iYeats Poetry 2016 Winners
1st Prize - General Category
Lagan, by Niamh Prior
When he died I folded up my father
and put him in a stainless steel coffer
rowed out to sea, dropped and let him sink
a chain following fast behind, linked
it to a buoy submerged two feet below.
Looking down you could see its orange glow
as if through frosted glass, a smugglers mooring
weighted down, padlocked, secret and secure.
I waited years until the silence was entrenched
then rowed out again, dove into cold cached
water, just a layer of skin dividing it from mine.
Sound was a solid, infused with the sigh
and whirr and click of crabs, whales and dolphins.
Against the density with bulging lungs
and chest I pulled myself down, headfirst, link
by sea-grassy link, my legs waving like
dead man’s bootlaces. With a knife I scratched
off barnacles and opened the latches,
Met a pile of bones and empty spaces.
Tireless tides had washed away all traces
of flesh, left his spine bare as a bowsprit.
I stroked the crown of his skull and kissed it.
I skimmed my fingertips over his ribs,
his metacarpal bones, those coral twigs,
the palm that had held my whole torso afloat
when I was learning to kick like a toad.
- he had let his hand fall away so gently then
I didn’t notice what held me was the ocean.
He had clapped and cheered as I flexed and splayed.
I’d plunged and pulled and pushed myself away,
heading straight for water out of my depth.
I closed the chest and swam up, gasping for breath.
© Niamh Prior
1st Prize - Emerging Category
Capped Boots, by Laura Herlihy
When B’s looked like D’s
And numbers never seemed to add up
He was labelled as dumb.
Dumb and mean.
Like a terrier he would fight in the schoolyard
Prompted by the taunts of his peers.
And the Christian Brother roared
There was no place for the likes of him here.
Steel-toe work boots
Took the place
Of polished, black shoes.
On this site I had seen plenty fifty year old boys
But there was something so sad about
Fifteen year old men.
© Laura Herlihy
Practicing, by Niamh Prior
The Somnus coffin arrives to neighbours’ stares,
medium oak veneer with metal handles, traditional interior.
I have the man put it on a stand in the sitting room.
The florist delivers wreaths with seasoned solemnity.
As I light candles I remember my grandmother’s words:
‘Don’t tempt fate.’
But this fate is inevitable. A dress rehearsal will do me good.
The scent of lilies and burning wax hangs in the air.
I put on my Sunday best, cake my face in make-up
use a mourner’s chair as a step and climb in as if
into a kayak. It’s soft. A bed without room to turn over.
Pull the satin up to my waist, elasticated like a spraydeck.
There is no paddle. No duvet.
I rest my hands on my chest, fingers plaited.
Let my face drop to stone.
Clean the bathroom! Put the bins out! Find a home for the cat!
Lie still. You’re dead. No last minute jobs.
Run upstairs, burn the letters! The diaries!
Lie still. You’re dead.
Turn over a new leaf!
One last phone call?
Everything that is going to happen
in my life has already happened.
Landmark moments unravel.
My flesh is turning to soil,
and the importance of important things
flies away like a black bird into the night.
© Niamh Prior
Her Cross, by Breda Spaight
When I drink, it is always 1967.
The dog lies still on the frozen grass, white blades bowed
under blinking crystals; the chain
from its neck to the conifer muddied and knotted
like a root from which it draws life.
I remember it as a pup, like all the pups
my father ever brought home when drunk,
the milky smell of its vigorous body, fonts of sorrow
in sloe-black irises.
What do we have here? What is this?
He produces the pup from his inside coat pocket
carefully as a birth, his face at its most wounded:
he could cry, vomit, or even laugh, the pup held high
like a boyhood memory beyond his reach
yet as close as yesterday,
alcohol collapsing time like time in a fairy tale.
I am tired of my father; we’re all tired of him –
a continuous season of storm upon storm,
calm only the calm of the eye.
And so the pup ends up tied to a tree, savage;
the half-moon it inhabits no larger than ours, grass worn
down like chewed fingernails, the verge jagged
as the amber outline of piss stains
on the bed-wetter’s sheets.
To give my father his due, he never slaughters a dog
that hasn’t first bitten him. He stands with a pitchfork at the edge
of Rex-Prince-Spot’s sphere of mud,
goading – a flagellant coveting his own blood,
scourging his sin, craving a cure
stronger than drink to kill
our mother’s mouth red as a cut, Christ, not in front of . . .!
Lassie blares all around us in the kitchen.
© Breda Spaight
Exodus, by David Butler
What bundle has morning washed up
on the shores of the internet?
A tiny Gulliver, though silent as still-birth?
A Moses among the bull-rushes?
Pharaoh has sent his towering guard
like the giant of Gallipoli, to raise him.
Surely, among all the suitcases empty as grief
that bob on the Aegean, one can be found
to cradle him, float him onwards…
© David Butler
Mnemonic Device, by Sean Flynn
Like the mnemonic of our knuckles
That accord to 31s
And their interstitial 30s
To figure out the days which make up the months,
I too in turn stare at my hands
And feel you encoded in my fingers
© Sean Flynn
May Psalm, by Michal Leibowitz
Outside, the fields are shaved
with silence. The school
children whisper something
about a girl.
In Katonah, spring
likes to make an entrance.
She numbs me.
I write a piece of dust
© Michal Leibowitz
There Were No Tulips, by Michael Leibowitz
There Were No Tulips
that winter, but the crows stayed.
Ruffled their skins from the telephone
wires. Crowed as they were wont to do.
We did not ask for things
to be anything
but what they were. Still,
I wrote you. Compared your hands
to flat top mesas. Compared your lips
to December’s vane.
Winter had always been
a blade. Like your paring knife on a chestnut’s
leather, like a scalpel on the wet
membranes of a frog.
It was not the seasons that changed.
© Michael Leibowitz