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CARMELITA McGRATH

A Riddle Fence Selection

 

 

 

Carmelita McGrath in Southword JournalCarmelita McGrath is a writer, editor, researcher, educator and communications consultant. She has published two full collections of poetry—Poems on Land and on Water and To the New World (for which she won the inaugural Atlantic Poetry Prize). She has also published two poetry chapbooks, Ghost Poems and Vistas. She is the author of two collections of fiction, Walking to Shenak and Stranger Things Have Happened (winner of the WANL/Bennington Gate NL Award for fiction and shortlisted for the Thomas Raddall Award for Atlantic Canadian Fiction) as well as the historical fiction work To Be My Father’s Daughter. Her children’s books, The Dog Next Year and The Boston Box garnered multiple award nominations and received Canadian Children’s Book Centre Choice designations. She recently completed Escape Velocity, a new poetry manuscript. She is a long-time arts volunteer, most recently as Board Member and Chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.

 

 

_____

 

Touring the Manor Houses

Adam and Eve on a Winter Afternoon

Before Electricity, Demons Were a Regular Occurrence

Hearts of Palm

November Rain

 

_____

 

 

 

Touring the Manor Houses

 

Excuse me, but I’d rather not see

another broad room

where stippled light

released through leaves reveals

the desk where he wrote that famous tract on natural history,

or that table where he pinned his creatures

and, watching the sky,

ordered the harvest begun.

 

Not again please

her garden room

where her hat hangs

in replica, where she sighed for the apple blossoms,

not her parlour

where her ghost still sits on the green divan,

warming its ankles by the fire.

 

Show me instead the kitchen,

the distance from the pump,

the slop buckets, the vessels of disposal,

the flatirons,

show me that low stone room where the laundry was done,

the sheets boiled, the pots where hares were simmered,

the small white attic rooms

where the women whose features I bear

unpinned their hair with reddened hands

and dreamt of lovers

coming to them over fields

of August hay.

 

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Adam and Eve on a Winter Afternoon

 

Adam comes in from sawing wood

with a chip on his shoulder.

And grunts. And heaves the wood down,

a heavy drop filled with creeping, unsaid things,

to the woodbox.

 

And Eve is trying to imagine it not there,

that slow and trembling thing within his breath

that lives between inhale and exhale. This

must be just exertion, and yet it feels

like a weapon, not quite secret but concealed.

 

She has words for such days wood hyacinth,

aurora borealis, Harley-Davidson either

ethereal beauty or a fast-flying escape.

But the kitchen is a trap baited with supper cooking

and the imminent arrival of children.

 

And Adam says, “Whas for supper?”

And Eve says, “Soup.”

And he says, “Any meat in it?

I hope you’re not off meat again. Growing

children need their protein. And this

is no climate to be eating like rabbits.”

 

And then the old clock rescued from a house

where pouncing bargain hunters drove deals at a death sale

hammers four o’clock home.

 

And Eve thinks that four o’clocks are old-fashioned flowers,

and she stirs the soup and plunks down

in her bentwood rocker with her seed catalogues,

thinks crocosnia

thinks branching tulip

thinks Apricot Beauty

thinks hemerocallis

 

And the ragged thing between breath and breath

is there again, just for a second, a thing of air

with claws and teeth.

 

And Adam goes out for another load

before the early dark sinks in on him,

and while his saw buzzes

the language of massacre on wood

thinks tomorrow’s Friday

thinks pint of Guinness

thinks at least she dyed her hair

thinks I can hear the children

 

Their footsteps saw over frozen grass, their voices

high, inadvertently calling everything back together,

one of them playing a blackbird’s call on a recorder.

 

 

 

 

 

McGrath, Carmelita. “Adam and Eve on a Winter Afternoon” and “Touring the Manor Houses.” To the New World. St. John’s, NL: Killick Press, 1997.

 

 

 

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Before Electricity, Demons Were a Regular Occurrence

 

 

The devil, for instance, hid on the gutpath.

Not content to steal young girls at dances

and waste them

or waylay priests on deserted roads,

he frightened fishermen.

You would have thought he worked

for some anti-union interests.

In the blackest night, they’d rise

the rattle of lunch cans

filling lanes, summoning dawn.

The devil waited:

          horns sharp as steel

          horns black and fiery

          cloven hoofs to trip them up

          body huge and hard to block their way

          beastly snuffle some heard as hellish words

Better make your sign of the cross

before you near the dock, skipper,

before you cross that stretch of road—

Then one night, after experiments with wires,

a string of lights white and amber shone

and right above the devil there was one

illuminating a bovine face, wicked horns

black bull’s body sprawled in the gutpath dust.

 

 

 

McGrath, Carmelita. “Before Electricity, Demons Were A Regular Occurrence.” Ghost Poems. St. John’s, NL: Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides, 2001.

 

 

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Hearts of Palm

 

 

Afternoon, desultory in the aisles

the way one moves distracted in a dream

I spy her sculpted in the white-green light,

a tiny woman in a camel coat, the years worn off it

here and there. Gloved hand outstretched

to roam among the wares

of this attenuated aisle of imports

where not much from anywhere’s filtered in.

Tea? I think as wool-clad fingers flit,

a pale five-winged moth over blackcurrant jam;

a picnic’s conjured by the lemon biscuits

until she alights on hearts of palm. A dustfurred

tin. Who knows what possible dinners

she dreams up, or what is caught in some synaptic clasp,

those night-long dinner parties of the past,

seeing the guests off down ice-slick roads

and lying there in the snowplow-thickened night,

a blue light beating through bare trees

and all the ambient noises of the night

astir in her, birds of wakefulness.

Did she value his body most at times like this

when lost in sculpted sleep he seemed more whole

in his nakedness, more than himself?

Her fingers nesting on his chest,

his captured heart beating through her palm.

 

 

McGrath, Carmelita. “Hearts of Palm.” Uncollected (2006).

 

 

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November Rain

 

 

Mercury lays tracks upon the windows,

a dusky morning awaiting nightfall;

between, should this sky brighten

from lead to silver, in the manner of humans

we will be hopeful. All day waiting

for this glimmer. A little of the soul

goes down each year to tangle drains

with clotted leaves in the deadfall time;

the lees of Defuncts Day remain,

twine with emblems of remembrance

and every year it seems to me

the Silver Cross mothers are getting younger.

Now dark again and an old man nods

in an antique way, the poppy on his coat

resplendent, only the two of us crossing here

and the company of the shadow of my umbrella

a black dog walking beside me

 

 

McGrath, Carmelita. “November Rain.” Uncollected (2009).

 

 

 

Author Links

 

Riddle Fence literary magazine

McGrath at Newfoundland & Labrador Heritage

Publications by McGrath at Amazon

 

 

 

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