‘Blackbird’ and other poems by Imogen Forster

Testudo

 
A bone-hard carapace,
a shell cast on a hot shore,
emptied by the labour
of leaving the nurturing
sea, scraping broad ribbons
up the sand’s glassy slope .
 
Gasping, digging a damp hole,
she lays round, sticky eggs,
a hundred leathery balls.
Then spent, noon-dried,
she dies, picked clean
by quick scavengers.
 
Her hatchlings flail
and scuttle towards
the sea, led by the
gazing moon, their plates
small patterned
purses, hardened
in the rich sea-soup
into a vaulted chamber
built to the blueprints
of this old architecture.
 
Published in Visual Verse
 

Blackbird

 
The blackbird sits, a smudge
in the prickly hedge, stooped,
wings and tail all downward.
 
I want to touch him, to feel
the quick, warm shape
in a cage of bare branches.
 
What does a bird fluffed
against the cold see
in his crouched stillness?
 
If I could grasp him by
his ashy back, hold his whole
breathing body in my hand
 
what would the soft bones
tell me, the barbed primaries
and the mite-infested down?
 
The bird stirs, and now
shows a bead, a pinhead eye,
a beak ripening to yellow.
 
Then the sudden thrust
out of the damp bush,
the perfect trajectory.
 
This was his first lesson,
the enactment of his ease.
 
Submitted to The Rialto Poetry competition, February 2015
 

Dancer, after Yinka Shonibare, ‘Girl Ballerina’

 
I am tailored, buttoned, piped,
the colonist’s clothes a tight fit
round my slim child’s waist.
Net and frills, my costume’s
a good girl’s best party dress.
But am I a welcome guest
or a blackface clown?
Headless, I say nothing.
I am a dancer’s body
in a pair of cotton shoes.
 
I am a sister to Marie, the wax
and bronze work of M Degas,
shiny, moulded on a frame
of pipes and paintbrushes.
Called monkey, Aztec,
a medical specimen,
the flower of depravity.
I am ten, to her fourteen, and so,
you could say, innocent.
 
My neat bodice of East India
Batiks is the bright stuff
of conquest, traded from
Batavia to Benin and now
spread across south London stalls.
My Brixton market wardrobe,
my new flags, my hopeful anthems.
 
Hands behind my back,
my finger resting on the trigger.
 
Submitted to Faber New Poets competition, January 2015

WP_20150116_19_52_26_ProImogen Forster is a freelance translator, mainly of art history, from French, Italian, Spanish and Catalan. She translated one of the French volumes for the new edition of Vincent van Gogh’s Letters published by the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, in 2009. She has published poems on-line, and in a number of magazines.
‘Blackbird’ and other poems by Imogen Forster

‘The Mission’ by Rita Ann Higgins

The Mission

I think of the last time we met
on the prom in Galway.
A sunny day in May
you looked cool in those shades.
You looked taller somehow.
We talked for ages.
You told me about plans
for your mother’s sixtieth.
I felt lucky to have such a nephew.
Shades or no shades.

You hid your distress well, John.
None of it was evident that sunny day.
The day of good nephews.
A month later you went to Beachy Head.
WTF John.

I think of you
leaving your bundle
on top of Beachy Head.
Your belt coiled around your watch
your wallet with a photo of your daughter
your fire fighter’s ID card
your blood donor card
your bus ticket from Brighton.
Losers weepers.

Margaret, your Irish twin,
was on a holiday she didn’t want to go on.
She had been worried sick,
she had us all demented
saying you were going to do it.
Twins know things, Irish twins know more.
I was at a wedding in June
when some friends of yours called me outside.
‘It’s about John Diviney,’
and something about Beachy Head.

Later we went to the priest
he came down to Castle Park
to tell your mother.
She thought we were there to show her the wedding style.
I wouldn’t mind, John
but I had hired a dress for the wedding.
It was a deep blue.
It sailed when I walked.
Your mother was in a daze.
‘I dreamed of him on Thursday night,’ she said.
‘He went in and out of every room.
Himself and Shannon were laughing.’

We went to Eastbourne to bring you home.
Your mother to collect a son,
Margaret to collect a brother,
Caroline and Majella to collect a cousin.
Me to collect a nephew.
Five women on a mission.

Your mother couldn’t sleep,
she was smoking out the hotel window.
She saw the undertaker
collect your best suit from reception at six am.

