2014 Poetry Prize – Shortlist

Wisdom of the origamist (Armel Dagorn, France) – Winner

Now I do this. See:
as simple as closing
your eyelids, one fold
and the unsightly vanishes,
the sum at the bottom
of an overdue bill, death notices,
results of blood tests
you wish you hadn’t gone to.
The blank back
of the page appears,
and here – a tweak or two
– the beak of your own chimera,
the gelato twirl
of a unicorn’s horn,
the puffy tail of a squirrel
as she paraglides between branches.
Or whatever strikes your fancy.
Let your fingers fold
the paperwork clutter
of your mind into beauty.

Mais Feliz (Patrick Cotter, Cork) – 2nd place

For penance he glued sandpaper
to the piano keys, red on the ivory,
yellow on the ebony and played
what had been their song,
a slow Brazilian ballad
sweet in its melancholy.
He started with light presses
(though the keys still scorched his fingertips)
gradually speeding the tempo
until he finished the piece
in some Rachmaninov frenzy.
He winced and groaned,
yelped and cried
with each note,
making all the noises
she complained he never did
with her when fucking.

He placed the home-made
card saying sorry
and the digital recording
of his remorse
in a manilla envelope
stamped with whorlless
crimson fingerprints.

Shelter (Maureen Curran) – 3rd place

When I hear “Shelter from the Storm”
I wish I’d written it,
It’s one of those songs you sing too loud in the car
that you feel in your stomach.
Or that poem I read about learning the names
of flowers in Irish in Glencolmcille,
or the one about the whirling exit of a boat leaving St Kilda.

A beautiful poem gathers you into it,
takes you out of yourself, makes you better.
You enter it by back doors and windows,
through key holes and down chimneys
with the draughts and rattles.
Stepping over screeching floorboards,
and stair treads, you hold your breath.

You know its perfect lines are
taut enough to bear the weight of your own thoughts
landing like crows,
fit enough to offer them canvas, stave.
You wander the poet’s shadow house,
make yourself a cup of tea,
get to know your host better.

You recognise in his face
a cousin, brother, angel, teacher
and you give yourself over to the teaching.

You are slow to leave but
wary of out-staying your welcome
you gather yourself off the bare boards,
hoping there is some dust in your pocket
and that down the line you’ll find it in the lint,
the memory of everything you’ve ever learned.
“Come in,” it’ll say “I’ll give you, shelter from the storm.”

Ghost Dogs (Patrick Cotter, Cork)

For Isso
Ghost dogs are tethered to a world they cannot smell
and mostly just loll about in acceptance,
soft chins resting between splayed paws.
Their faint, spectral shimmers barely visible to one another
and not at all to the living. Our world of sight and sound
is for them a dull world of curt limitations,
a vast, barren plain of olfactory ennui;
all the earth’s smells sealed behind caulked, invisible
seams. Even their own ectoplasm reeks of nothing
and there is nowhere to skitter about with nose
skimming the ground as the breeze purfles the topmost
hair of a raised curious tail. All of this they
miss with the resignation I’m developing
as my hair greys on such an evening, sitting
in a municipal park, the sun’s oblique rays
gilding the silky, reflective, fragrant, coiffures
of even the most raven-haired, youthful beauties.

Nest (Bernadette Ashe)

Bluebells fade.
Primroses edge to rust.
I urge you on your way, then
stand past mid-life
wander the familiar corridor to
your empty room.

Watch the busy blackbird
through your window.
Hop, stand, listen. Then the
pounce to harvest worms,
feed her young
for the day they’ll fly.

Empty bedroom,
you create no stories on your own.
I feel your clothes
they hang there, gather dust
out of date.

Nightwatch (Maurice Devitt, Dublin)

The street darkens at the edges
as night seeps in.
Dogs have long gone home
to bark at themselves
through the cover of owners’ legs
and cats send out their eyes
to check for mice
straggling home late from work.
One tree, taller than the rest,
is consumed by a gluttonous moon
and flowers, adrift in colourless dreams,
hiss short whistles of breath
as they turn uneasily in their sleep.
The failed magician in number fourteen
looks for his girlfriend’s number,
knows he has it written on a card
somewhere but which card?
Has got to thinking
that she is only half the woman
she was, pulls back the curtains
to check the crowd.
Not many in, he thinks
and feels the urge to disappear
but, two doves and a handerchief
later, gives up, watches
as the usherette strafes the night sky
with her silver torch,
fearing the next air-raid warning.
Already has two – one verbal, one written –
and knows this could be her last. Waits
as the neighbours take their seats
at bedroom windows, the perfect view
for a show that can only get better
after last night, when a fox
walked wordlessly across the stage.

