A Poem a Day – Forty one to Fifty

Poems that got me through Corona Part 5

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 here.

This is Part 5 in my series of poems that I sent to my friend Jo in the first lockdown, seems like a lifetime ago now. I have been posting them in groups of 10 to give you a chance to assimilate and enjoy, to take time to read and interpret them as you will.

A poem a day to help us through. Here we are, now in January 2021 and still, almost a year on, we flounder about – in tier four, or is it five, with the murderous Corona virus mutating around us claiming more lives each day. The doorstep clap for heroes resumes, for those who can be bothered, and I pick up yet another NHS responder call on my app; it’s like groundhog day and seems like little progress has been made in the fight against the deadly disease. However, while on the one hand schools are again closed and exams are ‘probably cancelled’, we are told to be cautiously optimistic, there are vaccines being injected into the arms of the most vulnerable, including my parents today, and things might get back to some semblance of normality by the Spring. I’m not holding my breath…..

We all had Covid over Christmas in our house, dropping like flies, one by one, it was a sorry state of affairs. Christmas Lunch on a tray, opening presents via Zoom, Scattegories via FaceTime, so many early nights, but at least we were all together, could look out for each other and there was nowhere else to be going or no-one to be seeing….. The waters of the Great Ouse burst their banks and I had various friends contacting me asking if we needed help or beds – I was oblivious to the risks of imminent flood water rising and in my semi hallucinogenic state was convinced the world finally had gone mad.

But I digress, back to the poetry which is, and has been, and will continue to be, a most welcome distraction indeed. Whatever gets you through the day, right?

Day 41 – VE Day – Friday 8th May 2020

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad by Robert Browning

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Day 42

Celia, Celia by Adrian Mitchell

When I am sad and weary
When I think all hope has gone
When I walk along High Holborn
I think of you with nothing on.

Day 43

Coming Together by Emma Garrett

They caught my eye in passing
Holding onto eachother for dear life.
They did not know I observed the public intimacy
Of their daily exercise from my window.

Clinging to eachother and making their way painstakingly along the root-bulged tarmac,
together they seemed, from afar (my voyeuristic bird’s eye view)
Inseparable while inquarantine –

The edges of their selves blurred as the shapes of their two bodies became one

– that moment of mutual climax when all else is gone.

Individual frailty momentarily obliterated in their conjoining
A silhouette with two beating hearts, living and loving as one.

And as I watched them shuffle slowly, resolutely on, I saw they had a goal in mind. The white marble memorial, standing proud, blood red poppies scattered there.

And so they paid respects. To fathers, uncles and unnamed soldiers,
as the world marked 75 years of freedom. In lockdown.

Lest We Forget.

Day 44 – Cakes vs Hugs by the marvellous Charles Mackesy

“I’ve discovered something better than cake”.
“No you haven’t,” said the boy
“I have”, replied the mole
“What is it?”
“A hug. It lasts longer.”

Day 45 – 12th May 2020. The eve of what would have been Rich’s 53rd birthday

Separation by W.S Merwin

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Day 46 – 13th May 2020. Rich’s 53rd birthday – for a man who loved birthdays and crammed so much into his dash.

The Dash by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth
and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash.
What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.
To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…
remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash,
would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

Day 47
“A SECRET TRIBUTE” for 13th May 2020 written by Philip Le Brocq

As Toby’s casserole was being made
Of pheasant’s breasts in gravy rich with wine,
His family arrived, it must be said,
Quite ravenous to taste his cooking fine!
The table was all laid with napkins rolled
In rings all ready to be used by each designed,
And everyone agreed, none could unfold
A better meal would ever come to mind!
A strawberry confection followed then
Upon a chocolate base, which was quite RICH-
A tribute to its well-loved namesake, which
Was there, in spirit, genuine, not Kitsch!

The Garrett family moves on in zest,
By sharing everything that it does best!

Day 48
Out Beyond Ideas by rumi

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense.

Day 49

Day 50 – I still remember this poem from school and can still recite it verbatim. The ducks on the Great Ouse have no idea how lucky they are to dabble blissfully ignorant of what the rest of the word is up against. We watch them on our daily perambulations, and envy them their carefree recreation.

Ducks’ Ditty by Kenneth Grahame

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!
Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!
Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim–
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.
Everyone for what he likes!
WE like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!
High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call–
WE are down a-dabbling
Up tails all!

Grief Awareness?

As we approach the end of Grief Awareness Week I am minded to write – its been a while to be honest. My blog seems to have ebbed and flowed like my emotions over the past two years and here we are approaching the second anniversary of his death, coming as it does, just before our wedding anniversary (28 this year since you asked).

I don’t think I am ‘grief aware’.  I tend to try and ignore it to be honest and still haven’t really accepted the fact that Rich won’t walk through the door, all rugged up in his hat, coat, scarf and gloves, ruddy-cheeked and ready to give me a great big bear hug and tell me about his day.

Maybe it should be called Grief Denial Week instead.  I am notorious for keeping busy which roughly translated means being in denial – or as a friend recently described me and my fundraising attempts; ‘persistently inspirational’; I’ll take that as a compliment I think.  This month I’ve gone to even greater lengths than usual to push his absence to the back of my mind.  I am running 5km a day in December as part of a fundraiser for the Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice where Rich was ‘living’ this time two years ago.  I moved in as well on the 12th December and was with him 24/7 until he died.  It was a real privilege to have this time with him, watching the incredible frosty sunrises from his bedroom window each morning, rubbing his soft feet each night and being there to simply pass him his water, massage his temples or bring him endless cups of milky, sugary tea.  

