Invitation to submit Stories and Poems inspired by the River Erne

Fermanagh Writers are looking for short fiction (max 2000 words) and poetry (max 40 lines) to include in a new anthology, Loughshore Lines. Full details on their Facebook page. Submission date Sept 1 2021.

Wearing my Landscape and Myths Hat, here are a few links that might set the ink flowing: Boa Island Janus on Lower Lough Erne; Inis Saimer at the mouth of the river in Ballyshannon; and the many wonders of the Marble Arch Geopark. There’s lots more – about the name, the folklore and the legends of the river – on Wikipedia and in Ireland’s Own.

Writing for UNICEF #6 – Fundraiser ends June 30 – Double your donation

On May 18, 2021, participants from Kenya to California wrote in response to Covid-themed paintings by children, teenagers and young adults from around the world. Our fundraiser will remain open for two more days, until June 30th. All donations will be matched, pound for pound, by the Pears Foundation! Click here to donate.

In this, our last post, we have writing from Madge O’Callaghan, Aideen Walsh and Paula Gilvarry.

SHASHI DHAR IS SICK AND TIRED OF BEING SICK AND TIRED

Madge O’Callaghan, Co Clare, Ireland

Image credit: “Healthcare Heroes” by Muzzamil Mughal, Pakistan

muzzamil-mughal-pakistanShashi Dhar is sick and tired of being sick and tired. Another old woman gasping her last breath. Shashi holds her hand and sings softly to her. Her family didn’t make it on time to see her. Two strong sons and a fine daughter, laid low or living in another country, Shashi guessed.

Shashi caresses the cracked dry skin of his charge, willing her to die quickly, painlessly. Another one, and another and another. How many was that now? Old women and old men outliving their usefulness. Sure who would miss them? Hadn’t they lived long enough anyway?

No flatline. No unplugging. The most he can do is offer slow release pain meds – saturating the old woman’s lungs with morphine, watching her as she slowly draws a last rattling breath and flicks open her eyes, wide and accusing.

Shashi sings softly, all the old tunes that his mother taught him at her knee. He sings songs about boats on rivers that he’s never seen; about love of people in strange and foreign places; about children and insects and cows and horses and bees and snakes. He dredges up memories of songs that he thought he had long forgotten and when he could sing no more he reaches inside himself further for yet another song. The old woman wasn’t dead yet. Her heart was strong. She fought until there was no fight left in her. Then she relented, gave a soft sigh and she was gone.

Shashi went to the next bed. He held the hand of the woman lying in the bed. He sings to her until she too slips peacefully beyond him. 

THAT WAS THE YEAR…

Aideen Walsh, Co Leitrim, Ireland

Image credit: “You Are Not Alone”, Samira Mammadova, Azerbaijan.

That was the year we unhooked 
our tentacles from the world
and watched it stand still;
Found the music of birdsong, laughter, tears
and the joyful silence of togetherness.
A year stolen from the world yet spent together.
Reflecting a time we may never have again.

IT IS GREY INSIDE

Paula Gillvarry, Co Sligo, Ireland

Image credit: “Wild Imagination” by James Moonan, Ireland

It is grey inside.  I am grey. Life is grey, no school, no sport, no anything
My parents are on top of me, all the time
Feckin Armageddon since March 20
Zombies would be better
This is zombie land by a thousand
My room is grey, I am grey, my parents used to be fun, well for parents they were fun
And they went out to work, came home with news
Now they are on compute all day and only watch Covid news
I hate bloody Covid
I want to beat it, burn it, obliterate it
But it's too clever
It's a virus
I know about viruses on computers
And now the virus in us “humans’
Are we humans still?  Seems to me we have become the zombies… Ha ha, hysterical
I want to go out the door, kick a football around, hang around that park bench where the girls used to sit, especially when Sarah was there
Sarah... I see her colours, bright red, cobalt blue, iridescent green
She shimmers in my mind
She sometimes walks past the house with her parents, masks on taking their daily walk… good for your mental health, that really annoying voice says on the radio.
I hate the radio now
I will live in my head with Sarah,
We will fly to Africa on Pink Flamingos, feed fat racoons,
I will give her a giant sunflower and secretly long for a sweet Sarah kiss in return
james-moonan-wild-imagination-ireland-1
We will sit on the grass in the park and she will make a daisy chain, using her finger nail to close the chain.
She will lean in towards me and place her offering over my head
As it falls over onto my neck I lean forward to kiss her
Knock, knock
My bedroom door is shaking
Sean, did you not hear me?
Dinner
It's grey again

