OldDesignShop_StorybookFairiesBees

A Round Robin, by M. A. Hoyer and Robert Ellice Mack, illustrated by Harriett M. Bennett, c. 1891. Image sourced from The Old Design Shop

Watching the bees

Here are the words of the blazing day
and the once beautiful arrangements.
It was heady, was it not?
The arrival of this brightest of days.

Outside the day was perfection.
Here a few few bees in the garden
hid under clumps of cut grass.
Why are they tucking themselves away?
Or are they burrowing for pollen,
heady on word from the other bees?

Our day of blazing perfection was heady,
was it not?
Was it not?


It has been a wildly warm day by London standards. I tried to write in the garden first thing this morning. The bees and butterflies and a single large-bodied horsefly were my ground company.

Aster yomena yomena02

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. by No machine-readable author provided. Keisotyo assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. No endorsement of BeadedQuill’s work by this author should be implied.

Plant asters by autumn

When all else fades,
semi-trailing heath comes
into its own. In banks and borders

snow-petalled asters make a
brilliant ground cover. Shimmering
their heads: a butterfly magnet
in the wildlife garden’s

banks and borders. Plant this by autumn,
plant this great choice in height and spread
before the winter turns.


I spend the occasional sunny, bright afternoons sitting on a plastic chair in the backyard staring at the hanging roses, pink hydrangeas and purple foxgloves. I am no gardener at present, and do nothing in this patch of yard in the house where I lodge. When I was a child, I first had a corner bed in which grew a pink hibiscus bush. Later I had a patch of soil next to my wendyhouse in the back garden and as a pre-teen I changed the flowering contents of a box outside my bedroom window. Since living the rented room life, I have dabbled with the usual supermarket herbs in pots and seasonal indoor bulbs. Currently, I am nursing an Ikea spathiphyllum that moves from the chest of drawers next to my bed to the sun-catching shelf on the other side of my room. It really needs a dose of plant food and would probably benefit from re-potting.

I love spending time in green spaces, surrounded by plants, and sometimes I find myself drawn to glossy, coffee-table garden books in bookshops or the gardening pages of home magazines. Yesterday I was leafing through the Guardian Weekend and stumbled across the gardening pages and started reading the “What to do the week” section. The advice covered Thin this, Read this, Plant this; reduce clusters of fruit on your trees, read up about 101 chillies and consider planting asters in time for autumn.

Today’s resulting poem is drawn from the column and echoes another poem, “look – really look”. This poem of two years ago (and uncannily this very time of year) was also inspired by the Guardian Weekend’s gardening pages. The relationship between gardening, seasons and plants holds a deep mystery for me. Birds, and especially butterflies, are for me symbolic messengers from another realm. My paternal grandmother was a botanist and her interest in the flowering world seemed to be the science and beauty. My interest is the beauty and lessons it offers about our human flurries.

It is no coincidence that garden banks and border feature in today’s poem during these times when both national and economic security are under pressure in many parts of the world. There is something of ‘the lilies of the valley in all their beauty’ about the delicate snow-petalled asters. Yet, as they trail like other determined ground-covers, they may prove the surviving, life-continuing film when the monuments of mankind have faltered. There are seasons of all kinds, both in the natural world and in our rhythm as humanity. Perhaps planting star-like flowers is not such a bad task to consider before autumn. As three of my favourite lines from “look – really look” remind us:

Concrete is brutal.
It needs softening.
Plants should have dominion.

Opera House Haymarket edited

By Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) and Augustus Charles Pugin (1762–1832) (after) John Bluck (fl. 1791–1819), Joseph Constantine Stadler (fl. 1780–1812), Thomas Sutherland (1785–1838), J. Hill, and Harraden (aquatint engravers) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And music

again. A new tip for setting limits
plenty, more besides. It’s all
there you hear the benefit
after a couple the other
way would be to try
put it back. Cue
the lights


I hope you enjoy today’s verse distilled from sentences off the interweb. No, I’m not quite sure what it is all about.

Cue the lights and the music, for sure.

