Nina Milton, author of the Shaman Mystery Series, welcomes book lovers to the Kitchen Table Writers.
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Did you notice I'd been away? I've just got back from France, nicely tanned and full of thoughts on poetry. Holidays are such a good excuse for writing a poem – loads of new things to see, feel, taste, hear, and think about…plus all that extra time on your hands with nothing better to do than sit in the sun and write. Here are a few of the poems I have written as I holidayed around the UK and Europe. I hope you enjoy them, and that they inspire, or re-inspire you to write your own holiday poems.
When we set off
The sun was settled hot over the castle ruins
And the lake, agate-thin, had a rhinestone surface.
Not fluffy cotton wool puffs,
Just unrelenting mist.
We saw no more than
The crumbling path
And our worn walking boots.
The peak arose, unexpected,
Catching us short – shocked –
A final scramble. We reached the summit.
I put my hand out to touch the cairn – yes!
The terminal made us weep fog-tears.
Tiny trains lifted their sardine loads,
Shedding them straight into the concrete caf.
We were wet through to our aching thighs
Starved for the sandwiches
Crushed and damp from their momentous journey,
But the staff stalk between the plastic tables
Alert for contravention of cafe rules.
We bought thin coffees,
Gobbed our illicit food
With jerking eyes,
Like mountain birds.
All night, the silent storm
Has flickered across the horizon,
Silhouetting the perfect geometry of the earth.
Lightening running in lines and sheets,
Proving the world is round.
All night the storm is an on and off parade,
Flickering like a silent film with erratic highlights
Or the boy with a torch under bedclothes that promise glossy dreams of breasts.
The slashing of heaven, the deadly spear of a fierce god sent crashing down,
To puncture the sea as he will, when he chooses.
All night it persists,
Clouds tossing war at each other,
Hurling insults as quiet as white noise,
While above, the stars blink,
Tiny statements of unaffected continuity.
All night – will it never stop?
Somewhere, thunder deafens ears and children scream their fear.
Waves take the fishing boats until they are mountain goats,
All hands to secure their harvest of ancient things,
The men shiny with rain in their scale skins.
But here, the storm is soundless,
A punctuated brilliance that illuminates the clouds
That dance like grey ghosts,
Phantoms that change their shape,
Conjoin as they please, become one, or many,
Unravel or thicken or slide away, silent like the storm.
I watch until dawn.
I sit silent in my tower by the sea until the sky pales,
The slow expansion of light sucks away the noiseless force,
Until, diminished by the day, the flash is no brighter than the flicker of an oiled wick.
Blinded by the sun,
It is gone.
In the Dublin Museum, Ireland
In the Dublin Museum,
Among the cornucopia of treasures,
The late Neolithic spear-head,
Honed to perfection,
Carved with utmost care.
Each flint dislodged to form
Lethal edges of symmetrical
And a polished point
Bitter as a needle.
When the knapper stood back
To examine his work…
Elegance combined with utility,
Speed combined with precision…
Did he fear the first beads of molten ore
As they ran together and set hard?
Did he long to own the newest feats of engineering –
The golden torc,
The bronze axe –
Or did he lament the passing of this craft
As the relentless pulse of technology move on.
Did he join with others of his trade
And protest the disappearance of their trade?
When did the last apprentice graduate
In the benign skill of
Skara Brae, Orkney Isles
Whether I am in the hills Hunting boar,
Or on the sea
Or in the fields
With the barley or the beasts,
When the sun moves down,
I begin to think of Cadd,
Too heavy now with our second child
To stray far from the house.
I think about how the fire will be blazing
Before I reach the outer wall,
How, as we crouch to share out the shellfish catch
She will be heating the water and tearing herbs.
The day has been cloudless across the sea.
My face is burnt with sun and wind
My hands chilled as stone.
I stride through the passageway and Nitta comes running,
Grasps my knee, hugs and giggles.
She is the one that swells my heart.
When I went to find a stone for my mattock,
Nitta followed, singing to the flowers,
Gathering purple, yellow and white.
Cadd sat with her and named their gifts –
Which plants ease pain, which brings up a fever.
She spoke them after, like an echo of the cliffs,
With such clear intent
It brought more water to my eyes
Than the passing of the Old One
Five moons ago.
The sun will go down red tonight,
As if bleeding into the hills.
After the fish is baked on the stones of the fire
And we are warm and replete,
I will take Cadd out.
We will lie on the soft heather and stare at the sky.
I will tell her the stars
Are like the flowers of the land.
Both are scattered and purposeful and named.
And when she speaks them in her voice,
High as a bone pipe,
I will not mind if water comes again to my eyes
Heat virgin olive oil in a heavy pan,
Chop onion and gently fry
Crush garlic, but add later in case it might burn.
Heat the grill for the sweet peppers to sear…
To sear in thirty degrees,
Lay out the tropical towels
Smear with factor ten in case we might burn
Add four thin bodies to the heat-swirled beach.
Add four thin pork boneless steaks to the pan.
Seal juices while peeling red peppers
Once they have blistered. Slice finely.
Grind in black pepper, oregano seasoning…
Season for the murmurs of summer,
For the glitter of the wide sea,
The screech and splash as the children leap,
For the sleepy Spanish tongue; those sun-dried sounds…
Drain and slice a jar of sun-dried tomatoes
Toss into pan the tomatoes and the peppers.
Cover and simmer for twenty minutes
After which add twenty olives to salt the dish…
Salt in your hair and the feel of sand
Where the bar of your flip-flops grinds between your toes
Coming up the hill from the beach, stepping over wild thyme
Under the acacia trees into the marble chill of Los Arcos.
Chill the wine in the marble cooler,
As you lay out the ceramic you bought in Valencia.
Sweet pepper skins lift; gift-wrapped in scarlet tissue
Spoon out the cerdo espanol and fluff up the rice
Long evenings, filled with fast guitars,
Smells of ceno from the next apartamento
Twirl round the table to Flamenco,
Fast guitars and Spanish song.
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Out of the flat, black sea
Strides Fionn Mac Cumhail
His massive head
Rises from the waves,
His vast shoulders
Shine with sea-brine.
In his one hand, he carries the sword of his people.
In his other, the spear.
Taller than two men, he is,
As he emerges from the ocean
And takes long steps across the Causeway,
Each hexagonal pillar lightly taking the ball of his foot.
It is said that he left his boot
On the shore strand,
And his eye on the cliff,
But I think that Fionn lost his head
At the Giant’s Causeway.
Only an old fool in love
Would dream that
The fairest maid in all Ireland
Might choose him,
For all his wealth, prestige, power
And might on the field of battle,
The young upstart bound by geis and honour.
So, Finn reaches the cliff and
Roars his displeasure on his land,
Scanning the horizon.
But the lovers have vanished,
And already sleep on their stony bed.
Faro Island, Portugal
It’s a long road, straight, you can’t miss it once you’ve turned the roundabout.
Go over the bridge. That’s what makes it an island.
You’ll see where to park. You can buy an ice cream.
No one stays long.
She didn’t say;
Walk along the leeward side, facing the mainland, you won’t see a soul all the way.
She didn’t say;
Climb over the brackeny dunes and walk back along the beach with an Atlantic wind in your hair.
She didn’t say;
The moored boats are like jewels and the birds are wishes that can fly.
She didn’t say;
You’ll think the little houses are shuttered against the winter until someone cries ‘Carlos! Comida!’
She said to tell her what we thought of Faro island.