Winter sets in,
rubs his damp feet all through the laundry,
wipes his everwet hair with each handtowel,
breathes ice on my windscreen,
cries soggy complaints on my feet.
And somewhere we are lost
between fire and candle, lost
in the long, slow ordinary that yawns
Days blink; you miss the moment
of daylight, the chance
to dry out and be.
spans the gap between
now and the length of days you long for,
creeping up to you
in beggar's clothes,
with a leper's lips and the nagging
that you are caught in finitude, built
to stretch in timelessness,
bound by time, to give of time,
to bide time, to abide.
Bulbs in soil await the spring,
and fruit awaits the sun,
parched earth waits for thunderstorm
and watchmen wait for dawn.
Guilt awaits the gavel’s fall,
fear awaits the dreaded thing,
hope waits for what is not seen
and voices wait to sing.
The busy spirit does not wait;
“Time waits for no-one,” it will shout.
Impatience sooner dies than waits,
and reason tends to doubt.
My soul awaits the morning light,
as flowers droop until the day.
In fear and trembling I await;
make wilderness. Make way.
...we are almost ready to fall in love with our own desolation.
(Christina Rossetti, Seek and Find)
Whether height of summer or bleak midwinter, there’s death:
in bare-branched trees or brittle grass.
Fire or frost, the end’s the same,
both killers and destroyers alike.
And the greatest foe of all’s despair,
the sickness blighting not only this
but every future season’s crop.
There’s a sickness that can end in life,
that kills illusions, opens eyes.
Wisest farmers wait their time
and learn the seasons’ darkest signs.
Wiser still the one who turns
despair of here to hope beyond.
began with honeysuckle and clover,
the constants of the winter yet
rendered more redolent by the scents of September
and a bee buzzing about a flowering cactus
and ended with a downpour
that sent me rushing to the clothesline
while my son stood in his raincoat and listened
to the rain
with all things – rain, sun, bee,
child and flowers – held in the same sentence
and each given its time.
And so it starts over: our spinning way
Around the sun; our cycle of light, dark,
Hot, cold; plants losing, gaining leaves and bark.
If we hear what the seasons have to say,
It will be only their incessant bay,
Their insistant reminders – at the park
Or down the street – to heed the spark
Of summer light, and the dying winter day.
If dull the repetition, or senseless
The way we never move on or remain,
I will take a toddler’s view and address
The new day with the delight its maker
Feels when he sets the sun’s circuit to recur,
That this – all this – can happen again, again!
The garden holds promises, and I visit them daily:
minuscule at first,
fluffy, unsure, like
hesitant children, awaiting the world.
This is not quite their season:
the Rabbi knew as much,
yet visited expectant nonetheless.
And, as frost and dew recede, there they are,
peeping and proffering garden-bound joy.
Too early to pluck,
too much promise curse.
So I’ll visit them daily
until they can sing.
There hasn’t been a lot going on at The Consolations of Writing for the past few weeks: partly because the busyness of life has conspired against my being able to write very much but also because after three and a half years of managing this site I’ve been in the process recently of rethinking what I use it for. I’m in the midst, when time allows, of an extended writing project centred around faith, mental health and the fragmentation of 21st century life. Some of it is on the down low, but some can be found at a new site I’m trialling, sprawlpoems.wordpress.com. And, as that site slowly takes on its own identity, this site seems to be returning to some of its old roots: the question of how writing can bridge the gap between faith and life.
It’s a question I have asked for a long time, both in my own writing and reflection. And now it has a new shape: a doctoral thesis I am in the throes of, around the links between creative writing and adolescent well-being in schools – a topic close to my heart as both a teacher and a writer. So the new question that I’m toying with is this: what does it look like in my own writing for me to be exploring this topic?
The answer is not yet clear, though some ideas are slowly circulating in my mind. I’ll still be posting poems here, though they may have a different flavour. You can also read the poems I post at Sprawl. But there will also be some new ideas and approaches that I’ll be trialling here in the coming weeks and months. I hope you can all join me in the process!
I fought against the wind and, though I won,
It threw its debris all about the place,
Tossed hair asunder, tug-of-warred my face
And left me with a sense of being stung.
The wind did battle with the joys of sun,
Though still the early spring bore marks of grace
And, pulled this way and that, I caught the trace
Of hope which nonetheless had surely sprung.
While now I may be caught in gusts which fling
My fickle self wherever wind may blow
(And in my mind a battle may still fare
Though all the gales have settled), still I know
The smell of spring when it enters the air
And feel firm rock beneath in everything.
Poor leaves - gold before the sun is gone, heat-confused, your brothers green, fallen now before your time, the street lined thick with your mistake - leaves, lie still and wait. Last week summer ruled the street; spring creeps in, winter retreats. We mourned the heat, we dreamt the dreams that drove the leaves down to the ground. Autumn soul, poor autumn soul, let the seasons pass you by and rest a while in grace.
Uncommonly strong, it stays purple, while elsewhere the street is lined with debris from seasons which the trees soon forgot. Confused fig-leaves turn golden, drop to the ground as rain gushes gutters and sunscreen, umbrellas, opposites, swap in uncertain hands – yet lilac and stoic at the end of my street Jacaranda declares it is summer.
Today is something of an anniversary for me. Seven years ago, on this day, I wrote my first adult poem. I remember this because it was the last day of winter, and unusually warm. The poem was about a new crush after a long relationship had ended. I’m sure it would be highly embarrassing to look at now, not least of all because the crush in question went resolutely nowhere, but somehow the metaphor of unexpected spring seemed to fit the moment well. I suppose that, all cliches aside, it did.
I went on to write several poems about spring, but have not done so for some time. I became a little more ambivalent towards spring over the last few years. It seemed to draw me reluctantly out of my winter hibernation, when I, like an unsettled hermit, would much rather be left alone.
This spring is different. Much in my life is changing, and though I do not know where any of it will lead, I am slowly learning what it is to trust the God who orders all the seasons alike and purposes love through them all. Today’s poem looks at this idea. I hope you enjoy it.
And to those living in the southern hemisphere, happy last day of winter.
The Week of the Cherry Blossoms
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us…
(T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land)
And it will surprise us, this week out of nowhere,
Grey mornings and overcast noons replaced
With this unexpectedness of pink
Blossoms bespeckling trees fresh from winter,
A shower of tenderness covering limbs,
Pianissimo moment in spring’s overture,
The redness of leaves soon to take August’s place,
This week just one window of delicate peace,
After winter’s refuge from sunbeams.
No fear; the sun cannot harm us by day, nor
New growth take us where we would rather avoid:
The seasons work, hands held, together,
Guided by logic and purpose and love,
Not arousing or waking what’s better asleep
But harvesting hope as it springs.