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find: Poetry Ireland

Mary O'Malley  

poet, literature, Ireland

The Shape of Saying

They call it Received English
as if it was a gift you got
by dint of primogeniture.
Maybe it was. Old gold words
toned like concert violins,
tuned to talk to God.

After the French and Latin wars
I relished the poppies of Donne
though I thought this graceful foreign tongue
was only meant for men -
all right for the likes of Coleridge
but it gave me unpleasant dreams.

They say we cannot speak it
and they are right.

It was hard and slippery as pebbles,
full of cornered consonants
and pinched vowels, all said
from the front of the mouth -
no softness, no sorrow,
no sweet lullabies -
until we shook it by the neck and shook it.

We sheared it, carded it, fleeced it
and finally wove it
into somethng of our own,
fit for curses and blessings
for sweet talk and spite,
and the sound of hearts rending,
the sound of hearts tearing.

from Where Rocks Float, Salmon Publishing, 1993.
Printed in Arts Dialogue, June 2000, page 22.


They came in lovely leathery cars
from their big houses
being nice. What was the evening line
of roofless coastguard stations
black against the bedtime sky
to them, or the round towers
of Slyne Head?

They had pillars and porticoes
and Georgian houses where they sat
speaking of Beethoven and Bach.
They listened to the golden music
at nightfall, and they knew
what each instrument was called.

The little girl twisted.
When they were gone she asked God
for the gift of tongues.

From Where the Rocks Float, 1993, Salmon Publishing, Dublin, Ireland. Printed in Arts Dialogue, June 1999.

The Storm

A spray of red carnations on the sill.
A fire framed in limestone waxes
in my semi-detached living room.

The habitual inventory of my men,
who is running for shore
who safe on what island, completes me.
I am waiting for the storm
and all the boats are in.
For two days I have bowstringed.

A humming deep in the ocean
vibrates me like a high tuned violin.
Every muscle, drawn like wire, sizzles

The wind rises. Locked in woodlands
I hear it tuning ash and oak
as i am hauled to where the sea
is shaping new mountains. At midnight
mad airs howl like wolves
and all the trees are bending.

Swaddle in the harbour of my bed
I am rocked on seethng water
absorbed in a green dance
that devours quays and laughts
at storm walls. I am a breaker
replacing beaches with boulders.

I fling wrack on a curved canvas
of ruined shore and fish drown
in my fury. The music crescendos,
ebbs, I sleep. Deep, deep, dreamless.
At evening I survey my redrawn beaches
satisfying new sand with footsteps.

The wanting moon hushes me home
where I am needed and Handel
is flowing from the radio.

From Where the Rocks Float, 1993, Salmon Publishing, Dublin, Ireland. Printed in Arts Dialogue, June 1999.

Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands