Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Foremost: A Poet

April, so nearly gone, was National Poetry Month in the USA, and to celebrate, an American poet, Jeremy, and I set about on a collaboration to exchange three poems each, on the topic, 'Growing Season', they may or may not end up published ... See what you think ... !

Jeremy to Mary on April 1, 2014
This Would Be a Kentucky Poem, but We’ve Come South to Spend
a Week with My Parents in Louisiana Because the Winter’s Been Cold
Spring comes early to north Louisiana,
the redbuds and dogwoods are green by April.
Hummingbirds are already on the move north.
The carpenter bees that nest in the eaves
are out and mating. We’ve come south for this warmth.
The kids, giddy with sun and light and barefoot 
play and the turtle in the pool’s green water, 
turn weeds into scepters and knight the carcasses
of the two that did not survive according
to the order of Those Who Have Gone On Ahead.
They chide the rabbits for gnawing the cabbage
in grandpa’s garden. When the cat leaves a headless
bunny at the door, they peer into the cavity,
at the heart and lungs, then sing a scolding song.
The camellia outside my parent’s bedroom
shed its petals when February’s freezing rains
came through. Mom said, it had been a year for blooms,
said she hadn’t seen the girl that pink and gaudy
since before mother passed, pity the kids
missed the party. Rather than mourn the loss,
they trade spent fuchsia petals like coin.

Mary to Jeremy on April 2, 2014
Pre-Conceived Ideas
Like ballast from a blimp
He fell at my feet
Before I did... .
"Sorry I'm late."
Summersaulting across my garden
Shaking pollen from the lazy hazel
Pulling back the privet
"Excuse me...!"
(Finding myself)
"You're not exactly ... "
"'Sephany sends her apologies ..."
Whipping back his white leather coat
In neon green capitals
Six inches high
On a BLACK Tee
" ... It's the vernal equinox you know.
Plays hell with her hay fever!
She's on vacation."
And he's off!
Sticking a soil thermometer
In the strawberry bed
Blowing a kiss at the cowslips
(That, I swear, blushed,)
And then, for some inexplicable reason,
Measuring the diameter of all the water lilies
And recording them
In millimetres
Faint, I slumped into the Victorian
Basket Chair.
"Tea?" I whispered.
Spring grinned.
"Why not?
After all, it's four o clock
And this is ENGLAND!"

Jeremy to Mary on April 14, 2014
May This Mr. Spring Fellow
may this Mr. Spring fellow / who has come
dressed in white leathers / neon green letters
emblazoned on his black t-shirt / some young
George crooning / he’ll wake you up / he promises
before  he goes & he won’t go until
summer grasses are tall / heavy with seed-heads
/ who you / swooning have invited to tea
in your garden / in full view of the priest
& the gossips / may this Mr. Spring fellow
not be a Mr. Willoughby / or Wickham /
may he come & stay / grow the plump belly
of a happy man / well-fed & lazy /
not so lazy that he forget to wake
the bees each morning / coax asparagus /
peonies up through last year’s dark / wet / leaves /
give him lemon curd from January’s batch /
rowan berry wine from September’s harvest /
let him know the sweet & bitter tastes of fall
/ winter / you have worried down his absence
into something rich / complex / let him know
/ come or go / you’re fine / you have chosen life

 Dear Poetry and/or Blog Social Media Editor

Please accept the next three, and final, poems from Mary and me. Again, I think I speak for the both of us, it has been a lovely way to spend the month.


Mary and Jeremy

Poem from Mary on April 21

Spring Bank Holiday Thunder Storm


Today I speak of Spring.

Not the quiet girlie Spring 
That arrives in a hush with
Sweet notes and gentle greens.


Today, Spring lets loose thunder claps
And rain that hits my window
Like nails. 

The song thrush, that lusty warbler
Sang forth the lightning:
Shouting down the drum rolls of
The clashing clouds.


Today's Spring, noisy, exuberant,
Chases me into the parlour and 
Keeps me at bay. 

I wait.

Sometime, before the sulking sun
Slips below the silver-grey -
So do  I, and 


The tree peony has burst white - 
A single blowsey bloom,
And the lilac -
Finally! breaks into purple. 
Bright enough  to make you look up and 



Poem from Jeremy on April 23

This Too Is Spring

Yesterday I dug up the nandina 
planted to hide the utility box. 

