Postcard from the Edge of the Townland

This week, I met Brian, the writer.
I would never ever, ever, say this. Your text is past the point of rescue remedy. Complete Trollop’s. Never. Not ever. Always pour forth. You are getting there. I look forward to being a reader of your novel, printed and guillotined out of your mind, by Caesarian section, just in case the Manor Hamilton vet’s scan shows that there are two lambs in her uterus, Romulus and Remus. The Cotswold countryside is full of fecking fleecy sheep, Mr. Murphy.
The classroom, slow to react, was uncertain.
From Manor Hamilton mart, He continued, then sat down.
Is that paragraph good enough to pass your editor’s censorious picque.
Where the feck is the Cotswolds, again. The flautist piped up.
Let us pull out the map of Sasanach, and draw your fecking sheep on it, not on mine, your map, your hand drawn map, his teacher replied. Our understanding of their geography comes from the radio, the Cotswolds is silly mid-off when bowling from the Manchester end, wearing a woolly jumper on a scorching hot day. Overheated, he starts his run up at Hadrian’s wall. He is out, caught, by a snick to the first Cotswold. Mr Murphy the Irish Newsreader, is new to cricket commentating. He must have been left handed.
Republican lessons were going down a treat in the Corracloon School.
Brian had gone visiting over the weekend and had a new ally, receiving a book from an Alternative Ulster library on fungal taxonomy, the science of classification and the identification of the species from far flung country-sides from the Cotswolds to Barbuda.
The title of the fecking book, in a series of monographs on Humour Research had the bizarrely inappropriate title – A sence of humour. A thesis, read only once, by the poor author, so full of typos, which is so fecking funny, you cannot believe, I am serious, but I am.
Oberon, what is the problem. He is training to be the next dog in space.
Corracloona, we have a problem.
Oberon wants to go out for a space-walk.
Do not bother Mary or us.
Taxonomy is the great extinguisher of mirth, the next class, Mr. Murphy, thought ahead, almost for the first time in his life. Planning, scheming always, but thinking ahead. Never. In that stubborn, Ulster, blackberry bath of grey mould of a way, in a Penicillin prescription voice, that brings me on to Manor Hamilton, later on in the morning to return Library books, from that foetid stew that is his mind.
This week, I met Brian.
The bowl on his space ship is low in water and out of carrots, except there is a half, actually a smidgin less than a quarter of a carrot, still in his bowl, but there is no kibble.
I think we are getting there, closer to Corracloon.
The hermitage’s bedroom door is open. He puts his hand out and closes it.
The extraordinary happens.
Oberon pants vigorously after the aerobic exercise of barking continuously, while being ignored. Unlike Bran, he eats carrots quietly, in between barking.
He knows the story is not funny, and he is exhausted barking at me for offenses against the state of Oberon act. I read to him in my Richard Burton voice, as if it were Under Milk Wood. He sits by my side like a Manxian Panda, black and white with three and a half legs, settled, his gavel meeting out justice in camera in hermetic chambers. Oberon’s skill in justice extends to salami, which he found in a box of taxonomic collections left down to dry from Belmont’s picnic on Friday.
It is Monday. He looks to me to have the recess terminated, sitting, repositioned, back to the door.
‘Vivid Vivienne’s baskets from vimnalis in Vermont require Vermouth to soothe, explaining the benefit of the republic to the citizens of The States’ Mr. Murphy said. ‘The making of basket cases is our next class in Corracloon, Mr. Murphy continues. A class in home economics for your formation. ‘And Snowberry by the school yard grows native in Virginia, Symphytocarpus virginiana, continuing his taxonomy lesson, totally invasive, and unsuitable for making of baskets, but wreaths at Christmas perhaps, when it Snows on Killymanjaro.
Found your inner voice yet, Sir.
That is not funny.
Oberon, gnaws and licks in an attempt to soothe the itch of his underbelly mange, back to the door.
This week, I met Brian.
He is actually a writer. So much so, when he retired after his parents died and he bought an abandoned republican National School in Corracloon, to write in.

Corracloona,
Tuesday

Dear Brian,
Thank you for your hospitality in Corracloon on Saturday, and I trust you enjoyed your visit to our wee monastic hermitage in Corracloona by return, where our dogs eat carrots. Hope your dogs are well, especially the epileptic one. We enjoyed the homemade flapjacks and the black Earl Grey tea. Maria sends her Aubergine recipe from Manor Hamilton library.
Learning from you,
Regards,

Mr. Murphy.

800-850 words.

Nine Worlds

Our very own Yggdrasil fell the other day,
An Ash tree,
holding Nine Worlds in its branches and roots.
Bourne from the Well of Urd, right here by the Tolka,
snowbound and closed, storm Emma blew
from the East-North-East for three days:
Wednesday ‘til Saturday.

