“Tea with Akhmatova’s Cat” and other poems by John Sexton

Tea with Akhmatova’s Cat

 
I’m having tea with Akhmatova’s cat
who purrs in English passable enough
that half-wit mice can follow what she’s at.
 
She speaks in metres forcible but flat:
a mix of Milton, Keats, hairballs and fluff.
I’m having tea with Akhmatova’s cat.
 
Quite bored, I count the fibres on the mat,
pretend I’m listening, fake attention, cough.
The half-wit mice can follow what she’s at.
 
Her ginger body trembles in its fat,
remembers pogroms, deaths, and other stuff.
I’m having tea with Akhmatova’s cat.
 
The truth is, I’m not worthy of her chat,
miss the point, even though it’s not so tough
that half-wit mice can’t follow what she’s at.
 
The cat consumes the mouse and that is that;
in canine jaws the cat will know its worth.
I’m having tea with Akhmatova’s cat;
the half-wit mice can follow what she’s at.
 
John W. Sexton
From the collection Petit Mal (Revival Press, 2009)
 

The World under the World

 
It is midnight with no moon. The sky is dulled
with cloud and the stars burn above unseen.
The old woman carries a lantern and swings it
over the long grass; the grass reveals its own tangle
of shadows. She is looking for the seam of the hill,
where it was sewn tight before her mother’s mother’s
mother’s time. She was told of it when she was a child,
but neglected the task of unpicking it. Unpick the seam,
she was told, and the true world will be able to get out.
An owl passes overhead and she looks up. In the gleam
of the lantern the owl’s work is clear. It is weaving the air
tight, so that the true sky is held back. Her bones are stiff
and a tumour is growing in her brain. From the woods below
a dog barks three times, three bites of the night. Her mind
will soon be tangled thick as a kittened skein. In the hilly
meadow she finds a thick ridge under the grass; the ridge
travels the height of the hill. This is the seam she seeks.
Setting the lantern carefully down in the uneven ground
she bends to her task. But she knows she is far too old
for it now. A snake passes under her and follows the ridge,
and she knows it is tacking an extra thread into the seam.
She falls exhausted. The lantern gutters and everything
is dark. The owl passes overhead once more. The true sky
has no hope of returning. The true world will remain
deep in the hill. The old woman drifts into sleep. If she
can sleep a thousand nights through, her true mind
might return. In the morning her lantern will be found,
cold in the grass. There’ll be no sign of herself, not even
a thread from her shawl. She’ll be searched for, the entire
height of the hill. But in sunlight she’ll be too frail
to be seen. Eventually she’ll become a story; then
a mere rumour. Some dusk perhaps, or on many dusks,
her voice might be heard in the meadow. If it’s ever her
then the hearer will know that it is merely the complaint
of one who is waking before a thousandth night is up.
 
John W. Sexton
 
First published in The Stony Thursday Book #14, Edited by Mary O’Donnell
 

A Father Escapes by Rain

 
Daddy’s grassy fields had been driven in
by the feet of cattle; a stone-black bull,
throating complaint, shone from the rainy hill.
She took nine steps up steps of exposed stone,
slippery rocks that jutted through the grass,
until she stood before the bull, his head
massive, his hide grazed where earlier he’d shoved
his way out of the bull-shed. The bright brass
ring, like an ouroboros of golden snot
pinched through his nostrils, hung with a milk
of lesser snot. The bull puffed rancid breath,
stepped through her as if she was fog, a silk-
nothing like the rain itself, sopping rot.
Daddy’s constant rapes would keep their secret.
 
John W. Sexton
 

A Matching Coat for Her Man

 
With each step her bare feet
un-silvered the dewy grass.
The blossoming furze, buds
tipped with rust, unwound
in bursts of birdsong. With
a long pointed twig she gathered
a skein of spider’s silk, dismantling
web after web onto her stick.
 
Under the flickering dust-light
of moths, her shadow seated
beside her, she made a coat
from the gathered strands. Made
a coat for her one true man, one
he could wear for the fog, stepping
visibly invisible as smoke, one
that would be lit by the sun.
 
Or, lit by the moon, one he could
wear to be bright as the stars, one
he could wear stepping out
with the hares; light as the air
he’d take her hand, and down
by the long lane they would walk,
their long grey coats a-stuck,
moth-light bleeding around them.
 
John W. Sexton
 
First published in Sixty Poems for Haiti (Cane Arrow Press, 2010)
Edited by Ian Dieffenthaller and Maggie Harris
 

The Witch

 
With a laugh like a clattering shutter
the magpie flew into the bedroom, knocked
bottles of perfume from off the dresser,
scattered her underwear all over, picked
one fine golden ring from out of its box,
then out through the billowing curtains, out
into the trees that had escaped the axe,
the border of willow yet to be cut,
and flinging the ring straight into its craw
began to shout like a jester gone wild.
So when she came wet from the bath and saw
the perfume spilling from jars, the unpiled
clothes and mess, she slipped the latch of her tongue
and cursed the bird, who withered bone by bone.
 
John W. Sexton
 
First published in Cyphers #46,
Edited by Leland Bardwell, Eiléan Ní Chuilleannáin, Pearse Hutchinson & Macdara Woods

John W. Sexton is the author of five poetry collections, the most recent being Petit Mal (Revival Press, 2009) and The Offspring of the Moon (Salmon Poetry, 2013). His sixth collection, Futures Pass, is forthcoming from Salmon. Two novels for children have been published by the O’Brien Press: The Johnny Coffin Diaries and Johnny Coffin School-Dazed, which have been translated into Italian and Serbian. Under the ironic pseudonym of Sex W. Johnston he has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons Of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records. He is a past nominee for The Hennessy Literary Award and his poem The Green Owl won the Listowel Poetry Prize 2007. Also in 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. Recent poetry has appeared in The Irish Times, The Edinburgh Review, The Ogham Stone and The Stony Thursday Book 2015.

John is a pagan and Muse poet, believing in the Goddess of Complete Being. His poetic process encompasses the literary traditions of Metaphoricism and Magic Realism.

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