Writing for UNICEF #5 – All donations matched £ for £

On May 18, 2021, participants from Kenya to California wrote in response to Covid-themed paintings by children, teenagers and young adults from around the world. This week we share writing from Shane Leavy, Margaret O’Brien and Theresa Jones.

Our fundraiser will remain open till June 30th. All donations will be matched, pound for pound, by the Pears Foundation! Click here to donate.

LOOK, THE NEWSPAPER ALWAYS HAS TO GAZE

Shane Leavey, Glenar, Co Leitrim

Image credit: “Wild Imagination” by James Moonan, Ireland

james-moonan-wild-imagination-ireland-1Look, the newspaper always has to gaze
on darkness.

But outside
thistle trembles in the sun
soft waters slash in sudden, showering bursts
that yield at once to rainbows,
rich and ripe,
rivulets dance diamond on the heathered hills.

Bluebells bring indigo haze
under hazel,
skylarks sing, hovering, and swallows flaunt,
flinging feathered arcs
from rafter to fern.

It’s hard to hold dismay for long,
rejoice:
in lushness,
sun on life-enveloped loam
as seed and sapling yearn towards the sun.

ECDYSIS: the act of casting off the old skin

Margaret O’Brien @margaretwriting, Co Tipperary, Ireland

Image credit: “Healthcare Heroes” by Muzzamil Mughal, Pakistan

muzzamil-mughal-pakistanWe wear masks. Now they are visible. But before? We wore masks that were not so visible, a performance maybe of what we thought the world expected us to be.

Today our fabric masks hide the lower part of our faces, our noses, mouths, jaws. But our eyes are still eloquent, showing our joy, fear, love. I store my masks in a bag behind our front door and stick one in a pocket or my bag as I leave our house. I’ve become very accustomed to wearing them in a public space such as a supermarket but it still feels odd, awkward if I’m in a private space like someone’s home. Not that this happens often.

Vaccinations are rolling out, steadily working down the age cohorts here in Ireland. I’m relieved to have had my first one. Still we must mask up, out of care, out of courtesy, out of love. We have learned so much in the past year. Ecdysis.

THE IMAGE OF SERENITY

Theresa Jones, Clonmel, Tipperary

Image credit: “You Are Not Alone” by Samira Mammadova, Azerbaijan.

samira-mammadova-azerbaijan-1The image of serenity, just look at her, she is definitely looking down at me. COVID a time for peace, to develop peace of mind, read more, dance more, listen to more music, learn more. 

The image of the spiritual woman seemed to look directly into my soul, it seemed to say. 

“I see you.  I see what you lack.  I see what you need”.

But she also seemed to ask, “Do you know the answer to these questions?  Can you say you are at peace with yourself?”

Smug madam.  Looking down, judging me.   She seemed I must say, for someone cross-legged, many armed; totally focused, at peace.

It would be easy to imagine that she never screamed at the computer, at the TV or at the sheer frustration of needing that one little thing to complete a project, that was only sold in a shop deemed to be “non-essential”.  Except that just at this very moment, it seemed very essential to my well being, to my sense of self.

But I looked at her again, resenting her calmness, her look of utter contentment.  Resilience shone through her.  I am sure that woman never threw anything down in temper; with any of her arms.  She was perfectly happy to stay at home. 

Love more, she said. 

Who do you suggest? I said.  Well, I have read more, listened to more music and meditated to beat the band.   Dancing, I won’t admit to.  But love more, well, if you call walking the dogs many times a day and being nice (from a distance) to the neighbours qualified, then Yes, I also did that too.

