‘Poem for Oscar with Stars in it’ by Kevin Graham

Poem for Oscar with Stars in it

Hoisted in the high chair of my arm – all bum and elbows
and chocolate ice-cream hands – you point a finger up at the fluid
night sky and say star. We’re on the porch of your uncle’s house,
on one of the year’s fledgling days, a couple of briquettes buzzing
nicely in an old barbeque. Leaning forward, you wet your fist
and try to blow them out from ten feet away, as though they were
birthday candles. The fizzing pylon looming overhead won’t stop
falling in my mind into the tender hub of our after-dinner party.
Sparks fly and catch in the fleeting nightmare, then recede.

Out here, in this Finnish-timber retreat, this otherworldly
stillness, we could be anywhere: Donabate, Tromsø, Chiang Mai.
The sea whispers beyond the bushes, dragging its enormous haul
back and forth between our listening ears. The flowing wine
has purpled my teeth and I must appear to you as a zombie,
you who toss your hair back suddenly and spot Jupiter kindling
in its hard-silvered light, make a purring sound and turn
to face me with all the wonder the world hopes you never lose,
and say again – in a voice that leaves before you know it – star.
 
(first published in The Stinging Fly, Summer 2014)
 
 
 
 
Kevin Graham is from Dublin, Ireland. His poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies. He was selected for the 2012 Poetry Ireland Introductions Series and was shortlisted for a 2014 Hennessey Literary Award. He was featured poet in the summer 2014 issue of The Stinging Fly and is currently working towards his first collection. A chapbook Traces has been published by Smithereens Press and is available to download. Twitter @kevcgraham

Two poems by Jane Clarke

The Finest Specimen

When I was a child my father wrote the twelve fair days
of Roscommon on the back of a Players pack
and taught me to recite them as farmers used to do.

He showed me where the blacksmith had inscribed
1865 on a gate – the year Yeats was born, he’d say.
There’s one date you have to remember, your great

great great grandfather, the one with the whiskers,
was born the year of the rebellion, 1798,
any family history before that is just imagination.

He showed me a bible with miniature print
on gossamer paper which he touched as if it were
pure gold. This was your great-grandmother’s,

published the year of the Act of Union. He told me
old stories as if he’d lived through them.
When the turlough froze in 1816,

three neighbours walked the ice with sacks of oats
on a short-cut home from the mill; one fell into a gap,
the other two drowned trying to save him. Some stories

he seldom told, how as a boarder in Blackhall Place
he slept with his feet pointing west or how he
and my mother returned early from honeymoon

because he was lonely for the fields. Yesterday
he took out old letters, bound together with knotted string;
my brother’s first letter home, another from a neighbour

thanking my grandfather for a loan and the letter
from his grandmother to her sister on the morning
of his birth, the second last day of March, 1929.

He came unexpectedly, the finest specimen yet,
good looking and the most formed little thing
with Dad’s nose and Georgie’s chin.

 
 
(previously published in the Fish Anthology 2015)
 
  
Her Own

My mother said she knew, just knew
I was going to be a girl,

two boys before and two boys after –
fodder for a hungry farm,

but I was hers.
She taught me her tricks of the trade;

it’ll look like dinner is nearly ready
if the table is set when he comes in,

bread and butter will fill them up,
add three drops of vinegar to water

so your mirrors and windows will gleam,
cool your fingers before rubbing lard into flour

for pastry, a handful of ground almonds
will keep your fruit cake moist,

darn a few socks every night
and never leave the ironing for more than a week,

don’t cut off rhubarb stalks with a knife,
just twist them clean from the crown,

and always hold onto the children’s allowance;
a woman must have something of her own.
 
 
(broadcast on Sunday Miscellany, RTE Radio 1, 4th October, 2015)
 
 
 
Jane Clarke’s debut collection, The River, is published by Bloodaxe Books. Originally from a farm in the west of Ireland, she now lives in Wicklow. Her work is published widely, including The Irish Times, Irish Independent, The Rialto, The North, Ambit, Acumen, Mslexia, Agenda, Poetry Wales. Her awards include the Listowel Writers’ Week Poetry Collection Prize (2014) and the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland Competition (2014).

Three poems by Colin Dardis

 
Cinnabar

Going to rinse the saucepan, I spy
a rose petal in the sink: bent purple,
withered in this high-seventies weather,
most unseasonable of seasons.

