sheena blackhall

(18/8/1947 / Aberdeen)

Of Shards and Bog Kings: 16 poems


1.The Bog King
In Memoriam, Seamus Heaney 13th April 1939- 30th August 2013

Born in the family farmhouse of Mossbawn,
A Derry man, first of a brood of nine
His father dealt in cattle, his ma, a McCann’s,
Own clan made Irish linen, white and fine

He learned to read at Anahorish school
Then boarded by a scholarship, to college
Cream always rises up to the bowl’s brim
A pinch of learning turns gruel to porridge
Light as the goose wing on a baking board
Was how he treated fame, the modest kind
No need for men to whisper ‘You are mortal’
His greatest triumphs, triumphs of the mind

From farm, to Derry, Dublin, Oxford, Harvard
A Beltane beacon, bard of the whispered shout
A Saoi of the Irish Aosdána
At Blackrock, Dublin, that great fire went out

Now, he will join the Bog Queen under the sod
Dug down beside his small boned toddler brother
His Golden Wreath of Poetry dried to crackling
This Irish Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres
Will sweeten the mizzling mist of an Irish Autumn
Magherafelt, the Moss, the Moyola river,
Will know him as the coffin passes by
The high horse chestnut boughs, will briefly quiver

He will lie at the world’s end, with his people’s tribe
No troubles can touch him now, no storms to assail
Out of the frantic media’s caterwaul
The tomb tells time in gentler ways and older
By his first hill in the world, place of clear water.


2.Travellers
The sea is full of sand and salt, herring bones
And the broken backs of shells
The silt of fathoms churning

Here at the ocean’s edge
Travellers live in their homes of tin
Appearing and disappearing at will
Like gulls come out of a cloud

Today, they face the tilting seas of the North
Tomorrow will see them parked
On some derelict periphery
Waiting for the dogs of disapproval
To snap at their slip-shod heels


3.Otters
Three otters came frolicking into a pool
Heads like bloated tadpoles
Shoulders shifting water
With the ease of a six-pack mole
Breaking the water’s roof
In kerplunking play
A rumpus of fur and gumption
Glorying in the heat of a cloudless June
Hedonists, chin high in mud and spray


4.Woodland Tryst
I met an Irish boy in a ferny wood
When I was a near grown woman
And he was a near grown man
And the stars in their sable heavens
Burned like coals in a hod

Come lately into greening
Two young beech buds,
unsheathing their tender leaves

The aspens quivered and chattered
But never betrayed or told
How his lips were hard as a stone in Killarney moss
For who could think a scythe would cut down corn
And it still green, not yet on the cusp of turning?


5.Encounter
Girl with silver earrings, bright in her copper earlobes
Is wearing the black silk hijab of her Muslim faith

About ten, she is holding her baby brother,
Her mother’s bag of messages

A passenger pokes her back
‘Shift yer feet frae the aisle,
Ye rude lassie’, he barks

She understands the poke and the angry face.
Clothed in vibrant reds and greens
She is a parakeet in a bus full of seagulls

Her mother shrugs her shoulders, looks away
‘Watter aff a dyeuk’ the man exclaims
To an invisible audience

The street outside is damp with the smirr of rain
Pawn shops, bookies, boarded up retailers
Poundland, moneylenders, miserable beggars
The smear of excrement where dogs have fouled

Above all this, some celebratory flags
Drop in the limp air, like shot crows, hung as a warning

This is the year of the queen
We are her uneasy subjects


6.The Wood has many Doors
The wood has many doors
Walk in. Bring your empty day and fill it with trees

Bend down on your two stiff knees
Stuff mushrooms or cones into a dusty bag

The owl has drawn the blinds on his wide eyes
His window of air will open again in moonlight

Firs are talking in riddles, dropping their needles
Onto the orange and tawny trampled path beneath

By the loch, a heron meditates on fish
In his grey Zen cloak, one leg frozen in zazen
Nothing is happening, nothing that you can see
Ants reshuffle a pack of leaves
On the edge of your eyes’ periphery

Are you surprised how old and fat you have become?
Are you surprised how life has leaked away unnoticed?

