Victor Hugo had cried for her in his foreword… And it took a book (“Notre Dame de Paris“) to trigger major restoration works, as the elderly lady was notably suffering from severe erosion to time, history and the elements.
What happened last night felt totally surreal. Notre-Dame has survived so many ordeals – human assaults, the hands from time – and during those 850 years (or so), she saw a city grow and thrive.
Inside her so many memories. Her world famous bell – le bourdon – became associated with so many events (including the liberation of Paris in 1944) happy or sad… And against all odds, she has been standing in this Parisian sky.
Last night, my heart bled at the news, and this orange-grey cloud – flames from her heart, as the 19th century spire yielded to a raging fire that engulfed the forest – this nickname given to those 1300 oak trees that served as timber frame to support that huge slate roof.
Like millions of people around the world, I watched powerless, in disbelief, and heaved the following poem, as a tribute or way to cope with shock.
Ô Notre Dame, ta forêt brûle, ton coeur en flammes!
Une forêt de chênes de cent mètres de long, une forêt de chênes charpentée par des anges, une forêt de chênes anoblie par les âges;
toute une nuit orangée a dévoré ta flèche, ton coeur et ta charpente -
une forêt de chênes, maison pour un bossu et son Esméralda...
toute une nuit d'horreur, pluie battante d'ardoises retrouvées en poussière à l'issue d'un déluge -
une forêt de chênes au XXIe siècle toute réduite en cendres,
ton coeur, ce cher poumon, au plus proche des âmes.
Spring has multiplied signs throught that long and still ice-bladed month of March. If light has reached parity with darkness on the 20th day, and our migrating visitors called at night and settled back in our fields and meadows whilst others pursued their incredible journey north, the island still needs to wake to the promises of the season.
April, April… Life rekindles
March now behind us.
Tonight I heard eight puffin scouts have been located west of my favourite headland in our inshore waters. Earlier, friends reported the magical ascending song of a skylark as they wandered by abandoned crofts… Common Eider drakes already sit by their concubines… On inspection of the ground, daisies and bluebells have long braved snow, ice and thaws, re-icing and equinox gales. Even within the perimeter of my sanctuary, the grass has grown and would deserve a serious cut. Spring, voar, so precocious.
Light reappears on the 60th North Parallel.
I read somewhere that between the two solstices – and more precisely as we approached the Vernal Equinox – we were gaining up to two hours of light every month… Now, as April has entered in the great cosmic ballroom, my sunrises and sunsets are becoming more epic.
Strangely enough, fog has already been rolling on from our local hills. “Exotic” and “curious”, for fog remains an oddity before April… February and March both felt odd in places.
Yet April promises (or do I really take this for granted?) liberation from many claws – storms, gales, and other signatures from the icy months. And if I have yet to listen to my first skylark, I know it will not be long. The sky just needs to quieten a little more and our star to warm up those acres of storm-bent grass around our meadows… Wake, wake, wake, wake!
April is when you return to me.
As I am typing you are gradually falling asleep. Your case is packed. Your passport lies in a pocket of your handbag… Tomorrow, you too will begin your migration north – north by NE, as you will cross that stretch of your Irish Sea to find your way back in Glasgow before making your way to my North Sea from the mouth of a sheltered harbour. We can travel the world like swallows… or Storm Petrels. But to journey, we need a boat.
I may not wait for you from my favourite headland on Saturday, But I will gladly watch that great blue Viking efigee on the white hull we call da boat approach my favourite offshore island of Mousa at about 6.30 in the morning and drive parallel to you, as the bow kisses each wave from our sheltered waters. If we are lucky enough, Mother Sea will let you enter the Bressay Sound with grace.
It will be your first time. Selkies and seagulls will salute you on your passage. You are about to return to me as seabirds find their way across miles of oceanic deserts, da Roost to reconvene with my headlands, bays and meadows.
Now, my turn to find sleep from my northern latitude, as I will be by your side tomorrow, in voice and spirit. I have prepared home to welcome you on my northern island.
In anticipation to your arrival, I wrote a piece entitled North Voyager. It sounds and reads like a leitmotive… And yet it does epitomise that promise from Spring.
