Hennessy New Irish Writing winning poems: March 2017

This month’s winner is Shirley Gorbey



She walks on her knees
past decades of dresses
leather shoes handbags yielding
from years of weight
further back
until her spine is to the wall
her knees curled
preserved from daylight
her mother’s perfume:
upon release
soft curls descend on her face
a delicate cheekbone
leans into a rounded cheek
lithe arms encircle her tight
layers of scent linger as her mother leaves
notes of flowers berries trees
draw her back
inside her childhood dream before sleep:
in a wood of cedar trees
she picks sweet dark blackberries
a single wild rose
a mute swan glides on the lake
its body a pillow
from which a lissom neck ascends
blackness streams from black eyes
gazing downward
as if reading the language of the lake
with the slow rise and fall of white wings
the fragrance recedes
once a child now a woman
drifts into real dreams.


She, undoing and fixing
my school knitting,
I, kneeling beside her,
taciturn, observing her.
She understands my eyes,
decides among the stories
of her life and begins;
the words – verbatim within me,
only her voice, her drama
bring me there.
A teal jumper,
the last she knit with me
lies, arms folded in a drawer
back in the old bedroom.
Fine craftsmanship;
unwearable though –
those woollen arms
grown into memoirs.
No arms of flesh
could ever fit their reach.


A bread box a fruit bowl a milk jug
these are all useful things
they don’t know worry
it is not their concern
if bread becomes stale
fruit turns powdery green
milk goes out of date
their purpose is to contain
something of what we need
no matter its state
there is no bind
between container and contained
but give me some knowledge
I don’t want to hold
I will try to let it go somehow
dig it up from where it lies
shovelling fast into the air
run far before the landing
but no matter
because I owned it once
so it will come back
and lie down again
comfortably in that scooped out place.

Shirley Gorbey, a member of Rathmines Writers’ Group in Dublin, read her poems as part of the Seamus Heaney Summer School at Queen’s University Belfast in 2015. She is working on her first collection