Glasnevin watched over this ‘Waterer’s Variety’ Ash
in the far grounds, number 1888.011023.
This 30 metre tree – some 120 years old, graceful,
holding Nine Worlds in its branches and roots.

A yellow flame of Chrysothrix candelaris
on its latticed trunk, made it visible from afar.
Honey fungus, at a root buttress,
was noted, 14 September, five years ago,
warning that its time was near.
Armillaria gallica, a honey fungus variety
has rotted out its fifth of the root plate.

Nine Worlds of our very own Yggdrasil were alive here, last week.
Leafy lichens of 20 kinds,
crusty ones and fungi of another 20 sorts.
Nine fungal infections of lichens,
five mat-forming mosses, three cushioned ones,
two liverworts and a 16-spot ladybird, in an Ash tree.

Sixty species crowned this Glasnevin village Ash:
all grown from wild gardener’s spores,
30 years afresh in Mary Harney’s clean air.
Our very own Yggdrasil
holding Nine Worlds in its branches and roots,
full of cryptogamic spore bark life,
a centre of spiritual cosmos,
right here by the Tolka, the Ash that fell the other day.

Howard FOX, Botanist, 7-8 iii 2018

Kildare Snowdrops

The tall tree casts its long shadow at dawn in a weak sun; winter is beginning to ease. Snowdrops catch little of the hint of warmth in still air. Cool but not cold. These Galanthus nivalis could be from the mountains in Turkey, from a valley far above the Black Sea, where I have never been.

Our snowdrops in the garden at home were planted by a previous owner, a different family and a different generation. Snowdrops from Crimea, snowdrops from the Balkans, snowdrops from the First World War. Ottoman trophies – a few bulbs brought home in soldier’s luggage – memories of friends lost in the chaos and misadventure of war.

The snowdrop varieties here in our garden are the same as the ones of the big houses of North Kildare: Castletown and Carton. Snowdrops as a signature of social cohesion, a society within a society, traded as presents between the tenant farmer’s wife and the big house. The snowdrops in Hosie’s garden were in a white sward, right across from the 33 milestone on the old coach road from Dublin. That is 33 Irish miles, marked on Taylor’s Map of Kildare of the 1770s.

Writing for pleasure itself is alive here on a Saturday morning in the halls of Ardgillan, the home of the road improver Taylor of Taylor’s Map at his country seat. And there are snowdrop varieties to see here in Ardgillan gardens too, in the shade of the tall trees.

This short piece developed from an exercise of 15 minutes composition, from the prompt word -Tree, freshly written at this morning’s meeting of the Ardgillan Writers Group and read a few times by a our readers, for sentences that did not work, transcribed this afternoon from the pencil manuscript typed up, edited and elaborated this evening and made ready for this internet blog.

Handwriting – twin pencils catch the muse

Always to hand,
ink in all its permanence
leaves its pale tattoo,
on a right-hand middle finger tip,
from a hand held fountain pen,
after washing with soap,
while leaks make for
a messy laundered pen pocket.

The capped fountain pen requires tissues,
an ink bottle of south sea blue too,
and a draw fill chamber squeezed –
inhaling ink for handwriting,
patted down for cleanliness
in a grip well above the nib
A leather shod foot to break a fall
might save the nib, if you are quick.

Graphite wood case pencil rounds,,
long handled twin pencils in hand,
from finger clamp to palm side,
pointed by an office topper,
metallic sharpener’s wood turned coils
make for dusty graphite centered shavings
caught by a sea whelk shell’s belly,
twin pencils pared, essential, if a lead breaks,
one pencil left to keep going with.

Pastel A4 paper, so the handwriting can be,
by colour, of ink or paper,
re-found on a cluttered desk top to type up.
Beech wood quartos and bamboo octavos
as writing boards, travel with me.
Filter paper scientifically blots the mess
from emotionally dry sentences,
while sea shells from beach combing
fancy goods of a stationery press
are a scouts’ tools for handwriting.

Fair copy hand typed on a keyboard
lines set for the computer and internet,
a postcard to you and your smart-phone
so as to be ready to be read,
if you have the battery charged,
and you are in the humour, to connect.

With a scouts’ obsession of having tools to hand:
for when the fickle muse calls
and words start to tumble out
some unholy time of day or night,
my trusty twin pencils pared
are always ready to write.

Howard Fox

I do not like squared paper – towards a solution to a science dilemma

Laboratory Books I need to love
on every page have squared paper –
a push away from science.
Title, abstract, introduction,
materials, methods, results,
discussion, conclusions, references
is our way.

Squares for every single letter.
Squares for every single digit.
Obsessively square control
for everything written every time,
every day in a square,
day by day, in laboratory books.

My love of digits in squares faded
with childhood mathematical prowess.
Now I could not do a budget
to save a single round cent,
yet I need to love squares again
to get some science done.