The cold this year was too severe
and the plant died back to the root.

Plus, we've never liked its toxic 
berries, spindly stems. Our neighbor's

ivy that grows over the fence 
and holds up the rickety wood 

died back as well and now I must 
replace the rotted slats to keep

our dogs from fighting. I grew up
on an island in the tropics.

And though I don't mind winter's cold, 
this year was harsh. The almanac 

says we're in for a hot summer. 
Yet only now have we come out

of drought, and surplus rains don’t work
that way. Lakes might fill, but a dry

June and July still bakes the ground,
still stresses the trees. There’s a shock 

that comes when the root of a plant 
you thought had been killed is severed 

and bright yellow sapwood shines through 
the dark dirt. It’s like when a spade 

slices a worm, the two red halves 
writhing. The hope these bits will grow 

new heads or tails does not soften
the shock of hacking a body

open. And not every cut ends
in regeneration. The roots

of the nandina are rhizomes,
that spread and crowd out native plants.

This propagation without sex
is like the regeneration 

of worms, and like worms not all roots
thrive, grab hold of the earth, and make

a new home, some cannot survive
long journeys and new latitudes.

Is nandina’s yes to life wrong?
I am trying to understand 

how to care for this plot of land
we have bought, what it means to be

from a place, from a place you are
not from. The nandina never

asked to be taken from the hills
of Asia, but it’s found a way 

to live through cold and drought, removed
from its ancient soil. I come from

a long line of travelers, we,
back and back and back, cast aside 

commitment to place. Can you, once
severing is your history, 

ever settle? I ask because 
this winter tempted me with dreams 

of the Caribbean, though I’m 
only almost from there. I ask 

because this summer’s heat will break 
records, the consuming fires 

that move us from place to place fuel 
storms, drought, and cold. I tell myself 

uprooting nandina to plant 
native species is a violence 

that will help heal the earth, but then
this language scares me. Forgive me, 

you sent a peony poem
with purple lilacs and laughter,

that plays with Chaucer and Hopkins, 
that joys in the rains of April

and how the timber of a thrush
song rinses and wrings the ear, words 

well-grounded in England’s soil,
while I, I have sent you doubts and fears,

a poem full of severings,
of misplaced plants and a scarred earth.

But this too is spring, this walking 
the fence to change out rotted wood, 

this digging in the earth and self, 
and also the dream of travel, 

ask Chaucer’s pilgrims, and yes,
even this, the recognition

that the world, like one’s self, is old
and pockmarked, but that the world, life, 

hedges bets, finds a way to spread 
through seed and rhizome, to turn

severing into a small grace. 

Poem from Mary on April 24

A Road Well Travelled

Enough of static gardens and
Ecstatic birds! This evening we'll
Take to the car - rejoicing that
After TWO WEEKS my keys turned
Up in the mop bucket. One excuses
Abigail, she's two, too, and at two
It's what you do.
I don't drive well, but, what the hell! It's Spring and
The B 4125 Ross Road is
At it's green and gorgeous


High Street. Look left to the Market House
Cattle were sold here once, prodded
Along the drovers road to Gloucester
Which is where, for the record,
We're headed. Ahead,
High Street, Church Street, Broad St..
One suspects one's ancestors
Lacked imagination, and were busy.
Their names get us there, wherever
By the quickest route.

Joe Meek Road. Poor Joe,
Wrote Telstar, and died an addict
Newent's most famous recalcitrant.

Turn left - No, right-
Past The Traveller's Rest
Hedge-lined, tree shaded
Eccentric, this, 'Rolling English Road'
To quote from a very good poem for
Your  pocket... 'Rambling RoundThe Shire'
(Couldn't put it better myself)
You are fortunate, having no
Saxon field boundaries to hold you back.
Meandering, of course, is the point,
But so is Spring, and growing
Things, so ...

 Highleadon! The blackthorn
Blooms have turned brown before the
Leaf buds, yet to burst. The
Chestnuts are putting out though,
The scoundrels. Candles, I've heard
Them called, those tall pale wicks.

