Poetry Against Cancer

A couple of months back a call went out from writer Paul Carroll (@writeranonymous on twitter) for people to contribute a poem for a collection to be sold as a fundraiser for St. Johns Ward at our Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. To read about this venture visit the Poetry against Cancer site.

Paul and friends have organised the venture as  print on demand 83 page paperback available from Lulu:

Poetry Against Cancer is a collection of poetry from writers around the world; all the money raised from the book goes to St John’s Ward at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, the Haemotology and Oncology ward.

My poem ‘If we thought that love was gone’ is included in the collection. It is perhaps fitting that it deals with the juxtaposition of despair, resilience and hope. On a personal level this is poignant because a family member has just become seriously ill and we are having to draw on all our resources of strength and resilience to make our way through the darkness, to hopefully some form of light in the future.

The poetry book is a wonderful venture, a ground up practical away of providing financial support, the poems are written by ordinary people on the themes of

  • Poems for Children
  • Poems about Friendship
  • Love Poems
  • “Sad” Poems
  • Poems about a season (1 theme per season of the year)

The book is available for €7.50 plus postage and packing. If you would like to contribute to this great cause, you can BUY IT HERE. And please spread the word!

New Poem – Year of the Dog

Year of the Dog

Will you make a place for me

at the end of your bed?

I will lie

Against the shape

of long toes

in the crook of your limbs


guarding the morning against the night

holding your dreams in my mouth

spilled against the counterpane

but you are warm

and your breath dips and lifts

since the beginning

I have always been there

sentry of your longing

You wake, snuffling into life

You put your hand on my head

I lie under it.

International Fish Prize

This year I was honoured and thrilled to be shortlisted for the prestigious Fish prize for my short story ‘All that Thinking.’ To be shortlisted signifies a progression in my skills and confidence as a writer and is a wonderful affirmation that people enjoy my writing and find something worthwhile in it. I will always write but my raison d’etre is to connect with others and to say something that moves them, resonates with them or illuminates a shadowy corner of their mind where they reach towards a thought or feeling and, reading something of mine, grasp it.

This years Fish competition had 1800 entries and the shortlist comprised 140 of those entries. The competition was judged by novelist Ronan Bennett.  Visit the Fish site for details of the winners and further competitions including a One Page prize that is still open. The Fish prizes will be presented in Bantry at the West Cork Literary Festival on Wed 7 July.

How to travel between the alternates

(This is an extract from my novel in progress Housewife with a Half-Life)

Fairly Dave shuddered. He was already shuddering with the force and speed of his momentum through the temporal folds but his emotions sent another tsunami from his pelvis to the frontal lobes. He thought he had judged things right, that he should end up pretty close to the scene of the action but if he had misjudged it then it would be catastrophic. You might think you’ve blown it if you take the wrong turn off the motorway and have to travel forty miles north before you can get to the exit to turn you round and then you hit a tailback and its going to be forever before you get back to your starting point, never mind where you want to get to. But if you misjudge the route between alternate universes then you ain’t never going to find your way back.

If you’ve never travelled between alternate universes – well we all have, as we said, in dreams although we don’t know it – but if you’ve ever brought your body with you then you will know the sensations. You begin by whooshing, by hurtling down a translucent shute, a dull obstructed light coming through, so very similar to going down one of those closed slides in a waterpark. You are skidding, slipping and it’s a kind of joyful thing and your mind goes ‘woo hoo’ and you are a little bit at the mercy but it’s a fabulous kind of abandon and you are rocked and rocketed and accelerating all the time. You feel like there are tiny little men racing down your arms and dancing on your fingertips and toes. The speed is crucial especially when you are firing directly at the membrane of the alternate world. There is a gap but sometimes there are the last remnants of a film you have to break through. And first you plunge and its like going underwater and then like being under the blankets when you’re trying to get out but can’t and there’s a lot of flailing and panicking but its sort of safe and reminiscent of something you can’t quite remember, enclosed and watery and warm but then you see this very small black thing floating in front of you, a little blob, dark and coagulated and shiny like old blood and once it appears you can’t get it out of your mind. And you begin to feel a little sick inside, uneasy, unsure. It niggles and it grows and grows and the more you look and feel the way you do the more you feed it and it expands and becomes giant, a giant glutinous blob and it comes for you and it sucks you inside it and its in your face and your eyes and the stickiness is all over your palms as you push out and you know you are not going to make it.

Flailing without sound. There is no air. You’ve had it. But then you wriggle your fishy toes, you feel an opening around them. You make a movement like treading water. You know there is hope so you somersault or you lever yourself against the jelly walls and turn head to foot and you bang your head against the membrane and it breaks and you are whooshing, splooshing, flooshing out and you fall into light as searing at a nuclear blast, the sun with mirrors. And you have no eyes, they have burned away and you just feel. The light is like a liquid but slick, slick and you are still searing through the space between the solid and the material. You are a red hot iced lollipop hurtling and the solar wind rips at your skin and the back of your eyelids dance with kaleidoscopes and you are slipping through fast honey.

