Linda McKenna lives in Downpatrick. Originally from County Dublin, she has lived in Down for over 20 years. Having dabbled in writing as a teenager she started writing poetry about two years ago. Linda has had poems published in Poetry NI’s 4×4 journal, A New Ulster, Skylight 47, Panning for Poems, Lagan Online, and The Blue Nib.
Tuck your skirts around your borders
so no skin shows. So no one can see
that you are made of flesh and blood,
and bone, not iron, timber, stone.
Let your body ebb and flow with your rivers,
your streams. Not the dishonest moon
collapsing you in tears, opening you in need.
Be inviolate: beyond the hands and breath
of men. Insula, nursed by your cold,
chaste seas. Crave no babe filling your womb,
stirring your milk, for how can you be replicated
except in oil and ink? Keep yourself secret
and small, as one of the pins fastening
the cloths that bind your breasts.
Encase yourself in whalebone, sapphire, ivory.
So their eyes squint and fall, their heads lower.
waiting for your glance, your command.
This race you have grown in quarries, pits
and fields. All heart and stomach
and shuttered souls.
We would burn.
The flames would catch us careless,
preening in the glass, cleave
our nylon nightdresses to our flesh.
Their tiny flowers and lace conflagrate;
teach us a lesson.
Our dolls hid their singed hair
under knitted hats; still we couldn’t
resist the lure of poker and tongs,
behind adult backs turning
and turning the coal over, exploding
stars into the soot, urging logs to open
their hot red hearts.
She hung beside the mirror.
Eyes closed, shorn boy’s head
flung back in ecstasy; a dark
shock against the swirling
grey clouds. Her woolen dress
would have been slower to catch fire.
Did it feel insubstantial on her shoulders
braced for the weight of metal
and leather? Did she smooth
out its creases, shake out the dust,
practise once again walking in it;
shortening her stride, praying
not to stumble.
It seeps under the door, her narrow
world. Sodden sticks that never light,
tang of manure and straw.
The breaths she takes harsh, rattling.
Like the first shock of rain, so hard
you think it will break glass, splinter
your flesh. Muck smell on the dress
she won’t change, the boots dragging
around the table, fists now claws;
those man fists that punched impartially.
Clay still on the potatoes she guards
but won’t eat; small famine eyes
staring. Her eyes narrower, narrower.
But in sunlight the child looks out,
possessive, whining; not fair.
Seeking those other bloody handed
children, maggoty corpses of birds
and rabbits draped around their necks.
I will make this kitchen clean and cold,
eat only shop bought bread.