4 Poems by Angela Graham

A CATHOLIC CHILD’S VIEW OF PARLIAMENT BUILDING, STORMONT, FROM PROTESTANT EAST BELFAST, 1966

Just a two-up, two-down and scullery

were it not that, outside the bedrooms,

a second, proper staircase (newel post,

bannisters, landing, two short flights of stairs)

leapt to a brooding, significant door:

a room inserted right below the slates;

no means of heating, therefore never used,

and therefore mine. Here the bones of the house

showed through: an inverted Y of flues

shouldering the chimney, and a single

skylight at the back of the house’s head.

I’d clamber to its bashed lead-pipe propper

to prong it open on a long sill-nail,

heaving against its weighty glass and frame

(a membrane to be forced) till up I’d pop,

breaking the surface, gasping, into a tilting,

slanting, choppy, pewter sea. At my nape

the sharp roof-slope insisted I look out

and right and left, never behind. Getting

my bearings, then, away to my north-east

I’d spy a building, white on a green hill,

bizarrely dazzling, as though Greek sun shone

full on it. An Ulster Acropolis.

A mermaid, drawn to a strange shimmer

in the offing, would rise, fichu’d in foam.

Periscoping on her muscular tail,

she’d wonder: an alien carapace

or a hollow, calcified accretion;

a husk, shucked? Un-intrigued, she might decide

to inspect it one dull day and she’d drop,

tugging the wave-hatch shut above her head

but down I’d go, and down and down and down

to my doorstep, my anchor-stone. From there

my beanstalk sea-weed plume wound all the way

up through those stairwells to my vantage-point.

I sat with the lowest of the low but

I had that at my back, and I had seen −

unseen − more, further, than they meant me to.

 WATCHING THE BRIDEGROOM     

He fiddles with his cuff and chafes at the fancy neck-tie.

You and me both, mate. You and me.

He leans in to whisper but a fuss behind us

turns him fully and he’s so stunned he grips me.

His future is walking up the aisle. She’s gorgeous

but he looks terrified so I nudge him to bring him round.

He’s sagging now. Not worthy. Right enough.

I square my shoulders so he’ll square his own,

I clear my throat in a Let’s-get-this-done-guys way

and see he’s steadied. The bastard’s wiping away

a tear. Fair play. He’s got a lot to lose!

I give him a cheery wink but he’s already

walking towards her. He looks up at the priest.

Some veil he was wearing has been pushed aside.

His face is flushed, abandoned. He has opened up

and he’d do anything.

The ring, I realise, as I set it on his palm,

is a kind of cunt. He slides it on her finger-prick

in front of everyone, telling her,

‘I am your woman; you’re my man.’

Whoah! What the fuck! Come on!

And yet … and yet, I get it:

he has to let her in. He has to be taken.

Do you take this man …?

One, he wants to be with her.

The rest’s a blur. I fall in behind the bridesmaids

and I’d do anything for him, even as I watch him

heading out and onward, launched and leaving me

smaller and smaller in his wake. As it should be.

As it should …

That girl I wouldn’t dance with at the pub last night −

she wasn’t good enough, I said, but it was me.

What would it have taken – what would it take –

Letting someone in?

OUT OF THE FOG

The same old trick of moisture and of light,

The same sleight of the wind’s hand

And who would credit there’s a sheep-stack close,

An island farther off?

This cliff-top lawn is ultimate Thule,

Is utter north, facing the blank end of all.

I was anointed. I was summoned out

Aged eight in my fever-bed

My eyes were a belvedere like this.

I saw from their balcony

A whiteness − like a fog −

Was all, was everything.

I gave a statement, adding a dispatch

On the armies clashing down the blanket-slopes.

My first fuck! in the fever hospital that night

From the doctor when he broke a needle in my spine.

In my fever-room next day

I understood I was a relic of some kind,

Transitional, a here/elsewhere Girl-in-a-Glass-Box;

My parents − faces penned in the viewing-plate

Of a distant door.

To stay? To go?

In the white-tiled window-bay

I could move only my eyes.

My glance to the left: a nothing wall

But to the right a sombre conifer

Flagged its slow messages

Against a clout of sky.

Enough to tether me.

And I am still recanting

The fog’s persuasive heresy

−        that kingdom of the isolate self,

boundary-less, perspective-free −

Though a waving branch can breach it

Or a tide’s turn dispel,

Revealing my every headland

To be the sacrum of an archipelago.

THE DOOR  

It makes me take the measure of myself,

this door: a tight fit, to be shouldered through

awkwardly, as low as a mantle-shelf

and equally banal; hardly what’s due,

I would have thought, in the circumstances:

ungiving, narrow, poorly maintained. Few

would look twice or choose to take their chances

at a door that looks as though it’s leading

nowhere and discouraging advances.

But, if needs must, then, bent, even bleeding

already from scraped skin (looking a fool,

no doubt) I wrestle its stuck base. Ceding

an inch, it shows me a passage, dark, foul  

and – a sharp splintering! – I fall headlong,  

am fed onto the tongue-blade of a cruel                 

plane that bears down hard, sweepingly, along      

my every flaw, stripping me as I crawl.                  

That camel through a needle’s eye is wrong

in that it doesn’t represent at all                 

the pain of being shorn – but right how often 

we cling to petty things and then we stall,

blaming the narrow gate and not our burden,

doubting a lightless porch could lead to heaven.

4 Poems by Angela Graham

Angela Graham’s poetry has appeared in The North, The Honest Ulsterman, The Interpreter’s House, The Ogham Stone and elsewhere, and imminently in The Lonely Crowd and The Stony Thursday Book. She won second prize in Grey Hen Press Poetry Competition. Seren Books will publish her story collection, A City Burning in October 2020. Angela Graham gratefully acknowledges the support of the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Yes, and yes again.

    “And I am still recanting
    The fog’s persuasive heresy
    − that kingdom of the isolate self,
    boundary-less, perspective-free −
    Though a waving branch can breach it
    Or a tide’s turn dispel,
    Revealing my every headland
    To be the sacrum of an archipelago.”

    Indeed.

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