Karen O’Connor, Waiting for Tomorrow

Text Message

You answer my summary-of-my-day text
with a summary of your own,
telegraphs without stops.
You never said you missed me.
That small island we built, marooned together,
seems light years away and I’m missing you.
I have forgotten more about our life together
than should be possible without losing you,
intimate moments evaporated into years of day to day,
but they still live inside me,
not in movie memories of your hand
pressed to the skin of my neck,
or the heat between us, the primal urge.
More a muscle memory, a vapour
that lives in my pores, sits on my tongue,
pools around my heart root.
Almost an instinct; a knowing unhinged from knowledge.
I can sense you, living in my limbic system;
like the leatherback turtle, you are my sea, my ocean,
sometimes lost in direction, my elusive north,
but mapping back, finding you again,
until the next time I am born and faced with a sea of sand,
no trail to follow, and yet some ancient code,
some magnetic force will draw me back to your shores,
to the shore of you, sliding down into your warm frothy wetness,
breathing deep for the first time in days.

The Sycamore

A member of the maple family,
with its stunning veined leaves,
reminds me of your hands,
the way they died before you,
lying on the blue woven hospital blanket,
waiting for my touch,
my ministering of Vaseline Intensive Care,
carefully lathered into the parched skin.
So much easier than all the useless words I’d learned to that age,
so much kinder than the lies I couldn’t tell
and when I saw your eyes flutter to sleep
I would release your feet from the hospital corners,
touch your burning soles — see you register my presence —
then coat my palms and rhythmically,
heel to toe, bring your feet back to life,
letting them know they were still loved,
still part of the body that no longer supplied what they needed.
And they always blossomed, growing straight,
unfurling like a leaf, those long gracile toes,
moving up along each to the nail bed.
And I could see the tension in your hunched shoulders
melting into the pillows, your face relaxing,
your bed-hair sitting calmer,
moving rhythmically up your calves
going, going, because there was nothing to say,
because you had a few moments of relief,
because you would have done it for me,
sitting by my bed,
holding on to any part of me willing to stay.


Grain after grain, building and rebuilding,
the periosteum holding
and you can’t help but think of the saw,
the toothed blade running over and back,
the cancellous dust piling a pyramid of memories
shredded beneath an outstretched arm.
Which ones lie there now, in pieces?
What parts remain intact or lost forever?
Da Vinci knew the value of grave robbing.
Stripping the skin, exposing strings of muscle,
tendons, organs still left with stories
exhaled through their cells.
The cryptogram of each wing beat,
each twitch of barb,
picked clean to their finite structure.
The dust of you lying six feet under.
You were my dream of flying.
I feel the years, tooth by tooth,
grind each grain of you,
till nothing else remains
but the air that lived between the bits.

Changing Season

The bridge is drying out,
leaving Everest outlines
decorating the concrete.

The sky is full of white pillow clouds,
piled on top of
white pillow clouds.

The air is autumn warm,
sitting on the river,
meandering, slow and silent.

The cob works against the flow,
effortless, in his endeavours
to reach the shallows.

The step is felt.
The move to a new season
sitting on the world.

The air is waiting,
listening to the weight –
the slow rotation, west to east.

We too are turning,
towards one another, away,
spinning out, coiling back.

Sometimes, words are not enough;
syllables, blunt instruments,
ugly as swan’s feet.

Waiting for Tomorrow

He waits behind the heavy nets,
drawn in darkness there,
the rotting wood of his frame,
the subsidence of his setting,
the boiling sores of paint,
the fungal rot,
the tidemarks passing seasons.

He waits behind the heavy nets,
pressed to the outside,
looking only on the faces,
the way the light follows each,
the sound of the step,
the breath of fleeting cars,
the peal of silence.

He waits behind the heavy nets,
fingers steadying on the window board,
the odd alleviating movement,
the moth forever caught
in the shine of his suit jacket,
his tie neatly made,
the folded hanky in his pocket.

Karen O’Connor is an Irish writer and winner of the Listowel Writers’ Week Single Poem Prize, The Allingham Poetry Award, The Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Award for Poetry, and the Nora Fahy Literary Awards for Short Story.  She is a poet and short story writer and her work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies.

Karen’s first poetry collection FINGERPRINTS (On Canvas) was published by Doghouse Books in 2005.  Her second collection, published in 2011, Between The Lines, also from Doghouse Books, was featured on the RTÉ Radio 1 Arts Programme Arena. Find her website here.


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