Award winning poet Grace Wells has brought her considerable poetic sensibility to bear on her latest creative work, in which she uses poetic video in a manner that both deepens our awareness of what we might lose and have lost, and also lends her voice to the urgency of the ecological crisis facing our world. This call to action is most explicit in her poems, “For so long they were our ark”, “Curlew” and “Poem for the Leaves”. In the opening poem here, “Stitches like Days”, Wells calls for the qualities of steadfastness and perseverance, qualities we surely need in these times.
“Stitches like Days,” by Grace Wells
Stitches like Days
The wall-hanging on the back of the door
is made of old saris,
fragments of clothe embroidered
with sequins and gold thread.
Flowers mostly, their petals
intricate and delicate,
the kind of handiwork
you no longer see.
I’ve come to think their stitches
are like days,
some glinting with loveliness,
some more ordinary,
stitched with threads of duty,
and sometimes of despair.
But even the flowers of gloom
offer their gifts,
even the blossom of grief
reveals how all our feelings
have their roots in love—
or in its lack.
In the past what I needed most
I taught myself that tough little stitch,
like a girl in a fairytale
having to spin straw into gold—
like the heroine of a myth,
my first impulse was always to give-up.
But the sari-flowers tell me persevere;
the women who sewed these small splendours
knew how the heart can be wounded here,
and stitch by stitch they instruct me to carry on,
to work my way deeper into
the mysterious landscapes of faith.
“For so long they were our ark,” by Grace Wells
For so long they were our ark, now we must be theirs
For so long they were our ark
“From the beginning of the world, the creatures and plants were our lifeboat that got us to where we are now. Now we must be a lifeboat for them.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer
So I take down the children’s old ark,
paint-chipped and dusty, its animals lost
or strewn in a jumbled heap.
I paint the belly of the ark gold
because for so long they were our ark
and now we must be theirs,
so I make space for the species in the cabin,
space for the native black-willow dying
on the shores of the Kentucky river.
Space for the river itself. I colour the hull
of the boat sky-blue to repair the cloak of
our atmosphere, because if the sky isn’t our ark,
I don’t know what is. I paint the waves of our
rising seas, and work in cold greens and greys
to cool the oceans, I use alkali to balance their acid,
and leave out the pollutants and plastics,
the fish-hooks and net, and I call to the birds
that it’s safe to nest on this roof,
the threatened swallows, the last storks, the precious owls.
From their hutches, I release the factory-farmed hens,
the industrialised ducks, and the Christmas turkeys.
Of all the creatures on the globe, only four percent
are free, the rest we keep for our own purposes,
so I give the caged space in my ark, and set loose their souls.
Then I gather up the wooden animals my children
played with years ago before they left for the city.
I hold the creatures gently, while I paint their limbs,
and I say to them, for so long you were our ark,
now we must be yours: the lion, the crocodile,
the elephants, the giraffes.
Two by two I give them back their names
and their dignity. I return them to the wild.
“Curlew,” by Grace Wells
“People exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love and to defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.”
“What an unearthly aria that call was. Sometimes I would think it isn’t a call at all. But if it isn’t, what is it? Is it a spontaneity of eternity that has somehow come through into time? Hearing his voice, a god who had made the curlew would almost instantly want to remake himself as the thing he had made. Universes he couldn’t call into being with a human voice he could call into being with the voice of a curlew.”
Above the beach at Kilmacreehy,
ten curlews become eleven curlews
in a small flock of wing and glide
that I follow after like a younger child.
Birds possessed of little more than sky—
a sky so blue it turns the waves aquamarine,
and lights the wet sand cobalt-blue,
Liscannor Bay become so sheltering
that I am almost fooled to forget
how the curlews are fading now;
the wings that fly around my head
trace a fragile cusp of life,
the wick of their species is burning low.
So in the way that others sit
at the bedsides of the dying,
I accompany the curlews out
to where their blue sands will surely end,
but each soft step sinks me deeper
into our Earth’s embrace,
and when the curlews call,
their song enchants—
lifting me with them,
until I am air bourn, feathered, flying.
“Poem for the Leaves,” by Grace Wells
Poem for the Leaves
Leaves, I shall miss you all winter, a part of me
mourning until the new buds brighten
on the trees in spring.
Like a net, your canopy catches sunlight
which gilds you bronze and copper.
I’ve been watching you leaves,
I didn’t know surrender could be
so easy, so natural, a slip, a drift—
your fall inevitable, and a grace in that.
Through the wood leaves are
tumbling down, no hurry on them,
each traces a slow path through air.
I’m going to miss you. I wanted to thank you,
these days we only seem to address you in numericals,
so much carbon and photosynthesis,
so many cubits of timber,
but this summer I watched my neighbour
kneel on the ground, to breathe
on the tight tips of oak saplings,
It’s what they love, he said, somewhere
between madness and truth—so intimate.
All summer I drank in
your dance of light and shade.
All summer breath in my lungs,
your prana in my heart.
All season you were generous,
each night coming through
my bedroom window on the air.
Amber you turn now, umber, terracotta,
layering up, born to
enrich the earth and uncomplaining.
Leaves, it would be sacrilegious
for me to write on you,
but still I take up a gold pen,
it is November, to breathe now, to speak,
I shall need to borrow from
from the Southern hemisphere,
from the Amazon rainforest,
and the trees in Australia,
and all the other woodland
that this season is so likely to burn.
In gold pen I write on the leaves of my beech tree:
Thank You, Gratitude, Love.
The gold letters lift on the breeze.
For years I’ve written on pages of paper
that we name leaf,
my handwriting a scrawl of longings, worry,
small triumphs and small measures of success,
but so little now is laudable except
the planting of trees,
and what truly matters
besides this message to nature,
Thank You, Gratitude, Love.
Grace Wells was born in London in 1968, and moved to rural Tipperary in 1991. Nature, spirit of place and ecological concern have been large themes in her writing ever since the publication of her debut children’s novel Gyrfalcon (O’Brien Press, 2002), which won the Eilís Dillon Best Newcomer Award and was an International White Ravens Choice. Her debut poetry collection When God has been Called Away to Greater Things (Dedalus Press, 2010), won the Rupert and Eithne Strong Best First Collection Award, and was shortlisted for the London Festival Fringe New Poetry Award. With her second poetry collection Fur (Dedalus Press, 2015), Wells moved more deeply into eco-poetics and eco-feminism. Fur was lauded in Poetry Ireland Review as ‘a book that enlarges the possibilities of poetry’, and her poem Otter was Highly Commended by the Forward Prize. She has reviewed Irish poetry for a wide range of journals, and has taught and mentored emerging writers on behalf of Poetry Ireland, Words Ireland, and for many County Council Arts Offices. In 2018 Grace Wells moved to the West coast of Ireland, which is informing her new work with a marine light. She is currently working on her third collection, Home, a meditation on belonging within culture, body, self, and nature in our era of ecological crisis. The poems are accompanied by a sequence of eco-poetry-films, Wells’ Home Movies.
Videos courtesy of Grace Wells’ and can also be viewed on her YouTube channel.