‘The Whetter of the Knife’ and other poems by Judith Mok

Beethoven in New York

Fur Elise

This night is on me like a blank sheet
I have to write
Of people playing my music that
Fills the subway with my submerged sounds
As if I am a whale vibrating through the thick of times
Communicating that my name is: Beethoven
A man of music in a storm of voices
A choir, an army of American instruments
People playing my music, people judging me
How I rode this crushing wave of emotions

I wake up to chaos and constellations in my head
Thinking: I will have to tell her
I heard this choir supporting some statement about me
Thinking: it’s one breath of mine against three of hers
That’s what our rhythm seems to be

I hear this couple talking
Two voices modulating into one
Softly speaking specters of promises

I spy on her asleep
Sensing a child in her with too many dreams
To chose from, her jaws clenched
To keep them inside till they rot
While she dies slowly in her sleep.

Casual chords coming from open car windows
Signaling to me that these are New York symphonies
And also: that Elise is still here with me
That I must write for her.

Her eyes closed in the half-light
A film of cold sweat on her pale skin
Her neck exposed to my murderous mind
And me slicing through her sighs
While all I feel is music, my music melting
In the smothering air we breathe, one against three.

She came to me. Her mouth
Full of crunched up words
A meaningless alphabet to her tune
She turns her slender body away
So I can wipe it dry and write,
Write on her bony back, as on a blackboard
Feeling the whipping flame on my eyes
When I see too much of her
And want to write, my love, my love
But instead I write two notes  –ta –ta
A diminished second , and from there: on.

This I will hear until I go deaf
And then it will last

Two notes dancing in a ripped up dawn
I,s adly take to my formal clothes, a composer again
My mind still playing with the thought of her body
Gasping -ta-ta- while I brush my hair
Reacquire my intense stare
Her glow on me in the mirror
It is her planet I live on
Nothing belongs to me but, music

I bring broken notebooks.
Winging my way down to the New York subway

The entrance is like a gargoyle upside-down
I dive into its steam-spouting mouth
My pores oozing fear
I walked this score
I see, I can hear
The mini masters who play my music have sorted me out
While they keep talking and talking on about Elise and: me
And are hammering out her tune –ta-ta

I am inside the whale, in my ears, in my heart
Wanting to fight against the pulse –ta -ta
But its here, played on a steel drum
Beet- Beethoven on a pot, a drum looking like
A caved in reproduction of our gutted earth,
A rivulet of my music, my feelings scored .
This tender tone: for Elise
Ta –ta- ta-ta-ta from there: onwards
And they say I have aspergers syndrome.

The Whetter of the Knife

No shame would ever redden his days.
He could have shown the eager, entirely,
how much he enjoyed his circus and its tricks.
He should have made spectators pay to watch the things he did to me,
turning me into this acrobat of pain.
But he prefered to keep me in a bullwark for his silence,
this pschyco’s place where he tortured me.
This is how we do things in my country,
he said, a proud and fervent nationalist,
causing distress of a broader spectrum ,
seen through the narrow end of his binoculors,
It made me suffer the cutting shards of a kaleidoscopic feast.

And then, a horrid kiss. Not so, on my lips.
With it, he burned the earth under my feet,
the songs in my soul, the touch of real.

Where it soaked the ground I wished for his blood to feed my gardens,
their putrid stench through my opened windows and music,
camelias, gardenias a tango tune, ragged.
And still : I loved.
I loved his screaming wounds, his sunken sores licked with my pickled tongue.
Help me.

Make or Break

They are standing in a Dublin vegetable shop;
Castanea Dentata, chestnuts said she,
Fauchon, remembering Paris, Marrons Glaces:
The faded butterfly wings of the wrapping paper
The box,half- open, like a promising, sweet smile
Her fingers reaching out for what her tongue would like: love.

We Irish, said he, play Conkers.