Then it goes black, you open your eyes newly you reach out to the fuzzy felt feeling the dimensions are closing and folding in around you like a fabric, a velvet funnel sucking you back down. And if you stare like you never stared before you can begin to see through the fabric, like watching the city from inside a taxi cab, streaks of neon, snatches of babble, honks and whistles, and a heavenly sky, like the northern lights a multitude of rainbows, streaking, spitting, exploding asteroid rain. Your chest expands and your mouth is stretched wide and joy joy joy floods through you through every tingling morsel of your skin, cells in a Mardi Gras the champagne exuberance of existence, you never ever ever felt this way before, tears shining in your eyes like liquid diamonds, you want to feel this way forever. Plop. He landed on the other side like ketchup squeezed out of a bottle.

The Float Boat (St Patrick’s Day Parade 2005)

The boat as it is today. Imagine pushing that down the main street!

(Here is the true but amusing life tale of trying too hard as parents to do everything. This is back in 2005, when 3 of the 4 were born and were all under 5.)

It was forty minutes to the parade and the homemade boat float wasn’t finished. He was painting it in ‘Forest Green’ weatherproof paint with one hand while taking part in a tele-conference call to the US with the other. I threw him an exasperated stare. ‘See you down there’ I mumbled while hoisting Tigger, Simba and an eighteen month old pink butterfly into their car seats.

That year the Humpty Dumpty Mother and Toddler Group had decided to take part in the Bray Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. The committee had given it an enthusiastic ‘green’ light. We were always looking for ways to reach out to new mothers, to gain exposure in the local community.

At the starting point, there was chaos and angst. My three under-fives tore off their costumes and took fright at the belly dancers and the freaky faced clown on stilts. Stationed finally behind the Humpty Dumpty banner we were given the signal for the off.  I began to realise that my husband’s creation of a fishing boat out of palettes and scrap wood may have been over ambitious. He had attached castors to the underside in order to wheel the boat through the town to join us, but there was no sign of him. I sighed resignedly and set off with two kids on the buggy and one under my arm.

Resignation turned to delight as Novara Road met Bray Main Street. He was there, waiting to join us. The former Tigger jumped in, eager for a ride in Daddy’s masterpiece. What should have been a happy conclusion was only the beginning of our troubles. Instead of moving at a stately pace the parade began to race along. When my husband attempted to move the heavy boat, he stalled and we zipped by. He was sandwiched and stranded between a marching band and Bray Emmets GAA club.

When he tells the story, he says I abandoned him. I say I thought he would catch up and take his place under the Humpty Dumpty banner. He says ‘at least someone else tried to help him’ – even though she yanked off the side of the boat in the endeavour. It was at that moment that he was filmed for the six o’ clock news making ‘running repairs’. The noteworthy point; always take your hammer on parade.

When I said that the Humpty Dumpty group wanted exposure, I didn’t mean hypothermia. The year before we’d been sunburnt, this year threatened frostbite. As we flung ourselves back off the main street onto the Quinnsboro Road, the wind whipped up from the seafront. The children began to turn blue. It was then that a Garda in radio contact ceremoniously approached the group. A three year old boy travelling in a homemade boat some way behind was hysterically calling for his mother. I ditched the toddler group and about turned. My husband was struggling, red faced and panting, flanked on each side by belly dancers. At my approach the former Tigger stopped screaming. We loaded all the children into the boat and soldiered on, side by side, our own private parade, our own Pole expedition. Sleet drove into our faces, but we prevailed, we saw the shore swim into view beyond the Dart lines, the waves recklessly pounding, the spray soaring. All we had to do was reach the seafront and the parade’s end.

The castors were becoming increasingly rickety under the strain. As we went over the Dart line they jammed and one of them came away.  Drama in real life!  Float Boat in Train Crash Horror they would write. No fear. The Gardai were on our tails. Three of them lifted up the boat bodily and moved it to safety. Not only that. On its final lap past the bemused compere’s stand, the homemade float boat had its very own Garda escort.

That was the last time we took part in our local St Patricks Day Parade. The boat was photographed and commended that day by an indigenous cult following. It has had a much less illustrious life since then. Later that day we took it apart and transported it piece by piece in an emerald green Volvo to its final resting place: the back garden beside the swings. In their imaginations the children make other extraordinary trips in it. One of these days, we’ll have to give it a fresh coat of green paint.

Bog Body


       All that summer she long jumped over wide gaps in the harvested bog. There was nothing to do. Her skin was a vessel for the sun, a honeycomb of cells filled with nectar, the throbbing of insects, the humming of bees.

