‘Sylvia Plath You are Dead’ and other poems by Elaine Feeney

Charles Bukowski is my Dad

 
He stands with me in the
best-dressed-lady-line,
holding open my pearl lace
umbrella to the
ravaging Galway rain.
 
He calls me up on
blue Mondays and gives me
whiskey on bold Fridays.
 
He fills up my father-space
He fills up my mind-space
He fills up my hot-water bottle
 
His advice fills up my cheer
and revives my rotted liver,
 
but that’s a small price to pay
because Bukowski’s my Dad.
 
He’s my feather pillow
and my guitar string.
 
He’s my soccer coach and sex therapist
 
He paints my nails
pepperminty green and sings
 
raindrops keep falling on my head
on wicked trips to the racetrack.
But that’s a small price to
because Bukowski’s my dad.
 

Biteens

 
Little biteens of people, pieces all over the raven pavements and sprayed on the cracked gutters, bits of them strewn on the carpeted lanes, and propped against wheeley bins like the carcasses of bored butlers, bits of them.
 
Biteens of people, shards of anoraks and faded canvas shopping bags, sloven splinters of their teeth, angles of jawlines where jaws used to sit, pieces of people, god help them, dead to rush hour, dead.
 
Silver wisps of greasy dandruffy dead hair.
 
Dead waiting at the bus stop dead waiting at the counter top dead waiting at the social shop dead waiting at the hospital drop dead waiting at the morgue spot.
 
Putting biteens of sharred shoulders to the wind,
their half bodies and eaten bones.
 
The blush-blown look of the cretins, blown out of our way down alleys in corpo houses on free bus spins on acid on nebulisers on tea on glue and sugar on lithium on valium on sadnesss and sorrow on beauty on faith.
 
Biteens of people, pieces of them, imagine it.
 
Light a candle or two.
 
For their mass cards and petitions, for their shopping bags for our lady and their prescriptions, for their mothers for their missing sons and for their saints.
 

Bog Fairies

 
The heather like
Pork belly cracked
Underneath my feet-
 
The horizon like
Nougat, melted
Its pastel line at the heath edge
Blue fading to white light.
 
We stacked rows of little
Houses for bog fairies –
Wet mulchy sods
Evaporating under our small palms.
 
Crucifixions of dry brittle crosses
Forming the skeleton-
My narrow ankles parallel to them.
 
Coarse and tough like the marrow of the soul,
Like the skeletons crucified under the peat.
 
The turf will come good
My father said
When the wind blows to dry it.
 
We dragged ten-ten-twenty bags
With the sulphury waft of cat piss,
Along a track dotted with deep black bogholes,
Then over a silver door, like a snail’s
Oily trail leaving a map for the moon,
And for bog fairies to dance in the mushy earth-
For us all to glisten in this late summer.
 
And behind the door
Once upon some time
Old women sat in black shawls
Bedding down Irregulars and putting kettles
On to boil for the labouring girls.
 
But I was gone.
 
I was gone at ten in my mind’s eye.
I was dragging Comrades from the Somme
I was pulling Concords in line with Swedish giants
I was skating on the lake in Central Park
I was crouched in the green at Sam’s Cross
I was touring Rubber-Soul at Hollywood Bowl
I was marching on Washington with John Lewis
I was in the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe,
He was squatting on my lap with his lens,
Swearing to Janis Joplin I could find her a shift,
Nothing is impossible when you blow like that girlfriend.
I sang Come As You are in Aberdeen with union converse,
Blue eye liner and mouse holes in my Connemara jumper.
 
I was anyone but me
I was anywhere but here
I was gone
 
We rushed to hurry before the summer light would fade
Because animals needed to be washed and fed
 
And turf needed to be stacked
And all the talk of our youth
Would be said
In whispers and secrets, or written on postage stamps
 
Because light was the ruler as it was closing in around us,
Beating us, like the dark on the workmen
Deep in the channel tunnel that night.
 
The black light killed the purple heather
Yet I danced on the crackle in the dust
I crackled on the dust in the heather
My dance on the heather turned to dust.

 

 

Pity the Mothers

 
Pity the mothers
who weathered their skin
to raise their sons to die.
 
Pity the routine,
the daily stretching table
ferociously making meet ends.
 
Pity the mothers who told
sons the world was tough and wild-
 
To have them sold out in the early hours
of mornings’ immutable stage
fresh and stung.
 
Brave the world
They should have said
Brave its bold beauty
Brave the world my brave sons
And be beautiful
Because fear is a choking kite string in a storm.
 
Fear is a punctuating dictator
 
Fear will drive you half insane
and there’s no spirit in half a cup of anything.
 
Fear will wake your sleep and damn your
first born nerves.
 
There is no fertility in fear
no function, no performance.
 
Be a kite
Be yellow
Be bold
Be mad
 
Don’t step at the edge of it
all and send your body half-way
forward to the sea-froth.
 
For there you will find the headwinds.
 
Pity the bags, shoes, boots,
hurls mothers left
by the door.
 
The endless soups and syrups
The forever effort
The long lasting kisses they left on young jaws
 
To send them to the world fearful
And then feared.
To send them to the world with pity
And then pitied.
 
Pity the mothers
with their strong
elbows worn from effort.
 
Struggling against headwinds-
 
sanding the grain
in the wrong direction.
 
Pity the mothers
Who weathered their skin
just to raise sons to die.
 

Sylvia Plath You Are Dead

 
Sylvia Plath you are dead.
Your tanned legs are dead.
 
Your smile is dead, and
Massachusetts will mourn her
 
Girl on lemonady days
on sunshiny days
 
She will mourn her on dark days
when screaming girls go mad
 
In maternity wards
and scream in domestic wards,
 
And cry handfuls of slathery salty water
in kitchens over ironing boards.
 