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Night forest image (in public domain) courtesy of www.publicdomainpictures.net

Night forest (in public domain) courtesy of www.publicdomainpictures.net

Another short story, uncannily very similar in theme and structure to the others in this unexpected series. The prompt in this instance was a comment, “What if you knew you only had 9 hours until your death, at midnight?” Here is an imagined scenario:

9 Hours

Amaia adjusts the dark blue blanket around her shoulders and tucks the loose corners under her arms.

“Oh Mannie, thank you for coming at such short notice. And for bringing the sleeping bag.”

She pulls something out of her pocket, “This is for you.”

She hands over a bulging DL envelope, folded in half. The broken seal at the top gives away that it has been used. Maybe Amaia had received a bill or doctor’s letter in it.

“Sorry it’s so scrappy. It’s the best I had at hand. I’m sure you understand.”

I peer inside.

“Look later, after…”

The envelope was crammed with notes.

“Amaia, really, this isn’t necessary.”

“I can’t do anything with it and anyway, I passed a cash machine on the way home. Better in your hands than the bank’s. Go and do something nice. Send me a postcard.” She smiles, “Come on, let’s get going.”

She says goodbye to her landlady and we make our way down the road and along the back suburban streets, laden with blankets, pillow, cooler box. This has been the first warm day of summer. The balmy, but swiftly cooling, Saturday evening is idyllic. It is the long-awaited shift to summer’s warmer temperatures. We turn up a hidden side path that leads to a nearby wood. It is steep and we make our way up it slowly. White dog roses hang low across our heads, ivy is thick on our right and the path reeks of dog piss.

“A dog would be good company for this journey,” notes Amaia, “He could leave his mark here; add his piss to the others’.”

Even in these first forty minutes, she has so much to say than I do, but then she has had about seven more hours to come to terms with what is to come. At the end of the steep path, we reach the gate which we cover with the blankets and sleeping bag. We use the cooler box as a step and climb over the gate into the wood. I have never been into late night trespassing, neither has Amaia, but these are extenuating circumstances.

“I’m going to have a difficult time explaining all this.”
“That’s what friends are for,” laughs Amaia, “I’ve also told the others about the plan, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

Amaia knows the spot she has in mind. It is an elevated clearing in the wood, “where the bluebells are an abundant sea in spring.” She snuggles into the sleeping bag and sits up against a tree with a pillow propped up behind her. I switch on her laptop, insert the USB network adapter, doubtful that we might access any Wifi from this spot. It is worth a try, especially for a moment such a this. Amaia is unpacking her backpack. There are three bottles of water, rescue remedy, boxes of Ibuprofen and Codeine tablets, three bottles of codeine linctus, a slab of dark chocolate and a grubby, well-loved teddy bear. She pulls out a bottle of wine.

“So you’ve started drinking?” I say.
“It’s for you, to toast the occasion.” She picks up the boxes of tablets and starts arranging them in a neat tower. “I didn’t think I could get rhis much shopping done in the time I had. I went to three different pharmacies, so as not to arouse suspicion. Luckily, there’s a glut of pharmacies open on a Saturday afternoon near the Emergency Clinic.”

I don’t want to probe too much, but I should, just in case I have to answer difficult questions tomorrow. I do know that Amaia has called her mum, brother and sister. We also hope to connect with them over Skype in the wood. I will hold her hand. The rest is inevitable. Amaia starts crying.

“Mannie, is this really it? Is this how it ends?”

I step over towards her and take her in my arms.

—-

It was 3pm when Amaia walked out of the Emergency Clinic. She had collapsed unexpectedly in the morning during a workout. These sudden seizures were not uncommon among generation. We wondered if they were caused by the devices. It was impossible to live life without these agents. We worked with them, used them to plan and guide our daily lives. Slowly, but most surely, we realised that they were also killing us. While we noted this, it was not made official. The diagnoses were vague and the conclusions swift. Amaia was lucky because the doctors had recognised she had time: 9 hours. This meant she had almost half-a-day to prepare.

On the ‘phone she had said to me, “I once knew a wise old woman who said, ‘The gift of cancer is time.’ These last few hours are in some ways a gift.”