Perhaps someone out there saw a together woman walking her dogs, chatting with ease and wondered at the peace radiated there.

Perhaps we all share a veneer of calm, while flapping inside, the outward image of serenity; not smugness at all.

Double your donation to UNICEF – and push the G7 toward a #PeoplesVaccine

Our fundraiser will remain open till June 30th. All donations will be matched, pound for pound, by the Pears Foundation! Click here to donate.

You can make a difference twice over by signing the petition for a #Peoples Vaccine – free of patents and available to everyone. Watch this short video, narrated by Mark Ruffalo, share and join the movement of 2.6m people, pushing G7 leaders to share the vaccine with the world.

Writing for UNICEF # 4

On May 18, 2021, participants from Kenya to California wrote in response to Covid-themed paintings by children, teenagers and young adults from around the world. This week we share writing from Tom Sigafoos, Margaret Coen and Bernie Condon. You can still make a donation – our fundraiser will remain active until June 30, and you can donate directly to vaccinaid.org at any time.

HEROES WITHOUT BORDERS

Tom Sigafoos, Kinlough, Co Leitrim

Image credit: “You Are Not Alone” by Samira Mammadova, Azerbaijan

samira-mammadova-azerbaijan-1There’s an old trope in Hollywood movies: when humankind is threatened by a common enemy, we all put our differences aside and work together to save ourselves. How many stories have been contrived around that idea? For openers, there’s War of the Worlds – Orson Welles on the radio in 1938; a movie in 1953 and then a Steven Spielberg version in 2005. In the over-the-top foolishness of Independence Day in 1996, the President of the United States – Bill Pullman, in this case – flies off in a jet fighter plane and shoots down a flying saucer. If you’re a 1950’s sci-fi movie buff, you’ve probably seen The Day the Earth Stood Still, with its sinister intergalactic password KLAATU BARADA NIKTO – not to mention When Worlds Collide, This Island Earth, and The Man from Planet X. The core of the stories didn’t change – when the chips were down, humankind pulled together.

But now in 2021, in the face of a genuine worldwide threat, what’s happened? We’re all at each other’s throats. Who’s going to get the vaccine? And who’s going to get it first? Who’s going to see the idea of wearing a surgical mask as a low-impact, sensible public-health measure, and who’s going to vilify it as a sinister intrusion on personal freedom? Who’s going to look for ways to share the vaccines and PPE, and who’s going to look for ways to make a buck?

Maybe the grand union of human purpose has always been a fable. Reality has provided gritty material for writers and artists, as in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, where the man who grew rich selling war materiel, like the supplier of the Grenfell Tower cladding, is exposed as a conscienceless corner-cutter. Arrival comes close to a counter-heroic narrative, as the national armies of the world grow suspicious of alien visitors and prepare to destroy them – and each other – until the aliens help human beings learn a new way to think.

Is there something we can learn from Covid viruses – something about adaptability and endurance – that can help us re-think our heroic myth?

Tom Sigafoos, May, 2021

LOCKDOWN

Margaret Coen, Ireland

Image credit: “Wild Imagination” by James Moonan, Ireland

james-moonan-wild-imagination-ireland-1It’s so difficult. What do I do? I can’t go anywhere, just sit here staring out of my window. They said two weeks. What is it now, six weeks? Six months? A year? I honestly can’t remember. The days merge into one another. I had such plans, travel, art projects, good times with my nearest and dearest. But that’s all out of the window. 

God! Is it my fault? When I was a kid I wanted to know what it was like to survive a really awful situation. I used to make plans for a nuclear bunker and how to store my supplies away. Would I be able to kill and eat any animals? Would I be able to catch them in the first place? Maybe my wish has come true! It’s like being in a bunker, almost, when you’re not allowed out of your house except for shopping or a 2km walk. 

But I really shouldn’t complain. So far I haven’t had to kill anybody’s pet to keep starvation from my door. Tesco delivers. The weather wasn’t too bad over the summer and making Christmas crafts filled the darker months. 

