Paula Meehan

Paula Meehan Poems

It can be bitter here at times like this,
November wind sweeping across the border.
Its seeds of ice would cut you to the quick.
The whole town tucked up safe and dreaming,

for Brendan Kennelly

It was the piebald horse in next door's garden
frightened me out of a dream
with her dawn whinny. I was back
in the boxroom of the house,
my brother's room now,
full of ties and sweaters and secrets.
Bottles chinked on the doorstep,
the first bus pulled up to the stop.
The rest of the house slept

except for my father. I heard
him rake the ash from the grate,
plug in the kettle, hum a snatch of a tune.
Then he unlocked the back door
and stepped out into the garden.
Autumn was nearly done, the first frost
whitened the slates of the estate.
He was older than I had reckoned,
his hair completely silver,
and for the first time I saw the stoop
of his shoulder, saw that
his leg was stiff. What's he at?
So early and still stars in the west?

They came then: birds
of every size, shape, colour; they came
from the hedges and shrubs,
from eaves and garden sheds,
from the industrial estate, outlying fields,
from Dubber Cross they came
and the ditches of the North Road.
The garden was a pandemonium
when my father threw up his hands
and tossed the crumbs to the air. The sun
cleared O'Reilly's chimney
and he was suddenly radiant,
a perfect vision of St Francis,
made whole, made young again,
in a Finglas garden.


The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died
to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I'd sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop each
like a peace offering, or a promise,
I am suddenly grateful and would
offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,
its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter's ended.

To sit an hour in gratitude, the heart
opening to dustmote sunbeam deep shade
in this sequoia grove the mind expands
to the edge of the forest which is the edge

of mind where I see the enchanted path
in and through the teeming forest of childhood,
your poetry written on my empty hands,
the leaves, your pages dreaming a whole age:

its mysteries writ clear as a star chart
across the heavens — the trail you have blazed —
O to be alive! The blest holy land
beneath my bare feet, humble and privileged;

to follow after, to walk the same earth,
to get down and kiss the ground of your birth.

8th of May, 2010

‘Honour the dust …' wrote Gary Snyder
in my old copy of No Nature
before Bella, our beloved dog,
got her teeth into it. Now dog eared,
well chewed, much annotated, it sits
on a bockety shelf right beside
the well made box wherein lies her wag,
her bark, her growl, her lick, her rapture
of devotion — her dust we honour.

from Geomantic, Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2016

It's a happy dream though in it you were
Humping some dancer in a run down gaff

A seafront hotel out of season where
I'm in a kitchen on the single bed

I've pulled from a drawer like the silk scarf
Of the seafront carny man who's filling in for

ManDuck The Magician star of stage and screen
I saw earlier that day at the end of the pier

I had sheets of Belfast linen but you
Had the dancer. And had her again

While the dawn struggled to break on the sea
And break on the quick and the slow and the dead

When I woke the next morning under the bed
Dustdevils, feathers and some child's brown shoes

The field itself is lost the morning it becomes a site
When the Notice goes up: Fingal County Council - 44 houses

The memory of the field is lost with the loss of its herbs

Though the woodpigeons in the willow
And the finches in what's left of the hawthorn hedge
And the wagtail in the elder
Sing on their hungry summer song

The magpies sound like flying castanets

And the memory of the field disappears with its flora:
Who can know the yearning of yarrow
Or the plight of the scarlet pimpernel
Whose true colour is orange?

And the end of the field is the end of the hidey holes
Where first smokes, first tokes, first gropes
Were had to the scentless mayweed

The end of the field as we know it is the start of the estate
The site to be planted with houses each two or three bedroom
Nest of sorrow and chemical, cargo of joy

The end of dandelion is the start of Flash
The end of dock is the start of Pledge
The end of teazel is the start of Ariel
The end of primrose is the start of Brillo
The end of thistle is the start of Bounce
The end of sloe is the start of Oxyaction
The end of herb robert is the start of Brasso
The end of eyebright is the start of Fairy

Who amongst us is able to number the end of grasses
To number the losses of each seeding head?

