Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty 

Robins on my porch
Are akin to wakedness
Candles in the brackets
Dance their form of sleep.

My body is a cathedral
In the recalled dusk.
Like leather wings and skin,
All light is here.

And should a moon rise
Would it recall
A spindle
By a window
Like a sheath of gold?

I am no more than stillness
And no less than dawn.
My breath is a carved repeating
Of the tundra.

Have there been frogs and dark things
In the pond beyond the walls?
I am clay-eyed
In the darkness
And my hair is long.

If you think to wake me
Just remember
That I will give birth
To philosophy and god,
And should an ogre
Astonish us
We will be ready
With a nest of kites and kettles.

To speak completely,
There is nothing here unseen,
Nor unattended.
I have given all myself to sleep
And in return
I have got roses
By their red hair
And kissed them.

Spin for me a sign of trust
And I will spin tomorrow.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Thoughts for Samhain, 2013

Guided by the Lonely Star,
Beyond the utmost harbour-bar,
I’ll find the heavens fair and free,
And beaches of the Starlit Sea.
Ship, my ship! I seek the West,
And fields and mountains ever blest.
Farewell to Middle-earth at last.
I see the Star above my mast!”

"Bilbo's Last Song", J.R.R Tolkien

On Thursday it was Halloween, or Samhain, the Celtic new year and the time when the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest, the time when we remember those who have gone before us, and in joy and celebration become that which scares us.

In neo-Pagan tradition, the West is often the direction of the water, and of the dead. It is the realms of the deeps and the setting sun. The way West across the seas is the way home, to the home beyond home, the Isle of the Blessed. In Irish tradition, the sea god Manannan Mac Lir guards the gates to the Otherworld that lie beyond the sea. That last and final journey across the seas is part of our myths and dreams, as Tolkien well knew.

In culture, dreams and stories the ocean is our trusted infinity, the depths from which nothing returns, the great vastness that enacts our ending.

On Tuesday, my sister linked me an article about the oceans, written by Greg Ray in the Newcastle Herald. ( It describes yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen's journey from Melbourne to Osaka to San Francisco. When Ivan made the journey ten years ago, there were fish to be caught every day. This time, because of over-fishing and pollution, he caught just two. 

From Osaka to San Francisco, Macfadyen saw one whale, 'rolling sort of helplessly on the surface.' Here, the rubbish was so dense that they were afraid to start their motor for fear of the propellers getting tangled in buoys, ropes, nets and plastic rubbish. They returned to Australia with their yacht dented from the trash, it's yellow colour faded and bleached from the chemicals in the waters. Recalling his previous journeys, Macfadyen said:

"In years gone by I'd gotten used to all the birds and their noises.”

"They'd be following the boat, sometimes resting on the mast before taking off again. You'd see flocks of them wheeling over the surface of the sea in the distance, feeding on pilchards."

This time, apart from the waves, the wind and the thudding of debris against the hull, the voyage was made in virtual silence. For 3000 nautical miles there were “No fish. No birds. Hardly a sign of life at all.”

The responses beneath the article, and to friends I had linked it, were similar. What now? Is there any appropriate action to take to this article – ideally, an action that doesn't turn us into freaks and social pariahs, biting off the head of the supermarket clerk when we're offered plastic bags, lecturing families behind us who have forgotten theirs, raging at our friends for eating packaged salad and drinking from plastic bottles? (I don't do these things. I don't want people to hate me. But I think them.)

And I don't want to eat fish any more – except I do, and I'm a little afraid I might turn into the mother of Oskar, from Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum, who was so sickened by the thing she saw fished from the seas (a rotting horse head), that she died from gorging herself on any fish she could find, as if disgust and desire were – when it comes to the oceans – quite the same.

And maybe if we knew more about the relationship between disgust and desire, if we understood why we need – why we want – to get rid of all the things we are endlessly creating – to make and make and make and then shed and forget - then we'd know something more about what we're doing.

Is there any action we can take? And where – when we remember our dead – can we find a place for remembering that distant awful present that is our dying world?

Not to be depressing, or anything.

I just want to end these contemplations by thinking about darkness. This winter solstice, I broached the darkness of Ditchling beacon alone for the first time in my life, and danced under the stars. I dreamt that night that I had cut off my own electricity and what I loved was falling from the sky, and the next night I dreamt that I had eaten of the Nile, and life couldn't return to it.

These dreams seemed larger than my own stuff – and I think I only had them because I danced in the darkness. What I mean is – what I'm trying to say is – it's all very well to enjoy the dark at Halloween with companionship and celebration - otherwise how would we get through the winter?

But what if there was a way – a necessary way - to find that dark space inside ourselves and to step into it. I mean – the space that isn't full of stuff. That space that isn't about having. The place that is just like the infinity of the oceans – that we mistakenly think is somewhere outside ourselves.

Examples? I eat more than I should, and I know that I do it because beyond doing it is the hunger that feels like a cold night outside alone. I have been frightened of losing my partner to others – because beyond that duet of complicity is the space that reminds me of death.

