“Looking for Mother” by Dorothy Molloy

I ransack her room. Loot and pillage.
I root in her trunk. Crack open
the tightly sprung boxes of satin
and plush. Pierce my breast with her butterfly

brooch. I pose in her hats,
French berets, mantillas of lace,
the veil that falls over her face,
the boa she wraps round her neck.

I try on her shoes. her slippers
are mules. I can’t walk in her callipered
boots. I break into her wardrobe.
Hands grope in the dark. Faded bats,

like umbrellas, are humming inside.
Stoles of fox-fur and mink : tiny claws,
precise nails. Lips clamped in the rictus
of death. I’m hot on the scent

of oestrus, umbilicus, afterbirth,
eau-de-cologne, I fling myself
down on the bed that she made
of dirt from the Catacombs, blood

of the saints. Under the counterpane,
nettles, goose-feathers, a tore.

from : The New Irish Poets, edited by Selina Guinness Bloodaxe 2004.

I remember well those fox-furs, my own mother was bequeathed a pair and I too delved into the huge old wardrobe, bringing out the fur stoles complete with little curled feet and a golden chain effect that operated as a clasp. The wardrobe revelation is part of most girl’s growing, though only that it were a peaceful thing. 

In the meantime, there is a small piece on the trousseau, inheritance and the Island Women on the blog . I quite remember being unable to zip the zipper of my mother’s wedding dress confection onto me at twelve- nor indeed being able to squeeze my toes into the minute satin winkle-pickers that she wore for her wedding day !

EDIT : 25/11/2010 , this is a Reblog of a piece written to mark the 16 day Campaign to eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls.

Mary Lavin’s Island Women
International day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls 2010

A Saturday Woman Poet , Elisaveta Bagryana.

Elisaveta Bagryana.
Elisaveta Bagryana.

The Immortal

“Now bloodless and almost fleshless
unmoving , unbreathing, voiceless.
With eyes half closed and sunken,
what matter if -Anna or Maria,
the fine lids will never rise,
the clenched lips will not move or ever
again utter a moan or sigh.
And look how already white and strange is
that ring upon her hands, crossed forever.

But do you hear her innocent child
crying in a cradle nearby.
There is her immortal blood, transferred
and her soul now resident in this world.
days will pass by, years, centuries
and the yielded lips of two young lovers
will again whisper ‘Anna’ or ‘Maria’,
at night amidst the fragrance of spring.
The great-granddaughter will bear everything: name,
eyes, lips, locks of the other invisible one.

Selected Poems of Elisaveta Bagryana; Penelope of the Twentieth Century
Trans, Brenda walker, Valentine Borrisov and Belin Tonchev. Forest Books.

For Sinead with the Rainbows in her eyes, RIP

The Perils of Indulging in Cosmetics ; ‘Il Libro dell’ Arte’.

Anon Manuscript
Anon Manuscript

I thought I would put a small excerpt from Cennini’s excellent Il Libro dell’ Arte on the blog today:

“You would have occasion in the service of young ladies, especially those of Tuscany to display certain colours to which they take a fancy. And they are in the habit of beautifying themselves with certain waters. But since the Paduan women do not do so; and so as not to give them occasion to reproach  me; and likewise because it is contrary to the Will of God and Our Lady; because of all this I shall keep silence. But I will tell you that if you wish to keep your complexion for a long time; you must take a practice of washing in water-spring or well or river: warning you that if you adopt any artificial preparation your countenance soon becomes withered, and your teeth black; and in the end ladies grow old before the course of time; they come out the most hideous old women imaginable. And this will have to be enough discussion of the matter.”


Quite reminds me of my grandmother’s woe at freckles. Il Libro Dell’ Arte is still studied for its excellence in technique in painting,from grinding colours through creating fresco. If one can ignore the jaundiced approach to women… its always best to keep in mind the artistic instruction books were written solely for the benefit of young men hoping to be apprenticed to masters, but he does some pretty good facial and cosmetics advice therein.

The Craftsman’s Handbook , ” Il Libro dell’ Arte “. Cennino d’Andrea
Cennini, Trans, Daniel V. Thompson Jr. Dover. 1960

Two poems by Liliana Ursu.

Luxemburg Gardens, Monument to Chopin. Rousseau.
Luxemburg Gardens. Monument to Chopin, by Rousseau.

Poem with a Griffin, a Pike and Peacocks.

I am reading a poem while it rains.
The day blinks
through windows guarded by a griffin; its talons
flex, its tail switches.
Do you remember those summer showers high in the mountains?
The dull pop of a toadstool beneath your bare foot
in the dew-covered grass?

Under a crystal bell jar, the still life-fleshy ripe bananas,
cherries, lemons and the silver knife you bargained for in the bazaar
as the Bhosphorus sparkled at the feet of the one you loved.
On the wobbly kitchen table, with that very knife,
you slit open a pike.
And the hunting rifle, propped against stuffed peacocks-
has it turned into a lapdog
licking the other woman’s hands
as she weighs my pearls….? 

In the Forest

I wrote the essential poem on an oar
just before setting out.
Perhaps long ago it’s been erased
or maybe the sea
knows it now
by feel.

Like the woman in Rousseau’s painting
I shudder
at the sound of footsteps
-when the fear comes on too strong.

The path I follow
is a knife blade.
maybe this is why
the sky behind the forest
is now so red.

I wrote the essential poem on an oar
just before setting out.


These two poems are taken from the Bloodaxe published book,  The Sky Behind the Forest by Poet Liliana Ursu. It is translated by Tess Gallagher and Adam Sorkin.

I really like the book, but I always make one suggestion when recommending it, and that is to read and absorb the beautiful writing before reading the introductory and translators essays.The essays are highly important in establishing the appalling context of censorship under which the poet suffered , but one can feel it also in the powerful writing.

The Sky Behind the Forest, Liliana Ursu. Trans, Liliana Ursu, Tess Gallagher,
Adam J Sorkin. Bloodaxe Books. 1997.