From Acorns, Oaks (a haibun)

I was an acorn, many years ago,fallen from an ancient tree to the earth below.
One day Arthur came, dreaming of the land and his ambitious plans. Absent-mindedly he stooped, bowed down to me, reaching out a hand.

with heavy footsteps
men will come, their battle plan
disturbs the forests

He held me in his palm. I saw him softly smile. He placed me in his pocket
where it was dark and warm. He was not a king to me, he was just a man. I stayed with him throughout his golden age.

here amongst blossoms
they sit and speak of glory
petals softy fall

When Arthur fell,I fell too. He fell into his long sleep of death. I fell to my birth, pressed into the earth by a careless foot, an unwitting gardener pushed me into mud. I was cradled by the earth while the country still mourned.

cradled by the earth
in knowledge of high branches
I reached up to light

I reached up to light and became a sturdy oak. Now we are a forest. We whisper this old story as wind sighs through our leaves. My children tell the tale.

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View from Ward 10

In the past the Oak and Rowan grew
In that place that once I knew
The Silver Birch and Elder too
In whispering rows behind me stood

From this window now I watch
One lone tree against the sky
As I wait for time to pass
Pressed against this frosted glass

If perchance a winter tree
Is the last I ever see
I hope the woods remember me.

The Oak

where to go
when i am lost
i know i knew
it’s somewhere there,
beneath the oak

when the rain fell
though the leaves
i heard them splash
and felt refreshed,
shaded by tranquility

shelter still beneath the sun
green light filters
reaching branches high above
reaching always for the light

clear bright veins within the leaf
an open palm, resembling mine

Wayfarer

when i am fire
i burn away anger
when i am tree
i bend with the wind
when i am water
i wear away stone
and know all the wise ways of flowing

when i am cat
i narrow my eyes
when i am dog
i am joyfully willing
when i am horse
i turn with the wind
this is my freedom in going

when i am hare
magic is mine
when i am raven
i watch still and clear
when i am wolf
i see who you are
this is the seeing of knowing

i will leap, bend and flow,
run, turn and go
return as i please
see what i see
magnetic paths pull above treetops
clouds cap the mountains that hide me
dark cool shadows in water
hidden things amongst leaves
as i make my own journey
i follow these old ways alone

water is a life giving blessing
the trees shelter us, breathing
the lone wolf protects the pack
energy runs with the horse
the world is mirrored in the eye of the raven
hidden, unhidden, bidden, unbidden
the hare runs the path of the circle unbroken
running fleet foot in pastures and hills
on horseback i chase the illusive hare
while the raven sits still in the oak
and watches, waiting for me

 

 

Thanks for Poetry

thanks for the light on the walls and the taps

that light that shone through the kitchen window

when i was small and nothing was named

 

thanks for the lazy cat sleeping in sunshine

the cat i cared for as mine for a time

she gave me my first gentle knowledge of death

 

thanks to the brother dead before i was born

who taught me all a brother could be

a fantasy figure of unbroken virtues, Galahad vanished

 

thanks for daffodils that blazed in the garden,

giant hollyhocks, blood peonies, roses,

the gnarled apple tree branches and pears

 

thanks for the nursery school teacher

who tortured my mornings, her ice cold eyes

made me throw up at the approach to her door

 

thanks for the blackbird, the song-thrush, the night,

daisy chains, faery rings, the jackdaw in flight

the souls and spirits that danced in the garden

 

thanks for Arthur’s round table, Robins arrows,

my imaginary horse, all my hidden companions

who jumped out of old dusty leather-bound books

 

thanks for the love that i found here and there

and the help from unexpected places,

strangers, wise friends and wanderers all

 

and thanks for that mighty punch on the jaw

the blow that almost left me deaf in one ear

driving me inward to find myself in escaping

 

thanks for clouds, forests, mountains that rumble,

dogs that tumble in grass, running horses,

the endless crash of giant waves on the shore

 

ravens, seagulls, all things that fly,

the moments i saw true love shine in eyes,

the curve of a lip at the start of a smile

 

tangled limbs, sleeping faces, blessings,

grace, beauty, rivers that rush over stones,

my search for Excalibur out on the moors

 

daydreams, music, rhythms and words,

the strength of an oak, the willow that bends,

the magical, mystical weave of the world

 

i give thanks for will power, imagination and hope,

for knowing how to cope and survive

most of all i give thanks for being alive

 

Winter Solstice – Robin and Wren

As winter approached, the people watched the Sun creep lower in the sky, rising later and setting earlier, as if weary. Then the Sun seemed to stop entirely. Would it return again, climbing higher? Or had all its energy gone forever?

