Breda Wall Ryan – Three poems

Breda Wall Ryan lives in Co.Wicklow. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies, including The New Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction, and The Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories 2007. She was shortlisted for a Hennessy Literary Award for Fiction, The Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award and The Francis MacManus Short Story Award. She has completed The Hardest Winter and Other Stories and a poetry collection, A Cure for Death.


Horse Stance

I mean to leave
before night draws in
and photo-sensors trigger
the lights along the N11.
I mean to drive away
from the sloping field
where the brood mare
braces herhind quarters
and pours her yellow stream
onto the autumn grass.

on flexed hindquarters,
she is facing down
a ground invasion
of oncoming pylons
advancing high-tension cables
across the Wicklow hills,
standing her ground
against thrumming air
in a cloud of her own steam.

I mean to leave
before they take all her sky.


Watching Alice

Down there, Alice says,
the Borrowers are.
She shows me a miniature
family in her picture book.
Her forehead is printed
with the cracks between boards
from peering under the floor.

Cheek pressed flat
to the window-pane,
she waves to the hearse
leaving her house,
the following cars, the man
in a high-viz vest
dismantling the temporary barrier.

They are the buriers, taking
granddad to live under ground.
He’ll come out when he’s small
and we are asleep.
She leaves him a little cake
where the skirting board
and floor don’t meet.

She wants to stay up late
to see him changed to Borrower
from ‘human bean’.
Someone has told her
some facts about death
but Alice is telling herself
a story she can bear.


Cailín Rua

  (After various Old Master paintings of  Mary Magdalene)

The shade of misfortune,
islanders whispered; a touch of the tinker’s fire.
They kept her under the roof, for fear sun
might fan flame in her hair.
Abroad at first light, one sight of her
turned fishermen back from the shore.
Warned away from the boats,
she stripped off her homespun,
swam with the tide to the mainland,
drifted down trade winds,
discovered new worlds. At the Louvre,
Prado, Uffizi, and Pompidou
she learned Magdalene, too,
was a cailín rua; the Masters
brushed her tresses cadmium and carmine
till sparks flew – she wasn’t a natural gold –
cardinals condemned
her henna-spiced hair as trademark,
like a barber’s pole or usurer’s golden balls.
Whore’s flag, they preached. Penitent’s footwipe.

The island woman will not be harlotized,
though the gleam of copper draws
men from Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
She lifts a gold-flecked hank off her neck
to fall with the cool rustle of barley sheaves
over speckled shoulders,
draws a twisted braid across a brow
damp with the sun’s tears,
declines to say
if it is she, glass in hand, on the Quay d’Orsay,
or spread nude over rocks at the Hermitage,
Titian locks a cascade to her waist,
face turned away. That flame-haired incognita
snapped in poor light leaving a yacht at Marseille —
or arriving? The intimate shot with the Jewish host
at a farewell supper in The Upstairs Room? —
No comment. A life in pictures: museworthy glimpses.
She remembers tarred currachs burning,
keeps omerta.



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