            She begins a good way back. She can usually find some sort of a clear run, bar the odd rogue heather. She feels the prickle of dried grass and lichen against her bare feet as she makes her precipitous approach to the bank edge. She launches her body as a missile into the air. It cuts through the shimmering heat, making it warp and buckle. Then, in the slicing of time she is held, suspended, over the watery hollow, its cool pools pressed against the dank muddy cheeks of black turf. Then she is over – five or six feet across – coming to rest on pointed toes; her breath hitting the back of her lungs; her muscles slackening until her heels drop to earth, her thin arms dangling by her sides.

            It is August, a round bellied month, slow with heaviness and heat.  She sees them coming – three local boys – stocky trolls with thick wrists and necks, square pallid faces and muddy eyes.  She recognises them from school. They lumber across the bog in her direction.

            She watches them move with the same slow nonchalance as cattle, the same resignation.  She remembers that first day, her introduction to the class – the bright kindly faces of black haired girls with boyish crew-cuts, cheeky freckle faced siblings suppressing smirks. And them, a solid bulk of muddy eyed menace; their arms resolutely folded; their mass stretched across the back wall of the classroom like a buttress against outside forces. Now they heave themselves out of hollows, step between hummocks. One stumbles over a piece of bog deal wedged into the ground. He gives it a mean sideways kick, sending splinters spraying.  She’s afraid they are bored.  

            Tick, tick, tick go water crickets lazy in the heat. In the school yard, the boys lean against the low stone wall that marks the periphery, beyond which nettles and brambles thrive. The girls approach her, hesitant, demonstrating an alien game where there are four corners and the fifth person is somehow the odd one out. She stands, uncertain in the centre, unsure if she is in or is already excluded. Confusion overwhelms her, she retreats into a space, a kind of dip between the yard and the back wall of the school, a runoff where the water gushes in damp weather. She pulls back lank wisps of pale hair from in front of her eyes and twists chewed ends around her index finger.

            Across the yard she can hear the boys mutter, they travel between breakaway groups of tag and spies spreading Chinese whispers. She stands, twisting her foot into the dust and sees the children of her age laugh and turn away. Only the younger ones – tumbleweed sized bundles with rolling shoulders – remain. They hold the pleats of her cotton dress, its exotic pinks and reds the only flashes of colour among their more serviceable clothing, their faded denim and unravelling cord trousers. She is a butterfly that has come unexpectedly among them. When the bell rings they chase her to the classroom door then let her go.  

            Behind the teacher’s head are tall windows, through which the sun comes blindingly in the mornings, carving lemon meringue slices into the dark oak desks with their obsolete inkwells and blackened grooves dug out with HB pencils. She watches the slow parade of cotton wool cumulus against the sapphire sky and feels the words ‘out there.’ 

            The repetitive drone of spellings and tables stagnates the air. Under her chair and down at the small of her back is the gradual accumulation of tiny rolled up balls of paper; the punctuation of the afternoon’s slow unfurling.  She feels the pip of another missile, hears a snigger covered under the rustling of pages. The teachers raises her voice, says her name. She has been asked a question. She cannot bluff it. Her mind is at the back wall, being rolled in the plump palm of the Ringleader. She hears a clap, hands slapped together. She is sent into the corner on the raised dais beside the teacher’s desk. She sees them in her periphery, their faces jolly, their shoulders shaking with mirth. She rocks from her round solid heel onto the ball of her foot. From time to time she lifts and balances on her toes, staring at the wood panel, ready to dance or fly.  Somewhere else. A fly ricochets against the window and drops to the floor beside her, his thread legs flailing.

            Now the heat of the bog radiates into her feet.  She waits. She sees them, the boys from school, pick their way across the adjacent sawn out banks where turf is footed and stands to attention in three-sided spires. She is  poised, like a hare, tendons on a spring, tightly coiled. They reach her now, roll to a stop, a wall of weatherworn boulders. The Ringleader is broad, block solid, his lips the colour of crushed blackberries, swollen like the fruit. 

’What are you doing?’ he asks. 

‘Jumping’ she says, the soft tones of her blow-in accent lightening the initial vowel, giving the impression of weightless flight.

‘Jumping’ repeats the Sidekick, the emphasis on the middle consonants, making the word heavy, indicating somehow, the thud of landing. 

The third boy, the Follower, laughs. He has the nose of a fox, the keen bright eye and wiry build of a hound. They say more then, between each other. She can’t pick it up, her ears are attuned to a different pitch.  They wait for an answer, she doesn’t know the question. They are insulted, she thinks herself too good. She tries smiling but that too seems to be a foreign dialect, they think themselves mocked. She recognises their sullen stirrings, like a stick in quicksand.  She sees a sprig of yellow tormentil, tiny but tenacious, trailing over a rock.  She says something to them, about the heat, or the holidays. The softer her voice becomes, rustling like rushes, the more it angers them. The sun, devoid of malice soaks into all of them, gently.

