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: Meadow

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The meadow flowers close up, a few weeks ago.

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We’ve been leaving more of the lawn long this year, especially at the end pictured, where the grass has been unsuccessful, and other plants want to grow.  It’s been so good to see butterflies and bees above the flowers, and, in close inspection, to see  so many small creeping things below.

We have various heights of hawkweed growing prolifically now, and I particularly love their seedheads – like dandelion clocks.

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There is something very special about these windborne seeds – their profligacy, abandon, opportunism – which I find good to think about right now.  When our movements and interactions are reduced as we seek to keep one another safe from the virus, I find it helps to think of these seeds blowing freely. You never know where they will go, and what their impact will be.  The task of the plant is to produce the seeds, and to release them to the wind.

It reminds me of the extravagance of the parable of the Sower, and of the many times Jesus talks of seeds falling to the ground.  These things help remind me to be less attached to outcome, to just do the task before me, and to trust the blowing of the wind.

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Meadow

I love the softness of this path
mown through the long grass,
the many yellow flowers.
How it curves to here, where
the old gate is bound by ivy,
where the silver birches,
planted as chance seedlings,
are growing tall and graceful
above wild strawberries.

I love the round seedheads,
the not-dandelion-clocks
of hawkweeds,
that dip their opaque globes
in the breeze,
and the self-heal,
and the speedwell,
beneath.

The seeds shake in the breeze,
and blow free.
The lightest fragments of life.
Who knows where they will
blow to?
Who knows, the smallest of
things – a thought,
a hope, a prayer,
can be borne up
by many breezes,
and tumble and travel
through many airs,
and find a place to catch,
to break open, to root,
and to grow.

Poem: Midsummer evening

I have been trying to share with you poems soon after they appear in my notebook, keeping a kind of record of the times.  Going back a few pages, I came across some jottings I’d overlooked while working up some other pieces. So, although we are a little past midsummer, the world still has that midsummer feel, of short nights, and abundant life, and I thought I’d share it with you now.

There are a few East Anglian dialect words for some of the large flying insects we have at this time of year in the poem, I do love those words.

I don’t have garden evening photos for you, but here are a few from the footpaths nearby, taken by my husband, Peter Skevington, which are full of the beauty of a summer evening.

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Midsummer evening

Ten o’clock, there is
a glow of light in the sky.
The honeysuckle is sweet,
and the lawn, a pale round
glade in the darkness.

Around that glade, bats
fly, rapid, light, and silent –
at least to me,
around and around,
threading back, and forth,
through the feast of gnats.

Against the deep turquoise
of the low sky, smaller
dark shapes drone
heavily, slowly, on,
rising improbably
over the old barn.

Billywitches,
cockerchafes,
precarious stag beetles,
wings unfurled,
weighted.

Night is short,
and full of life.
Night turns slowly
on this pale circle,
Earth turns slowly,
too, a moment
of almost stillness,
before it begins again,
when the deer comes,
and the night birds
start their callings,
as I turn my back,
turn away to sleep.

Hush, hush now,
these are creatures
not of the human world.
Creatures of their own
quiet, and their own time.
I leave them the gathering night.

Poem: Snake, not in the grass

Since my series of Lockdown Poems came to an end, my new notebook is filling up with different things…. I’ll share more with you another day, when I’ve worked up something more shareable, perhaps more complex.

This, though, was what happened yesterday, and I wanted to share it with you now.  If anything, it’s an unlockdown poem, reflecting the impact that increased traffic has had on one creature.  Once again, I feel pulled in different directions.  I am glad our local businesses are cautiously open again, but I miss the quiet roads and the space for nature.  I wonder how many creatures had become used to safely crossing, and have lost the habit of caution.

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The road earlier in the Spring, quiet in lockdown.

I am not particularly keen on snakes.  I don’t recall seeing a grass snake in this area before, and certainly I’ve never seen one in or so close to the garden..  That the first one I have a chance to look at closely should be dead saddens me.  It has troubled me, and I still can’t shake the image from my eyes. We can hold more than one impression – I am a little afraid of this snake, but I see its beauty, and feel its loss.

Our garden continues to be full of life.  The newts are back sheltering under the red watering can, and there are small frogs among the strawberries – I hope they are growing larger on the slugs.  Maybe this snake was on its way to our small sanctuary, and didn’t make the crossing.  Maybe I’ve run over things myself, and not even noticed – I must have done.

