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A Celebration of Irish women poets on Bloomsday 2020

‘Words Like Stars’ by Roisin Ní Neachtain

How they flow unformed
Then fix themselves like the stars
Shivering and held up
Worshipped

And I
And they
Staggering and squawking
Sweating and squabbling

Night and day

Wobbling words
Singing

Dust

Dust

Dust

Corrosive mantles
Wrought to a stain

Stain us
Stain the water to the earth
Hold these shapes in stasis

Their lungs sooty and quivering
How they wake songs in the trenches
And beg for absolution

© Roisin Ní Neachtain

 


Anora Mansour is a graduate of the University of Oxford. She lives between Oxford and Dublin. She has been published in a collection of Jazz Poems, various online sites, and has her own published collection of poetry and blog. She is African-American and Irish.



© Jade Riordan


Mythical Night

Oh Night, oh calm and mythical night,
Have you not seen the moon? How bright!
‘Tis not the sun but the twilight,
To the earth holding tight.

How soothing! Cool and warm in winter’s night,
Calling it the noon, ‘‘tis all right’’
See the stars twinkling at height,
A moth gently flying around a streetlight.

The trees singing in a soft breeze,
And their shadows dancing in sweet harmony,
Tomorrow night all trees shall freeze,
But tonight listen to the crickets humming their lullaby in melody.

 © Asma Zulfiqar

 


 

“Children of Agent Orange” and other poems by Asma Zulfiqar

Mythical Night

Oh Night, Oh Calm and Mythical Night,
Have you not seen the moon? How bright!
‘Tis not the sun but the twilight,
To the earth holding tight.

How soothing! Cool and warm in winter’s night,
Calling it the noon, ‘‘tis all right’’
See the stars twinkling at height,
A moth gently flying around a streetlight.

The trees singing in a soft breeze,
And their shadows dancing in sweet harmony,
Tomorrow night all trees shall freeze,
But tonight listen to the crickets humming their lullaby in melody.

 


Monster in Your House

Hold on to the curtains tight,
Pull down the bruised red blind,
Here it comes in the night,
You say it is not right.
But someone has got the blight,
Blue unseeing eyes that turn white,
Let enter nor shine no light.
Smiling, stuck in oblivion in fright.

Will it all end in demise,
Or will you finally escape tonight,
You and your child?



Stranded on an island

Stranded on an island
               -all alone I was,	
Lonely I seemed
              -brief would’ve been
Hidden by the mist,
              -no one I saw.
Mist so thick
              -suffocated I was,
Looking at the skies
              -nothing but a blur,
And by the night never-ending
              -blinded I was,
When I looked at the sea,
I wished to escape,
For comfort from the rain,
I thought once and again,

When every step would hurt,
When every breath would kill,
Tell me you, who are free,
Would you not make the same mistake I did?
Would you not just jump and swim away?

Follow-up

And when I was too far away,
The fog had lifted,
And the shadows no longer existed,
Had I only, little longer waited,
I’d have seen the weeping willows cry,
A cry full of pain and sorrow,
Because on the island I no longer exist.

Trichotillomania

I took them away one by one
It started with one and ended with none
They warned me to stop
But I listened not
I hid that which wasn’t there with pitch black
Hoping I won’t get their stare
When I looked at the mirror
I would see, not those that were missing
but those still standing
They said that my chances would
one day, run out
they will never come back
I tried over and over
Giving it my all
But I kept on going
And when I’d remove my mask
I would see, how much worse
I had become.


 


 

Children of Agent Orange and other poems © Asma Zulfiqar

‘If I Weren’t Afraid’ and other poems by Ella Bowler

I Don’t Talk, I Let You Talk All The Time

You sit opposite me, on a broken stool, smiling with your teeth.
Rain drips from the ceiling, seeps into table cracks, running onto jeans.
You speak in trauma, in childhood, in breathy laughs, in old love.
I show my teeth.
You take up more space than me.
Your voice eats me, drinks me,
you put your hand on my knee and kiss me.
I don’t talk, I let you talk all the time.

I stand in the kitchen, staring at the window. It has swelling eyes and tangled hair and clothes from yesterday. The colour drains from my cheeks. Washes down the sink.
Your voice appears behind me. It’s bigger, bigger than me. Screams over dishes at the bottom of the sink.
I show my teeth.
You drink me with a straw, eat me raw
fill my mouth, hands and stories.
I don’t talk, I let you talk all the time.

I sit on your bed in the black. The moon shines in from the window and the bright spills all over me.
A crack runs down the middle of things; The bed, the floor, the handle of the door; you slammed it so hard it came free.
The colour drains from my cheeks.
How did I end up here? How did I end up here?
I show my teeth.
From the hall you scream, you’re a fucking child.
I lie on my back and sleep.
I don’t talk, I let you talk all the time.


What Do You Dream of?

You still dream of me, baby?
I dream that you are holding a sheet to me, and I cannot breathe.
So real, that when I wake I feel as though I have died, I have died.
You still dream of me, baby?
I dream of arms outstretched, reaching for yours, folded to your chest. In these, I lose all over again.
You still dream of me, baby?
I dream of every bad thing you said to me. They’re written on my eyelids & they come in screams. Your voice like a mocking angel sings me from sleep.
But you still dream of me, baby?


If I Weren’t Afraid

This time, I’ll say yes.
I’ll fall back into your arms,
crawl beneath the bedsheets,
they’ll still be warm.
This time, I’ll say yes.
I’ll sip the coffee again,
watch our films again,
won’t be afraid of music anymore.
This time, I’ll say yes.
I’ll stop the silence,
talk for hours,
say I love you without it being such a chore.
This time, I’ll say yes.
I’ll walk back into the room,
return my hand into yours
& grip it tightly, as if it had never left.
This time, I’ll say yes.


Grow

Smear lipstick with glitter & tousle hair strands
Show bravery when letting go of roller coaster handlebars & hot palms
Bask in the sun’s warmth without burning
Receive love & neglect hurting
Lick wounds & heal scars
Explore the intricacies of bars & the arbitrary folk that fill them on a Monday nights
Comfort my tendons as they have tendencies to shuffle & laugh when faced with respect
Prepare for the cease of self-discovery
And my anguish that shall chase its fingertips
Empathise when my skin becomes tenuous
Crumples like newspaper
Eyes heavy with tales that reside on finger pressed lips
In them, remember our time
And say that you’re glad
You grew up with me.


Holding up signs

Kiss me in the living room
lay me on your bed
At the end you will cry.
Walk me through the garden
consume until you’re sick
At the end you will cry.
Let me take away the sorrow
I’ll swallow it whole
At the end you will cry.
Write my name on the walls
love me like a plaything
At the end you will cry.
Fight me, hurt me
Spit me down the sink
contort me into a child’s nightmare
At the end you will cry.


In a year

Cut cake for
lost jobs and mangled hearts
for beds that sink in the middle
spilt wine and smoking inside
for sleeping on the bedroom floor
grasping her arm
because She didn’t want to be alone
she never wants to be alone
cheers
to new
hair & tattoos that profess the emotions I cannot lather on my tongue
to sleeping cold next to her
blow out candles
for one, two, three
days spent inside not talking or eating
but relentlessly thinking about what she said
and how she meant it
celebrate a year gone by

© Ella Bowler


“Threads” and other poems by Sara Mullen

 

Threads

Not long ago
we were wearing
our neighbourhood’s
pass-along clothes.

Dirndl skirts, duffel
coats, old dungarees
did the rounds
of our townland.

Two hills away,
fourth or so cousins
broke in new blouses
and pinafores.

Their jumpers next
on the boys up the road;
mine for a time
the following year.

A spell awhile
with second cousins
then back in time
to fit my sisters.

