Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nessa O'Mahony

Waiting Room

The rules for survival:
don’t catch an eye
on the first day,
look away
if their blank grief
grazes over you.

If still here the next,
permit a faint smile,
a nod to a fellow traveller.
But keep your space,
don’t approach
unless invited
and only then
with care.

Avoid those
with a story to tell,
a need to eat you alive
as they rave
about hands squeezed,
the twitch of a closed eye.

You can’t spare
a shred, a prayer;
it’s dog eat dog here.
The odds are too high,
if somebody has to die,
let the noose swing


No news is good news

The sun has returned,
drawing me out 
to the seafront where you’d take
your constitutional.

The last time you came here
I was three thousand miles away.
I had to imagine your promenade
down the pier, then your choice:
left for the cliff walk,
right to Gallows Point.

Just names, then,
innocent of intent.

Now, sixty plus nautical miles
from where you lie
in your hospital bed,
the wind whips up,
gives excuse for the tears
that spring unaccountably often,
though there’s no threat,
they tell me.

No news is good news, I’m told.
And like a bold child
I feel cheated
that I must wait here
to check the phone for messages,
take my place in the queue
for family updates,
cling to each sign of progress
relayed long distance,
a tube removed,
an improved gulp
promising food.

Strange days.

Did I ever tell you that once,
back home in Churchtown,
glancing round your door
to say goodnight,
I caught your bowed back,
your bent knees,
a 78-year-old
Christopher Robin?

I crept out,

Last night
I knelt by my bed,
joined my hands,
bowed my head,
said the words
you taught me
four decades ago,
though the order
may have been wrong
and the list of the dead



The long goodbye

It has been a year
since you left
the hospital whites,
and were swallowed up
by your own chair
at the fire
we haven’t lit
for years.

You’ve gradually
filled out,
reasserted your
grip of space,
of the remote control,
sprawl now like you own
the joint (and you still do).

Perhaps you don’t need
the iron rail on the stair,
perhaps you do;
when I follow you up
I refuse
to notice.

Will it be this
I remember,
a swooped kiss
on your head
as you sit before
the computer screen
that baffles you
more than ever?

Or scattered images,
cine-camera jerked,
of the heart-throb,
younger you
out the back,
or on a Sunday walk
when Dodder Park
never looked lovelier?


Accident & Emergency

That is no country for old men;
the young get sloshed
and stagger through double doors,
tattoos on their arms,
eyes stoned.
The old men wait,
knowing their turn
is a moveable feast
despite the bluecoat’s promises
they are eighth on the list.

And still they wait,
observe the to and fro,
the quick dispatch
of those who arrived
much later than they,
assess whose recovery
would seem the better bet.

Day crawls into night,
the digital clock
a silent mockery
(you’d need a calendar in here),
names called,
anyone’s but theirs.

Glued to wheelchairs,
their motions
at the whim
of orderlies.

The old men wait;
they know they have no choice.
It has been ordained
by those who perhaps forget
how time passes.


Deserted Village, Achill Island
in memory of my father

A gap between showers,
blue filtering half-light,
so we take our chances
on the slopes of Slievemore.

Those who’d called it home
knew about impermanence,
the reach of bog,
the gaping sockets of roofs.

Hap-hazarding lazy beds,
slip-slides of water
pouring down
the side of the mountain,
we settle for the track,
the safety of shale and quartz.

Sun wets white shards,
crystal lures us
as the track forks
to where a burnt-out digger
acts sentinel over oil slicks;
wind chimes music:
a plastic bottle
trapped by bog-lethe.

The quarry opens out,
slag-heaps improbably white,
as if someone had cleared snow
into neat piles,
or had scattered detergent
like there was no need tomorrow,
no white sheets to be spread out,
no single rose bud to be left
beside a hospital bed.


Invisible Monument

In a town square in Germany
an artist lifts 300 cobblestones.
Over a year he etches,
one by one, with painstaking care
the name that attached
some soul to flesh, to bones
that were rendered later
by fellow countrymen.

When done, he replaces
each face down
so the inscription is hidden,
and feet can step unaware
as footfall presses the name
deeper into the earth it sprang from.
We had one stone
carved with a name and a date
and a wishing;
planted it wind-ward.

Is it better, that facing up,
than memory that shifts shape,
reduces dimensions
to whatever fraction
the wind will weather?


Notes for an exhibit

Spotfin Porcupine Fish, Cuba 1991,
D.J. O’Mahony, MI31.1992
It catches the eye:
half globe, half water-mine,
outrage suspended
in display case 781 Vertebrata Pisces
on the first floor landing.

When threatened, it doubles in size,
swallows air and water, bristles spines,
sends neurotoxins till each tip sizzles
with venom more potent than cyanide.
Still netted all the same,
(there is no armour against fate)
transformed to artefact,
presented in great state
to one who’d done some service.

What else need we know?
That it spent a year
atop a china cabinet,
caught dust, snagged cloth?
That it was the extra guest
at many a family party?
That, seeing it encased,
a grandson made an excited phone-call?

A six-inch black-type card
acknowledges the donor
of whom little is known;
his dates are found elsewhere.

© Nessa O’Mahony

Excerpt of poems from Nessa O’Mahony’s new collection of poetry, Her Father’s Daughter, Salmon Poetry 2014. http://www.salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=344&a=12


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