“Safer Distances” and other poems by Jennifer Horgan

If you were able

you’d go upstairs with me.
Dream your hips poised mum

dipped towards the sun.
In some afternoon’s shuttered light
we’re choosing fabrics to be hung.

Your style,
your certainty, tugs the rope
of a French church bell.

You’re young again, words held
on winding steps in France.
In this dream I have, as then,

you’re sure-footed.
There’s ceramic grace in your descent

decanting scant, satisfied goodbyes,
cascading floors,
myriad lives.

The wind snaps my back door shut
as I move about the kitchen.

I look over to where you’ve been.
Take in the disappointment of your seat.



The driver’s words are tumours
fat and fibrous, with teeth
sure I’ve seen ‘em blacks fightin in our streets.
his mouth is a gargoyle spout
ink-snaked neck
moss on rivered stone
young voluptuous women
blown across his bones
Tell ya girl, soon Cork won’t be our own
Soon Cork won’t be our own.
Down the bend of the road, he shrinks to small talk
his trip up North
not noticing the cold tap run inside my tone.
Got the cataracts done
Got a deal
Living in a fog, and me behind the wheel!
Fright to god I didn’t get killed.
His eyes are clean; they’re clean
but there’s no light in them
they belong to a child
unsurprised by what’s been done to him.
By the time I leave,
I’m wishing him well.
Remembering again
what it means
        this being human


Safer Distances

I’ve seen my city’s private parts, advertised on plywood signs
in block-lettered chalk
Adult Only Store Used-up girls inside, starting life in another country but still
I know them from somewhere
I’ve eyed the types, those grey-skinned soggy men, sunken-eyed from watching
body-parts unfurling

The ships that line our docks are tough but grieve to watch the washed-up
purchased lives they’ve lost
Born without footing across slime and muck, slipping up and down inside
our harbour walls
Freezing to death in backs of trucks, not surfacing long enough to breathe
and float and see

black- water swirling menses, spitting ragged blankets up, onto concrete blocks,
no longer fit to warm them
until summer dries them out, maybe days from now, maybe never, maybe lost
in the hacks and splutters
The muttered lines about safer distances between us, between me and these girls
on scratchy screens

                                inside stores I’ll never enter

      after James Joyce                            
     past Eve and Adam
Drip and bubble
 on his tongue
River wash through
       stone and gravel
 Hot traintracks
 His schoolbag
Oh River Run
 Thank him for the gift
 he gave me
to celebrate my newborn son
 River protect
the London boy
 who praised me 
For just
 being there      
River run
 through his black hair
His wings so small
so tightly clipped
Riverrun a song of loss
Forever present on our lips 
         past Eve and Adam
 Land bend
upon a time
we left him stranded 
but the current’s changing
A change has come
Riverrun, from where
 he kissed him
 in some 
Behind a wall
 Wedge of stone
River how you’ve
   always known
to carry Adam
Carry Eve
Carry every love you see
  River run, past Eve and Adam
Past songline 
Fault line 
Past tall orders
born in armour
 On the run
through tidal waves
Wider plains 
River find the mouths you need
Inside us 
Make them speak 
of ripples
 Forever carving
   Changing shape
Oh river run 
and river make
 Build new mountains 
His life’s at stake

                      None of this is helping
                         None of this is helping

I hate feeling      wanting to hit something           not you
something thick and unsuspecting    a giant block of ice maybe      
 maximum impact 
   Your words are GRATING            and I hate bloody zoom
pressing small hard LUMPS under my skin   Declaring the ugliness 
of life,
My life        how I’m living it      Telling me how many mothers 
are raped
Speaking to their pain, explain      invisibilised deaths at sea.
You turn words into verbs            even your words have energy  
I can’t summon.
You explain the wrongness of charity      Only solidarity, 
but I don’t feel it with you             hard blow to the ego
to feel rage and your language, your speaking to, Honouring, 
framing, your sensitive lens
None of it is helpful;        I’m not at all helped.  
Your naming of friends,  Libya  Syria  Ghana,
Reminds me     how I’ve never met them. My life is angled away 
from, what you call
                      the Global South

I’m left    in no doubt      I’m not good.     I am not good.  
Not like you, whose mascara is too 
thick to look nice,         your hair still wet and dripping
There is no time, no time, no time    your hair still wet and dripping
I want everything to be better         the privilege that’s 
mine is layered and sickening.
But    none of this, nothing about this, or you,   is helping. 

© Jennifer Horgan

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