Terence Winch’s most recent poetry collections are This Way Out (Hanging Loose Press, 2014) and Lit from Below (Salmon Poetry [Ireland], 2013). He has received various awards and honors, including an American Book Award (for Irish Musicians/American Friends, Coffee House Press, 1986), an NEA grant, and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing. He is a regular contributor to the Best American Poetry blog. His poems appear in more than 40 anthologies, including The Oxford Book of American Poetry and five editions of Best American Poetry. His mother, Bridie Flynn, was from Loughrea.
One sister is leaving for Sweden.
Two sisters are arguing in the living room
while a third sister makes furtive
phone calls from the bathroom.
Another sister has died.
The sisters are all beautiful.
They knit, they cook, they write
books about the meaning
of life. They always look
good, even on a bad day.
Even the word sister is
insistent. Some sisters live
in a convent, some lie naked
on a bed in a dark room,
waiting for a caress.
They dress and undress
twenty times a day.
If I had a wish it would be
to have been there on the day
my sisters caught a giant fish
in Florida, and afterwards
began beautiful lives of
mystery in the female
universe, where the laws
of science are known to sway.
Was it the brave men dying
or the sad girls crying that made
all those bells ring out? A million
of us climb out onto the big hands
of the clock and turn it back a hundred
years. There we see the bodies piled
high and the buildings laid low.
We hear someone on a street
corner singing a song about
the strangers, how they came
to stay and would never go away.
We are marching up the avenue.
We are drilling and training in secret
in the countryside. Someday the hands
will spring us back into the lap
of the everyday, where we find
ourselves right now, alive and free,
scanning our debit cards
with nothing, it seems, to fear
in the spring time of the year.
Where are the old ladies of the old neighborhood
shoveling the snows of yesteryear off the sidewalks
and stoops—Mrs. Keenan, overweight mother of ten,
dead too soon, or Mrs. Kennedy, also overweight,
mother of cops and garbage men, and her youngest
who died at 40, or Aunt Tess, my beautiful old Aunt
Tess, whose apple pies I want always to be available
to me, as I want her wise, funny, complaining voice
right now on the other end of this phone?
Where is Mother Augustine and her 4th grade students?
There are desks for them and lessons to be mastered.
There are pretzels and cookies, ink wells, Pope pictures,
Jesus incantations, pledges of allegiance, multiplication
tables, mite boxes, catechism questions, lunchtime
in the street, with tag, and johnny on the pony,
and points, and stickball, until the bell rings
them all back inside for more.
Where are Maria, Barbara, Mary Ann, Pat, and
Bernadette? Round, ripe, smart, tough, full of nerve,
they have wandered far away, to California, New Jersey,
Connecticut, to a secret village by a river or lake
where they lie awake at night examining their consciences,
their bodies, their moonlit memories of lost nights
in the forgotten Bronx of our earliest delights.
I can’t think of anything else
to talk with you about. We have
discussed our jobs, our daily commute,
the foods we like and don’t like.
You have ordered wine. I get a Pepsi.
People have died. We acknowledge that.
We’re here and they’re not. You get up
early. I get up late. I want to tell you
that I see your special dead person still,
mostly in the subway. She was wonderful.
Your new girlfriend is also a gem. How is
it possible to love people who no longer
exist? But they’re everywhere, coming
and going in the world of the dead
as though they haven’t torn us in pieces
with their absence. They observe us
intently. We are fish in a fishbowl to them.
They watch from afar while we struggle to swim.
Old people cry too much.
They walk in the morning
to the railway station.
Their hearts are breaking.
You can be old on the inside
or old on the outside.
Your heart can beat like
the heart of a young dog.
The railway has been closed
for years. The tracks end
in the middle of nowhere.
Old people get the senior discount.
When God was young our hearts
were on fire with our love
for him. He too is now an idiot
and we scorn his heartless ways.