It was already 8pm by this time and I was out drinking with friends. My response was anger. How could she have left it so late to call me?

“Listen, Mannie, I called for support. If this is too much, forget it…” She took a breath. “Of all the people I know, with your training, you should have some understanding. This isn’t the time for a fall out. I’m going through the stages. I’m staggering between anger and acceptance, and I’ve consumed quite a lot rescue remedy. Would you come over?”

––
When we were at college, a group of us decided to take off the afternoon for a trip to the seaside and we asked Amaia along. I’d teased her, of course her answer would be no; she’d scheduled that afternoon weeks before. I watch her in this dark wood as she unpacks her backpack. It reminds me of her impeccable sense of fore-planning.

“Mannie, I need you just to make sure I’m not in pain, “ She had even researched the codeine to morphine effect beforehand. “When I first heard, I thought I would just climb into my own bed and drift off. I mean, what else was there to do? It wasn’t as though I was going to change the world or do my great work in 9 hours. It isn’t enough time to get back to see my family. So, well, might as well accept things. Then I remembered… I just don’t want to be in that kind of pain and discomfort, please, Mannie, please.”

It was a great deal to process and in my pause her tone turned brusque, “If you’re not able to, say so now. Stop wasting my time. I’ll find someone else.”

But we both knew that in this city that we had made our home, neither of us had that many people to turn to. As often in these darkest moments, it could mean turning to a stranger. Amaia knew this, “Mannie, I don’t want to be alone in a bed in an ugly hospital room.”

––
There is no Wifi signal and it is already 11pm. We debate whether to stay put or move on and then am almighty thunderstorm strikes. Amaia is already in tears about the Wifi. With each burst of thunder she lets out a pained cry. Then she starts babbling, “I don’t want to die in this rain. The worms will come, come out of the earth to eat me here. The mud, the mud, will take me, like the men in the trenches. I’ll be stuck here. The flies will come. The maggots. Oh, Mannie, Mannie!”

Amid the thunder, lightening and rain, she rattles a whisper, “Not here.”

Amaia gets up, climbs out of her sleeping bag cocoon, deserts her pile of comforts and starts walking. I pick up my backpack with the computer inside it and run after her. For me the ground is damp and slippery, but she strides ahead sure-footed. Back on a path, she turns towards the gate on the main road, on the opposite side where we had climbed in. I’m behind, but catch her intone to herself between a coughs that rattle, “I can get out. If get to the gate, I’ll get out. It’s all just a weird dream. I can get out.”

She strides with purpose. At this speed we will be at the gate in a few minutes. And Amaia may be right. It is possible that the doctors made an error, or she had misheard. Running around in a storm, in a wood late at night is a little surreal anyway. We just need to get inside, dry off and have some sleep. Aiming for the gate and getting back to reality seems sound strategy to me, too.

I notice that the drama of the storm has subsided and although it is still raining, the drops fall lightly. In the distance, a church clock chimes. Once, twice, three times. It had been years since I’ve heard such a clear peal. Four, five, six. I pick up my pace.

“Hey, Amaia. Let me come with you to the gate. I’ll help you climb over.”

Seven, eight, nine. Amaia turns around, sways a little, “See, I made it.”

She is soaked through, her hair is sodden. Her face is grey, but her eyes seem bright and alive to me. Ten, eleven, twelve. I step forward to give her a hug, “You made it.”

Before I reach her, she crumples into the mud and wet leaves. Above us a hovers a helicopter on the lookout for druggies in the wood. They shine a beam down on us and I know, the explaining now begins.

—-

If you enjoyed “9 Hours”, you might also enjoy one of these other short stories:

Fenstone’s Flower – about an unexpected bloom in an elderly garden-enthusiast’s greenhouse
Hand-tie – about a bouquet delivery
Running in the Wood – about a husband and father’s mind-clearing run in a wood
Gone are the cars – about a photographer capturing forbidden cars in a post-apocalyptic, carbon-rationed world

There are also hundreds of poems on this blog. Take a lucky dip by clicking on any of the months below and see what comes up.