There is a time when poetics demands music and words to whirl in a shared space. It has happened before and is happening again. Collaboration with Carol Jamieson fae Tresta is flourishing with flair and grace. Already, we have united to offer verse with piano during chosen sessions at Fjara Café-Bar just off Breiwick at Sea Road.
Now, we have taken it a step further. Carol is composing and recording her own music, mixing it to my recorded spoken verse. A first piece, entitled Light in Darknesshas emerged. It is beautiful. More will be following. Already, the Poet is thrilled with the Pianist’s work.
One hundred years ago, a small party of men gathered in a wagon inside a French forest somewhere in Picardy to stop madness and attrition, a futile butchery, unparalleled till then, agree to terms for an Armistice. Humanity defaced, filled with hurt, on its knees.
To those millions of innocents, victims who fell and died, I wrote a short poem four years ago, entitled
Of Flowers and Men
Little lead men
fell one by
inside a field other than theirs, where
red flowers now flourish high -
scarlet to colour
a river to remind us
inside our walls.
Four years later, on that same month of November, I penned a string of verse to remember you all – irrespective of alliance, skin colour or religious denomination – because you were all human beings turned inhumane inside a theatre of death. You fell or you were shot, because you had beliefs.
On this occasion, the following verse is in your honour.
In memoriam, 14-18 Now
Time belongs to lush poppy fields.
They walked by their millions in wet mud,
France or Flanders,
leather laces in No Man's Land, along with
shells and barbwrire.
Canary girls back in Clydebank or in Gretna
manufactured what was to kill
somebody's boy in a cornfield, or
their own genes here on homeground...
An assemblage of sacrifice in
the name of an empire, country or king.
They fell by millions in cold mud,
furrow or field they never sowed -
through earth layers,
chromatic world recorded shell shock and their fears,
Within an hour, I will join all those who remember them at my local beach – St Ninian’s Sands – and read poetry to those clad in a uniform as part of this project #pagesfromthesea because I don’t forget. Later tonight, as part of this year’s edition of #shetlandwordplay (the annualbook festival in Lerwick), I will join in for the last event, the Open Mic and read both aloud, as part of a sequence dedicated to #14-18now.
I toy with the thought of
touching the Moon that
hangs out in
this dark blue sky;
tide turns in
your favour, on that last weekend of
I feel its pull, rolled up in
I lit a tea light in your name, and
let the lantern on the deck, for
you to find me in
mørke, mørkin, in murky night, where
the Moon shies here in
thin clouds, between my world and
summer tides – where Angle shades fly to the flame, where your voice vanishes with
When you are passionate about something, you voice it.
It is exactly what I penned – a poem – inspired by a History lesson yesterday- a reminder of how folk can be treated, and wondered why a great democracy like the US is still treating some of her people the very same way it did in the 1830s… Canada has led the way with her First Nations. Then, in 2009, President B. Obama made an apology via a Bill. A step forward, even though footsteps got lost inside politics… As history obeys circles.
Featured Image: Cherokee Indians are forced from their homelands during the 1830’s. (Credit: Alamy)
America was built this way…
Native folk pushed by aliens in the name of money…
Trail of Tears
Rounded at gun point to force you…
Walk through the path of
home, land to grow cotton and
what they felt
pushed you away from
your ancestral ground, where
the one who
made you walk across meadows, mountains and snow that
others’ nations, on the other
gigantic river, where
Red Cloud and
For every four, one of you
When it comes to Irishness, the world is our oyster. So many magical voices, celebrated throughout the world. The ones you know are household names… And the list is by no means exhaustive. I could have selected a few that have really struck chords in my heart; but, there is one, one, anonymous, living and breathing by River Lagan, who devotes her time and care to vulnerable people, hence double-touched my heart.
Don’t ask me for a photograph, as I have yet to immortalise her smile, and, light in her eyes. Her name too remains anonymous, for it is wished this way.
The Federation of Writers (Scotland) is an organisation dedicated to making the written and spoken word available to the public of Scotland, with respect for diversity and recognition of additional support needs. Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) ’S e prìomh-amas Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) litreachas sgrìobhte is labhairte a chur mu choinneamh poball na h-Alba, a’ toirt spèis do dh’iomadachd agus feumannan-taice a bharrachd.