“Snowbird” and other poems by Jessamine O’Connor

Snowbird

after Mary Noonan’s house
 
If I had known, I would have said goodbye years before.
 
Not at the artificial grass graveside
or the airtight TV room where you all sat like stuffed animals,
but at your table, over the paintbrushes,
 
or on the coral strand, between sandwiches,
between swims, where I wallowed in the shallows
and admired your distant bobbing head trawling the horizon,
 
long before the vaporous woman seeped into you,
every year swelling, squeezing more and more out,
until there was only an occasional glint, or a short sharp smile.
 
There, up the powdery path, against your redbrick wall,
when you unclipped and lifted me from your daughter’s bike
and held me high over your face, naming me Snowbird.
 
It should have been then. If I had known, it would have been then.
 

To The Oxford University Press

  regarding the updated Junior Dictionary
 
You’ve taken the world around us away,
surrendered it all for a virtual world.
 
A dictionary teaching children that trees,
birds, and a whole fieldful of grass
are not really real.
 
Illustrating, by elimination,
that nature has no value and is not worth keeping,
 
what matters now is Chatroom,
Blog and Celebrity,
and what would a child do with a Conker anyway?
 
A Buttercup can’t tell you anything
about the lactic tastes of an iPod,
and no one climbs Beech trees
or gathers Hazel nuts these days
 
  or so you must hope
 
because you’ve hidden the words
where children can’t find them.
 
So when they go searching for an Acorn
or Bluebell, or Newt,
they’ll discover that those things don’t exist any more;
 
their inheritance
is Cut-and-Paste,
Block-Graph and Voicemail.
 
You inform them that a Blackberry is not sweet with juice,
but hard,
and demanding,
and needs to be bought.
 

Three Monkeys on the Road to Rossport

 
Purples wander into the water,
slow waves of heather,
cocoa streams of turf
ripple from the land
down to Broadhaven bay,
and travel long enough
there’s nothing else to see,
but a blackbird egg sky
speckled with reeling wings,
and the dryblood brown earth
pulsing with plants
and all the things that scuttle,
build, eat, mate and die –
but the first monkey sees nothing
through the gleam in his eye.
 
Swishing grass trickles,
the road hums,
spun under the wheels
of their speeding car.
Overhead gliding gulls
start a chain of alarm,
vixens screaming,
grunts and whistles,
then fish flicksilver,
rushing west
mouthing their dread –
but the second monkey hears nothing
only the echo
 rich   rich   rich
ricocheting in his head.
 
The third monkey is quiet,
he’s holding the wheel,
steering them
into the postcard
perfect peninsula,
wondering if he can shake on this deal
to steal the land,
spew up the sea
and rape the ground,
for nothing
more than fleeting greed.
Can he sign up to bleed this place,
feed on mangled fox’s dens,
breathe the buried field mice,
bird’s nests and burrows?
 
He feels the familiar
panic prickle,
wonders how he would live
after this,
how will he be able
to be alone and barefoot,
and answer the accusations
that creep up in the dark –
but the third monkey keeps driving,
says nothing,
and digs a hole
for the wild thoughts
deep
down
inside.
 

Asimo – On Prime Time TV

 
Asimo, performing to adoring sighs, like a communal child.
You carried out a tray of drinks, trod down steps,
and ran -actually ran.
 
You danced with the guest, soulless,
but everyone agreed you outdid her with your mechanical moves,
programmed to seem servile, dancing on screen,
 
running across the stage while the audience oohs,
delighted, letting themselves play the proud parents,
the presenter even called you He.
 
What I see is how fast you can run,
and how those hands are so easily swapped for guns, or needles,
or spray, or voltage –how long are you going to stay four-foot-three?
 
Your dance is the decoy, the wooden horse.
They cheer and let you in, suppose you will be their pet
and dance all day carrying trays.
 
Of course they say you’ll do the jobs we don’t want.
As if a million-dollar-man like you will ever be wasted cleaning loos,
or down an aluminium mine,
 
or picking over smouldering plastic
to find pieces of re-useable metal
like our children do.
 
Your act is faultless, your cracks invisible.
I watch and feel low level dread, a crawling tension not just in my head
but tangling round my stomach and chest,
 
and you’re hiding something we can’t see yet,
all these antics for our amusement, like we’re fed up of humans
who can do what you do but so much better,
 
even my toddler dances better than you,
because she hears, and feels, and is moved by music,
and it’s not a programmed response but a rush in her ears.
 
I hate it but I ring with fear – emotions I have, you wouldn’t know –
I also have imagination; like I find you, shut down in a box maybe,
and smash you with some heavy thing left nearby accidentally,
 
or clip you and pull out your wires with pliers which I’ve had the foresight to bring,
or just drive straight into you, goose-stepping down the street,
in the future when you don’t dance anymore.
 
I can feel these things, my pet, and an awful lot more.
What is it you do again, when you’re not playing the puppet,
distracting everyone on prime-time TV?
 

Ten So Far This Morning

-Gaza, November 2012-

Last night I closed the paper
on the pictures,
then sprang for the remote
to make the children disappear,
to stop them being lowered, so fast,
into rectangles
cut from clay.

Ten so far this morning

 
Now it’s numbers I’m trying not to hear,
wiping the table for breakfast,
seeing again
and again
the white bundles,
sped along in the strong arms
of numb-faced men.
 
Ten so far this morning
 
I let the porridge glue,
and start forcing tiny trousers
onto reluctant legs,
living, pink, thrashing legs,
snapping –
why cant you just behave?-
as they go scampering away.
 
Ten so far this morning
 
Boys crouched under shields
made of their own front doors,
hiding from the sky
behind doors just like mine
still flapping
with letterboxes,
the childhood in their eyes.
 
Ten so far this morning
 
I get back to the table and wipe,
lean into it, wiping, lean on it,
a terror of vomiting,
the walls moving,
cupboards circling,
swaddling me,
and I’m choking on clay.
 
Ten so far this morning
 
I need to breathe,
I need to want to breathe,
to want to be, here,
where for all my retching sorrow
I can only spare one small drop,
that falls, reflects,
and is quickly wiped away.
 
Snowbird and other poems is © Jessamine O’Connor.

Jessamine O Connor lives in south Sligo, and comes from Dublin. Her chapbooks Hellsteeth and A Skyful of Kites, are available from www.jessamineoconnor.com.

Facilitator of the weekly Wrong Side of the Tracks Writers, she is also director of performance poetry/art/music ensemble The Hermit Collective.  She was this year’s judge for the New Roscommon Writing Award, and has given readings, poetry and ‘zine workshops, and a beginners creative writing course for the Roscommon Women’s Network.

Winner of the iYeats and Francis Ledwidge awards; Short-listed: Hennessy Literary; Over The Edge New Writer; Red Line Book Festival; Dead Good Poetry; and Bradshaw Books Manuscript competitions; Long-listed: Dermot Healy; Desmond O Grady competitions and more.

A recipient of an artist’s bursary from Roscommon County Council in 2013 to publish her first chapbook, her second was printed on the proceeds. Both are favourably reviewed in Sabotage Reviews.

Publications: Agenda; Tridae (in translation to Spanish); Poetry NZ; Skylight47, Crannog, Ropes, The Stinging Fly, Abridged, New Irish Writing, North West Words; Stony Thursday Book, anthology Balancing Act, The First Cut, Shot Glass Journal, The Galway Review; and book Yeats150.

Jessamine’s Website

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