The Idea of Islands

Island1

Due to Christmas gallery closures, time away over New Year in Jersey in the Channel Islands, and terrible snow and ice that has made it difficult to get around, I shall not, this week, be posting an art review but three poems written in Kerry, on the west coast of Ireland, from my forthcoming suite 'The Idea of Islands'.This will be published later in the spring by Occasional Press with drawings by the Irish artist Donald Tesky.


Island2

Ballinskelligs

They come to me in dreams
Scariff and Deenish, rising like those islands
floating in a veil of mist in Japanese prints,
their peaks in a halo of cloud.
Early morning the sun casts
rings of bright water, stepping stones of light
out to the distant shore. Midnight
and the islands are sleeping, turned in
on their own emptiness as if remembering
those ghostly lives gleaned on the barren cliffs
stinking of sea birds and herring,
the air thick with turf smoke and old rain.
Now they’ve gone the islands lie empty
as picked crab shells, the battering sea lashing
their glassy rocks with the spittle of lost tongues.
Outside my window the strait is moon-streaked,
silver as a hairline crack across
an old mirror. It’s as if I could simply rise
from this bed and walk to that distant shore.
Yet the night holds its secrets.
To feel this flat blackness, where even
the stars are hidden, is to understand what
we cannot see at the edge of the visible world.
The single blip of the lighthouse appears
then disappears every fifteen seconds,
its pulsing beam tracing an arc
across the endless sky, a blinking Cyclops
in the inky dark, till suddenly its morning
and the sun comes up;
streaks of blood-red leaching into the grey.

Island3

Island6

Cill Rialaig

A drunken wind blew all night,
banging at doors, rattling windows
ill fitting as old men’s teeth.
Now that it’s day,
I understand the loneliness
of storms as the distant island
beckons in the mist
like a half-remembered dream.
This is the edge of the world.
These wrecked cottages
have lost their hearts,
now they stare out to sea
granite-faced as grieving widows.
Their very stones breathe
destitution and loss.
Only the sodden sheep
chewing its cud
by the barbed wire fence
seems at home
in these blighted fields.
How many loved, lost
then left these peat-blackened hearths,
these gorse hedgerows,
backs hunched
against bone-chilling spray,
the print of hunger branded
on their lips?
In the high fields
standing stones lean against
the battering wind like ghosts,
like keening women,
the gusts unravelling them,
grief hanging in the air like rain.

Island4 Island5

Odyssey

A metallic sky fills
with the screech and stench
of seabirds,
and the ordure of guano
clings to the wind as
the horizon tilts
and the skelligs rise
like something dreamt,
Wagnerian in the silvery fog.
Solitude,
prayer, atonement?
What desire for holiness
brought them, now brings us here,
pilgrims
in this watery wilderness
where what we’ve left behind
and what we will become
remains hidden in this muslin mist.
Terns loop above the waves
inscribing scriptures
in the rain soaked air
as my stilled heart listens
for sermons on the wind’s
breath knowing that life’s
not what was expected;
understanding
how old I have become.

Sue Hubbard

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