Image courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury. This image of bicycle and bicycling outfits is from a page in The Delineator magazine, April 1895 issue.

Image courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury. This image of bicycles and bicycling outfits is from a page in the April 1895 issue of The Delineator magazine.

How’s the poetry going?
Is a giveaway question
on the pavement.
It signals you
have not read
anything much
the poet
might have
written recently.
Or otherwise you have,
and now on meeting
the poet
on the pavement
you wonder, this
that the poet
has written recently,
is any of it about me?


There is a post often shared on social media among the writing community that reads something to the effect of, “Do not upset a writer or they will kill you off.” Whenever I re-read it, I chuckle a little.

Of course, writers are not without fault and many (of greater wisdom than I possess) certainly look to their own foibles to create villains or draw inspiration for their work’s darkness. However, inspiration also comes from circumstances and experiences lived. Yes, for me there are some people’s comments and actions that have spurred particular imaginative turns. This works best when the initial situation proves a spark for an augmented parallel vista, such as in my recent series of short stories (see
Gone are the cars
Running in the wood
Hand-tie
Fenstone’s Flower).

I don’t expect most of the people who engage in daily small talk with me to be avid followers of these blog updates, though I do suspect (and can attest, from being asked) that when they do read my work, there is curiosity as to whom or what it might reference.

So here’s a clue: there just might be something I’ve written ‘about’ you.

I have also written about small talk before.

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Cape blue waterlily (Nymphaea capensis var. zanzibariensis) (8103217895)

By Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach, Florida, Planet Earth! [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Another short story from the hip.

Fenstone’s Flower

Fenstone was in his favourite pottering spot for a not quite warm, though there be some sunlight day. He had finished washing the Saturday breakfast crockery and cutlery, scraping down the plates of scrambled egg residue and croissant crumbs. This was Peggy and Fenstone’s Saturday morning treat and it had been for the last 15 years since they moved into this house with the garden.

The garden had at first proved a novelty after the small patch of grass behind their starter house. The patch of grass had seemed a social upgrade on the balcony of potted tomato plants he had nurtured in the flat preceding the starter house. Part of the novelty of the full garden was its spaciousness and the two fully grown trees that had established themselves on the plot. Further novelty was the weekends spent idling in garden centres, picking out shrubs and plants. Peggy soon wearied of these outings. They took her away from chattering sessions with her friends. Fenstone was quite happy to continue the trips on his own. He went more often than was needed to replace the seasonal annuals or seek out vegetable seeds for fresh sowing.

Fenstone’s garden centre escapes were as regularly scheduled as his public garden visits. Botanical gardens, country house gardens, stately home gardens of all sizes, near and abroad either featured on Fenstone’s travel wish list or welcomed him as an eager visitor. But all these other places could not replace his favourite corner, his own garden.

Over the decade and a half they had lived in the house, it had become Fenstone’s garden. In the early days, he had employed the garden maintenance firm, a group of reliable Spanish men, all related they claimed, who had worked wonders at giving the space character and depth. What had been a square of grass, sided by two beds and sentried by the two established trees was transformed into a wonderland entered into by a curving path. The fish pond with a few blue water lilies, a delightful addition for many years, had recently been filled in at Peggy’s request. With small grandchildren around, the open water was now a hazard. Fenstone had salvaged the bulbs from the water lily plants and had promised them to another gardening friend.

After the Spaniards had returned home to retire, Fenstone had employed whichever young lad in the suburb felt inclined to earn some money sweeping, mowing, weeding or planting.The garden was now established and in his own retirement Fenstone had the time, and fortunately, the physical strength to continue with much of the maintenance himself. And nothing brought him more joy than the thought of a half or full day in his garden, and especially pottering in his potting shed.

In the potting shed Fenstone had coaxed all manner of vegetables, soft fruits and flowers through the cold and overcast winters. Last season’s strawberries were a great success and this year he planned to nurture a rainbow of fragrant hyacinths that would be planted at intervals in the wonderland. The bulbs had arrived the day before, so on this Saturday, Fenston had set the day aside to prepare the pots with nourished soil and plant the bulbs. Fenstone had spent many autumns preparing pots for not yet germinated seeds and bulbs, as well as fledgling seedlings. The potting shed was the preparation shed for Fenstone’s vision for the coming flowering season.

