Bank Holiday Sunday Morning

Image result for holstein cows

Sitting here in the kitchen on a sunny Sunday morning of a Bank Holiday and I am wandering the wide spaces of the world with deft strokes of my fingertips.

And here I found Billy Collins, the Irish-American poet with a poem about Irish-Dutch cows, if they are Holsteins, or Dutch-Irish cows if Friesians, or they could be a US bred strain of Holstein-Friesians imported back into Ireland.  He didn’t say.

Cows it seems are not like people.  We bring in a Friesian, or a Limousin, a Belgian Blue or a Scottish Angus.  We set it on the land and it eats the green grass of Ireland and magically becomes an Irish steer, an Irish Bull, or an Irish Cow.

We don’t point at it in the field and shout “Go back to Hungary”, or “We don’t want your type of cattle round here”.

Ireland is sometimes personified as a cow.  In his lament for Thomas McDonagh, Francis Ledwidge uses this analogy very powerfully.  And of course the greatest ancient epic in Ireland, central to the tales of Cúchulainn and the Cycle of Tales of the Knights of the Red Branch is the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

Afternoon with Irish Cows

 

Springy spring

Damson

Damson flowering. Prunus Domestica

Its a beautiful day and I am just in from tidying up the garden, clearing the ravages of winter, stopping for a moments rest to have some beer and onions.  Once I post this I will pop back out and shout at the plants in their latin names.  They are all bursting forth so I know they can hear me.

Nostalgia; by Billy Collins

Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

Leaving Cert Poetry in a poem

BillyCollins

Look at that smile, those eyes, you just know he is all about trouble.  But in a good way.  Billy Collins, happy birthday today, born in 1941, is a poet, a professor of poetry and former Poet Laureate of the USA.

We Irish can claim a stake in him through his father’s people.  He is that rarest of creatures, a well loved, and well read poet.  In 1997 he recorded 34 of his poems on “The Best Cigarette” and it became a best seller.  In 2005 it was released into public domain, so you can listen for free.

I love this poem below.  For me it sums up generation after generation of secondary school and university students who are introduced to poetry as a form of verbal torture.  Sadly there are many of them who leave poems tied to the chair and never get the pleasure of waterskiing over one.

 

Introduction to Poetry; by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Off-Grid Opportunity

these days, when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand

these days, when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand

Yesterday the news was dominated by footage of the shooting of Walter Scott by South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, who has now been charged with murder.  In the past it was possible to cover up mistakes and indiscretions, because it was the word of a policeman against the word of a black man, and (in the US media anyway) an assumed criminal.

These days there are people with mobile phone cameras ready to film anything that is vaguely interesting.  It is possible to become rich and famous overnight if you capture the right piece of footage and it goes viral.  There are also people wearing devices such as GoPro cameras on the look out for a juicy capture.

Graham Dwyer almost committed the perfect murder in Ireland, but CCTV footage of his movements helped the police to build the case for his arrest and conviction.  Dwyer was also nailed by phone records, which were also used to convict another killer, Joe O’Reilly.

We now live in a world where Big Brother has become a reality.  There is a strong potential that every movement you make can be retraced.  Criminals hate this world.  Michael Slager hates this world, where the truth of his actions are displayed for everyone to see.

Even on the front lines of battlefields the actions of troops is under scrutiny.  One of the recent trends in watching Soccer is to post a Vine of a foul, or a dive, so that everyone can see what happened, even if the ref makes the wrong call.  Mary Bale, the woman who dumped a cat in a Wheelie Bin in a moment of madness, discovered the danger of life in the public view.

I suspect there will shortly be a demand for holidays “off the grid”.  Places you can go where it is guaranteed that there are no cameras, no mobile phone signal, no wi-fi.  Could be very popular hangouts for those who need to disappear for a while.

Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep A Gun In The House: by Billy Collins

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.