Somehow circumvented angles
of back yard, oil tank and washing-line,
through kitchen window, onto an
irregular place of rest.

Leaning in, I find its being:
a red cabbage leaf from last night’s
salad, a beauty non-transferable,
utterly throwaway.
 
 
Scavenge

i.

Aweigh of junk piles,
untold centuries
teased from their rust,
resurfacing; a gravity
towards the shoreline.

ii.

Disturbance amidst rocks:
seabed whispering
as currents play their hands;
lifting pennies from eyes,
a cure for blindness.

iii.

Without light
and too much weight,
hull and reef conjoined.
The lighthouse blinks
in disbelief.
 
 
Marathon

I traded my shoes for a bowl of water;
forgive my diversion from your path.
Think nothing of my blistered travails
or the blood left upon the rocks.
My burden was only the weight
of importance, meant to fill your ears
rather than stoop my back.
News only survives if the man does.
 
 
Colin Dardis is a poet, editor and arts facilitator. His work has been published in numerous anthologies, journals and zines throughout Ireland, the UK and the USA. He edits the online journal FourXFour and is the host of the Purely Poetry open mic night in Belfast.

Lesley Martin

 
Three Churches
 
I. Augustinian Priory

St Augustine, patron saint of brewers,
printers and theologians, is depicted holding a quill,
poised to write, in a stained glass window
overlooking the shrine of St Jude,
patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.
To light candle insert coins into slot
and press button on candle of choice.
 
II. The Collegiate Church of St Nicholas

The guestbook is filled with prayers for sons and daughters
and dying mothers. Everyone is selfless where anyone and God
can see. Then we spy, in tripping English, a plea:
Please help me to be love.
 
III. Galway Cathedral

In the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven
and St Nicholas the alabaster saints rest in alcoves,
languages they could never imagine flurrying around them.
Using the St Killian’s Candle System we pick up
a candle each and light them for our future children.
I choose the blue section, for isn’t forget-me-not the mother’s colour?
We leave, declining to pay, quiet and blasphemous.
 
 
Lesley Martin is a graduate of English and Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast, where she studied under Ciarán Carson and Sinéad Morrissey. She is currently studying for an MA in Arts Management. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

Three poems by Jane Clarke

 

Winter

Since the trouble with his heart
she tries to keep him in
but before the breakfast tea is cold,
he shrugs on his coat,

lifts his cap, blackthorn stick
and heads out across the fields
to count cattle and sheep
check how far the flood has risen,

break ice for cows at the pond.
There’s not a pick on him;
he feels every breeze like the beech
that shelter Rooney’s field

but he will not wear the scarf
or gloves she offers daily.
Back in the kitchen for a fry,
he warms his cheek against hers,

shows her his hands,
thick as fencing stakes, swollen,
purple with the cold. Laughing, he asks
did you ever see such shovels?
 
(published in The North, No 50, 2013)
 
 
White Fields

Stopping by his jacket
on a hook at the end of the dresser,
she breathes him in,

cigarettes, silage and brylcreem.
She touches rough tweed,
worn collar and cuffs,

pocketed coins, hay seeds
and the cold steel
of his bone-handled penknife.

She recalls mornings in fields
white with hoar frost, when the heat
between them would thaw the frozen pond.

He’d cut dark twine, shake out bales
in slivers of warmth for breathing clouds
of Friesians, circled round, waiting.

When the children came, he stayed longer
outside, always a lamb or a calf to mind,
a fallen wall that needed him.
 
(published in The North, No. 50, 2013)
  
 
January

The shrunken turlough
mirrors bare trees,
frosted fields, a quiet sky.

We fork silage, heave out
oats and barley to curly headed
yearlings in breath-filled sheds.

A ewe in-lamb is stranded
on her back. With a pull
to her foot she is up

before jackdaws peck out her eyes.
We talk about the land,
the ditches he dug out

in the fifties, gorse bushes
he burned in the sixties,
hedgerows he was paid for

in the nineties. He clambers
slow over the gate.
I see his sunken cheeks

and remember other mornings
herding, reaching up,
carry me Daddy.
 
(published in The Stony Thursday Book, No.6, Autumn 2007)
 
 
Originally from a farm in the west of Ireland, Jane Clarke now lives in Co. Wicklow. Her work is widely published, including in The Rialto, The North, Poetry Wales, Ambit, The Stinging Fly, The SHop and Southword, among other places. She has won or been placed in a number of competitions and was shortlisted for, among other prizes, the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Competition 2013, the Hennessy New Irish Writing Literary Awards 2013, the Hippocrates Prize (2013). She is currently completing her first collection.