This one dead creature seems to be weighty with significance, so, as ever, I have explored that with words.

 

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Grass snake from Animalia on Pinterest

 

 

Snake, not in the grass

There’s a coil of something
long, with a faint gleam,
on the road by our drive.

A prickle crosses my neck.
The heat rising from tar
brushes my legs as
I take a slow step nearer.
Silver underside, dark stripes.
Snake.

Its tail is flat,
its pale interior exposed
to this drying sun,
It doesn’t move.

Its shape is burned
in my mind.
I can’t forget it,
can’t settle.
Such beauty,
such strangeness,
dead.

The road must not be
its resting place,
unnatural with the
hardness of cars
and the smell of tar.
Its long fluid form,
its pale green and grey,
the strip of yellow brightness
by its intelligent head,
these things call for
softness, and respect.

I do what I can do.
Not enough.
Scoop it as tenderly
as I can with my
cautious spade,
and lay it in the long grass
where I try to grow wildflowers.

 

I am so sorry this was your end,
beautiful creature,
beneath wheels,
you, the first snake seen here,
in this place.
It’s a strange welcome,
but welcome you are.
May you rest in this pale
dry grass,
be part of this land,
thank you for your life,
your part in the life
of this place.
We are the poorer
for your loss.

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: Beans coiling uncoiling – Lockdown 33

Welcome to another small moment of noticing – this time we’re back to the veggies. These lockdown poems are often a celebration of paying attention, noticing the small wonders that are before us every day. Since we’ve had some rain, the beans have been racing ahead.  I seem to have managed to keep the pigeons off them for now, but, with all the little seedlings, they are strutting around looking interested.

I am intrigued by the way the stems search out their supports, and coil around them.  It’s beatiful to come back day by day and see what progress they are making.  All from a small bean, and the earth, and the rain, and the sun.  No wonder they inspired fairy tales.

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Beans coiling uncoiling – Lockdown 33

How does the bean know
to twist itself so perfectly
around these tall sticks?

How does the stem grow
close on one side, where
it touches, stretched
out on the other,
open to the air
and the sun?

I uncoil it tenderly
from where it has
strayed.
How long until it
cleaves to its
new home?
How long until
it feels safe,
and thrives?

Poem: Longing for Rain – Lockdown 32

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We had an intensely hot, dry stretch of weather, in May, which was a time when the few miles to the sea was an impossible journey.  Even as the lockdown eased, and journeys became more possible, we’ve been tentative in our outings, and sought out remote and deserted stretches of coast.  I have been recalling the longing for rain, and the longing for the sea, even as the garden revives, and we’ve heard and smelled the sea.  I’ve been turning those two things over in my mind.

This poem expresses some of the longings of lockdown, and is part of the series of poems that are emerging at this time.  I feel we may be getting closer to the end of that series, and then, it may be time for something new to emerge.

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Longing for Rain  Lockdown 32

The sea has felt so far away,
here, in this sheltered space.
The sound of water lapping,
lapping, seems miles of
dry ground from here,
while the little strawberries
are hard and intense,
like jelly sweets,
and the grass begins to yellow,
and leaves curl,
under a white sky

There is a symmetry
to this longing.
The journey I long to make –
to the sea, to the
spume and the sea mist,
the grey stones and the brown waters,
and the journey I long for
those waters to make –
to visit us here
on this drying land,
blown by the wind
on rivers of cloud,
then falling softly –
hissing, hot-earth-smelling
rain.

May our paths cross,
our journeys
be completed,
may the life-giving waters
soak and soothe us.
May it be so.

Poem: Beetle – Lockdown 30

Like yesterday’s poem, this next is an observation of an insect.  There are so many insects in the garden.  Most days, I see one I don’t recognise, and this beetle is one of those.  I did not have my camera to hand to take a photo, but I hope you can imagine it.

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I really value the way writing these snatches of life in the garden has encouraged me to be on the look out for all the huge diversity of plants and creatures that I share my home with.
The frame through which we see anything is shaped and coloured by the thoughts we bring with us, of course. And this poem, like many of the others, carries something of that knowledge of the loss and sadness of our communities around its edges, and in its ending.

Perhaps these snatches of writing are an encouragement to acknowledge those feelings, gently and compassionately, accepting them as we are able, at that moment.

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This pencil case was made an appearance in an earlier poem.

 

Beetle  Lockdown 30

Here, a long black beetle
rearranges its wings,

Black as funeral veils
that cannot be worn,
opening
and closing its
hard shell.