I'll walk out once
Barefoot under the moon to know the field
Through the soles of my feet to hear
The myriad leaf lives green and singing
The million million cycles of being in wing

That - before the field become solely map memory
In some archive of some architect's screen
I might possess it or it possess me
Through its night dew, its moon white caul
Its slick and shine and its prolifigacy
In every wingbeat in every beat of time


Like a knitted Dutch mitten
found in a patch of snow

I pull the word for little house
over my frozen fingers -

crawling in sunlight
over my own shadow

dragging my bundle of hides
my bundle of skins

towards the door and in
to the stink of sleep

my hand thawed at last
from its carapace of ice.

staggering towards me
I've cast you off

years ago
shrugged you off

left you, put you down at the side of the road
for ravening

by any passing predator
old skin - when your face splits open

in recognition -
you know me now

but not what bar you left me in -
what else would you say but

‘how're ya, me oul skin'


I know this path by magic not by sight.
Behind me on the hillside the cottage light
is like a star that's gone astray. The moon
is waning fast, each blade of grass a rune
inscribed by hoarfrost. This path's well worn.
I lug a bucket by bramble and blossoming blackthorn.
I know this path by magic not by sight.
Next morning when I come home quite unkempt
I cannot tell what happened at the well.
You spurn my explanation of a sex spell
cast by the spirit who guards the source
that boils deep in the belly of the earth,
even when I show you what lies strewn
in my bucket — a golden waning moon,
seven silver stars, our own porch light,
your face at the window staring into the dark.

Paula Meehan Biography

Paula Meehan is an Irish poet and playwright. Born in Dublin in 1955, Meehan studied at Trinity College, Dublin,and at Eastern Washington University. Paula Meehan was born in Dublin in 1955, the eldest of six children. She started school at St. Elizabeth's in Kingston upon Thames, England, where her parents had travelled to find work. She subsequently attended a number of primary schools around Dublin. She finished her primary education at the Central Model Girls' School in Gardiner Street. She began her secondary education at St. Michael's Holy Faith Covent in Finglas but was expelled for organising a protest march against the regime of the school. She studied for her Intermediate Certificate on her own and then went to Whitehall House Senior School, a vocational school, to study for her Leaving Certificate. Outside school she was a member of a dance drama group, became involved in band culture and, around 1970, began to write lyrics. Gradually composing song lyrics would give way to writing poetry. At Trinity College, Dublin, (1972–77) she studied English, History and Classical Civilization, taking five years to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree. This included one year off, spent travelling through Europe. While a student she was involved in street theatre and various kinds of performance. After college she travelled again, spending long stretches in Greece, Germany, Scotland and England. She was offered a teaching fellowship at Eastern Washington University where she studied (1981–83) with James J. McAuley in a two-year programme which led to a Master of Fine Arts degree in Poetry. Gary Snyder & Carolyn Kizer were among the distinguished visiting writers to have a profound influence on her work and on her thought. She returned to Dublin in the mid-eighties. Her poem "Seed" was used in the 2010 Leaving Certificate examination as the unseen poem, although (critically) the department misprinted 'useful' as 'useless' which somewhat diminished the meaning of the poem. In September 2013, Meehan was awarded the Chair of Irish Poetry, Professor of Poetry, by President Michael D. Higgins.)

The Best Poem Of Paula Meehan


The tide comes in; the tide goes out again
washing the beach clear of what the storm
dumped. Where there were rocks, today there is sand;
where sand yesterday, now uncovered rocks.

So I think on where her mortal remains
might reach landfall in their transmuted forms,
a year now since I cast them from my hand
—wanting to stop the inexorable clock.

She who died by her own hand cannot know
the simple love I have for what she left
behind. I could not save her. I could not
even try. I watch the way the wind blows
life into slack sail: the stress of warp against weft
lifts the stalling craft, pushes it on out.

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