Hennessy New Irish Writing - Poetry: Caolainn
The day began like any.
In the morning-empty yard
Caolainn turned the quern
and oats tumbled forward
fell as dust at her feet,
then she leaned against the fence
took in the paling sky
and tried to feel her lost one present.
'That's a pair of eyes,'
said the stranger down the way.
Caolainn pulled her shawl tighter,
wondered how long he'd been there.
'You don't think so?' he said
and he crab-stepped closer
until his elbow grazed her elbow
and his heat shifted to her.
'Leave me be,' she said quietly
'or I'll tear them out of my head.'
His laugh was like nettle stings
so her fingers slid beneath her lids
and nails grubbed up with blood,
worked through sinews and film
until each hand held one
and Caolainn saw nothing.
She threw her eyes at his sounds
and clambered over the fence,
crawled through night-black meadow,
until cold climbed her legs
and she lay still as a shell
with nothing left
but the bone-bleached now
the bones of herself.
Into that moment of nothing
skated a blackbird's song.
A soft wind brought
the scent of whitethorn,
the nape of that sweat-slick neck
until Caolainn's fingers curled
around thin, biting stems,
and pulled until the earth let go,
then she pulled herself to her feet,
and with her handfuls
scoured the wet sockets
until Caolainn could see -
a spiky circle of rock,
'That's intelligence', she concluded
about the flight of migratory birds.
'Not instinct. Intelligence.'
And she glared around at us.
Another time: 'There's far worse sins
than sex, girls. Far worse.' And once
as if it was a piece of limestone
she passed along a jar of mercury -
all creeping silver and dark,
hands sinking with the poisonous weight.
She believed topography shaped character.
That's why Kerry people were sharper.
The things she said about the other nuns
had lab stools jerk with our laughter,
she who brought only herself
from the mountains
and for that sin spent years
in a convent kitchen scouring pots.
On the last school day, we told her
all year she'd not done
a single experiment with us.
In that double class, she did the lot.
A lost photo I hope still shows
Bunsen burners, tripods, tubes, smoke,
girls turned wild with the dizzy gift,
in the centre of it all, Sister Bernard.
Years later I visited her in the nursing home.
She wanted the flowers I brought
to be from my father
so I said they were.
'A gentleman, your father.'
He'd probably agree about the birds
Many years he witnessed them
gather on the wire by the house
until the wind carried them off
and all that was left was the silence.
As a deer I would wake
to kaleidoscope green,
thud through sudden rain,
graze on harvested sunshine.
So when you followed me
to the forest's tangled heart
and desire returned me
to my old form
and the clutter of words
part of me hated you.
Now our child stirs
awkward inside me
his kicks sudden
and hard as hooves.
Liza Costello writes poetry and fiction. Her writing has been published in the Stinging Fly and other magazines.
In 2011, she won the Dromineer Literary Festival poetry competition.
From Westmeath, she now lives in Dublin.