Fenstone pushed the water lily bulbs that he was drying out aside. He opened the bad of hyacinth bulbs and spread them out on his workshelf. The potting began.


It was not until six months later, in May, that Peggy went into the potting shed. Rotting plants, soil and spiders were not to her liking, but once spring arrived and it felt as though the world was brightening, she ventured out into the garden and into Fenstone’s old hideaway. She looked around and sighed. He had been such a stickler for order and it was evident even here, even six months later. The compost bags piled according to type, the garden soil and potting soil separated, not a cracked or grossly chipped pot in sight. Even the spider webs hung from their proper places in the roof corners.

The most orderly sight of all was Fenstone’s ranks of flowering hyacinths. Their scent was too strong for Peggy and she started to sneeze. This was not enough to put her off, today she had to clear out the shed because the movers would be arriving in four weeks. She did not have time to dawdle. She called out to her daughter in the kitchen, “Helen, sorry to trouble you, my hayfever’s playing up. Would you mind giving me a hand down here?”

Helen came down the winding path to the potting shed, “Wow! They are spectacular! Such a pity Dad isn’t here to see the results. And what’s the blue one over there? It looks like a water lily flower? I’m pretty sure they grow and survive potted in soil.”

Peggy and Helen stepped over to the opened flower, “Let’s take it up to the house and give some of Fenstone’s gardening friends a call. This calls for an expert’s opinion.”

Helen placed the pot on the kitchen windowsill. At dusk, the flower closed up. Peggy asked two of Fenstone’s gardening friends to come over the next day to confirm what they had witnessed.

The next morning Helen went down to put on the kettle. She scanned the windowsill for the opened flower. All that was left in the pot was a shrivelled stem.

Corridors

By Fielsvd (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the corridor

Along the walls,
a green of mint ice-cream,
are plastic chairs
moulded grey for sitting
in the moment before
the cold night coming.

Not wanting contact,
she slips a piece of paper
through the door.


I had an appointment with the renal specialist today. In the hospital corridor I sat with the bulky gel pen and budget A4 writing pad I bought last week in Poundland.

The corridor was painted in the mint green described. The chairs were moulded in grey plastic. I was waiting and also watching and scribbling. Patients and nurses passed down the corridor with pieces of A4 paper, probably print-outs of requests for particular blood tests. Even though these are routine check-up clinics, many people wait with anxiety in those hospital chairs or the consulting rooms. A nurse opened the door of a consulting room and slipped through a printed sheet.

Back at home, to one of Spotify’s Grime soundtracks,  I have been fiddling with my notes. The poem above is a neat example of moments observed now morphed into fiction.

Indirana semipalmata tadpole

By mvbhaktha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Conversations

Word amphibians hold the real treasures
felt in the veins. But we talk more, more.
Make more words known to each other.
Chime this topic. Ring out that story.
Wring out absolutely the whole truth.
While the word amphibians live in those tones;
they also swim in the extract of transmission.


I wrote the usual mini-essay to accompany this poem and on re-reading decided to leave it out. I am quite certain you have had your own experiences of word amphibians.

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Congratulations Balloon Image

ScrapsYard.com | Congratulations | Forward this Picture

Here is another short story completed for the exercise of completion. This tale developed in response to a balloon in a florist’s van.
I’m also love to hear your ideas for story prompts. Please share them with me by dropping a line below.

Hand-tie

Harry arrives at 11am to pack the orders for afternoon delivery. His daughter, Sam, now owns and runs the florist’s shop, but he still goes in Monday to Saturday to fill the van with hand-ties and bouquets. It gives him a reason to be out and about during the week and handing over people’s greetings and wishes have always been his favourite part of working in the business. The daily deliveries allow him to still be part of this.

It is a Thursday morning like many others, with the exception that this promises to be the first warm day when spring turns toward summer.