Mothers knitting,
prodding, stitching love
and themselves into
raiments we wore.

Fibres of us
in the cotton, the wool,
spores of our summers,
the thorns and burrs

of our everyday;
secrets too, silently
absorbed like
melting snowflakes.

Knots of us
trailing to school
in our communal
stitches and threads,

hawthorn blossom
on our shoulders,
catchweed clamped
to our backs.

Gossamer skeins
of blood between us,
but our clothes
bound us thicker.

We nod now
from cars as
we pass on the roads
we used to tramp.

At the back of a press
the odd little giobal
discovered, unfolded,
held up to a face.

 


Dresden Plates

My fingertips scan
the stitches, read
their finesse:

the fleet needle
drawn along, dabbing
at fabric with tiny teeth.

Imagine her window
in Maple Street, the
sun and snowlight.

Salt bags, their
seams unpicked:
unfolded fields,

cream cotton
plains of possibility
and she the pioneer.

Dresden Plates, like
smashed china deftly
mismatched,

but in patchwork;
scraps harvested
from flour sacks,

exhausted blouses,
superannuated
summer frocks.

Judicious snippings,
her eye, her hand,
assessing, sorting

her derelict miscellany
assembled for
new adventure:

sepia daisies pop
petals; bunches
of cherry powder puffs;

bleach-clouds scud
on blue; faded chocolate
forget-me-nots,

grids of viridian green
on white; frogspawn
in a crimson pond,

polka dots dense on
gingerbread, spaced
out on a midnight blue.

Pieced in rounds
of seventeen, thirty
scalloped circles.

Chicago rises past
her contemplations
as she crafts

this bedspread that
comes home at last
in her stead.

 


Little Bird

A little bird
told her,
she told me,

I’d been
playing by
the railway.

It told her
too, that other
time, of my

climbing
on building
site lime.

Skinny-malinks!
Word among
the birds:

Some little
girl wasn’t
eating.

Tap on nose,
her last word
a little bird

and her laugh
light and
mocking.

In cahoots
with feathered
familiars,

her charm
drawing
them down

from trees
and skies,
telephone wires.

What little bird
had its eye
on me?

Was it a
dickie bird?
Peter? Paul?

Or Robin
Redbreast?
Jenny Wren

cheeping
tidbits in her
cocked ear?

A cartoon
television
bluebird

officiously
flitting
about her

with the
low-down
on us all?

What had her
so quiet
that night

at the table?
had some bird
been and

flown, left
her with
that news

she’d
keep,
alone?

 


Kimberley Road

Joe asleep in the kitchen smiles in a dream
gleaned from two months here and the previous nine.
Out on the wall-top, next door’s Bengal queen

purls her subtle way; planes above her gleam
in apricot skies, contrails swell and decline.
Joe asleep in the kitchen smiles in a dream.

From behind the garden shed fox kits teem,
Tumbling together beneath the washing line
Up on the wall-top, next door’s Bengal queen

steps into the depths of a cypress screen.
Fox kits disappear at their mother’s sign.
Joe asleep in the kitchen smiles in a dream.

Wending solemnly west, the clouds convene
and early evening stars begin to shine.
Joe asleep in the kitchen smiles in a dream,
out on the wall-top, next door’s Bengal queen.

 


White

You sewed it
together in Sonna,

the bridal
trousseau

now folded away
like your true age.

Cotton oblongs,
linen squares.

Sister-stitched
handkerchief:

tears dried-in
on the sea air,

waving her off
on her resolute way.

Far apart now,
never more

the quiet roads,
you minding her.

Small hand in
yours, her outlook

broadening ever
beyond your scope.

Letters from her
hand to yours

cross an ocean,
read, folded away.

Yours: nine sons,
daughters two:

For all her
enterprise,

no-one,
only you,

the lighthouse
to her star.

Threads and other poems © Sara Mullen


 

“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