Despite all the sadness
we had laughed a lot on the way over.
The girls nearly missing the flight
because they had to get food.
We laughed too at nothing at all.
Declan, another cousin of yours turned up
and chauffeured us around Eastbourne
and later to Heathrow.
Loosers weepers.

You had a photo in your wallet
of your daughter Katie.
I have a photo in my study
of the day we bumped into you
in King’s Cross, you and Katie.
Ye were going to some match or other.
What are the chances?
We were over to surprise Heather
on her thirtieth.

What are the chances of bumping into you now, John?
We weren’t laughing when we saw you in that coffin.
Your Irish twin ran outside and puked.
Your mother whispered things in your ear.
We started the prayers
it was a mumbo jumbo litany
We couldn’t remember how anything finished.
Hail Mary full of grace the lord is with thee…

On the way back
there was a bad storm.
We were at the airport for five hours.
Your mother kept going back out for a smoke.
Each time she went out we worried
that she’d never get back in.

You were in the hold,
in your new suit
your designer shirt
your best shoes.
We forgot your socks.
Losers weepers.

We arrived at Shannon
in the early hours.
The Divineys were there en masse.
So was Keith and Aidan.
We followed the hearse,
a night cortège.
‘At least we have him back,’
your mother said,
more than once.

After the funeral mass
your friends from the fire station
hoisted your coffin onto the fire brigade.
The army were there too.
It was a show stopper.
I never told you this, John
but I love a man in uniform.

I think of you
leaving your bundle
on top of Beachy Head.
Your belt coiled
around your watch
your wallet with a photo of Katie
your fire fighter’s ID card
your blood donor card
your bus ticket from Brighton.
Loosers weepers.

‘It’s about John Diviney,’
the coroner’s office said.
‘Some young people found his things.
His belt a loop around them.’
He flew without wings
off Beachy Head.
He landed at the bottom
his back against the wall
his eyes looking out to sea.

The Mission is © Rita Ann Higgins

Poet Rita Ann Higgins(1)Rita Ann Higgins was born in Galway. She has published ten collections of poetry, her most recent being Ireland is Changing Mother, (Bloodaxe 2011), a memoir in prose and poetry Hurting God (Salmon 2010). She is the author of six stage plays and one screen play. She has been awarded numerous prizes and awards, among others an honorary professorship. She is a member of Aosdána.
 
Rita Ann Higgins’s readings are legendary. Raucous, anarchic, witty and sympathetic, her poems chronicle the lives of the Irish dispossessed in ways that are both provocative and heart-warming. Her next collection Tongulish is due out in April 2016 from Bloodaxe.
‘The Mission’ by Rita Ann Higgins

‘Cleaving a Puzzle-Tree’ and other poems by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Cleaving a Puzzle-Tree

 
1.
 
I didn’t see my grandmother’s tree in Chile,
araucaria araucana,
though they grow tall there and are many.
I must have walked under them every day, tripped
over their seeds, but I didn’t think of her, oceans away,
standing in a square of green, raking leaves
around her monkey puzzle tree.
 
2.
 
For over a hundred years, that tree stood between
pruned rosebush and clipped hedge, a long shadow
moving over wet fields and stone walls.
As a girl, I clung to the trunk when we played hide and seek,
rough bark printing maps on my palms.
 
3.
 
In April gales, the tree sways. From the window,
my grandmother watches a chainsaw blade
spin the tree into a flight of splinters,
until only logs and sawdust are left.
In each neat wheel of wood, an eye opens,
ringed by lines of the past. The logs are split,
stacked, the tree turned into armfuls of firewood
which will rise as smoke to the sky,
a puzzle unravelled.
 

Frozen Food

 
In the frozen foods aisle, I think of him
when I shiver among shelves of green flecked
garlic breads and chunks of frozen fish.
I touch the cold door until my thumbs numb.
 
Strangers unpacked his body in a lab
and thawed his hand, watched long-frozen fingers
unfurl one by one, until his fist finally opened,
let go, and from his grasp rolled
a single sloe,
ice-black with a purple-blue waxy bloom.
 

Inside the sloe,
a blackthorn stone.
Inside the stone,
a seed.

 
Standing in the supermarket aisle,
I watch my breath freeze.
 