This year things are very different at the hospice and I am running to help raise funds for an organisation that is really struggling for money, in these strange times that have meant traditional fundraising events have simply ceased to take place.  The pandemic has also meant that families have not been allowed to spend time with their dying relatives, wives cannot be with their husbands, children cannot be with their parents – I feel so sad for them all and contemplate how different things would have been for us two years ago if Rich had died in the middle of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

December Daily Merchandise

I do think of Rich as I run through the early morning drizzle, often the resident heron will come into view as I head off round our local lake and I somehow feel this is Rich, or his envoy, checking in on me, his presence gentle and protective.  That may sound strange but it does provide me with some comfort.  I am aware that Rich had little in common with the graceful, silent heron, but he did have remarkable slim (albeit hairy) heron-like legs for a big man….

Rather than making me grieve, the act of running brings me closer to Rich as I think of him pounding the streets training for his London Marathons (on those remarkably slim legs), or listen to the playlist of music we put together as a family before he died.  I want to cling on to every memory of him – his smell, his laugh, his touch, his smile, his hands, his eyes, I never want to forget these things and the memories come flooding back as I run. 

This is one of the the last family photos taken with Rich.  He was surrounded by his loving family enjoying Christmas cake in the lounge at the hospice.  We could all hold him and laugh with him, and say goodbye to him too.

There will be no photographs like this this year for any of the families saying goodbye to their loved ones.  

Please donate if you can to help the hospice get back on track to support their patients through end of life care, and to support their families too.  It meant so much to us, and while I hope you will never have to use a hospice yourself, if you do, you could not be in better hands.

A Poem a Day – Thirty One to Forty

Poems that got me through Corona Part 4

If you’ve read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, you’ll know how it goes.

These are the poems that make up days 31 to 40 of this little poetry project where I sent a poem a day to a friend throughout the first lockdown, Monday 27th April to Sunday 6th May to be precise, what an age ago that seems.  It’s taken me a while to upload these, and now here we are in another lockdown! It does all blur slightly into a series of distant memories, to be honest, responding to calls for help on the NHS Responder App, teddy bears peering out of rainbow adorned windows, helping to open some of the thousands of cards that came in for Captain Tom Moore at Bedford School, Boris had just recovered from Covid and the memes and WhatsApp messages were still coming through thick and fast.

I snuck into London for a day to look after my nephew George while his baby brother was born – indeed, this second poem here was inspired by just that – George, Who Played with a Dangerous Toy and Suffered a Catastrophe of Considerable Dimensions, by Hillaire Belloc, but first The Way we Live by Kathleen Jamie.

Day 31

The Way we Live by Kathleen Jamie

Pass the tambourine, let me bash out praises
to the Lord God of movement, to Absolute
non-friction, flight, and the scarey side:
death by avalanche, birth by failed contraception.
Of chicken tandoori and reggae, loud, from tenements,
commitment, driving fast and unswerving
friendship. Of tee-shirts on pulleys, giros and Bombay,
barmen, dreaming waitresses with many fake-gold
bangles. Of airports, impulse, and waking to uncertainty,
to strip-lights, motorways, or that pantheon —
the mountains. To overdrafts and grafting

and the fit slow pulse of wipers as you’re
creeping over Rannoch, while the God of moorland
walks abroad with his entourage of freezing fog,
his bodyguard of snow.
Of endless gloaming in the North, of Asiatic swelter,
to launderettes, anecdotes, passions and exhaustion,
Final Demands and dead men, the skeletal grip
of government. To misery and elation; mixed,
the sod and caprice of landlords.
To the way it fits, the way it is, the way it seems
to be: let me bash out praises – pass the tambourine

Day 32

George, Who played with a Dangerous Toy, and suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions

by Hilaire Belloc

When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as gold,
She promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.
And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!
The lights went out! The windows broke!
The room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness, shrieks and yells
Were mingled with electric bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The house itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below –
Which happened to be Savile Row.
When help arrived, among the dead
Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
The Footmen (both of them), the Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and the Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf –
And both his aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.

Moral:
The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.

Day 33

An endearing limerick I found in one of Captain Tom’s cards.

Day 34

She Walks in Beauty
George Gordon Byron inspired by a stamp cut from Captain Tom’s envelopes.

I.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

II.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

III.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Day 35

The Sea Shore
by Letitia Elizabeth Landon

I SHOULD like to dwell where the deep blue sea
Rock’d to and fro as tranquilly,
As if it were willing the halcyon’s nest
Should shelter through summer its beautiful guest.
When a plaining murmur like that of a song,
And a silvery line come the waves along:
Now bathing—now leaving the gentle shore,
Where shining sea-shells lay scattered o’er.

And children wandering along the strand,
With the eager eye and the busy hand,
Heaping the pebbles and green sea-weed,
Like treasures laid up for a time of need.
Or tempting the waves with their daring feet,
To launch, perhaps, some tiny fleet:
Mimicking those which bear afar
The wealth of trade—and the strength of war.

I should love, when the sun-set reddened the foam,
To watch the fisherman’s boat come home,
With his well-filled net and glittering spoil:
Well has the noon-tide repaid its toil.
While the ships that lie in the distance away
Catch on their canvass the crimsoning ray;
Like fairy ships in the tales of old,
When the sails they spread were purple and gold.

Then the deep delight of the starry night,
With its shadowy depths and dreamy light:
When far away spreads the boundless sea,
As if it imaged infinity.
Let me hear the winds go singing by,
Lulling the waves with their melody:
While the moon like a mother watches their sleep,
And I ask no home but beside the deep.

Day 36

Calm Waters
by David Harris

We set out on life’s ocean
filled with turbulent waves,
often looking for calmer waters
in which to stay and bathe.
We seek to find happiness
all of us want to find.
Some times, we find a friend,
who will take us by the hand,
leading us to those calm waters
we were looking for.

Day 37

Easy Lies the Head by Lucy Gray

I could write a lot of words
About how much I hate you.
But you might find that gratifying
And I don’t want to satisfy that
Already massive ego.
Because like some Greek god standing proud
You straightened your crown
Stretched out your arm,
snatched and stopped us
Mid-spin, like a ball in play.
You gripped us, hard
Fist-clenched (both hands)
And laughed.
You squeezed so tight we couldn’t breathe
And the yellow light could barely
Cut the interlacing of your fingers.
Then, my salt-sore wounds stinging,
You handed me a mirror
The slightest slice of silver,
A lightening-flashed reflection
Of my face and dazzled shadows
I didn’t want to see.
So with difficulty, I looked away.
But in that turning round,
I found that you and all the world had gone.
And what was left,
Was me.

Day 38

With Apologies to Wordsworth and Tennyson by Emma Garrett

I wander lonely as a cloud each daily mindful walk
The playlists and the podcasts beat the rhythm of my life
My furry four-legged confidante can sense just how I feel
Poised at every leafy crossroads – which way today mistress?

The river flows, the willow weeps, the heron, petrified.
And I weep too, for my lost love
But better to have loved and lost they say…..

My feet move a step at a time, one foot in front of the other
(it’s the best way to survive, to stay alive, they say…..)

At the end, his lifeblood ebbed and flowed, while his feet grotesquely swelled
Those heavy water-logged limbs at odds with
The sharp shadowed caverns of once chubby ruddy child-like cheeks.

With tears I bathed those monstrous feet each night
(and cursed below my breath – how had it come to this, I wept).

Brave, strong, modest feet that walked and marched and skied and ran so fast and climbed so high,
Now barely bearing his skeletal frame from bed to chair and back.

From bed to chair and back.

What I wouldn’t give now
For a chance to knead
Those big old paws
Again, again, again, each night
With all my care and might.
To rub the worries of the world away
And anoint my love once more,
Anoint my love once more.

Day 39

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
BY EMILY DICKINSON

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Day 40
For all the bears peering out of windows at this time 🧸🌈

Teddy Bear
By AA Milne

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at;
He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman,
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back.

Now tubbiness is just the thing
Which gets a fellow wondering;
And Teddy worried lots about
The fact that he was rather stout.
He thought: “If only I were thin!
But how does anyone begin?”
He thought: “It really isn’t fair
To grudge me exercise and air.”

For many weeks he pressed in vain
His nose against the window-pane,
And envied those who walked about
Reducing their unwanted stout.
None of the people he could see
“Is quite” (he said) “as fat as me!”
Then with a still more moving sigh,
“I mean” (he said) “as fat as I!”

Now Teddy, as was only right,
Slept in the ottoman at night,
And with him crowded in as well
More animals than I can tell;
Not only these, but books and things,
Such as a kind relation brings –
Old tales of “Once upon a time”,
And history retold in rhyme.

One night it happened that he took
A peep at an old picture-book,
Wherein he came across by chance
The picture of a King of France
(A stoutish man) and, down below,
These words: “King Louis So and So,
Nicknamed ‘The Handsome!’ ” There he sat,
And (think of it) the man was fat!

Our bear rejoiced like anything
To read about this famous King,
Nicknamed the “Handsome.” Not a doubt
The man was definitely stout.
Why then, a bear (for all his tub)
Might yet be named “The Handsome Cub!”

“Might yet be named.” Or did he mean
That years ago he “might have been”?
For now he felt a slight misgiving:
“Is Louis So and So still living?
Fashions in beauty have a way
Of altering from day to day.
Is ‘Handsome Louis’ with us yet?
Unfortunately I forget.”

Next morning (nose to window-pane)
The doubt occurred to him again.
One question hammered in his head:
“Is he alive or is he dead?”
Thus, nose to pane, he pondered; but
The lattice window, loosely shut,
Swung open. With one startled “Oh!”
Our Teddy disappeared below.

There happened to be passing by
A plump man with a twinkling eye,
Who, seeing Teddy in the street,
Raised him politely on his feet,
And murmured kindly in his ear
Soft words of comfort and of cheer:
“Well, well!” “Allow me!” “Not at all.”
“Tut-tut!” A very nasty fall.”

Our Teddy answered not a word;
It’s doubtful if he even heard.
Our bear could only look and look:
The stout man in the picture-book!
That “handsome” King – could this be he,
This man of adiposity?
“Impossible,” he thought. “But still,
No harm in asking. Yes, I will!”

“Are you,” he said, “by any chance
His Majesty the King of France?”
The other answered, “I am that,”
Bowed stiffly, and removed his hat;
Then said, “Excuse me,” with an air
“But is it Mr. Edward Bear?”
And Teddy, bending very low,
Replied politely, “Even so!”

They stood beneath the window there,
The King and Mr. Edward Bear,
And, handsome, if a trifle fat,
Talked carelessly of this and that …
Then said His Majesty, “Well, well,
I must get on,” and rang the bell.
“Your bear, I think,” he smiled. “Good-day!”
And turned, and went upon his way.

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at.
But do you think it worries him
To know that he is far from slim?
No, just the other way about –
He’s proud of being short and stout

A Poem A Day – Twenty One to Thirty

Poems that got me through Corona Part 3

If you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2, you’ll know how it goes.

