Hennessy New Irish Writing: August 2017’s joint winning poems
The Disappeared and Sand Mandala by James Conor Patterson
James Conor Patterson
Even now I find it difficult to imagine
being a campesino. Dicing sweet potato
over the kitchen-sink. My hands calloused
from years of raising sugarcane & lemon.
What could possibly be to such a life?
Argentina is tending more important matters.
I run guns through the Monteros
for Santucho; in January, shoot down
a transport plane and kill thirteen. I’m not sorry.
Perón is not in power, so civility can rise
again in the green-cut mountains of Tucamán
like Christ removing Lazarus’s shroud-
the sun shimmering off La Angostura,
the blue & white of the flag in cloudless sky.
And with these things when they come,
they wrap me like a present. Sometime
close to dawn, with an oil-rag in my mouth
and a bloodstained pillowcase wrapped around
my head, I’m thrown from a helicopter
into the South Atlantic and sent to greet the fish.
The last thing I hear is traitor, or its equivalent.
I have no frame of reference. The ocean-
current carries me over thousands of miles
and when I’m disturbed again, I’m something else
entirely. A rumour in the sand perhaps, or a ghost
without pasture. Someone who might be a shell
or a fossil, foundations on an unfinished house,
or four converged headlamps on a quiet country road.
Not flesh as back to dust, but dust itself
made flesh by the myriad scrapings of men,
the sand mandala took shape that morning
in front of a crowd who’d stopped to watch
the monks at work – their bodies stooped
over a large clean slate, outlining gods
with T-squares, rulers, French curves & compasses –
a thing, I knew, would take weeks to finish
and longer again to forget the memory of.
So once it had started, its progress seemed all
there was, and I checked daily to see the image grow–
the Kalachakra in granules of crushed stone,
scraped from the chak-pur for each dyed figure–
until the day when the monks removed it
and took the sand in a silk-wrapped urn to the sea.
Whereupon, you & I, my love – two particles shook
from the residue of a dead picture – were dropped
by the wind into our own fresh masterwork.
- James Conor Patterson is from Newry, Co Down. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Magma, Morning Star, The Moth, New Welsh Review, New Statesman, Poetry Ireland Review, The Tangerine and The Stinging Fly. In 2015 he read as part of the Poetry Ireland Introductions series and in 2013 he received the iYeats ‘Emerging Talent’ Award for poetry. He has been highly commended for the Patrick Kavanagh Award, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and longlisted for the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition