The Sacred Tree – na Bílí – is where I made my home, called by a voice unknown, challenged but in the end found worthy. The heart knows when it is home. I pay my respects from a distance, content to wait.
And trees have time to kill.
My life has been filled with trees, from the day as a teen when I missed my train to work because I was so busy writing a poem (Winter Trees) about the trees which bordered the platform, to the day only a few months ago, when I planted the first trees in my garden.
I love them. I admire them. I respect them. I cry when I see one cut down. I feel pain when I see the naked wound of pale, fresh wood.
Trees are tactile. They invite touch. Against my skin, the trunk is cold, hard, unyielding. The tree is not like me: I am soft, warm, weak flesh. Silent and strong he stands, old long before I was thrust into existence; he will remain long after I am gone.
The tree is not like me. He reaches for the stars, blossoms for the sun, always standing tall and proud, bowing to none, resisting. When the storm rages, he dances and sings, but he is resolute.
I am not like the tree. I drift where life’s breeze blows me. I shy from sun and storm. I am human, enslaved to my weak, warm flesh.
The broad path leads me through the forest, and I am dazzled by the myriad shades of green, by the capricious filter of sunbeams, by the golden fall of last years leaves, shed like autumn tears. Above me, branches interlace, shaping the vault of nature’s cathedral. Protecting. Embracing. Forming me into the precious relic contained within their shrine. I breathe, and the burden of life’s woes is lifted.
Beneath my feet, deep in the dark, damp earth, roots search out kin, binding, weaving together, supporting one another, connecting. They are all different – the oak, the scots pine, the rowan, the willow. And yet, they are all the same.
Just like us.
I was inspired to write this by the #BloggersBash Blog Post Competition, which this year is all about ‘Connections‘.
I have looked out of this window every day of my life. I have seen every mood of the ocean and shade of the sky conceivable. The tide has washed many trinkets and curios upon the stony strand, but never before a man.
I watch him wade the shallows, the surf rolling and dragging at his sodden cloak, foaming like playful kittens around his knees. His stride is strong and purposeful, and I know he has come for me. My heart beats faster, louder than the flurry of my footsteps on the tower’s stone stairs, as I rush to meet him.
He has tugged his boat well above the water line. He is not fooled by the benign fawning of the waves upon the shore.
“My father will kill you,” I say.
His eyes are blue as the gentian which flourishes on the cliffs, and as wide as a summer sky. “It is worth the risk. I came to see if the stories are true.” His bright gaze travels from my hair to my lips to the curves beneath my gown. “And I see that they are.”
The thick gold light of evening paints him with the glamour of the Otherworld, and when he pulls me to him, I have no will to resist. The taste of salt is sweet on his tongue. Water drips from his flaxen braids, and the dampness of his cloak is cold on my skin, but I am heedless.
Tomorrow, he will be gone, and I will go back to my long lonely life. Must I die an old woman who has never known a man’s love? No; I will take all he has to offer.
In the morning, my window reveals a world transformed with fury, as the sea lashes against the cliffs, filling the air with stinging spray and the sound of thunder. The tiny coracle lies beached on the pebbles, well beyond the ocean’s briny grasp.
“Your life is forfeit today, if you think that frail craft will carry you safely home.”
He just laughs. “The old man of the sea will bear me through the storm, have no fear.”
He speaks with bravado, full of the conviction of youth and his own power. He pulls a gold ring from his finger and presses it into my hand. He seals my protests with a kiss.
“If you ever escape, come to me.”
I let him go. I could have stopped him, for I have power of my own. I slip his ring onto my finger and rest my hand against my belly. He left me with something far greater than gold and a promise.