            They move towards her, a resolute collective. She doesn’t resist. She has anticipated this moment in her stomach’s mutinous churnings on school day mornings, the reckless thudding of her fist-enclosed heart.  It had to happen. They scoop her up in their shovel hands, hold her aloft between them.  Like pallbearers they struggle and stumble over the rough grass, their faces contorting with exertion, their teeth clamped together. She is clasped by one around the legs, by another around the middle, just below her straining ribs, his hand resting on her solar plexus. Then finally, by the Ringleader, around her long flimsy neck, fright visible in the throbbing of veins under her thin skin.  

            They descend into the watery hollow into which she never fell while jumping. She sees a dragonfly arc above her, tracing the path of her exquisite flight. She smells the stewing soil, fibrous yet yielding. For a moment she loves it.

            They feed her, face down, into the bog.  Into her mouth and nostrils swill the bogs rank ale.  She tastes its foul decay: dead wood, the remains of crawling, creeping things, luminescent moss, pungent fungus, gelatinous lichen. Above her, as they heave and tussle, their forms obliterate the sun, bathing her in heavy shadow. They work methodically, with industry and intent, the nod and murmur of well rehearsed practise, the culling of poultry, the dipping of sheep.

            Through time she feels the weight of the bog, the strata of eons pressing upon her, the thin prehistoric cries of the ritually slain, outcasts and villains. She becomes accustomed to the taste of iron. In dusky evenings, after the sun slips behind round honey-crested hills, long dark shadows finger-paint her resting place. The corncrake skulks in the sedge, guarding secrets. In the languorous night she dreams, endlessly impeded journeys, horrific stagnation.

            She waits. She watches the world, glassy eyed, under a film of brown water brimming with the once living. Seasons come and go, summers under the weight of unrelenting mist, clear January’s, stormy Octobers. Other children grow, form and disband alliances, fatten up, slim down, stretch out, laugh, play, fight, love, win, lose.

            She waits. The oblong leaved sundew innocently unfurls its bright white flowers, its spoon shaped leaves with glistening red tentacles. It lures all manner of foul creatures:  flies, midges, beetles and ants into its mucilaginous secretion, dissolves its struggling victims, then digests them. She bides her time.  She dreams of osmosis, creeping advancement.

            Years into the future, she wrenches herself out of the sucking bog, its desperate mouth fastened round her, the squelch and pop as it releases her like regurgitation. Under the earth she stretched her fragile fingers against the immovable soil, made of living remains but dead, dead weight. Everything she could not do. Now she pushes out, presses her fingerprints against the sagging soggy earth, she makes her mark. The bog bounces back, erases her. She rises up, a ragged mast on the high sea, weather-whipped and pliant. Under her tanned leathery skin, her bones are frail, a luminescent lattice, roped loosely by sinew.  She feels the wind behind her, filling up her sails, she readies herself for flight. Above her head a heron makes determined for hill-framed shining water. 

She leaps light-footed from the hollow. Moths rise with her. Into the far distance bog cotton waves like tiny flags of surrender. The ground propels her bounding steps. The end of the bog is marked by three stones with lichen faces, their mouths in startled ohs, their eyes fixed and staring towards the wide gap in the bog. Her clod pressed ears catch the laughter of still undiscovered beings suspended in the soil.

            She lays her hands upon them, three stone heads. She feels their pitted resistance at her rough fingertips, ignores it. She begins, one by one to rock them gently forwards and back, back and forth, until the strongly woven moss loosens at their base, its fibres tearing apart.  They stand, like the teeth of diseased gums, dislodged and wavering.  Her crushed core ignites. Crackling and spitting she hurls the rocks down the springy slope where they lurch and judder. At the edge of the bank they languish, expressions contorted. She gives them one last, considered, benign, smile then drops them into black water, sees them sink and disappear.

            She roams now, like a wild animal over rock castles and her hair, once pale, is copper, plaited and matted like a Rastafarian, a sweat shirt tied round her middle under her new breasts, her legs the colour of honey and dung, laddered with old blood. She long jumps out of the bog, springing from a rainbow mosaic of sphagnum moss, to a long wide bank of solid ground. From there she climbs the honey crested hill, higher and higher, along ridges swathed with sedge where the wild air makes it ripple like waves. Her ears fill with the euphoric whoosh of wind and water.  From here she can see beyond closed valleys into the rest of the world. There is colour, space and light, different people. She opens her winged limbs and waits for the gust that will lift her into the distance. She whoops.