I think I am finding a way.
1000 questions in long hand
writing across square boundaries
as if they do not box me in.
Angle the page so as my hand
follows a horizontal sometime.
Write on every second line
for a page at least.

Are the problems real? The trauma is.

An unethical pharmacology demonstration
in a graph on squared paper
displaying after injection the last of a life.
Traumatic physics assignments,
of metallic springs stretched
beyond their design load.
Laboratory Book marking
turned me to botany,
and on to vegetation quadrats
standing in squares recording plants.
Geographic co-ordinates are
squares set on arcs on the celestial round,
squares undermined by cadastral appeal.

The scientific solution is to add
a compass with pencil arcs
to turn squared paper on the lathe to beauty.
Arcs and curves, sine waves and parabolas –
squares inhibit, if you do not love them.
Rekindle that spirit of botanical inquisition
to understand, model and represent.

Build that scientific model
from the materials to hand
of some phenomenon in the world.
Back of an envelope, they say,
Why not the herbarium folded packet
Latin name, plant geography, date, collector.

Find your voice, find your style,
let your laboratory book be
your window on to that inquisitive life.
For the love of squares, with a compass then,
create arcs of roundness,
and a few tweaks here and now,
terms of reference, ethical concerns,
why this science is good for society,
and why it is right for us to do.
Masking tape to add notes culled from
notes written in undisciplined places,
until I like squared paper in the
Laboratory Books I need to love.

Beaufort five and falling

Flapping in the wind,

For quarter of a hour between 8 and 9,

Clouds flow east across the evening sun.

Hammock silk tugs and stretches,

As tree mallow flower spikes sway,

Awaiting her return.

 

Noodle nests boiled for supper

Seasoned by butter and goats cheese

With Miso, provided for what I need.

Low clouds zip east.

Eyelids closed for an inner volcanic rouge

From solar bound shut eye.

 

Wind hammock billows

cooling shivers motive to go in.

Bluer above, catching the evening air

Heading out to the Irish Sea.

Cooler chilled back and coughs,

signal a last swing,

Before I unfurl my hammock,

And let my day out end.

 

Rewarmed in still air inside,

Hisses the drafts of unsteady wind,

Beaufort five and falling,

As mallow lilac flowers wobble,

In the last of the day’s sun.

Crescent moonrise over Loughshinny

The dog looks over me, waiting for me to wake up. A whimper to see if I am emerging from unconsciousness, and then a few more insistent barks when he sees he is getting a result. Clasping palms, I roll towards the edge of the bed, my elbow righting myself for the day ahead.

His single woof, at his nemesis Bran, chambered next door, is his acknowledgement that he is on his way up and out for his morning walks. Out the door, down the steps, to the lawn for a quick pee, and the pressure is off. He runs dollop, bear-like, a black and white Manx panda dog, tailless, with ferocious teeth, sometimes.

We go around the old lifeboat house to the beach. The sand is wind blown this morning, scalloped, like something fresh from the Sahara, dry, footprint free.

He has woken me before for astronomical highlights. The red-eyed full moon during the tail end of a lunar eclipse over the bay in the winter, the moonlight reflected in a damp beach with the southwest Dublin sodium lamp glow. Another nocturnal walk around and across to the Chevrons in the spring, rocks at the edge of the bay, Venus light, on a moon free night, from the east reflected as spots on a gentle lapping sea.

His track across the sand is distinctive, a three pawed cluster with his peg leg leaving the mark of a pirate’s stump. The sand blows and a few grains reach my lips and I rub my eyes. I have always dreamt of seeing full moonrise at sea in the Pacific Ocean, but that would take planning.

This morning’s view is of a crescent moonrise east through the orange pre-dawn stripe of the horizon, over the Irish Sea. Rockabill lighthouse is to the northeast, a twelve second red blink, with an open sea horizon southeast to Lambay and on to the green second light on the navigation marker south in Loughshinny Harbour.

Returning for the camera, I capture seven views of the crescent moon to illustrate it. Johnny still slumbers in the mobile home, with his dog Blackie, who had hid under his mobile home for a few days unfed, and Wiry, carried under his arm past our window last night, past the risk of an encounter with one of our pair.

Oberon has been out before dawn, and Bran tumbles back into his canine reverie, while Oberon supervising the door, he lies, exhales nasally, and lies horizontal like a door draft excluder, ensuring that any ingress or egress cannot possibly be missed.

Seagulls, Greater Black Backs pick for lugworms, along the stripe of the freshwater spring across the beach to the west, their breast feathers catching the early morning sunrise with a glossy white to prawn pink hue.

I sit looking west, curious to know if the crescent moon is visible now, when I have finished writing this, the long shadows have more contrast, and the sunlight has more strength, now that the day is here.

HOWARD FOX
2 June 2016