Museum

 
I am custodian of this exhibition of erasures, curator of loss.
I watch over pages of scribbles, deletions, obliterations,
in a museum that preserves not what is left, but what is lost.
 
Where arteries are unblocked, I keep the missing clots.
I collect all the lasered tattoos that let skin start again.
In this exhibition of erasures, I am curator of loss.
 
See the unraveled wool that was once a soldier’s socks,
shredded documents, untied shoestring
knots — my museum protects not what is left, but what is lost.
 
I keep deleted jpegs of strangers with eyes crossed,
and the circle of pale skin where you removed your wedding ring.
I recall all the names you ever forgot. I am curator of loss.
 
Here, the forgotten need for the flint and steel of a tinderbox,
and there, a barber’s pile of scissored hair. I attend
not what is left, but what is lost.
 
I keep shrapnel pulled from wounds where children were shot,
confession sins, abortions, wildflowers lost in cement.
I am custodian of erasures. I am curator of loss
in this museum that protects not what is left, but what is lost.
 
‘Cleaving a Puzzle-Tree’, ‘Museum’ and ‘Frozen Food’ are © Doireann Ní Ghríofa

DOIREANN b+wDoireann Ní Ghríofa is an award-winning bilingual poet, writing both in Irish and in English. Paula Meehan awarded her the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary 2014-2015. Her collections are Résheoid, Dúlasair (Coiscéim), A Hummingbird, your Heart (Smithereens Press) and Clasp (Dedalus Press). Her work is regularly broadcast on RTE Radio One. Doireann’s poems have previously appeared in literary journals in Ireland and internationally (in Canada, France, Mexico, USA, Scotland and England). Two of her poems are currently Pushcart Prize nominated.
.
www.doireannnighriofa.com & DoireannNiG
‘Cleaving a Puzzle-Tree’ and other poems by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

‘Crystal Clear’ and other poems by Eileen T O’Neill

Crystal Clear

 
She sits alone within her own cocoon,
Shrouded from her entire surroundings.
Eyes stare without seeing today’s world,
The sound of talking is silent in her mind.
Her crystal lamp is abandoned from care,
All belongings are deserted from attention.
Her perspective is internally facing forever,
Her gaze is transparent in its sad emptiness.
This journey is taken in isolation and alone,
Farewells too late as her departure had gone.
Her dementia deteriorated in a sneaky fashion,
Only memories enliven her past participation.
 
© Copyright Eileen T O’Neill 20/02/2015
 

Solitude’s Soliloquy

 
Loneliness is an outpost endured,
Alone in isolation bereft of friends.
A far flung niche deserted in tundra,
Or lost in the coldness of city living.
It shrouds demeanour and self-belief,
Belonging is seemingly for all others.
Unattached except for wishful dreaming,
Solitude does not placate a lonely mind.
Seclusion is at times a necessity of desire,
Its calmness affords tranquillity to muse.
Reflections gaze and ponder their silences,
In this solitudinous mode one draws breaths.
A soliloquy considered in quiet contemplation,
This position sits well in the stillness of being.
 

© Copyright Eileen T O’Neill 19/02/2015
 

Rebirth and Opportunity

 
Making that first bold move takes much courage,
The contemplation and the deliberation were easy.
Stepping away from what was life’s familiarity then,
Every worldly possession uprooted and packed away.
Closing doors of the old abode was a surreal moment,
Pulling the garden gate shut and not daring to look back.
Nearest and dearest confused in the midst of changes,
Looking beyond the confines of what had been home.
Promise and dreams awaited in a flight of sixty minutes,
The arrival revealed an environment of boring normality.
Leafy slumbers of countryside living in a haven of safety,
Opportunities grasped at every turning point of direction.
One could sit and contemplate the nothingness of something,
Or simply taste life free from the scourges of its daily violence.
That momentous date of departure remains in minds forever,
Yet a rebirth evolved from the perspective of fresh beginnings.
 
© Copyright Eileen T O’Neill 14/01/2015

XdxI_-Ln_400x400Eileen T O’Neill was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She lives in Cheshire, England. Mum to four wonderful and loving children and one beautiful grandchild.
 
