Issue 1

Vona Groarke
Four poems


I’ve ruined it.
Thirty, forty years from now,
she’ll hear it again
and it won’t be just
a clarinet cuckoo
in a thicket of strings
but her long-dead mother
in an apron with French cheeses on it,
turning from the sink to say,
“listen, here it comes”.
The streetlamp
of my laptop flicks back on
and the automatic light upstairs
flutters two goldfish
that are the only living things
inside these walls,
not counting me.
Lilac buds
on his black sleeve
is how his pollen
requires me
to become
a clear night sky
in which new stars,
thousands of them,
are called upon
to bloom.

“Waiting Room”

McGonagle’s. A full house. They’ve been through
‘Shut the Door’ and ‘Blueprint’ off Repeater,
and I’m stage-side, half-drunk, hell-bent.
I know all the words. Brendan’s feet are level
with my teeth, and wearing the very boot
I’d first noticed on my kitchen floor
when the Fugazi poster flung itself,
head-first, at our lino, mostly turning
a pure white back on us apart from a stray fist,
one laced-up Doc. That was yesterday.
Now I’m holding out for ‘Waiting Room’.
When it kicks in, it gets me back to six of us

with pens nicked from the reception desk
and pages torn out of a diary keeping tabs
on the remains of ’77. We were killing time
with word games, what ‘oesophagus’ or ‘remove’
might disclose, when the nurse came in.
On his own, not twenty feet from where
we were shuffling ‘pass’ and ‘sag’ and ‘over’,
his skin was the same as mine, not even cold,
his hands were fists, his eyes furiously shut.

I was twelve. I said to myself, I’m no more alone
than any of us.
No more alive, no more unlikely.
It will take years (Years!) to get to where
I’m just about to throw myself off-stage,
trusting people I hardly know to lock arms,
break my fall. I am a patient boy. I wait.
I wait. I wait. I wait.
Someone’s shoulder
will ram into my cheek; my blood spray
onto Michael’s jacket and Lou will dip
her thumb in it and suck. My fists hurt.
Jeannie is mouthing something to me
like some baby shrike, all riff and thorn.
I close my eyes, unpeel myself, let go.

The Jetty

Summer-bleached and swaddling the paddle-boat
and tin canoe, the jetty shoulders, for a moment,
clean right angles, lichen seams heavy as voices
tacking now across water, calling ‘don’t’ or ‘boat’,
it hardly matters to me. The way I scribble
is like the way a squirrel or a cardinal
is fumbling in the thicket to my left:
at least he knows what he’s looking for.
I think I’ve found it when the opposite hill
throws down another version of itself
on the lake’s gloss. Soon the evening
will soak boat and jetty, this very page.
By then, I’ll have slipped inside a fuchsia bud
of wine and spindle tips of light from a porch
over the lake that answers, very nicely, to our own.

The Sunroom

In the hotel lobby of a Sunday afternoon, I dicker
with elsewhere. The children are going storm-wild
upstairs with two new kids from up the road.
The wine kicks in. I am listening to the spindly chords
played out by the willow’s decorative, Pre-Raphaelite hands,
but that won’t do. There is nothing here of stillness,
no borrowed play of narrative and flaw. My daughter
is tricksy and intent; my son, doughty and kind.
We are, in this half-hearted hour, some kind
of improbable answer to the world outside.

The sunroom is the porch of a Retirement Home.
They are all taken up, the still-alive, with the business
of buttons to be stitched on shirts, fish spun into thin air,
postcards, roses, the tilt of a waltz, a bookie’s stub
in an old prayer book, something to be grateful for,
like tea in a flask carried out to the field,
her white hand waving from the gatepost,
how loose her hair, how dark on floury shoulders
that she’d let him kiss like a small boy would,
on early, sunlit Sundays, in their room.

The sunroom is a crystal cruise ship in line
at the head of the bay. We are giddy and sunlit.
We relish how warmth pins us to our loungers
like a dress pattern to satin; satin to skin.
From the dining room of the upper floor,
the small talk of silverware and cut glass wisps away.
Shouts from the open-air swimming pool are spindrift
on the deck. A fashion show kicks off in the lobby,
music tinkles downstairs like a tipsy socialite.
Someone calls out, ‘Mother’. Somebody laughs.

I’m through, I think, with metaphor. The sunroom
floats nowhere; there is no other version of this
set out in the garden like a picnic table at sundown
with the napkins still folded, the food untouched.
I’m wanted; they’re calling from lives that don’t rattle
when a wind blows so the willow spells out something
on the glass that is like a name or the co-ordinates
of a moment that spoke once, but quietly, for a whole life.
Here it is, my riff and code: a creak when I stand, a ‘Yes’,
a single cough as I slap shut my notebook, move away.