Silver Branch series:

Ronnie Smith

Ronnie Smith was born in Glasgow in 1958 and was then moved to the small west coast town of Largs to grow up in what seems like a galaxy far, far away.

Everything he learned about how to see and then express his world comes initially from that period, supplemented by a long time spent travelling on business in Africa, Asia, Europe and Russia. When asked as a child what he wanted to do when he grew up, Ronnie could only answer, “To see as much as possible of the world…”.

Ronnie has published articles on business, politics and culture in the UK, Romania (where he lived and worked for 7 happy years), France (where he now happily lives), Australia and even on one occasion, Slovakia. He also published a number of short stories in Scotland, in that previous galaxy.

These days Ronnie has difficulty writing more than 12 lines.

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"Poetry is a limitless form that expresses a version of how the world can be understood. Humans transform that knowledge into words, fine art, sound, movement, perfume, thought and ideas (although too often they convert it into money). It is the natural world that creates the knowledge and converts it into the action of daily life for all creatures. It can come together for us when we understand that knowledge through the use of our senses, it is a choice.

That understanding is, of course, enhanced by the work of scientists and teachers but for all of us it becomes evident in moments of clarity. I’d like to share some of those moments of sense through this selection of poems, other writing and images."

Ronnie Smith - 2022

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Preface

Waves of heat ripple

above youthful Spring grass.

A snow-white egret unfolds

to rise, in two slow flaps,

onto the spine

of an innocent black horse.

Becoming One

They run when you arrive

creating distance, safety.

They forget you, continue

eating, slowly across shiny

breeze-dancing grass.

 

Be still, mindful of the wind,

patiently disappear. They

return. The curious lambs,

staring parents. Wise

crows hopping on dry-stane.

 

Invisible chirrups, erect

hares’ ears in marsh. They

see movement, ignore

character. You on a bare

hill, a threat or nothing.

A Change in the Weather

 

Teased across the sky,

white waves stretch

in parallel to beach

on the horizon.

Rib cage of the Earth.

Beach

A rough grain falls

from my finger

as a glare

of gossamer sail

dives straight

into the line

between darkening sea

and the silk

of a troubled sky.

Turn of the Key

Now there is water

in the air. Polishing

leaves, gently dabbing

petals. Releasing us

from Nature’s stifling

confinement. To lose

us in morning mist,

shifter of mysterious

shapes on familiar land.

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Fall

Wind will litter

the road with ageing

leaves. And the crows’

summer secrets

will be made public,

their dark politics

revealed, their schemes

and plots exposed

to the frost of our gaze.

History

A derelict tooth

of old home

remains of past

lives still rooted

in unturned soil.

Held tight

in the relentless

clutch of boa vine.

Aground

Stripped of its bark,

naked in a cold sun.

Stern stuck firm

in migration, roots

petrified by salt.

Left to candelabra

on a shingle table

by the mystery of tides.

The storm now a hush

of melting waves.

Bubble

Through an ancient

pock-carved window,

the same blackbird

solos Schubert

on a tree sparkling

in silver raindrops.

Hiding under covers,

fugitives from that cold

world. Our melted

morning bodies, our

whispered breathing,

the heat we need.

Insomnia

Only in the October silhouette

of a silver half-moon can wind

be seen, whispering through

the chattering tongues

of a careless mimosa.

A gossamer moon

rests briefly on my roof.

Watching the long sun

set, sheltering an evening

crow from the cold Autumn

stories of the East wind.

Waning

October vines ravaged,

their youth stolen, thickly

apply the rouge. Clinging

to a cold version of beauty.

A last photo-shoot before frost

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Awkward

Four red kites, a family,

fill the space of the valley.

Laughing and boasting

in their talon-tig, rising

on the currents to dart,

roll and fall together.

I watch, on my balcony.

Smiling, laughing at their

jokes and antics. Desperate

for their invitation, I move

closer to the game. They turn

round a ridge and are gone.

Returned to Normal

They said the beach

was deserted, the

promenade abandoned,

the channel stripped

of its billowing sails and

phutting fishing skiffs?

Yet gulls still laugh 

and slap their prints

on damp virgin sand.

Pure egrets tip-toe the

untrod tarmac by locked

restaurant doors.

And cormorants strafe

and dook the mirrored

Herault, passing out to sea.

Memorial

A rock juts

near the summit

of my home hills.

My blood stains it,

from an age ago.

My rock, reached

on still summer days

to sit, to fill my senses.

Thick air, shimmering

land and vague sea.

It cut me without

anger, to share

ourselves, to remember…

It has my stain and I

have its enduring scar.

Numbers

In a perched Pyrenean village,

a granite memorial. Names,

dates – 1914-1918, ‘Pour la Patrie’.

One young man,

baptised on silent slopes

by the purest Holy

mist; died 5 November 2018.