Use the image to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… by Wednesday 1st June and link back to Sue’s post with a pingback. Please make sure that the pingback works and if not, copy and paste your link into the comments section of Sue’s post. Don’t forget to use the new and shiny #writephoto hashtag in your title:)
I haven’t taken part in many writing challenges recently. Quite honestly, its all been a bit of a struggle for a while, writing and researching for the blog, keeping up with all your lovely blogs and comments, writing books and all my motherly duties as well. Sometimes everything seems to conspire to suck the inspiration out of you, and it’s a downward spiral from there. But Sue’s picture really spoke to me; it reminded me of all the old places of Ireland I love with my heart and soul and bones. I need to pay some visits. In the meantime, I wrote this, and added a poem I started when I was about 17, but only finished last year. It seems to fit the prompt. At least to me.
Beards of moss drape old stones with velvet softness. Stark-raw and already ancient, these great stone-bones once teased and tortured from the earth into grey new skeletons, wherein men danced and dreamed and viewed the stars, survive in hunched fragments of former glory.
Now tumbled and crumbled, they lie discarded, forgotten, memories of magic dormant yet still alive throbbing within them. You can feel it if you touch them, feel the vibration in the air on your skin. Be still.
The earth remembers. Time is meaningless here; there is no rush. She feels her way, creeping slowly over recumbent remains, claiming lost treasure torn from her flesh. She heals the hurt without reproach while no one notices.
What cities lie buried beneath each hill?
Monuments born of ancient times,
Forgotten and lost but standing still,
Neglected, disconnected, these are our crimes.
What histories are etched into ancient stones?
Tales decayed with the fall of walls,
The sag of dynasty, the crumble of bones,
The march of ghosts through tumbled halls.
If we could learn to unlock the past
What shrouds would unfurl from our eyes?
Would realisation be ours at last?
Understanding the what, when, who and why's.
The power was strong, up on Shee Mor,
I felt at great peace, content.
At Moytura, where warriors fought their war
no harm for me was meant.
At Uisneach, by the lough where Lugh was drowned
I grieved for Eire's loss, watched Beltaine fires leap.
Then to Tara, where High Kings were crowned,
the Sacred Stone sadly lost in eternal slumber deep.
These places, their magic floods my soul,
washes me clean of the now.
Their stories surge through me, re-make me whole,
ancient voices tell of the how.
Ancestors sing and call me home.
I would go if I knew the way.
Under my feet, beneath the loam
stirs blood, beats heart of a by-gone day.
Head on over to Sue Vincent’s blog to take a look at the other entries, and if you fancy giving it a go yourself, here is what you have to do;
Use the image to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… by Wednesday 25th May and link back to Sue’s post, not this one, with a pingback. Please make sure that the pingback works and if not, copy and paste your link into the comments section of Sue’s post.
Don’t forget to use the new and shiny #writephoto hashtag in your title
Due to the volume of entries, only the first few posts will feature on Sue’s blog during the week and all posts will be included in a round up on Thursday 26th May.
Feel free to use #writephoto logo or include the prompt photo in your post if you wish or you can replace it with one of your own to illustrate your work. Have fun!
She danced when the world was young and green, and she was all that was in it. She danced for herself and for joy, and the glittering eyes of curious stars. Her dress billowed on the breeze, a filmy sheath of mist and moonlight, revealing nut brown limbs which beat a barefoot tattoo into the soil, matching the throb of life deep in the earth.
New flowers sprang up in her footsteps, animals hopped into being as she passed by, created by her energy. Life surged around her, for she was life.
Mankind watched first with fear, then with adoration, and reaped the bounty she created for them. Laughing, she twirled and leapt, swayed and span, wilder, faster, for their adulation.
Her dance bore her across the world, populating every inch with life, and she was mother to it all. But the more she danced, the more man took. They plundered her bounty, and began their own dance.
The earth whirled and froze and thawed and aged. She danced just like she always had, for life depended on it. But her limbs stiffened. Her skirts swirled and settled in folds around her, and finally she stood still. She lifted her arms to the heavens, and the universe took her back, leaving only a shell rooted in the earth, praying for forgiveness.
