Vestal Crone

In her late sixties now,
kneeling before the Iron box
glass-fronted,
soot stained,
she opens the door,

She faces 
the remnants
of an old fire’s ashes
left by he,
who the night before,
wove the magic
of metal on metal
striking the spark
to open the flames,
but he is not present now,
on a cold afternoon
when she and the night-black cat
desire the comfort 
and warmth of the dancing flames.

So, on her knees,
she cleans the glass,
the cloth taking the soot
to itself and leaving
the way clear
to see the fire’s glory.

Rolling up lengths of newspaper,
and wringing them like wet rags,
the deeds and misdemeanors
of days past 
squashed and rumpled,
are placed carefully
on the ash-bed,
a bit of thin kindling added,
and cotton ball
teased and pulled apart
complete the preparations,
awaiting only the striking
of metal to metal.

Spark, spark,
sparksparkspark
and the kindling catches,
now she feeds 
the slightly larger 
bits of wood,
and last of all
the fire logs,
and the door is closed,
secured
as flames dance.

Time to give thanks
for the gift of fire,
and begin the vigil
so the flames do not
splutter,
glow brightly,
die – 
for this is her true job,
to maintain the fire
for the day
to take off the chill,
to gladden the heart,
to challenge the cold of winter,
until the night comes
and in time the fire
is allowed to fall away
into glowing embers
and at finally to grey ash
for the night.

Until, 
the morrow, 
when fire is once more 
coaxed to life
in the iron box,
glass-fronted,
soot stained.

Remembering the Future

I was once told:
Remembering the past is easy,
it’s remembering the future
that’s difficult.

Those words have
haunted and challenged
me for many years now,
during which time
I have struggled
to come 
to terms with
the gift of triple vision – 
of seeing the now,
but always in the light
and in the shadow
of the then and the yet.

There is no
written guide 
passed down,
passed along, 
merely
stumbling along as best
as possible
hoping this technique
is adequate, 
knowing that it is not.

How is it
that I arrive 
at these places
of semi-understanding,
quasi-comprehension
out of my depth,
facing the breadth
of clear perception and
shaded sight,
opening 
like a giant maw
of uncertainty before me?

Questions 
unanswerable,
barely asked
as I move beyond
the mist held past
and toward
the fog shrouded future.

Wood Burner

Molten crimson velvet
sloughing ash
delicately grey,
irregular pulsations,
silent throbbings,
vermillion to black.

Fire.
contained
in an iron box
with a viewing glass,
appearing tamed – 
illusion.

Flames lick.
Flames dance.
Flames reach 
and retreat
in yellows, purples,
oranges, blues,
radiating heat,
drying clothes,
removing moisture.

Fire.
Held.
Contained, barely.
Always like the sea
untameable, 
wild, 
unpredictable,

Fire grabbing the air,
pulling to itself wood,
devouring,
all 
the while
random sparks
ascending,
in hiss, spit, crackle.

Flame consuming,
irreverent, uncaring
tumbling down
fireworkings,
a cascading aurora
in a box,
mesmerising
magical,
menacing,
drifting in place
needing no sky
for its dancing.

In reality,
we know so well now,
fire is a predator,
consuming and violent,
yet also
the paradox
when contained,
fire can be
friendly, warming, comforting. 

 

Feather on the breath of God

Here is my introduction of a sequence of four poems inspired by my personal and idiosyncratic experience of Hildegard of Bingen, her life and her varied works.

I first came into contact with Hildegard when I was at university studying Mediaeval History and Literature. I spent a lot of time in the 12th century, Hildegard’s century. Even at that time I came to her life and works from inside the church box, albeit an Anglican one. For nearly a quarter of a century, however, I have been engaging her works as a pagan, specifically as a Druid, as one of my ancestors of spirit.

This, naturally, colours how I approach what she says and more importantly how she says it. It is the reason I am picking up Latin again, for the third time and now after thirty-four years, because I want to translate and read her words from very far out of the box into which she is confined by the church.

It will take some time to achieve this, but I want to see how she reads with a very different light shone on her. I believe it will be illuminating in more ways than one. From these readings I know will issue further poems than the four I am setting out here.

From how I understand and perceive her, she both more and less than what the current Hildegard ‘craze’ makes her out to be. She was a woman of contradictions and contrasts. She was fierce and formidable as well as faith-filled, potent combinations for a woman at any time, let alone the 12th century.

By way of elaboration – in the second poem of the sequence I use the word: viriditas, a Latin word that means essentially greenness. Hildegard, however, makes it her own by extending its meaning, in various translations rendered as: freshness, vitality, fertility, fecundity, fruitfulness, verdure, or growth. In her understanding, viriditas is a metaphor for spiritual and physical health. It is a word and concept as multi-faceted as the woman who used it so creatively, and it says so much about Hildegard’s approach to life and to belief.