Malswick ... Here's a name to
Conjure with. Say it
slowly, make it roll around your tongue

M A L S W I C K.

A mere hamlet, we're through it already
And pondering on at 30 mph. Stuck
Behind a tractor with a burden of very
Heavy logs. Turns off down Whitehall
Lane (Thank God! We're late.)

Rudford. We'll linger a while through
An acre  of remnant wood.
Lady's smock- mauve and past their best,
Bluebells a cyan mist on a
Mossy floor. Beech, luminous,
Sycamore, new out, and
Pinky green. In a minute
We're peering over hedges
Queen Anne's Lace, Cuckoo Pint
Cherry, just going over
And a magnificent Magnolia
Pugin's stately church appears on the
(Checking) right,  which
Means we are in

 Highnam, with
Just ten minutes before Jen's
Train arrives.. We'll make it.
Traffic lights. Red, as ever
When we're in a hurry. The A40 which
Would, if we let it, take us to St David's.
No. Left into town.
Just look! 

The Severn keeps
Us with our bricks at bay:
The view across the river
Is medieval ... The Cathedral!
Streaking past St Oswald's Priory
Endowed by  a  long-dead queen
And ruined now. Anyhow, two minutes
More and we've  arrived with the
London train. Here's my daughter
Smiling, we're all smiling:

"Jen, meet Jeremy. He's a Poet.
We're doing Spring."


Tuesday, 29 April 2014

A Proper Balls-Up

Today is Ed Balls Day. 

I didn't know this either. I gleaned this curious piece of information from Canadian Public Radio show, 'All Things Considered' this morning. This eclectic broadcast roams widely in its search for tidbits of news, mixing incisive interviews with the great and the ghastly, and fluffy bits of nonsense. Unlike many Canadians, I know quite a bit about Balls, having survived his spell as Education Secretary in Gordon Brown's  Cabinet, over which I will draw a veil. 

Ed ballsed-up inaugurating his Twitter account. He Tweeted his own name, entirely accidentally. Poor man. This perfectly understandable mistake fed into our prejudices about the vanity of politicians, and his first Tweet has been retweeted 20,000 times since 2011 largely ironically, everyone suspects. 

I wouldn't  for one minute want you to think that Ed Balls is a fluffy piece of nonsense, I must make this clear, especially as my personal prejudices against the current Administration might lead to me voting for Mr B next time around. 

Anyway, were I the Ed, I'd be chuffed to bits to have a day named after me. And fluffing up Twitter-initiation makes him appear just a little bit human, which for a high-profile politician is some achievement. Even if only Canadians and me know about it.   

PS: I declare May 3rd 'Quodlibet Day' Tweet this. 

Very Old News

Swirling across the
Rippling, a glimmer of
Scattering sunlight

A thoroughly Universal Presence
The fabric of
Distant galaxies

Waves at

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Not For Cissy's

Getting older isn't for cissy's. 'Cissy'  in the film 'Quartet' quoted this several,times, because she was growing   forgetful, adding an extra layer of poignancy.

I am sixty-three, and it's getting to me. I noted, and decided to remember, the first  time I groaned when attempting to get up from the floor. I was forty-two years old. I recall this as it occured to me mid-groan the other day, that I now ooh or  aah  (and sometimes both) going down too. So I have decided to go to the doctor and get it made official. Middle-age has sailed off into the sunset and old age has grabbed the tiller. 

I don't care. I'll go on Tuesday and sign up for a hip replacement and a test for gluten intolerance, and I'll carry on doing what I do as cheerfully as I can until  the Guy With A Sythe calls a halt. 

You may wonder what has brought about this broadcast of sailing and harvesting metaphors that skirt so amiably around the topics of decrepitude and death.

 I went on another Retreat. 

Last year's Retreat was a Death Party when I decided to write my Demise Agenda and Fumeral Plan. Well, I kind of got round to the first with a 'switch me off after 12 weeks no matter what' doc., but the funeral is yet to be completed: partly because only six of the obligatory attendees will know the hymns, so it needs more work. Ha! If it gets no further, I shall file it away as my 'Unfinished Sympathy'. (Hohoho -I bet someone got there before me with THAT one.)

