Let choirs make frosty nights sing,
let them tell stories of shepherds
caring for sheep, a stable, a donkey,
a star in the east, while you remember
the road to the church in the woods,
the battened door, timber trusses,
peeling paint and plaster that fell
like snow on the christening font
and harmonium, the pot-bellied
stove that offered a smidgeon of heat,
candlelight soft on the bible
lying open to Isaiah,
For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given…
Let yourself sing, diminuendo
or crescendo, as if you still believed.
Point of Departure
A Sunday evening in January.
My father is taking me to the train
because my mother can’t; her heart
is broken over what I told her.
Just my father and me,
unused to this time together,
quiet except for the engine’s hum
and the sweep of wipers
but in his silence I hear a rhythm —
he’s cutting thistles with a scythe,
a gate opens
into a meadow I’ve never seen.
When winter comes
remember what the blacksmith
knows — dim light is best
at the furnace, to see the colours
go from red to orange
to yellow, the forging heat
that tells the steel is ready
to be held in the mouth
of the tongs and it’s time
to lengthen and narrow
with the ring of the hammer
on the horn of the anvil,
to bend until the forgiving metal
has found its form,
then file the burrs,
remove sharp edges,
smooth the surface,
polish with a grinding stone
and see it shine like gold.
I didn’t take the walnut oil,
the tins of wax
or my lathe and plane
when I closed
the workshop door.
I left the grip of poverty
on the bench
beside my mallet,
and fishtail chisel
with its shallow sweep.
I quit the craft
my father had carved into me
when I was pliable
as fiddleback grain,
left all at the threshold,
except for the scent of wood,
a different scent
for every tree.
Point of Departure and When Winter Comes are © Jane Clarke from When the Tree Falls with thanks to Suzanne Fairless-Aitkin for Bloodaxe Books.
Every Tree and Sing are © Jane Clarke from The River (Bloodaxe Books, 2015)
Jane Clarke’s first collection, The River, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2015 to public and critical acclaim. Her second book-length collection, When the Tree Falls was published by Bloodaxe in September 2019 and her illustrated book of poems, All the Way Home, was published by Smith/Doorstop in April 2019.
The River was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, given for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place. In 2016 Jane won the Hennessy Literary Award for Emerging Poetry and the inaugural Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year Award. She was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Literary Bursary in 2017.
Jane holds a BA in English & Philosophy from Trinity College, Dublin, an MPhil in Writing from the University of South Wales, and has a background in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. She grew up on a farm in Roscommon and now lives with her partner in Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow, where she combines writing with her work as a creative writing tutor and group facilitator www.janeclarkepoetry.ie
When the Tree Falls (Bloodaxe Books, 2019)