‘Aleph to Taf’ and other poems by Emma McKervey

Aleph to Taf

The magpie uses a rudder to steer by.
I watch the long feathers of its tail
turn according to its needs.
The women here swear they see them singly
for weeks before a death, but that
is only said after the fact and I know
you can see as many as you wish
wherever you look. Now there are seven
moving about this field; I think nothing
of it. I hunker the tip of the long drill
which runs to the North and is ghosted
by frost in winter’s milky light.
The dibber is in hand. It is not a strong name
but I know it carries force,
carries the moment of force in its twist.
Torque it is called and the dibber
forms the T of that turn.
It is a brand in my hand which separates
death from life, beginning from end,
from Aleph to Taf as the Hebrews say
and I rotate the taf, the true cross,
opening the ground with its shaft
and turning the raw soil with membranes
of unlifted root; the worm’s excretions
all split and bound in the hollow’s walls.
It is the constant light and the constant dark.
I force it down and feel its force.
Into the earth’s gape I place the seed.

Originally published in the Community Arts Partnership anthology Matter 2017

Hera and Persephone

My eyes stare out from the fanning peacock’s tail;
she is wilfully unaware of the silver thread
which binds us by blood, or whichever familial bonds
the Hellenic gods possess to recognise their tribe.

I preside over the marital bed of her winter hibernation
fallow, with her legs spread wide, waiting for Spring.
She has forgotten the pomegranate was held in my hand
long before she spat its seeds to the earth and claimed it as her own

and now she has ordinance in her chthonic kingdom
my peacocks wailing about her feet, my fruit split and scattered,
my watching her, my niece, as she blithely dances
along the terminus between the dark and the light.

Originally published in The Rag Tree Speaks (Doire Press)

Beyond the Mussel Banks

On the Lough’s shore it is possible to find partially knapped flints,
rejected as arrow heads when the line of fracture
was not right -a misjudged strike by the knapping stone.
The chippings have been ground to sand by the tides,
lost as varying shades of grit compress in the damp,
unnoticed when trailing across the beach by the tideline –
picking a path carefully in May to avoid the ragworm’s
death throes above their hidden eggs, and in August
when the lea shimmers with dissolving corpses of jellyfish.
There is no liberty found here mixed with splinters of shells
and rotting sea brack, the soft parts of dying things
and the broken fragments of what was intended to fly –
but beyond the mussel banks I have ridden the wake
of the ferries, astride the prow of the fishing boats
shoulders untensed and neck unbowed in the lash of the brine
where, from the dissipating crest of each wave, my cry was barbaric.

published in The Honest Ulsterman


I have read there is a tribe living in the mountains
and lakes of Patagonia who can barely count beyond five,
yet have a language so precise there is a word for;
the curious experience of unexpectedly discovering
something spherical and precious in your mouth,
formed perhaps by grit finding its way into the shellfish
(such as an oyster) you have just eaten

Or something like that. I identify with this conceptual position.
And as I listen to my children debate on the train
as to which is the greater – googolplex or infinity –
whilst knowing they still struggle with their 4 times table,
I can’t help but reflect that maybe we should be
on a small canoe at great altitude, trailing
our semantic home spun nets behind instead.

published in The Compass Magazine

Wind Phone, Otsuchi, Japan

In Japan, on the north eastern coast, there is a phone box still,
with few windows if any left, although it is swept clear of leaves

and dust each morning. It stands on the lip of a hill from where the sea
can be seen, and the village, which is mostly rebuilt by now.

A stuttered trail of pilgrims is received to its door, to spin the rotary dial
although it is unconnected to any source. They whisper small things;

the weather, the spring blossom, the seizing up of joints, to the wind
in the mouth piece before setting it gently back in its cradle,

and they walk down to the village, or to the bus stop for a bus
to take them to the larger inland towns where they have been rehomed.

published in Banshee

Emma McKervey is a poet based in Holywood, County Down. Over the last few years her writing has been published in a number of journals and anthologies including Honest Ulsterman, Abridged, The Compass Magazine, and The Emma Press Anthology of Urban Myths and Legends. She has work forthcoming in the next editions of Southword and Coast to Coast to Coast. Her debut collection The Rag Tree Speaks was published in Autumn 2017 by the Doire Press, and she was a featured poet on the recent Intersections tour of the island of Ireland sponsored by the Arts Councils of the North and South. In 2016 she was shortlisted of the Listowel Writers Week Irish Poem of the Year in the Bord Gais Irish Book Awards, and in 2017 two of her poems were highly commended in the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. Damian Smyth recently described her writing as ‘tiny, ordinary miracles‘ and Carolyn Jess-Cooke has said Emma is a ‘dazzling new voice in Northern Irish poetry.’

‘Aleph to Taf’ and other poems are © Emma McKervey

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