Tag Archives: health

Tomatoes – poem

Credit: Couleur via Pixabay

Fruit & veg, toms, salad, mayo, salmon, ½ loaf … I’ve not yet managed to write a shopping list in Dutch even when the words are shorter (sla) or similar abbreviations (gr & fruit). It’s too much hard work late on a Thursday evening when I’m sitting with a glass of wine (wijn) and contemplating the moving project: flooring, top-down & bottom-up blinds, two chairs – ordered; research on fridge/freezers needed, also a new GP practice and pharmacist.

Here in the Netherlands the distance is important: the GP must be able to get to your home within 10 minutes. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to register. In Scheveningen (where I spent the winter) three practices did not take on new patients or had a four-month’ waiting list. A tomato a day may keep the doctor away …

Tomatoes

I am stepping away from my life,
my life as short as a haiku.
I have turned biographer,
am writing vignettes,
pale green, the length of celery.

My vignettes may concern
elderly mules with dental decay,
the struggle to remember
maternal aunts. I am numbering
my vignettes 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D –
narrow seats in the small airplane
Aer Lingus would use
on the late Saturday flight.

I could write a vignette
about the plastic dummies
they use in ambulance training.
Today I’m going to focus on pretend
tomatoes. My invisible friend
has started her new diet.

Changing the clocks

Credit: Brigitte via PIxabay

We moved into wintertime last night. A good time for a poem that mentions clocks. For over 12 years three friends and I met monthly at each other’s houses to write, taking turns to host and find sample poems. This came from one of those sessions. It’s published in the pamphlet A Stolen Hour, Grey Hen Press, 2020. The poem was also Highly Commended in the 2016 Manchester Cathedral poetry competition. It was a privilege to read it during the prize-giving at the cathedral.

A la Hafiz

For just one minute of the day
open all the windows.
Let your mind run alone,
like a foal that has never
known fields without fences.

For just one minute of the day
let your body rest in a place
where other people run past,
so that they have the permission
they need to go and play.

For just one minute of the day
go and sit within sight of a large clock.
Remember how the three hands
are always trying to catch up with each other.
Feel your compassion grow. Be still.

With all the rest of your time
make bread, make beds, make love.
Do what is needed and then close
the windows. You are already
looking upon yourself more as God does.

Satsumas – a poem

credit: Kie-ker via Pixabay

In the Netherlands it was National Vegetable- and Fruit Day on Thursday 14 October. The front cover of the weekly free paper was a large colour photo of three local shop owners encouraging us to ‘go for colour’ – have some fruit or veg to deal with the afternoon ‘dip’.


The Dutch love their tomatoes: it’s the most popular vegetable, making up of 10% of vegetables bought. The Dutch are eating a little more fruit and veg this year, compared to last year. The most popular fruit was the banana. Probably because fewer apples were harvested.

Credit: Lumix2004 via Pixabay


The poem Satsumas was published in my debut collection Another life, by Oversteps Books in 2016. I wrote it on a workshop where the tutor suggested that ‘half a sestina might be called a satsuma’. I’m always grateful for prompts!

Satsumas


The mandarin is also a clementine, or a seedless tangerine.
They must not be confused with the satsuma, first
exported from the province Satsuma in Japan.

The men and women of the Fruit-and-Veg Marketing Board
are introducing their successes: the Orkney, a type
of button mushroom, but a clear ice-white and stoic.
There is the Argyle, an improved form of celery with
lower water content, therefore less stringy and greener.
The Devon is already being exported to Japan:
a small, tasty apple, dark red, square and stackable.

No-one mentions the Wicklow with a taste like ratatouille
after a fortnight in the fridge, or the Sark, a long, sour,
brown hairy thing lying at the back in wooden crates.

2pm Appointment – a poem


The Safe Place or Special Place exercise is an essential part of the preparation phase of EMDR, before the client or patient starts the processing of the traumatic memory.

Today is World Mental Health Day. Below is my sonnet about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). EMDR is a a proven trauma treatment which has been NICE-recommended in the UK since 2005. In 2013 it was also listed as a recommended trauma treatment on the website of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The poem is included in my pamphlet A Stolen Hour, published by Grey Hen Press, 2020.

2 pm Appointment

Holding a fingertip to his right ear;
this is the worst part of the memory:
all bright, vivid. He is still forced to see
and feel the machete: cold steel, cold fear

Now he dreams, cannot sleep, was driven here
by his wife. Four or five men, he tells me,
balaclavas, jumped from a van. Now he
lies with a blanket of guilt, but it’s clear
to me that he wants to become the man
that he was. That he did the best he could.

As you’ve come through pain and grief in the past,
you can do that again. Sounds and sights can
go. We’ll create your Safe Place now. I’ll put
you in for next week. This stuff will go, fast.

Saturday mornings – poem

Maison de Bonneterie, Amsterdam

On Friday I had my second vaccination (Pfizer). I have felt ok, a bit tired and feverish. By way of a treat, a good childhood memory.

The “selling fur coats” took place in Amsterdam, in Maison de Bonneterie: a small chain of high-end fashion stores. The building in Amsterdam was designed by a well-known Dutch architect with an interior in the style of Louis XVI (the Sun King of France), an imposing staircase and a glass roof.

It closed in 2014, after 125 years of uninterrupted service to the elegant public. The Amsterdam store is a national listed building and now used as a location for events.

