Anne McMaster is a poet and professional playwright who lives on an old farm in rural mid-Ulster. She was a finalist in the FSNI Poetry Competition in 2015 and shortlisted for the 2016 Bangor Poetry Competition. Her work has been published in 19,751 Words: an Anthology, in Paper Plane Pilots, The Honest Ulsterman and in The Poetry Marathon Anthology (2014 and 2016).
A theatre director and former lecturer in both English Literature and Performing Arts, Anne now runs a theatre company which specialises in original devised work. She is happiest writing or out in the garden with her cats trying not to kill plants.
End of Year
From here, you can see the fabric of the year
scuffed raw and worn thin
around a grey horizon’s fine and unforgiving rim.
Today the sun is light and empty; nothing more.
Sudden gusts of desolate, bitter wind
busy themselves along the weakening edges of the moment
delving in – seeking to loosen – then to pry
all that holds them from the remnants of the day.
The desiccated husks of time
are borne up – gossamer-thin, translucent –
rising loose in tattered fragments
towards an abandoned sky.
No living bird, this,
but the shadowed fragment of a slate-like song
caught deep within a slight, half-span of honeyed wood.
One side carved in rolling curves, red hieroglyphs marking their ebb and flow –
the other, a broad straight edge,
pressed smoothly warm into my father’s palm.
Stepping through my soft-edged memory, now, he moves –
bright-eyed, muscled, smiling, round the corner of the byre –
a jagged memory of that small, lost bird
borne carefully in his large, cupped hands
as he carries his gopen-ful of sound.
He touches the wood gently with a shining metal arc
bright and cool as a sickle-sharp winter moon
And the rasping cry of a corncrake leaps between his fingers, sharpening our air.
Can you hear it? His eyes meet mine and his smile is sweet. Can you hear it?
This rough call echoed once around the fields
as men, long-ago, scythed grass then forked the hay;
as horses, straining with each fragrant load
hauled sweet summer harvest to the shed
as hedges rippled slowly in a lush kaleidoscope of green
and a lonely dog barked in the yard.
I hold this slip of wood and think of fields cropped warm and stubble-bare;
tilly lamps hissing in a clean, cool room
as men greet the woman of the house and lay their caps aside,
chairs pulled in to a table heavy with food and bread and tea.
Small children – my father and his sister – quiet as shadows as voices flow
a bisom and a patient cat standing silent at the door;
behind the house, the flint-like echo of a corncrake in the empty field.
Then my father’s smile, so soft and clear in his aged, sun-browned face
as he gently offers the singing wood for me to try
to give the corncrake voice again.
Can you hear it?
A Question of Grief
How is it that I carry grief so well, you want to know?
Do I draw it up, like water,
fine drops spilling loose before me in careful, holy palms?
Or do I clutch, perhaps, at something yet unformed;
pull it close in to my hollow chest
where grief beats out a slow low echo
from a stone-weary heart?
Do I heft it, in bulk, across my shoulder
letting it bow me low with steps that drive me down?
Or do I carry it now in some more nebulous form –
a thin, fine layer cracked just beneath the skin?
Pain refracted within me,
muscle-deep, to my very core?
Ice had formed when they found her.
No thickened, opaque crust
but a delicate rime along the river’s edge.
Moving gently in the bitter water
tendrils of long dark hair marked the paleness from her skin
and stone shadows filled her cheeks with shade.
“Come with me,” she seemed to sing to those who found her, lonely, there.
“The biting water is nothing to the coldness of the world.”
No boundaries mark this open page.
Yet on the broad-horizoned land,
fields, mended hedges, broken walls
mark exactly where I may not go.
A page – this page – is open to the sky.
Times past, on snowy winter days
three small girls
slid, shrieking, down a frosted hill.
Boundaries were a whispered dare
a looming thrill.
Only a final curve – a tipping point
moments before disaster –
drove us deep into the snow
not pinioned on leafless briars
behind the cold barbed wire.
We raced through crop-filled summer fields
picked raspberries and blackberries,
sweetening our lips and nights
tasting summer and autumn on our tongue.
Later we found ourselves
drawn to the edge of things
moving towards the boundaries of the day.
Keep the book. Open the page.
This page – this page – is open to the sky.