Category Archives: fearing

Forest soul, savannah soul

A child of forest-bound generations,
my mind cannot grasp the infinite savannah
with so many,
too many,

The kaleidoscope of futures spread before me
dazzle and confuse with their glitter.

A tossing of trees on gusts of hot wind
and days spent striving
to make arid fields verdant.

passionate harmony,
rapt faces.

Eyes close and tender
as I inhale
my soulmate’s soulbreath.

These and a thousand other fragments of imagination
flicker tantalisingly in a crystal ball fogged by endless clouds.
Predictive arcana are uselessly arcane.

The fresh-cut smells of fields beyond countless fences
Endlessly beckon me to sniff, and roll,
And take sampling sips
of each unique greenness,
abandon the nourishment of stability
to become
a conoisseur of variation.

Sometimes it seems the only choice I do not have
is to have less choices. My forest soul
yearns for the security of close horizons
familiar paths and landmark trunks.

Yet I have seen
the savannah stage perfectly set for migration
felt the seduction of beckoning distance
thirsted for the lushness of mirages

And so I cannot go back to simple days.
Could not bear to have my life and its choices
tethered among the options of a small village
like a blinkered horse.

So I go walkabout,
confused but hopeful,
on the infinite plains of
what lies before me.

This poem started as a writing practice from redravine and readwritepoem, two of my favourite sites – the challenge to spend ten minutes doing uncensored free writing on the topic of “What’s in front of me.” For those who are interested to follow this journey, here is the writing practice:

What’s in front of me – 10 minute WP

Kaleidoscope of options – so many things I could be doing. Right now a computer screen, an office, a scattering of papers and pens. A humming printer. A calendar marking out the deadlines that will shape my working life over the next few months.

But beyond that? I hope sometime to be on a stage again, in front of an audience, pouring out my dramatic soul. My voce finally working for me in a way I am happy with. And a lover so close in front of me that our eyes can do nothing but merge in that intimate stare that is so precious. Different countries, too, perhaps – bright skies, palm trees waving, the hot air of the tropical day. New cities, new people, new places. Lots of beautiful things in store.

There is a blankness too, a feeling of bewilderment at the choices spread out in front of me. No map. No ariadne thread through the labyrinth. It would be nice to be able to predict where I will be, what I will be doing – and most importantly how it will feel. But prediction’s eyes are blind.

Strange to think that for hundreds of years people didn’t have these dizzying choices. My mind is still the mind of someone whose choices were circumscribed, who did not leave their home village, married someone they grew up with, did their parent’s trade. Now the billions of the internet stretch out before me. People all over the world have read my words, seen my face, heard my voice… of all these billions of people how do I chose my friends. It was simpler when people lived in small communities where you knew everyone, and had to find some way to get along. Now the choices are dizzying, bewildering – they hurt and confuse the soul.

And having so many choices, we are hungry for perfection. It’s hard to settle down when there are so many other lawns that could be greener. Yet there is a limit to the number of fences we can jump over in our search – easy to become tired forever chasing a chimera.

And yet I know, in my deepest heart, that I will not settle for less than what I want. Perhaps my expectations are too high. But I think, rather, it’s that the costs look different. When you had to get married to survive as a woman, the cost of being picky might have been too high. But now there are so many other ways of surviving. I don’t need a relationship, so I have time to find the best one possible. I do need a job, but I can change what I am looking for, look for different options, find the solution that suits me best. And while I may not be able to make all my dreams come true, I can head towards them, and make them come true as far as possible. Even if not completely, then in part. And for that I am grateful for the choices in front of me, even if they are confusing, bewildering, sometimes dismaying.

The future before me is a step into the air, each time finding a foothold just as the foot comes down. A journey into possibility.

Once the time was up, I read it through again and felt that there were some images that would work well in a poem. And started writing:

I live in a world of dizzying choices
With a mind not used to navigating them
A mind built from generations whose choices
Were limited, local – simpler
Than the kaleidoscope of alternatives
That dazzle me now.

I see myself walking countless futures. Choosing friends and lovers from infinite…

Which was OK, but felt a bit pedestrian – I wanted to take it to a more metaphorical, poetic level. And then I remembered hearing accounts of tribes who had lived all their lives in forest, and when brought out of the forest were unable to process the distances involved because they were so unfamiliar with this perspective. Which seemed to fit the idea of bewilderment I was trying to convey. And so I went back to the beginning, and produced the poem with which I started this post.

