“Alice and her Stilettoes” and other poems by Lorraine Carey

Alice and her Stilettoes

We always walked faster
past her little house on the brae.
Every so often she’d scuttle out and
snare us, clutching a plastic bag with
the highest heels, scuffed
and peeling, ready for the cobbler’s vice.

Her elfin face powdered,
her fuchsia mouth pursed,
the stain snaked onto her snaggled teeth,
crept over her lips.
She lay in wait,
behind net curtains that twitched.
Her ears hitched to the sound
of the school bus, stalling,
as we stepped off at Charlie Brown’s,
stinking of fags.

Once John got three pairs
of spine benders, for repair,
so she had a choice,
for Mass on Sunday.

Dressing Up

I crept the three steps to
your room, which smelt
of musty aged breath
and butterfly panic.
Sandwiched between the glass
and a chink in the net curtains,
a Red Admiral, whose
fluttering mirrored my
tiptoed approach.

I stumbled over slippers
to your jewellery box.
Fishing out pearls and the ruby ring,
that swam off my finger and dropped
back home into knotty chains and
clip-on earrings.
Brooches from another life
paid for, with dollars
to pin on collars of real fur.

Sparkles and hallmarks
piled up, a pyramid displaced
in this fisherman’s cottage.

You called me for lunch,
puffing upstairs, flapping by in a
flour cloud with your
dentures clapping in a slow applause,
making a tumble of your speech.
Waiting for the tart to cook,
bubbling under with
homegrown apples,
we sat impatient
as cinnamon, allspice and
cloves wafted in droves
from the scullery.

You promised a tomorrow slice
as the Ford Orion arrived
early with your daughter,
to take me home.

Dressing Up was first published in The Honest Ulsterman (October 2015)

This Time

He came back this time with hens,
returned with his swagger and
whiskey breath. Crisp, folded notes
released in rote from an arse pocket,
handed over the counter
without a scrap of guilt,
while she prayed the car wouldn’t stall
the red orb on the dash unheeded
and sat tearing skin from cuticles,
the bleed a warm release.
Taking rage out on her hands
that used to knit him Aran sweaters,
in earthy russet tones,
the chain stitch a secret from
a pattern she wouldn’t share.
They stayed in the shed, the hens,
with their downy necks of terracotta.
Plodding with their fearful eyes and
four pronged claws, their droppings dotted
the concrete floor as days whiled away,
egg laying, cackling, pecking for grain
until the day they each made a whimper
as their slit throats bled scarlet streams,
his free range dreams dying with them.


Two days after your burial,
we sifted through your stuff.
Thirty three years worth shifted
from that lonely flat, spilled from boxes,
placed in piles on the rug
where you loved to sleep.

The striped suitcase stood waiting in turn,
its worn zip, frayed from changing addresses.
It held a rackful of folded trousers,
neatly layered like missal prayers,
two sizes too small for your bloated stomach.
I inhaled, searching for your perfume in cardigan fibres.
I found the pretty compact with the rose
and the blusher brush that retained your scent,
dusted those apple cheeks
at a time when you cared.

I clicked that clasp, tried to grasp at memories.
Your thirty three years in plastic bags,
cases and cardboard storage,
a paper trifle in bin liners,
now wafery ash in the hearth’s grate.
Sorry for thumbing through your diary
the emptiness stark in white lined pages,
your slanted name in child-like scrawl
spoke pages of haunted, unwritten words.

Unopened post bound with elastic bands,
sat in my hands like despair.
My tears fell on your name, softly blurred
the letters bled into the next world,
where I want to believe you’ve gone.

Your late present

She came head first as I opened
like a slow flower on your birthday.
A moulded little head, topped with
black ash, remarked the midwife
peering between my legs
as my womb, her frenetic room
evicted her methodically
in 30 second spasms.

Squeezing her out into our existence
and my hungry arms,
as dawn fractured over a pithy horizon.
I stayed silent, gulping in clinical air
to expand the weary rungs of my laddered lungs,
My blocked nerves couldn’t fathom pain,
spiked on a graph and ebbed at random.
I didn’t scream or throw out expletives,
as she entered a sparkly Sunday at a quarter to six
denying me sleep.
My little girl with the mottled face and tiny fingers probing
was wiped, weighed, handed back to me.
The tendrils of placenta, already peeling away
and losing its hue of regal magenta.
This wonder, this sustenance
destined for the clinking bin with the garish sticker,
whilst I passed over our daughter
and my happy returns.

