That summer one-eyed jacks were wild:
we learned new rules, left tea to brew.
Smoke stilled air. Leaves lay unturned.
Unemployment was another high.
I had been a storm in a polystyrene cup,
seeking scald, steam, instance, but now
we drew up lists; mapped out desire lines; skipped
interviews to collect blooms; paused before flight.
The only record of that time the silt of prophecy,
the memory of weight in our cupped hands.
For a short while we held the one breath:
I could never set it down.
Silt Whisper appears in Imaginary Menagerie(Bloodaxe, 2011) and has been the Guardian poem of the week.
When the Poles came to the National Gallery
I lowed at a painting by this Edward Okún,
and what I was thinking was that was me below
your drop-gemmed black coat all winter, wind
around us beating like wings, chests pressed together.
I had put down roots right there in the street
and told you this now is home and you
said now we can go anywhere. I hear now
that they’re finished building Dublin up
the side of a mountain, the Poles have hied
home and put up signs: No Irish;
and no one blames them. A slow flight;
the old crone creeping; the cupped flower;
his wife looking at him and not around her.
Poles was originally published in Salamander and appears in Imaginary Menagerie (Bloodaxe, 2011.)
“Only don’t, I beseech you, generalise too much in these sympathies and tendernesses – remember that every life is a special problem which is not yours but another’s, and content yourself with the terrible algebra of your own”
– Henry James, in a letter to a friend.
We are up to our pits in Sunday papers
when my father says that things never used to happen
when he was growing up. He means
the black crawly crawly Darfur fly, man
on a leash, girl with burns, crumpled machinery
at Inishowen; and he means Matthew,
who died last night at last of madness.
My father and I at the eye of the panopticon,
two of Prometheus’ descendants, bound
at the centre of a shrinking globe. Sometimes
he used to turn the television off, newspapers
would grow angular holes
where bloodshed had been. Now it’s I
want to fold cranes of the papers for him,
build bonfires of TV sets.
It circles us, the noise, all the same. When people ran
from the falling towers, they stopped
to buy cameras, stood
with their backs to the towers to watch
the cards fall over and over
on shop window screens. No wonder
that you with your too much of gentleness
wanted out, and we did not stop you.
Your friends expect to weigh forever
what we could have given
against what we could not change.
What kind of algebra would it take?
Matthew, love, I carry myself with care on Mondays.
I lie to hairdressers. I walk. I carry a notebook
to write down feelings
in case I need them again. I pretend
to be someone else at traffic lights. I stay clear
of mirrors, newspapers sometimes. I live
as best I can. I do the awful maths.
Panopticon was originally published in The Cortland Review and appears in Imaginary Menagerie (Bloodaxe, 2011.)
After my son was born
Grit shone on the surfaces
of my bedazzled eyes.
Flesh pooled about me,
so that it was difficult to run.
Disease squeaked an entrance
at the corners of window frames,
the gap beneath the door, my
There was noise.
I wished you all dead.
After my son was born,
my mother came to me
and was gentle.
After my son was born was originally published on wordlegs.com.
They shipped Donegal workers into Dundrum
in 2001. I worked in the Dundrum House all summer,
lumping sods of peaty scurf from there to here.
Those lads ordered with a nod or lifted star
of dark-skinned feelers, not a nay, not an aye.
“They must talk among themselves, they
must,” a Cantonese colleague of mine
hissed as we swiped the ashtrays to wipe.
We vied between us to be the first to kiss
one of those black Northern men. I got
closest when, once, a man stood and took
a too-heavy tray from my arms and moved
ahead of me to the bar. He leaned in
to empty his hod to the barman, turned
and let drop his chin to raise a remark.
What emerged then was a bubble as large
as a brick, slick with aurora borealis,
viscous and globular, spinning slowly forth
over the tables of drinkers, the Norners
in their nighted corner, blinking cigarette machines,
locals blinking at that unidentified word.
Local was originally published in Connotations.
Service Not Included
Who’s to thank for the buckets of lavender thrown open beside us,
for the foam-clouds on twin cappuccinos,
for the carved boxes that hold sugar,
for the child telling reams about superheroes,
for the darkening sky of the waiter,
at a café in the shopping centre
when you cannot speak for your tears?
Hospital coffee was never so kindly, so quick to make believe.
On the morning I wed, you and I
came here to the shopping centre
and scented women pared our nails in a scented room.
Who’s to thank for their cool hands
working away in our memories? Here, your hands
are out of my reach. You must have thought it but,
when my son was born howling and writhing
and thrust to my skin, how your own son left the room
and the snap they left you to hold of him. Your hands
are smaller than mine, and neat.
How they told you the hospital name and you thought
that dun square of Monopoly board,
made your way there by a route you’d score
into your palms by the end; saved change
for the car park; packed a Thermos, perhaps.
Now families glide about the shopping centre
in neons fresh from invention, eyes shiny with gratitude,
music tasteful and tender.
You must have thought, when my son has made strange,
raged at being made come asunder,
of all the times you had to leave the hospital
and drive home to your daughters.
Of all the skin we need to touch and are not touched,
of all the starving to the touch, the familiar injustices.
Spread coins thick across the tables,
go about the shopping centre,
praise the coffee, the kindness of the escalator, haircuts,
the beautiful, the beautiful, the familiar,
the comfortable weather. Who’s to thank? Who’s to
praise for your hands, who sits up there in head office
taking our minds off the past waiting rooms and coffee docks?
Service Not Included was originally published in Eire-Ireland.