“The Devil, Oblique Angles and Polka Dots” by Sue Cosgrave

The Devil, Oblique Angles and Polka Dots

For Grandmother

Your host shimmers
beyond the margin of this page
as my fingers tap-tap you from the dead.
 
It takes you a while to snap into focus.
 
You remind me
of a day when I was eight,
                      or ten, at most,
 
the day I got lost in the woods.
How I blubbered and wailed for you!
 
When you finally found me—
a snot and hiccup spewing fountain
– not pretty.
 
“What took you so long?”
 
It was strange how you appeared, seemingly out of nowhere;
haloed in spring beyond the green fog of young birches,
your sudden presence, not reassuring – not at first –
“why did you leave me?” I cried
 
all the while, you, unruffled, reproached me: “Shame on you. A big girl crying
like a baby. And for no reason at all. Don’t you know that God
is watching over you, Detushka?’
 
Aha! This is where I should invoke the DEVIL.
Yet, there is no need,
for he’s here, already, lurking.
in the detail, wearing

your best navy polka dot dress – what else –
the one you were buried in.
The one you had kept shrouded, when alive,
in a film of translucent tissue.
 
How well I recall the day:
me, six years old and agog
 
for the morbid. For hadn’t you whispered to me:
“I’ll tell you a secret – something you should know
for when I’m dead.”
Of course I was disappointed! A DRESS? IS THAT ALL? Polka dots!
What the devil! I should have / could have exclaimed, but sure,
at that age I didn’t know any better.
 
But no, it is you, not the devil I see hovering just there,
where my eye does not dare
appearing to me as you did that day in the woods:
light streaming over your left shoulder, oblique, aimless—
the light, of course,
not the shoulder, for the shoulder, even lopsided,
 
knew where it was heading.
 
Heaven was always your destination,
              as I knew only too well.
And I knew, equally well, there was no place for me
 
astride a puffy cloud my nose buried in your soft breast
gleaning comfort from your old woman smell.
 
No.
 
My place was in the woods. Kneeling on a bed
of prickly pine needles.
 
Of course I hated that icon of yours;
that dead-eyed, flat-faced Madonna
and her miniature child simpering at me in his nakedness
when all I wanted to do was sleep
while you, awake at the crack of dawn, genuflecting
 
to them,
praying all the while:
 
I hasten to Thee,
O Master, Lover of mankind, and by Thy loving-kindness I strive
to do Thy work

 
… and oh, how you worked!
digging the permafrost. Building His canal,
the one that went nowhere.
 

GLORY, GLORY THE REVOLUTION!

 
and I pray to Thee: Help me, O God, at all times
 
Did he ever!
But, perhaps He did, at that.
What is it they say about God and burdens? He did help,
after a fashion:
by the time I was born, your once dainty feet,
He had magic-ed to the size of a man’s,
and your delicate hands to that of shovels.
 
and deliver me, O God, from every worldly evil thing
and every impulse of the Devil       OHO, HERE WE COME

TO THE CRUX OF IT:
WE CAN NEVER ESCAPE THE DEVIL.
 
Yes, I fed him tasty morsels to do my bidding – unknowingly –
I believe.
 
I made him promises,
offered him rewards,
without knowing I was doing any such thing. Like the time I cut
my Barbie’s hair for him
(he liked her shorn of course, her eyes, hence, more visibly dead).
 
You see; the Devil was honest that way. And a good teacher too:
no more worship for me at the altar of Barbie! That’s why
when your icon fell off its perch
 
I knew IT WAS HIS DOING!
 
So what if it was my rubber ball that hit the shelf where the icon rested,
Madonna and Child no longer serene above the ever-burning flame?
 
Sure,
even the Devil needs a helping hand.

The Devil, Oblique Angles and Polka Dots is © Sue Cosgrave
Sue Cosgrave was born in Russia and spent her formative years in the United States, in Iraq and in Finland. After travelling extensively in Asia and the Americas, she worked in various parts of Africa before settling in Ireland. Her work, drawing on many cultural traditions, appeared in the Cork Literary Review, The Five Word Anthology, Can Can, Abridged, The Bone Orchard and The Irish Examiner among others. She featured as a guest reader at various events both in Ireland and the UK. Sue has a Masters in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and is currently working on a trilogy set in Iraq as well as a poetry and a short story collection. In 2016 she was finalist for the Wisehouse International Poetry Award
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