So fragile, the wings –
impossibly so,
folded precisely
as it moves along the
edge of my blanket,
then, with the breeze,
it flies, is gone,
lost to the shadows.
Out of sight, not out of mind.

Poem: The consolation of watching a spider – Lockdown 29

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This next Lockdown Poem is a return to recording the moment, and the deepening sense of connection, and of something like mutual care, I am feeling with my place.  This growing sense of awe, and respect, and interdependence, is one of the things I hope to take forward from this time.  It’s one of the themes that is emerging from the Lockdown Poems.

Being in this strange space – a mixture of inaction and anxiety, peace and distress – may in time lead to a surer sense of purpose, and direction.  Not yet, though.  For now, we are in this threshold space, living with the pain of so much upended, so much loss, so many of our culture’s injustices and troubles revealed. It is challenging work, this learning how to“dwell in possibility” as Emily Dickinson says.  What might be possible if we increasingly experienced a deeper connection to the places where we live, and the communities of people and others we share them with? Can we be humble enough to recognise how dependent we all are on each other?

 

The pictures show some of the parts of our lawn we have left grow, down amongst the stems.  While not doing the full “no mow May” we have, as we did last year, noticed where the wild flowers are coming through, and left patches.  These patches are full of life.  I wasn’t able to catch a photo of the tiny spider, but you can at least see a little of a small creature’s perspective from down here!

 

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The consolation of watching a spider  Lockdown 29

Morning.  Some sun,
and white clouds
like eiderdowns
stitched with blue.
I move on my mat
under the tree,
my movement patterned,
sequenced, releasing.

For a while,
I let the sadness
seep into the ground,
my face close to the earth,
let it seep into the earth
which then upholds me,
supports me.

I feel the gentle patter of
sycamore flowers falling
on my back,
shaken by the breeze.
I breathe where I am,
smell earth, and grass,

I look, and there
before my eyes is a
tiny spider, yellow,
with a black point
curving the end
of its abdomen,
spinning a web
between these
blades of grass,
back and forth,
back and forth,

Complex,
many limbed,
weaving and weaving
like Persephone,
light and dark,
yet tiny next to the ant
and the aphids.

And I think, there
will be smaller things,
too, smaller than I can
see, worlds of strangeness
and complexity in this soil.
All this life,
I rest on all this life,
here, with me.

 

I have written about spiders, and weaving, before.  You can read those poems by following the links below.

Poem- Spider

Poem: Weaving – Unweaving

Spiders

Silk

Poem: Yellow Roses – Lockdown 28

 

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This next in the Lockdown Poems series came a few days ago, when it was warmer than it is today.  It, like Change, touches on the mixed feelings, the unease, as the lockdown begins to unlock – in what feels at the moment like an angry and haphazard way.

Many of us are hoping that lockdown, this painful and difficult pause, will prove to be a strange form of Sabbath: a holy pause where things can be reset, where values can be reclaimed after the dissipating busyness of business as usual. Perhaps we can reclaim a better understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. I still hope for that, but see that business as usual is as powerful a force as ever.

I hope that we can find a way of making our money and political systems work in the service of all life, and human flourishing, for justice and mercy.  Otherwise, they seem to me to be idols to which life is sacrificed.  At the moment, much is being revealed of the injustice and cruelty of our current systems, whether that be racial and economic injustice, or the wider destruction of life on this Earth. While this is a difficult experience, it is necessary.  It’s hard to do better when you can’t see what’s wrong. It is a long haul, this, seeking a better way forward.

I hope we can retain some of the slowness, connectedness, the care that is being demonstrated in our communities, the richness of our appreciation of the natural world, and of the preciousness of human relationships, as we emerge.  I hope we have and take this opportunity to make something new, and more beautiful, for us all.

What might you hope for?

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Yellow Roses   Lockdown 28

It is getting warm,
and the yellow roses
are out – bright,
sweet,
and there is the cuckoo.

The birds are quieter midday now,
and the cars grow louder.
It unsettles me,
breaks into my green
sheltered glade
with hurry,
and that old linear
way of being I
have set aside.

Can I stay here,
watching the bee
visit the rose?
Watching the columbines
sway, gentle as doves,
and feel the breeze
delight my skin?

What is unlocked,
within me,
as the lockdown
rolls on?
What do I lose,
as this time loosens,
and what remains?