Blood or “le sang des autres”

The shots ricocheting against the flanks of the mountains so early in the morning that my sleepy subconscious has not even registered the chiming bells yet, yet…
We are in Sarajevo, suddenly. Le jour de chasse est arrive, o glory, the Hunt, la Casa, funny how the same word for hunt in Spanish means matrimony and hunt, a coincidence? Oh. I am supposed to organize a concert programme for next season in the lovely Roman Church, surrounded by shady trees. I am supposed to eat a rabbit tonight and the man told me two days ago with a macho smile on his ancient face “ je vais le tuer, I’m gonna kill it. Am I still hungry? For rabbit? Shall I suck the raw head raw? Oh. How sad his eyes were, the old boar, sanglier, in his stinky little hut. The man had caught him as a baby and wanted to fatten him up. He did and then he loved his fat boar and kept it as a pet. Speaking of matrimony: do we like to fatten each other up and keep each other as sad pets? Oh. I talked to the traumatized wild animal, unbearable in his smell and even more in the way it looked at me, was I at least bringing it some food for solace ? This morning they’re shooting the furtive beasts that I saw yesterday on the path, running around with shifty movements, the eagle circling with its eyes on a snake. I couldn’t see, the stillness of the view and nature intact, the Pyrenees with wolves and bears, not far, the blue sea not far, humans were far, very far away, except for. Oh. Now I can imagine what it is like to hear shots in the morning and become completely unnerved by it, even though they are meant for the beasts, not me. What’s the difference in the afternoon I saw them hanging from the hooks in the Salle des fetes, the hall of feasts. The blast of blood and wild odours was out in the streets, the dogs had blood on their teeth and in their fur, drenched, and the men had aprons, hiding their male satisfaction by rubbing long killer knives clean on their bellies.
I had to think of the concentration camps, I had to, who was hung on hooks again? Blood is blood and mine surged and I threw up under the Southern Sun with the taste of raw meat in my mouth. Oh


after Leo Tolstoy

Within the mystery of dawn a field feeds me a thought, to name all of them in different languages when they move, drenched in dew: marcassins, javali , wild boars, everzwijn….shifting as a pack swiftly to the wisps of scent from apple to nut tree. It could be, somehow, a choreography. What a fool I have been till today not to see, not to hear what there was to be. In the land of the Troubadour I write a landscape in the morning. Up the mountain dogs follow me where I follow ancient footprints. I know the alphabet, but they know it all, these dogs’ soft snouts, loud talk, barks. And back I go to a village where cats bask in my warm shadow to purr. What a fool I have been till today not to see, not to hear what there was to be had. In the afternoon we speak, other to others, while we work to harvest. The earth hums along, fat on its offerings: chestnuts, grapes, olives, quinces stain our hands. Much more is waiting in these woods mushrooms spread under trees that stand to grow on for centuries. People come together, a basket full of pickings on their arm. The early autumn darkness blotting out their whispers, nothing but a smothered gasp when a white deer struts by, making for history. During breaks we eat the home-made cakes sitting on the fairy ground: the dream of ferns and poisonous snakes, the myth of the mind takes shape. An eagle waits for me, for no one at his regular spot. He rises up and suddenly there are three. When I look up they form a pattern I can’t decipher.They honour my eyes.

What a fool I have been till today not to be able to read what was written. To spell reality.

At night I spy on the dark.When lightning hits I see some natural time, the speed of the bat is the speed of the falling stars caught in the claws of our artificial wishes. Not like the owl who claws his prey in mid-air displaying its own blitzkrieg.

What a human fool I have been, not to be able, but for today, to feel: Love.


In the woods I knew them with my eyes ,
when light broke through a rip in memory’s curtain.
I saw the two of them , walking hand in hand with autumn .
Death had kept them untouched, recognizable.

The wind composed hymns of air in the clattering trees
as I opened my arms for an impenetrable welcome,
and stood alone, wondering how long breath can last .

The Whetter of the Knife and other poems are © Judith Mok

Judith Mok was born in Bergen in the Netherlands. She has published two novels with Meulenhoff. She has published three books of poetry in Dutch. She moved to Dublin and published a novel Gael with Telegram London and a book of poetry Gods of Babel with Salmon Press. She has written widely including for radio and Newspapers, which have appeared in the Sunday Miscellany books edited by Marie Heaney. Her short stories have been short listed twice for the Francis Mc Manus award and her first novel The innocents at the Circus for the Prix de l’Academie Francaise. Her work has appeared in Anthologies and nationally and internationally in numerous literary Dutch, Irish, French, British and American magazines. Her translated erotic poems by Verlaine and Rimbaud appeared in the book Obscene Poems by Verlaine and Rimbaud with Vasalucci. Her next book The State of Dark will appear in 2017. Judith who is a lyrical soprano has travelled the world for years as a soloist and a vocal coach teaching master classes.

A Saturday Woman Poet , Vona Groarke.


by Vona Groarke.

It breaks apart as water will not do
when I pull ,  hard, away from me,
the corners bunched in my two hands
to steer a true and regulated course.

I plunge the needle through and through,
dipping, tacking, coming up again.
The ripple of thread that follows pins,
out of its depth , a shallow hem.

I smooth the waves and calm the folds.
Then, to ensure an even flow,
I cast a line which runs from hook to hook
and pulls the net in overlapping pleats.

Which brings me to the point where I am
hanging a lake, by one shore, in my room,
to swell and billow between the light
and opaque , unruffled dark.

I step in. The room closes round me
and scarcely puckers when I move my limbs.
I step out. The path is darkened where I walk,
my shadow steaming off in all this sun. 
from :  The New Irish Poets , Edited by Selina Guinness . Bloodaxe Books 2004

‘Dawning on the Square’ by C Murray

Dawning on the Square

Burnt ochre to umber liquefies the dark
Indigo and charcoal quicken, they bleed –
A capillary of sorts.
The colours ground, establish a sky.
My opaque; ochre from the dirt,
The blues, a stone.

© Creative Commons License
Dawning on the Square by C Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at poethead.wordpress.com.

‘Regeneration’ by Eithne Strong



Let me out. I’m rising out of death’s skull.
Aha, old devil’s dower I have victoried.
I leave you in the morning: it deals
with every death and spring defeats the catafalque.

You see I must believe in resurrection.
This is it. Now. I was dead and am alive.
Hello eternity. I can die no more horrific
death than I have died. No hell beyond

the horrors of myself that murdered
every life; saw death in every pregnancy
of dog and nut and man. Found death
the ever death. Come bomb, come

my most killing hate, life lives outside
the blasting skull. Computer is not final.
I cannot give you proof of course,
I merely have arisen.

Regeneration, from Sarah in Passing, by Eithne Strong, Dolmen Press 1974, illustrated by John Hodge.

The Hare Arch by Ní Dhuibhne

Anne Brontë

From the National Portrait Gallery : Via Wikimedia.

Its Monday and it’s cold in Dublin, am so glad I got a new all-weather but mostly Mountain-climbing Jacket on the Mayo Sojourn (Post-flu and dental recovery). Since I am unpacked and having done the school run where the little one was welcomed back with much happiness, I thought to publish some Bronte (Brunty) poems and whilst adoring Emily’s amazing poetry , I think Anne mostly neglected.

Poethead is about women writers , the whole idea of the blog was sited in the Penelopiad , the woman in exile and the community of women who are sometimes nodded to in serious writer’s chorus’, chorus-lines or indeed hymn sheets, though most of the time critique is poetry and weekend supplements tends to the male voice and academic fields.

The North Wind

“That wind is from the North: I know it well;
No other breeze could have so wild a swell.
Now deep and loud it thunders round my cell,
The faintly dies, and softly sighs,
And moans and murmurs mournfully.
I know it’s language: thus it speaks to me:

‘I have passed over thy own mountains dear,
Thy northern mountains, and they still are free;
still lonely, wild, majestic,bleak and drear,
And stern, and lovely , as they used to be

‘When thou a young enthusiast,
As wild and free as they,
O’er rocks and glens, and snowy heights,
Didst thou love to stray.

‘I’ve blown the pure, untrodden snows
in whirling eddies from their brows;
And I have howled in cavern’s wild,
Where thou, a joyous mountain-child,
didst dearly love to be.
The sweet world is not changed, but thou
art pining in a dungeon now,
Where thou must ever be.

‘No voice but mine can reach thy ear,
And heaven has kindly sent me here
to mourn and sigh with thee,
And tell thee of the cherished land
of thy nativity.’

Blow on wild wind; thy solemn voice,
However sad and drear,
is nothing to the gloomy silence
I have had to bear.

Hot tears are streaming from my eyes,
But these are better far
Than that dull, gnawing , tearless time,
The stupor of despair.

Confined and hopeless as I am,
Oh, speak of liberty!
Oh, tell me of my mountain home,
And I will welcome thee!

The edition the Poem was taken from is an Everyman: Everyman : Selected Poems, The Brontes, Ed, Juliet RV Barker, 1993 .

Margaret Atwood list.
25 Pins in a Packet
Julian of Norwich