At the Baptism

At the font, the blessed water trickled down.
Raindrops off a kitten’s fur, tinkled notes
into the marbled basin.
The small pink head with its pulsating fontanelle,
cradled in the swell of outstretched hands
then retraced to the nook of his elbow.
The infant squirmed in ancient lace,
the robed Father gesticulated with grace,
this collector of confessions.

A sudden shower drowned out the ceremony,
cleansed the air.
Sun fractions sliced through the jewelled windows.
A rainbow arched overhead, as we shuffled in
pews with pads of blood red.
The burst foam, from split leather
bunched like partying warts.

Sunbeams shone on your suit
as she looked on, with emptiness
and an envy
worthy of penance.

Dressing Up was first published in The Honest Ulsterman (October 2015) and in Quail Bell edited by Christine Stoddard (September 2016)
Alice and her Stilettoes and other poems are © Lorraine Carey

Lorraine Carey from Donegal, now lives in Co.Kerry. Her work has been published / is forthcoming in the following journals; The Honest Ulsterman,  A New Ulster, Proletarian, Stanzas Limerick, Quail Bell, The Galway Review, Vine Leaves, Poetry Breakfast, Olentangy Review and Live Encounters. Her first collection of poetry will be published this summer.

“Finding Symmetry” and other poems by Jo Burns

Conchita reads Pablo’s letter to God

(while he is painting)
Your committee for time-keeping has ruled
diphtheria a highly unpunctilious event.
By consensus you can’t seem to remember
this being planned into any agendas.
You call me precocious but Pablo, honestly
it’s you that Mama has always adored,
Papa ignores me, I can’t even draw.
It’s all planned for you so perfectly.
You’re a stickler for timeliness,
and planned these years differently.
You have the domestic dates regulated
but I heard you, silently
trying prayer on for size, gambling paint
for my life. You waver clandestine.
Your brushstrokes will sacrifice us all
and I will be the first in line.
First published by Helen Ivory at Ink Sweat and Tears for National Poetry Day.

Mrs Violet Schiff at The Majestic

At this gathering of society horsemen
behind Parisian oyster cream gates,
Proust is here. He drives me insane.
Bloody Joyce is silent and seems irritated.
I’m waiting for you Pablo. Please wear,
for me, that faixa wound on your temple.
Stravinsky is nervous. I need another cocktail.
I’ve already told them all Picasso is coming.
Every minute you make Diaghilev and I wait,
so many numerable things are taking place.
250 children are born, pure and new,
100 souls pass through death and space.
The universe expands by 3000 miles, more or less.
400 litres of blood pump through our veins.
100 marry and 80,000 (probably) have sex.
6 billion human hearts beat 300 billion times.
Although there are 500 thousand minutes per year,
and it could be assumed that each one of them is small,
each minute I wait, while they quarrel over Beethoven,
Pablo, my social reputation is going going gone.
First Published by Adam Crothers at The Literateur

Dora Maar, The Weeping Woman

It’s my turn—
cigar ember stubbed out
by his shoe
he immortalises
that which
he’s formed me into
a souvenir stub
of travels he took
into my gut
my entirety—
a teardrop of paint
on his brush
First published by Lonnard Watkins for Shot Glass Journal

Maya’s soliloquy to Pablo

When you leave, it is only fair and right
to clear the table once set with laughter
and tip the wine glasses into the sea
then mix a drop of blood in salt water.
When you leave, please feed your paint to the fish
and leave the front door ajar for the wind to bring
me the breeze. It’s simple leaving etiquette,
when you’re going and determined.
When you leave, please throw your anchor away,
lose my portraits, burn all those written lines.
Remember from your swaying, wind-blown deck
to point your spinnaker squarely to horizon.
First published by Ann Kestner for Poetry Breakfast

