Antikythera Mechanism

Salt preserves. Slows time
by fending off decay and so
the sea must be a slow
motion machine since we can
only measure time by change.
It is not just light that moves
differently underwater.

The true treasures are not
always obvious. We rescue,
then neglect. Spend decades
trying to understand knowledge
humans had thousands of years ago.

Lost. Found. Recovered. Discovered.

When we measure the world
we cannot help but reveal
what we value. Like ancient astronomers
who plotted the Olympiad alongside
the path of the planets.

But the sun and the moon did not consult
and refuse to add up.

How many calendars have we invented
To try to make the world make sense?
I anchor my life around the off-kilter
Prime of a seven day week, recite rhymes
To remember how many days are in
A month and mark years where we shove
An extra day in just to try to keep some
Semblance of order. Compute disorder.

I am driven by deadlines.
And yet… and yet…
Flowers bloom. Birds fly South, all
the cliches live on without need
for any diary reminders at all.

Their precision reveals the inevitable
absurdity of calculating at all.
We are still trying to fit the universe
into a mathematical mould
forgetting that it is ever expanding.

Let time fall away. It’s the only way
to write anything worth reading
anyway.

What did it feel like to be extracted
From the brine? Drying and warping.
Gears sliding. Case cracking.

No longer a tool. Now just a relic.

I have lived in this human body
Long enough to imagine.

Plunge me into the ocean.
Write my life in the stars.

Note: This is part of my series of writing poems about words I did not know. I wrote this poem as an assignment for the Southbank Centre’s New Poet’s collective. It took me about three tries to get here – I scrapped the other two approaches which felt a bit more explanatory. I liked that this felt a bit more imagistic or was asking the reader to make more connections or read between the lines. I feel like it’s still a bit longer than I would like, so I’d like to distill this down a bit further.

The image was generated with Dalle 3 via Microsoft Bing – my first time using an AI image generator!

Pablum

The spoon weaves, teasingly,
But the game soon dissolves
Into mealy-mouthed frustration.

Cheeks stuffed full of unwanted, overprocessed
Nonsense. Mush, where real nutrition
Ought to be. The dilemma: swallow or spit?

The biggest challenge is not even
The blandness of the taste itself
But the endlessness of the oncoming drivel.

What shall we do today?
Eat like a numbly obediently child?
Or send the whole thing back to the kitchen
With the offended disgust of a true connoisseur?

Note: This is a poem from my series of learning new words. This is one I read for the first time this week in Anthony Anaxagorou’s poetry collection ‘Heritage Aesthetics’, and it is such a great bit of vocabulary that I find myself wondering how I managed so long without it.

Photo by Klara Avsenik on Unsplash

stepping stones

for Kevin on his birthday

you give me the greatest gift
I could ever have asked for

the knowledge and reassurance
that there was never a plan
just a life built from the simple act
of taking the next right choice
then the next and the next
until it begins to form its own
majestic pattern with a meaning
that will keep evolving forever

it gives me faith that although
I cannot see the next stone
on the path that leads me through
what seems to be a raging current
my feet will somehow find it
and i can stand on that solid space
for at least a moment before i stretch
or even leap to the next bit of rock

i have seen and heard you retell
how the little pebbles that inevitably
drop from our pockets cause ripples
that spread slowly outward
even if we cannot see their impact
against the churning river or the
irresistible pull of the tide

our lives cannot always be
a still and silent pool into which
every choice reverberates clearly
but even in chaos when we cannot see
the impact our journey has made
it is there nevertheless and perhaps
those fallen stones we leave behind
like fairytale talismans will slowly
accumulate leaving a new foothold
for the people who come after us

thank you for forging a beautiful path
and for believing in me to find my own

water wipes the scent of what came before
but the legacy of stepping forward, always
shifts the rocks and smooths the path
for those we love and those we will never know

Note: Last night, I took my dad out to sushi as part of an early birthday present. We talked a bit about life, about the discoveries we are each making. I was touched, yet again, at his wisdom and insight, something that has become increasingly precious to me over the years. We laughed too. I wanted to capture the moment, so I wrote this. It is perhaps not quite as distilled as it could be for maximum impact, but I just followed the river until it stopped flowing.

