The Hippo Moment

Step by step
moving the surface interface
from air to water,
sliding into an alien
yet not unfamiliar medium,
warm surrounding water
strangely supporting the body

Buoyancy,
from long ago
a feeling recalled,
the facility for deeply held
memory kicking in,
before birth
this sensation recognised
again as known
when eons before
the only place.

Memory,
of fear and thrashing,
not a distant life
but this one
bathed in anxiety
fretting afraid to leave
the security of the side
for deeper waters.

Encouragement,
reassurance
in holding onto the confidence
of another for whom
the medium of terror for me
is one of pleasure and freedom,
slowly learning to trust
the presence and the voice
that it can be done,
head under the surface,
glide, kick, stroke, breathe
head under
blow bubbles
reach and turn to the side
breathe,
suddenly it seems
swimming.

Now comes enjoyment
relaxation and achievement,
otter companions unseen
enter the pool causing
mischief chitting encouragement
showing how easy
it is to be in water,
laughter at slow success.

Lesson done,
high fives and weariness,
for it is well into evening,
sliding into the night,
time to go,
time to change the mediating
medium of being once more,
taking the steps,
almost weightlessness
alters in the moments
step by step
trading selkie skin
for the human one,
another transformation
there is the time between
being water borne
and once more air held
a sudden awkwardness
when gravity is once more
felt with every bone and muscle
weightedness returns.

Ah, the hippo moment.

I dedicate this poem to my amazing swimming instructor Kelly Deakin. The invisible otters and ‘The Hippo Moment’ as I called it made us laugh. A big thank you!

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Incoming

In the dark beyond
our doors tight shut
celebrating bonfire night
hear
whistles in the night
a moment of silence
then pop and bang
explosions
boom boom boom
again again again
harmless when careful
see
sparkling fireworks display
colour illuminates the sky.

Tonight
in dry lands
in inhospitable places
in alien locales
infants children teens adults elders
Mosul and Aleppo,
hunker down
cower
nowhere to hide
hear the sounds
ring out
bombs rockets mortars
rain from sky
reach from sea
erupt from land,
endure shellfire.

Feel —
fear terror shock,
witness —
injury
death
loss
destruction
horror,
know —
unspeakable actions
unutterable results,
hellfire.

In tonight’s darkness
as we hear
whistles
silence
pops
bangs
booms,
sprinkling awe
cascading light
it is impossible to ignore
these are no threat.

Winter Arrived

Rain falls.
Mist rises.
Clouds glower.
Sun hides.

Winter.

The outside world contracts.
The inside world expands.
Darkness overtakes daylight.
Morning shortens.
Evening disappears.

There is day.
There is night.
Dawn shrinks.
Dusk vanishes.

Only two times now:
shortened day,
lengthened night.

Winter arrived
damp and dank,
cloud shrouded,
sun starved.

When the golden warmth
appears
suddenly,
an unexpected afternoon
of sunshine
fleeting glorious heartening,
before clouds once more overtake,
dropping temperature,
stealing our illusioned sky
turning vibrant blue to dull gray,
a new pattern
autumn well and truly gone,
replaced subsumed forgotten.

Horizontal rain
wind borne
lashes whips rages
reality tipped sideways longwise
playing with our minds
toying with our souls
dampening our spirits . . .
unless until
acceptance.

Welcome the time of retreat
when dark and chill
replace light and warmth,
preparation for regeneration;
face discomfort
to shatter complacency,
accept lessons
in softer seasons ignored,
embrace the work of winter,
learn not to fear darkness
but to cherish light.

Winter the harsh season.
Winter the winnowing season.
Winter when then and yet
hide forcing the now
into shard-sharp relief
focusing what is most important
no frills no embellishment no decorations
can hide us from ourselves.

Allow the trees’ austere forms
to show what we avoid —
that we too stand naked
before the cold truths unavoidable
we are vulnerable
we are fragile
we are capable of hope.

We say we know

We say we know,
but we do not understand the way,
we do not perceive the paths
torqued and tortuous
through the deeply shadowed
regions of the self,
the secretly inhabited
landscape of the soul,
the mysteriously wrought
structure of the heart,
where desires dwell
where hopes haunt
where wishes wander
unvoiced unfulfilled unannounced
to the consciousness of the mind,
which could not bear the revelation,
could not endure the unveiling
of the hidden terror
of the unacknowledged fear
of the dangerous truth,
that we are all more
than who we appear to be
and less than we believe we are.

Do I exist?

If you refuse to acknowledge me,
does that mean I do not exist,
I have no worth or value
past or present in your life?

If I greet you and you ignore me,
does that mean what we shared,
all those years had no worth or value,
that our time together had no meaning?

If you grimace when you see me,
does that mean I am beneath contempt,
and my very being is somehow
offensive and hateful to you?

I do not understand,
I fail to see how a smile,
a simple act of kindness,
would despoil your grand new life,
unless it would fracture
your carefully placed notions
set around you now as a fortress
to keep at bay the fear,
to protect against the guilt,
to shield against the questions
and reality you have never faced
as you yielded to the temptations
of the flesh and for them abandoned
the intentions of the soul.

A Day History is Being Made

My alarm went off at 0700 this morning, as the polling stations in Scotland were opening. It is a day history is being made.

I live in the southwest of England. I have lived in Orkney, on one of the outer islands. I have travelled though Scotland many times and spent time there. I have my own opinions about the referendum, but that is not what I have been reflecting on, nor what I woke up this morning keenly aware of looking out at the low clouds through my bedroom window.

