Lorna Shaughnessy is a permanent member of staff in Spanish Department, at NUI Galway. She has published in the areas of modern Spanish and Latin American poetry, with a special interest in poetry and politics in Mexico and Central America. She recently published articles in the area of Classical Reception Studies, exploring the political uses of classical mythology by twentieth-century writers Alfonso Reyes and Michele Najlis.. Other publications include translations of contemporary Mexican poetry: Mother Tongue: Selected Poems by Pura López Colomé and María Baranda’s If We Have Lost Our Oldest Tales (both Arlen House, 2006). In 2012 her translation of a collection of poems by award-winning Galician writer Manuel Rivas was launched in the Cúirt International Literature Festival. She has published two collections of poetry: Torching the Brown River (Salmon Poetry, 2008) and Witness Trees (Salmon Poetry, 2011). Her teaching includes the areas of Spanish Language, Hispanic Literatures and Translation Studies.
The Limestone Bowl
Scant winter rains are not enough
to flood Carran’s limestone bowl.
No swans this year, just a small flock of starlings
that rise in a caligrapher’s upward stroke.
The turlough is empty
but my cup today is full
of the gifts that friends have chosen
to mark the succession of another year:
a pair of steady hands on the wheel,
the yellow sun of a freshly-baked cake,
crafted words to read aloud in a parked car.
The new season enters discreetly
in the wake of death, tip-toeing
behind the mourners’ procession.
No drama, ice or snow, not even rain.
Just the slow, upward thrust of white tips
unobserved until today.
The old god has ridden hard all night,
his sweat-flecked steeds straining
to clear the sky of a year’s detritus.
We stir into February, squinting and stunned
by unexpected light, our movements jerky
and out of sync on the path’s icy sheen,
take our bearings and turn south
through the gentle swell and roll
of fields unscarred by winter storms,
past deep-rooted trees with outstretched limbs
grown slowly into steadfast greeting.
Abroad in a smiling, windless land
we adapt our customs to a milder clime,
sit on a harbour wall to drink tea, observe the horizon,
photograph the water’s startling blue.
On the headland, waves break in caves beneath our feet
grumbling with the thunder of contained gales,
the open sea growls but means no harm
and spray teases small boys into a squealing dance.
Our thrown stones break through the water’s skin
to plunge with pure compulsion beneath the surface
to the thrumming drag of the current, out and out and out.
Shoes leather-wet in early mushroom-spotting meadow-
walk past spider-gauzed hedges a sticky end for some
swell-berries darkening rusty red to black sloe-
shaded sparrows hedge-busying as September
sun sparks high larksong over fly-crusted cowpats
last flutter-bys float and double dog-tail gate-keepers
wet-nose boots strolling hill-down to hand-scratching
eye-stinging clusters of fruit picked for muslin-staining
drip and thicken-stirred boiling then viscous glug-
pouring into parchment-topped jars
label-dated and snap-lidded jewels
to hold up to window-slanted light.
The rower’s eyes are fixed on the shore he has left.
He knows where he has come from
and he will not lose sight of it
till the pull of the length of his body,
all his vigour and resolution
propel him far upriver
to negotiate currents, steer clear of reed-beds,
endure the bullying wash of bigger craft.
And when that shore has faded to a pale blue line
he must divine what’s at his back,
a future not yet seen but sounded
with rhythm in his stroke,
strength in his back
intuition in his heart.
She wore fur to Mass, mink gifted by a sister in America.
The chapel was cold and I practised writing my name
in matt, back-brushed letters that dissolved
in the silky pile of her sleeve.
The real wonders began when she changed
out of her Sunday-best and placed the chicken-gizzards on a plate,
an improvised lesson in biology. I hovered round the sink
of coiling waxy apple-peel, angling to suck the eye-stinging cores
or steal a sugared slice or two before the tart was sealed,
or follow my father’s call to walk the dog, skip and prattle
through park gates, climb onto the stoic, stone lion’s back,
run and kick leaves till hunger sent us back to the embrace
of Sunday’s smell as the kitchen door opened and the cool damp
of our skin and hair met condensation on the windows
and if grace was never said, it burnished every surface,
the day to feast, to savour the aromas of abundance,
flood the senses and reward the week’s endeavours.
Words gather in fragments of a life well lived,
restrained notes vibrate in the breastbone,
the colours of stained-glass speckle white walls.
The casket lifts like a boat. Three sons,
the bearers, borne up by a shared past
and by love, the oarsman who always looks backwards,
always rows with his back to the unknown.
Beneath a pew the wings of a dying moth pulse feebly,
the movement tenuous, barely perceptible
but still too much, too much to ask –
the rise and fall of the human chest
a battered hull adrift in a hospital bed –
the devotion of a whole body to this one
barely attainable act: to breathe.
By the time I look down again the moth is still.
In that moment beyond witness,
split second between the opening
and closing of wings
did a life just float away?
Or were the memories
so relentlessly forgotten