Photo by Matt Walsh on Unsplash

The Hummingbird

For Anita, for her birthday

Joy is never earned
It can only be a gift

And the moment it arrives
The winds again begin to lift

But favour can be courted
By things beautiful and bright

And we can gently tempt
That little bird to alight

If every soul’s a garden
We choose what we plant

And every tiny flower
Has the power to enchant

Note: Poems rarely come to me as images, but this one did – the idea of blossoms bursting forth out of someone’s chest, a vibrant garden. How even if we cannot control when or how joy arrives in our lives, we can create the conditions for it to thrive. This image is particularly powerful because hummingbirds have been a special connection between Rose and my mom – a little secret love language between them.

I was expecting this poem to be longer – I had quite a few notes of ideas that I teased out the actual phrases from. But I was surprised to discover that I had reached the point of what I wanted to say, and best not to button it up with an extra stanza – I can simply flit off as well.

There was something else I wanted to reflect on, that our internal gardens also need a safe space for sad blooms, where tendrils curl clingingly to protective trellises. Alongside the extravagant flowers, this place must exist, too. I thought maybe this poem could hold them both, but I think if this idea finds it own place, it will be somewhere else.

The scansion is a little bit uneven in places – it just slightly trips you up. Part of me is bothered by this, because it seems a bit messy – but part of me really likes the feel of it, that it mimics the abrupt movements of a hummingbird’s flight pattern. There is something appropriate about getting caught up short, or out of sync here and there.


Photo by Birger Strahl on Unsplash

Hamartia

His mother holds the golden vase
That holds the bones of her only son
That hold the memory of Achilles
That holds an eternal question

When she took her infant to the river Styx
And dipped her child in the waters of death
And won him this underworldly armour
And slept easier knowing he was protected

What if instead she had held his toe
What if instead she grasped just the nail
What if for a moment she had let go
And he had been submerged entirely

Now he rests as famed for his weakness
As for the rest of his warrior glory
And she rests her head in her hands
Asking ‘what if’ for the rest of time

There is no shame in wanting invincibility
But there is no hope of obtaining it
For no soul can resist the current
If no one holds fast to their human part

One is undone by an arrow to the heel
On the battlefields of Troy
But another sits with shirt undone
And surveys his half-planted fields

Bare feet rest in the soil’s warmth
Grateful for one patch that isn’t numb
That holds his connection to the earth
What if we knew: no life is ever left undone?

Note: While I was familiar with the idea of an Achilles heel, this was a word I didn’t know, that I encountered for the first time in this article.

Hamartia means a fatal flaw leading to a downfall – but I found myself during the questioning of this poem whether our flaws do have to lead to our downfalls? Perhaps by accepting them rather than trying to surmount them, we can find a more peaceful, more life-affirming path?

The structure of this took hold as I was writing – the first stanza clicked into place, and then I had great fun trying to recycle words, or to turn them in different directions to see them from different angles. I really wanted to go somewhere different at the end, and this structure didn’t feel like it could take me there. I’m still undecided whether breaking the form means I need to work harder to find options that follow within the rules, or if the unravelling of the poem (bringing the words back in a looser way), echoes the feeling of a more organic and accepting attitude. Hopefully the latter, but we will see what I think of it once the poem has had time to rest.

Photo by Miti on Unsplash

A creative career is like a combination lock

Or: good advice from my husband

I wish I could take credit for this fantastic idea. But this was an image that was shared with me today from my husband.

For whatever reason (maybe feeling sore over my wonky shoulder, after injuring it earlier this week?) I was in a bit of a funk today.

I feel like as I’ve gotten older and spent longer as a writer, I’ve gotten better at focusing on what is in front of me – my own work and life – rather than getting distracted by comparisons to the wider world.

