4/3/4 (#4)

yet another
collection
of these poems

that aren’t really
poems at
all, now, are they

***

#79: spite, obduracy

the whole point of
this is that
it annoys you

***

#80: a failure of words

there is not a
clear way to
say this at all

***

#81: on pens #1

i don’t like this
pen but its
all i have left

***

#82: on pens #2

ink doesn’t flow
correctly
across the page

***

#83: on pens #3

scratching away
the paper
each word a scar

***

#84: on pens #4

left the lid off
ink’s gone dry
pen thrown in bin

***

#85: sufficiently advanced self-awareness is indistinguishable from self-pity

i do not like
who i am
even slightly

***

#86: on waking #3

my brain has shrunk
like a voles
in midwinter

***

#87: lost in a dream (variation #1)

lost in a dream
of a life
hazy, drifting

***

#88: lost in a dream (variation #2)

lost in a dream
of my own
constant failings

***

#89: lost in a dream (variation #3)

lost in a dream
of a world
unrecognised

***

#90: bird poem #1

seven egrets
in a row
still as statues

***

#91: bird poem #2

a thousand ducks
braced against
the winter wind

***

#92: bird poem #3

crow flying off
holding an
egg in its beak

***

#93: bird poem #4

the cormorant
dives below
gulls hover above

***

#94: bird poem #5

a swan’s feather
floating past
caught in the wind

***

#95: the coming end of the bird poem cycle

cat sauntering
across road
over the fence

***

#96: happiness

road black with rain
heavy boots
joy of puddles

***

#97:

the puddle fits
perfectly
in its own hole

***

#98: despair #1

made the mistake
of reading
twitter today

***

#99: despair #2

some people seem
to really
want civil war

***

#100: waiting for the doors #1

phone-lit faces
punctuate
the snaking queue

***

#101: waiting for the doors #2

cigarette smoke
matching breath
bring your own fog

***

#102: the end of the process

this little box
is full now
of written words

***

#103: a lifetime of regrets

so many words
i shouldn’t
ever have said

***

#104:

a perfect world
as silent
and still as snow

___________

Notes:

1. Written in September and October 2019
2. The three previous collections of 4/3/4 poems can be found here, here and here
3. Bird poem #3 was actually based on a misidentification
4. And it was a walnut in the crow’s beak
5. rather than an egg
6. I disocvered this yesterday, when a crow dropped a walnut on the road in front of me
7. from it’s perch on the roof of the house
8. trying to crack it
9. but failing.
10. But then I noticed that the whole road was littered with walnut shell shrapnel
11. pleasing proof of their eventual success

__________

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Tale #71: The Crow Tree

It is often tempting for outside observers to judge a society or community solely by its traditions, rituals and festivals, to bestow a significance and seriousness onto events beyond that which they hold for their participants, to see superstition and fear in theatre and frivolity. Equally, of course, the reverse can be true for those involved, leading to a refusal to recognise the serious intent that underpins their festivities.

The event which takes place at the crow tree is one of the community’s least talked about rituals, and consequently can be assumed to be among its most serious. Indeed, there appears to be no written record of the ritual at all, although there are verified accounts of the tree used in the ritual itself dating back to the 15th Century. While the community’s own folklore suggests the ceremony has always taken place, nothing certain about its origins are recorded, and no speculations about its meaning would be offered to me.

The ritual takes place on February the 29th, during the second leap year after the birth of a father’s eldest daughter. The distinction of it being the father’s eldest daughter is an important one, as it means no man can participate in the ritual more than once, whereas a woman might well be required to participate both as a daughter and later as a mother.

(The strict criteria can lead to several convoluted possibilities where the mothers of daughters are concerned. For example, a mother’s first daughter might not be the father’s first daughter, and in this case the ritual would not be required. However, this same mother’s second daughter might then be fathered by a different man, one who has not fathered a daughter before, and so it would be this child that would necessitate the ritual. And of course this hypothetical mother could have more daughters by more new fathers, and so on. Indeed, it is possible for a mother to have to participate in the ritual with each of her daughters, while another woman may never have to, regardless of the number of daughters she has.)

Due to the fixed date of the event combined with the unfixed timing of a child’s birth, the daughter can be anywhere between the age of 4 and exactly 8 when she participates in the ritual. A child born on February the 29th would be the eldest possible participant, and a child born on February the 28th during a leap year would be the youngest.

If the child, the father or the mother have died before the ritual has taken place then a lament is sung by the surviving members of the family at the edge of the field where the ceremonial tree, or crow tree, resides. In these circumstances it is not permitted for the survivors to approach the tree itself during the course of the day.

