On Shadowy Stanzas
There’s nothing like amateur poetry for offending talented sensibilities. So, if you’re truly talented you won’t find much to enthuse over here!
If nothing else, sombre and reflective poetry is honest. Are you arrested by poems like The Toys by Coventry Patmore, and John Hewitt’s very sobering A Father’s Death? We all should be, but not everyone can. We should all understand the why of poems like these.
Given the chance too many poets, inexpert and otherwise, have a tendency to emphasise misfortune and misery. I’ve stopped writing poetry. Reading through it again it’s too often marred by suffocating melancholia, and I’ve come to hate that so much.
I cherish the nuances and vivid beauty of nature, and feminine charms, and many other things, but just look at what’s escaped into my poetry instead. For some of us there are weighty truths that resonate more than others: “When reaching for life’s roses we bleed among the thorns”; “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain*”. Focus on these traits and we sink too easily. Accommodate that negative twist in your nature and you’ll spend too much time in the sucking quicksand of oppression.
Cutting Roses by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Be careful.
Over the last couple of years, with more than a little frustrated assistance, I’ve learned I need to complain less and be hopeful more often. Melancholy complainers wallowing in their mood swings don’t inspire confidence and can’t help the tearful along a dark worrisome road.
Life moulds us and many struggle to fight back. Sometimes it can’t be avoided. Before frailty threatens dignity, many among us become badly damaged and unavoidably reflective. If you’re into positive thinking you’re unlikely to want to spend too much time with folk like these. They know too little about temporal joy, peace and hope. Such things are occasional flashing sparks that briefly fly high from burning lives. Souls like these need love and support.
I can’t see around the next steep turn in the road, but my enlightened aim points to somewhere beyond this life. I’m determined to be more hopeful, or at least try. Life is short. We didn’t choose to be here but we can choose how to live. Use everything to build your character so you can do better the next time—if there is one.
Woodland walks with my wife
After days of ripped lives,
Awakened and whole.
Set still, though hidden through
Nights too long endured,
About the closed-up home
Nature moves suffused.
Whether we struggle ill
Or lie longer weak,
Papery poppies bend,
Birdsong scorns the stark
Towers of western rain clouds.
Woodland scents rise through
Full-leaf branches shading
Deep paths love turns to.
Healing ways drawing us
To vivid and bold.
The Mint Below the Seat
When I was small I swung my legs
And sang a silly tune.
I counted yellow ladybirds
While Nana cleaned her rooms.
When I was young I laughed and played
Below rain-darkened skies.
I never knew a sorrow borne;
I rarely wept and sighed.
I never saw cut flowers decay
In vases on the sills.
I never sensed the curse of time
That stole my games and thrills.
When I was ten each loving touch
Would ease my pain and fear.
I’d yet to sit through bedside ills
That whispered death was near.
Now older I can understand
That hardship bars my way,
That those I love may someday leave,
But I will have to stay.
Once I was young and liked to pluck
The mint below the seat,
While Granda clipped the garden hedge
And swept below my feet.
Visiting on a Winter’s Morning
To set aside these binding knots I rise with,
I wish I could pull on a heavy coat and
Walk the sunlit hill to my grandparents’ house.
At the door I’d turn on the red polished step to look
Back along the path to the gate,
And pause, leaning on the unsullied days of childhood.
Loved in the ordinary things again
I would gladly sit by the fire with a cup of tea,
Hot coals and sticks popping and hissing
On a frosty November morning.
Worn slippers, a pipe, crochet on the chair,
The squeaking pulley over the stairs, so often laden with washing;
At the wee window a burst of slanted light through the net curtain
Casting warm hues on each familiar smile.
Such endearments are lost now,
For life flickers low in the absence of comforts passed.
Not even these earnest tears can carry me where I’d rather be,
Though, for now, my memories hold.
Now I’m not diseased meat on the medical table,
Tethered and frightened, unsure of my frame.
Now the sting and the bite of life-threatening terrors
Are destroyed like a beast nobody could tame.
The gist of the matter at a glance,
Experience strolls while children prance.
Ample wisdom uses knowledge well,
Intellect glories but cannot tell.
Hot blood is fed by thrills and spice,
Bald heads, contented, are not enticed.
Age in a margin is rarely sought,
Youth in a hurry cannot be taught.
It Goes On
In the valley’s warm morning air, I unexpectedly remembered someone.
An early thought before the sky was heated summer-blue,
As soft as trodden moss, gentle like the smooth arcs of mist wisps
Aimlessly down from the lake.
It goes on, and I should smile at the memory-glow,
But a lone soul, so detached and vagrant now,
Is likely to sigh and fold against the rough bark
Below cool, dark boughs.
In Donegal Hills
(In Memory of CW)
In the soot-streaked wall the grate is warm and dusty white.
After the turf’s evening heat,
Two mugs and a plate sit on the chipped hearth.
Contentedly accepting the good chilled air
He’s standing unshaven at the open door,
Hands in deep pockets, shirtsleeves rolled high.
Close treeless humps of hills
Rise to clouded mountains beyond the tufted lane;
The foaming stream gushes darkly,
Gurgling on the withering browned slopes.
