Literary Orphans

Six Poems
by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

sarah-hardy-21

Belfast Murmuration

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No healing without grace

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . No healing without first being broken

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the way one bird shatters into thousands

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . starlings                                                                    

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . black seeds

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . thrown up from Victoria Bridge

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against a purpling sky

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . It could be chaos

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instead the bird-turned-thousand

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . coils

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . twizzles

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . mosaics

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . then

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . sutures

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . net gathering

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pieces of sky

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or a flung rug of bird

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deciding what else it could be –

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . a tunnel

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . a tree, accelerated

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. . . . . . . .a continent

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . or perhaps a word

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .All the alternatives to brokenness

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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . offered by grace

O Typekey Divider

 

Still Life, with Family

A pear of candlelight

wagging on the mantelpiece,

the baby chewing the chewable end of a watergun,

drips from our son’s last water fight

globing on the sofa.

You trying to fix my computer,

surfacing every now and then

with considered diagnoses of the problem,

our other daughters eating pancakes,

a nothingness on the TV. No one is shouting,

no thundercloud of cigarette smoke,

no threat of anyone bleeding

or being bruised, no one will take their life

in their daughter’s bed.

The day pressed against the window

like a wanting child.

O Typekey Divider

 

Now That I Have Daughters

Don’t get me wrong, I was always a feminist.

How could I be otherwise?

But now I’m raising daughters it all seems to leap out at me,

and by it I mean the twelve-foot murals at the fairground

of women: breasts bulging, thighs narrow, backs arched, red pouts.

I’m sure I always noticed them but now,

as I take my girls on those rides, I am angry because

a spin in a pink mouse-themed cup subjects them to a message

of womanhood as coterminous with sex and subservience

and a pervasive annihilation of their true power,

true beauty of the female edited out by capitalist ink.

And it’s there when I wheel the pushchair into a newsagent’s

and dash out again, for at my four-year-old’s eye level

magazines flash those same bimbo-fied babes, naked, slicked,

twisted in poses of the seductress,

the same on billboards or posters for alcopops, movies, apps –

anything to trade the masculine as dominant, as master. My oldest

brushes the hair of her princess dolls, wears a tiara

and writes little stories about becoming a princess,

and this I don’t mind. We talk about

what a princess represents, her qualities

of self-worth, integrity, what femininity really is.

Then she asks me to read one of her fairy tale books,

but I cringe at the self-sacrificing narratives of female-as-

secondary, as helpless – and one day I can’t stop myself,

I pull out all her books and discard the ones

I cannot bring myself to narrate. Yes,

I may have become a curmudgeon.

I may well be over-protecting, censoring, radical.

But I say if I must raise my girls in a world where rape

is joked about, warfare, legal,

where a child my daughter’s age will be forced to marry,

where a woman will be put in prison for reporting a rape,

where a mother will be thrown off a bus for breastfeeding,

where the press will vilify a woman for not losing baby weight

and applaud a man for misogyny,

then I will raise my girls by teaching them that they are awesome,

they are daughters of the divine, that their femininity is sacred.

And I say take back your messages of harm and woman-as-

nothingness, take your whispers toward me in my raincoat

pushing the buggy, take back the qualifier

in that disgusting phrase, just-a-mother.

I say, these are my daughters, they are glorious, they are precious,

and they know their worth.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .I say, watch out.

These are the women of tomorrow’s world.

O Typekey Divider

 

In the Hands of an Orange Sun

At dawn I stirred in the hands of an orange sun.

My dreams were chained, my children still young.

We journeyed down winding lanes that had burned

at dawn. Now ice stirred in the hands of an orange sun

and my daughters had had daughters. My son spurned

his train sets for coal and wrench, became a man

at dawn. I stirred in the sands of an orange sun.

My dreams were changed: my children, still young.

O Typekey Divider

 

What we talk about when we talk about motherhood

which reminds me that it didn’t happen

overnight but very gradually and subtly

my mind keened away from the catalogue

of thoughts which had sat in it snug as eggs

in a nest for almost thirty years to a shore

of thoughts about every possible topic

that involved babies and mothering

. . . . . . .I found myself in deep earnest conversation

with nameless women in libraries and parks

and airport queues and at the supermarket

while searching for the cheapest baked beans,

we’d never share our names but we’d share

our experiences of teething and weaning and

being late for everything and sleep training

precisely because it was like free-hand climbing

the tallest red rock face in Utah the only human

for miles and randomly coming across another

similarly occupied hominid but then it was

more than that, it was a kind of baptism

in the middle of the Pacific

. . . . . . .rolling up on a strange and

lonely and astoundingly beautiful island and

making new friends with the others

who staggered up the beach, their arms full

with this new life, and it was more than who

I made friends with and it was more than

the way my shopping trolley saw fewer

ready meals and more organic produce

and it was more than anything I can yet describe

but it began with my thoughts which keened

towards topics my former self would have labeled

‘boring’ but which now possessed me

and when I say I was thinking endlessly about

how exactly to prepare six bottles in one go

and whether she should be starting to sit up

by now and whether I should give in and let

him sleep in our bed or persist with the cot

I was not thinking about any of this at all

but feminism, about the government,

about Africa, about astronomy, about history,

about nature, creativity, about God.

O Typekey Divider

 

All Right

A mother’s life

. . . . . . .lived out on a ship

enormous planetary ship

. . . . . . .that sways and is never still

and so she appears

. . . . . . .to be staggering

slip-sliding between

. . . . . . .opposites of time,

love, logistics, existential

. . . . . . .and wholly complicated dilemmas

such as whether she is

. . . . . . .wasting her life at the sink

or if she is in fact the wisest person alive

. . . . . . .spending her days tending

to such small details of living

. . . . . . .if she is doing it right

and by ‘it’, everything

. . . . . . .if her children deserve better

than her

. . . . . . .if she should have had more children

if she should have had them

. . . . . . .earlier, closer

if she should have had

. . . . . . .any at all

if she should have kept on

. . . . . . .powering at her career

basked in the kind of recognition

. . . . . . .and fabulous shoes

success would have brought

. . . . . . .if, on her deathbed, the questions

she spends each moment of each day

. . . . . . .shifting in her mind –

between the forests and lakes

. . . . . . .between Asia and Africa

between all the townships

. . . . . . .of her love –

will ever be answered

. . . . . . .if a voice, a descending peace

will finally reply

. . . . . . .yes, my dear, you did it all

one hundred per cent right

O Typekey Divider

Carolyn Jess-Cooke is a poet and novelist from Northern Ireland. She has won numerous prizes for her work, and her fiction has been published in 22 languages and was reviewed in the New York Times. Her new poetry collection BOOM! (Seren, 2014) recently received a Northern Promise Award and is about motherhood. You may watch the book trailer for her novel, The Boy Who Could See Demons, on YouTube

CarolynJess-Cooke

O Typekey Divider

–Art by Sarah Hardy