‘Glendalough Sonnet’ and other poems by Angela Patten

Glendalough Sonnet

Rain and relatives, relatives and rain.
In Glendalough’s monastic town
a jackdaw baby thrusts his downy head
out of a round tower putlock and raises
an ungodly yellow beak to squawk
at gawking tourists snapping cellphones,
the spines of their umbrellas dripping
on the ancient bullaun stones
where monks once mixed their potions
and the holywell was rich in lithium
which turned out to be a great cure
for the occasional pilgrim who, like me,
suffered from the watery weather
or a sodden slough of Celtic despond.
Angela Patten © The Cumberland Review 2015

Inchigeelagh Getaway

Gaeilge, Inse Geimhleach, meaning “Island of the Hostages”
The land is a sponge sodden
with salt water and rain,
the mossed path a tangle
of Herb Robert and buttercup.
Giant leaves of gunnera
and the green spears of rushes
stand guard around the pond.
Laburnum hangs its head
like a girl drying her yellow hair.
Water gushes under culverts
over rocks, tap-tapping on the roof
of the sunroom like a timid visitor.

Through rain-streaked windows
I can see our hosts raise their heads
to look upward as the tempo
intensifies to an irascible hammering;
almost hear the ebb and flow
of their soft voices
from where I stand hidden
under a canopy of dripping roses
and dangling fuschia blossoms.

A clattering sound as three
runaway sheep hoof it down the lane
like boys going over the wall
to mitch from school.
Tomorrow they will have to return,
tails between their legs.

But for now they are part
of a thrilling spectacle as they trundle
three abreast into the green gap
between the high ditches.

The other sheep graze the wet grass,
their plaintive bawling
from the nearby field
like the call-and-response
of a gospel choir
singing the praises of
another doomed rebellion.

Angela Patten © Saint Katherine Review 2018


In Norse mythology the twin ravens,
Thought and Memory, flew about
the world, collecting news for Odin
who had given them the gift of speech.

Did they work together as a team—
one forward-thinking, looking out
for bloody rumor, thin whisper,
foul-smelling allegation, while the other
mouthed words and phrases,
recited names, reiterated everything?

Did they return together, grigged
with gossip for the dinner table?
Or did Thought sometimes muddle
Memory with unanswerable questions—
Can Memory be trusted?
Does Thought delude itself?
Do we only live as long as Memory
wraps us in its wings?

Odin feared they might not return,
knowing their taste for decomposing flesh,
what that vertiginous perspective
might reveal—a new god with a dove
that whispers in his ear, some new
dark truth delivered from the air.

Angela Patten © Sequestrum Journal of Literature and the Arts 2017


 “It is said that crows, like other corvids, recognize themselves in mirrors
and this is thought to show intelligence.” (
Scientific American)

The last light of a winter’s day—
thousands of winged forms
flap past my windows—pins
pulled by a powerful magnet.

The sky is black with crows
crying in cracked voices of their plans
to steal what is left of the light,
to gather their feathered shapes
into a solid-color jigsaw puzzle
of land and lake and sky
that will click into place
only when the last bird
flies into its jagged aperture
and darkness falls.

Like the crows, my father
showed up night after night
to take his place in an ancient ritual.
To play his fiddle, not by standing out
but by fitting in with the other men,
those dark-suited bus-drivers and conductors
who brought to the session
all their quirks and oddities—
Mr. Ward with his head thrown back,
the accordion at rest on his round belly—
Mr. Keogh with his albino eyes,
long fingers sawing the fiddle—
and young Tony in short trousers
tootling away on the tin whistle.

Now my father too is part of that
collective darkness, the puzzle
that the crows remake each night.
That dawn, like a wayward child,
scatters joyfully each morning.

Angela Patten © Sequestrum Journal of Literature and the Arts 2017

The Pancake Artist

She only cooked them once a year
on Shrove Tuesday so we didn’t dwell
on the looming Lenten fast
as we raced home after school
to see her lift down the big black frying-pan
and heat it over the blue gas burner
until the fat spat and sizzled.

She’d hoist the milk jug full of batter,
pour a creamy stream into the pan,
tilting and tipping it to a seamless circle.
We hovered famished at her elbow
as the humps and craters formed—
brown sienna over khaki, burnt
umber over buttermilk. It was all

in the timing. One flick of her gifted wrist
and she’d landed it like a fish
on your plate. You rolled it with sugar,
a squeeze of lemon, scarfed it down.

Then it was back to the end of the queue
until your turn returned again.
No rest for her aching shoulders
until we were all contented sinners,
licking our lips, as full as eggs.

Angela Patten © LiveEncounters 2017


After surgery the stitch-marks
look like bird-feet walking up my arm.
But what strange bird has left
its bone-white prints
embedded in my wrist like needle-tracks?
Perhaps it was the raven,
that faux-sorrowful funeral director,
walking beak-forward, gloved hands
folded behind his back, who walks the
twin trajectories of a railway line
that leads to a long-defunct station
where I might meet myself returning
from the beach with two scabbed knees,
embossed inoculations against disease,
the weals of ancient injuries like medals
from the battlefields of childhood,
and my mother’s crowsfeet
inching toward my eyes.

Angela Patten © Cultural Center of Cape Cod 2016 Poetry Prize

Glendalough Sonnet and other poems  © Angela Patten

Angela Patten is author of three poetry collections, In Praise of Usefulness (Wind Ridge Books), Reliquaries and Still Listening, both from Salmon Poetry, Ireland, and a prose memoir, High Tea at a Low Table (Wind Ridge Books). She was winner of the 2016 National Poetry Prize from the Cape Cod Cultural Center and her work has appeared in a variety of literary journals. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she now lives in Burlington, Vermont, where she is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Vermont English Department.

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