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Poems from As if By Magic: Selected Poems

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Paula Meehan

Paula Meehan was born in 1955 in Dublin where she still lives. She studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and at Eastern Washington University in the U.S. She has received many awards, including the Marten Toonder Award for Literature, The Butler Literary Award for Poetry, the Denis Devlin Memorial Award and the PPI Award for Radio Drama. She has published seven collections of poetry, the most recent being Geomantic (Dedalus Press, 2016). A selected volume, entitled Mysteries of the Home, was published in 1996. Her writing for stage includes the plays Mrs Sweeney (1997), Cell (1999), and, for children, Kirkle (1995), The Voyage (1997) and The Wolf of Winter (2003/2004). Her poetry has been set to music by artists as diverse as the avant-garde composer John Wolf Brennan and the folksinger Christy Moore. She has collaborated throughout her working life with dancers, visual artists and film makers. Paula Meehan is a member of Aosdána, the Irish affiliation of writers and artists. Professor Paula Meehan’s As if By Magic: Selected Poems published by Dedalus press in 2020 has been translated by Professor Mitsuko Ohno and others and published by Shichosha in September 2022.

Poems from As if By Magic: Selected Poems

Paula Meehan

Well

I know this path by magic not by sight.
Behind me on the hillside the cottage light
is like a star that's gone astray. The moon
is waning fast, each blade of grass a rune
inscribed by hoarfrost. This path's well worn.
I lug a bucket by bramble and blossoming blackthorn.
I know this path by magic not by sight.
Next morning when I come home quite unkempt
I cannot tell what happened at the well.
You spurn my explanation of a sex spell
cast by the spirit that guards the source
that boils deep in the belly of the earth,
even when I show you what lies strewn
in my bucket — a golden waning moon,
seven silver stars, our own porch light,
your face at the window staring into the dark.


Buying Winkles

My mother would spare me sixpence and say,
‘Hurry up now and don’t be talking to strange
men on the way.’ I’d dash from the ghosts
on the stairs where the bulb had blown
out into Gardiner Street, all relief.
A bonus if the moon was in the strip of sky
between the tall houses, or stars out,
but even in rain I was happy — the winkles
would be wet and glisten blue like little
night skies themselves. I’d hold the tanner tight
and jump every crack in the pavement,
I’d wave up to women at sills or those
lingering in doorways and weave a glad path through
men heading out for the night.

She’d be sitting outside the Rosebowl Bar
on an orange-crate, a pram loaded
with pails of winkles before her.
When the bar doors swung open they’d leak
the smell of men together with drink
and I saw light in golden mirrors.
I envied each soul in the hot interior.

I’d ask her again to show me the right way
to do it. She’d take a pin from her shawl —
‘Open the eyelid. So. Stick it in
till you feel a grip, then slither him out.
Gently, mind.’ The sweetest extra winkle
that brought the sea to me.
‘Tell yer Ma I picked them fresh this morning.’

I’d bear the newspaper twists
bulging fat with winkles
proudly home, like torches.


Not Your Muse

I’m not your muse, not that creature
in the painting, with the beautiful body,
Venus on the half-shell. Can
you not see I’m an ordinary woman
tied to the moon’s phases, bloody
six days in twenty-eight? Sure
I’d like to leave you in love’s blindness,
cherish the comfort of your art, the way
it makes me whole and shining,
smooths the kinks of my habitual distress,
never mentions how I stumble into the day,
fucked up, penniless, on the verge of whining

at my lot. You’d have got away with it once.
In my twenties I often traded a bit
of sex for immortality. That’s a joke.
Another line I swallowed, hook
and sinker. Look at you —
rapt, besotted. Not a gesture that’s true

on that canvas, not a droopy breast,
wrinkle or stretchmark in sight.
But if it keeps you happy who am I
to charge in battledressed to force you test
your painted doll against the harsh light
I live by, against a brutal merciless sky.


My Father Perceived as a Vision of St. Francis

for Brendan Kennelly
It was the piebald horse in next door’s garden
frightened me out of a dream
with her dawn whinny. I was back
in the boxroom of the house,
my brother’s room now,
full of ties and sweaters and secrets.
Bottles chinked on the doorstep,
the first bus pulled up to the stop.
The rest of the house slept

except for my father. I heard
him rake the ash from the grate,
plug in the kettle, hum a snatch of a tune.
Then he unlocked the back door
and stepped out into the garden.

Autumn was nearly done, the first frost
whitened the slates of the estate.
He was older than I had reckoned,
his hair completely silver,
and for the first time I saw the stoop
of his shoulder, saw that
his leg was stiff. What’s he at?
So early and still stars in the west?

They came then: birds
of every size, shape, colour; they came
from the hedges and shrubs,
from eaves and garden sheds,
from the industrial estate, outlying fields,
from Dubber Cross they came
and the ditches of the North Road.

The garden was a pandemonium
when my father threw up his hands
and tossed the crumbs to the air. The sun

cleared O’Reilly’s chimney
and he was suddenly radiant,
a perfect vision of St. Francis,
made whole, made young again,
in a Finglas garden.


Snowdrops


So long trying to paint them, failing
to paint their shadows on the concrete path.

They are less a white than a bleaching out of green.
If you go down on your knees

and tilt their petals towards you
you’ll look up under their petticoats

into a hoard of gold
like secret sunlight and their

three tiny striped green awnings that lend a
kind of frantic small-scale festive air.

It is the first day of February
and I nearly picked a bunch for you,

my dying friend, but remembered in time
how you prefer to leave them

to wither back into the earth;
how you tell me it strengthens the stock.

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