It’s been a difficult week; two children sick at home, and now I have contracted the dreaded lurgy myself. It’s not conducive to sleep, writing or creativity. However, I got all my re-writes done, and have just started the final edit before sending my new little book-baby out into the kind (I hope!) hands of my lovely beta-readers. Current word count is 30, 317, but I expect to reduce that as I edit. This is the last time I will post about Swanskin until nearer its launch date. Btw, if anyone’s interested, I’m looking for two more beta-readers.
Here is an excerpt. This piece is one of the re-writes I worked on this week. Cethlenn has something of a complicated relationship with her mother, as you will see…
The atmosphere in school was pretty hyper. There were groups of students everywhere, some happy, a few distraught, many hugging and screaming and doing little happy dances. The noise was intense. I felt sick as I moved through them, a part of it all and yet not.
I signed for my envelope, then turned to be confronted by a shrieking Sophie. She flung her arms around me. “I passed,” she yelled in my ear. “I passed. Well, only just, but still. It’s a miracle.”
She faltered when she saw my own envelope was unopened. “Congratulations. I’m happy for you,” I replied, and meant it. I had really missed her friendship over the summer. She took my arm and drew me over to a quiet corner.
“Go on. You’ve got to look some time. Might as well get it over with.”
I groaned, stomach jolting. “I don’t think I can.”
“You could always leave it to your Mam.”
I ripped open the envelope. “I don’t think so. I need to prepare myself. She’s gonna go mental.” I scanned the results and sighed. “Yep, she’s gonna flip. That’s her plans for me being a teacher down the drain.”
“You don’t even want to be a teacher,” Sophie retorted.
“I know, but since when did that matter?”
Sophie snatched the sheet of paper from my hand. “Well, it’s not that bad. But it’s not good enough, that’s for sure.”
“Maybe I can re-sit them.”
“Yeah.” Sophie regarded me seriously. “Are you still seeing that guy?”
I shook my head. “No. But I’d rather not talk about it just yet, if you don’t mind.”
She nodded. “And how are things at home?”
I tried to twitch my lips into a smile, but failed. “Not easy. It’s world war three between Mam and Cian lately. Don’t know what the hell he’s supposed to have done. He hardly ever comes home, just works on the farm with Dad and dosses with mates at night.”
“Well he’s gonna get a reprieve when you bring this home.” She handed back my results and I stuffed them into the envelope. “A few of us are going down the town for a celebratory coffee. Want to join us?”
I shook my head. “I think I’ll just go home and face the music. Better get it over and done with.”
“Ok. Well, you know where I am if you need me. And I’m sorry about… well, you know.”
“I know. Me too. And thanks.”
I headed down the road to wait for a bus. I was dreading Mam’s reaction.
She was surprised to see me. “I thought you were celebrating with your friends?” she said.
I didn’t reply, just handed her the envelope. She stared at me for a moment, compressing her lips into that awful white line. She sat down at the kitchen table, shook out the letter and read its contents without a word. She must have stared at it for ten minutes while I stood there, anxiously hopping from one foot to the other. I thought I was going to throw up over her freshly mopped floor.
Eventually, I couldn’t stand her silence any more. “Well say something, then,” I burst out. But she didn’t. Slowly, she tore up the results, allowing the pieces to fall from her hands onto the floor. Then she got up and left the kitchen without even so much as a glance at me. I fled to my room. I didn’t go down for dinner, and no one bothered to call me, or bring me anything on a tray.
And here’s a little snippet from Ruadhán, too…
Nothing exceeded the rush of flying. It was my only solace. I lost myself in the spaces between winds and soared, nothing but the roar of the empty air about me, and the landscape passing beneath me, glorious in its abundance and many guises.
Sometimes, I thought I would fold my wings and allow myself to plummet and end it all, but somehow, I was ever unable. Perhaps my soul still cleaved on to hope, even though my heart and mind did not.
I wandered, and the days and nights merged into one formless mass, as they had done for centuries, each one nondescript and indistinct from the other. Just loneliness, and an ache that could never be relieved. I felt so heavy beneath its weight, I wondered that my wings could lift me.
