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Hennessy New Irish Writing - Poetry: Caolainn


Liza Costello

Liza Costello

Liza Costello

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,

tentatively traced

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 -

reeds quivering,

a spiky circle of rock,

water glimmering.



'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.

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