The 8 poems below are from Celia’s 2014 book, Light. In the right hand column are four poems from her earlier book, Mending the Skies. Both of her books deal with a life, a life beginning in Ireland, to be sure, but these are not of the rollicking-and-sentimental-by-turns comic-Irish sort, nor are they of the Celtic Twilight school. They are rich and occasionally golden-hazed by nostalgia, but more often down-to-earth, whimsical, terse and personal. They are strictly blather-free, and the characters we meet are human, with their Irishness a subtly permeating tincture, the weather they live in, not an ID tag. She’s a career nurse with a geo-scientist husband, probably not someone you’d go to for sentimentality. However, when she does slip into such temptations as the evocation of a long-ago child’s dreams, the results are real and moving. [Remarks by Dean Blehert]
Sample poems from Light
I think of those baskets of Monday
flashing through wind until Sunday
Petticoats, slips, and vests
towels blown stiff as a board
This being Mother’s finest hour
pitted against the weather
and everything never quite dry
As her white sheets snapped
and the shirts whirled with the frocks
I was a choreographer
pulling lines of them off.
There is shelter in the garden now
hedges and fancy lawns
but sometimes I see her washing
dancing through life on its own.
As I seek odd moments like socks
or a handkerchief caught in the dryer
I recall when longjohns hung out wet
had moves like Fred Astaire.
The ballroom is full of stars.
Outside, twilight promenades the young.
I sit inside and wait
in a dress my mother made.
My palms sweat,
shoes beat time to the music.
I tug at the billows of my skirt.
I’m the chick who can’t cross the road
though would-be partners
line up on the far side of a promise
in a huddle of Sunday suits.
I will remember their solidarity,
the big band sound of my heart
like samba, rumba or twist.
While others are swept clouds to air
no dancing partner redeems
that hour in the din of looking back.
We left out milk in case they cast a spell
I was a fairy changeling in my funks
Dad said they gave our cows an evil eye
But in my dreams no death inhabits them.
Although we knew of things that fairies ate
Erotic Irish mushrooms, whiskey spiked
White flowers you wouldn’t dare to take indoors
Those hawthorn blooms our mother never liked.
A bush my brother said the fairies owned
Stands strictly on one fairway by itself
It’s dead, black, useless, but it won’t be cut
Some hairy-handed fairy saw to that.
And yes, I stood one matinee, dumb-winged
The highest fairy perched upon the throne
Too short I did not get to play the Queen
Though everybody knew that I could sing.
But here’s the truth in case you need to know
On opening night I stole the blooming show
Till then unnoticed by that crowd I fell
Another fairy shoved me what the hell.
A few insist on remaining blue
forgetting that it’s not their turn
Not even the proper season
Those few I had dried for an urn.
For most it is heads up now
on the no-shoulders of weather
Old age they say
Is but a skill to be learned
Often their wigs stand out in a mist
Next to blonde teeth in the shingles,
Filling the space between holly and house
Their final rapture unsung
Hydrangeas wave from their sleeves
Like dames in their royal carriage
As if lace on the arms of the year
Was a consolation for grief.
Snow in Ireland
I rode against boreal night, dreaming
Bicycle snow, hobbyhorse snow
Snow in time for the Christmas.
Mornings all we ever got to see were
The same old rabbit ditches,
Stiffer hair on the grass.
Any crystals left over on ponds
Melted into water-colored skies.
Even before I left the cave of my room
Frost was there on the glass
Stark as the jangled briar
The cow’s steaming piss,
The glister of dung on the main road.
By Reading Time even my best dreams
Had dissolved down the face of Sister Louis
And the furnace clanking through convent walls
Was that of our own language
Speaking to the rain, the frost, the hail.
It was like that by the sea.
There was only snow in comics.
I would help my siblings to gather
Our Dad conducted the field
the lark above, the hay below
As Dad like God Almighty
solidly set our pace.
Jumping on works-in-progress
to tramp a better hay shape
he trimmed the heck out of sides
and bound our finished haycocks
with a length of soogan rope.
The field at sunset, red, oh, red
pyramids of shadow or light
another field, another day
his hilltop dotted with haycocks.
I loved the game I call soogans
as Dad fed strands to a hook
and I got to twist the handle.
Backing away across the field
no journey or word between us
only that rope growing longer.
When we looped it across the haycock
we were anchoring down the sun.
In the one old snapshot I saved
Dad stands smiling beside me
painted dark under skies of his hat.
Here, I am all grown up
and taking leave as I must
in four inch patent heels
that don’t belong in a hayfield.
