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DOIREANN NÍ GHRÍOFA

 

 

 

Doireann Ní GhríofaDoireann Ní Ghríofa is an award-winning bilingual poet, writing both in Irish and in English. Among her awards are the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary 2014-2015, The Wigtown Award for Gaelic Poetry and two Arts Council literature bursaries. Doireann’s poems have also been shortlisted for many prizes including the Pushcart Prize (USA), The Venture Award (UK), the Strokestown Poetry Prize and the Jonathan Swift Award among others. Her work has appeared in literary journals in Ireland and internationally, in Canada, France, Mexico, USA, Scotland and England. Doireann’s Irish language collections Résheoid and Dúlasair  are both published by Coiscéim, and her bilingual chapbook A Hummingbird, Your Heart is available from Smithereens Press. Her first collection of poems in English is forthcoming from Dedalus Press.  www.doireannnighriofa.com          
@DoireannNiG

  

 


 

______

 

 

From Richmond Hill

Seven Views of Cork City

 

______

 

 

 

From Richmond Hill

for Cúán

 

Home from hospital, I nestle you into the angle of my arm.

Below, the river runs black in shallow pools by the brewery

and a billboard tells us that we are 'Home, like’. 

You doze, milk-drunk, all eyelashes, cheeks and raw umbilical,

swaddled in the heavy black smells of the brewery.

 

The reek of roasting hops and barley climbs steep streets

knitting a blanket of scent, a thick tweedy fabric that grows

over roads and threads the needles of ancient laneways.

Oh, son of this city, this is the smell that clothed your ancestors.

 

Your great-grandfathers worked all their lives in the brewery

below our window. Every day, they were there, breathing

the same air, walking the same bridges, hoisting the heft of barrels,

sweating over vast vats where black bubbles rose like fat.


When last light faded from the day, they poured into pubs,

dark, hushed rooms, and sat in snugs, in the silence of dust

nodding for pints of stout, the sour black fruits of their labour—

liquid measured and fed back to them in neat pints,

cool beads of condensation forming on the glass like a whisper.


Their lips touched the silk stout of those bright heads,

as white as thick cream scooped from frothing milk,

and their reply was always the same: the satisfied smack of lips,

the gasp, the nod. Down gullets and guts went the porter,

 

went the pay, went the nights and days, pissed away

down those same streets and laneways where the shadow

of your pram will roll. Every day, always the same—

coins slapped on the counter. No change.


I look down on the factory and imagine them there,

steam rising to our sky where black clouds flood by,

too fast to count. Small son, breathe deep of this night air.

This is what you come from. This is where we will stay.

 

 

 

 

 

______

 

 

Seven Views of Cork City

 

I

No-one knows that I wake in the night and creep down

—tiptoe toetip— to watch Granddad’s little dog sleep.

I glug milk from the bottle, take a Ginger Nut from the tin

and stand over him. A knot of short fur, snout, soft ears,

sleep-squeaks. He tears through sleep on rough paw-pads,

chasing rabbits and rats. His whole body squirms and turns

in a world that I’ll never see. I wish I could live in a terrier's dream.

 

Sometimes, I watch from the window until bin-men carry in

the stench of a new day. Not tonight. I wipe up the crumbs,

sneak upstairs to my still-warm bed.

From between thin curtains, I see the city spread like a map.

On the hill, rooftops lean into each other, all

holding warm embers dozing in grates, stacked anoraks,

dark fridges full of food and fireside rugs where other terriers

run through dog-dreams. I must be the only one awake—

in this sleeping city, all is silent.

 

II

All is silent. The car park is empty when we break in,

cold, a hollow tower of echoes where night winds spin,

whistling through each level. An inner road

spirals at its core, concrete through concrete,

floor into floor, round and round until it reaches the roof.

Here, vacant slots dream of cars. Puddles look up

to where their past and future blows by in clouds.

We rattle our cans, tag grey turrets, share a cigarette.

Like the black river below, we’ll never be caught.

We are the only people in the city tonight—

our kingdom, a thousand crooked rooftops.

 

III

our kingdom is a thousand crooked rooftops

where we trip down Barrack Street, Grand Parade, St Luke's,

with strangers who become sisters and brothers,

tell them our secrets, our lies, turn ourselves inside out

we make ourselves new and it is a difficult birthing

 

at night, we do ourselves up by blotched mirrors

with cheap mascara and cheaper wine

false blushes bloom on our cheeks,

fag-butts fizz into cans of cider

 

we tumble into pubs, squealing over each other,

long lost sisters with shots of Jäger and hands in the air,

strobes, pills under tongues and coke in the jacks,

screeching over beats: best night, best night ever,

best friend, best friends ever  never forget this night, never               

Never

 

too soon, the lights are back and we’re out, barefoot, staggering,

carrying each other home, the sky spins and we sing and sing,
someone is puking on a doorstep, and we are holding handfuls

of hair and whispering you’ll be OK, OK, OK…

 

our thirst subsides suddenly, displaced by an ancient hunger

and so, we always end our nights with the same ritual:

staring up at bright menus, swallowing spit, thinking only of chips,

chips, chips, sitting barefoot on the path outside Lennox’s,

heels cast aside, potato steam rising from folded paper

like a long-forgotten prayer and our mouths all holy Os of awe,

and we're watching our hot breath

float

into the city night and wondering where it will go

and wondering where we will go

 

IV

Where will we go? Where could we go? Nowhere.