These are the poems that make up days 21 to 30 of this little poetry project, Wednesday 15th April to Sunday 26th April to be precise.  You know, back then when we were only a month in and it was all still a bit of a novelty.  When we were sharing hilarious memes with each other via WhatsApp and Zoom quizzes were still fun.  When poetry exchanges and recipe exchanges via email were still a brilliant idea and bicycles had been dusted off as we enthusiastically set off for our daily exercise in the sunshine.  When we were joining virtual choirs and experimenting with soda bread recipes.  When hair braids at home, teaching yourself piano and tie dye tops were occupying the kids and we relished the prospect of just being together as a family.

I’m writing this on day 100. Wednesday July 8th – 100 days since I sent Jo the first poem, 100 poems later.  Lockdown is easing for some, but coming around again for others.  We’re all fed up with each other.  Nobody is baking. Nobody is enthusiastic about exercise. Nobody is being creative. I can’t even write a fucking blog post any more.  So here you go, here are some poems instead – the contrast of 21 and 22 just about sums it up….

#APoemADay Day 21
by W. H. Davies

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

 

#APoemADay Day 22

Aubade
By Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

 

#APoemADay Day 22

I’ve just realised that there are two Day 22s.  So actually we’ve done 101 poems not 100.  Like the Dalmations.

Today
by Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

 

#APoemADay Day 23

The Tyger
By William Blake

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

#APoemADay Day 24

Introduction to Poetry
By Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means

 

#APoemADay Day 25
Written by a customer

Bedford Pavilion Café

I know we’ve got to stay safe, take care and stay at home,
But we’re missing the Pavilion and our weekly Nordic roam.
Tuesday is the day that our group meets to walk,
The exercise is good and we also get to talk.
We stride around the park, admire the landscape and the lake,
But what we want is coffee and a nice big slice of cake.
We head for the Pavilion where a table’s kept for us
Emma keeps us very happy with a little bit of fuss.
The food is very tempting and everything looks good
We’ll probably end up eating far more than we should.

To think of the Pavilion now, closed up with no one there
Is very sad especially with the weather set so fair.
Your tables should be busy, your staff rushed off their feet
As they bustle round with trays bringing tasty food to eat.
But we must keep our distance now, we have to stay away
With our underlying condition, we’re not allowed to play.
Who knows when we will be allowed to use the park once more
But as soon as it is possible, we’ll queue up at your door.
So, as we sit in isolation and contemplate the past,
We look forward to the time when we’ll meet again at last.

APoemADay Day26
Written for Rich
by Lucy Gray
The morning broke with glorious sunshine
Like your soul,
On the day you died.
And the winter solstice sent heavenly rays
Spreading wide,
That lasted low all day.
In the other room someone played
‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’
On the piano, over and over.
And in the evening,
The moon’s shimmering disc
And that angelic host
Filled the sky with silvery light,
Staggering in size and beauty
Echoing your soul.
Aching sadness now you were gone
But bursting joy that you had been.
And those noisy angels, lucky things,
Didn’t fill your void with singing
But sitting round,
Shed their Biblical burden,
And shared in the lightness of your laughter.

 

#APoemADay Day 27 National Tea Day

At Tea
by Thomas Hardy

The kettle descants in a cozy drone,
And the young wife looks in her husband’s face,
And then at her guest’s, and shows in her own
Her sense that she fills an envied place;
And the visiting lady is all abloom,
And says there was never so sweet a room.

And the happy young housewife does not know
That the woman beside her was first his choice,
Till the fates ordained it could not be so. . . .
Betraying nothing in look or voice
The guest sits smiling and sips her tea,
And he throws her a stray glance yearningly.

 

#APoemADay Day 28

Vespers by AA Milne

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

God bless Mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath to-night?
The cold’s so cold, and the hot’s so hot.
Oh! God bless Daddy – I quite forgot.

If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing-gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.

Mine has a hood, and I lie in bed,
And pull the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes, and I curl up small,
And nobody knows that I’m there at all.

Oh! Thank you, God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said “Bless Daddy,” so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember it. God bless Me.

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers

 

#APoemADay Day 29
‘Clouds’
by Joni Mitchell

Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

‘Clouds’
Joni Mitchell: I was reading a book, and I haven’t finished it yet, called “Henderson the Rain King.” And there’s a line in it that I especially got hung up on that was about when he was flying to Africa and searching for something, he said that in an age when people could look up and down at clouds, they shouldn’t be afraid to die. And so I got this idea ‘from both sides now.’ There are a lot of sides to everything, and so the song is called “From Both Sides, Now.”

 

#APoemADay Day 30

Everyone Sang
By Siegfried Sassoon

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

 

something

Don’t know about you, but we are all struggling a bit here now.  This lockdown madness, stay in, go out, go to work, don’t go to work, wear the mask, don’t wear the mask is really causing us some anguish.  When you are already a family of 6, being told by the PM that you can have up to 6 people in your garden really doesn’t make much of a difference, thanks all the same.  Big whoop.

The novelty has definitely worn off – baking, running, cleaning, netflixing, sorting, podcasting, zooming, quizzing – and tempers are fraying at the edges.  I know, I know, it could be worse, people are dying and now we’ve got racism rearing its ugly head, as if there wasn’t enough going on.  So much shit to contend with, not to mention the grieving and the missing Rich and the wishing he was here to boost family morale with a sumo dance or to help plan the latest lockdown birthday – but we really shouldn’t complain. In the scheme of things, the fact that it has poured with rain most of the day and that collectively, we appear to be approaching the end of our respective tethers in this household is not actually earth shattering news. But, is it too much to ask for some good news soon please?  We’re actually not that hard to please.  Just a little boost would be good.