Feather on the Breath of God – for Hildegard of Bingen

One

When you stood 
before the archbishop of Mainz
being questioned,
interrogated,
challenged
regarding your visions – 

You responded:
I am a feather on the breath of God.

Ironically,
or perhaps most fortunately,
the learned churchmen
never really understood,
would have found it
quite impossible 
to understand – 

What a feather, 
not a soft downy one
nor a flashy ornamental one . . .

Oh no . . . 
You were a flight feather,
strong and unyielding,
a feather that took you far,
enabled you 
to fly,
soaring with your musics,
allowing you 
to travel in your visions,
discovering 
the mysteries of life,
revealing
the wonders of nature,
probing the secrets
of the Divine.

Oh yes . . . 
A feather on the breath of God
you may have been,
but ooh what a feather.

We will never really know
what the archbishop thought
at your assertion,
maybe:
ah . . .
a docile abbess,
a humble leader of nuns,
a dutiful daughter of the church.

They were, of course,
both right, and so very wrong,
for you were
a strong willed,
migraine suffering woman,
who did not relent,
nor acquiesce in the face
of the wrongs of the church
as they pertained to you
and your community.


A feather on the breath of God –
indeed!

Two

You were overawed
by the power and necessity,
physically and spiritually,
of what you termed 
viriditas; 
and in these times,
your message 
takes on a different deep hue,
your viriditas means 
so much more now
as we see the fragility
of ecosystems
and engage in environmental
degradation.

Or,
did you see so far ahead,
see things you
knew you could not 
write in full?

People are meant to be green – 

Out of context,
or is it?
Do we know with certainty
the context of your visions
couched in language
and explanations
that preserved them for us?

Three

Doctor of the Church
you were made,
one more and final
attempt to make you safe – 
to sequester your thought
and constrict the understanding 
of your words,
attempting to hold firmly 
in an ecclesiastical grasp
what you said,
what you saw,
what you knew.

Still – 
your feather 
remains a flight feather,
for you can still soar
and your word-wings 
beat above and beyond
how the church chooses
to interpret you.

Your antiphons and responses,
sequences and hymns also ascend
far above the abilities 
of male voices;
you wrote musics
only women can sing,
leading them
to fly with you
above the ranges of men’s
comprehending,
taking them
to the realms
of the Divine.

Four

Your word-wings,
powered by your flight
feathers rising on God’s breath
bring you to our times,
where you have become famous,
because you were,
eight centuries ago,
a woman who dared
to go beyond the limits
that sought to restrict you – 
you wrote chiding letters
to the powerful,
both clerical and secular,
you preached 
abroad in the Rhineland,
you stood your ground
against interdict and proscription,
for neither your conscience,
nor your voice
could easily be confined.
and certainly not silenced.

Oh yes . . . 
You were a feather on the breath of God,
a strong feather,
flight feather,
quill feather
that did not gently fall to earth,
but took you soaring
where now we may,
and indeed must,
follow,
for your words ring out
timely and clear:

People are meant to be green.

The earth must not be destroyed.

Oscar Cat

This afternoon I helped a friend inter the ashes of her beloved cat, Oscar, who had to be escorted to the Pearly Catflap on St Francis Day - 4th October. It was his time as he was suffering from heart failure. Oscar was a real character and is much missed.
Oscar Cat ~

Rest gently now and at peace
in the ground
of your guarding.
May the earth you knew and prowled in life,
hold your remains safely in death.

On the far side of the Pearly Catflap,
may you experience 
the companionship of you Catcestors,
at the place where
Bastet-Ailuros presides,
and all cats,
wild and tame, great and small,
who have gone before you
find welcome and release.

If you would like to use the words I created for Oscar Cat for your own feline companion at his or her burial, please feel free to do so.

We

We,
the modern people,
suffer the dusk,
challenge the night,
anticipate the dawn,
hoard the day.

We are divided from wholeness.
We are alienated from the holy.
We are strangers before the sacred.

Our souls 
are uncomfortable in our skins.
We are,
made ourselves,
allowed ourselves to become
prisoners
locked away from 
the wonder, wisdom, wildness
of earth and sky.

Our ancestors would not recognise us
as their relations,
because we are not related 
to the world around us,
the world that surrounded them.

Though we have maps,
GPS and satnavs,
we are lost,
we have wandered
far off the path
of authentic being.

For without gadgets and gimmicks,
our ancestors knew where they were,
they knew their place,
could find their way
to what mattered most.

They,
the ancient ones,
awaited the dusk,
respected the night,
relished the dawn,
cherished the day.

A Gasp and a Sign

 
 Overnight
 unseen arriving
 the one, the only
 snowfall 
 to mark the season’s
 presence and passage.
  
