O Come and Mourn; a ‘found’ poem

O Come and Mourn; found by Eleanor Dent

First speaker*

We buried them. I took Ahmed and Aya

and buried them with my brothers.

I buried my kids with my own hands,

my wife and my brothers.

I used to call them, ‘Blondies.’

My son, come to see Papa!

My soul, my loves, my Aya!

I was right beside them.

I took them outside with their mother

when they were conscious

but, ten minutes later, we could smell it, the gas

and my children couldn’t handle it any more.

I left them with the medics

and went to find my family.

Second speaker **

I took my son

and left the house with my husband.

In the way, a big lorry stopped us

and told us that they had many dead people

and we saw our relatives.

All were my relatives, my friends, my neighbours.

I can’t believe it! My God! Children! Children!

Amarr, Aya, Mohammad and Ahmed!

I love you, my birds. Really, they were my birds.

I saw them. They were dead.

All are dead now.

Final hymn

O, Come and Mourn With Me Awhile.

Euronews broadcast a special report, ‘Syria: remembering the victims’ two days after a chemical attack killed seventy people, many of them children. The two speakers are related. Twenty-two members of their family were killed.

*  Abdel Hameed al-Youssef

**Aya Fadl

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Evensong, April 2. 2017

Six. Six. Six, the number of the congregation.

Six, sounding twelve, voice praise and adoration.

Unexpected choir’s fullness wakes from meditation.

Not with them tonight, I attend in admiration.

Great-hearted Charlie ascends the height,

Precious Onyx their partner in flight.

Mellow mezzos mediate their pure delight,

White doves, black-gowned, processing left, right.

Brace of basses, foundation and tower,

Tenacious tenor matches them in power.

Could you not have been there just one hour

To succour Him who is our Passionflower?

 

Ballycanew

Sixties, July, heatwave, Wexford,

Mummy and Daddy and Ger-ger and me

The Twelfth Fortnight when revenues fall

Up North and workers take their leave.

We left the tent in Ardamine

for afternoon excursion past

thatched cottage, twinkling rivers, shrines,

museums filled with pikes, and Daddy’s

daily pint in village pub,

Cidona for the underage.

A wrong turn on the journey back

(and Daddy never used a map)

he sought a helpful local who

directed us to Ballycanew.

‘ Go up the hill at Ballycanew

and round the bend at Ballycanew

and down the road at Ballycanew

and past the church at Ballycanew

then watch the signs at Ballycanew

and they will tell you what to do.’

A route, in song, in six-eight time,

no melody, but perfect rhyme!

First published in ‘Star Tips for Writers.’

Caroline, Yes!

Where has your red hair gone?

Once faded strawberry-blonde with sun

and showers, lemon wine and time

the heat of age has charred it to pale ash.

You’re not the girl I loved when, long ago

your brazen, bright, bronze tresses

shamed dull fire to cower in your radiance

and struck bolt lightning back beyond the sky.

Then, you raucous rocked; now

you sing the blue rinse meekly to perceived wisdom

that ladies of a certain age should grow old

gracefully. Why? You were ever graceful.

Gazelles were shamed and hid their faces

when you passed. Elocuted fraudsters fell

in homage when your rare and plangent vocal

struck deaf pretenders to the High Queen’s throne.

Nature is not mocked if you command

a helping hand. See here! Vermilion, crimson,

garnet, blood and fiery flame await

your hand and your command. Caroline,

phoenix, arise, refreshed, renewed, reinvigorated!

Only say, ‘Yes,’ and resurrect that red

that brought us both to life, me and my love.

First published in Reach Poetry

Sibling Revelry

The more we mature, the smaller the age-gap becomes.

What’s six or seven or twelve or eleven years? A wrinkle

in time, like the laughter lines we will exchange

for the furrows three lifetimes have carved on our countenance.

We went to each other’s weddings, the graduations,

children’s baptisms, nuptials, our parents’ obsequies,

one for a husband. Food and drink and more food

and much laughter. The craic was good, the songs were raucous,

the jokes were bellyache-making, the welcome was wide.

Remember when?’ ‘Oh, aye!’ ‘Were you not there?’

I wasn’t bloody born, ya big buck-eejit!’ ‘Right enough!’

Oh, here we go!’ Someone drags out photos.

Groans and moans at sixties fashion, seventies faux-pas,

eighties hairstyle horrors, curly perms. You ironed your hair

between sheets of brown paper when Julie Covington

sang of Wheels of Fire. A fiery maiden before that

when the coal fire caught your locks and made me scream.

You brushed it off. ‘I thought my head was warm!’

I’d steal your Mills and Boone, your Dennis Wheatley,

Jackie Magazines and, once, more bold, those yellow jeans.

The eldest taught the elders about wine, and brought

the Tears of Christ from Roman holiday for us to wonder.

