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Seven Sugar Cubes

On 10th April, 1901, in Massachusetts, Dr. Duncan MacDougall set out to prove that the human soul had mass and was measurable. His findings concluded that the soul weighed 21 grams.

When your mother phones to tell you that your father has died
ten thousand miles away, visiting your emigrant brother,
in a different hemisphere, in a different season,
do you wonder if your father’s soul will be forever left in summer?

Do you grapple
with the journey home of the body of a man you have known
since you were a body in your mother’s body?

Does the news melt into you and cool to the image
of his remains in a Tasmanian Blackwood coffin, in the body of a crate
in the body of a plane? Or do you place the telephone receiver back on its cradle,
take your car keys, drive the winter miles to your father’s field, where you know
his horses will run to the rattle, like dice, of seven sugar cubes.

 

(first published in The Irish Times, April 8th, 2017)

Brother

Don’t look at the rosemary on the fridge
Shelf—it will remind you of the lamb
You cooked yesterday and how you
Laughed at the notion of posting
Next Sunday’s roast Down Under.

Don’t think that staring at a television
Screen will fill the void. The Sydney
Cricket match on the afternoon sports
Bulletin will emulate the scorch
Of your dancing coal fire.

Don’t step outside to breathe the frosty air,
You might foolishly look up to the sky
And see the ethereal trail of a jumbo jet
Oblivious that it and every emigrant ship
Has carried fragments of others.

Don’t look at your young son stretched
Out, colouring his pages with crayons
—it will only remind you of your brother,
Six years your junior, of how you walked
The school route with him, his small hand in yours.

The Radiographer

Hear the buzzhum to catch those ghostly shadows

Like a perfume plume
you arrived in the world one Bloomsday –
a button-nosed blonde with a mind of her own.

You slept in a bed for a crib
drank Coca Cola not infant milk
had a candour at three that was unparalleled

broke news of death with a jolt of coldness
opened doors to poets in Decembers
with Too late! They’re dead!

You ate your meals with a mermaid’s dingo hopper
watched horrors each night before bed
attuned yourself to the earth’s core

listened for each murmur, focused on each movement.
Your acuteness
lived up to every meaning of your name

Katie: frank and scientific.
You netted each prize throughout school
engineered a loop road to ease congestion

created flow in one direction
found the radix of each problem
like Röntgen, produced, detected and saw through.

(Poetry Ireland Review, Issue 122, 2017)

Hypothesis

So the editor wants to know why
people are killing
themselves. I’ll tell you why –
because they are part of a revolution
they know nothing
about. Not a revolution with guns
and knives but one in its strictest
physical sense, the revolution
of the geoid, the planet earth.
We might share it with billions
but these days
we are each on our own
as it sits, upturned on its axis
slowly revolving, shaking off the detritus
until one by one
we cling to the surface
or free-fall into oblivion.
And so we concoct bizarre ways
to dodge our turn –
we are drawn to the oceans to hide
but drown in their deep waters,
we strive to weigh ourselves to the ground,
injecting ourselves like batteries
with liquid lithium.
To defy gravity
we anchor our ankles to balls and chains
or feel the ephemeral
ecstasy of letting
blood from our veins.
While some tie ropes around their necks
as they take their turn,
ready to hang
from the world, like a tarot card I once saw.

(First published in The Stinging Fly)

Skype

Sit in your night chair
and walk the morning
streets of Canberra.

Your cold kitchen’s silence
is another hemisphere
of warmth and chirping birds.

With open laptop
your virtual brother
will retreat indoors,

passing an orange tree,
disconnecting the fruit
for you to see.

At the end
it will be Good Night
and Good Morning.

Your winter lips will send
a kiss by fingertips
to those of summer

and your palm
will touch the cheek
of his flatscreen face.

(First Published in The Moth Magazine, December, 2011)

You Have Become the Hand Rub of an Olympian

When your ashes return
in a small wooden box,
a brass plaque on top,
there is no cord

or record of attachment
to anything or anyone.
Somewhere a uterus
is evacuating itself –

a mass of patient vessels,
surrendering and collapsing
bereft of implantation,
their futile existence spent.

If we were to walk
every inch of the earth
or soar to a distant planet
we’d be utterly sure

of one thing now –
we’d find nothing
of you except these ashes –
not your cadaver

or the bony frame
of your being,
not the protrusion
of your dental arcs.

You’ve been reduced
to chalky powder
like the hand rub
of some Olympian

preparing to bar-cling.
If this box should open,
one accidental sneeze
might spell the resurgence

of your skin cells, hair
follicles, a glutinous eye
or a femur bone. Rewinding,
back-tracking,

you’ve been redacted
to the nothingness of an atmosphere.

(The Pickled Body)

Plenary Indulgence

Abrakedabra! and a plume of white smoke
Habemus Papam We have a Pope!

Through crimson curtains he emerges.
Immaculate.
Cassock and cape like fresh snow.
The conclave gushes behind
all blood red and sanguine.
They are umbilical

Connecting me to my grandmother
who polished her front step
with a tin of Cardinal Red
reciting her thirty-day-prayer
in rhythm with the bristles of her brush –
her incantation
a crucifix of indentation –
up and down, side to side, going nowhere.
The end result gleamed but was slippery
like dripping.

Do you know the Pope wears red shoes ?
I do – for the blood of the martyrs
or maybe for their Ferragamo tag.
Do you know he wears a fisherman’s ring?
I do – for St. Peter who cast
his net into the sea
or maybe to dress his hand
with gold and diamonds.
Do you know he gives out a Plenary
Indulgences on special occasions?
I do.

And then the pope raised his hand
and drew the world to his palm
and to my surprise, for a moment, I remained there.

(First published in Poetry 24)