Sylvia Plath you are dead,
and girls try rubbing out stretched marks
 
on their olive silver skin, until they
bleed. Their tiny babies cry in the halls
 
until windows framed with candy
colours, fog over their minds, their aprons, their skirts
 
their college ways, where there were no lessons on
crying. Silvery Plath the moon howls at them
 
taunted by strong winds, out the garden paths
gusts blow heads off the ivy shoulders,
 
but heather keeps her low profile
her head down, smiling.
 

Mass

 
Mass will be said for no more bad language and gambling and wanking that the Athenry boys are doing, down the back of the castle, down the back of the couch, all the punching and hitting and groaning, moaning at the Turlough boys, the Clarinbridge boys, the boys from Killimordaly, down the back of the Presentation grounds.
 
There will be mass when you lose at the Galway Races
 and for the saving of your soul if you take the boat to Cheltenham.
 
There will be a mass for when the horse runs, and when the horse dies, and for the bookies who win and the punters who win,
 
and the bookies who lose and the punters who lose.
 
There will be mass for hare coursing and flask-filling.
 
There will be mass for your Inter Cert and your twenty-first,
 
There will be a filling-out-your-CAO-form mass.
 
Mass will be held in the morning before the exams, mass will be held in the evening for your bath.
 
There’ll be a special mass on Saturday afternoon for your Granny. There will be a mass for your Granny’s boils and aches and black lungs and ulcers and spots and diabetes and psychosis.
 
There’ll be a mass for the anointing of the bollix of the bull above in the field near the closh over the railway bridge.
 
Mass will be held before the College’s Junior B Hurling Final, it will be held for the Connaught Cup Junior A Regional Final in wizardry and sarcasm.
 
Mass will be held on top of the reek for the arrogant and meek, and the bishop will arrive by eurocopter. There will be a mass to get him up in one piece and back in one piece.
 
Masses will be held in the outhouse.
 
Mass will be held for the safe arrival of new lambs and the birthing of ass foals.
 
Mass will be held in your uncle’s sitting room but his neighbours will be envious and later stage a finer mass.
 
There will be a mass to find you a husband, and a few masses to pray he stays.
 
There will be a good intentions mass. Your intentions if they’re good will come true. Mass will be held for your weddings and wakes and when you wake up.
 
Mass will be held for the Muslim conversion.
 
Mass will be held for George Bush.
 
Mass will be held for the war on terror.
 
Mass will be held for black babies and yellow babies and the yellowy black babies.
 
Mass will not be held for red babies. They have upset Pope John Paul.
 
Mass will be held for your brother when he gets the meningitis from picking his nose. Mass will be held for your cousins when they stop going to mass.
 
Mass will be held for the harvest and the sun and the moon and a frost and a snow
 and for a healthy spring and red autumn, for a good wind and no wind, and for a good shower and a dry spell, and for the silage and the hay and the grass and the turf.
 
There will be a saving-of-the-turf day. There will be a saving-of-the-hay day. There will
be a saving-my-soul day.
 
There will a mass for the fishing fishermen.
 
There will be multiple masses for Mary around August when she did all the appearing.
 
There will be a good mass when the statue cries rusty tears. There will be a good mass and a great collection.
 
Mass will be held for the cloud people.
 
Mass will be held for apparitions and anniversaries and weddings and baptisms.
 
Mass will be held to church your sinned body after giving birth, there will be mass to wash your unclean feet.
 
Mass will be held for all your decisions so you don’t have to blame yourself.
 
There will be mass for the poor dead Clares.
There will be mass for the Black Protestants if Paisley allows it. Mass will be held for the De Valera’s and the Croke Park goers.
 
There will be a mass for the conversion of the Jews (and their collection).
 
There will be a mass for the communion class, there will be a mass for the no-name club non-drinkers. There will be a giving-up-smoking-the-Christian-way mass.
 
There will be a mass for the Christian Angels, only Christian ones.
 
There will be no mass for your freedom, but the air will be pea sweet and the sky will clear.
 
Mass will not be held for the souls of your gay sons.
 
Mass will not be held for victims, for cynics, anti-clerics, the song-and-dance makers, the antagonising atheists, the upsetting-the-apple-cart persons.
 
There will be no women’s mass.
 
There will be no mass solely by women for women. Your daughters will not hold mass.
There are strict rules for the masses.
 
The above poems are © Elaine Feeney and have been published by The Stinging Fly, Once Upon Reflection, and The Radio was Gospel (Salmon Poetry 2013)

photoElaine Feeney is considered a leading part of political contemporary Irish writers. She was educated in University College Galway, University College Cork and University of Limerick. Feeney has published three collections of poetry Indiscipline (2007), Where’s Katie? (2010, Salmon) and The Radio was Gospel (2013, Salmon) Her work has been published widely in literary magazines and anthologies. She is currently working on a novel.
 
“Elaine Feeney is the freshest, most engaging and certainly the most provocative female poet to come out of Ireland in the last decade. Her poem ” Mass”, is both gloriously funny, bitter-sweet in the astuteness of its observations and a brilliant, sly window into the Irish female Catholic experience. Her use of irony is delicious. Her comments on the human condition, which run throughout her lines, are in the tradition of Dean Swift and she rightfully takes her place alongside Eavan Boland and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill as a very, very important Irish voice.” Fionnuala Flanagan, California 2013 (Praise for The Radio was Gospel, 2013, Salmon)
 
“A choice collection of poetry, one not to be overlooked, 5 Stars” Midwest Book Review, USA, (Praise for Where’s Katie? 2010, Salmon Poetry).
 
Elaine Feeney saying Mass