Like last week. My eldest and I were mightily peed off and something serious needed to happen to avoid us losing it completely.  We decided that the only thing for it was to take ourselves off to Waitrose, with masks and gloves attached, and we did a little perk up shop. Highly recommended.  On driving past Starbucks on our way home and seeing a) that drive thru (sic) had opened and b) that there was no queue, we diverted and could hardly contain ourselves as we purchased a coffee Frappuccino with an extra shot, cream and caramel (for me – my ultimate drink of choice on a sunny day) and an oat milk flat white for her (very tame I thought considering the occasion).

Not only that but the next day I met my friend, the oft mentioned, Jo Green for a socially distanced flat white (my turn to be tame now) and we sat by the river on a drain cover (as you do) and put the world to rights.

IMG_2696

I wrote a poem, the main reason for this post, so here it is, for what it is worth:

Something

Something is pushing me to the side of my own life
Mr Larkin might observe such a phenomenon poetically
But I feel it frenetically
And like the swan whose paddling webbed feet thrash below the surface,
I keep my head above water –
keeping up appearances. 

But
The gravity defying sagging goitre of a once-kissed neck
Reveals the weight of my loss.
It is the scaffold of my head
And as such holds the pain of his death. Pushing. Me.

We sit by the river upon an iron drain
And see the swan – his slenderneck glistening in the reflecting sun.
His paddling feet unseen.
Head above water. Serene.

We put the world to rights while
The ugly ducklings all grow up
And the un-culled goslings
drunkenly reveal the uncoordinated gangliness
Of their skinny little legs on dry land.

We drink our flat whites as the dog seeks out shade
And keep two metres betwixt.
‘Anti’- Social Distancing, as we’ve been told we must
But our conversation is less obedient and knows no boundaries.

We talk of love and loss, regret and fear.
As the painted disguise of your lipstick smile sticks to your coffee cup
And my worn out jeans reflect how ragged I feel
Fading maybe, but not beaten yet.

Something is pushing me to the side of my own life
But it will not tip me over the edge
I will resist with all my might
And I will surround myself with strong women like you
And we will gain strength from the sun
And be true to our serendipity
And we will not be pushed to the side

Of anything.

      

A Poem A Day – Eleven to Twenty

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Poems that got me through Corona – Part 2

Part Two.  So in case you didn’t read the previous Poem a Day Part One post, or you haven’t read Part Three, I have been sending a poem a day to a friend of mine who is in the ‘at risk’ category and self-isolating, living on her own and feeling the isolation deeply.  It was Jo I wrote the birthday poem for. It was a way to regularly connect with her, to connect with nature and creativity and to have an excuse to wallow indulgently in some extraordinary poetry during lockdown.  I started this little daily poem sharing  on 25th March – some of them are in the blog already – who would have thought I’d be building up quite such an anthology.  In any case, they reflect my mood and my thoughts on my own personal Corona journey.  Behind every poem there is a story.  I thought I would record them here for posterity (or something), and so that something at least is being posted, maybe this will prompt me to share more of my ruminations too.  In the meantime, I’ll share them in batches of 10.  So here we go, Day Eleven to Day Twenty One #APoemaDay. Take your time.

 

Day Eleven – The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free

 

Day Twelve – Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry, Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only, Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was
Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day. So it must have been after the birth of the simple light In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over, I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

 

Day Thirteen – Everything is Going to be All Right by Derek Mahon

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right

 

Day Fourteen – An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

 

Day Fifteen – If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

Day Sixteen – Have a Nice Day by Spike Milligan.

Help, help, ‘ said a man. ‘I’m drowning.’
‘Hang on, ‘ said a man from the shore.
‘Help, help, ‘ said the man. ‘I’m not clowning.’
‘Yes, I know, I heard you before.
Be patient dear man who is drowning,
You, see I’ve got a disease.
I’m waiting for a Doctor J. Browning.
So do be patient please.’
‘How long, ‘ said the man who was drowning. ‘Will it take for the Doc to arrive? ‘
‘Not very long, ‘ said the man with the disease. ‘Till then try staying alive.’
‘Very well, ‘ said the man who was drowning. ‘I’ll try and stay afloat.
By reciting the poems of Browning
And other things he wrote.’
‘Help, help, ‘ said the man with the disease, ‘I suddenly feel quite ill.’
‘Keep calm.’ said the man who was drowning, ‘ Breathe deeply and lie quite still.’
‘Oh dear, ‘ said the man with the awful disease. ‘I think I’m going to die.’
‘Farewell, ‘ said the man who was drowning.
Said the man with the disease, ‘goodbye.’
So the man who was drowning, drownded
And the man with the disease past away.
But apart from that,
And a fire in my flat,
It’s been a very nice day.

 

Day Seventeen – I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud – William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

 

Day Eighteen – The Lamb by William Blake

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee? Gave thee life, & bid thee feed
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, & he is mild;
He became a little child.
I, a child, & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

 

Day Nineteen – The Rainbow by Christina Rossetti

Boats sail on the rivers,
And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
Are prettier than these.
There are bridges on the rivers,
As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
Is prettier far than these.

 

Day Twenty – No Man Is An Island by John Donne

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

 

What can you hear?

There’s a book I used to read with Tess. It was basically about listening and as you turned each page you were invited to stop and listen to the sounds around you. Stop. And listen.

˜What can you hear?”

I’m thinking of it now as I sit in a village graveyard. I’ve taken a moment out of my run, fitness apps have been deactivated, audible is on pause and I have stopped. And I am listening.

What can you hear?

Such peace in the hazy morning sunshine, almost tangible, with smart smooth military marble headstones standing to attention amidst the tumbling crumbling overgrown stone markers of civilian lives lost.