Stay. Leave. Linger. It’s all one to the stone
By the badgers’ trail. The clouds dissolve
And reassemble, ever the same but different


7.Parfum de La Vieille Dame
To peer at the section marked ‘reduced’
She raises her turtle neck

Shoddy, in shapeless shoes
Shrunken in size and status
Her brown blotched hands
Strain to retrieve what’s affordable
A 1950s stunner, she knocked men dead
With one bat of her flirty eyebrows

Now, she shuffles along the aisles
Elasticated stockings holding her veins together
Wearing parfum de la vielle dame
The only accessory age provides for free


8.Cat on a Barber’s Chair
A cat jumped up on a barber’s chair
Said, ‘Give me a wash and blow
I’ve places to be and folks to meet
Make it snappy, I’ve far to go! ’

His eyes were mean and his claws were sharp
He’d the look of a cut-throat tom
You could tell he’d massacred tons of mice
And the odd pet pooch with aplomb
A cat's got to do what a cat's got to do
The barbers hands were shaking
This cat could spit; he’d a growl like grit
That had most mere mortals quaking

With his slicked back fur he began to purr
As he tossed a bird to the floor
‘Keep the change, ’ he said, ‘it’s almost dead’
As he strutted out from the door

I’ve romped with a gnu till my face turned blue
I’ve wrestled a Russian bear
But the meanest beast from west to east
Was the cat on the barber’s chair


9.They Feared (Asylum, ww2)
They feared the terrors of reality
They feared the night, the siren’s weird refrain
They feared the ghosts which visit the insane
They feared all contact with humanity

They feared the bombshell of new company
They feared hallucinations, bringing pain
They feared electric shocks, that jolt the brain
They feared the locked ward’s frightful anarchy

They feared each shadow, glad to be un-free
They feared the world, it’s nose pressed on the pane
They feared depression’s inner misery

No time to fear the bombs that fell like rain.
No time to fear war’s bloody potency
For some, no chance to ever fear again.


10.A Royal Baby
Though clouds bring flood, and nations clash
There’s happy news to bring
A royal baby has been born
To Britain’s future king

And may the infant grow in love
And walk in pleasant ways
And may the dove of peace and joy
Guard all its future days


11.A Young Iguana
A Young Iguana called Molly
From Asda stole a shopping trolley
‘Come back! ’ cried the staff
For she’d only paid half
Of the shopping, a crime that was folly


12.Jack the Fruit Bat
Jack the fruit bat hangs around
Upside down above the ground
If he lets go, then like as not
He will become a fruit compote


13.The Otter
A dashing young otter with balls
Jumped over Victoria Falls
But he didn’t find fame, though on learning his name
He was pestered by internet Trolls


14.Tribal Processions
Tribal processions enter the porch of my thought
Grandfather, wiping his beery whiskers
Grandmother, counting the days since her last bleed
Their grandparents, carrying on the tracks of ghostly footprints

Forebears live on, in a certain turn of phrase,
The odd plate from a wedding dinner service
Bits and pieces of genetic flotsam

The family totem pole has many faces
All of them cut from the same timber and root


15.The Blue Purse
The blue purse flopped through the letterbox
Plastic, with gilt clasps
All the way from America
In sunlight, it softened a little
Stank of an unknown chemical
That nipped the back of your nose

It belonged to the land of gas stations
Sidewalks, tumbleweed, Charlie Chaplin

It belonged to the land of Davy Crockett and pop
The land of chewing gum and farms the size of prairies

Like a big strange Giant standing behind a tree
Waving the stars and stripes
It was just too new to be loved
It might jump out, shout ‘Boo! ’ one day
And pull the trigger


16.Shards
Once upon a time
A little glass doll
Slipped the leash like a mongrel sniffing
For treats or treasures

A very little girl
From a garden of snail trails
Tom Thumbs and briers

Like an eel wriggling into strange waters
Ungrateful little doll
Not content to be untouched and still

Who fell from the rainbow like Icarus
And smashed into bloody shards

And a wicked fairy came
With a wombful of ash
And a mouth that spewed out terrors

At night her daddy came,
The handsome prince,
The soup in the pan
Was full of bones and lies
And the handsome prince
Put a lock on the castle gate
To keep the monsters out

Dreams brought snakes
And dragons. But the glass doll
Glued together never moved
You could stick her with pins
Like a witch’s toy
But she’d never cry out
No no, that wasn’t allowed

On a clear day you mightn’t see her
Invisible, quiet and secret
A Goody two-shoes
Wearing a crack for a smile

Submitted: Sunday, October 20, 2013
Edited: Tuesday, October 22, 2013

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