Talisman and Other Guards


Act 1

I look at her hands.
They are hands in a dream.
Not even a dream, more like a parallel place.
Not of my people’s bones or skin.
‘Pass me your hands.’
Will they be palm up,
as for a reading, or down?
‘You will live longer than you think.
You will love clouds.’
Clouds in her palm have passed.
Those near-death experiences
have made her.
‘Come,’ she says with
a firmness that fills me.
She holds a guy rope and a tent peg.
I will come.
I don’t care that there is no tent.



                                                                                  Between the Acts (i)

                                                                                  ‘I feel like running.’
                                                                                  ‘Don’t run.’
                                                                                  Everything said was written in a black
                                                                                  notebook left behind on a 747.
                                                                                  The running ran all down my legs as if
                                                                                  they were bound too tightly,
                                                                                  hardening in plaster of Paris before
                                                                                  that dreadful itch.

                                                                                  We wanted to wash our faces
                                                                                  but that would spoil the make-up.
                                                                                  One of us stretched,
                                                                                  the other checked her emails.
                                                                                  We veered between loving the lines
                                                                                  and being thoroughly bored by them.
                                                                                  Did the theme deliver the words
                                                                                  or vice versa?

                                                                                  She poured herself a glass of Rioja. 
                                                                                  ‘Never before the second act,’ I said.
                                                                                  There was a three-dot pause to notice
                                                                                  the green language of eyes. 
                                                                                  Our cunts didn’t discuss it. 
                                                                                  There was no nudity.  Age had made
                                                                                  someone else with our bodies.  We
                                                                                  knew not to spend the audience all in
                                                                                  one go, not to touch everywhere on
                                                                                  the first night. One couldn’t come for
                                                                                  weeks until the other said, ‘It doesn’t
                                                                                  matter, it’s not all about coming.’  But
                                                                                  it was.  It is.  There is no opening night
                                                                                  if nothing will open.



Act 2

After three months, the weeping stopped.
First, the tears love demands to be renewed,
then tears of trust working through.
Kissing made our mouths
alike.  None of this can be repeated.

The white travel stone she gives me
gets grubby with coin grease and graphite.
You can’t choose someone’s luck for them.
I return safely in a one-piece bathing suit.
We promise to leave couple habits at the wayside.
A wayside proves hard to find.
We plump for an underpass.

All tracks lead somewhere:
the corner of a kitchen; a certain view;
a run in the car, before a rite is a rut.
When her mother died, she found boxes
filled with thousands of photographs
of her pet dog eating its food. 
That was all.  The dog and the bowl. 
Every day.  Who’s to say where ritual comes from? 
Telesma, Medieval Greek, travelled
the wind into Arabic as tilsam, tilsaman.



                                                                                  Between the Acts (ii)

                                                                                  Things get deeper as they get rougher. 
                                                                                  All hands on deck.
                                                                                  A sailor doesn’t know her craft
                                                                                  until it hits a storm.  Words at the
                                                                                  wrong pitch, wrong speed.  We
                                                                                  breathe, slowly, s*p*a*c*i*o*u*s*l*y.

                                                                                  One smiles.  The other is not ready to.
                                                                                  She was only acting meditating.
                                                                                  The former is profuse in sorry 
                                                                                  like heavy summer rain.
                                                                                  The latter grasps the handrail tighter,
                                                                                  braced against a gale that has passed.
                                                                                  She liked the way the wind blasted
                                                                                  her, blew all the wrinkles away.  Rage
                                                                                  takes you out of time.

                                                                                  The one with the better memory hurts
                                                                                  more.  Hurt congeals like facts. 
                                                                                  To forgive is to forget a fact.
                                                                                  I have met her to be taught this. 
                                                                                  I step out.
                                                                                  ‘I’m sorry too.’



Act 3

We walk in circles, one leading
then the other.  If instinct is in our bones,
does it shrink when bones tighten? 

Sun underscores the evening clouds.
She calls me to look at their unframed reds.
Romance is no talisman for love.

A bell rings.  We sit down side-by-side.
‘How shall we live?’ I ask.
‘Don’t wait in each other’s wings.’





Fire & Wings

The Spanish hang small plaques of bits
that ail them from the church’s rafters:
an embossed tin leg or arm, a plaster heart.
I have brought my milagro above the sea
for the clearing prayer of salt and silence.


Most children sleep through a smoke alarm.
Boys more so than girls.  The parents who set
fire to their house did not know this.
All six died.  What form does memory take
after something like that?  What body part
do you raise up, and where?


Motes disband against a green wall in a sunlit room.
What passed for touch that summer: a veil of gold scurf. 
The wind on the road through Ally Pally tasted sweet. 
‘It’s smoke,’ said the young boy.  I took his hand
at the bus-stop, sent a hush into it.  The relations walked
backwards, shaking the urn, then tidied their hair. 
Family gusted up our bare arms.


You’d think it would be instinct to throw
the fire’s ashes over the garden wall, she said.
It was so wild I couldn’t see the garden’s edges.
An old Irish saying: death is a garden with no wall around it.
Or is that new poitín in an old lemonade bottle?


You burnt and flew while still in the body,
vibrant, poor, as Jean Rhys in a Paris café.
The moon in the noon sky.  We know it without the dark.
You did not fade.  You set. 


The dug grave has definite edges.  You feel the cold
for the corpse.  It can hear you think.  Especially at dusk. 
You go with the body and then you have to stop.  Carcass. 
Carrion.  Words you push away from your friend’s ears. 
You picture earth’s process and then you stop. 
It seems disloyal not to wait for the skull, the body over. 
If imagination’s sick, put it to another use, another matter.


You were topped with joy
and morphine.  You let me hold
your hand because you were
recovering poise and privacy slowly.
If you’d known, you’d have kept
your hand away.  Pity sealed
you in sickness.  You had no truck
with it.  Your lack of complaint
saved the light of your inner life.


Grief is promiscuous. 
It leaps to a previous death or one to come
or the family you didn’t create,
all the unsustained songs.


Smoke from crematoria is checked
for levels of pollution.  An inspector comes. 
I can’t tell you this.  Different pigments
have different weights.  You knew this. 
Were you a neon Breughel in the night sky?
Better you were scattered now.  That dark
and still somewhere is no place
for careering thoughts, mobile sentences. 
I imagine you on this Atlantic wind, the coast
remote and battered, where your electricity
landed at 5am, telling me to quit being morose
and live the cure like you, like a crofter.


When Agnes Martin was ninety-two,
she laid down the metal ruler
that had measured decades in floating grids,
testing the space between replica and repetition –
the vast flaws in peace.  Her last, small drawing
was the freehand curve of a vague pot,
rising into pods, or leaves, possibly fruit.                                





[Cherry Smyth is an Irish writer, living in London.  Her first two poetry collections, When the Lights Go Up, 2001 and One Wanted Thing, 2006 were published by Lagan Press. The Irish Times wrote of this collection: ‘Here is clarity and realism, couched in language that is accessible and inventive. The title poem carries all Smyth's hallmarks: precision, linguistic inventiveness and joy.’ Her third collection Test, Orange (2012), was published by Pindrop Press and her debut novel, Hold Still, Holland Park Press, appeared in 2013. She also writes for visual art magazines including Art Monthly. She is currently a Royal Literary Fellow and is working on a punk libretto. See]

Copyright © 2017 by Cherry Smyth, 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.