There’s also a small memorial, ginormous poppies – glorious, growing majestically alongside, a guard of honour marking the lives and deaths of those who were victims of the airship crash of 5th October 1930 – local history without ceremony in a rural churchyard.

The birds are singing without a care in the world, the crows coarse cawing in sharp contrast to the trilling arpeggios of the blackbird and the cooing of the doves, or perhaps pigeons, I never seem to know which is which. There’s a lot I don’t seem to know any more. In any case it is a veritable orchestra – no social distancing here – as I take time to stop. And listen. The village church bell has just struck, punctuating the peace with echoes of the past, a reminder of the present and perhaps even, hope for the future.

I’ve been listening to my friend Sasha’s book – Languages of Loss – on my runs which I can only listen to in short extracts before it all gets just a bit too much. She was widowed about a year before me (lines you never thought you’d actually have to say, and certainly not at 51) and the book is an account of her journey through grief – both from a personal standpoint and a professional one, she is a psychotherapist.

By listening to her book, rather than reading it, I was playing a trick on myself, pretending that I was perhaps ready for it, but I’ve had to turn it off now and just sit for a bit. I’m so not ready. Sasha has a 13 month head start on me.

With Nick (my brother-in-law’s) birthday today, Rich’s on May 13th and then the anniversary of Nick’s death on the 15th, it’s a strange old time. May – harbinger of new life as the goslings snuggling together on my riverside run attest – but also the month that carries with it the stark reminder of two brothers’ lives wiped out within 5 months of each other.

It would have killed their poor mother – but she was dead already. Sitting amongst the soldiers’ graves, I think too particularly at this time of those poor women who lost their sons, one after the other, brothers in arms in the war, as the village’s VE day bunting flaps carelessly in the breeze. I shudder to think that in another horrific time and place my three sons would all have been called up to fight for their country and perhaps their father too, but I digress.

I miss Rich constantly of course, but some days far more keenly than others. Those joint May birthday parties were always such fun, inevitably the two boys would end up laughing uncontrollably at some joke or other, private or shared, it didn’t really matter.

Within a few moments of their mutual giggles bubbling to the surface, the infectious laughter would overflow and the family would all be weeping with merriment – invariably with no idea why; our slices of cake and glasses of fizz momentarily abandoned. Three years ago both brothers and their families had been dancing the night away together at Rich’s 50th birthday party.

Family G

And then last year, Rich was not here to celebrate. Last year was the first since Rich’s birth that those brothers were unable to speak to eachother, to laugh, to hug, to celebrate and then Nick too died, just a week after his brother-less birthday.

Sash’s book tells me everyone grieves differently and explores the various stages of grief as defined by eminent professors, physiotherapists and psychotherapists through the years. She says it is fine to follow, ignore, embrace and/or merge the different ways of managing, deciphering, processing, comprehending and/or understanding grief. It’s all too much for me.

All I know is that I am clearly still in denial, ˜the denial stage”, doing that keeping busy thing I do. Of course it is a joy to have the kids home due to Covid-19 restrictions and there is a constant stream of busy things that need doing, good news for me – cooking/cleaning/chatting/eating/drinking/tidying/clearing/ironing/sorting/reading/playing games….. It is precious time that I am determinedly making the absolute most of. But to have a moment away from it all, away from them all, to just sit here in this graveyard and reflect and listen is an unusual gift – ‘me’-time snatched from the maelstrom of my ‘keeping busy’ life, and actually it feels good.

What can you hear?

A dog barks, a car drives off in the distance, muffled voices waft past as a young handholding couple embrace life on their daily exercise, together. How envious I am of them, their freedom, their future.

A lawn mower fires up with a vengeance and breaks my reverie and so life goes on. Those crows. Those pigeon/dove whatever the fuck they are birds and that bell again, marking the passing of time.

For whom the bell tolls.

This one is for Nicko and Richy. Happy Birthday boys.

A Poem a Day – One to Ten

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Poems that got me through Corona.

I have been sending a poem a day to a friend of mine who is in the ‘at risk’ category and self-isolating, living on her own and feeling the isolation deeply.  It was Jo I wrote the birthday poem for. It was a way to regularly connect with her, to connect with nature and creativity and to have an excuse to wallow indulgently in some extraordinary poetry during lockdown.  I started this little daily poem sharing  on 25th March – some of them are in the blog already – who would have thought I’d be building up quite such an anthology.  In any case, they reflect my mood and my thoughts on my own personal Corona journey.  Behind every poem there is a story.  I thought I would record them here for posterity (or something), and so that something at least is being posted, maybe this will prompt me to share more of my ruminations too.  In the meantime, I’ll share them in batches of 10.  So here we go, Day One to Day Ten #APoemaDay. Take your time.

Day One – The Guest House by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 

Day Two – We thought We’d Write a Poem by Emma Garrett
Written at the end of an extraordinary exhibition to Kenya 24th February to 4th March 2020 

We thought we’d write a poem
We thought we’d write a poem about this special time.
We had no real ideas but we knew it had to rhyme.
We knew it had to capture these most amazing travels.

And make us smile with happy thoughts whenever life unravels.
Our hostess Helen Jackson had the marvellous idea
To pull together Bahrain friends now scattered far and near:
‘Come and climb a mountain?’ she asked us all one day – 

Twelve of us gave the thumbs up and soon were on our way.
We bought our boots and trained a bit, to varying degrees,
Escalator Annie was almost on her knees,
Elen got quite dizzy as her route was back and forth
From the Ritz round to the island, east, west, south & north. 

