“Thrushes In The Rowan Tree” and other poems by Maureen Boyle

Christmas Box

There is honey and chocolate on our doorstep
since Christmas—sweet box and coral flower—
one on either side. The heuchera with ruffled
cocoa-coloured leaves hunkers in the corner but
the sarcococca or sweet box is where we step
inside by design so that on nights as dark as winter
and full of storm we brush the bluff, squat, shrub
and boots and coat trail the scent of summer
into the hall. Its flowers are what are left of flowers,
petals blown away—spindly threads ghostly in the leaves,
the odd early blood-berry that follows.
Its genus confusa is right—from so frail a bloom
a scent so big, as if the bees have nested in it
and are eager for their flight.


Thrushes In The Rowan Tree

The very day the rowanberries ripen, thrushes fly in,
stately and speckled, as if summoned there.
They turn the tree to illustration, an autumn square
in an illuminated script, or a sultan’s tree of singing birds.
Acrobats in motley, they swing, making lithe lines
of branches, stretching—somersaulting out to reach
the berries—each red drop held in the beak before
it falls to add to the marble bags of their bellies.

And, just as quickly, by timing only they can tell,
they leave at once to their own applause
to come again and work their stripping circus act
one level at a time, methodical, exact,
until the tree is bare and they have left
another square: a silhouette of winter.


Put Out The Light

i.m. Robert McCrea, 1907-1990

The entrails of a salmon flower in the sink
in the picture I have of you
teaching me to gut fish.

You have lifted it from the river
at the foot of our house,
the Mourne filled with Sperrin water

and now its insides stream
like river weed running in the current—
something of the river brought home.

You handle it tenderly, call it she,
a hen, and are saddened when you find the roe
that will not have a chance to spawn.

Another time, the weather in the window different,
you show me how to clean out a hen bird,
a turkey, that will hang in the cold till Christmas.

The lesson is serious, you say. You must take out the lights
the lungs that hide in the dark of the turkey’s vaulted belly.
Put out the light and then put out the light

On ordinary days, you mush up Mother’s Pride
to feed the Rhode Island Reds, the smell of wet bread
filling the scullery for hens that scare my mother.

Those days, you had finished with the Mill
and the blizzard of the scrutching room that gave you
Monday fever. How cruel that the weekend seemed to
mend you, only to begin again.

Proust’s father gave it another name, byssinosis
from the fine linen you were dying to produce
but would never wear.

At weekends, you would make a rosary of the village lanes
up High Seein, spitting into hedges with the other men,
knowing the name of every plant it landed on.


The Visit Of The Wren

Annaghmakerrig, October 2011

On a dripping day that never really wakens
when the sun is weak behind the line of Gothic firs,
flaring through the clouds sometimes like the flames
from a distant winter war, my head is in Fallada’s Berlin
and there are lights needed for reading in the afternoon,
the old glass of my window becomes a focus for the birds.

There are blackbirds landing in a lichened birch—
the branch giving under them to hand them
delicately to a lower ledge like a dancer
passing on a lift, then coming down to the ground
to scuffle, tail up, in the gravel and the wet leaves.

Suddenly from a lamppost a spray of little passerines
flow like a wave from tree to tree—from the ash
with its ghostly white berries and the spindly birch—
wenny and mouldy with lichen. A giant Irish jay
prances on the lawn—too big and colourful to be real—
like one of Hoffman’s mechanical toys he’ll make a lesson

I have been a happy hermit here
and when the wren visits the windowsill, a great tit
hangs on the stone and stares in; a chaffinch,
lemon-grey and then the rosey male dip their heads
into the coppery gutters that splutter with rain.
The old house is lit from the outside in.

Thrushes In The Rowan Tree and other poems are © Maureen Boyle

Image: by Malachi O’Doherty

Maureen Boyle lives in Belfast. She began writing as a child in Sion Mills, County Tyrone, winning a UNESCO medal for a book of poems in 1979 at eighteen. She studied English and History in Trinity in Dublin and did postgraduate work in UEA and UU. In 2005 she was awarded the Master’s in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast. She has won various awards including the Ireland Chair of Poetry Prize in 2007; the Strokestown International Poetry Prize in the same year and in 2013 she won the Fish Short Memoir Prize. She has received support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in the form of Individual Arts, Aces and Travel Awards. In 2008 she was commissioned to write a poem on the Crown Bar in Belfast for a BBC documentary and some of her work has been translated into German. In 2017 she was awarded the Ireland Chair of Poetry’s Inaugural Travel Bursary for work on Anne More, the wife of John Donne.  In November 2018 her poem, The Nunwell Letter, was runner-up in the Coast-to-Coast Single Poet Competition for a stitched limited edition, by artist Maria Izakova-Bennett in Liverpool. In January 2019 a long poem on Strabane will be broadcast on Radio 4 in Conversations on a Bench. Her debut collection, The Work of a Winter was published by Arlen House Press, Dublin and has just come out as a second edition. She taught Creative Writing with the Open University for ten years and teaches English in St Dominic’s Grammar School in Belfast.


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