Jean O’Brien, Hurt Silence

The Electronic Voice in the Tesco Lift Sounds like Carol Ann Duffy

In Tesco I ride the lift, my wire wagon up front,
and make the choice between up and down –
choices given in a voice that sounds
just like Carol Ann’s. The slight lisp, the Scottish burr.
I have heard her read, talk on radio and once,
exotically, she talked to me in person,
I got the nod and wink from her.

So now I pause, hand poised over the red button,
shall I press up or down or even hold the door open
just to listen to her say, Lift going up or Lift going down?
Will I wrestle with the heights or plummet to the depths?

I am sure she is trying to communicate something beyond
these six words, some secret secreted between the ‘up’
and the ‘down’ that evaporates when grasped at.
I feel I have traveled with her a distance,
but we still have some way to go.
I scan my purchases, view the reds,
yellows and blues in my shopping trolley.

A poem is lurking somewhere in the cornucopia of goods.
I draw the line at answering her, however.
All I can do is give the button a light touch.

No Thaw

The Boundary Commission’s cartographers
with their rulers drew the line through hair-thin
blades of grass, assigned them territories, callipered
their way through the fore and hind legs
of innocent lambs, and on past the fast flow of rivers in spate,
the rivers’ respective banks held red and green hands up
in horror. Hurt silence sliced heavy air, those mapmakers
traced a narrow way set for dissent everywhere.

Their charcoal marking the lay of the land, busy with their tools
and parchments, they charted through almost everything,
until eventually, thick or thin, the border cleaved our very skin.
No meltwater flowed cooling balm, no victories here,
just marked-out people like matchstick men
and the endless bleating of garrisoned lambs.

To a Child

(For the lost children of Tuam’s Mother and Baby Home)

They went, those children
into dark places, not of the soul
but into the cold earth and all the while
the lean wind stripped their bones.

Down, down they went
in tens, in dozens, like poppets or shadow dolls.
The ragged scrim that wrapped them
frayed in the hungry wind.

The unforgiving sky is full of stars
the dome of dank earth
is full of missing children.
Hush, we know you are lost, child.
We will find you.

Jean O’Brien’s latest collection Fish on a Bicycle: New & Selected Poems was published by Salmon Poetry. Jean has won the Arvon International Poetry Competition and the Fish International Poetry Prize, and most recently was highly commended in the Forward Prize (2014). She holds an M. Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin and tutors creative writing/poetry.

To a Child first appeared in the Lea Green Down Kavanagh Anthology, Ed. Eileen Casey; No Thaw was shortlisted in the UCD Voices of War competition 2018 judged by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.

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