It’s as if I will always tip-toe back
toward that moment of early August
to be joined by Dad at the hip.
As there for an awkward second
our arms are perfectly entwined.
Note: Soogan is a grass rope made in the field that is used to tie down a haycock.
Our Last Shoemaker
He only thought of us in terms
Of our feet and never much cared for our faces.
But he’s gone now anyhow
Lost to us and our poor damn feet!
I picture him shoeless on a beach in his native Greece
Unmindful of gluing rubber or carving leather bits
He is sipping samena like he always said he would.
Imagine our Town without him filling up with shoes:
Blue shoes, high shoes, nurse shoes, new shoes,
Not to mention the love laced and the tongue tied,
The eyeless and the down-at-heel,
The shoes without hearts or even a half sole.
The pairs that he laughed at, but fixed in the end.
The way he threw them up on the shelf
Like sods of turf or members of a summit.
And the lovely way he shined them all
Before he gave them back, so shoes
Might feel more broken in, more valid,
More suited to themselves than to our stars.
Note: samena is a wine from Samos, one of the Greek islands.
Though I always see the clock first
and our underthings dreaming
on the back of a bedroom chair,
my same old arm
still thrown half across you.
Reality only sets in
with the first rattle of a cup
and the birds at their morning hymn.
Your shadow is in the kitchen
I would alter the shape of nothing.
Copies of Light (80 pages, perfect bound) can be ordered from Celia Brown, 163 Racing Beach Avenue, Falmouth, MA 02540. For each copy send $15.00 (that includes postage and handling) if you’re in the United States. Send $20 per copy if you’re ordering from Canada or elsewhere outside the United States
Sample poems from Mending the Skies
The First Hour
The lie is longitudinal, the attitude is one of flexion, the
presentation is vertex, the position is left occipito-anterior..."
Textbook ForMidwives, by Margaret F. Miles
will never happen to me
I vowed, shocked the first time
I saw a head pushing out
after a slight show and water
spurting, the attitude, right
and the vertex coming at me--
just like it said in Maggie Miles
Push! I urged, sweating harder
than the woman I was trying to deliver
who wasn't listening at all
but swearing out loud
and ranting about red tomatoes
and someone stealing
out of her garden. Push!
I said it again, but by then
it didn't matter, the head
had come out and the shoulder
was presenting on its own
the little body slithered
I grabbed the greasy pole of it
upside down, clearing the airway
Cut the cord, and don't panic
I coached myself, clamping
down hard in two places to sever
the ropey tube and catch
the blue, howling vigor
of that first hour in my two hands...
my shaky, learning hands.
I bought the daffodils
that ward off cancer.
They are new and unopened
as a visit to the next specialist.
The flowers are shy of X-ray,
of that large pressing force
that grinds against the petals
of the body, that light reaching in,
so cold as I hold my breath.
But hope is the height of the sun
in these bare trees reeling
Will these flowers open up?
I place them in a milk glass
on the evening's edge,
do not bloom for me I ask,
do not bloom.
By The Elephant
at the Smithsonian in DC
Buffered by his cap and coat
my uncle rose like a kite
for the third straight day in a row,
wafted on the backs of tourists
into the archways of Science.
That was my Uncle John for you,
hot from the Emerald Isle
in search of the Hope Diamond.
As he poked once more at the dinosaurs..
till slightly sorry I¹d brought
him at all, I promised
to meet him at the Elephant,
where sooner or later everyone
returns if only to find the exit,
or to wink at a trumpeting greyness
that crowns the white rotunda,
unbothered by kith or kin
as sunset lumbers into light.
Bright are the seven seas
in their jungles of tee-shirts and hats
that rush sixteen different ways,
having lost or found a relative
on the way to Natural History.
My father climbed ladders,
mixed mortar and lime,
plastered the outsides of churches.
When the weather wasn't fine
he did inside stuff, courting
the thin high bluffs of all that was
dizzy and holy, as if he were seeking
a better angle on God.
He pebble-dashed till the crows
cawed evening, bevelled the archways,
spangled the domes so the parish
could pray in color.
My father, dusty as flour itself,
climbed down from the ladder
to sing Galway Bay.
The Harp That Once, his glass held tall.
Moonlight Becomes You, Perfect Day,
a spattered angel in his overalls.
My father loved smoothing old
stone at a height.
Each hard day like an act;
with his mortar-board heaped--
all those clouds to be patched.
Off too far, way up there death itself
was no more than the crack
that my father could fix if he tried.
Even after his eyes
were like broken stars,
all he knew was a trowel,
he could mend the skies.