Just to complete the exploration of the process, you may be interested to look at another poem I wrote a while ago, maze, which approaches a very similar theme with a much less positive tone.

Finally – the stunning photo that starts this post is by Horizon at flickr.


Awkward doubts – two poems

Awkward questions

I was once a rather quiet sceptic.
Tolerant of others’ cherished illusions,
(even those that seemed rather septic)
and unwilling to provoke confusion.
Why should I dampen their enthusiasm
with awkward questions and doubts
that might perhaps reveal the chasm
between what their faith made them shout
and what, meanwhile, I quietly thought.
But it always seemed that their credulity
was far too easily bought.
And having once let faith make a fool of me,
I know that faith that’s blind is no harmless charm
and I’ve heard too often of beliefs having effects that are fatal.
(If you doubt that belief can do active harm
Consider Nicaragua’s mortality rates – maternal and pre-natal).
So I find I must, politely but firmly, refuse
to tolerate sermonising in dissenting silence
(however good may appear the sermon’s news)
And so, without resorting to violence
I now ensure my doubts get said.
I try not to let dogma thrive uninterrupted,
or tacitly permit narrow-mindedness to spread.
And though it can sometimes seem disruptive,
I won’t believe someone’s words just because
they claim that they have seen the light.
When someone preaches fanatically about the wonders of Oz
I’d rather mention their emerald specs than be dishonestly polite!


Doubt and fear

Even when my eyes were damp with tears
You wouldn’t hold me close. Left me lonely.
I, the sceptic who wanted to believe in you.

For you feared my doubts would interfere
With the strange things you needed to believe.
You, who told me I was afraid of what was true.

But it was not my awkward doubts, but your tearing fears
That in the end were fatal to our love. How we grieved!
We, who had not imagined the pain our love could turn into.

And so you rejected me, and disappeared
To chase your illusions uninterrupted. With only
They who would not challenge your strange world view.

Mere differences of opinion can’t tear friends or lovers apart
It is only fear that has the power to choke the loving heart.


These two poems were written for the Friday Five at Poefusion – to write a poem including the words sceptic, awkward, uninterrupted, fatal, damp.

The first one is roughly clerihewish – deliberately using clumsy or eccentric rhymes and odd line lengths, which seemed to support the idea of awkwardness. The reference to Nicaragua was inspired by this article.

The second poem is more or less a sonnet – though the rhyme scheme (ABC ADC ADC ABC EE) isn’t typical. And I’ve thrown in a pronoun pattern too. I did wonder whether it would be better to use just the first twelve lines without the “moral” at the end – what do you think?

Though they may seem very different in mood, there is a definite connection between the events in the second poem and the attitude expressed in the first.

Truth and fear

(A wordle cloud based on the top 100 words in this post)

I realise that I’ve been writing a lot of posts that in some way relate to the truth – to the struggle to see what is true rather than what we wish to be true, and to be honest with ourselves and with others. I thought it might be a good idea to explore what I feel about truth.

I am in the slightly odd position of being deeply committed to an end goal of personal and spiritual growth (tolerance, honesty, compassion, freedom from fear etc) that is similar in some ways to that which is praised by religions. But at the same time I find the supernaturalism of religious and new-age beliefs fundamentally alien, and their approach to key issues like truth and fear unhelpful at best. Which doesn’t leave me much in the way of reliable guidance for the personal growth that I am seeking. Or indeed any help with defining what exactly I aspire to.

But let me try anyway. One of the things I am seeking is a resilience in the face of the problems that life throws at me – not a permanent happiness, but an emotional buoyancy. A state of mind that deals with problems and obstacles with the minimum of pain and misery. (This ideal owes quite a bit to the non-supernatural elements of buddhism)

Part of that process is about overcoming fear, which is often both unnecessary and counterproductive, and replacing it with a confidence and acceptance. And another part of it is about truth – seeing things the way they are. Because I’m curious to know the truth, and because I feel that honesty, integrity and openness are all valuable characteristics of the person I aspire to be. And because if our beliefs lead us to make false predictions about the world, we’re in danger of being unnecessarily prepared for the problems that arise, or of dealing with them inappropriately.