They could not stop

their guns for 6 days.

Our tears repeat, our

pain rumbles on. 23,

the age of marriage.

No Escape

A playground lit

by a fresh Ayrshire

morning. A tarmac

basketball court, derelict

hoops, only for football.

Shouting, accusations

and battle cries! Fingers

of blood smeared across

a school shirt. Counting

those long empty years.

Reckless

Running straight

down the ragged hill.

A Killiecrankie charge,

full pelt, warm evening

air slapping our faces.

The serrated ridge above,

the sparkling Clyde far

below. We leapt, split-second,

over razor grass and deadly

emblematic thistles.

Flies in our eyes,

Midges up our noses.

The pumping, thumping

joy of everything.

The ticking freedom.

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Bus Stop

Jim was ready. The doctor, the nurse, his home visitor and his sister all said so with earnest meaningful eyes.

Now he sat in the worn felt chair, in his bare kitchenette thinking about it. Listening to the lonely hissing of the old gas fire, louder in the mid-morning silence where no clock ticked. Thinking about it and staring at the brown wall paper until the faded pattern started to dance around. Thinking about being ready. Thinking about today being the day. Thinking about that old safety of the harsh neon ward, disinfectant in his nostrils. The whispered conversations of doctors and nurses behind frosted glass, thinking and caressing the absence of responsibility.

Jim got up and walked over to the window to look down at the bus shelter.  The sun made the tarmac steam while the sky threatened another shower. People moved behind the dull perspex, three of them, shuffling together, friends.

Today was the day but now was not the moment. Friends behind the Perspex, talking in casual tones, laughing. Displaying their friendship, excluding him, three floors up.

Jim would wait. There were many buses into town, they’d said so. He didn’t have to go the whole way, just far enough. To the old cinema perhaps. Then he could get off, cross the street and take another bus back. Maybe it would take an hour altogether. Then he could be back in his kitchenette. Safe.

 

A bus came, a forty seven. It could have been a forty two A, a fifty seven A or B or even a sixty three but it wasn’t. It was a forty seven. All the people got on it, shadows leaving the shelter as though sucked onto the bus. Nice for them, to go on the same bus, perhaps to the same place and carry on laughing and talking together. Nice.

 

Now the bus stop was empty. Steam still rising from the street. Jim shouldn’t worry about the rain that because he was ready and it was time. He rushed to the hall and took his jacket, heavy and new, from its hook. His sister bought it. She brought it because he wasn’t ready then, things had to be brought. He checked the pockets for keys and money, keys and money, keys and money. And hankies. And the phone.

He went back to the window, a final check to make sure no one was at the bus stop before he turned off the fire. Clear.

Jim locked the door and walked quickly to the stairs. After two steps he turned back. Did he lock the door properly? Yes but better to check.

Out onto the pavement, steam still rising and the sky darkening. He turned up his collar, buried his hands in his pockets and stared down at the tarmac.

He heard a voice behind the perspex. One voice, maybe making a phone call. Jim saw the dark shape, just one, one that hadn’t been there before, when he’d checked. Shuffling on its own and talking on the phone, laughing.

Jim stood still looking. Looking at the dark shape in the shelter, shuffling and talking.

Jim looked up and down the long empty street. Nothing was moving. Steam was still rising but no buses were coming. The shadow would not be leaving soon. He felt a wet hedge leaf between his fingers. This was no longer the right time.

The Romance of Battle

 

We didn’t know why a ten foot wall had been built between our ‘schemes’, it was older than us so it was always there. Glazed red brick, some sections with broken glass cemented along the top… I called our part of town Berlin but few understood the joke.

The wall defended the town’s dump, or ‘cowp’ in our local language, to keep us away from the furnaces and crushing machines inside the vast rubbish factory that our houses surrounded. Any wall makes enemies of the people on either side and we were no different.

Bored, Scottish, teenagers, we were easy, mutually defining enemies. So we fought across the wall and in the open wasteland on either side. Among the broken bottles, on the derelict football pitch with its boulders, dogshit and torn fishermen’s nets.

We set our dogs on each other but the dogs turned out to be more civilised than us. We threw anything we could pick up, lifting stones from the wasteland and returning them to the wasteland. The greatest egos challenged each other to single combat and stole the show for a while.. Until the police arrived and we scattered among the rubble, to be questioned in the streets; hands in pockets, looking at the ground, shameless.

In a bolt of lightning, an unknown blonde head appeared above the parapet. She threw a stone at me, threw it well. I faced it and it missed me by an inch. I threw one back and she didn’t flinch, the same inch. We smiled, held our eyes, challenged each other in the middle of the mayhem. I heard that she was someone’s cousin, down from Glasgow for the day. An unregistered combatant. I saw courage and beauty in the midst of the little horror that we had created for ourselves.

Later I thought of possibilities of another life but then, that was the life we had.

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