This weekend's retreat was entitled, 'The Vulnerable Heart' and was an introduction to a series of meetings for women. Well, some women were a bit put out - why should women need  their very own agenda? I say, Humph, don't worry, you put vulnerability out as a topic, and I bet no men will come anyway, but I was told, ascerbically, that wasn't the point. Besides it was unfair. Sorry, men. 

I love everything about my life. I embrace it's joys and sorrows with equal energy, making them do what they are intended to do, to let me know that I'm alive, to help me to understand that nothing is permanent, and to prepare me for the last stage of my earthly journey before I die. 

But that's some way off yet. The twinges, the gripes, and the growing pile of pills to lower this, and ginger up that,  are not so big a deal.

Today I walked in bluebell carpeted woods, ploughed through mud, followed the twists of a fast-flowing river, and stopped to listen to birds. On the way home, I called in  to take tea with one of my daughters, and I played with my grandchildren.  I came home thinking:

However it ends- it was worth it. 

Sunday, 20 April 2014


I will celebrate the victory of my God in silence, and in song.

I will gaze upon the likeness

Of the one-who-was pierced.

I will touch the mystery

Of the dead-one-living.

I will trace his signature over my heart:
North to south
East to west:

King of Kings
Lord of Lords.

I will open my mouth to sing the serenade of the stars,

The song of the angels before the throne of God.

 I will shout into the sunrise, a canticle for my King:
‘Rejoice!   Rejoice!
The Lord is Risen -

I will bury myself in his joy,

And, with laughter,

I will rise again.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Confessions Of A Tea-Lady

Is everything in place? I survey the Tea Table with a critical eye:

Urn:  full and switched on.    Check.
Tea, coffee, juice: All present and correct.
Mugs, milk, sugar, juice cups: OK

We're ready for the off. Some Mondays a vital element is missed, and chaos ensues when our people roll in. The importance of getting everything just so, cannot be understated. The Tea Table is the first port of call. The 'meet and greet' of the Salvation Army Monday Lunch. Volunteer Meryl offers to help. She's good, but unfocussed; regarding the Tea Table as a stepping stone to the job she's really on fire for, chatting to the clients. Me, I'm in my element. Smiling and saying hello is a particular strength of mine and I play up to it. I am glad of Meryl's help with the initial rush: she wields the teapot whilst I serve the coffe and oversee juice distribution. 

We are going to serve sixty or more lunches today. I see that we have three new faces, I make a mental note to follow up on the hello when things quieten down a bit. 

Johan takes two coffees for himself and Cordelia. I slip him a lawyers business card. Cordelia has an injury acquired at the chicken processing  factory and can no longer work. They sleep in a car. 

Andrew takes his tea black. He's a retired librarian and a polyglot. He once taught me to say hello in Serbo-Croat, but I have long forgotten how. He's Jewish, and very accommodating to we Christians. He knows the Law and The Prophets far better than we do, and loves an argument.

Dave's in today. Haven't seen him for weeks.  He's lost four and a half stone. He looks brighter, having just had his benefits reinstated. An official at the Job Centre sanctioned him( ie stopped his money) for non- attendance at a scheduled appointment that he hadn't attended because she's omitted to notify him about it Her superior eventually overrulled her. "You were lucky this time," the unrepentant official told Dave. 

Dave lost weight because he couldn't  afford to eat. "I'll come with you next time." I promise. 

Alex appears and offers to serve drinks whilst I move round the tables and chat.

Chris is looking rough. He's South African, a Catholic: former seminarian. I don't ask why he never became a priest. I discover he is a member of Opus Dei  "Do you know about it?" He asks. "Only from Dan Brown!" I laugh. Andy hears him say that he has no money, and having been in that situation himself, he butts in on the conversation and tells him where to get vouchers for the Food Bank.  

Welfare Officer at the Council Offices. I'm grateful to Andy. I'm often asked and usually refer people to , "Help The Aged", because that's where my brother got his vouchers when he needed them. Chris isn't old enough. 

