Three poems by Róisín Kelly
‘Oysters’, ‘A Massage Room in West Cork’ and ‘At a Photography Exhibition in New York Public Library’ are June’s Hennessy New Irish Writing winning poems
I feel sorry for them, still nestled
in their houses on the plate
but still bring the helpless, tender souls
to my tongue, and swallow.
My life is a shell, splitting
and inside I am papered with silver.
I am going from shell
to fissuring shell
like stepping stones in a river
or a sky of broken stars.
Sandcastles fall soft in the tide.
An uncle’s boat sank off Galway
before I was born.
On the ferry we drink brandy
during winter crossings in Clew Bay.
Have you ever tasted mackerel
cooked over a barrel of coals,
their burnt skins coated in cornflour?
We bash their tiny heads
against rocks, the rocks
give me bruises and cuts-
my hurt body salted for a meal.
What price the ocean,
oysters kissing the throat?
Boys’ names I once wrote
on a beach now feed the slow tide
that leaves in return
the white waste of shells,
those delicate fragments
that once held lives.
A MASSAGE ROOM IN WEST CORK
They tell us the massage room is free
in the farmhouse attached to the pub
where we’ve been drinking
so we sleep there, on a narrow wooden bed.
I watch dream-catchers shiver
on the ceiling, listen to you breathing
and people talking loudly in the yard.
All night your arm lies heavy across me
so I won’t roll off in my sleep
and all night we keep on the orange
crystal lamp to soften four panes
of glass-hard darkness at the window.
Beyond this room, the house nestles
in the country road’s gentle curve.
Within this room: the weight
of your arm. Your body moulded
to the shape of mine. Dreams
of oil: lavender, rosemary, sweet almond.
Of fingers kneading flesh
in the gold dim. Your glistening skin.
AT A PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION IN NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY
Below a glass case, men bend their brides backwards to kiss them.
On an altar, on a beach with a cruise ship ghosting the horizon.
On a country lane an old man embraces an old woman.
Hands around waists, bouquets brushing the ground, white lace.
I always knew you’d never bend me backwards
for the first kiss of our married life, never carry me over
the threshold of our home. If we walked down the aisle,
your bones would already be dust, like those in crypts below us.
I would have been the best bride I could for you: diamonds
in my hair, my bridesmaids in primrose, my eyes as bright
as the ring on my finger. But such a day, and its companion life,
was never written in the stars we share. Fellow Aquarian,
what we had is the glass coffin of something still, silent,
and preserved in what beauty I could find there. Read this
and know that I at least imagined. Wherever you are, go
with a bride-thought haunting your shoulder, as lovely as snow.
Róisín Kelly was born in Belfast and lives in Cork. This year she was one of 12 poets selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions series, and she is the featured poet in the summer issue of the Stinging Fly. More work is forthcoming in the magazine the Dark Horse and the anthology The Poet’s Quest for God (Eyewear, 2016)