“A Life Unanswered” and other poems by Susan Kelly

The Bittersweet

Her passion was historical biscuit tins
or so he’d tell visitors
who marvelled at the growing stacks of embossed lids
that glinting with landscapes, landmarks
locations she hadn’t seen,
he thought it best if the world came to her.
He liked her to display these gifts he brought back
from places he visited with work,
that was what he called her.

He’d produce a new one
the morning after his return
assuming her quietness over breakfast
had been due to the non-presentation of a tin,
she accepted them
but never the treats
that she bagged in black
where they grew crumbly and green
and sweated in the confines of their own wrappings.

No tins came for some months
work no longer needed him
so he dozed his days away in front of the box
until he breathed his last,
the remote control limp in his hand.
She scattered the tins around the living room
and took a hammer to the shiny lids
that remembered everywhere she had never been
until they didn’t shine anymore.


The BittersweetPoetry Ireland Review, editor Eavan Boland

Skinny Jeans

His quiff came undone in the night
to fall about an acned face
that contorts in an afternoon yawn.
He shifts his body about the bed
to untwist the studded belt
that pockmarked him as he slept,
the impressions red against his gothic skin.
The seams of his skinny jeans draw lines
up and down his tall boy legs,
revealed as he inches them off
with pink-heeled persistence
before they’re dumped on the floor
in a dark, denimous pile.
The day looks in on him
through not-quite-drawn curtains,
the gap, the width of an ice-lolly stick,
the day, bright as July.


Skinny Jeans –  The Stony Thursday Book, editor Paddy Bushe

A Life Unanswered

Dust smothered hat boxes stacked, empty,
blue and white Switzers stripes dulled by years.
Flapper dressers and bridge club receipts idle in drawers
lined with the Letters page from a 1920’s Irish Times,
fragments of lily of the valley talcum powder tangible.

I have your eyes but I don’t see what you saw
history witnessed, decades endured,
did they roar, were they hungry, did they swing,
did scarcity wage a local war to leave you wanting,
did world events impact, always make contact?

Did you mind leaving Achill to settle in Westport,
urbanity on your new doorstep,
did faith and prayers of two Roman-collared sons
ease untimely widowhood?
Clacking rosary beads, murmuring novenas your mantra.

Was my mother an appreciated ally
righting the balance, nurturing anima
or did she steal your mantle as lady of the house,
did you mind or was your arched-eyebrow sternness
an act of survival in a male domain?

November evening your pen ran dry
and expired batteries silenced your radio
yet you needed no replacements,
you knew that night
that you would also go.


A Life Unanswered –  Abridged, editor Maria Campbell


He files his thumb nail on a match box
softened by pockets,
the swatch almost worn by forty strikes.
A neighbour walks by,
he nods to the al fresco attendees
who religiously avoid a pew,
preferring to stand the hour.
A speaker nailed to the buttressed porch
bugles across the hedges
crackling its master’s voice.
It spouts prayers for the faithful
who respond en mass
in a monotone breathless recitation,
pausing on cue by rote.
He drops the smoothed box
and squashes it into the green
joins his hands and breathes deep
the flinted air.
He rests his head on the pebbledash
his weekly penance
meted out in pointy pastels.
A couple arrive too late to creak open the door,
they angle for wall space
budging him from his idling spot,
the flock thickens in the noonday sun.


Lasping –  The Weary Blues, editor Emily Cullen

Room 41

Bath-freshness beckons
but she chooses to accept
the week-old grime
and the specks of kamikaze talc
that land on her lashes
as she powders her oily hair,
the ash-brown lank.

She doesn’t care,
there’ll be no neighbours calling
like the news-hungry vultures
they pretend not to be,
no postman delivering a daily chat,
nobody knows how committed she is
to being alone.

A large orange pill
wrestles its way down,
eased by tepid water
from a polystyrene cup
and condescending words
from a woman in white
who locks the door as she leaves.

Room 41 –  Boyne Berries, editor Michael Farry

A Life Unanswered and other poems are © Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly is from Westport, Co Mayo. Her work has appeared in Cyphers, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stony Thursday Book, Crannóg, Revival, Abridged, The London Magazine, Boyne Berries, The Weary Blues, Burning Bush 2, wordlegs.com and was short-listed for the Writing Spirit Award 2010. She was a featured reader at Over the Edge in Galway 2011, shortlisted for the New Writer of the Year 2013 and longlisted for the 2014 WOW award.

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