I have a stack of books for Brian who now has his driver's license and  is looking SO much better now that he's receiving treament for PTSD. He opens the bag and rummages with genuine delight. 'Just what I wanted!" He exclaims at Darwin's 'Origin of Species'. I knew that, and having never more than glanced at it, was happy to hand it over. I hope, with all my heart, the more fundamentalist of the helpers didn't spot it! We Catholics have no problem with Darwin, or any human attempt to fathom the miracle of Creation. I gave him "99 Things To Do Between Here and Heaven" too,  having reasoned that I've done all the ones I want to (including starting this blog) and there's a spiritual reflection on each, that will lead Brian a little deeper, if he so wishes. 

I'm called over by Karen and Anthony to sort out a problem. My very favourite occupation, truth be told. "What's the difference between a Catholic and a Christian?" They want to know. Anthony's RC, Karen's C of E, and they are planning to marry in Church. Somewhere.

I throw myself eagerly into the fray. It's a useful discussion that involves everyone on the table. I was expecting hostility, but discover none. "Marry in the RC Church, and the Anglicans will bless it. That's how my daughter and son-in-law managed it. And you, young man," I wave my finger in mock-menace at Anthony, "Had  better get yourself off to Mass and book the Church!" Everyone laughs. 

"Look," I finish, "We volunteers are from many Christain denominations. We're here to do the job  Christ left us to do. What's important is this coming together, all of us, and sharing the love of God." 

Brian asks where I go to church, "Newent."I reply, "But if youre looking for somewhere, you couldn't do better than here." 

God Bless the Salvation Army. 

PS: All that I know of Opus Dei may be found here:

Saturday, 12 April 2014

God's Manifesto

It's been a tough decision, because It will be a big commitment in terms of time, and emotional capital, and I know it's a really hard job, but after due consideration, I have decided to throw my hat in the ring and challenge God in the upcoming election. 

Firstly, I'd like to pay tribute to God: there's no doubt that he has achieved a LOT in his 13 Billion Year term of office. It's true to say, I wouldn't be here today, if it weren't for Him. His followers have achieved some great successes in terms of human freedoms, but, they now appear tired and insular. Time for a change! 

Vote for me, and I will, with a clap of thunder and a rainbow, change the world. 

My Manifesto

1. An end to all suffering. Any human being found thinking a single unloving thought will be immediately commited to purgatory for a period of eternity.
2. An end to war. Any human being harbouring violence will immediately be commited to purgatory for a period of eternity.
3. An end to discrimination on any grounds. Any human being found putting his/ her own preferment before her/his make/female/straight/gay/enabled/disabled neighbour,  will be immediately commited to .. Well you get the picture.
4. Expansion of the realm of purgatory to accommodate the entire human race. 

I am having second thoughts about this. I have been God for less than two seconds and it appears I have lost ALL my worshippers. 

Ah well! Being a granny is far more fun anyway. Come on Aowl, let's go to the park! 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

We're Doomed!

Not entirely voluntarily, I used to watch 'Dad's Army' a 1970's sitcom based on the Homeguard - the band of plucky men who were our last line of defence in the 1940's should the Nazis invade and take over. So like we Brits to turm mayhem into pantomime. 

My favourite character was the strereotypical Scot, both penny-pinching and dour, whose catchphrase was' We're doomed. We're all doomed!". Well Fraser, take a bow, you were right.

I'm sorry to be such a wet-blanket, especially on such a beautiful Spring morning, but I am going to out the inner ostrich and tell what I know. 

If it proves impossible to keep the global temperature rise to below 2C, the world's climate will be so changed that food production will fall year on year by 10%. It's already happening isn't it? Food prices are rising - a drought here, a flood there, a late frost, an early snow ... Confident predictions that technology would make up for the population rise and subsequent increased demand, are  proving over-optimistic. We have food banks in the UK  and the demand for them is growing, God knows how the desperately poor elsewhere are doing.

It is going to prove impossible to keep the temperature rise below 2C, because somehow, we the people, just don't seem able to grasp that science cannot be trumped by wishful thinking, and that ignorance is not a defence against catastrophe. 

I heard a smooth-talking highly persuadable US Politician trumpet the building of the Keystone Pipeline as the magic wand to cure his nation's ills. 

I read British tabloid stories about the benefits of fracking. Setting fire to underground coal seams is on the table too. Polluted water sources and fires we can't put out? Really?

 I used to think not. I had this equal and opposite resort to ignorance - a sustained and stupid belief that by now, humankind would have cottoned-on to the fact that we are in real and imminent danger of wiping ourselves out. 