She was enlightened, so I learned of yoghurt, capsicum,

Blend 37, fenugreek and words like ‘pseudonym,’

exacerbate,’ ‘debilitate’ and ‘Quattro Stagione.’

We each have had our sorrows, stresses, niggles, pains,

perturbances and plights. Long-overdue carousing

must be on the cards! Let’s find a window, synchronise

our schedules, plan a get-together some time soon

before it’s late, and we are later, and our time is past.

First published in Star Tips for Writers

Wotan’s Lament

Daughter of my will, you are seduced.

Unbounded love’s terrible sorrow has cursed

Your stern detachment. I have lost my first

My greatest joy. No more will you produce

The mead Warfather takes from your strong hand

With pride in queen commander of that band

Of warrior maids no god or man can smite

Now wild emotion robs you of that right.

For honour I must exile you, but swear

I will not leave you long abandoned there

Upon the mountain bare. I’ll cast a spell;

Brunnhilde will sleep deep, and will sleep well

Encircled by a ring of raging fire

Till Siegfried wakes you with his cool desire.

First published in Star Tips For Writers Issue 117

Cassie’s

The Irish Army discharged him ‘cured.’

At least they paid him a pension, though

it couldn’t compensate for loss

of future. Orphan boy, born poor

left school at fourteen. Now the chance

of a commission gone. One year

in Dublin, city fair, but not

so fair as the O’Neill girl who

enchanted him, his life’s great love.

He married her in forty-four

back home in Belfast. Ten months later

came a boy. Cured man again

in hospital and coughing blood.

A knight with shining scalpel saved him.

Eighteen long months later, free

to convalesce in Cassie’s cottage.

What a dream for those whose Ireland

was composed of such! The sweethearts

plus his namesake set up home

and soon a girl was born. Her mother

boiled the milk from Cassie’s farm

scrubbed laundry with a washboard

in a tin bath in the yard. The man

and boy would take the ferry with

the heavy lithium radio battery

over Strangford Lough to have it

charged. Forty plus years later

Kerry girl, bereft of son and husband

came again to Cassie’s. It was gone

replaced by clone of cottage

white and clean and new, and all

her memories and love gone with it.

In loving memory of Terence John Burns (sen) d.1982, Terence John Burns (jun) d. 1983 and

Sheila (O’Neill) Burns d.2014

Compulsion

I empty my coin-purse, sort them in piles

place them parallel to the edge;

coppers left to right, then silver,

lastly one pound, two pounds. Next,

I count them. Satisfied, I file them

in jeans’ pockets, one pees left, two pees right.

I have a useful coat, two pockets,

five pees left, ten pees right,

remainder back in coin purse. Wallet

holds the paper. Every note

is facing the same way; twenties at the back,

fives in front, the tens between.

At supermarket till, I count

exactly, slowly, slowly, while the line

snakes surely past the offers, lotto,

magazines, confections, freezers, wine.

Store card fumbled, vouchers, life-bags,

careful packing. No receipts, please.

Shoppers shuffle gladly forwards

flashing payment cards – contactless;

no hands soiled with filthy lucre.

Back at home, begin again;

the coppers to the left, then silver

to the right, and counting. Then, I wonder

whether daughter’s purse has coins

I may exchange for those of greater value?

First published in Sarsvati

Evangelical Coffee Shop

My local. Not a pint in sight

between the church and bookshop. Here

I settle with a poetry book

hoping for peace. A masquerade

of mothers seated opposite parade

performing offspring who are, strangely,

mainly silent while the garrulous

gaggle gossip. Notice reads: Link closed

eleven-thirty. Why? I ask.

A funeral. Now crows begin

to gather, old men dressed in black

and staring, silent at their lattes

while, around them, life, its loudness,

mirth and madness carries on

enough to wake the drowsy dead.

First published in Sarasvati

 

Innocents

We lost our first ten years ago today

When Herod – damn his eyes! – sent murderers

to kill our sons. Thank God, one got away.

We heard he went to Egypt and was saved

though how his parents knew that they should flee

we don’t know. Were they warned? They didn’t say

else we would have gone, too, my babe and me

and my poor husband, dead now, in his grave

with Jacob, though he gave me two sons more.

I had to find someone to take his place

or else we would have starved. A cruel land,

Judea. Women without men are cursed.

We may not work, inherit or be free

from men’s ‘protection.’ Caleb was my first

and then I married Judah. He was kind.

I bore him daughters but he didn’t mind.

He died as well, and now I am with Ben.

I miss that couple. They were young and sweet.

Their first-born was a handsome child. I’m glad

he lives still. When old Herod died they feared

a life in Bethlehem. Some say they’ve gone

to Galilee. Well, I know naught of that

but when the sky is dark and stars are bright

I think of ten years back. There was a night

when stars outshone the moon and angels cried:

‘Hosanna! May his name be glorified!’