Cry of the Clay

Does the lump of clay tremble at the thought of becoming a pot?
Does it apprehend why it has to be kneaded and slapped into shape,
Softened by being slammed against a hard surface, pulled
And kneaded yet again?

Does it scream in pain as it is thrown onto the potter’s wheel,
Spun round and round at dizzying speed,
With the potter’s hands shaping and moulding it,
Digging into it,
Raising it higher and higher until it attains the desired form?

And as it rests, drying out after that ordeal, parched,
Has it any idea of what it’s about to go through
In the kiln, not once but twice?
And when it is finished, and stands as a glazed vessel,
Beautiful, useful, delicate or strong,
Does it have any regrets?

Feline Manipulation

Two reasons for posting this poem here:

  1. My posts are beginning to sound depressing so here’s something cheerful.
  2. This one really belongs on my Cats and Catterel page, as it’s a classic example of what that page is about, but that page is also becoming unwieldy so I’m putting it here as well. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of being on a Cat’s staff will understand what I’m describing here

 

I’ll sit by my bowl quite discreetly
Waiting for something to sup,
I will sing for my supper so sweetly
They’ll hurry to make me shut up.

Then I’ll sit on the windowsill inside
And scratch on the pane with my paws
When they let me go out, on the outside
I’ll scratch it again with my claws.

When I feel like some fussing and petting
I’ll crouch on their tummies and purr
Kneading and pounding and getting
Them mesmerised till they can’t stir.

Sometimes, just for amusement,
I’ll wind round their ankles and feet
As they stagger around in bemusement
I’ll beat a nimble retreat.

I sleep in the most awkward places:
The dog’s bed is better than mine,
So I jump in and make snarly faces
To show him he’d better resign.

I know there are times when they cuss me
For keeping them all on their toes
But more often than not, they just fuss me –
Why? A secret nobody knows!

I am The Cat, so superior
To anyone else on the scene.
I know and you know you’re inferior:
So acknowledge me, please, as The Queen.

Age and Wisdom

Old men grown wise agree
When wasted muscles fail
That laying down their arms
And talking should prevail;

But younger men will fight
And pit their strength wholesale,
Will maim and kill to win –
And words will not avail.

Some older men, less wise,
And boastful although frail,
Send younger men to die
On an ever greater scale.

Harbingers

Across the blue sky
With its cuddly cauliflower clouds
Roaring like thunder
Like thunder deafening
Splitting the peace
Of our sparsely-populated valley
Fighter jets rehearse war

Then silence

Deafening silence

Suddenly broken as ears re-open
To the murmur of the stream
Twittering sparrows
And the sudden shriek of swifts
In rapid patrouille formation
Shooting like a screaming hail of arrows
Across the blue sky
Beneath the clouds

Nature imitating horror.

Low-flying swallows
They say
Herald a storm
Clouds gather grey
Thor’s hammer strikes
Deafening thunder roars

Nature imitating horror.

 

The Pigeon-Loft

This ought to be on my Black Country Page, but that is getting rather unwieldy, so I’m posting it here.

Pigeon fancying was one of the most popular pastimes among working-class men in the Black Country when I was growing up. Many a terraced house had a pigeon-loft in the backyard, and on Saturdays the men would wait eagerly for their prize homing pigeons to return from some far away place, grunting and grumbling under their breath as the pigeon landed, dawdled, and finally stepped into the loft – because only then could it count as having arrived. As council estates sprang up, with clean, modern houses, neighbours started to complain that the pigeons were unhygienic and the lofts an eyesore, so many pigeon-fanciers were obliged to give up their hobby. 

‘Ere, gimme a pint o’ bitter, Joe!
Cuz it’s bitter I’m feeling at the mo’
They say I’ve gorra, but I wo’
            Move me pigeon-loft.

Them faithful bairds ‘ave allus cum
Back to the plairce they know as wum
An’ it’s mekkin me feel bloody glum
              To move me pigeon-loft.

W’eer’ll they goo if the loft ay theer?
Yo cor tell a pigeon it’s gorra steer
A different course as it’s took all year
             Cuz they’ve moved me pigeon-loft.

This tale of woe cast a pall of gloom
On all the blokes in the pub’s back room
For Bob’s prize pigeons met their doom
             When they moved ‘is pigeon-loft.

