Day 22: Secret Code

On a sparkled night such as this

time shines through prisms of crowded of stars.

Somewhere, a little window frames the vast

cruel winter’s eternal night,

on the sill a solitary candle

soft glows gold halo – beacon-bright.

Faint hope glimmers a gentle thrill 

from faraway-faraway yonder. Light spills.

Tiny flame passes through danger, dark ages of time,

from wanderer to wanderer,

from their hands –  to your hands,

from yours – to mine.

From hand – to bone – to star –

to dust-sprinkled shadows’ desolate hearts. 

Memory attunes to distant chimes,

long gone prayers, long gone times 

remembered in flicker, rekindled in spark,

secret code pulsing the dark.

Bleak. Bleak. Bright.

Bleak. Bleak. Bright.

Here – Safe haven – See –

The Light.

Rhona Greene, December 2021

Thank you to Rhona for this lovely poem. Rhona is an emerging human being trying to kilter, off balance. She/her. Dedicated follower of poetry. Is rón mé. Be Kind. Dublin, Ireland. She tweets from @Rhona_Greene.

Some people like a little background to their poetry, and some don’t. If you do like a little background, Rhona gave me this:

For a little background context you might be interested in – There is an old tradition in Ireland of lighting a candle in the window on Christmas Eve. The origins trace back to the 17th Century Penal Laws when the Catholic religion was suppressed and priests went on the run in fear for their lives.  The candle was code to them and others that this was a safe house and the door was always left unlocked. The tradition continues even if many now don’t remember the reasons behind it. It is still a beautiful symbol of an Irish welcome ‘fáilte isteach’ – ‘welcome inside’. 

We all deserve such a welcome.

Day 20: December in Bleakness and Joy

And now, the trees bare-branched sway
beneath the long night’s moon, roots cocooned
below the fallen snow—so we belay

our fears of endless night with candle flicker, delight
in twinkling glow and flow of wassail cheer.

Against the black-winged sky, the skeleton trees dream,
the flowers sleep beneath frost-gleam,

and we yearn for green–and sights unseen–

for magic or miracles, banish the tragic
with mirth and song,

learn the true wonder is love, and the joy, to belong

while our Earth spins and turns–
the pale blue dot, our golden star–
bonded with a balanced pull, as lovers are

as we know, too,

when we look up to glimmers, ancient bright,
then open our hearts to recreate that light.

Thank you to Merril D Smith for this poem of light and love and joy.

Baby’s First Year – Welcoming Christmas

We have wrapped this first Christmas in red paper.
Bow around the box to keep the anticipation
from jumping out of its cardboard hiding place
beneath our artificial tree with twinkly lights
all aglitter in their reflections on dark windows,
your face just as much a bulb of brilliance
when your smile lights the spark behind your eyes
and joy rushes into our room early
leaps onto the bedding and laughs
at all these presents we are opening
too much in love with each other
to contain ourselves.

I love this poem about baby’s first Christmas. It’s so full of love and joy.

Carol J Forrester is a writer, history geek, and new mum. Her time is spent balancing dirty nappies, half-finished poems, and ever vanishing book marks. Somewhat obsessed with mythology and folklore, ancient deities often sneak into her writing and she spends too much money on books her husband swears she already owns. She published her first full length collection ‘It’s All In The Blood’ in 2019.

Day 17: Winter Solstice

The shadowy ones hauling the Henges upright knew:
As they measured stone for death and wood for life
Against circling stars pinned to the spheres,
That the longest dark is womb to the light.

In this snow-deadened morning the weeping sun
Bleeds into the frozen arms of sky.
Tree fingers grope the mist
That persists in stifling sound and sight-
Clinging to the sleeping ground
Long past the low and feeble zenith
That drops meek and swift to the rim of night.

This morning the world sobs under the weight
Of hate. Children have old eyes.
But fractional tilt with the day’s dying,
And we look a breath longer under shy lashes
At our star that burns itself alive
To warm us.

Our days in the sun are numbered;
We won’t wait for the rays of June to stir
Our blood, but stoke our own fires
To become the winter light.

Thank you to Polly Oliver for this wonderful solstice poem, originally published by Spillwords.