Anne gave up the alcohol, a major feat for sure –
Victoria went to Scotland where the air is clear and pure.
The brutal Seven Sisters were Emma’s training ground,
Bionic Jane stuck to her guns, her metal ankle, sound.

Philippa got muddy along the Cotswold way,
Nicki in the Malvern Hills went walking every day,
Alyson went cycling on her ‘e-bike’ fast as poss,
While Tessa, walked the compound with her lovely doggy – Joss.

Scooby & Habibi were Lisa’s training pair –
And Hels & Jacko hiked their way up to the Abedares.
So training programmes all complete, we soon were Kenya bound,
Our children – 42 all told – left scattered all around.

No one can prepare you for a challenge such as this –
No one can explain it, or tell you what you’ll miss.
No one knows how scared you’ll feel when starting on your climb
Or how you’ll laugh, and how you’ll cry

Throughout this special time.
It tested us, our stamina and our determination,
This trip was never going to be an ordin’ry vacation
While 12 went up in spirit, as the summit came in sight

6 of us got to the top – Lenana’s mighty height.
With Kieron, John and Isaac we were in expert hands,
And Bongo’s cooks, were magic as they filled the pots and pans
With hearty warming dishes that helped make us feel strong

As we fought sore heads & sickness – wishing they’d be gone.
Our friendship and our good intent was never in dispute
As we tramped determinedly along the Chogoria route.
How blessed were we to all be here on Kenya’s rugged peak

One thing’s for sure, we won’t forget this quite extraordinary week.
At Soame’s Hotel – we talked at length of what we had achieved,
We drank chilled beer and hugged and smiled and felt somewhat relieved.
The mountain view reminded us of quite how far we’d been

But oh that shower, that Rosé, and those sheets – the best we’d seen!
And so we headed back to town, the end was now in sight,
But not before a final lunch and drinkies – it seemed right
To celebrate our Kenya voyage in this tremendous way

As Nicki, Vic and Lisa headed back to the UK.
6 of us left for the beach when Wednesday morning came
While 3 stayed to go shopping – yes, seriously – AGAIN!
They kissed giraffes then headed off to fly from JKA

While sun kissed palms and cocktails beckoned at Watamu Bay.
And so this little ditty I must bring now to a close,
It’s just a token gesture and I mustn’t get morose.

Suffice to say this trip has been the most amazing time –
12 International Women who really are sublime.
We’re planning our next venture (not quite so high next year?!?)
But we won’t forget our Kenya trip, that much is very clear.

Addendum 

That virus called Corona seems to have escaped a mention,
Which seems a little silly as it caused a bit of tension
We fought off plagues of locusts too (just one to be precise)
And dealt with runny tummies (which really wasn’t nice)

But what this really shows as my poem finally ends,
Is that nothing on this earth will disrupt true lifelong friends.

 

Day Three – Rilke

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling  is final

 

Day Four –  “Blind Faith?” by Philip Le Brocq (my Dad)
Dad has been writing a sonnet a day through lockdown.  This was from Wednesday March 25th

The sun still shines out of a clear blue sky
As we face “Lock Down” – tighter than before;
The total deaths are rising; we ask “Why”?
And wonder what the future has in store
The TV Bulletins enhance our gloom
As they list shortages and lengthy queues
Of panic buyers fearing early doom,
Insisting on their right to pick and choose.
But children fill their windows, rainbow bright,
And we light candles too, to show we care.
And ring our friends, and if we can, hold tight
To prove we’re still alive with love to share.

We’ll come together to defeat this foe,
Knowing we can succeed as time will show.

 

 

Day Five – from My Brilliant Image by Hafez
A poem for two astonishing friends, Lucy and Elen

I wish I could show you
When you are lonely or in darkness
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!

 

Day Six – The Map-Woman by Carol Ann Duffy
I didn’t know this poem – it was sent to me as part of a poetry exchange. It takes the reader on an extraordinary journey

A woman’s skin was a map of the town
where she’d grown from a child.
When she went out, she covered it up
with a dress, with a shawl, with a hat,
with mitts or a muff, with leggings, trousers
or jeans, with a an ankle-length cloak, hooded
and fingertip-sleeved. But – birthmark, tattoo –
the A-Z street-map grew, a precise second skin,
broad if she binged, thin when she slimmed,
a précis of where to end or go back or begin. 

Over her breast was the heart of the town,
from the Market Square to the Picture House
by way of St Mary’s Church, a triangle
of alleys and streets and walks, her veins
like shadows below the lines of the map, the river
an artery snaking north to her neck. She knew
if you crossed the bridge at her nipple, took a left
and a right, you would come to the graves,
the grey-haired teachers of English and History,
the soldier boys, the Mayors and Councillors,

the beloved mothers and wives, the nuns and priests,
their bodies fading into the earth like old print
on a page. You could sit on a wooden bench
as a wedding pair ran, ringed, from the church,
confetti skittering over the marble stones,
the big bell hammering hail from the sky, and wonder
who you would marry and how and where and when
you would die: or find yourself in the coffee house
nearby, waiting for time to start, your tiny face
trapped in the window’s bottle-thick glass like a fly. 