 

Ivory Tower

IMG_6670

You see me sitting in my chair
And think I’ve always been like that,
Weak and wrinkled, thin grey hair,
Deaf, dim-eyed, and run to fat.

When you see me close my eyes
And think I’m falling fast asleep
Or preparing for my demise,
I’m often in my castle’s keep.

We build our days up like a house
With rooms we furnish through our life,
With places where we can carouse,
Or suffer, grieve, know joy and strife.

Oh yes, my life was rich and long:
My days have built a mighty fort
With turrets, towers, tall and strong,
With chambers, halls, a busy court.

Now, in days of enforced leisure
I can roam through rooms at will
Recalling moments that I treasure
Reliving times of good and ill.

Within these rooms I meet old friends
Long dead and gone, but in my mind
The happy hours we used to spend
I conjure up as I feel inclined.

Once again I dance and sing,
Love, live and laugh as in my prime.
Don’t pity me for anything:
I’ve built a palace with my time.

There is only one human race

No man is an island, entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main:
If a clod be washed away by the sea
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manor of thy friends,
or of thine own were;
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation XViII 1624

John Donne

Quoted so often, people nod sagely and agree, then forget.

But right now, these words should be engraved on everyone’s brain, their sense and meaning hammered into us. They are as true, even truer in our globalising world, than they were 400 years ago when Donne wrote them on his sickbed.

Whether we are referring to Brexit or ISIS (remember those?), the Corona virus and various forms of lockdown, or the recent inexpressible events that have lit the powder keg of protests, violence and horror in the USA and Hong Kong, these words apply.

The funeral bell tolls. Every time a person dies, each one of us is something less than we were because we are all part of a whole. Selfishness, arrogance, hatred, violence can only lead to the destruction of us all, body, soul and spirit. The bell tolls. Heed it.

Dawn Chorus

Chestnut tree and 17th century mil (1629)l, on the site of the ancient mill and smithy,
Schmidgasse, Kurzdorf, Frauenfeld (Switzerland)

In the dim dusk before dawn
Pours birdsong of blackbird, robin, thrush
From the richness of the chestnut tree where
Red torches bloom.
A thousand years ago
Along this dusty lane
The same song thrilled the same pale air
In the forebears of this tree.
Here trudged and trotted farmers,
Peasants, burghers, all
To mill and smithy:
Here still stands a mill
Its clattering wheel long gone, and
The smith lives only in the name
Of this small lane.
A thousand years in a twinkling of an eye
In the song of the birds
And the blooms of the chestnut tree.

Blood on your Hands

The images have started pouring in on us again in news reports of the carnage being inflicted by Turkey on North Syrian Kurds and anyone else caught in the crossfire. In particular, the sight of the Syrian woman refugee in Akçakale whose baby son was killed by a mortar this week reminded me of this poem by Nelly Sachs, which I translated several years ago.

Those in power with blood on your hands, will you never stop?

Already wrapped in the arms of heavenly solace
stands the demented mother
with the rags
of her tattered mind,
with the cinders of her burnt brain,
laying her dead child in his coffin,
laying her lost light in his coffin,
bending her hands to bowls,
filling them from the air with the body of her child,
filling them from the air with his eyes, his hair,
and his fluttering heart –

then kisses the air-birthed babe
and dies!

German Original:

Schon vom Arm des himmlischen Trostes umfangen
Steht die wahnsinnige Mutter
Mit den Fetzten
ihres zerrissenen Verstandes,
Mit den Zundern ihres verbrannten Verstandes
Ihr totes Kind einsargend,
Ihr verlorenes Licht einsargend,
Ihre Hände zu Krügen biegend,
Aus der Luft füllend mit dem Leib ihres Kindes,
Aus der Luft füllend mit seinen Augen, seinen Haaren
Und seinem flatternden Herzen –

Dann küßt sie das Luftgeborene
Und stirbt!

Ignorance

How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

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Photo by Aveline

Crammed in the confined cabin of our senses
How can we humans know infinity?
We move within our limited defences,
Attempt in vain to chart eternity.

What arrogance that claims to seek for knowledge
Or understanding of the vast beyond,
One tiny glimpse outside our goldfish bowl
Into the endless universal pond.

Our selfish drives determine and degrade us
And meanwhile conflict rules within our bounds.
The peace pervading heaven must evade us
Till altruism triumphs and abounds.

Escape the ego, silence inward chatter,
And focus on the things that really matter.