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Four Poems by Sinéad Morrissey
PN Review 105, September - October 1995
Hazel Goodwin Morrissey Brown
I salvaged one photograph from the general clear-out, plucked
(Somehow still dripping) from the river of my childhood.
You in your G.D.R.-Worker phase, salient, rehabilitated:
Reagan, you can't have your Banana Republic and eat it!
Your protest banner and your scraped back hair withstood the flood.
I've hung your smile beside your latest business card: Nuskin Products.
Contact address: Titirangi, New Zealand. Out there a psychic
Explained how, in a previous life, I'd been your mother,
Guillotined during the French Revolution. You were my albino son.
You saw fire in the windows. This time round we returned to the garrison –
Swanned round Paris in the summer playing guess-your-lover.
I wonder how many of our holidays have closed down cycles.
Anyway, I believe it. Because when you drove to the airport
And didn't come back, it was dèjá vu. And I had to fight,
As all mothers do, to let you go. Our lived-in space
Became a house of cards, and there was nothing left to do but race
For solid ground. You settled your feathers after the flight
In a fairytale rainforest. Discovered the freedom of the last resort.
If words became things
I'd watch a stream of unfortunates
Fall from the mouth –
Worn shoes and a megaphone
Blasting the second-hand
Book of the self: animal masks,
Nitrate, and all the small-minded
Weapons of fear – double-edged
Penknives, the hypodermic,
The wasp –
They spill like sewage and dismay.
I dream of the mouth as a nest
Giving flight to
Gold letters and chimes,
Witch-hazel, a lighthouse,
An oak beam, a warm sea
And a bright white body
In the act
Of forgetting itself –
Shuddering with love.
Never looked me in the eye for weeks on end.
Or if you did, I was elsewhere
And you did it sideways. We were
Two fast crabs digging into the sand.
Now there are no holds barred. Painfully,
Sometimes. The urgency you need to defy
Modesty! Meanwhile I've slipped out with the tide,
Astonished at how I return such scrutiny.
He must have practised for hours
Between the bins and the mattresses
Of a rented back yard
To dance the seven painted skittles
Off his fingers like that.
He has the game whittled
To art. God knows what
Anachronism he took up before,
Using medieval skills to stop
Time: he puts the clock back
Nine hundred years
With this sideshow for a quack
Or diversion for a king.
Still, or because of the drain
Of things modern, we ring
Him with faces. He knows
How we anticipate failure
And that what he owes
His audience is a defiance
Of breakdown. We watch as his magic
Creates the radiance
Of a spinning blue arc, brought
Slowly to standstill. Natural begrudgers,
We are nevertheless caught
By the weightlessness, the controlled
Mechanics of air
With all the improbables cajoled
Into truth, we are not as far out
From faith as we were.
Sinéad Morrissey was born in Northern Ireland in 1972 and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Her awards include a Lannan Literary Fellowship (2007), First Prize in the UK National Poetry Competition (2007), the Irish Times Poetry Now Award (2009, 2013) and the T.S. Eliot Prize (2013). In 2016 she received the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. On Balance was awarded the Forward Prize in 2017. Her selected poems, Found Architecture, was published in 2020. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2019. She has served as Belfast Poet Laureate (2013-14) and is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.
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