Finding symmetry

I like it best when things deflect,
let the ocean spread as mirrored glass,
let it unfold my own dimensions,
let sun spread in wash, a simple kind
of reflection, like when I look at you,
laying past saids to dids on sand grain piles,
forming foundations for future what ifs,
curving spirals for your life’s nautilus.
Let the ocean hold the time I held you,
bloodied, vernixed, tied by pulsing cord,
I unfurled and couldn’t love you more;
Narcissus drowned to newborn echoes.
It’s known the heart cannot hear itself,
but in your own fibonacci swirl
let the ocean reflect my diffracted beat,
where chaos in a whirl became symmetry.
First Published by Greg McCartney for The Honest Ulsterman


The Sun aflame in the cosmic lantern bound/we are mere ghosts,
revolving, the flame surround/played in a box whose candle is the sun
round which we phantom figures come and go.

                                                                 Omar Khayann, Rubaiyat.
His hair spun in halo, the Lord of the Dance,
dances in Samsara’s wheel, entranced,
his breast, one earring—his Parwati side
holds planets still, male half Lingam stands.
His left hand blesses, his right foot stamps
breaking demons’ backs. The stars gaze on,
through horizons towards the coiling snake,
an ocean with five upraised hoods,
watches Shiva twist, as he weaves mudras
with his hands spread over all paradise,
in cosmic manouevres of spiral bliss,
this expanse of life fire, a tripping fuse
is loose limbed chaos in eskapada.
The rattle drum beats out introspection.
Brahma faces all cardinal points at once,
bemused at this paradigm, unending,
Aeons spinning on towards destruction
Clockwise, creation loses time,
but he knows something we mortals don’t.
Before rebirth, we must come undone.
First published by Angela Carr for Headstuff

erbacher-jo-2015-036-bJo Burns comes originally from Maghera, County Derry. After studying Biomedical Science and spells in Chile, Scotland, England, she now lives with her family in Germany. Her poems have been published by or are forthcoming in: A New Ulster, Poetry Breakfast, The Galway Review, The Incubator, The Honest Ulsterman, Headstuff, The Irish Literary Times, Poetry NI P.O.E.T Anthology, The Literateur, Lakeview International Journal of Arts and Literature, Four x Four, Ink Sweat and Tears, Forage, Shot Glass Journal, Orbis, Picaroon and Poetry Pacific among others. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and she is one of Eyewear Publishing’s Best New British and Irish Poets 2017.


She occasionally retweets other peoples’ interesting posts at @joburnspoems

“Disarticulation” and other poems by Clare McCotter

Selfie With Thelma

after Thelma and Louise
In the Southwest desert
shedding turquoise on an old man’s palm
she trades time
for a beat up Stetson hat.
Only a day or two
since she posed with rose red lips
black sun glasses
and Audrey Hepburn headscarf
marking the start of their journey
with the big Polaroid held at arm’s length.
A snapshot of two smiling faces
left lying on the backseat
of a convertible
loaded down with all the stuff
they thought they needed
pencilling in borders
shoring up boundaries
soon smudged with ochre earth
lost in the dust from a stampede of stars.
Everything looks different now
doused with dirt they are part of place
gunning the engine
before flooring it for the canyon cliff.
Out here at Dead Horse Point
there are no shallow graves
wooden markers or name plates
only a thunderbird
still whipping up storms
suspended in a high solitary leap of faith.


in memory of E M
For them the grave gave no rest.
Solely a spot to have and hold
not visit on stormy nights
with avellana and white lupin.
Their beloved kept above
the inscrutable depths.
Each light riddled skeleton
dispersed near and far
along slender paths
in groves of mountain thorn
among the forest’s earth stars.
Scattered bone shrines
leaving the departed free to wander
across space and place and time.
Out there in the raven Mesolithic
would they have buried you
with ochre and antler
deer teeth, flint and amber?
Far from settlement
on an island low in brackish water
would they have fanned flames
to seal the grave’s scarlet lips?
Back in our un-velveted sixties
dying the wrong death
your own was dug in liminal land.
Striking distance
of font and altar and magenta
gold and indigo glass
the tract where they lowered you
our dangerous dead.
But soon unearthed bones
will gleam in a blue Bedouin moon.
Humerus ulna radius
set on the valley’s wind scoured floor.
Femur fibula tibia
high on dry northern chalk.
Mandible and skull
without blessing stone or feather
here above bog and pine
and old ghost trains.
Alone where the watch bitch walks.


From boyhood he had an eye for wood
reading sycamore and sitka spruce against the grain
he knew where to dip his hands into the shallows
scooping out rainbow trout and salmon.
It was all about patience, he said
kings of the orient and stars and lambs and shepherds
coaxed to surface with small short strokes.
Knife more buff than blade
guiding stag out of oak that wanted to be deer.
Disappeared on august sixteenth nineteen eighty one
his was a long wake
push and pull motion paring flesh to bone
laid out in half bog half quarry three miles from home.
Twenty nine years of Sunday searches
brought her a graveside
to shadow with time and worry whittled skin.
Thin as each and every syllable they chip in granite –
it wasn’t authorised by the leadership.

Shergar’s Groom Wonders

What friends would think
if they knew
history is filtered
through the eye
of a horse
other times would have buried
in a bridle of brass
with grave goods at his muzzle.
Shergar’s groom wonders
if those rebels
would have emptied a Mauser
into the river running down his face
or turned him loose
on mountain or meadow
slapping his rump
just for the hell of seeing him run.
Shergar’s groom wonders
if his bright boy
expected car-lined afternoons
bookies shouting odds
a jockey punching air
being led up that rickety ramp
night a soul-shaped thing
was glimpsed in frosted breath.
Shergar’s groom wonders
if Equus could really be attuned
to the rhythms
of the human heart
his dark pulsings
the last
the horse heard
no other could have gotten so near.
Shergar’s groom wonders
to this day where his bones lie
knowing they thought
him the perfect hostage
free from blood
they thought wrong
the horse
more brother than his father’s son.
And he would have been made lovely
for the earth.

“Disarticulation” and other poems are © Clare McCotter
unnamedClare McCotter’s haiku, tanka and haibun have been published in many parts of the world. She won the IHS Dóchas Ireland Haiku Award 2010 and 2011. In 2013 she won The British Tanka Award. She also judged the British Haiku Award 2011 and 2012. She has published numerous peer-reviewed articles on Belfast born Beatrice Grimshaw’s travel writing and fiction. Her poetry has appeared in Abridged, Boyne Berries, The Cannon’s Mouth, Crannóg, Cyphers, Decanto, Envoi, The Galway Review, The Honest Ulsterman, Iota, Irish Feminist Review, The Leaf Book Anthology 2008, The Linnet’s Wings, The Moth Magazine, A New Ulster, The Poetry Bus (forthcoming), Poetry24, Reflexion, Revival, The SHOp, The Stony Thursday Book and The Stinging Fly. Black Horse Running, her first collection of haiku, tanka and haibun, was published in 2012. Home is Kilrea, County Derry.

Four voices confront the absence of women in Irish poetry

I have endured the scholastic training worthy of someone of learning.
I am versed in the twelve divisions of poetry and the traditional rules.
I am so light and fleet I escape from a body of men without snapping a twig,
without ruffling a braid
of my hair, I run under branches as high as my ankle and over ones high as my head, I scrape thorns from my feet
(not mine) while I run, I dance backwards away from myself, these rites
are quite common among primitive nations,
I am seldom admitted into the companionship of the older, the full privilege of the tribe, without them.

By Kathy D’Arcy A Meditation on Ireland, Women, Poetry and Subversion” at the Honest Ulsterman.

There is a narrative gap in Irish poetry that appears to the woman poet, her reviewer, and the poet essayist as ‘absence’, indeed as a type of intellectual privation. That a new generation of women writers are confronting Irish women poets absence from the canon, along with it’s previous attendant tokenism, is truly delightful to me. We are busily exploring emergent genealogies in Irish Poetry, or it could be stated that we are unhappy with what Eavan Boland refers to as a suppressed narrative. To bring forward a skewed national cultural narrative that disavows the woman poet’s place in the canon is to my mind culturally damaging. Not alone is it culturally damaging to present part of a narrative that claims the intellectual impetus in the imaginative creation of a nation, it is personally and professionally damaging to women poets and to nascent writers who are now devoid of their narrative heritage.