In recent years, due to the decline in births within the community, it has been rare for there to be more than one family needing to perform the ritual in any given leap year, and indeed in some recent leap years the event has not taken place at all.

In times of a more populous community, however, when multiple rituals were to be carried out during the same day, the participating families were ordered by the age of the child involved, with the eldest girl first and youngest last – a reflection, perhaps, of the length of time they had been waiting to perform. On busy days it was said that, despite there being no apparent communication between the families, each group would arrive in the correct order, equally spaced apart, and that all the rituals would be finished in good time, well before the sun had set.

The ritual itself is one of the most sombre in the community’s complex calendar. No work is conducted on the day itself, and it is traditional for everyone who is not directly involved to stay inside their own houses, although this is not compulsory. No costumes are worn, and the tools used are not ceremonial objects, instead being everyday household objects or workplace items.

The ceremony starts with the father leaving his house at dawn. He makes his way to the edge of the field and waits by the gate. The mother and daughter do not hurry, although usually they will arrive before noon, and always before dusk. The mother carries with her a pail filled with breadcrumbs, offal, fish guts, bones, butter. The daughter carries a length of rope and a knife. When they arrive at the gate to the field, the father wordlessly leads the way in and they walk together to the crow tree at the centre of the field.

The crow tree is a long dead oak, its trunk and branches bleached white as bone by the sun. Other dead oak trees dot the field, but the crow tree is the only one that remains completely bare of ivy or lichen. It is believed that the trees in the field were killed by the sea hundreds of years ago, although the field is many miles inland. The trees themselves are so cold and solid it is tempting to believe they are actually made of stone.

The father stands with his back to the tree. The rope is tied around his left wrist, looped round the tree, and then secured around his right wrist. The daughter pushes her knife into her father’s belly as deeply as she can.

“Speak,” she says, and her father speaks.

They listen. His words go unrecorded.

“Sleep,” says the mother, and, removing the knife from his belly, she slits his throat.

His body is cut down from the tree and dragged a short way from the trunk. The food from the bucket is spread in a circle around him. The knife is placed in the pail, and the women, hand in hand, leave.

Overnight the crows come down from the tree and feed, either upon the flesh of beasts or the flesh of man. In the morning, as the crows return to their roosts, the father is reborn.

Thus judged, some fathers make their way back to town, bucket and knife in hand, and return to their former lives. Others leave, and are not known to be missed.

__________

Notes:

1. Written in April, 2010
2. This appeared in the “Rituals” issue of Here Comes Everyone magazine, in January 2019

__________

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Tale #70: The Crow

The crow looked at the corpse beneath its feet and thought about the inevitability of death, and the futility of life.

Still, the crow ate on.

___________

Notes:

1. Written on September 19th, 2016
2. The last line is a repetition of the last line of Tale #34: The Lonely Heart

__________

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Tale #48: The Old Lady And The Crows

There was an old lady who lived in the woods. People said she was a witch, and that she had amassed a great fortune which she kept hidden within her home.

A woodcutter came to her house one day, for although he did not believe in witches, he did believe in treasure, and he had decided to take it for himself.

The old lady was in her garden planting seeds, and behind her sat a long line of crows, pecking at what which she had sown.

The woodcutter said to her, “Old lady, I hear you have great riches stowed away in that old hut of yours. Give them to me or I shall chop you up into kindling. And then I shall take it from you anyway.”

The sound of his voice startled the crows, and they flew up into the sky and settled on the roof of her house, covering it with a blackness as dark as night.

The old lady replied, “I’m an old woman who lives on my own. I have no riches apart from the crows that help me sow my seeds, and the flowers that together we grow.”

The woodcutter said, “Then I shall chop you up into kindling and let your blood fertilise your flowers and your flesh feed your crows. And the riches in your house I shall take as my own.”

He took out his axe and chopped her into pieces and left her there in a pile upon the lawn. And then he went inside her house to find her fortune and closed the door behind him.

The crows came down from the roof and surrounded the old lady’s body. They each took a chunk of her flesh in their beaks and slowly pieced her back together. When they had finished, she wiped the blood from their beaks and kissed each one of her friends tenderly on the tops of their heads.

She went to the door of her house and opened it as wide as it could go and looked in at the woodcutter, who was searching frantically for any sign of her gold. He looked up at her in disbelief and cried out in dismay.

The sound of his voice startled the crows, and in their thousands they flew past the old woman and into the house and they filled it with a blackness deader than night.

The old lady picked a rose from her garden, its stem long and thick with thorns, and she stepped into the darkness and closed the door behind her and then locked it ever so tight. And inside, in her own time, she showed the woodcutter the full extent of her riches.

__________

Notes:

1. Written August 4th, 2016
2. An alternate version of The Old Lady And The Woodcutter

__________

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