But this was one of those days where I just felt so profoundly how much I am falling short of some imaginary standard.

I think it’s really natural to have a drive for excellence and mastery, and to feel disappointed when we don’t measure up to our hopes. (And I suppose if, like me, you’re someone who likes to keep a lot of irons in the fire, that sort of ends up multiplying the number of ways in which you feel this.)

Even though it’s unhealthy and unhelpful to fixate on status, we are animals who construct hierarchies to live within. And feeling like you’re not where you want to be on that hierarchy is painful. (Primate studies are fascinating to see how status and wellbeing play out with our animal kingdom cousins.)

I regularly cycle through this pattern – and I think most other artists do as well, even if they aren’t willing to admit it openly.

There are so many ways where I feel like I’m not yet where I want to be in my career. I love the work and feel proud of the way I am growing, but I feel embarrassed that I haven’t come further. Even though there are parts that look really good from the outside, I see the failures, the missed opportunities, and the disappointments.

I know how many plays are still sitting in my drawer.

So I was moping.

And fortunately, Zach came and found me.

He let me unload for a little bit first. Then, with a twinkle, he reminded me of two important things:

  1. In creative work, success is 200% subjective.

    There’s critical acclaim, there’s money, there’s personal satisfaction, there’s audience popularity, there’s respect from peers, there’s awards, there’s media attention, and on and on and on…

    Which one of those – or magical combination – means ‘success’? No one knows! Of course we want the awards and the money and everything else. Who wouldn’t? But if you believe in what you are doing, that is enough to make your creative endeavours worthwhile, even if they don’t achieve the external success that you would hope.
  2. “A creative career is like a combination lock.”

    Talent is not irrelevant, but it has very little to do with success. I know this because I’ve seen some of the most talented writers I know drop out of the business. While others whose work seems less immediately compelling seem to thrive.

    Having a project land in the right way, or a career trajectory take off, is like fiddling with a combination lock. So many things have to line up in just the right way, at the right time, in the right order for the thing to pop open.

    All we can really control is the work we choose to do, and how we launch that out into the world.

    What happens once it is out there is beyond our control – it’s the magic that happens unseen within the lock. If we line up our bits, the odds are better that the other things will happen. But there is also a certain amount of faith and patience required.

    But it doesn’t mean you’ve failed if that lock hasn’t popped open and given you all the riches of life. As long as you are doing your part looking after the choices you can make, the rest is in life’s hands.

Perhaps this blog post would have been better if it were shorter. Or if it were a poem. Perhaps I have gone on too long and ended up clouding my own vision about this perfect image. But I wanted to get this down while it was fresh to come back to this image the next time that I need it.

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

The ONE new year’s resolution everyone should make

The new year is approaching, which means we are drawing closer to resolution time!

I’m a confirmed skeptic of new year’s resolutions. (If something is important, why wait? And if I can’t actually manage a goal in the course of my day to day life, why set myself up for failure and then punish myself over it?)

However, I actually do think there is one resolution that we all should make…

This is an idea that I picked up from one of my closest friends.

Several years back, we were together when she had just gotten some wonderful news. She said ‘wait a minute, I have to add that to my accomplishments list!’

I said, ‘what is an accomplishments list!?’

As it turns out, she had this set up in the Notes app on her iPhone, so whenever something happened that felt like a win, she would put it on the list.

I thought this was such a lovely idea.

It took me a while to actually implement this in my own life, but after trying it myself, I am a firm believer:

Everyone should have an annual accomplishments list.

Personally, I keep mine on Notion (with my to do list and other key info). It’s not a long list, it easily fits on a single page, but it’s incredible to see the things I’m proud of: moments I coped with adversity, or got recognised for my work, hit a life milestone, or found a moment of personal growth.