 Soppy, slushy, slippy
 already retreating,
 but snow nonetheless,
 an unusual occurrence
 in The Levels where
 the land rests low
 and the water table rides high.
  
 Snowdrops appeared
 a few days prior
 delicate blossoms
 bright green and white
 against the muddy woodchip,
 though made of sturdy stuff,
 these harbinger flowers.
  
 Together
 for a moment
 ephemeral snow
 enchanting snowdrops,
 Winter’s last gasp,
 Spring’s first sigh. 

Mulch for Memories

 
  
 Time
 does not behave
 now as it used to,
 or perhaps, just maybe
 from such slowing down
 its behaviour 
 is more noticeable.
  
 Bound in places,
 held in spaces
 what happens
 to spacetime,
 when space contracts,
 time constricts?
  
 Seeing no one,
 unless observed remotely,
 from windows walking past,
 or in virtual space 
 in real time – 
 What then is real?
 What is time?
 What is space?
 Or 
 Where is real?
 Where is time?
 Where is space?
  
 What have we become?
 Who are we becoming?
  
 Going nowhere beyond the shop,
 necessities seem more necessary,
 for they are the reason
 to leave one’s space for a time,
 venturing to other places
 masked and distanced.
  
 Unable to trust anyone,
 who knows when or whether
 a stranger or a friend
 carries the contagion,
 making us wary
 as in every moment life’s time
 for each individual
 crawls and scurries onward.
  
 What is lost of time’s trajectory,
 no less precious for its ephemerality,
 no less regretted for what feels like
 its wasting,
 differently experienced now
 slipping past day on day,
 hour by moment
 for a nearly a year gone forever?
  
 Shards, scraps, shreds
 of time tumble
 in free fall as
 autumn’s leaves
 landing silent and mostly unremarked
 forming mulch for memories.
  
   

The Trees are in Repose

 Winter now,
 whether by light, 
 temperature or precipitation,
 and the trees know.
  
 Walk in a woodland,
 an orchard, a forest,
 or stand by a tree,
 listen, sense, engage
 what the tree lives now –
 it is time to rest, 
 it is time to connect deeply
 with the nurturance
 of the land
 where roots sent deeply,
 rapped in mycorrhizal blankets,
 sustain and strengthen,
 preparing for the spring awakening
  
 Winter now,
 whether by light, 
 temperature or precipitation,
 and the trees know.
  
 Trees teach that always pushing out,
 always reaching up,
 always producing,
 is not a show of power, 
 is not a badge of strength,
 is not s sign of wisdom,
 for trees, 
 many far longer lived than humans,
 spend time each year in winter
 in quietude,
 no leafing, 
 no twigging, 
 no flowering,
 no fruiting,
 all of which have a season,
 have a place and purpose,
 but the purpose of winter,
 this is different.
  
 Winter now,
 whether by light, 
 temperature or precipitation,
 and the trees know.
  
 Listen and learn
 from the trees this year;
 this winter slow down,
 allow time for renewal,
 experience quietude,
 reach deeply for what
 truly nurtures and sustains,
 and know what the trees
 have always known –
 you cannot be powerful,
 strong or wise if you do not.
  
 Winter now,
 whether by light, 
 temperature or precipitation,
 and the trees know.
  
  
  
  
  
   

Teaching to Lose

How we teach our children how to lose is now almost more important than teaching them to win.

The world is watching in horror and disgust as a man who has fairly lost refusing to accept that loss is possible. This seems in large part due to his family upbringing and dynamics, but it is lesson for everyone – teachers, parents, adults and children – that winning is not everything.

How this can be accomplished I have no idea, but that is must be done is beyond question. We are at a juncture in human history where always winning and having everything we want, that bigger is better and enough is no sufficient, is no longer tenable. Every year having to have the latest mobile phone, a smart TV, a better tablet is destroying the planet and costing the lives of those who must mine the rare elements that these sorts of devices require.

I remember in the 70s there was a movement focused on voluntary simplicity and something similar, perhaps, needs reviving or reinventing to suit today’s challenges.

We need to learn that faster is not better. Over here in the UK, the faster is better model is destroying ancient woodlands. It is cutting down oak trees that at hundreds of years old, and at the rate of climate change I doubt that the coming environment will be suitable for oak trees who are young now to live long enough to be hundreds of years old.

Faster is better is all part of winning at all costs. And it is destroying our planet and our politics. It is destroying the goodwill of nations and individuals within them.

We must learn that slower is alright and that losing, well, it happens and being gracious in defeat is a huge statement about the person who concedes, as it is when the winner is not affirmed and is derided.

There is not much time left for us to get these lessons and to teach them. If we do not then . . .