If our political leaders are planning for food shortages, growing poverty, incipient unrest, we know nothing about it. They should be. Here in the UK, uncertain weather, highly disruprive to food production, is becoming the norm. I meet hungry people out on the streets. Yes, really hungry people, ( and the mal-nourished too, who are even more invisible because they're fat) and I wonder how can this be happening in the world's fourth largest economy?

I guess I always thought, of the Four Horseman of the Apocolypse, it would be War that led to the end of our fragile civilisation, I had not noticed how closely Famine was on his heels. 

Why am I so exercised today? I listen carefully to less sensational news items, and learned recently that to keep the global temperature rise to below 2C Exxon would have to leave 80% of its oil and gas  reserves in the ground. Other companies have not disclosed their figures, but I bet this is typical.

That was my epiphany, my Damascus Road experience. Because global corporations can do what they like in pursuit of profit, we are doomed. They will leave 80% of their profits underground when hell freezes over, and in the current climate, that ain't going to happen. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014


She knits. The same scrap of cherry-red wool, over and over, unwinding her rows and click-click, endlessly reworking her masterpiece: keeping her hands busy and her thoughts at bay.

"No thank you." "No thank you." Every time I ask. Would  you like something to eat? Would you like a drink? So quiet, she draws no attention to herself, she doesn't want it.

This time, I sit beside her. She dresses in a rag-bag of clothes. She carries a rucksack and she wears a scarf. Summer and winter. I should have guessed, but, she's Caucasian you see, Irish in fact, and I didn't think... .

"My name is Mary," I say holding out my hand. Tentatively, she takes it, "Marie-Therese". She speaks softly. "Catholic?" I ask. I always ask, sometimes someone will want to rage aginst the church, or reminisce, or ask where to hear Mass. I listen. 

"Muslim."So softly, I have to lean forward to hear.

Her story unwinds. Her husband, not here, her children in Birmingham. Gloucester is a smaller town, she says, she feels safer here. Her own faith community doesn't know her whereabouts, she has no contact with the Mosque. She's alone. Completely. So she sits in the Day Centre for the disposable and the dispossessed and knits the same cherry-red block over and over again. 

"I was a member of the Legion of Mary when I was a child." 

I am at a loss. This gentle woman left me with a deep sense of disquiet. Mary and Jesus are both honoured by Islam, but I do not care to dishonour her faith, so I pause. 

"Shall we say a Hail Mary?"

Unhesitatatingly, she joins in. 

"Please, light a candle for me." she whispers, as I leave. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

God's Publicist

I listened recently to Former US  President Jimmy Carter from Plains, Georgia. He was Diane Rhems guest on her amazing, wonderful, eponymous 'Show' on US National Public Radio. ( I've always wanted to use the word 'eponymous', and now that I have, it doesn't feel so great.) Carter is 89 years old, and still at it. His current crusade is for the rights and dignity of women and girls across the globe, and he pulls no punches. He was especially scathing of religious teachers who use sacred scripture to denigrate women.  He has a deep faith himself, being of a variety of Southern Baptist that DOES allow women a voice. Even in leadership. Though to get there, he had to leave one that didn't.

I was very taken with his perspective. Older is wiser in his case. He didn't hector or accuse, though he did share some horrifying detail about female genital mutilation, an issue that I find particularly sickening: he remained studied and courteous throughout. 

I am especially  interested in how he holds on to his faith in God.

Carter knows all 36,000 verses in the bible. He's taight a bible class for 71 years, so this is understandable, and he says you can take any one of them and make any case you like for attaching God's approval    to anything you want to do. Well. I say, I know this! I needn't by now repeat my stance, I shall just mutter my disapproval of  anyone else having arrived at my epiphany before me. 

Just suppose for a moment, that you get to be God via an election. Wouldn't that be great? Imagine that I am a candidate. Boy! Would I have a go at the previous administration! God, you may be great, but you have terrible spin doctors. They take your doctrine of love and get it to justify hate, they turn your advocacy of peace into an excuse for war. It makes no sense. 

God, if you're listening, you need to sack Lucifer as your publicist, and hire Jimmy Carter.