In some traditions, this weakening of the Sun is linked to the weakening of the old King. At Midwinter, the Holly King is at his low point. The Oak King, resting since his Midsummer defeat, comes again to challenge Holly to battle. At the Winter Solstice, the Holly King is defeated and dies, making way for the reinvigorated Oak King who will usher in the waxing of the renewed Sun.

The Holly King has as his emblem the wren, and the Oak King’s bird is the robin. Traditions surrounding robin and wren are many and ancient. “The robin and the wren, God’s cock and hen” have been linked in mythology and with Christian lore throughout Europe.

The wren’s heritage is more ancient and may have its origins in Saturnalia, ancient Rome’s fertility festival. During the week-long orgy starting on 17 December, the role of master and slave was reversed, moral restrictions removed and rules of etiquette ignored.

The wren was the king of birds in Greek mythology, so killing one at this time of year represented the end of the old season. Wren mythology made its way to Bronze Age Britain, where woe betide anyone who dared harm these sacred birds of prophecy.

Strange, then, that one of the oldest folk rituals, once widespread in Britain and still surviving in Ireland and parts of Europe, is the St. Stephen’s Day wren hunt. Perhaps this is because the wren is also associated with deception and treachery.  One widely held belief is that a wren alerted the guards when St. Stephen was trying to escape, causing his death.

On 26 December, ‘wren boys’ armed with sticks beat hedgerows until a wren was caught and killed. The bird was hung from the top of an elaborately decorated pole and paraded to every house. A feather was plucked and given to each householder as a protection against witches.

Today, mostly around Cork, children go “hunting the wren.” Its ‘corpse’ (usually an effigy) is put on a pole, or sometimes in a basket. Wren boys go from home to home displaying the dead bird and begging the woman of the house for money “to bury the wren.” In times gone by, the least generous house could have the bird buried under their doorstep.

A variation of the ancient Wren hunt involved putting Robin and a Wren in a small cage to fight. Perhaps this ties into folklore in which the wren represented the old year and the robin the new. Depending on the tale, the birds either friends or foe. The Robin is also associated with the Wren in stories of Cock Robin and Jennie Wren – harking back to the idea that they were the male and female of a single species.

An older story tells how the wren became king of the birds: Whoever flew the highest would rule. The wren hid in the back of the eagle who reached greater heights than any other. When the exhausted eagle could climb no further, the wren popped out to fly higher yet.

There is plenty of folklore around robins, in which they are linked with charity, compassion, good luck, bad luck, fire and death. Many stories explain the origin of his red breast, including Christian legends:  When Jesus was crucified on the cross, a robin flew down and removed a thorn from the crown on his head (or sang to him) to relieve his suffering. The blood of Jesus stained his throat and chest.

In a similar tale, a robin flew into the stables where the newborn Jesus and Mary slept.  The bird noticed the fire had almost gone out and fanned the embers, singing his breast feathers.  Mary blessed him for his courage, and his feathers grew back red in recognition.

An alternate legend says its breast was scorched fetching water for souls in Purgatory.  Acts of kindness by robins also appear in the poems of Wordsworth, Blake and other romantic poets.  In the Babes in the Wood folktale and poem, robins covered the dead with moss, leaves and flowers.

For good luck in the new year, make a wish on the first robin you see before it flies away.  He is king now, until the wren returns at Midsummer.

The old poem Cock Robin and Jennie Wren has many verses describing the courting of Jenny Wren by Cock Robin, their wedding, and its disruption by the Cuckoo, who tries to carry Jenny off for his own. The Sparrow, trying to defend Jenny, shoots and kills Cock Robin by mistake.

W.S. Gilbert created a pantomime based on this story, in which Robin is revived at the end and reunited with his Jenny. A great punster, Gilbert described the two lovers as follows:

Cock-Robin (the Bird who has been the burd-en of many a rhyme, the Cock that no one can be Robin of his fame whose he-red-itary red breast can be recognised by hen-nybody)

Jenny Wren (the little Wren who has ren-dered up her liberty to the Dicky-Bird of her heart and nearly breaks it when he hops the twig)

The Wren Song

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give him a treat.