A mother of two boys, scribbling from the Western coasts of the UK, mainly poetry, but whatever comes out really. A journalist and PR professional, the first whispers of middle age and declining eyesight made having a real go at ‘real writing’ a little more urgent. A Cornish native, I made my home in South West Wales so the sound of the sea sighs through my work every now and then. Lover of nature, yoga, boutique coffee shops and occasional (and very dreadful) surfer.

Day 16: a double act

Two poems today, one from the lovely Kim Russell, and the other from the equally lovely Mary Earnshaw. They’re both quite short, and I think they work together well – both poems of winter weather.

Kim first:

Gentle Winter Reminder

Snow has been falling for half an hour
and already the garden is covered.
Slumped by the log store,
only the tip of an old sack is visible
as I approach, feet firmly in my wellies,
one sock creeping down to my toes.

The logs are frozen to the touch,
landing in the basket with a thud.
I’m so intent on piling logs for the stove,
I almost miss him: a cock robin hops
along the log-store roof and stops,
head cocked, eye shining, breast aflame,

reminding me of my duty to fill
the bird feeders with the sweetest trill.

and then Mary:

A wet coming they’d have of it

Beyond rain-bleared windows
draggled branches drip beneath
a night loured by cloud.

In the East no stars shine to
lead wise men, or fools, carrying
myrrh, gold and frankincense.

At last the rain stops. We conjure
up the silence of a deep snow quilt,
imagine reindeer really can fly.                

Kim M. Russell started writing when she was a schoolgirl and, since she retired from teaching in 2014, she has become a morning writer of at least a poem a day. She posts mainly poetry on her WordPress blog, writinginnorthnofolk.com. Her poems have been published on-line on Visual Verse, Spillwords, The Ekphrastic Review, Pure Haiku and the Poetry Pea Podcast, as well as in the following printed anthologies: Poetry Rivals and Love’s Labyrinth (Forward Press), Afflatus Magazine, River Writes (Bure Navigation Conservation Trust), Anthology of Aunts and Second Place Rosette (The Emma Press), Peeking Cat Anthologies 2017 and 2018, Fieldwork (New Nature Writing from East Anglia) and the Poetry Pea Journals, as well as a piece of flash fiction in Flash, I love you!, published by Paper Swans Press. Kim has self-published Between Heartbeats, an anthology of short stories and flash fiction, and a novel for children, Joe and Nelly. She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two cats.

Mary Earnshaw is a northerner with mixed loyalties, born Lancastrian but raised from the age of seven in Yorkshire. She is co-author, with Alan Parry, David Walshe and Paul Robert Mullen, of a chapbook of poems published by Dreich about Southport, under the title Belisama, Ptolemy’s name for that area south of the River Ribble, between sea and moss, where Mary lives. Her poetry, short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in various anthologies and journals and in 2021 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize and the Julian Lennon Poetry Prize.

In 2012 Mary published a crime fiction novel (A Wake of Vultures) set in Zambia where, since 1993, she has spent much time with her husband, Larry Barham, Professor of African Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, whom she met (far too long ago to admit) on a dig in Swaziland (now Eswatini). As a result, her non-verbal skills include cooking concoctions in witchy iron cauldrons, in the dark, over an open fire, for groups of dirty, hungry people.

Advent

We hung our stockings up so carefully –
wrote notes explaining we were good:
recycling. Cutting down on meat.

We put fresh bedding in the crib,
we put up lights and everything,
pinned angels to the sky,

cut down a tree. Lit candles.
Sat round the fire and talked
about the price of wool.

We watched the skies – saw
satellites slicing through the night,
singing their messages of joy –

we wrapped up gifts: gold-plated,
sweet flavoured,, heavy with scent –
and waited to be rescued.

Still no one comes.

An Advent poem for Brendan at earthweal.

Day 12: Port Meadow in Winter

I linger at the margins, where the railway
draws its clear-cut line between town and plain.

On the other side the boundaries merge
with the barefaced gluttony of river curve.

Here are meagre pickings from the fat of the land,
only the bounty that summer did not spend.

