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“Distancing” and other poems by Jessamine O’Connor

 

Meet me for coffee

Not a cup of tea, a pint or just ‘meet me’
because I want to wait awkward at a counter beside you
with the steam spluttering, the espresso machine knocking
and our overdressed elbows almost touching.

I want to sit opposite you at a small table
that can never be small enough, absorbing the heat
of your hidden knees and then eyes when I catch you
watching me lick the froth off my lips.

I want us to be both fiddling with our round white cups,
thumbing the holes that make the handles,
intense with conversation while idling our fingers
around and around those curves.

I want to be alone with you in a clamorous place
where no one will notice what’s not being said,
that’s why I say safely, meet me for coffee,
instead of suggesting something else.

Winner of the Poetry Ireland Butlers Café competition 2017


Limbo

You visit my room, punctually
as if it’s an appointment
and I’m never quite ready
after waiting for days.
Time isn’t the same here,
like being very far away from the earth
then landing
to find everything’s changed, everyone
gone. Anyway, you come to my room
and we sit on the single bed
which doubles as couch, chair and table,
share food off a tray made pretty with a scarf
on which I lay saucers
holding olive oil, zaatar, bread for dipping
and on the one large plate I own, arrange
orange segments in a rainbow
over pomegranate jewels, and although
these are sour and dry to the tongue
here, you say you love them, crunch
enthusiastically, laugh at anything.
We laugh a lot
spluttering through the trench between us.

This room is temporary, for six weeks
then twelve, then Christmas, and now it’s a year
and soon it will be two.
Things accumulate. A kettle,
an electric steamer, stacks of bowls,
cling film. I store food in the chest of drawers,
crouch at the mirror and offer you seeds,
demonstrate how they open: place between
your front teeth, vertically, like this, and pop.
Sunflowers. The taste of sun.

Sometimes I don’t leave my room for days,
pick from the drawer, dried fruit, crackers, tahini.
No one misses me or calls and it’s better inside, alone,
than enduring the queue and noise. Then you visit.

It’s been forever since I spoke
so struggle with the words, your language, my voice.
I apologise, and you laugh because I’m only waking up
and this is our appointed time
but shrug everyone here is always late,
and I explain that this is because we have nothing
to wake up for, no time to keep,
just cycles of light and dark that creep up on the window
punctuated by meals, if you remember
to walk down to the feeding area.

We gossip about the other residents, you encourage me
to speak with so-and-so, they’re really nice,
you think all the people here are nice, now you’ve learnt
how to say hello
and compliment their beautiful children,
wishing us all to be friends
and I have to ask
are you friends with everyone you know?

Then time is up.
So soon? I won’t beg
but implore you, stay, another tea,
more bread, different fruit, anything
but see: you are leaving,
because you always leave.
You have to be somewhere else.
You have somewhere else you can be.

Smiling, kissing your cheeks, one – two – three
I lock the door in your face. Space is empty.
I take the dishes to the toilet, wash up
in the tiny bathroom sink, straighten my covers,
put away the tray, hide the mirror
behind the scarf and open the window
just enough to almost feel
that I must be breathing.


My house

This was the last look at the land,
here where they stood in the wind
and waited, looking down the bog
impatient for a plume of steam
blooming along the narrow-gauge track,

for the doors to open and shut
them in, on the way to the junction
with the big city line,
they say they’ll be back
and don’t know yet it’s a lie,

waiting, pacing, lifting cases,
hoarding in their eyes
the light off the lake,
the way the trees sway,
and all the softness of hills, birds and sky,

carrying their cargo inside;
the entirety of life, who they are,
into the trembling train and away,
far across seas, roads and cities,
into new lives, old age, and death.

For many, here was the last place they left,
waiting on this platform
for change to come, some giddy,
some grieving, leaving
home.

First published The Irish Times New Irish Writing, ed. Ciarán Carty


Line

We have blocked the line with caravans, a Mercedes bus with the door come off
and a trailer draped in blanket with a child’s rainbow-coloured tunnel inside it.

A pink plastic house sits on the track and a rotting pile of wood long left to slime,
a car parks there on and off.

Further along we sit around the firepit made of a tractor wheel
and on nights like the solstice look up at the stars and the rocketing sparks

feeling the ghost of a train roaring right through us.

First published Crannóg, ed. NUIG masters programme


Too little

for Andrew

I say now how I thought about you
over the last nineteen years
because I did

but I never looked, didn’t ask
around the doorways and methadone queues
if anyone had seen
a bouncy laughing long-haired guy, my friend

didn’t even pick up the phone
to my ex, who might have known
– though thought of it the odd time
holidaying on our old streets
see your shadow in a corner
or think I do then justify
maybe it had been too long
since you smiled
for that description to still be true –

so when the revelation slaps
in the smoking zone behind the band
that in fact it’s been ten years
and I didn’t even know

you haunt me
all weekend with your grin
the smile under your hair is crushing the clouds
and I swallow down concrete tears
slowing past every comatose man with a cup
wedged resiliently upright in his hand

but is it because
though I did often wonder
how and where you were
I never actually bothered
to find out?

First published  The Poet’s Republic, ed. Neil Young


Distancing

My daughter is in a ditch
Talking to herself
Preparing for war

When friends can come over
They’ll climb the ladder I’ve left
Stretched up the gable end

Lob the dog’s balls as bombs
Defend themselves
With this ancient shield

Just unearthed, made years ago
For another child
She scrapes it clean

Is that OK? she asks
Thinking clearly I might
Want it for myself

Crouched on a camping mat
A silver tongue
Lolling from the hedge

My youngest child is kept safe
From the road by tiny
Leaves like green snowflakes

The trunk of a birch tree
Listens to her dark
Imagination

She’s at her best
In isolation
Making all these plans

   for when

it ends.

The Stranger poem-film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ljdYeZzaG8