Three poems by Mark Granier

 
Keys

At 18, I wore a bunch of them –– pendants
on a leather thong. I wanted secrets

to keep, the jingle, the little teeth
turning the pins, old

tangible symbols. As if I might learn to belong
by playing at being warder

to a makeshift life: the front door
to my first home, ‘Rockville’ (the only one

with an actual name); the flat
with a fire escape that stopped short

of tousled, fogbound gardens, a neighbour
calling her cat in 1974;

the padlock that released, from Stephen’s Green,
one buckled bicycle wheel;

the cardboard and leather suitcase I inherited
from grandfather, who’d kept it

under his bed, perhaps so he could sleep
on old letters, tinted postcards,

a big brass paddle and key
to a hotel room high in The Windy City.
 
(previously published in The Yellow Nib)
 
 
Bamboo

They’ve planted a low-maintenance Mohawk wall
along the drive to his school.
In blustery November, ashen stalks
click their fingers and walk
the wind through its steps –– feathery plumes
shiver and flounce with each shock

that ripples into waves –– fields of industrial crops:
breadbaskets, whole continents
where the dance is unconstrained
as a tribe of unbroken horses tossing their manes:
borderless movements that will lift
and set a person’s gaze winging, adrift.
 
 
Woodcut

Walking home through the soft-rumbling city –– Peckham shading to Camberwell –– the tone shifts, furry growls rising and falling, showing their teeth. In a street-lit car park a fox is finishing the remains of a discarded takeaway (chips and what looks like part of a burger). Silent. It’s the cats that are growling. Maybe ten, a feral gang all hackles and hisses. Edging in then backing away, lawful. Fox is oblivious, alone with its kill in the middle of a night-filled acre, the village asleep, the bypass breathing slow.
 
 
Mark Granier has published three collections of poetry,  Airborne (Salmon, 2001)  The Sky Road (Salmon, 2007) and Fade Street (Salt, 2010).  His awards include the New Writer Poetry Prize, the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize and a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship.  He currently teaches creative writing in UCD.   Mark is on Twitter @MarkGranier and his photo journal is Skyroad.

Two poems by Maurice Devitt

 
First Days of Winter

Trees blue and leafless, a doily of frost
forms on the front lawn, first peelings
of ice on pathways, winter coats
stiff and reluctant.

Words, chipped from frozen thoughts,
disappear in a blur of breath,
as movements slow and bony fingers
burrow into gloves.

Shoes, now too big for curled toes,
skate on polished tiles and soft,
summer bodies totter like china dolls,
as though death were just one fall away.
 
 
Winter Landscape

She had just finished knitting
the cat when it escaped, black
fur shredded against
the driving snow. The night

was cold enough to make
a butcher shiver, hands
fingerless fitted snugly
into gloves. She grabbed

her coat but it resisted,
sleeves clinging desperately
to a hat-stand. The trail
of paw-prints was cold

and diverged in two directions
as though she had missed
a stitch. She rolled one set
into a ball and followed

the other into a forest, trees
huddled closer than their
shadows, branches stroking
beards of snow. She expected

a house, there was always
a house but no, a lake
the size of a mirror
and on the ice an empty bobbin.

(Winter Landscape was first published by Smiths Knoll in 2011).
 

Maurice Devitt is a graduate of the MA in Poetry Studies from Mater Dei in Dublin. A Pushcart Prize nominee in 2012, he was most recently short-listed for The Doire Press International Chapbook Competition and is a member of The Hibernian Writers’ Group.

Two poems by Brendan Cleary

 
Not Yet

for Michaella

hardly surprising
your Dad on the phone
explaining in graphic detail
the intricate laws of physics
when you say you’re convinced
if you persevere that is
in the madness & chaos & wind
eventually you’ll levitate

that’s quite a lot of cushions
to be stacking up
& keep the best China
at the bottom of the other kitchen

keep your balance & concentrate
forget about your Da
think only of lonely angels
think about the dew this morning
or the frost all over the rooves

keep focus! steady girl!
you can do it!
& I’ll wait for you somehow

sure look out at those stars winking
I’ve built a stairway up to them
 
(from Face, Pighog Press, September 2013)
 
 
Lasagne

There’s something
I’ve wanted to tell you,
even when we were together,
but I thought it better
I kept it to myself.