This morning I feel the weight of history. Trained as an historian I have read a lot of the patterns of change and the alternations in the fates and trajectory of nations. What I am most aware of is the burden of change facing all of us who call at this moment the United Kingdom home. No matter what happens by this time tomorrow, or soon after, we will all know in what way the difference in all our futures will be shaping.

All of us are living through what our grandchildren and our future descendants will be reading about in their history books. I know this is true of many things happening in the world right now, the actions of Russia and its agents in the Ukraine, the Ebola epidemic in the west of Africa, the ongoing and terrifying deeds of IS in Iraq and Syria . . . all these are making tears and ripping huge gaps in the tapestry of stability as we have come to perceive, or misperceive it in the geopolitical, cultural and social maps of our world as we have tried to come to terms with it in recent times.

But the Scottish referendum is here. It is now. It is happening in our own country. What it will mean, let us be honest, neither side really knows. There are projections and modelling from both sides of the issue. What is undeniable is that it means uncertainty and dis-ease for many months and years to come. Perhaps because this vote and the journey to it have happened in such a public way, in such a disciplined and carefully argued and negotiated way that it seems unlike the chaotic and disorder way such events have occurred in the past. But there is the anxiety of chaos and disorder underneath it, there are the currents of passion and footfalls of fear sounding not far below the surface.

History is being made today. Yes or No, it is history shaping into the future very close to home. We may have been aware of it vaguely or acutely with other actions or votes or treaties before, that our movement onward would be altered, but somehow this feels different.  Perhaps it is just me and the way I perceive and sense and feel the shiftings of energies. But there is a weight today pushing down all around and even so far away from where the choice is being made it feels like there is a collective holding of breath. A sense of worry. A presence of deep unease. The palpable feeling of hope and the testing of trust.

Whatever way the vote goes, some of this feeling will be around for a very long time.

Right now I am going to get dressed and go for a walk. I am going to visit Rev’d Mother, an old oak tree of my acquaintance who has lived through much history, who is wise and insightful. I seek her out today for a sense of deep continuity to balance the disrupted energy all around me. I seek her out and the gods and ancestors for their wisdom and perspective that is far deep and broader than mine.

The world is not ending because of the referendum in Scotland. But something may do. And with such an ending at stake it is important that I seek and spend time with a being who has endured as we all shall do. We shall endure and carry on because it is what we have done. Even in the face of change, to whatever degree, it is how we have survived. It is how we have lived through the ravages of history and it is how we shall live into the future being shaped today. Each and every day we wake up to and with the potential to make what happens in all our tomorrow different. It is something that is so easy to forget, but that is one thing that the Scottish referendum has given all of us, a reminder that we have choices to make and courses to set for ourselves, doors we can open and those we may close as we write our own personal histories minute by minute, day by day.

Ah, the mist is lifting and the sun is beginning to shine.

I am the last one

Am I the last one? Have the others been lost now?

I have traversed the flyway for several years now, making my way back to the grounds of continuation and have found no others like me.

Am I the last one? Are the others all gone?

It has been my fear. Now it is my reality.

I lost one mate to the report of a rife, another to the hurling of a stone. I escaped, but I was then alone. The last mate I lost to starvation, for the sources of our food were no more. I lost my last brood to poisoned bait set for others, vermin they call them. Fellow creatures trying to make their way in a world where are no longer valued I say.

This is the last year I shall fly. I am weary and alone. Lonely. This is the last year I shall chase the dream of finding another with whom to mate or challenge. This is the last year that any shall hear my plaintive call, the last year that my song will sound through the wooded edges, the meadowed margins.

This is the last year that I shall live.

It is the last year that my kind shall be.

Extinction they call it. Extinguishment of the light of our species soul, is what is really is. There will never be another of me. For all of time, for all of forever, in all of eternity there will not be one like me again. We were not a fancy bird. We were not flashy. We were not formidable. We were just an ordinary brown bird, not too big, but big enough that there are those who thought it sport to shot us and little though it was, some food for their hungry families in a world too crowded with your kind and where famine swept through trying to redress the imbalance.

How can I describe what it is like to sing, sing to the wind and leaves and the sky? How can I explain to you what it feels like to call, in desperation and aching loneliness for another of your own kind, and there to be no answer? How can I try to tell you, who are responsible for this that you could have prevented my fate – that you could have acted sooner, behaved differently, lived in a way that made it safe for your children and mine? How can I speak to you who do not and cannot ever be the last of your species ever to be alive, ever to see the sun rise, watch the sun set, feel the wind and rain over your body? Rain weeping with you at the immanent prospect of your annihilation and demise.

It has been attempted by some of your own kind against others of your own kind, it may have happened to some of your distant ancestors from millennia ago, for you have done ethnic cleansing, targeting particular populations. And, if as a species you are able to do that, what chance did my kind ever have when we became scarce, rare, endangered?

I will not any longer try to make you feel guilty. For now, that will not save me, though on reflection it might save another, something bigger like snow leopards, tigers, rhinos, elephants – but they are big and take up more space they we ever did. I am a small being. I hold little hope.

I am unlucky to be just a plain brown bird, nondescript. I am unlucky to have a niche environment. I am unlucky to be a migrator to and from places that have become both perilous and toxic.

I will now sing one more song, a long song of lamentation and despair. I will sing one more solo where there should have been a chorus. I will sing once more for a mate because I must, though I know that there are none to respond. I will sing one last time in defiance of another to try and challenge my territory, though I know there are none to answer my challenge.

I sing now and will let my heart burst in the effort. May you farewell, fare better than . . .