This week Trasna is pleased to feature a new poem by Jean O’Brien, “Rupture,” and present two other readings. Jean is an award-winning poet residing in Dublin. She was a founding member of the celebrated Dublin Writers’ Workshop, and has taught in numerous other creative writing programs.
She is the author of five books of poetry: The Shadow Keeper (1997); Dangerous Dresser (2005); Lovely Legs (2009); Merman (2012), and her most recent collection, Fish On A Bicycle, New & Selected Poems.
Her work explores the personal, historical, and contemporary. Collectively, these poems are a reminder that objects can speak to us in ways deeper than language; that history, no matter how ancient, lives with us still; and that poetry, that most beautiful language, can reveal our greatest sins, our foulest deeds: “I am here amongst/ the sticks and stones, swaddled in dirty words.”
JEAN O’BRIEN READS “BLUE BOBBIN”
Its dull case an ornament
in the corner, its use almost
forgotten. someone has taken
the table of the Singer Sewing
machine, once everyone had one.
If you lifted it out you could turn
the handle instead of footing
the treadle. Gone, along
with the table is the drawer
that held bobbins, my delight,
as a child sifting the
spools of rainbow thread.
When my mother sewed
she favoured the blue bobbin.
All our curtains, whatever the colour,
were backed with blue stitches.
I helped her thread the needle
through a maze of eyes and hooks
down to where the thread vanished
into a small silver box.
Like a magician pulling an endless
stream of hankies from his sleeve;
it conjured another thread
and together, they and we,
formed the stitch.
At night when mother was busy
I used to slide the lid on the silver
chamber to see if I could figure out its trick.
I only saw the small half-moon lever
moving back and over
and like a hidden slice of sky,
the edge of a blue bobbin peeping out.
Jean O’Brien, Merman, Salmon Publishing
JEAN READS “BROKEN SYNTAX”
(Jospephine Staunton died in 1952 at 2 days old in the Tuam Mother & Baby Home)
I knew breath and air and for a brief spell
the smell of sunshine on my mother’s hair,
knew her lips when she kissed my fontanelle,
my bone diamond.
When the syntax broke, the language of me
fractured, I was wordless, airless, buried
with hundreds of others, small broken birds,
Blue of sky fixed in my eyes when my moon
and sun went from me. I am here amongst
the sticks and stones, swaddled in dirty words
that did hurt me.
Jean O’Brien (RTÉ Sunday Miscellany & Merman, Salmon Publishing)
JEAN READS HER NEW POEM, “RUPTURE”
At first we shy away from the fallen tree
its huge span of root mass exposed,
then gather courage and move closer,
drawn as if by a magnetic field
despite ourselves curious to view
its inner workings, its maze of connections.
Usually we only see trees rise skywards from
the earth, growing always towards sunlight
and forget how, at the same time
they throw out searching roots,
that burrow deep and deeper still.
Some say the *Thuata Dé Dannan
use these erupted places, these pockets
of splintered shadows as portals
from the underworld.
We learn now in these strange days
that anything is possible. The tribe
of the godess and gods seem to rise
like plasma from the ruptured earth.
Their other worldly voices sound like
the soughing of branches, or rustle
of leaves. We cannot see them though
they cloak the very air about us
offering a sheltering place,
a crucible where we can catch
our collective ragged breath.
* It is said that the Thuata Dé Danna promised to return from
the underworld to help Ireland in a time of great need.
Some say that they represent an empowering aspect or our psyche.
Jean O’Brien Unpublished (2020)
Jean O’Brien has five collections of poetry, her latest being her New & Selected, Fish on a Bicycle (Salmon Poetry 2016 reprint 2018) and is working on her next one. She is a prize winning poet having won, amongst others, The Arvon International and the Fish International and has been HC in the Forward Prize and RU in Voices of War (UCD). Her work appears regularly in magazines, journals and anthologies. She is currently taking part in the former UK Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy’s on-line Covid Diary in conjunction with Manchester University (UK) called Write Where We Are Now. She took part in Epic Museum’s Poetry Juke Box Series and World Food Day, (2019). Her poem Child, about the scandal of the Irish Mother and Baby homes, was chosen by Poetry Ireland as one of their Poems on the Dart (Rail Transport) (2019). She holds an M.Phil. in creative writing/poetry from Trinity College Dublin and tutors in same. For more about Jean and her work, please visit her web page at: jeanobrien.ie