I sailed from river to river, drifted from lake to lough, flying and feeding in the day, hiding and sleeping in the night. I say sleeping, but oft times it eluded me completely. Or else I was mired in traumatic dreams and memories which served only as torment.
SWAN FACT NO.4 A swan has over 25,000 feathers covering its body. Wonder who took the time to count them, and how the swan felt about it at the time!
OTHER NEWS; I entered a piece of flash fiction into Sacha Black’s Writespiration, you can read it here. The prompt was ‘write about a struggle’. Mine was based on a true story.
I also entered a poem into Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge. You can read it here. The prompt was to take a favourite line from a song, movie, etc and allow it to inspire a poem. I chose a line from Demons by Imagine Dragons, and wrote a villanelle (my first ever).
I did it! The first draft of Swanskin is complete! I wrote a mighty (for me!) 7033 words, and on Wednesday, the job was done. Swanskin is just a little book, my first novella. I anticipated around 30K words, and it came in at just under, but that could change. There are a few areas I need to rewrite. And of course, the whole thing needs a bit of spit and polish. The story came to me in such a rush, that I was in a hurry to get it all down and catch up with myself.
Strangely, once I got going, I became very emotionally invested in this story. I didn’t expect that. It was inspired by the lovely tale from Irish mythology called The Dream of Óengus, which I retold for my compilation, Conor Kelly’s Legends of Ireland. This story is one of the few Irish myth stories which ends on a happy note. Swanskin, I have to tell you, does not, but follows in the true vein of romantic tragedies.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Ten, in which Cethlenn is considering whether to tell her bestie, Sophie, about Ruadhán…
“Where the hell have you been? You missed registration,” hissed Sophie.
“Well I’m here now, aren’t I?” I banged the door of my locker shut and turned to face her.
She gasped. “What happened to you?”
“Nothing.” I picked up my bag and shouldered past her.
“Doesn’t look like nothing.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
I stopped and stared at her, weighing up what I could trust her with. She was my best friend, and we had shared everything since we first met at primary school. We were more like sisters than friends.
“Really, it’s nothing.” I carried on walking.
She shrugged. “Ok, but you’re going the wrong way. First exam is in Room 12.”
“I know that,” I snapped.
She fell in beside me. “You sure you’re in a fit state to do this exam? Maybe you should tell old Poker-face you’re not well.”
I took a deep breath. “I’m fine.”
“Ok. Well, I covered for you. I told her you were so nervous you were puking your guts up in the bogs, and that’s why you missed registration. I reckon you’ll get away with it.”
I grinned. “Thanks, Sophie. You’re the best.”
Here’s another little excerpt. Ruadhán had gone missing, and this is what happened on his return…
I opened my eyes, but blackness still pressed against them. I blinked just to be sure. Yes, pitch black. No moon. I reached for my phone; 2am. Great.
My eyes were swollen and tender from crying. I’d had a huge row with Mam. I squeezed them tightly shut again. I just wanted to sleep, so I didn’t have to remember, so I didn’t have to think, so I could just slip into oblivion and not have to feel so shit.
There it was again; the noise which had awoken me. Someone was throwing stones up at my window. But who? Sophie? No way, we hadn’t spoken in weeks. Besides, not much would drag her from her bed before lunch-time. Cian? Had he forgotten his keys again? I’d bloody kill him.
I yanked the quilt aside furiously, and went to the window. Although it was a dark night, there was no mistaking the long coppery hair which glinted under the starlight.
I flew down the stairs, heart hammering like a pneumatic drill. I wanted to scream at him, thump him, beat him black and blue for dumping me, but most of all, I wanted to lose myself in his kiss. Then I would kill him.
I fumbled with the key in the lock. Somehow, my fingers didn’t seem to know what to do, ten stubby fat sausages struggling to manipulate a key so tiny it must have been made for Barbie’s gaudy apartment. My whole body was shaking. But I managed it, and then I was in his arms, clinging to him like ivy to a tree.