Sam puts down the ‘phone.
“Liz, we have an add an extra hand-tie plus balloon order for late-morning delivery. Do you have time, or should I arrange it?” The ‘phone rings again. At the same moment a customer steps in with a pot of ornamental tomatoes from the display outside.

“Seraphine’s Flowers. How may I help?” Sam answers the ‘phone and smiles in acknowledgement at the customer. At that moment, Liz steps forward from the arranging counter to handle the plant sale. In a day there would be long lulls and then a cluster of requests and sales would occur at once. Between 9.30 and 10am is one such busy time.

The customer leaves with her ornamental tomato wrapped in bright red paper and tied with raffia. Liz turns back to the arranging counter. Sam tears off the receipt for the card sale over the ‘phone.

Liz picks up on their interrupted conversation, “The hand-tie. I can do it.”
“Thank you. And I’ll start this new order.”

They have three new arrangements to prepare, and two from the day before are waiting in the cool back room. When the weather is cooler they line the bouquets at the shop front, where they serve the double purpose of sales temptation and decoration. But the temperatures have been rising this week and last night they set the arrangements under a shelf in the back to keep them fresh. No-one wants to receive wilted, half-dead flowers.

“Hello, hello.” Harry saunters in, jangling his keys and sipping on his take-away coffee from the chain next door, “How many and where are we going today?”
Sam looks over the clipboard, “Two for Terra’s, two residential and an office delivery, Staffield.”
“Let’s get ’em packed in.”
He starts by carrying the first of the two back-room arrangements to Seraphine’s van. Harry’s seasoned. He started here when his mother, Seraphine, opened the store. He knows not to risk carrying arrangements by the strings of the colourful brand-name paper bags. In his early days delivering, he had done so. It only took two or three tumbles of carnations, roses and tulips across the shop floor before he realised the danger of seeming convenience. Carrying two or three arrangements also seems another convenience. Usually two is do-able, but three – again, hardly worth the risk, both of stock and in terms of the time it would take to re-do the bouquet. With great care, he carried the second bunch from the back-room. Sam and Liz bring the other flowers through.
“If that’s it, I’m off.”
“Take care, Dad.” Sam calls out to him.
“I will. And bye Liz. See you tomorrow. ”

Harry has until 3pm to deliver the flowers. That is the goal he sets himself and he usually manages it with ease. If the orders are local and there is someone to sign for each, he can complete the day’s route by lunchtime. He estimates that today might take a little longer. With the roadworks near the hospital, he may be caught up for an extra half-an hour at least.

In the roadworks traffic, Harry entertains himself by tapping on his steering wheel to the radio. The signal changes. He needs to move into the far left lane. And from there he will turn right into Terra Hospital’s parking area. Check, indicate, check, prepare to change lanes. Harry thinks about lunch waiting at home and a gentle round of golf he might enjoy on this sunny afternoon.

Almost everybody in the city is distracted by the warm, clear weather. The driver in the lane alongside Harry receives a text, ‘Beautiful sunny day. All good.’

Playing the messenger had always been Harry’s favourite part of the business. Doing the deliveries still gave him great pleasure, which is why Sam had not employed someone else. She loved seeing her Dad every day and he enjoyed being connected to shop.

Today promises to be the when spring finally thaws. The ‘phone rings. Sam answers, “Seraphine’s Flowers. Good morning.”

“One pretty pink hand-tie, plus a matching balloon to be delivered to Terra’s Hospital Maternity Ward. We’ll have it delivered early this afternoon. Our pleasure.” Sam turns to her assistant, Liz.

The driver in the lane alongside Harry receives a text, ‘Beautiful sunny day. All good.’ He decides to reply to the text; loses attention for a split second. The car catches the florist van’s sliding door and plunges into the flower arrangements. The helium-balloon detaches from the pretty pink hand-tie and floats off over Terra Hospital, taking CONGRATULATIONS into the sky. On impact, Harry’s body suffers such shock that he has a heart attack.

Livelihood

If you were a beast and it was May,
I would say

Listen to me, you golden beauty,
we must walk through those flames.
Do not fear. Shhh, calm,
calm your hooves. Calm your trample, trampling.
Look at me.