Chorus:
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
And give us a penny to bury the wren.

As I was going to Killenaule,
I met a wren upon the wall.
I took me stick and knocked him down,
And brought him in to Carrick Town.

Droolin, Droolin, where’s your nest?
Tis in the bush that I love best
In the tree the holly tree,
Where all the boys do follow me.

We followed the wren three miles or more,
Three mile or more, three miles or more.
We followed the wren three miles or more,
At six o’clock in the morning.

I have a little box under me arm,
Under me arm, under me arm.
I have a little box under me arm,
A penny or tuppence would do it no harm.

The Wren She Lies in Care’s Bed

In this old Scots song the wren represents winter and the robin summer.  As winter dies with the coming of the New Year, robin cares for the ailing wren.

The wren lies in her sickbed
In much misery and pining
When in came robin redbreast
With breads in sugared water and wine
Robin says, ‘will you sip this?”
And you’ll belong to me
No, not a drop, robin
For it has come too late

The Sacrificial Rite

naked and bound at the foot of a tree

hands lashed to feet and kneeling

an embryo, a seed curled in submission

without resistance, i saw,

in the sacrificial rite

as time released me

 

in the woods the oak grows tall

the acorn falls to dark earth, maternal

stripped from the shell, the sapling springs

in the labyrinth of time, the wheel eternal,

in the vernal equinox, the turn,

up from the seed, limbs stretching

reaching to light, no death is here

take heart in the strength of oak

 

daffodils, toadstools, the bluebell

nothing of worth is ever lost

time gives life to the tender seed

to be reborn

you first must die

Nanswhyden

The white gate stands, closed,

at the top of the grey winding road.

The broad green slopes of the pasture

lead down to the shining lake,

a silvered mirror to sunlight.

 

At first dawn the vale fills with mist.

A line of treetops, drawn on white,

with a tender brush, nothing more.

All is hidden. Nothing exists here now.

It waits to be born with the sun.

 

An ancient woodland sits in shadow,

deep at the edge of the valley,

where the cry of the circling kestrel

splits the air. He calls to his mate aloft.

The sound defines the distance.

 

On a hot summer day

the grey road burns and shimmers,

running past old stone walls and banks of wild flowers,

wilting, in afternoon heat.

My feet on the road raise fine dust.

 

Woven into these hills the grey road runs down

past ruined ivy clothed archways.

They stand alone in a field,

all that remains of a mansion,

a home, and people long gone.

 

Beyond, is the farmhouse,

built of timber and granite.

It sits as if rooted in earth

nested into a curve,

strong enough to withstand any storm.

 

In the farmyard the mud is baked hard.

The old sheep dog twitches one ear as I pass.

He knows me too well to rise. He is tired.

His thick coated son wags his tail at me.

He is always on guard.

 

I walk on past my own cottage door

into a grove of birch saplings,

mingled with older trees, cedar and oak.

In spring this place is flooded with vibrant blue,

the sharp, pungent scent of bluebells fills the air.

 

In this magical wood, at the far end,

I have often glimpsed the fair folk.

They don’t chase me away. I leave them in peace.

This is a place where two worlds cross.

The door is held open, and welcome.

 

Now I come to rest in the shade

on this burning bright summer day.

I lean my back against the moss clad old oak

and dream the rest of the day away,

long past this, and every other, evening.

 

The old standing stone, at the heart of the valley,

remains always cool to the touch.

At night when the stars are out, in moonlight,

the stone is encircled, embraced by a perfect bowl

of such beauty, it takes away my breath.

Galeforce

woods on the hilltop groan and sway
gale blows in wild from the raging sea
pools of leaves whirl at my feet
branches crash down, world lifting up
drunken sailor riding a roundabout

stumbling, i cling to a creaking oak
this wind whips the world inside out
at the edge of the wood, mad scarecrow i stand
close to the cliff edge, mouth open wide

i swallow the ocean, breathe with the sea
facing the wind, words swept away
shouting, screaming, into the gale
Take me! Lift me! Let me fly!

lungs expanded, triumphant I rise
above the woods, tumbling in flight
blown with no sail, nowhere to fall,
dark clouds, hidden moon, stars spin in the sky
i grin, like a loon,
ecstatic fool