She was there in the middle of it all –
bondage trousers and slogan T shirts,
oxblood DMs and time
spread out like a multitude of stars.
Hitting sixty now –
her spiked hair Persian red,
safety pins still gleaming the septum
of her heart. Faltering rarely
until that day that boy
popped a diagnosis out like a cash card.
They thought she would take it
same as everything else:
sifting research, making plans
forewarned forearmed; instead
curled up like a marcescent leaf –
pendant and waiting
some last severing wind.
Hanging there still
if not for the timbre
of a friend’s footfall falling on gravel
its echo in a red beating heart, echoing
a gut full of diamonds and moths.
In an ink shop laying flesh bare
she opens her book of maps
and the smallest swifts,
navigators of chasms and caves,
spiral in midnight blue.
From the skin of an hourglass drum.
Arriving at the nursing home
she is offered a seat among the ashes
of February poinsettia
while her son tells the nurse
she cannot walk without assistance of two
cannot wash or dress
cannot feed herself without a mess
cannot sustain a conversation
or recall her grandchild’s name.
Remembering that line
about a life still strewn with miracles
she smiles, wondering when
the diamond rain will come
to quench the fire crackling in her entrails.
The urge to void stops her in her tracks
then from nowhere – hands
propel her into a room
where her clothes are pulled off
and some rough rubbing thing
stuck between her legs.
her mouth is a rictus
of stillborn ghosts
her pelvic bones star points piercing papyrus
as she tries to run.
Turning off the light they leave her exhausted.
When all is quiet
she rises, spits a bright blue pill
in the bin, and walking out
in the magnolia desert
tries to find her class before the bell rings.
Sans stars and skulls it is difficult to navigate
these bleached sands
but finally she finds them
huddled round a desk
at a long corridor’s end.
They tell her they are busy –
the night reports have to be written.
Offering her a seat
one vanishes, returning with a biro
and sheaf of scrap paper.
Opening the first exercise book
there is no need to worry
no need to think – the palmar arch
deep in her hand, warm and pulsing with red ink.
To the Nursing Home’s Owner
Do you know I can remember still
to the smell of love
in seaside boarding house room
and still behind my eyes
the factory where I sewed
marigolds and dark red tulips
on a thousand acres of snow
but of the promises made
in your bright brochure
all are gone, lost in this stench
of onions and piss – parts,
red raw and sore, forgotten
in the morning rush
from bed to third chair
by the door
stewing there now
in my own juice
could you see me less
were I not
the white in your tall sail
the sun on your face
the bread, the wine on your breath.
Clare McCotter’s haiku, tanka, and haibun have been published in many parts of the world. She won The British Haiku Award 2017, The British Tanka Award 2013, and The HIS Dóchas Ireland Haiku Award 2011 and 2010. Her work has been included in the prestigious Norton anthology – Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years. Her longer poems have appeared in over thirty journals, including Abridged, Crannóg, Cyphers, Envoi, The Honest Ulsterman, Iota, The Interpreter’s House and The Stinging Fly.
Awarded a Ph.D from the University of Ulster, Clare has also published numerous peer-reviewed articles on Belfast born Beatrice Grimshaw’s travel writing and fiction. Clare was one of three writers featured in Measuring New Writers 1 (Dedalus Press). Black Horse Running, her first collection of haiku, tanka, and haibun, was published in 2012 (Alba Publishing). Revenant, her first collection of longer poems, was published in 2019 by Salmon Poetry. The poems in this issue are taken from Deer Medicine, her forthcoming collection focusing on memory loss and dementia that will be published by Salmon Poetry in 2022. Clare has worked as a lecturer, a teacher of English, a psychiatric nurse, and a full-time carer. Home is Kilrea, County Derry.
Read more of Clare here.