And who might you see, short-cutting through
the Grove to the Square – that line there, the edge
of a fingernail pressed on her flesh – in the rain,
leaving your empty cup, to hurry on after
calling their name? When she showered, the map
gleamed on her skin, blue-black ink from a nib.
She knew you could scoot down Greengate Street,
huddling close to the High House, the sensible shops,
the Swan Hotel, till you came to the Picture House,
sat in the musty dark watching the Beatles 

run for a train or Dustin Hoffman screaming
Elaine! Elaine! Elaine! or the spacemen in 2001
floating to Strauss. She sponged, soaped, scrubbed;
the prison and hospital stamped on her back,
the park neat on her belly, her navel marking the spot
where the empty bandstand stood, the river again,
heading south, clear as an operation scar,
the war memorial facing the railway station
where trains sighed on the platforms, pining
for Glasgow, London, Liverpool. She knew 

you could stand on the railway bridge, waving
goodbye to strangers who stared as you vanished
into the belching steam, tasting future time
on the tip of your tongue. She knew you could run
the back way home – there it was on her thigh –
taking the southern road then cutting off to the left,
the big houses anchored behind their calm green lawns,
the jewels of conkers falling down at your feet,
then duck and dive down Nelson and Churchill
and Kipling and Milton Way until you were home. 

She didn’t live there now. She lived down south,
abroad, en route, up north, on a plane or train
or boat, on the road, in hotels, in the back of cabs,
on the phone; but the map was under her stockings,
under her gloves, under the soft silk scarf at her throat,
under her chiffon veil, a delicate braille. Her left knee
marked the grid of her own estate. When she knelt
she felt her father’s house pressing into the bone,
heard in her head the looped soundtrack of then –
a tennis ball repeatedly thumping a wall, 

an ice-cream van crying and hurrying on, a snarl
of children’s shrieks from the overgrown land
where the houses ran out. The motorway groaned
just out of sight. She knew you could hitch
from Junction 13 and knew of a girl who had not
been seen since she did; had heard of a kid who’d run
across all six lanes for a dare before he was tossed
by a lorry into the air like a doll. But the motorway
was flowing away, was a roaring river of metal
and light, cheerio, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, ciao.

She stared in the mirror as she got dressed,
both arms raised over her head, the roads
for east and west running from shoulder
to wrist, the fuzz of woodland or countryside under
each arm. Only her face was clear, her fingers
smoothing in cream, her baby-blue eyes unsure
as they looked at themselves. But her body was certain,
an inch to the mile, knew every nook and cranny,
cul-de-sac, stile, back road, high road, low road,
one-way street of her past. There it all was, back 

to front in the glass. She piled on linen, satin, silk,
leather, wool, perfume and mousse and went out.
She got in a limousine. The map perspired
under her clothes. She took a plane. The map seethed
on her flesh. She spoke in a foreign tongue.
The map translated everything back to herself.
She turned out the light and a lover’s hands
caressed the map in the dark from north to south,
lost tourists wandering here and there, all fingers
and thumbs, as their map flapped in the breeze. 

So one day, wondering where to go next,
she went back, drove a car for a night and a day,
till the town appeared on her left, the stale cake
of the castle crumbled up on the hill; and she hired
a room with a view and soaked in the bath.
When it grew dark, she went out, thinking
she knew the place like the back of her hand,
but something was wrong. She got lost in arcades,
in streets with new names, in precincts
and walkways, and found that what was familiar 

was only façade. Back in her hotel room, she stripped
and lay on the bed. As she slept, her skin sloughed
like a snake’s, the skin of her legs like stockings, silvery,
sheer, like the long gloves of the skin of her arms,
the papery camisole from her chest a perfect match
for the tissuey socks of the skin of her feet. Her sleep
peeled her, lifted a honeymoon thong from her groin,
a delicate bra of skin from her breasts, and all of it
patterned A to Z; a small cross where her parents’ skulls
grinned at the dark. Her new skin showed barely a mark. 

She woke and spread out the map on the floor. What
was she looking for? Her skin was her own small ghost,
a shroud to be dead in, a newspaper for old news
to be read in, gift-wrapping, litter, a suicide letter.
She left it there, dressed, checked out, got in the car.
As she drove, the town in the morning sun glittered
behind her. She ate up the miles. Her skin itched,
like a rash, like a slow burn, felt stretched, as though
it belonged to somebody else. Deep in the bone
old streets tunneled and burrowed, hunting for home.

 

Day Seven – Invictus by William Ernest Henley
However dark this pit of Corona lockdown feels, there must always be hope

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.   

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.   

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 

Day Eight – John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us
A blessing I came across – so poignant and pertinent for these times

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”

 

Day Nine – A Powerful Army by Matt Kelly
This one was doing the rounds on social media, the poem marches on like the powerful army it describes – I have no idea who its author is

I’ll tell you a tale, that’s been recently written.
Of a powerful army, so Great it saved Britain.

They didn’t have bombs and they didn’t have planes.
They fought with their hearts and they fought with their brains.

They didn’t have bullets, armed just with a mask.
We sent them to war, with one simple task.

To show us the way, to lead and inspire us.
To protect us from harm and fight off the virus.

It couldn’t be stopped by our bullet proof vests.
An invisible enemy, invaded our chests.

So we called on our weapon, our soldiers in Blue.
“All Doctors, All Nurses, Your Country needs you”.

We clapped on our streets, hearts bursting with pride.
As they went off to war, while we stayed inside.

They struggled at first, as they searched for supplies.
But they stared down the virus, in the whites of its eyes.

They leaped from the trenches and didn’t think twice.
Some never came back, the ultimate price.

So tired, so weary, yet still they fought on.
As the virus was beaten and the battle was won.

The many of us, owe so much, to so few.
The brave and the bold, our heroes in Blue.

So let’s line the streets and remember our debt.
We love you, our heroes. Lest we forget.

 

Day Ten -The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins
I wrote my dissertation on Gerard Manley Hopkins at University all those years ago.  My Father introduced me to him as a poet when he taught me A’level English.  I’ve always loved this poem, particularly when walking on the South Downs, it comes to me out of nowhere….

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

        No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.