Photograph-Shanghai 1907 (Paul Bregazzi, Dublin)

And coming towards us
the coolie man
the rickshaw puller
barefoot.
To his left
a lady;
she seems
assured.
Running to cross their
paths
two urchins
smoking wraiths
too fast for the
sedate empirical
chemistry
of their time.

Time lies on his couch
inhales
holds them momentarily

and exhales.

Salmon; An Assay (Mary Mullen, Galway)

You arrive in spring after winter’s hunger has made us weak
we slice your back, boil your head, eat and become sturdy
then hang strips of your flesh and your eggs in the March sun.
They shine flame spinel and garnet: we have survived another winter.

You are the King, our elders suck knowledge from your bones—
we trawl for meaning while oil companies offer barbecues,
wash you down with Chardonnay, groom slick lawmakers
who pitch your jewels in to the slime of their bottom line.

Our world burns, floods, blows while the sea change
pickles us in this fishy situation; we cry for salmon intuition
but are swamped by a following sea. In our ignorant quest
to become the King Salmon we spawn until we die.

The man in No. 41 (Maurice Devitt, Dublin)

Lives in the fear of self-service shops,
checks his pockets as he leaves
for contraband and unwanted gifts
planted in the crush at the salad counter.
Is suspicious of umbrellas
since he read of the Bulgarian spy
stabbed in the knee on Westminster Bridge
or the cathedral of the same name?
No matter, he knows it could happen
to anyone at anytime, loves the oily innocence
of fairgrounds, the beards of candy-floss,
the sawn-off option at the rifle range,
but afraid he might find himself
rocking at the top of a ferris-wheel,
waiting for others to board,
only to remember he had left the iron
plugged in, candles burning
and, knowing that the neighbour
two doors down, the only one with a key,
would be caught up in the vortex
of her daughter’s ballet, phone
snapped silent, he would call his home number,
be reassured to hear it ring,
surprised when it answered,
his voice coughing down the line.

The Pitcairn boat (Giles Newington, Dublin)

As a child I wanted to float my Pitcairn boat in the bath or the lake
in the London park where my mum’s ashes ended up
and which once carried off my football signed by Jimmy Greaves
when I got distracted trying to look through an actor’s glass eye
that my dad also gave me – he was good at souvenirs –

after his return from the Pacific with woven fans and Polynesian grass skirt
for my sister, hula hit singles for my disappointed mum, plus footage
from the film he’d made of island men, watched by rugged wives
in print dresses, dragging a longboat down a steep ramp to the launching place
and hurling themselves at the penned-in turbulence of Bounty Bay

where in 1790 mutineers torched their ship and without delay
set about dying and killing each other, embracing oblivion in a rush
of rage and jealousy and madness stirred by home brew
distilled from the alien vegetation, until there was only one man left alive,
a soberer murderer among the kidnapped Tahitian women and their children,

as well as other pictures of my dad himself lying on some outlaw grave,
strangely bearded, grinning with eyes closed at a hovering dark-fringed beauty
from his crew, raising a bottle from the crates of beer he’d smuggled –
or so his story went – on to the dry island, which all gave me the odd sensation
of soundless pushing at a coffin lid, the no-blow stillness of boxed-up ashes,

a barricade against the life above, a girl left scowling at the top of stairs,
a workplace chair shoved back for good, an air bag of silence
inflated between a crash-test dummy and a shattered screen,
and exile chosen on a newly named but wrongly mapped volcanic fingertip
poking out of the ocean under a dead weight of evening sky

over closed eyes of blind dwellings, from which no bridge will ever lead
to the previous world where my dad’s ghost did eventually materialise,
bringing me home a wooden boat, carved by an islander,
tall-masted, rigged with cloudy sails, equipped with pulleys, hooks,
a dozen tapering oars, a white-painted hull, no ordinary bit of tat,

delivered with his mimickry of the secretive Pitkern dialect
that I can still hear, with him long gone and the island once again
unmanned by violence and scandal, where hardly a soul remains now
to launch the craft, though my replica stands watch on its plinth in Dublin,
discoloured, dust-seasoned, obsolescent, otherwise as good as new.