The opulence of autumn trees concedes
to economy, though there is largesse

of sky and silt and mere and miry grass.
In sparse days, bread and water offer grace.

Now seagulls crowd the air with throbbing wings.
I am laid bare at the sharp edge of things.

Why do we find such beauty in a press
of white birds? As twilight hoards the rooks in trees,

they call to me of their own great price,
dark pearls in the lustrous half-light.

Above the flood a flock of peewits wheels,
flashing black then white as the light decrees.

Thank you to Alice Stainer @AliceStainer, for this clear, bright winter scene, originally published in Steel Jackdaw. Wrap up warm.

Day 11: Not all families are the same at this time of year.

This table grains as an ocean, as a slice of muscle.
Our quiet vessels traverse, dock their toasts, eyes meet

over the weather of our hands. No longer do we sail low
with wine – the blood we share more than enough

to mellow the chop. So few jolly boats now. Somewhere a lost soul
founders on the rocks of this season, monsters unmapped

and never sung about. Somewhere else the hold pangs empty
and the boiler burns down. Somewhere pirates have boarded

and all that once shone is being divided. You compass three plates
and I mark three directions of wind with a fork, and this is plenty

for today, and more than any map promised. One of us prows fast
toward the horizon, lookout crow-calling land, land

that none of us can see. Somewhere a wheel creaks and creaks
in a hard turn. Somewhere the bottle swings and breaks

and there’s cheering. Somewhere a tradition cuts anchor,
unloads all its ballast. Sun fills my glass: let me pour more into yours.

Ankh Spice @SeaGoatScreams is our official New Zealand correspondent. Poet, runner, sea-goat, multiple Pushcart nominee, friendly presence, co-editor at @IceFlowP and @BarrenMagazine, and now the proud parent of his own collection – The Water Engine: https://bit.ly/2Zpbtl4

It’s wondeful to have him here.

Day 10: Cruel Mistress

Winter is a cruel mistress,
alluring in ice diamonds and snowy dress,
she curls her lip at shivering and distress.

And yet winter never lies,
her eyes are the colour of open skies,
her heartbeat steady beneath the earth on which she lies.

She sometimes shares secrets
and sometimes splashes field and forest
with bright berries or a robin’s breast.

And when winter glowers,
punishes us with gales and hail showers,
we hunker by the fire for hours

waiting for her forgiving smile
twinkling in icicles, cold and beautiful.

Thank you to Kim Russell for this glittering, icy poem.

Kim M. Russell started writing when she was a schoolgirl and, since she retired from teaching in 2014, she has become a morning writer of at least a poem a day. She posts mainly poetry on her WordPress blog, writinginnorthnofolk.com. Her poems have been published on-line on Visual Verse, Spillwords, The Ekphrastic Review, Pure Haiku and the Poetry Pea Podcast, as well as in the following printed anthologies: Poetry Rivals and Love’s Labyrinth (Forward Press), Afflatus Magazine, River Writes (Bure Navigation Conservation Trust), Anthology of Aunts and Second Place Rosette (The Emma Press), Peeking Cat Anthologies 2017 and 2018, Fieldwork (New Nature Writing from East Anglia) and the Poetry Pea Journals, as well as a piece of flash fiction in Flash, I love you!, published by Paper Swans Press. Kim has self-published Between Heartbeats, an anthology of short stories and flash fiction, and a novel for children, Joe and Nelly. She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two cats.

Day 9: Five gold rings

Five gold rings
the choir of children sing:
it’s Christmas time again.

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat
the goose is getting fat
but not yet cooked, it seems.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
but the snow no longer falls here
only the rain in floods and devastation streams

through every doorway:
families throwaway Christmases on the lawn
the sandbags didn’t stem the rising tide.

We shelter in place, Abide with me, Oh Lord of Hosts:
send us a warning from the Holy Ghost
I’m dreaming of a green Christmas

but I should have started dreaming long ago:
now I only sing about what might have been
a scene within a globe of glittered snow.

Thank you to Ingrid @experimentsinfc for this poem. Irene blogs at https://experimentsinfiction.com/ and is editor and creator of The Anthropocene Hymnal.