The Saturday poem: Lips

A new work by Peggy O’Brien


I’m a hag, mad and frank, Medusa turned to stone,
Free to speak hard words, put shape on what was molten.

My mother floats in ocean. Boobs bob, legs spread
Like a Sheila-na-gig. Spiders. Touch yours and you’re dead.

The rod of the serpent banished mine, one tongue flick,
Nothing, a tickle, a kick, and then harpoon ripped

Up the middle like a whale. My shell eyes spiralled,
As Hell gave birth to Heaven, those lips on my nipple.

Under the lash flesh petrifies, I’d long been frozen,
Then opened my mouth in the Arctic and spoke ice floes.

Limestone acts as a storage radiator. The glacier
Smoulders, a flick of the switch and residual pleasure,

Seeing my grandmother. No breasts. No womb. Bitter
Loss, but she was like grass growing all the sweeter

Forced up through a crack, her eye on the light. Here calves
Suckle on honeyed udders, grow fat on love.

And the local Sheila-na-gig each spring with the gentians
Lactates, warm milk from cold dugs at the thought of her son.

Peggy O’Brien is the author of three collections of poems, “Sudden Thaw”, “Frog Spotting” and “Trusting Ice”. She is also the editor of the “Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry”. She spent half her teaching career at Trinity College, Dublin and the other half at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst