“Pillars” and other poems by Alice Kinsella

Sea walk.

A grey day
Bitter winter
Biting wind
And there was us
We got our shoes
Wet and our toes
In our socks
The sand clumped
Our fingers curled
And I tasted salt
Coating your lips
Goose bumps rose
On our arms
And the hairs stood stiff
Like tiny white flags
The air licked wet
We bundled coats tighter
And your fingertips put
Bruises on my skin
You said we’d come back
When the weather
And Wade barefoot.
The weather turned all right.
But we never did,
Did we?

Tea Leaves

Amongst the ghosts
Of coffee dates
Gone by
Two old friends met
to share a brew and some moments.
They sat on rickety chairs
out of doors in sticky rain.
Shredded tobacco with shaking hands
Into thin bent rollies
And tugged on them to fill their mouths
with anything but words.
Coffee for her and a green tea for him
A long repeated order
a rehearsal of a memory
And do you remember when?
He did.
And how we used to?
She did.
They were great times weren’t they?
They agreed they were.
He tells her he remembers
when she bought those earrings
a flea market wasn’t it?
No it wasn’t she tells him
These were a gift.
They were sitting still.
But they knew where they were going.
The cups emptied
the butts smouldered like late night peat
They waited a bit longer
Before paying the bill
Spilling coins on the table like a flood of tears
that just wasn’t coming.
They rose with silent mouths to say
Good luck then
And thanks for it all.
Before dividing paths
They looked smiled again
A shallow curve that didn’t reach the eyes
They brushed hands instead of lips
trading nods instead of love.
Tea Leaves was originally published in The Sunday Independent.

After the storm

The dress I wore was black
Every day for a month
In and out
My mother would steal it as I slept
To run it through the wash
Scrub away the musty smell of sleep
Each day announced itself with light
Breaking through at 5.15, 5. 05. 4.55.
Reaching in, it did not brush the hair from my eyes
With love, a gentle reminder of the world beyond dreams
No, it pushed through with a silent scream
And bolted me awake in one shocking leap of heart
Every day in and out
Wake, shower, walk,
Eat, read, sleep
“take your pill did you remember?”
“did you remember to take your pill?”
“don’t forget to take your pill”
I won’t
At night I sit by the window let air in
To merge with Turf and tobacco scent in my hair
Shorter than before
“less hassle now isn’t it?”
Eyelids droop “no more caffeine or vodka now no”
But they didn’t take my fags at least
There is a calm not before but after
Unlike any other
No longer an anticipation of release
Lacking the fire, the fury, the fear
Now there’s a deathly droll of life
On repeat- on repeat- on repeat.

The Stranger.

The daisies in her hair wept
Each petal curling at the end
A flick of a goodbye to the day
The sea licked her little toes
And her mum watched on
Half distracted
As mums must be.
Her blonde plait
Jolted and darted
Down her back
Like a snake.
Her new teeth like tiny fangs
Jabbed through gums
Her tooth fairy money
Still jingled in her
First big girl purse.
The sun lay heavy
dropping towards the sea.
He watched from his perch of a rock
And thought how nice it was
To see the young
Enjoying the beach.
“Mister why are you wearing shoes?”
“I’m not going into the sea.”
“and what’s that stick for?”
“it helps me when I walk.”
She showed him the shells
That she’d collected
“do you know their names?”
She shook her head
So he told her the names of all the shells
And the creatures who used to live in them
He thought of his daughter
And how she’d learned
The names of the birds
Out on this beach
So long ago
When she was small too.
Her mother almost dropped her phone
And hurried over.
She couldn’t believe
How little attention
She’d been paying
To her little girl.
“come away from that man
You’re not to talk to strangers.”
Her mother didn’t look him in the eye
Just scowled
And muttered the word
All parents fear.
He tried not to take it to heart.
He had a daughter too.
He’d been the same
When she was that age.
He’d been a police man.
Back in his day.
He knew the things all parents knew.
He loved his daughter.
She lived in Australia now.
Her picture was above the mantel at home.
He loved his own daughter.
He’d never hurt kids.


There were seven
if I recall correctly
in our townland
When we were young
three now
or there were anyway
last time I was home.
You’ll find them in any house
round those parts
with the leaky roof and the mongrel
who tore open the postman’s leg.
There’s Paig who lives by the sun
after the ESB charged him too much
ao he ripped the wires out
of his six generation old shell of stone.
Whose rippled forehead
and bloody eyes gestured
as we flew by on our rusty bikes.
We never stopped
so’s not to be a bother.
There’s Jon Joe then with the single glazing
and the tractor older than any child
he might have had
would be now
had he had one.
He’s the one we all know has the punts
stuffed under the mattress.
The one that never sponsored our sports days.
And then there’s Tom.
Old Tom not as old as you may think.
who lost his namesake
to a kick of the big blue bull.
They weren’t talking
at the time
but he sold the bull afterwards
and the money went on the bachelor pad
because She kept the house.
You’ll find them anywhere around those parts
at the right time
once you know the right time
that is.
They’re the shadows of the women
these men.
They’re the welcome and g’afternoon
at the church doors
holding up the walls
later holding up the bar
(Neither in nor out)
You’ll know them by the cut of their turf
and the cut of their jip
by the stretch of their land
and the hunch in their backs.
There’s the grit in their voice
and the light in the eye.
And when they die
they’ll be called pillars
of the community
but we didn’t notice them crumble
and we’ll soon forget they’re gone.

Making Pies

We would pick black berries
Every day after school
For three weeks before
Dressing up and dreading
Pooka’s poison spit.
We’d munch as we gathered
be left with only half our winnings
lick our fingers dry of juice
and always come home late.
To protect their labours
the briars would attack
and tear into soft finger tips.
I’d delve delicately into
the gushing wound,
lap up the coppery flow
and suck out the hidden prick.
I’d always say it didn’t hurt.
There was an orchard in my back garden
there we could pick our second ingredient
Six a piece to make a pie
They were high up
And buried in the auburn curls of autumn
You’d give me a boost
And half the time we’d fall over
Stain our trousers
With the dewy evening lawn.
You’d always say it didn’t hurt.
One year they were sparse
“a bad year” my mother said
So she bought cooking apples
From the new Tesco in Town
And I had to peel the stickers
Off before she skinned them.
That was the year I learned to
Use the sharp knives
And we didn’t go trick or treating
Pillars” and other poems are written by and © Alice Kinsella.

Alice Kinsella is a young writer living in Dublin. She writes both poetry and fiction and has been published in a variety of publications, including Headspace magazine and The Sunday Independent. She is in her final year of English Literature at Trinity College Dublin and currently working on her first novel.
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