“Mother’s Cradle” and other poems by Maria Wallace

On the Great Blasket

 
The wild rose briar scorns
the garden rose,
and jutted from the deep,
this island scorns, defies life
from sunrise to the midnight moon.
 
Certain of approaching
endings, in a lamp-lit room
bean a’ tí Peig voices island stories.
 
I sit alone
on a sun-warmed stone, hear,
entangled in the west wind,
the whirl of her spirit
hug this grassy hillside,
those bleached dwellings below,
 
and below that,
rock-battering ocean waves
ride off
with particles of that past.
 

Under the shadow of birds

 
Black birds,
she thinks they are ravens,
hover over her
for the past eighteen years.
Their coarse croaking cries
drown all other sounds;
dark plumage shines
as they circle around
ready to destroy
the little she still has:
a neat house for two. Neat.
For two. Even under attack.
Not a speck of dust –
the aroma of fresh baking
rejoicing through the house,
though, the birds’ shadows stab,
their long bills tear her innards.
 
One May afternoon in the cul-de-sac.
Her toddler son in a group
playing Simon Says,
and Hop, Skip and Jump
a few feet from them.
 
A screech of tyres always tells a story.
 
Her doctor said
another baby would help the healing.
The first flock of black birds swooped down
when her husband said:
Another baby?
No way! You couldn’t look after
the one you had
!

 

Morning sounds

 
My waking is not
to electric saw sounds,
hammering, voices and timber clatter.
 
In absence of the familiar,
I hear seagulls’ noisy squall
from opposite ridge-tiled terracotta roofs.
 
Sunlight chinks filter through
the window shutters’ wooden lattice.
I remember a shaft on mounds
of delicate wood shaving curls,
a man talking about grain, knots,
plywood, ash, pine, sawdust under
finger nails, caught in eyelashes.
 
I open the window.
Faint sobbing from room below tells
his tree of life has taken the final blow.
 
On wrought-iron rail
last night’s raindrops tremble,
begin to dry under sunlight.
 
The seagulls fly away.
I face the day,
reluctant.
 

No death in the afternoon

i.m E. Hemingway. Sunday, July the 2nd 1961
 
You woke before the sun
showed over the mountains
east of Ketchum, before it had time to touch
a greeting on your window.
 
With bathrobe and slippers, ghostly silent
walking by your wife’s bedroom door.
In the storeroom familiar gun oil and leather smells
reaffirming your decision.
 
Were you, that day, the old man of the sea trailing behind
nothing but fish bones, a defeated carcass unable to feel
the unloving contact of cold metal? Or, in that padlocked
plaza de toros, did you battle with,
run away from the beast? Heat like embers,
hot even the sand under your feet, faced
with a raging bull, black back glistening with blood
that would be repaid with blood. No spectators
to applaud last faena for bull and matador.
 
No death in the afternoon. Crisp dawn,
and the bells toll for you.
 

The Meenybradden Bog Woman

(from the late medieval period,
uncovered in 1978 in county Donegal)

 
Peat brown hours
turned to centuries,
toughened
your skin with the soft touch
of nature’s forgatherings.
A lullaby the drip and squelch
of wet leavings,
the gossip of grasses,
the winnowing wind
and occasional bird song
rippling over you
like the deepest, final note
of a cello.
And you listening
to all that muted music,
stilled in the hold of roots,
under the brown-veined roof
of your dark sky,
 
hating the silent tongue
of time.
 

Mother’s cradle

 
She gathered our days
in her strong apron
the way she gathered autumn
apples in it,
a scoop of maize to scatter
among clucking hens,
fresh mint in flower,
stolen from burbling bees,
her fragrance for days.
 
She would sit to pod
an apron full of peas, peel
a bowl of potatoes,
rest darning a pile of socks,
knitting to pale winter chills.
 
Her pockets always bulged
with mysteries.
The sound of a few coins
promised toffee sweets,
a strip of liquorice.
 
In her lap rainbows were held,
and moon slivers and stars.
Twice held a dead child.
 
Mother’s Cradle and other poems is © Maria Wallace.

Maria Wallace (Maria Teresa Mir Ros) was born in Catalonia, but lived her teenage years in Chile. She later came to Ireland where she has now settled. She has a BA in English and Spanish Literature, 2004, an MA in Anglo-Irish Literature, 2005. She won the Hennessy Literary Awards, Poetry Section, 2006. Her work has been published widely in Ireland, England, Italy, Australia and Catalonia. Winner of The Scottish International Poetry Competition, The Oliver Goldsmith Competition, Cecil Day Lewis Awards, Moore Literary Convention, Cavan Crystal Awards, William Allingham Festival. She participated in the ISLA Festival (Ireland, Spain and Latin America), 2015, and has published Second Shadow, 2010, and The blue of distance, 2014, two bilingual collections (English – Catalan), a third one to come out within the year. She has taught Spanish, French, Art and Creative Writing. She facilitates Virginia House Creative Writers, a group she founded in 1996, and has edited three volumes of their work.
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