown Poems is going to be included in this week’s episode of BBC Radio 3’s wonderful  The Verb.

That’s Friday, 15th May at 22:00 BST. If you follow the link to the programme above, you’ll be able to find it on that date.  The programme is entitled birdsong.  I’m just after 20 minutes in, but if you start at the beginning, you’ll hear the nightingales…..

It’s a fascinating programme, and very beautiful.  It explores our relationship with birdsong, which has become much more intense during the lockdown, and how people have been inspired by it, and how we connect to the natural world through it.  The producer invited me to say a little bit about myself and the process, as well as reading the poem.  So I’ve been learning how to record myself on my phone, which is one of many new tech experiences of this time.  The poem is The Blackbird – Lockdown 7.

I sat on my bench quite early in the morning, and did manage to capture some birdsong in the background, which was just perfect.  The blackbird was joining in, as is only right.  It’s his poem as much as mine.

Thank you for your virtual company through these poems – there are more in the notebook, wainting to emerge.

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Poem: Red Leaves – Lockdown Poems 3

I’ve been spending time with my notebook, while we’ve been in lockdown.  Usually, the words come from what’s going on around me, grounding myself in my ground.  I am aware how fortunate I am to have sight of new leaves, as here, but I hope these small verses give you a place where your imagination can connect with the spring, wherever you are.

They are just moments as they come.

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The subject of this poem springs from the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, which you can read about here.

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A moment in the garden, shared with you.

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Red leaves   lockdown 3
Oh, the sun through those red leaves,
shiny and shining,
And here, too, the smokebush,
just kindling to red flame,
before the leaf-smoke thickens,
as the sun’s light strengthens.
You can almost feel them growing,
as you bask in their cold fire.

It’s all holy.
All this good earth.
As my knees feel the
softness of grass,
and the air smells so of green,
and of the damp warming soil,
and grass, and primroses.

Yes.  This place.
Yes.  This time, even this.

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