Saturday mornings


We’ve been waiting in silence.
It’s just the three of us.
Mother’s away in a city, selling fur coats.
The radio crackles, but here comes father
with blue beakers, hot chocolate,
curled cream on top, and the bread
he has baked on his day off.

Tomorrow he’ll be on the balcony
playing the organ; we’ll be below.
Today he is the son of a master baker.
We’ll have the bread with butter
and jam, red strawberries,
shiny against the golden crust.

Grapefruit – a poem

Credit via Pixabay: Jill Wellington

Such a strange fruit: many children don’t like it. I didn’t. Many years later I acquired a curved knife and I found it a tricky and time-consuming job to properly prepare the fruit. Here is Kathleen Kummer’s poem. It doesn’t specify who the people are, but I imagine it’s a mother, watched by children, that “he” is the husband. It’s an understated poem, but those details are precise and poignant.

Preparing grapefruit

Did she peel it – I don’t remember –
as though it were an orange? Or cut it
in half and make the usual precise
incisions, holding back the pith
like flaps of skin to extract the pulp?

Our eyes were on her hands as she worked
to unravel the strands from each segment of flesh
before it tumbled into the bowl.
Some fell apart, translucent droplets
shaped like tears. How many spoonfuls

would the sick body take of this butterfly food?
Would he sleep? I remember the light from the fire,
its warmth on our faces, in the drawing room
where now the double bed rode at anchor,
before the voyage out.

Moment

 

Clingendael 2

Photo credit: Ted Koehler

The warm, sunny weather this week has helped me to stay more in the present. I’ve been for walks in the nearby estate of Clingendael.

Clingendael estate has a 17th Century manor house which is home to the Dutch Institute for International Relations. Since the 16th Century the gardens have been remodelled, from the original French design, to the popular English landscape style. Now you can find a rose garden, splendid azaleas and rhododendrons, and a walled fruit garden. There are some marked walks, cycling paths, and canoeists and rowers can travel through by water.

However, Clingendael is most famous for its Japanese garden. It is the only Japanese garden from around 1910 and is, therefore, of great historical importance and a state monument. Marguerite M, Baroness van Brienen made several trips to Japan by ship to purchase the lanterns, statues, bridges and the wooden pavilion. Because of its fragility, the Japanese garden is only open eight weeks of the year, from mid-May to early July. Because of the Corona-crisis, it is closed. Here you can view a short video clip that The Hague city council put on their website.

Clingendael 3

Photo credit: Ted Koehler

 

My poem Moment from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous was inspired by a poem with the title This Moment by the Irish poet Eavan Boland who died recently, aged 75, after a stroke. Her poem, with its short, choppy lines starts A neighbourhood/At dusk and is an excellent example of how a short poem can give us a snapshot of time, the night and temporality. You can read the original poem here. It is deceptively simple, but Boland uses several poetic techniques to achieve the effect, such as alliteration and repetition.

 
Moment

A suburb at dawn

People are turning back
from dreams
into their own lives

Frost and spiders,
shrubs cradle themselves.

One side of the road is black.
One row of houses a yellow pink.

A cat wakes up
to the footsteps above,
secure in his oval basket.

Frost fades,
spiders stretch,
ferns unfold in the sun.

The light streams in …

 

Keukenhof 18

Yesterday afternoon I watched a TV programme about the Keukenhof, a major Dutch tourist attraction. Annually visitors come from over 100 different countries. A team of 40 gardeners has worked for three months last autumn planting around seven million bulbs – tulips, hyacinths, narcissi. Easter w/end is usually one of the busiest times; this year the Keukenhof will not open to visitors.

The photos are from 2018 when I went with my sister and brother-in-law. Now you cannot visit the Keukenhof, the Keukenhof will come to you. On the website they will be posting more videos. Go to de Keukenhof

 

purle tu;los

 

The poem is by Thomas Tranströmer, from his collection The Sad Gondola, 1996. May you and those dear to you be safe and sound this Easter.

 
The Light Streams In

Outside the window, the long beast of spring
the transparent dragon of sunlight
rushes past like an endless
suburban train – we never got a glimpse of its head.

The shoreline villas shuffle sideways
they are proud as crabs.
The sun makes the statues blink.

The raging sea of fire out in space
is transformed to a caress.
The countdown has begun.

Chaos

airport-4922358_1280

Photo credit: oho725 on Pixabay

Poetry readings and workshops have been cancelled. People are panic-buying pasta and toilet paper. A few friends have cancelled lunch dates: I have an empty diary.  So, I have started packing boxes for my move later this year, while listening to the radio. My flight is booked on 5th of April and I hope that the borders are still open by then. I can blog over in the Netherlands just as I can here: I have Wifi inside the caravan. If I become ill, it’s easier to self-isolate over there.

Meanwhile, here is a short poem about chaos. It first appeared in The North magazine and was later published in my debut collection Another life. Look after yourself, keep safe and look out for those around you.

 
On the town

In the time it took to buy a birthday card, a special
80th birthday card, they had arrived in a long, black limousine,
jumped out, set fire to the hotel and released wicker
baskets. The flying baskets with wicker wings chopped
tops of trees, trees falling on traffic lights – chaos everywhere
and in the middle of it the small bronze statue.
A smiling woman holding doves covered in bird shit.
The wind howling, sirens crying like the end of the world had come.
And me and that card that had cost me £2.99 and nowhere
to buy stamps, no letter box to post it.