Confined to neat rows of narrow beds, we wait.

Our eyes don't see now. If we could see, all would be white.

In the college morgue, stained sheets are pulled up

over every head, falling in folds over our thin legs,

cold stomachs, flaps of bloodless skin.

Orange streetlights peer at us through bare windows.

The students are all gone now — drinking, laughing, sleeping. 
When they lift morning scalpels to our skin, we hear

the dull thump of a pulse in wrists close to our ears.      

We smell their breath, their hangovers.

We lie in the dark and wait for something to start.

We wait. Our tired minds settle into silence.

 

My tired mind settles into silence, as disinfectant evaporates

from my hands. The small screen lights up. ‘Where are you?’

I type:         ‘In the Mercy’  my finger hovers over send      —                   —

then letter by letter —    delete          —     delete —     to emptiness.       

I stare at the blank screen until it goes black. 

 

Below: an ambulance, door thrown open,

people running,

a sheet tucked tight over a stretcher,

a mouth hangs open,

blood under blue lights. And then gone.

 

The light above me hums, fluorescent cylinders flickering.

I look over the dark river, swollen, surging in from Sunday’s Well

brimming with the liquid weight of the west. Behind me,

footsteps come and go along the corridor.

A student doctor approaches, flicking the tip of her pen, again,

again. She nods as she strides by.

I try not to think of you. I look at the water and remember

 

that sunny afternoon at Gougane Barra,

the squashed sandwiches,

our hop over the slender stream that starts the Lee,

your fingers in mine for the first time,

a tingle

like the static shock of tumble-dried clothes.

 

You know, I would rewind the river to take us back there,

unglug the current,

unfork the island streams,

reverse through the sluice,

return over weirs,

through Carrigrohane, Macroom, Inchigeelagh, Ballingeary,

up to the forest at Gougane.

I would climb the hill,

unburble, ungurgle,

wind the stream back into the ground.

We could jump over it, together,

but backwards this time, hand in hand.

 

How did we jump from there to here? Too fast.

Footsteps again.

A grey doctor in scrubs walks past, fast.

The corridor quietens.

I wait                                       I wait for news.

 

I watch the lights go out one by one in distant bedrooms,

imagining all the sleep, all the warmth,

all those duvets and dreams. I wait, and watch

sleepless seagulls slip over the river,

over Cork’s hills, over cathedrals and car-parks.

 

VI
Over Cork’s hills, over cathedrals and car-parks,

that bat flew and made its way to me in Tesco.

Started as usual, clocked in at ten, nightshift til six,

sweeping, wiping, stacking shelves. I walked up

and down aisles with my broad bristled brush

past midwives in thick tights, then out to the dark car park

to gather stray trollies and slot them into each other,

steel in steel, tucked in neatly to dream of speed.

The maternity hospital stared down at me,

a new life bursting out behind each lit window.

Inside again, a head-phoned boy-racer struts up to me,

two tins of baby formula and a titty mag under an elbow,

grunts “Where’s the beer?” I point my broom-handle

to Aisle 15, and walk upstairs to the store room.

I must have looked up just then, and saw it there. I saw it, black,

I saw the bat, so sudden, so fast, and just like that,

I swung the brush up.

Reflexes, like. The bat fell at my feet.

I lifted it. Warm. Furry. Its face was…  peaceful, soft,

like a baby’s. It had tiny dead eyes.

I stopped on third step and feel my whole being, all of me

clench. 

 

VII

I stop on third step and feel my whole being, all of me

clench 

release

breathe deep.

Christ. I walk the corridors again, walk and wait.

It’s good, walking, it gets me away from the ward 

and all those nosy nurses and grunting fools, thick cunts,

with their annoying husbands. Glad I don't have to put up

with any of them men. Pricks.

clench 

release

breathe deep

Check my phone- 04.47.                  I lean my head on the window

and look out where cars spin round the roundabout 

turning out and in of the supermarket car-park.

Signs shout                    OPEN 24/7                     EVERY LITTLE HELPS
Rain drizzles down, fizzes into puddles.

clench 

release

breathe deep

Something wants to break free of me. Someone. Stranger.
Traffic lights reflect colour on wet road, all red orange green

red orange green, red orange green. 

I watch the colours and do my breathing like they showed me:

clench 

release

breathe deep

red orange green, red orange green… Then this stupid fucking Subaru

roars up, pimply boy racer revving, bass thrumming, elbow out

his window, flash of a lighter, curl of smoke winding up in the air.

He turns his head and stares at me, all the way up here. Cheeky bastard.

clench 

release

breathe deep

and he’s still there, still staring. I give him the finger, mouth

WANKER           

Surely he can't see me… can he? I'm just one of a hundred fools

in flowery nighties in a hundred hospital windows…

clench 

release

breathe deep

I look away. Back. He’s still there. Still, he stares.
The lights still red red red. Road shines in rain.

clench 

release

breathe deep

Can he see me? I don't know. Then suddenly, it all changes in me,

hardens. I make stiff fists, hold the windowsill.

clench 

release

breathe deep

When I look up, he’s gone. The night is over, the streetlights off.

The traffic lights have changed.

Green.

Go.

 

 

©2014 Doireann Ní Ghríofa

 

 

Author Links

 

Doireann Ní Ghríofa homepage

Poems by Ní Ghríofa at Poethead

Poems and reviews by Ní Ghríofa in Southword Journal

 

 

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