And what will all of this do to the world? Maybe we have become a little more compassionate and certainly we must all have learnt to appreciate the work done by those most often taken for granted. How could anyone ignore the sacrifices made day after day, hour after hour by the staff in hospitals? My great hope is quite a simple one. I hope everyone who hasn’t before, remembers to wash their hands before leaving a bathroom. That could stop a lot of diseases spreading around. 

I think we must all have learnt, in the more affluent countries anyway, to do without a lot of things we thought so essential before, and realised we can live a simpler life. We can see now the importance of communication. Contact with people on the most basic level is essential for the well-being of everyone. And we must know that wherever they live on this insignificant lump of rock we call Earth, all people are our own people. If they are not in a good place, then neither are we. Someone coughing in China can, and has killed people in my town. The cliché “The Global Village” is coming home to roost. We cannot let whole generations or categories of people die, because they don’t matter to us, they don’t affect us. I say with Donne, “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.”

THE FACE

Bernie Condon, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Ireland

Image credit: “Healthcare Heroes” by Muzzamil Mughal

muzzamil-mughal-pakistan-1

I don’t recognize the face in the mirror looking at me.
A face that looks exhausted, a face that should look younger perhaps.
Two startled eyes showing fear are covered with goggles.
I keep looking at this woman, yes, it is a woman, once upon a time a fresh faced young girl,
now, she is lined with worry and confusion.
What has she been through? What has she seen?
I notice her beautiful shaped eyebrows, her long eyelashes, can beauty be found amid obvious trauma? A tear rolls down my cheek, when I look again, a tear rolls down her cheek.
The penny drops, it is me I’m looking at, it is me.
Bathroom break over. I silently leave and go back to the Covid warzone.

Writing for UNICEF #3

On May 18, 2021, people from Kenya and Ireland and Spain and California took part in an  ONLINE WRITE-A-THON to raise funds for UNICEF’s #GiveTheWorldAShot campaign. You can still make a donation – our fundraiser will remain active until June 30 – and you can donate directly to vaccinaid.org at any time.

Participants wrote in response to Covid-themed paintings by children, teenagers and young adults from around the world. Every Saturday until the end of June I’ll post a selection of their “Writing for UNICEF”. This week we have three poems, from Eileen Acheson, Patricia Weldon and Caroline Mason. The first two were written in response to all four prompts: a painting from the National Library Children’s Covid-Art Collection (name of artist unknown); “Wild Imagination” by James Moonan, Ireland; “Healthcare Heroes” by Muzzamil Mughal, Pakistan; and “You Are Not Alone” by Samira Mammadova, Azerbaijan.

UNICEF online write-a-thon 4 images

HEY.

Eileen Acheson, Co Tipperary, Ireland 

Cerise, green, yellow
turquoise, red, purple
blue, dog, people, racoon
flying pink duck
dandelion, daisy
disconnected youth in grey.
Hey.

STAY HOME, DANCE
LISTEN TO MUSIC
READ and MEDITATE MORE
LOVE MORE
Hey.

Keyboard buckles.
Christmas tree wilts.
Gifts returned
The cat has turned his back
on another bloody Zoom.
Hey.

I got my vaccine today.
Sin é.
Hey.

FOUR IMAGES FOR VACCINAID

Patricia Weldon, Tara, Co. Meath, Ireland

The boy in the window draws my attention.
He sits with his hands on his knees,
gazing into no-man’s land.
Colour and excitement are all outside his window.
Flowers, exotic pink flamingo, striped racoon, blue skies, far distant hills,
all outside his window.
He sits and stares,
Hands on his knees.
It is grey on the inside of the window.

‘If only I could join the outside world.
If only I could fly freely, sticking my neck out, seeking those foreign lands,
Like the pink flamingo.
All the wonders in the world and here I sit,
Nothing doing, nothing happening.'
'It’s a bit grim in here,' he thinks.
‘It’s nice to hold my knees, a sort of comfort,
like hugging my own body, holding myself together,’ he thinks
as the world passes by on the outside of the window.
‘I suppose I must stay in here.
Safety for others my duty.’