So there you have it. Next week, I will begin editing, and contacting beta readers soon after. Thank you to my lovely volunteers!
SWAN FACT No3: A swan can fly at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour.
I wrote a quatern poem for Jane Dougherty‘s prompt called The Bridge. Please pop along to her blog to read it, if you are interested. I love poetry, but it doesn’t come easy to me.
I also submitted a micro-fiction piece to Sacha Black‘s Writespiration, inspired by the prompt; ‘Write about a rusty thing’. So I did, but it’s probably not what you might think. Why not drop by her blog and check out all the other fab entries while you’re there.
#Girllove challenge was launched by Lilly Singh, a.k.a. Superwoman, on her YouTube Channel. Lilly Singh is a Canadian vlogger, actress, comedian, and rapper, age 27. She is tired of ‘girl-on-girl hate’ in schools, workplaces, and social media, so she decided to reverse trends by promoting #GirlLove. In her empowering video young women speak out about their respect and gratitude for other women in their lives. Proceeds from video views will go to the Malala Fund to help educate girls around the world. The goal of the fund is to “enable girls to complete 12 years of safe, quality education so that they can achieve their potential and be positive change-makers in their families and communities”.
Last week I challenged you to write about a building. Here is the prompt…
Tell me about a building which is important to you; are its walls ancient and crumbling, or modern shining glass and cold steel? Does it mean home to you, or prison? What happened here? Why do you care?
First off, I’d like to welcome a newcomer to Friday FANTASTIC Flash, Darlene Foster, who submitted this stunning story…
Terror in the Tower
Angela glances at the tower ruins that overlook the city from high on a grassy mound and pulls her sweater tighter around her. She experiences the same chill every time she walks past the site.
When she was seven, her mother took her up to the old stone keep. From a small window, she saw a girl looking out at her through iron bars. Fire blazed behind the child. It had frightened her so.
“Mommy, we need to help that little girl,” exclaimed Angela.
Her mother took her hand and said, “There are no children in there. It must be a trick of the sun reflecting off the water.”
The sad, terrified and helpless child appeared very real.
Angela shudders as she recalls that day. She rushes to work.
It was the feast of Shabbatt ha-Gadol. Instead of the usual tables overflowing with food, around her lay the dead bodies of friends and neighbours. The air was thick with the smell of fresh blood and smoldering wood. Ester searched for Jacob, and Marta in the crowded tower. She witnessed parents slitting their children’s throats and then their own. Terrified, Ester tried to look away, but it was the same everywhere.
Since she didn’t have any parents, she stayed with old Jacob the money lender and his kind wife, Marta. For her board she cleaned the house, made meals and ran errands. Ester stumbled in the smoke filled keep looking for the only family she knew. Eventually she found them, dead in each other’s arms on a bed of straw soaked with maroon blood. A curved butcher’s knife lay beside them.
Did they forget about me? Did Jacob slit his wife’s throat and then his own?
The flames and smoke of the burning wood tower closed around her.
A growing mob outside yelled, “Come out, you dirty Jews.”
Why is this happening?We were promised safety in the tower.
She peered through the iron bars of a low window. Angry people outside the tower waved swords, scythes and pitchforks. It was safer to stay inside. It was better to die by your own hand. That is what the Rabbi said.
In the crowd, she caught the clear blue eyes of a girl her age. A girl dressed in fine clothing. Maybe she can help me. Ester mouthed the word Help.
The girl pointed to the window and said, “Look, Mother, there is a little girl in the tower. It is burning. We must help her.”
Ester saw an elegant woman take the child´s hand and pull her away. “There are no children in there, Angelina. Let us go away from this awful place.”
Ester coughed from the thick smoke and fell backward. The flames engulfed her.
Nine centuries later Angela can feel the eyes of Ester pleading for help as she hurries past Clifford’s Tower on the way to her Hebrew lessons. One day she will stop and help the child.