I’ve been keeping these lists since 2020, and it’s wonderful to see what can happen in a year – especially if you often reach the end of your days and think ‘what did I even accomplish today?’ (Parenting a small child, there are plenty of days when this happens – but if you look at what tiny steps of progress amount to over the course of a year, it can be pretty staggering.)

The things that go on an accomplishment list are really determined by your own values and areas of growth. They don’t necessarily have to be events that would receive traditional recognition or that you would put on your CV. I mean, I was thrilled when I got shortlisted for a poet’s collective to add that onto my list. But I also included some of the opportunities I went for and didn’t get, because it felt like a win that I had put myself out there.

Some of the most important things also have to do with my personal life. Things like finding a creative way to help Rose overcome her fear of forest school, which felt like a huge parenting win. And starting my new anti-cancer therapeutic regime, which was really tough on my body and took a huge amount of energy to get through. Also being brave enough to have a particularly hard conversation with a friend that I probably would have avoided a few years ago.

If it’s something that’s meaningful to you, that’s enough.

It’s wonderful to see big milestones and little moments side by side.

Remember: You are enough.

So often when making resolutions, we focus on the ways that we’re not enough. We think about all the things we think we should be doing. And then we judge ourselves for the ways we fall short of these unreasonable expectations.

But I think the most valuable and dare I say revolutionary thing we can do is to make a resolution to recognise our progress.

Imagine – how you would feel being able to look back at that a year from now?

It’s the perfect time to find out.

Photo by Guille Álvarez on Unsplash

If I forget to say thank you

If I forget to say thank you
I know that isn’t right
But it isn’t out of malice
It isn’t out of spite

If I don’t stop to say I love you
It’s not that I don’t care
I just feel scattered
In a million pieces everywhere

If I never say I’m sorry
I still feel it deep inside
It just got tangled up with feelings
I would rather hide

If I haven’t said
Thank you
I’m sorry
I love you
It’s just that I forget
And if you didn’t know
That would be my biggest regret

Note: This one is a rough-edged quickie that I did in about five minutes. Yesterday was Thanksgiving – we weren’t able to celebrate on the day because my daughter was having surgery. We are planning to do something this weekend – but it had me thinking about my state of mind. How I feel so caught up in the exhaustion and complaining. How I can find it so hard to locate my sense of gratitude against what can feel like the daily grind of life.

So as a little offering to Thanksgiving, I thought it might be nice to write a little ode to all the times I fail in this regard. I’m not entirely sure who I was writing this poem to, but going down on the page, it felt both personal and broad. Just because we fail to notice the little miracles of life doesn’t mean they aren’t there – the positive feelings are often still there underneath the clutter of everything else.

Gratitude takes time – and it’s hard to get in touch with this when we are feeling stressed and pressed for time. So I felt like this was a little reminder to myself to stop and take the time to say thank you, to remember the beauty in everyday things, and to connect.

I reckon I was also inspired by this article on some level, which came onto my Facebook feed at just the right time: https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2022/11/24/gratitude-giving-thanks/

Photo by Lyn C on Unsplash

Holding our breaths

A poem for election day

Is this how
The Roman charioteers
Felt when straddling two horses?
Straining towards separate paths
Dancing on the edge of
Disaster

At least
The Romans held
The reins in their own two hands
We steer while yoked to madness
On that at least we
Can agree

We hover
On the future’s
Precipice

Holding
Our
Breaths

Photo by Anastasiia Krutota on Unsplash

Drought

Look at the dried earth
Hardened, so that water only
Sits on its crusted surface

It will take months of
Above-average rainfall
To restore the depleted reserves
That lie far, far underground

It is only gradually that fluid
Can be absorbed, softening
The ground into a place
Where things once again can grow

It takes so much gentle healing
To recover from a scorching summer:
Nourishment, patience, and time

So why would you expect
Your own heart to be any different?

Note: Inspired by an email from Thames Water explaining why the current housepipe ban cannot yet be lifted. Although we have had 100cm of rain in October, only 6cm have been added to the deep reserves.

Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash