‘The World Reduced to a Sound’ and other poems by Anne Tannam

Unfinished Business

On their wedding day his father said
I’ll forgive you everything if you do right by this girl
the unfinished education
the empty table setting at Christmas
the family name unpolished, unloved.

I never met my grandfather
a man who lived under the glare of his wife
but I remember my grandmother, a small woman
her mouth eternally disappointed with life.
Dad bringing us down to visit her
to the small dark house on Bulfin Road
where the furnishings took themselves too seriously.
Later in that same house, I found a studio photograph
of the polished family; my grandfather, something familiar
in the way he’s leaning against the table
my dad, a beautiful child about three years old
sitting beside his brothers and sisters, and there
my grandmother upright and disapproving
staring into the camera, daring it to blink.
That blonde haired little boy
the man who loved his wife for sixty years
couldn’t wait to cycle home from work
gave up his wages every week
cooked our fry on Saturday mornings
scrubbed our nails, polished our shoes
still wonders if he did enough
still wonders if he’s been forgiven.
Published in Spring 2015 Edition, Skylight47. Editors Kevin O’Shea, Susan Lindsay and Nicki Griff

At Sea

I’m watching a film.
There’s a scene at the end
where the leading lady gets into her car and drives.
The camera, a bird’s eye view of highways and roads
follows her progress until the journey slows
curves along the edge of sunshine and sea
before braking to standstill on gravel and sand.
I’ve seen this film before, a light-hearted affair
no hidden meaning or sudden twist at the end
but this time, I’m sitting on the couch, trying not to cry
wondering why the sight of the ocean at the end of a film
feels like someone close just died.
As the credits roll, I let the waves run in to shore
until my breathing calms and I am more myself again
forty six years old and counting
acknowledging the sadness
of continents and planets unexplored
of a single self who got side-tracked early.
I think of childless friends
who speak of emptiness and longing
the inconsolable sea inside
and that defining moment
whether through age or circumstance
when only one reality remains
and grief shows up to fill the void.
Published on-line on HeadStuff website Poem of the Week, June 17th 2015, Editor Alvy Carragher.

Groundhog Day

I laugh at 1950’s woman
tied to the kitchen sink
hair in curlers, head filled
with cleaning products
and ways to please her husband
after his long day’s work.
Yet sometimes
lying awake
juggling roles
adding items
to a list of never ending tasks
to be completed
I hear in the darkness
the kitchen sink
shuffling towards me
and her laughter
as she applies coral pink
lipstick to her smiling mouth.

South Wall

We walked the full length
sat on rocks
backs to the lighthouse
looking out at the lazy sea.
The air hummed dusk and evening
water turning from gloss, to satin, to matt
sky and breath descending.
Headed back in silence
footfall into the arms of Dublin bay
its familiar outline softening
night, a short car journey away.

The World Reduced to Sound

Lying in my single bed
a childhood illness for company
the world reduced to sound.
Behind my eyes the darkness echoed
inside my chest uneven notes
rattled and wheezed.
Beyond my room a floorboard creaked
a muffled cough across the landing
grew faint and faded away
My hot ear pressed against the pillow
tuned into the gallop of tiny hooves
then blessed sleepy silence.
In the morning
steady maternal footsteps
sang on the stairs.
I loved that song.
Published in collection ‘Take This Life’ (WordOnTheStreet 2011)


In a claustrophobic room
just off intensive care,
he outlined the facts.
‘She only scored four
on the Glasgow Scale.
It’s not looking good.’
Even as he said it
I knew this moment
defined ‘before’ and ‘after’.
I hyperventilated.
My mind looked on
as my body drowned.
We sat by her bed.
The word ‘coma’
came and sat beside us.
That evening she awoke.
Everything had changed.
She saw her daddy cry.
But a lifelong disease
is so much better
than no life at all.
When we got home
the house has moved
to another galaxy.
Published in The Moth Issue 2 Editor Rebecca O’Connor

Both a page and performance poet, Anne Tannam’s work has appeared in literary journals and magazines in Ireland and abroad. Her first book of poetry Take This Life was published by WordOnTheStreet in 2011 and her second collection Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor will be published by Salmon Poetry in Spring 2017. She has performed her work at Lingo, Electric Picnic, Blackwater & Cúirt Literary Festival. Anne is co-founder of the Dublin Writers’ Forum.
Anne Tannam’s website
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