What are our points of safety beyond which we can feel that infinite darkness, and would it make a difference to the oceans if we could step past them?

That's my Samhain thought.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Sea Lament

There is a wound
too deep for tending
there where the ocean turns
the rending.
In the darkness, there we weep.

We are the torn
and faded graces
ribbed in desolation's faces.
In the darkness, there we weep.

We are the grief
the ocean hears
We are the living
tide of tears
In the darkness, there we weep.

Dark to the song
a blue unbounded
Dark to the depths
the sea be sounded
In the waters, there we weep.
In the waters, there we weep.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Song of the Albatross

upon the wave
a great expanse
of flowing cave
upon the land,
a turning bank
of burnished sand.

I am a great white gratitude,
upon the starry sea,
I see the ocean seven-tombed,
I see the world
the warders see.
the rolling rocks,
the stubborn skies,
the way the tender South wind lies,
the fish beneath,
the fish above,
the white canescent moon
I see the place,
the warder knows,
and knead the space
the wind has hewn.

I know the roaring patterns
of wind to lifted wing
the scale-enamoured oceans,
the fluxing shoals that ring against
the banked cliff face
a climate high
gull-scored with nesting song
around its feet,
a fishful foam
turning around
to rocky spume.
and when the stars
are gulfs of light
there comes the moon and I,
we glide the earth towards its girth
of ocean,
folding land to sky.

The things I see when flying
are maps of unspoke words
twixt krill and squid and shark and
life is a plexus shared by the speaker
death is a point that falls to the deep
opening out into limpets of light.

I journeyed through the journey
a million miles by sea
a million miles again by home,
and then I saw my broken bone.
I couldn't rise
I couldn't fall,
the human things
had thrown the pall.
lengths which catch the salty fish
and slam us in turn from our wings
reaching to the secret deep,
and thinking the enthundered meek

Shall I grieve
for broad white death,
slam to the keening grave?
In life and death
I field the planks
of earth and
greening waves.

A thousand, thousand slimy things
live on and so do I
I am the banks of rot
and feather
under the starry sky.

My death was like a greeting
of the ocean to the land.
My downward slant,
was ready
for the Kraken-kindled sand.
We are the journey bearers
we are the living shore
and when we cannot travel on,
when wings have gone,
we travel more.

Yet I would will,
my grey-white child,
to fly upon
my vital mile.
To keep my watch,
from sea to land,
to guard the salt-white glow.
Instead he was too young
and pecked at gibes of
flummoxed flow

There is no sin in dying
nor killing when done well,
but there are things within the sea
that rise and rise, and cannot swell.
That rise and rise and cannot fall
and rot with a bewildered pall.
The endless sea
is ribbed with bits
that cannot be entombed and stilled
the lightning map
is torn and rent
by that which has no way to end.

We were a great white gratitude,
upon the starry sea,
we saw the ocean seven-tombed,
we saw the world
the warders see.
The rolling rocks,
the stubborn skies,
the way the tender South wind lies,
the fish beneath,
the fish above,
the white canescent moon.
We saw the place,
the warder knows,
kneaded the space
the wind had hewn.

Yet oceanic maps of life
are darker than they were
blinded by the blinding patch
from an encumbered shore.
And I would wish my children life
and not the living death they bore.

For there aren't
albatross enough
to guide the years in.
There are not living birds enough
to hear the weeded wonder sing.
Each wind-scaped bird
is like a grip
which holds a scope of land to sea
and if the birds
are killed by ghosts
each folded place,
will then not be.

The map is growing darker now,
this is a thing I've said,
and I would wish my children life
yet know that they are dead.
And we who guard the tidal night
we hear the rising thunder
and still we watch and still we sing
with wings of flummoxed wonder.
And I might wish for more than flight
to see the deep come to the height
to turn against the living ghosts
to rout them from their watching posts
Yet I am steeped to wind and sea
I am the journey of the free,
I watch and then I living rise,
I rise and then I fall
for watching, flying, dancing, dying,
I can do no wonder more.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Words Rain

Words rain –
breaking  in the gutter
shattering our sutures
and transfiguring the ground.
We have been wearing our umbrellas,
We have been shrinking in our best,
We have been scarfed and laid to rest
but words rain

Words come and break the mirror
flowing deeper
than before
a sudden scattered light
a shard like-flight 
on wooden shore.
We had been sleeping in our shivers
And from pillar slung to pillar
But words rain.

Till we take upon our heads
A ragged cap of motley
Till we rise up from our beds
And throw open all our doors.
Till we whistle to our wolfhounds
Till we clamber to our cliffs
Till we trip the trap of starlight
Till we whet our aching lips
Tomorrow we riddle
Today we ring
Yesterday we were singing.
To words as they cling.
They rain the grass to ribbons
And they rain the o to moon
They rain the foaming pebbles
And they rain the liquid tune.
They rain the new believers
And they rain the falling fool
Whose leap off the cliff-face
Is kiss-faced
Is liquid
And bliss-faced
Is word-paced
As they rain
down the dawn.