Róisín Kelly was born in Northern Ireland in 1990 but has mostly lived south of the border. After completing her MA in Writing at NUI Galway she moved to Cork to partake in the city’s literary scene. Last year she had poetry published in Doire Press’s North Beach Nights: Anthology Three, and had a short story featured in Adventure Hat, the anthology brought out by the Black Fort Writers. She also won the short story competition run by NUIG’s student newspaper, and was shortlisted in both the poetry and fiction categories for the Cúirt New Writing Prize 2013. She has had a poem published in the latest issue of Wordlegs, and currently writes reviews for Cork publications Southword and Insert Title.
Write what you know, they say. Even so
I have tried to imitate
those who have urged
poetry from the wound of history
kicking and screaming:
a forceps birth. Palm on the atlas
as if swearing on the Bible
I have tasted for words
of far-off places of which
I know nothing.
But it turns out I have only words
for love, and not-love.
For the way you rested your head
on your arm when you slept.
Perhaps you still do?
For the two of us running down
to the corner shop for biscuits
the way others race for liquor
against the 10 p.m. closing time
at the off-licence.
For the useless waterfall of days after
you left, the glittering void.
And I have words, too, for what
I know of here:
Leitrim and its bogland
the back-ache of days stacking turf.
The farmer laughed at the mediocrity
of my stacks, toppled them
like little ruined castles
and told me to start again.
Sometimes, cut turf
never makes it to the trailer, or the fire
and over the years
becomes rotten with moss-growth.
Sometimes, I wish
that houses did not mark out
the distant boundary of brown bog
but that it continued, edgeless
to the horizon.
I walk in the bog, and long
to lie down in its sodden grasses
and I write of it.
And once, I raised my eyes
to a late summer sky after rain
where dark clouds edged
with sunset’s gold lace were parting
to reveal a lake-blueness beyond
like a glimpse of heaven.
By Lough Errew
Mammy’s making fish fingers for dinner
and Daddy’s late home from work. Crash,
crash, crash—the boys tipping Lego
onto their bedroom floor.
The dog lies by the fire
and smells of wet fur. When Mammy
and Daddy aren’t here, we melt crayons
on the hearth
with the poker’s red heat. At night,
bats cheep beneath the eaves.
Rats steal socks from the hot press.
Baths are shared.
Raspberries in the fridge
go uneaten and grow a fine grey fur.
Mammy doesn’t like my cemetery for bees.
I am a weird child, she says,
getting rid of the little bee corpses.
She likes to wash her hair with water
from the rain barrel.
Daddy teaches me to ride a bike
on the tree-lined Avenue.
Down to the No Shooting—
Wildlife Sanctuary sign and back again.
In the shed, our baby toys
lie dusty and forlorn.
Mammy and Daddy never knew
about the boat, the lake,
dusk creeping amongst the reeds
and we like Moses in his basket.
The frying pan spits.
Tyres crunch in the driveway.
The boys gallop downstairs.
Mammy and I are walking here again
after a fifteen-year exile.
By the lake, I take my camera
and look at her in the viewfinder.
The autumn sun is too bright.
The lake reeds rustle
and she looks at them as if suspicious
of a hidden secret, a little boat.
The Memory of Touch
They say my friend’s grandmother
is a white witch, a bandraoi,
who lives alone above Kerry cliffs.
People like her still exist
in the country
with their healing hands: farmers,
and butchers’ wives who can cure
Your hands on my naked back,
from guitar strings, palms warm
with unnatural heat,
like burning ash over my skin.
You traced a glowing pattern.
Images rose beneath your touch:
you sketched the soft
shuffle of flowers opening,
the Eiffel Tower at sunset,
two birds in the sky
of a blue-painted canvas.
A twitch in your fingers
as your conjured heart-shaped chocolates
from my flesh
before plucking them
one by one
and putting them to your tongue.
Your hands were the sun,
a healing heat that seeped
through my bones.
When I laid my own palms on you,
I asked what you felt
and you said, Nothing,
except for your hands.
In the Woods
As you lie in the woods with a boy
on raincoats spread out
over damp ground
the sea whispering to itself close by
dusk blurring all to shadow
so that your naked bodies glow
like pale worms writhing beneath a sky
of leaves, you do not foresee
that in less than a year’s time
you will be waiting for a different boy
below a cherry blossom tree
by the bridge.
As he picks petals from your hair
a pink snow falls
around both of you, settling
gently on the river
to be carried down that flat silver road
past spires and rooftops
leaning against peaceful clouds
and you smile—
but your frantic soul scurries
along clotted paths between fern-drip,
moss-soak, where the sea roars
near all-day darkness.
The Girl Made of Sugar
Here is a girl made of sugar.
Taste her body, her eyes, these lips.
Please, she almost begs, let me
convince you of sweetness to the core.
My breasts are candied apples
my fingers succulent with caramel.
See how my skin glistens
as though frozen
with bright grains, bright
as my sugar-cube teeth. The stories
I’ll tell you will have happy endings
if we argue you’ll always win
and if I hear something I don’t like
then I’ll swallow it
like syrup, biting it behind
an ever-loving smile.
But one by one, all turn away
from her loosened, rotting teeth
and quietly, without complaint
the sugar-girl slowly dissolves.