The picture below the boy explains the circumstance for the indoor habitation.
A medic in goggles and mask.
PPE the word that has dominated our landscape along with Covid-19 and numbers.
Endless numbers, so meaningless and so mean filled.
This covid-19 is filled with meanness, stops us all in our tracks.
Locks us indoors for days and weeks and months.
Wearing masks and gowns to come close to another, it has been a stark reality.

Tracking left now, the picture of the girl with the multiple arms.
Maybe she is a mum home schooling while working full time and more.
Not sure if she has time to dance and meditate, listen to music and read.
Perhaps in her dreams as she falls into bed exhausted from multitasking from morning to night fall.

Then we come to the image top left,
our new reality, zoom calls, zoom meetings, zoom webinars.
Little did I know 5 years ago when I first met zoom that zoom would take over our living rooms in such a spectacular way.
Could have invested then would be a millionaire now!
It is amazing to think what we thought was so important before
is so insignificant now.
They are alive.
We are alive.
What more can we want.
A lot more thinks the boy as he sits in the window.
Is this all there is to life?
Where has my future gone?

It’s not enough for his soul to sit and stare.
He needs the colour and the fun.
It’s a dilemma for sure.
The young held back to keep others safe,
Yet their well being depends on the well being of the youth.
A dilemma I am glad I don’t have to decide.
Yet these boys are my boys and I see the price they have paid.

It’s time now to let them experience their dreams,
return the colour to their lives,
before it is too late
for their mental gates to re-open.

BRAVE NEW WORLD

Caroline Mason, Co Donegal, Ireland

Image credit: “Healthcare Heroes” by Muzzamil Mughal, Pakistan

I like the way it billows in and out as I breathe,
The linen fitting snuggly under my chin.
The soft cloth caresses my lips, stray fibres tickling my tongue.
My warm breath mists the visor, obscuring my identity.
I feel safe behind it.
Today I walked home, one of the many,
Masked and visor-ed and unremarkable.
If anything, people are scared of me now.
If I walk too close they shrink away or swerve around me.
I am their real and present danger.
Not the other way around, like it used to be.
Before the plague.

My heart quickens with excitement and anticipation for a new way of living.
I’m not afraid anymore.
I don’t want to run.
I can stand my ground.
Take my place in the world.
I smile behind the mask.
I laugh inside.
I am free to be me at last.

Writing for UNICEF #2

On May 18, 2021, Monica Corish and Tom Sigafoos hosted an ONLINE WRITE-A-THON to raise funds for UNICEF’s #GiveTheWorldAShot campaign. You can still make a donation – our fundraiser will remain active until June 30, and you can donate directly to vaccinaid.org at any time.

Participants from Kenya to California wrote in response to Covid-themed paintings by children, teenagers and young adults from around the world. Every Saturday till the end of June I’ll post a selection of their “Writing for UNICEF”.

We have two prose essays this week, and a haiku. All three were written in response to the painting “Health Care Heroes” by Muzzamil Mughal.  The first essay, by Jarso Mokku of Isiolo, Kenya, is called “Mass Grave Burial Is the New Norm”; the Himalaya haiku is by me, Monica Corish; and the second essay “There’s so Much in her Gaze” is by Mary Foley from Sligo. 

MASS GRAVE BURIAL IS THE NEW NORM

Jarso Mokku, Isiolo, Kenya

A story inspired by the picture of a woman wearing a face mask – a stark reminder that in Africa our people are still dying in record numbers without reporting.

 In The Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful. Say!  I seek refuge in the Lord of the dawn. From the evil of what is created. And from the evil of darkness when it spreads. From the past to that year when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 a global pandemic. Two years on, people world over are still dying in record numbers especially in the poorer countries without reporting. This pandemic is far from over and seems unstoppable as its rage continues to spread across the world among all communities, like the bush fires from the forest to dry grass land.

In Africa, the cases are increasing by day and all burial sites that were set aside to serve more than fifty years are full, mass grave burial is the new norm.  World travel, inter community cooperation and family connections have come to a standstill.  All learning institutions are closed, and all children are locked indoors. Continue reading Writing for UNICEF #2

Online Launch of The Cursing Stone, May 28, 8 pm

Reserve your free ticket for the on-line launch of the Irish historical novel The Cursing Stone by Tom Sigafoos at www.allinghamfestival.com. Sponsored by the Allingham Arts Association, the launch (8:00 pm Fri 28 May) will feature journalist Michael Daly and History Ireland editor Tommy Graham, with video by Emer O’Shea and trad music by Bella Nethercott. 


Sign up for a free subscription to The Cursing Stone at www.tomsigafoos.com

Writing for UNICEF #1

On May 18, 2021, Monica Corish and Tom Sigafoos hosted an ONLINE WRITE-A-THON to raise funds for UNICEF’s #GiveTheWorldAShot campaign. We’ve already raised £1345, and we’re aiming for £2000. You can still make a donation – this fundraiser will remain active until June 30.

Participants from Kenya to California wrote in response to Covid-themed paintings by children, teenagers and young adults from around the world. Every Saturday until the end of June I’ll publish a selection of their “Writing for UNICEF” here on my blog.

HOWL

Rachel Webb, Co Leitrim, Ireland

Image credit: Wild Imagination by James Moonan, 15, Ireland

james-moonan-wild-imagination-ireland-1I sit here alone – up close against the day as it trickles into dusk, or drifting in a space that stretches from my seat to the moon – silent.

These are the things I try to bear in mind: my breath – easy and rich with oxygen; the palm of my hand along her soft fur and the gentle engine of her purr; my eyes filled with the colours beyond my window; the fridge humming its cold tune around olives and ice-cream, pesto and peas, soya milk for the one endless cup of tea.

Gratitude is lying in bed remembering the song I danced to as the pasta boiled, the wave of my neighbour as she passed my fence, my sister’s face on our WhatsApp call. ‘I have it all’ I whisper into the empty air above my body, ‘I-have-it-all’.

This morning the sun shines and sweet scents drift through my open window, a bird in the bush is worth twenty in somebody else’s. She sings and I lift my head to reply. I hear my response – a long moan of a howl. How out of place in the bright bee-haunted buzzing of Spring – this hungry Winter midnight of a howl. A lonely wolf calling for the pack: ‘Come back, come back, come back, come back. My loves, my life, please please come back’.

COVID

Cathleen Young, Santa Monica, California, USA

Image credit: Health Care Heroes by Muzzamil Mughal, Pakistan

muzzamil-mughal-pakistan

When will this nightmare end? Will it end? Or will the nasty little virus just endlessly roam the globe, an airborne whirling dervish, leaving body bags stacked in air-conditioned trucks in its wake? I’m remembering my microbiology from my training. What exactly is this demon killer? A tiny scrap of DNA held together by a little protein jacket? And yet — in every cell of my body — lives the DNA that makes me me. That must be the good DNA. The DNA that makes me want to smile at my 17-year-old twin girls. Not the DNA that kills me. If I’m being honest, I don’t always mind when my goggles steam up. Like a camera lens with a filter to make everything prettier, I don’t see the suffering quite so clearly. The desperate eyes, the hands that clutch at me, the fingers I have to pry off when someone down the hall begins to die in earnest and we must all rush over, the crash cart skidding down the gleaming hallway, an orchestrated dance of syringes and paddles and chest compressions so fierce we sometimes hear a rib crack. Especially in the old ones. Their bones as fragile as hollow bird bones — except they can’t fly. I sometimes welcome the moment we stick a breathing tube down someone’s throat — right after we slide a needle into the port — paralyzing them so they don’t fight the tube. Their eyes go quiet. No more desperation, just the long, slow death that usually awaits them, alone, with no one holding their hands and crying at their bedside.