Making for Open
Today she is learning to walk
again. One month after
a minor fall, my mother
heaves and plants
each foot in turn,
toes dragging the hardwood floor.
Her eyes are fixed ahead
as far as they can go
beyond her new walking frame,
which she grips and shoves,
elbows unbent, as if it were
some brash sergeant
who she must keep
at arms-length, and who
has ordered this stop-start
frog-march down the hall.
When the shuffle and thud ends,
I come, find her standing,
arms elbow-deep in the hot-press.
She turns, says, with a little edge,
“you’re watching me like a hawk today”,
as if I’d thwarted plans to plumb
the depths of the town watercourse
and to make for the open sea.
And this was before, by one month,
her death – a week when time
seems now to have been
advancing and receding at once,
a week of fierce, contained ardour
for her life, or for whatever parts
of that life – just then a pile of laundered
night-attire – were still hers to rearrange.
My mother is learning freedom
again. Today freedom means
to stand unravelling a ribbon
that loops the neck of a nightdress.
See how calmly she pulls it towards her,
worries its knot between thumb
and forefinger, plays it through her hands,
till the slip and fall of its unmoored end.
In the Fitting Room with Mary Hick
We’d say, ‘It’s Mary Hick,’ to put a stop
to trying-on; a name to jinx
a certain look – a skirt in chequered folds,
or gathered sleeves with lace around the cuff,
a something dowdy we could always spot
if not explain – a fatal glimpse
of what we feared was dull or old
and not supposed to manifest in us.
Later on, I learned
that other women knew her as well
or knew her by a different name:
Wee Maggie, Minnie Banger, Martha-Anne,
tools in a cruel arsenal of terms
we trained upon ourselves
to self-police (mousy-haired)
and grade (mutton-dressed-as-lamb).
Now in that no-man’s-land
of comfy flats and shapeless layers,
Mary Hick remains the mirrored form
of frowzy that I never wish to own.
And here’s to the everyman who gives a damn
for chic or anti-chic in leisurewear,
for mates who caution round his fitting-room
of risks in patterns, safety in monochrome,
for homely cousins they invoke to chasten with:
Fred Flump, Cracked Alf, or little Jimmy Hick.
Grafted: Referendum 2018
The cherry-blossom burst in two that year,
clashing with itself in the verge before the town.
Half its branches grew light-green leaves
and flowers – not blowsy pink, but artless and wan –
that betrayed its foundational family secret.
Behind it, amongst the thistles, a dog-rose
flushed puce (whether with glee or regret)
that its neighbour’s subterfuge had been exposed.
And visitors observed how closely
houses rub shoulders here, how paint
blisters on closed front doors; how the grim
intimate makes public property,
and how all our wishes and constraints
come grafted on the same lopped limbs.
Pinned to the door
was a diagram of a heifer
with sections straight-lined
across her side: sirloin
jigsawed between rib
and rump, shank slotting
into round. And the people
who came in, we sorted them
by the cuts they bought:
Mince customers wanted cosseting,
all the work done for them;
A fillet woman wanted only lean,
leaving all the fat
and gristle on our hands;
But a brisket man
was a prince, who’d take
his lean where he could get it
between the bone and thews.
Inside too a series of lines
ran through the house like skewers.
As a child you couldn’t see them,
but bit by bit you’d puzzle out
the no-nonsense pattern they laid down,
plot yourself a course in which
your silverside was out
with your flank protected
your tenderloin concealed
or else you’d feel the chill
from the refrigeration unit
as sure as any mince customer.
Published in Collection: Ann Leahy. The Woman who Lived her Life Backwards. (Arlen, 2008)
A Good Rogeting
I keep to myself on one side of a bed.
Its other half is occupied by books
meant to match my moods, catch the thread
of all my thoughts, from hard-angled works
of reference, to magazines, loose-leaf pads.
A collection of love-lorn verse
hugs an impenetrable masterpiece
while Judith Hearne’s eclipsed by glamour ads.
When I bring a new one back
over dinner with a glass of wine
I imagine removing its paper bag
running my fingers down its spine
how I’ll fan the pages to inhale
its pristine smell, then make it my own:
easing back the sleeve and going down
on the biographical detail.
Sometimes that’s the best bit
on evenings when I’m not in form
to get stuck in or to commit
not even to paper. One volume
alone then seems able to interject:
Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary –
something new with every read
and no long-term effects.
I can fall asleep over a phrase whose
meaning remains a stranger and wake
in the morning with Roget’s Thesaurus
poking me urgently in the back.
Published in Collection: Ann Leahy. The Woman who Lived her life Backwards. (Arlen, 2008)
Grafted: Referendum 2018 and other poems © Ann Leahy
Ann Leahy’s first collection, The Woman who Lived her Life Backwards (Arlen House, 2008), won the Patrick Kavanagh Award. Individual poems have twice been commended in the British National Poetry Competition and have also won or been placed in many competitions. Most recently, a new poem came second in the Yeovil Literary Prize, 2019, another was a prize-winner in the Troubadour International Prize, 2018. Poems have been widely published in Irish and British journals (including The North, Poetry Ireland Review, Stand, AGENDA, Orbis, New Welsh Review, Cyphers) and have been included in several anthologies. She used to work as a lawyer and now works as a policy analyst and researcher. She recently returned to writing poetry after taken a break from it while completing a PhD on ageing and disability. She grew up in Borrisoleigh, Co. Tipperary, and lives in Dublin.