Alex Pryce confronts the absence of Northern Irish women poets in her thesis “Ambiguous Silences ? Women in Anthologies of Contemporary Northern Irish Poetry” I read about Pryce’s worthy thesis in Moyra Donaldson’s blog under The Influence of Absences sometime ago. I was so interested in what Pryce had to say that I downloaded the PDF from her Academia.edu account. At the same time, I was in conversation with Emma Penney who had sent me a copy of her thesis Now I am a Tower of Darkness: A Critical History of Poetry by Women in Ireland. Penney and Pryce are investigating and confronting the constructed heroic post-colonial narrative that has really has done it’s time by now. The post-colonial narrative beloved of some critics who would view the whole world as an extension of their ideation has been flogged to death. It’s over darlings. I grew up not knowing or studying any Irish women poets. The women writers that I read in college were Elizabeth Barrett-Browning (in epic poetry and quasi-feminism) and Virginia Woolf. It was as if women poets did not exist in Ireland.

Irish women poets have never quite left us however, despite their historical absence from anthologies and from third level academic study. There has been a slight recent improvement in the publication of women poets and in their critical review, but it is not enough. Our women poets emerge whole and singing in essays, in current blogs like in Billy Mills Elliptical Movements, and in lines of melody put through mine and others’ search engines. It is time to celebrate our absent poetry foremothers and to confront the indignity conferred upon Irish women poets who were thrown to the side in the search for a heroic poetry to express our chosen political-cultural narrative.

In her thesis, Now I am a Tower of Darkness: A Critical History of Poetry by Women in Ireland, Emma Penney challenges the critical reception of Eavan Boland and the restrictive criteria, developed in the 1970’s, under which poetry by women in Ireland has been assessed. She considers the subversive nature of women’s poetry written between 1921 and 1950, and calls into question the critical assumption that Eavan Boland represents “the first serious attempt in Ireland to make a body of poems that arise out of the contemporary female consciousness”. In Object Lessons, Boland concluded that there were no women poets before her who communicated “an expressed poetic life” in their work. Emma’s thesis reveals how this view has permeated the critical landscape of women’s poetry, facilitating an absurd privation of the history of poetry by women in Ireland and simplifying it in the process. Emma Penney’s work centres around the poet Freda Laughton, her thesis was picked up by Jacket2 Magazine and The Bogman’s Cannon blog.

Kathy D’Arcy looks at the absence of Irish Women Poets in anthologies, and at literary feminism, in her “A Meditation on Ireland, Women, Poetry and Subversion” at the Honest Ulsterman,
Once there was a woman – no, two women. Then they became beasts, then trees, then stones then even stars. How they fought! And that woman was Cú Chulainn.[4] And that woman was Fionn Mac Cumhaill, daughter of Cumhall. And that woman was Queen Maeve. And that woman was Brian Boru. And that woman was Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, and that woman was her husband Airt Uí Laoighire. And that women was Pope John Paul the Second. And that woman was Declan Kiberd.

In Catriona Crowe’s Testimony to a flowering, a marvellous essay on the erasures, faults, absences and blindness exposed for all to see in the first Field Day Anthology,
When confronted about the near absence of women from the book, Seamus Deane stated that ‘To my astonishment and dismay, I have found that I myself have been subject to the same kind of critique to which I have subjected colonialism. I find that I exemplify some of the faults and erasures which I analyze and characterize in the earlier period.’ It is perhaps possible to compress these sentiments into ‘I forgot’, but he did not say the words. He said that documents relating to feminism would be his first priority for inclusion in the revised paperback edition of the anthology, expected to appear in one or two years.

And yet, privations occur and recur in poetry lists, in national celebrations, and in other media or tourist-led strategies that consistently and poorly neglect the woman literary artists’ voice. I do not know if it is intellectual laziness, or if it is that the cultural narrative is so engrained that no-one questions the historical absence of women in Irish poetry? Indeed also in the theatre arts, as can be seen in the recent Waking the Feminists debacle. Maybe it is time to look closely at the Irish view of women that is set in stone in the Constitution and confront the idea that women literary artists fought for our cultural heritage just as hard as men did, but for some lazy and elusive reason, we refuse to celebrate their work.


Dorothea Herbert