With my hands to the muzzle
I lead the prosperity of my summer yield,
garlanded in cowslips, buttercups and wild daffodils,
through the Beltane flames.

Afterwards, I sweep up cold ash and protection for you,
cold ash for me and mark: here, our foreheads are signed
to welcome prosperity.

It is May, and livelihood is not a golden beast with deep eyes
left to summer fields and prophecies. The bonfire –
a stupid superstition swept away.

It is May, we step through cables, then through screens
and the unseen marks our foreheads.

Out of curiosity, over the bank holiday weekend I looked up details about May Day festivities. I wanted to unravel the relationship between pagan May 1st festivities and the International Workers’ Day association. The latter stems from the Haymarket Riots, confrontations between labourers and police in Chicago during May 1886. These pivotal events led to the institution of International Workers’ Day (for more details read here). However, it was the descriptions of the pagan, Gaelic, Celtic Beltane festivals  that captured my imagination. I have relayed the captivating information (i.e. vivid scenes) to almost every friend, associate and family member with whom I have had a conversation during the last couple of days. Now, dear reader, I have incorporated the fascination into a poem for you.

One of the practices during Beltane was to usher cattle, beasts that provided the livelihood for the people of the settlement, between two large bonfires. The beasts were sometimes garlanded in yellow May flowers. Ash from the bonfires was considered sacred, so it was swept up and used to mark the cattle. In some instances, it was cooked into food (such as oatcakes).

The difference between our present and times past is a recurring theme at the moment. It surfaced in the recent poem ‘Beacons for the utterly lost‘ and my dystopian short-story ‘Gone are the cars‘. Admittedly in ‘Livelihood’ the ‘past’ is a constructed and sanitized pastoral one. It is possibly more like the mythical pastoral that crops up in Friday’s short story, ‘Running in the wood‘. Furthermore, I am also aware that not everyone in our current times is beholden to cables, screens and whatever those ‘unseen marks’ on the foreheads might be.

However, the screen-bound, desk-bound condition is for many the locus and source of a contemporary livelihood. As an artist, the fascination is in the stories that are to be found in the workplace experience, including, as this poem explores, how own might coax a livelihood through flames, or mark it for prosperity. The Beltane acts might strike sceptical office workers as ritualistic hooey, yet there are contemporary equivalents. Organisational targets and projections, meetings and elaborate strategies – all those documents, spreadsheets, published reports – make rational, tangible sense today. In seven hundred years’ time, will Trello boards look like the wild flower garlands on a dairy cow? This may seem an outrageous comparison, for current office methods underpin efficiency and the measurable results prove as much. The movement of money proves as much.

In the days of Beltane festivals, there were fewer bank accounts. Instead there were hungry stomachs to fill. The marked dairy cows provided for the celebrants and then their children’s children, who went on to produce more children whose descendants perhaps send emails and hit targets in this contemporary age.

It bothers me a great deal that all that might be left of my writing output will be a couple of filed applications, some reports and a virtual mound of emails. All this will be destroyed when my workplace footprint has run its course. Whenever I have produced written content for job purposes, it has served such a small audience. Sometimes it has served barely any audience at all. While the same may be said for my posts (and the growing pile of miscellaneous unseen material), it is my hope that eventually my writing will be of substance such that it will endure. It is my hope that writing I produce will touch people in the future and that something endures as good, worthwhile craft. It is my hope that I shall be able to send meaningful work of beauty and value into a realm beyond my present time.

In the interim, practicalities require that I must also earn my livelihood. May rent must be paid, groceries need to be topped up and my cracked tooth needs to be seen by a dentist. I am on the search for a new position of paid employment and watching the bank balance decrease. Once again, the tension between desk-bound livelihood jobs and having head space to create gnaws at me. I am both grateful for the creative bonfire and terrified by the prospect of a summer devoid of a harvest, so my next writing task is to revive my CV.

P.S. If you enjoyed the mash-up of Beltane bonfire and office job, you may enjoy my poem about El Dorado’s operations meeting.

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