‘The Day Of The Angel” and other poems by Clare McCotter


in memory of Anna McAllister

Walking evenings stretched out
into a prairie of stars
it seemed crimson and gold
would not rise
through bark and bole
and the goose following celestial cues
in the music of the spheres
would never leave
the soft bed
you spun for her
compassed by a newly hatched sun.

Falling like the bitterest snow
the moult had been hard
leaving her weak
till tail feathers
started to bud
on a harvest moon’s pink edge
its strange light
striking lodestones
behind dull eyes
sparked the fires of flight
ancient watchers
of southern skies had described.

Navigating night’s ametrine heart
she left without a word
each wing flap creating uplift
for those trailing after
on a journey
to the land of musk ox white bear
arctic hare and fox
drawn along
earth’s magnetic course
she separates milk from water
feeding on pearls
deep in the silvery reeds
back once more in her true north.

(Published in Envoi)

The Soul Maker

for Anne McGill

Year the blue planet’s icy moons
stole the show
and a Tibetan pony nosed
the starry heavens
she came at harvest equinox
carrying copper scales
brilliantly balanced
with corn and snow swept feathers.

On a black mineral glittered island
she was taught
all the holy place’s names
safest paths
the purest stream
running through meadows
where she planted
a silver ring among wild poppy seeds.

Patch of carmine becoming garden
tilled from the hour of the hare
to night’s fringe
by hands that fed the dark goose
sedge roots
and mosses, helping it
leave the gently lake lapped grasses
for its wide unfettered north.

Gentian and larkspur and columbine
spreading with scarlet vine
to other grounds
blur the boundaries
she crossed
travelling in the storm’s bright eye
all the way out to the marshes
just to glimpse the otter’s silky length.

(Published in Envoi)

Bone Constellations

in memory of Maggie O’Brien (née Flanagan)

In a graveyard searching among the stars
for the bones of a woman
dead over thirty years
I see something glimmer
on the floor of the water carrier’s jar.
It could be a femur, tibia or fibula
long bones in a pitcher of sky.

If reaching could draw them down
to where time and patience
perfectly placing each turn all
to a cathedral of white opaline
I would ask the wisest in these woods
to thrum up flesh and blood
with a low-voiced journeying drum.

Calling you back to the far hill
you walked with a small bird man
the tart-tongued said
you should have been glad to get.
And there we might speak
of mornings at your well
ankle deep in pale blue larimar light.

Under a roof of rented tin
talk might turn to a mare’s amber eye
to the final tear you cried
to nights you walked
a high path through whins and ice
leaving what offering with your God
half hawthorn tree half Christ.

(Published in THE SHOp)

Something Back

in memory of Julia McAteer (née McGuigan)

Today your daughter said everyone wants something back
the site she sold where an old house tilted like a womb
our now gone backfield that oblong of pristine green
the root of a lushing lilac bush earthed for a hundred years
a white-scarred gelding traded how many snows before

you died gaining in granite a syllable you never had in life
an absence filled with ibis and orioles and waxwings
your name in that girl’s ear a rare fleeting foreign thing
you would never have claimed your own
you never did the two bedrooms sleeping five

the living room clean of ornament and antimacassar
the two postage stamps of grass separated by a short path
host to a boy hatching joy from a gnarled brush shaft
the books you read but did not own or want to own
circulating like wandering stars through silver poplars

their light barred always from your grandson’s satchel
empty of paper and pencil those tools of an intellect
I doubt you would have wanted back
knowing his dawns break in water clear and deep and wide
no man with line and plumb will ever come.

(Published in Abridged)

The Junior Room

in memory of Annie McGill

Annie’s classroom was the only one in that small school
without pupils planted in rows
slicing the crumbly air straight as Christ’s crucified stare.

Junior room sans roof sans floor was a lake of islands
slowly flowing from some geography of grace
in pale blues and milky opalescent silks.

Lanterned by liquid moon and serous stars floating
under the firmament of fish she fed with strange fruit
gathered down deep on the gravel’s unmade bed.

Sediment stirred by flitting bats and the molten patterning
of their crystal chatter spreading as she held
between her thumb and finger tip a seed of water.

Swollen with three syllables sounded out
on a girl’s new exercise book – pig-e-on. Turning to two
rising from the prow of an out-rigger canoe.

(Published in Revival)

Mary of Fallagloon

in memory of Mary McKenna (neé McCotter)

The wedding name he gave
unused in our lowlands
where you are place.
Blanketing bog
gaunt supplicant thorns
beseeched amaranthine hills.
Sheltering three zinc roofed
rain serenaded rooms.

The rumour of furniture
two beds one wardrobe
and looming large
a rangy table
holding lessons
prepared at an oil lamp.
Grammar and composition
Greek and Latin roots
arithmetic, algebra, geometry
music and drawing.

Next to no interest
in those hasty concoctions
conjured in gurgling pots
stalwart on open fire
long after others
switched to stove switched
to shining enamelled cooker.

Your well-weathered door
always on the latch
no caller leaving
empty handed
cupboard scoured
for a brown egg
yellow pear or last blue fiver.

Sharp suited cattle dealer brothers
only half amused
by the tall ship
sailing down Glenshane:
black hat clamped on
verdigris round rim
black overcoat
fastened with old safety pins.
Till heavy hems stilled
that night winds and stars
died out there among the marigolds.

(Published in THE SHOp)

The Day of the Angel

in memory Mary McGill (née Moran)

A week of waiting and yellow roses, of winter benediction
in artefacts of light – lustral shapes or communion of dust and water?
Cold consecration sealed in an origami of doubt.
The healer left you nothing but her tears and a royal covenant
of wings, malaaikah, mal’ach, messenger
or your own heart’s breath diaphanous in lazuline and white?

It is four in the morning and you are still here; beyond
the night-struck glass a chaos of silence crowds eucalypt and beech.
Once a child’s time thronged cathedral, you always near
lambent lark light hands signalling encouragement and reprimand
to family and those where bloodlines run less clear.
Now they lie calm and lovely in a galaxy of spheres.

I wish you had worn the earrings I wear today for this poem
symbol of an adopted land, the studied stars you bought
when I was twenty one; long before these hours of astral ambassadors,
of lucent pale blue orbs, of a young saint’s favourite flowers.
Before I saw feathers of morning and gold gleaming there
in the unflinching black of your daughter’s black hair.

(Published in Abridged)

Clare McCotter’s haiku, tanka and haibun have been published in many parts of the world. She won the IHS Dóchas Ireland Haiku Award 2010 and 2011. In 2013 she won The British Tanka Award. She also judged the British Haiku Award 2011 and 2012. She has published numerous peer-reviewed articles on Belfast born Beatrice Grimshaw’s travel writing and fiction. Her poetry has appeared in Abridged, Boyne Berries, The Cannon’s Mouth, Crannóg, Cyphers, Decanto, Envoi, The Galway Review, The Honest Ulsterman, Iota, Irish Feminist Review, The Leaf Book Anthology 2008, The Linnet’s Wings, The Moth Magazine, A New Ulster, The Poetry Bus (forthcoming), Poetry24, Reflexion, Revival, The SHOp, The Stony Thursday Book and The Stinging Fly. Black Horse Running, her first collection of haiku, tanka and haibun, was published in 2012. Home is Kilrea, County Derry.


The Day Of The Angel and other poems are © Clare McCotter

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