Our House: a new poem by Jean O’Brien

Jean O’Brien’s lastest collection is Fish on a Bicycle

Jean O’Brien

Jean O’Brien



Our Father worked at a Printers in Parkgate Street
and filled our house with books and reams of paper,
he dressed like TS Eliot, though he favoured a trilby.
A smoke-screen of strewn letters enveloped everything,
we were a house of words, freighted with meaning;
heavy acrid silence smarted the air or smeared it with ink
that suffocated and twisted our lips out of shape.
While Mother lost her grip my siblings and I filled
those blanketing snow white sheets, pages teeming
with possibilities. We composed, drew, crayoned
in glorious colour the world as we wished it to be.
Sometimes the Compositors let him have leads
and slugs, we dipped those slivers of metal in ink
and randomly applied them to any surface.
Our house became a house of elliptical signs
offset by secret symbols, all the while we were
loquacious, chatty, garrulous even but saying
nothing. A house of subterfuge, we left terse notes,
wrote on walls, scrawled on the fly leaves of books
but made no sense of anything. Mother lay fuming
in bed, chain-smoking, blowing plumes of smoke signals
that none of us could, or wanted to read.

Jean O’Brien’s lastest collection is Fish on a Bicycle, New & Selected (Salmon 2016). She was awarded the Catherine & Patrick Kavanagh Fellowship in 2017 and holds an M Phil in creative writing from TCD