I also value truthfulness as a great tool for identifying and overcoming fear. From my experience, it’s almost always fear that makes me reluctant to see or speak the truth, so working to overcome that reluctance, or at least defy it, can help me to overcome that fear.

For me the work of moving away from fear and towards truth is a vital part of my life at present.

When I feel I am tempted to lie, I try to ask myself, what am I afraid of? When I feel afraid, I ask myself, why am I afraid, and what is the worst that can happen? And I try to decide whether the fear is of something real, or something imaginary. If, as mostly happens, it’s imaginary, I try to do exactly that thing that I’m afraid of. I don’t always manage it – it’s amazing how easily the mind dreams up excuses why it’s not necessary on this occasion! But step by step I am working on my fears.

And similarly I am trying to eradicate the prejudices, biases and fears that are the biggest obstacles to seeing what is real. I keep trying to remember that, although I believe that every one of my beliefs is correct, is is, in practice, certain that I believe something that is not true. Which doesn’t help me to identify which one it is, but it’s a useful principle. (It would be great to be able to swill out my brain with some sort of epistemological plaque detector, which would stain the areas of false belief so that they could be removed with energetic brushing). But it’s a useful way to counter the pride of having to be right about everything all the time.

It’s also helpful to remember all the different ways in which we can be wrong about things, and how difficult it is to really get at the truth. I’ve recently watched several youtube clips of Derren Brown (e.g. this one) which demonstrate very neatly how easy we can be to fool, and how misleading our own experiences can be. (I recently tried dowsing with a pendulum, and it’s quite shocking how strongly it appears that an invisible external force is involved, even when you know intellectually that it’s nothing of the kind!) It seems that humans work in such a way that we arrive at beliefs easily and quickly, and change our minds reluctantly and slowly – I can’t help feeling the reverse would be more useful!

One of the most inspiring websites I know is The World Question Center, which includes a collection of short accounts from 165 people about issues on which they changed their minds. Some of the changes are really significant, others smaller. But what I find inspiring is the courage with which they have been prepared to put their beliefs to the test and say “I was wrong”. And in reading their accounts, I don’t think the less of them for being wrong – I think more of them for admitting it. Which encourages me to try to feel the same about the scary idea of being wrong.

One of the most important ways in which I’ve changed my mind over recent years is this: what people believe really does matter, because it affects their behaviour, and a “live and let live” relativistic attitude to the beliefs of others is dangerous. It also cuts us off from putting our own views to the test – indeed, as I argued in a previous post, I think one of the attractions of relativism is that we don’t have to put our own views on the line and accept that we might be wrong.

For me discussion is a crucial way of putting our beliefs to the test and learning more about ourselves and others. But for a discussion to be real, all parties have to be willing to discover that they’re wrong. And that is a rare attitude for people to have, particularly on issues that matter to them. Pride and fear all come into play and bias our view of the evidence despite our best efforts. Which, yes, brings me back to fear – indeed it seems hard to separate them!

Moving towards truth and away from fear is a daily challenge, and some days I feel I’ve made no progress at all. It’s a hard slog. But it seems to me that it’s a fascinating and important journey.

Though, I could be wrong, I’m afraid….

Opening the door


“Don’t you ever say never to me!”
She thinks to herself. The forbidden door
Opens to the defiant squeak of the key
And horror sweats cold from every pore

For a stench arises, cloying and rotten
From the heart of their marriage – evil denied
But once seen, too hideous to be forgotten.
Truth bleeds from the key and her soul is dyed.

Returning hoofbeats! She turns to flee
But is frozen like a fawn as the hunter returns,
And sees in her eyes what she cannot unsee.
On the brink of slaughter, she finally learns

That beyond the door of fear’s dark night
Lies the truth that gives the strength to fight.


This sonnet is based on the tale of Bluebeard. It is very much influenced by the way the story is told, and interpreted, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women who run with the Wolves – in an early blogpost I included several extracts from her description that resonated with me. In the poem, as in the original story, the woman does manage to escape at the last moment, though in the poem I have suggested that she saves herself rather than awaiting rescue by her brothers.

The first line comes from one of my favourite films, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – it’s a war-cry for women refusing to be constrained, which I couldn’t resist using here! The original tale of Bluebeard frequently suggests that the woman is wrong to be curious, and that the discovery is a punishment for her disobedience. Which is strange, as the alternative was to remain in blissful ignorance that she’d married a murderer… presumably up until the point when he got tired of her, when her innocence and obedience would be no protection whatsoever. So I wanted to make it clear that her motive for going through the door was much more to do with courage and defiance than nosiness!

The poem also reflects my (thankfully less bloody!) own experiences of being reluctant to confront the truth in a relationship, even though confronting that truth is the only way to protect yourself from being hurt.

Oh, and the rather creepy photo of a keyhole, was taken (in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh) and uploaded onto flickr by davydubbit.

Kraken revisited

The kraken arises from an ocean of riven broken time.
Jaws gritty with the dust of things once precious.
Each sinuous movement violates reason and rhyme
A murky intelligence stares from its eyes, deeply vicious.

Its elemental fear makes us doubt our every intent.

Most terrible because it is so intensely silent…
More strange than any beast in any sea ever sailed…
A mere hint of its rising makes the heartbeat violent
As we feel the foundations of our being are assailed.

Even to think of it makes the universe feel bent.

For this beast devours our souls’ hard-won pearls
Spitting out the fragments of the truth we thought secure
Throws us silent and naked into a lonely world
Where the shreds of our peace must struggle to endure.

But one day we must stop being prey and learn to fight.

Set out to hunt the beast across the deep ocean floors –
Stare into its eyes to defy it, and there see its flaws and errors.
Rebuild for ourselves what was pulverised by its jaws,
And relax, knowing our peace stronger than its paralysing terrors,

Buoyant on dawn-blushed waves, at the end of the kraken night.


This is a revision of an earlier poem of mine, Kraken. I revisited it on a suggestion from readwritepoem to go back and rework an old poem. The original was a jigsaw poem, and in rewriting it I’ve removed many of the jigsaw words to give myself more freedom to say exactly what I want. I’ve made the meaning a shade more explicit too. I’ve also incorporated a final verse as I felt it needed a more powerful, positive ending. Oh, and I’ve introduced rhyme!

I think altogether that the revised version is stronger – what do you think?

(Photo – Deep Blue Sea – uploaded to Flickr by TheFortunate)




The beast arises from an ocean of riven time,
Jaws agleam with the dust of what was once precious.
Each sinuous movement a reversal of physical law
A murky intelligence in its eyes which nothing can clarify.
Its rising makes our solidest truths seem dim and volatile.

Most terrible because it is silent…
More strange than any fantasy…
In contemplating it the heart flutters
Feels the foundations of its peace tremble

Even to think of it makes the universe feels bent

For this beast of our fantasies devours our souls’ precious time.
Reverses all the clarity we feel we have gained.
Throws us silent and naked into a volatile universe
Where the bent and twisted fragments of our peace flutter sadly.


This was inspired by two prompts –

Firstly from poetswhoblog – to write a jigsaw poem featuring the following words: time, precious, reversal, clarify, volatile, silent, fantasy, flutter, peace, bent. Having used them all I felt I had more to write, so I ended up using each word twice, changing a few of them the second time.

Secondly, readwritepoem‘s challenge to write a poem about something that doesn’t exist. It seems my imagination came up with something rather dark, so I’m glad it doesn’t exist! Though perhaps I should say, it doesn’t exist as a real creature…

The photo is Ocean Deep, originally uploaded to flickr by Julie Elisabeth.

The voices – a poem in four episodes

Yesterday’s melancholy song:

I had learned to live in fear,
The voices in my head
overflowed the air:

“Without you I’ll never be.
“I’ll never be!”

Exterminating by backspace:

I key in and expunge
echoes of voices from afar
take a knife to blatant out right lies:

“You called it constant drama – you never knew.
“You never knew!”

The sound of another morning:

Into the dark recess of my mind,
the eager sun sneaks in bits of light
from my earnest reflections:

“The voices in my head were never really there.”
“Were never really there!”

I go on without my disguise:

Brightening parts my world,
and brings me home again
without the mask I hid behind:

“The me that I have always known.”


This is a patchwork poem, drawing on poems by:

Writerwoman at The shores of my dreams:
Gautami at Rooted
Lissa at Just Writing Words
Paisley at Just Paisley

I’ve done a little tweaking here and there, but they’re basically their words, not mine, so many thanks for permission to play with these great poems. You can find out what these poets have done with the same original material and learn more about patchwork poems at the Patchwork Poetry blog.

I also owe thanks to dakini at flickr for the lovely photo….