When I drink, it is always 1967.
The dog lies still on the frozen grass, white blades bowed
under blinking crystals; the chain
from its neck to the conifer muddied and knotted
like a root from which it draws life.
I remember it as a pup, like all the pups
my father ever brought home when drunk,
the milky smell of its vigorous body, fonts of sorrow
in sloe-black irises.
What do we have here? What is this?
He produces the pup from his inside coat pocket
carefully as a birth, his face at its most wounded:
he could cry, vomit, or even laugh, the pup held high
like a boyhood memory beyond his reach
yet as close as yesterday,
alcohol collapsing time like time in a fairy tale.
I am tired of my father; we’re all tired of him –
a continuous season of storm upon storm,
calm only the calm of the eye.
And so the pup ends up tied to a tree, savage;
the half-moon it inhabits no larger than ours, grass worn
down like chewed fingernails, the verge jagged
as the amber outline of piss stains
on the bed-wetter’s sheets.
To give my father his due, he never slaughters a dog
that hasn’t first bitten him. He stands with a pitchfork at the edge
of Rex-Prince-Spot’s sphere of mud,
goading – a flagellant coveting his own blood,
scourging his sin, craving a cure
stronger than drink to kill
our mother’s mouth red as a cut, Christ, not in front of . . .!
Lassie blares all around us in the kitchen.
Runner up in the iYeats International Poetry Competition (2016).
By now, I’m a collector of secrets.
I seek mute corners,
sift dream from the half-remembered,
meaning from the half-known –
staccato night whispers in the kitchen,
the long silence. Bone-white elbow tip, all that’s seen of my father’s
arm under my mother’s skirt in the orchard that sunny day, her toes
clenching grass, the shudder in her voice, nettle-sting shock
ripping between my legs.
I move silently against the scent of their bedroom,
against white light soaked from sheets
stretched skin-tight, the black suitcase
beneath the bed; the lining, blood-red as blood, dotted with dot-size,
white stars, carnival in scale,
my mother’s old dresses – blues, greens, pinks, black & white stripes, vital
shades in a magician’s trick.
I covet them,
as though knowing the burn of a man’s hand
on a body that looms in me, one I recognise in slim, belted shapes
I drag from her raw self, a girl who flirted, jived,
her dress the flared bloom of a foxglove, her core signalling its want for
me in her womb,
not knowing that in giving me life, I will seize everything
time after time.
Winner of the Boyle Arts Festival Poetry Competition 2016
I still see her fold in half, one leg ballerina-
raised for balance as she bows into the wooden
barrel for next day’s flitch of bacon.
My brother wears his cowboy suit – black hat,
leatherette waistcoat with fringes across
the chest; his gun holster buckle the Lone Star.
Meat steeps in a bowl of water overnight.
Salt liquefies, spume rises and floats while
she sleeps in a house of thunder, moths’ furred
bodies pattering the whore-red glow of
the sacred heart lamp on the kitchen
window, The Virginian’s gun under his pillow.
She slices bacon with her loneliness, the air
marbled various auras of sad – dawn, midnight,
August, the long years of her love like
starlight’s colossal dying, John Wayne
at the kitchen door, I’m the sheriff ‘round here.
Hands in the air, an’ nobody gets hurt.
First published in Communion 2015 (Aus)
Mental asylum – my first big words, motherese
for sad man and my mother drinking
tea at the front wall, on summer Tuesdays.
Her voice cords with his, words sung
in each other’s face, spun out film noir
mumbles, something late-night, Ingrid Bergman;
sudden silence like the abrupt black
of a blank television screen on a couple kissing,
frisson between her and Father
amid the kitchen smell of second-day stew,
On those heat hazed afternoons, chestnut horses
in Madden’s furlong field tongue each other’s
withers, neck, flank,
wind among pampas, swish,
across steppe –
two mugs in the sink,
teardrop tea stains.
First published in Orbis 2015
After her third child, X marks the forbidden
days, and my mother sleeps in my bed, sour
in her heat,
summer Sunday odour of seaside, odd nights
when she’s suddenly
beside me, gasping,
hiding underwear beneath the pillow
after wiping herself, rosaries murmuring
through damp fingers in birdsong dawn,
prayer and seed coursing
to her very womb, the Our Father,
Hail Mary mumbled to the inner chant –
I hope I’ve escaped,
Days when the house is a chorus
to her strain; doors bang, pots clatter:
she loathes her nature,
not sex, but holding him, his whispered doubts
pleasure to her heart, a fault before Christ
the redeemer, the child a curse, mishaps buried like pups
in dung heaps.
They avoid each other
in the evenings, the Please and Thank you
of strangers, air crackling, the ferocity of
unspent sex worrying every cell, bodies
hunched over chairs, his voice leading hers in the Rosary,
all of us clustered,
as though the last people on a wreck,
the round haunches of them both,
the flesh of her
rippling like any animal that runs.
First published in Banshee 2016
The clash of shovel against stone
carries from the haggard through the open
kitchen window, where my mother and I
watch television. Alone,
we take the men’s seats
beside the cream and black range, scent
of baked bread seeps from the oven.
Alone, we are women. She, forty-five,
seven months gone, and I, menstruating,
a Leaving Cert student, the first of my kind
from bog-ignorant Ireland.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show is on. With her career,
apartment, and, apparently, no man,
she is sheer pornography –
arousing rebellion and regret between us,
the fault line that of last comely maiden
and first material girl.
I’ve not slit a hen’s neck, my legs flecked
with hot blood, a rite eclipsed when I stepped
onto the free school bus, unembellished by my mother’s world –
bar the memory of her knife-hand
pulling the faithful cut,
a violinist drawing the final note.
First published in Skylight 47 2015