Eileen’s Website
‘Crystal Clear’ and other poems by Eileen T O’Neill

‘Demeter Does Not Remember’ and other poems by Mary Madec

Tumble

 
I land in you unexpectedly,
down and something silky like new grass
scattering
and it is soft and I fit perfectly
like in memory foam
and maybe it is a memory
and it is silky like a caress, your fingers
stroking me
and new, I have never come here before
and green somehow like soft summer
warming me
down deeper than I have ever known
and maybe you heard the whimper
as I gave myself to
the comfort of you concave
as a moon but not cold or blue
and I gave myself as a child
extends her little arms wide
and trusting on the world
the edge between inside and outside
blurred like tears blur
eyes that still see
and your arms wrap around me and I am satisfied.
 

Hades to Persephone

 
Your hand is so close it could touch mine
but you pull it away in time
tracing the boundary
 
any closer and I step
into your shadow
you into mine
 
and rather than disrupt
affection’s awkward reach
we play at catch the plural pronoun,
 
go round and round each
of our language islands,
eddies of meaning in the delta.
 
This vertigo of words
could throw us into each other’s arms,
leave us confused
 
about how to distribute
endings on verbs,
as their tense, their mood come to light.
 

Demeter Does Not Remember

 
Persephone, her shadowed daughter
in the portico, peeping through the cracked wall.
Or what she said to keep her away.
 
Or what she gave her to dam her legs
when blood flowed,
red into the underworld.
 
Demeter cannot remember her first smile or teeth,
the words she made.
Persephone would have liked to know.
 
Now, a woman, she looks into the still lake of her dreams,
filled by the purlings of the Styx.
What does she see?
 
She walks away heartbroken
from the quivering reflection.
Cries out, ‘Demeter is not me.’
 

Soon It Will Be Winter

 
And Demeter does not know what she hates most
about the change-her straw hair, her broken nails,
a shrivelling up inside, no blood rain,
insomnia as she tosses her tired head this way and that.
She thinks of Persephone, the daughter she fed
and is jealous of those pert little breasts,
those eyes, reminding her of another bed
where she was desirable as a wife.
She can feel her hardening arteries, her sagging eyes
stretched to crows’ feet as she smiles.
There is no sap inside her anymore, a greyness
rising up through her thighs.
 
Persephone is wet with smiles
her soft legs parting for Hades.
 

Demeter: Coming of Age

 
As I bathe alone, I wonder
what would be a good outcome.
 
This time I let my head
below the level of the water
 
and my hair spreads out
like thong weed in the sea.
 
My middle-aged body lops
and the water makes
 
tides around my hips
and breasts.
 
My legs with their varicose veins
the legacy of maternity
I embrace
 
I let it all hang out.
It makes no difference now
that this man or that
 
loved this body
rested on it like summer sun
on grass
 
Just as the grass barely notices
the creatures who crawl on the earth
 
just as the earth itself is indifferent
to movements on its surface
 
waits for boiling magma
to rise up to its thin skin.
 
It will take something like this
to shift the tectonic plates
reunite the old continents.
 

Forecast

 
You turn me around and change the frame.
You’re sorry and winded.
 
There’s some awkward readjustment of limbs,
like trees that find their branches
when the wind dies down.
 
We go back the way we came, the cloud breaking up
as it comes in from the sea.
 
Everything from this angle looks different,
you take out your thermometer,
barometer, wind vane:
 
The outlook is good, you say:
Cumulonimbus calvus, your favourite,
 
a sky filled with narrative,
great big faces puffed,
playfully portentous.
 
You say they will be tipped
with red and gold at sunset.
 
© Mary Madec

74755Mary Madec was born and raised in Mayo. She studied at NUI, Galway (B.A., M.A., H.Dip Ed.) and at the University of Pennsylvania from which she received a doctorate in Linguistics in 2002. She has published widely (Crannóg, West 47, The Cuirt Annual, Poetry Ireland Review, the SHOp, The Sunday Tribune, Southword, Iota, Nth Position, Natural Bridge and The Stand Orbis, The Fox Chase Review,The Recorder among others. Her first collection, In Other Words, appeared with Salmon Poetry in 2010 ; her second collection, Demeter Does Not Remember also with Salmon Poetry at the end of 2014. She has received several awards and prizes most notably the Hennessy XO Prize for Emerging Poetry in 2008. She co-founded a community writing project and she teaches a residential course at Kylemore Abbey every summer. She works for Villanova University in Ireland.
‘Demeter Does Not Remember’ and other poems by Mary Madec