“Sundowner” and other poems by Clare McCotter

The House

The regularly-occurring representation of the human form as a whole is that of the house
~ Sigmund Freud

This is my house my place my home
first one I ever owned
leave now you dirty scum
she screams at auxiliaries gripping
wrists and raging elbows
washing face and neck
and shoulders.
This is my house where stairs climb roots
to a crouching door
there an old key turned in a raven’s heart
spreads out blankets of bare brick
a pear tree’s silver fruit
a skylight in low rafters
its pendant handle – first night’s umbilical.

This is my house it is mine alone
one tramps like you could never own
she shouts as holding her hands tight
we chisel faeces off nails
ours wrapped in disposable wipes.
This is my house, these high windows –
a geometry of winter echoes
dreamt in dusky corners.
And over there a rosewood armoire
its soul kindled with rags and linseed oil.
In its lacquered drawers
prayers and poems
laid out like ammonites and white shells.

This is my house always my house
so get out to hell
none of you are welcome to stay she sobs
while we insert a catheter tube
dodging flailing fists
and sputum heavy with MRSA.
This is my house, these the contours
of worn cellar steps
where stars born under earth
flower on a cobbled floor.
O my house, my heart, my home
your hearth stone drawn from the west
all your great timbers, all your dark arches torn.


The Stache

He had buried strange things
in that great drooping Mexican moustache.
There were the lines, two from Saint Luke
five from Frank Zappa,
printed on tiny scrolls
rolled up inside a wren’s hollow bone
and somewhere near the corner of his mouth
bleached seahorse ribs
strummed with selenic whispers
and a plectrum of green ship’s glass.

First and only rebellion against a father
who knew a bloody gimmick
when he saw one
the Zapata had been there right under his nose
for the best part of forty years.
She liked it from the start
thinking that first winter
it made him look like Omar Sharif
in Doctor Zhivago
and during the long laudanum summer
a badass cowboy kicking up dust in Dodge.

Settling soon after his appointment
to a grammar school where that pelmet of hair
was quietly at odds with the navy suits
and brown brogues
he wore weighing words like emeralds
each and every morning assembly.
For some a mask hiding scars or jutting chin
his shielding nothing behind
rather a holding within.

Exposed in white astringent light
after cerebral vascular accident swept him
down long corridors in a centre of excellence
to his very own primary nurse.
With reports and care plans correlated
and risk assessments all up-dated
what could he say when she asked to shave
his food-stained moustache?
Six weeks to the day since a left-sided stroke
what could he say what could he say?



Reciting place names bright with the smell of opals and sun
he leans in close to her chair.

Stooped forward she is silent, her arms
like the thin lucent wings of a bat

mark X on her chest. With the fading of the day outside
her neighbour begins to shout for mother

while a small man driving a wingback chair
screams can someone open the door

soon the shuffling, the banging, the pacing; her Cuban heels
deafening among soft slipper soles.

Up and down, up and down,
up and down the long corridor he walks beside her

past doors with pictures of toilets
past the woman strapped to a wheelchair

dragging herself along with two bare feet
but when he begins to hum a song from Street Legal

she stops, stares at his face
and for a second something

then on her way past the window framing a solitary star –
a chamois of starlings shining the grey.


Early Dementia

Crisp like the accent you brought back
from the south
your hair is snow
fresh and falling on a spine
so silently straight
as he says
only for a short time only for a short time.

Spancelled to minds wandering
the blue borderlands
patients’ bodies trudge past
the Lenten chapel of your hands
its ciborium – a locket
bought years before he said
only for a short time only for a short time.

Sifting memories in that silver heart
you recall the night he returned
in a clapped out Ford
your name encrypted on his arm
but not the hour
since he said
only for a short time only for a short time.

Chic in black beside a bed not your own
you are unsure how to act
here where there are no maps
no neatline or legend
to quiet the wings in your breast
till he says
only for a short time only for a short time.

Self-isolating no longer you have become
a good mixer, stains on your clothes
mixing well with stains on others
the weekly bath four days away
settles grime under nails
and still he says
only for a short time only for a short time.

Confused by the new roads he travels
you ask
why a woman’s wayfaring soul
cannot follow, watching him
punch a keypad at the door
before reaching out
to catch for you a falling petal from a rose tattoo.


Advanced Dementia

Matisse dancer tripping chemical light
he comes to me

naked and pale at four in the morning.
Arched arms held high

are courting cranes; wrists and palms
buttocks and thighs glisten

with night soil as turning he sings
Scotland the Brave.

No longer can he recall a walled garden
cut from purple and muslin

where in dusk he walked, and stooping
whispered at the mouths of roses.



Thin winter moon
set on the pale blue edge
of an orthopedic chair –
her spine (like her face
her heart her hands)
has a history
going back a good three years.

All there
documented in black biro –
the food stains
round her mouth
the whiff of urine
on her clothes, the first fall
wearing carpet slippers in the snow.

A voluntary admission
coming without any trouble
she melted
into the routine.
The face
of an old woman called Pet –
soon the only one she remembers.

Until a nurse fills her lap
with the sepia tones of a girl
grinning at someone
behind the lens.
Five-ten-and-a-half in heels –
a girl in a pencil dress
click-clacking down

A garnet-dark evening in Berlin.

“Sundowner” and other poems are © Clare McCotter


Clare McCotter’s haiku, tanka and haibun have been published in many parts of the world. She won The British Haiku Award 2017, The British Tanka Award 2013 and The HIS Dóchas Ireland Haiku Award 2011 and 2010. Her work has been included in the prestigious Norton anthology – Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years. Her longer poems have appeared in over thirty journals including Abridged, The Blue Nib, Crannóg, Cyphers, Envoi, The Honest Ulsterman, Iota, The Interpreter’s House, The Moth Magazine, The Stinging Fly and The Stony Thursday Book. Awarded a Ph.D from the University of Ulster, she has also published numerous peer-reviewed articles on Belfast born Beatrice Grimshaw’s travel writing and fiction. Clare was one of three writers featured in Measuring New Writers 1 (Dedalus Press). Black Horse Running, her first collection of haiku, tanka and haibun, appeared in 2012 (Alba Publishing). Revenant, her first collection of longer poems, was published in 2019 by Salmon Poetry. She has worked as a lecturer, a teacher of English, a psychiatric nurse and a full-time carer. Home is Kilrea, County Derry.

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