Yes, my love,
it’s regarding your Lasagne,
it was always too dry
but I didn’t want to tell you
or mention it at the time.

Thought I’d put you in the picture
now that you’ve gone
& are cooking Lasagne
without much liquid
for somebody else.
 
(from Face, Pighog Press, September 2013)
 
 
Brendan Cleary was born in Co Antrim and now lives, writes and works as a tutor in Brighton. He has many collections, from Bloodaxe, Wrecking Ball Press & tall-lighthouse. A new Selected Poems is forthcoming in 2014 from Lagan Press, Belfast. He is Editor of The Echo Room magazine.

Two poems by John W Sexton

 
Bog Asphodel

Here I birth and here I am, tar water my start;
yet through the seeping space of bog
I erupt in yellow stars. Then nebulae
am I and I am a starnight of saffron.
Bog is the roof of the underworld,
where upside down the dead
walk with their feet shadowing the soles
of the living. Each step you take
you take onto the step of your dead self.
And down here I am the true night
of saffron stars. I am the hades of
the dull and indifferent. Down you come,
down you come to my dunlit world,
where my roots bind the heavens in place.
Cruppany I give to sheep who eat my flames
and down to hades they crumble, boneless sheep
herding the souls of dullards. Pick me oh pretty
and pin me to your hair, and my saffron dust
shall bid you, shall bid you here.
 
(from The Offspring of the Moon Salmon Poetry, 2013)
 
 
Comb

I broke a tooth on the tangled locks
of that dark-haired woman. My mouth was greased
with the grease from her un-sunned head. Only
the plughole of the bath holds more of her
than I. She keeps me on the shining lid
of the toilet cistern; lets me wait
until she’s ready. No one is more loyal
than the one she drags backwards and forwards
through that hedge of hers. I live to be taken up
and put down. Waiting is my duty too. I
lie idle most of my days, hoping she’ll
take me back near her bed. How I think
bitterly on the day I was replaced
by that silver lad. The one who spends
his days and nights a-straddle on her brush.
 
(previously published in Census 2 and The Offspring of the Moon Salmon Poetry, 2013)
 
 
John W. Sexton lives in the Republic of Ireland and is the author of five poetry collections, the most recent being The Offspring of the Moon (Salmon Poetry, 2013). Under the ironic pseudonym of Sex W. Johnston he has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons Of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records. He is a past nominee for The Hennessy Literary Award and his poem The Green Owl won the Listowel Poetry Prize 2007. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry.

Two poems by Ron Carey

 
Among Men
 
There are a few originals left – a small curmudgeon
Of diehards, one might say. Life has put something
Sharp in our water or something shaky beneath
Our pale, Tupperware skin. We’re not complaining.
That’s just the way of it. No hand-holding, thank God,
But we are interested in each other – the way old
Walruses might care who has slipped from the rocks
And not returned to shore. By day we live below
The buzz of halogen – daylight been removed. Later,
Staff Nurse clops in with a fairytale of rain and night.
At lights, some new man might let the side down. But
We are careful not to hear. By breakfast clash, we have
Regained our manliness – ready now to face the dead
Certainty of priests; prognosing doctors and the knife.
 
(first published in Cinnamon Press Winners Anthology, The Book of Euclid, 2012)
 
 
In the House of Lazarus
 
He wakes to find the journey
Still in his bones.
Outside, in dust-filled trees
A golden oriole sings;
Its song grows stronger
With the rising heat.
He swings his legs out.
A rivulet of blood
Has dried between his toes.
His sandals lie tattered
Against the wall, taking
The scent of limestone.

In the courtyard round
Water rises, like the sound
Of a crowd.
In the courtyard a woman
Prepares the grain.
On the saddle quern
The stone rolls away.
He washes himself and takes
Pleasure in being clean.
In the mirror, he sees how
Thin he has become.
And in his long black hair
The first strand of grey.
 
(first published in Cinnamon Press Winners Anthology, The Book of Euclid, 2012)
 
 
Ron Carey was born in Limerick and lives in Dublin. He has been published in New Irish Writings and The Irish Times as well as in numerous poetry journals. At the moment he is studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of South Wales (Glamorgan) and working on his first poetry collection. Follow him on Twitter @RonCarey49