Next up it’s Ellie, who I met at the Bloggers Bash in London this summer. Ellie is an architect and a writer, so she couldn’t very well ignore this prompt, could she?
Its walls are made of concrete but it is a ruin. Its gate is a vibrant, cobalt blue – a blue so blue it makes the ocean green with envy. There is a tall tree right by its entrance. Was it a palm or a eucalyptus? As the paint chips from the walls, my memory fades.
Its walls are made of concrete and its foundations are deep. A legacy from the French, almost certainly. A century old, perhaps a little less. It is named after a French poet and novelist. In fact, this is the only French term in the surroundings. Rue Sijilmassa, the street that leads to the train station, refers to a medieval Moroccan city.
There are hints of Morocco within its walls, too. Pinned on a long frieze in the inner courtyard, a myriad calligraphy paintings tell the story of a sunny day in Casablanca – moored boats in the port, silhouettes wearing djellabas and countless representations of the Hand of Fatima.
The courtyard is silent. Clusters of palm trees rise from the ground like small oasis towns within walking distance. Under each cluster, a concrete round table and a bench, moulded from the ground.
Suddenly, a familiar scent wafts through the air. Kefta kebabs with chips. A bell echoes and almost instantly, the courtyard livens up. Teenagers rush in and out, their satchel bags tossed around their shoulders. It is lunchtime in Anatole France Middle School.
Its walls are made of concrete but it is a ruin. A sight that belongs to the past, buried along with the smell of the ocean and the innocence of my adolescent years.
Lastly, it’s me with an alternative view of of our ancient ancestors building efforts…
Stone Circles and Concrete Cities
You see them all wrong. You see them as something organic, as if they have grown from the earth, like a tree, or a mountain. But that’s not how it is at all. Those rocks were wrenched from the ground like pulling teeth, and the land shrieked with pain for every single one.
Man did this. Man shaped this landscape, not nature. Trees once sacred were felled to make room for the wealth of cattle, and the unnatural forced growth of grains. In the trees stead, boulders were hewn and shaped and stood in rows or circles, or heaped in mounds, and in these contrived, unholy places they worshipped the stars and celestial beings, where once they had worshipped the idols of the natural world.
Picture this; the concrete jungle of a modern city, with all the detritus it brings, the laying waste of acres of land, the gouging of red-brown earth in which to set foundations, sewers, electrical cables. The land bleeds and we patch it with tarmac and technology.
So you see, we are not so different. We make the same mistakes.
Their cleared lowlands soon turned to bog, barren and useless but for burying bodies to be dug up as future treasure. Hill-tops once bearded and hirsute with green, life-giving forest presented bald domes to the heavens, and man knew in his bones that the earth had been violated.
To make amends, he raised new forests of stone, but to build them, he first had to remove them from her gut, and it was no gentle surgery, that. To cross the bogs he built trackways, but that meant more trees felled, and thus the sacrilege was perpetuated.
Fine temples of tortured stone he raised, and he exulted in his cleverness, while around him the land lay ravaged. Yes, they were just like us.
Now, softened with moss and painted with lichen, shrunken and tumbled with age, whittled by the wind and washed by the rain, these once great structures blend into a landscape they had so radically dominated in their youth. Gradually, they are returning to the sundered womb, she is claiming her property, and they slide with slow deliberation and relief beneath the turf.
Contrasted with today’s abominations, they are but beautiful blemishes on the earth’s hide, just a few erroneous eyesores left behind by a people who are no more. We should heed her lesson, for she takes sly revenge beneath our noses; a twitch of her skin, and cities crumble. A ripple of her ocean, and cities drown. A gust of her breath, and cities collapse. It was ever so, and the work of man is never done.
Cheerful stuff, huh? My sincere thanks to Darlene and Ellie, I am so grateful to you both for taking part and sharing your wonderful stories.
Whilst the frenzy of NANO otherwise engages much of the writing community, Friday FANTASTIC Flash will be taking a short break until Friday 4th December. Watch out for the prompt coming soon…