(After I and the Village, Chagall)
Your dreamfingers close on the rhythmic squeeze
of your mother’s hands on the cow’s full teats,
your ear fills with milknotes played on the bucket,
that first tin plink that deepens to full bass
as the milk creeps upwards to the rim.
You learned so well you can milk with one hand,
cheek pressed to the cow’s warm flank,
fingers crossed at your back to cancel the lie
that soothes the cow: the village will always be,
and this comfort of milk letting down; there’s no scene
where the milker’s fingers ache for her violin,
for a reel flung wide over the church’s scowl
or a scythe-man crosses the green to the deranged house
where you are always the last remaining child.
by old age, gun or eagle,
she is orphan.
When she mates, for life,
she is spouse, partner,
She struts her chicks,
Proud mother. Is geal leis an bhfiach dubh
a gearrcach féin.
Nudged over the edge,
her nestlings fledge and leave her
If her crow-mate dies,
feathered in her best black.
She smashes unviable eggs,
becomes either Mother Courage,
One who abandons her brood
is Raven Mother,
But the raven whose chick dies first,
We have no word to name her.
The child’s eyes
the meaty scissoring
sets your teeth.
Your doula says
the cord is nerveless,
pain all in your mind;
the child feels
nothing of the severing.
And you believe
until her first school day:
you prise apart
her starfish grip,
hand her to a stranger,
see in her eyes torn bonds
unravel, ply by ply,
know that since Eve
has been every mother’s sin.
The path we make with our feet follows us everywhere
Fighters burned our books to ashes.
Plague swarmed in our skies,
rubbled our cities.
We stitched papers and cash in our hems,
abandoned our dead to the dead,
shouldered our children.
We left the hot loaves in our ovens,
fled with the clothes on our backs;
on Father’s, forty fresh lashes.
Stars rode on our heads,
the midday sun seared us,
towns burst into smoke on the horizon.
We were shoals packed in the bilges,
dragged from the surf
where razor wire embraced us.
Washed by the seas,
our child’s eyes, open and staring,
bright as precious stones on the shore.
Migrating birds return in nesting season.
We who have no wings
must trek always onwards.
The young spit new words for our longing:
On the muted TV news
a red Fiesta swings below a crane.
Water spews from yawning doors,
we glimpse a booster seat, transformer toy.
Yellow tape rails off a stone pier
where locals pray, a cop props wreaths
and teddy bears against stacked lobster pots,
the rescue team stows gear.
The barman turns up the sound…
Kept to herself, a neighbour says, devoted to her kids.
Over crisps and pints, the regulars wonder
what went through her mind
when she floored the pedal.
And a punter at the bar coins ‘Medea Syndrome’,
says when he took up with the new woman,
Jason’s foreign wife stabbed their sons
in spite, then steered her red Fiesta
headlong for the sun.
We turn away, watch evening drawing down,
the ferry out at sea.
In her homeland, they tell a different story,
that Jason’s cruelty pushed Medea
to a mercy-killing.
Some name their daughters in her honour.
Deer lightfoot across a clearing into shadowed trees.
Dogs turn the flock widdershins, for home.
Against the sky: homing crows.
We remember windows shut tight,
a birch tree, ink on bark paper,
twig broom, raft pole, cradlebones.
A plane snarls overhead,
two geese gust, honking off the lake,
ripples shudder ashore.
It lasts as long as the dream.
Deepwater lull of the island in the harbour.
When the wars have ended:
All 6 poems were published in Raven Mothers Doire Press 2018 https://www.doirepress.com/writers/a_f/breda_wall_ryan/
Village I was first published in Deep Water Literary Journal
The path we make with our feet follows us everywhere was first published in Migrant Shores, Irish Moroccan and Galician Poetry ed. Manuela Palacios
Medea Syndrome was first published in Metamorphic, eds. Nessa O’Mahony and Paul Munden
Haven won the Dermot Healy International Poetry Award 2016
Breda Wall Ryan’s debut collection In a Hare’s Eye (Doire Press 2015) won the Shine/Strong Award 2016 for a First Collection. Her second collection, Raven Mothers, was published by Doire Press in 2018. Both books are available from https://www.doirepress.com/writers/ a_f/breda_wall_ryan/. She is a founder member of Hibernian Poetry.
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