She can no longer pretend to be
Looking through an open window
At sea ringing the city, through
The skypaint which appears
To have been brushed around the house.

Still I judge her life still saved
Though I say it who shouldn’t,
Give or take a few months,
This connection between the two winters,
A love that can exist only in summer.

How can the thought of her take her
Away, grain by coral grain,
Beyond the reach of outstretched arms
As though the reflection of her here,
And then there, were lying in a grape,

Whirl of rose and lemon? All at once,
Four colours have settled on her as
Impermanently as snowflakes brushing
The tree at the gate, their haloes
Like ointment or dough, yellow-white

Translucence along her underbreast’s
New nipple, harsher silver wrist
Movements pushing her left side
Gently back without smothering
What might be (please let it be!)

Her hand. Which also never turned
To the back of the book, but Mary-like
Clearly suffered decades long
In the idealised garden.
The mere gathers in the curtains

Make her sit up in a false glare
Though cheek touches floor,
And the knuckles of her skirt’s
Plain-weave linen, unaltered
At the hem, are yours

More than ever, the careful flesh
Of her formless back as it is known to be
By the no longer existing ceiling,
Of her rained-in pupil, by the autumn
Rustling to pieces the roadside elm.




Those who live inside the year,
In its ever greater lateness,
Are uncertain of its ability to end
When the calendar turns over.

It is more like the weakness
Of my mind than the strength of yours —
As if there were no such serpent
In the slice of the house — in the wide town.

During the next month she came round
To a perusal of her bracelets
And her ultra-Irish body, the marriage
That might be in the north of the future air.

My two-piece calico, clockwork, creeping
Doll, so indestructible, so heavy she was
Moved about on rollers
With large, protruding gears,

My talking doll nearly as perfect
As machinery could be, enigmatic,
Vain, mute and delicate, with voice
Too faint to be heard,

When the sheet music inside
Her doll head with two opposite faces
And movable lower lip, stuck,
Buzzing like an entrapped bee.




The horizon line embraces the drowsy river docks:
The deep peacock patch of water reaching the dark
Blends with it.

The hills pick up a saintly pallor
From the skin of one doing penitence.
The swallows linger on, as if they forgot.

I gaze into the sealed eyes of my mother,
Seen, not visited, not forgotten,
In the centre of her own picture,
Who wove her own background
With no Martha-work to be done,
As women look when they return to their places
Errorless after Communion.

In her rare low moods
She remembers the next five days as twelve
And compares an unheard of number of things
To be abreast of the incurable
Having no choice but to return
To the end of thought.

In the evenings I can switch the light on from indoors
To illuminate the shroud
Of irises over the urn of jasmine.



[Medbh McGuckian currently teaches in Belfast at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry and her last collection was called My Love Has Fared Inland published by Peter Fallon Gallery Press, County Meath.]

Copyright © 2010 by Medbh McGuckian, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.