A windless sky, dense with low Atlantic greys,
May soon drop rain on his stark view,
Singular, and remembered often.
I’m weary of
flowers in my house this Spring,
beautiful but fading rootless,
stressing the dreadful companions
death and disease.
Better out-of-doors’ blooms in gardens,
or flung wild, fixed for vitality,
from seasonal life to life
where they belong,
not tied unfitly to hardship’s tears.
Where the deep earth is cold
And tormented me,
Where barren nights of grief laid
Frost blue on the morning grass;
With my torn heart
Now dead with yours,
Can I ever rest a day
And say goodbye
From Early Love To This
Silent together on that first winter’s night,
Resting on the warm pillows of her breasts,
Newly bound to hope.
Then, like petals driven on a cold May wind,
The sweet blossoms of intentions and promises
Were torn out before their full beauty was seen.
Though contrite and miserably forgiven,
A carnal soul crouches low, hiding in shadowy corners
Having squandered treasures.
These are crushing burdens none should ever know:
From early days of deep love to a spirit broken
By stoking fires God’s clenching hands put out.
Perfumed dark hair lies tossed on clean bedclothes;
Godly thoughts and pure bodies are grafted.
They believe every tomorrow will be shared.
The Me in You
You’ve worked your brain so hard
Your conscience leaked out through.
“I’ve sought the Lord about it,
And this is what I’ll do.”
Necessity has forced a trip
With selfish slips and prayers amiss,
Steam-opened flesh out on a limb
Betrayed the Master with a kiss.
None dares to point the finger,
But what’s that fruit on view?
Call it anything but sin—
I see the me in you.
“City life is millions of people being lonesome together” (Henry David Thoreau).
Unholy are the calculations
hammering thoughts beer can-flat in a sinking mind,
digging in deep hollows for reasons
not torn up yet, that won’t ever.
Draw them out, then spin and weave them in,
donning flaws all the way fading
along cracked paths on the other side of the bare hearth,
wherever home was, and when.
Numb knuckles on the litter bin scatter soggy butts to
the endless tired watching again.
High cold drops are massing
to run over double yellow lines a shunned life is parked on,
shaded by a sickly avenue tree cemented in.
Wear that shabby suit out, denying what you are recalled when
others rage, deride, remind you, behind you, scorning faceless.
What remains can’t turn away younger, head sound.
In a sewn pocket finger-clink old coins your grandfather hid –
never spent, worth stealing.
Cross the road shopless, too worn to zebra back
to racks of gents’ coats reduced, none fitting a wasted size.
Flapping from the slicing wind the broken come begging when
barging in, elbows punching into a warm space.
Peer through sheltering glass
muffling heavy vehicles’ rumbling
and piercing-pitch school kids, flushed and careless.
Pain exchanges distant for devoted
and so ignites love
Pain exposes true riches
and makes peace valuable too
Pain insists we beseech and blubber
Pain burns off clogging dross
Pain points at limitations we had ignored,
reduces us, crushes souls
It’s pain in the human frame
It’s pain we can’t ignore
It’s pain that harnesses and educates
It’s pain that plunders all
Pain buries us in frailty, mortality
Pain devises worthwhile goals
and ridicules every fantasy
and announces crimes
Pain ponders the future fearfully
and obscures every horizon
Pain is revelation and uncertainty paired
Echoes of Protest and Pain
“Save, Lord, we perish,” was their cry,
“O save us in our agony!”
Pull me from this, like a bloodied knife deep in the gut
of a being I could blame.
Through loud Heavenly choruses you hear the violent raging
of minds exhausted by holy demands.
Thinking renewed, ever waiting, abiding, watching, denying –
our daily prescription for the disciplines of righteousness,
in the hope of spiritual fruit.
When strength is small, the heedful few are buried again
under heavy frustrations.
Cut me if I reach for God,
Tear when sunshine chases rain.
Harm me when my heart is pure,
Slice through if I’m wrong again.
The Will of Wisdom, when fused with fleshly ways,
will twist dispositions and shatter bodies.
Spirit of Christ within, without,
take, if fitting, all of life’s mire we are neck-deep in and,
by miraculous reforms, please breathe on the glow
dying after the fiery zeal.
In the friendless absence of realised love and peace,
through stumbling distresses in many weaknesses,
our deadweight afflictions crush us.
On and on we press,
Through all that God allows,
Though tears blot out The Way
And hands slip from the ploughs.
So, when our life is clouded o’er,
And storm winds drift us from the shore,
Say, lest we sink to rise no more,
“Peace, be still.”
Godfrey Thring, 1862
The Smile You Do
For all that’s been instilled,
I’m rarely touched,
Around this tired chair
These walls are ageing too.
At least I’ve known
The smile you do.
Click or tap to enlarge.
(Lennon / McCartney)
Who knows how long I’ve loved you
You know I love you still
Will I wait a lonely lifetime
If you want me to I will
For if I ever saw you
I didn’t catch your name
But it never really mattered
I will always feel the same
Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart
And when at last I find you
Your song will fill the air
Sing it loud so I can hear you
Make it easy to be near you
For the things you do endear you to me
Ah, you know I will
(Hear Kathy Mattea sing this on The Original Transatlantic Sessions, programme 5, or CD 2.)