Queens of the May and other poems- Catriona Clutterbuck



Mayday. White afternoon light
in the white mouth of the year.

Follow a blue thread of sound
to the braid of girls
in their convent-school years
song-circling the stations of faith –

grey chapel and tennis court,
silver graveyard and Canon’s Walk,

towering beech trees
baby-greening ajar
the cervix of summer
above our mantilla’d heads –

Hear again this, our petition
in the hymn of our changing flesh:
bring flowers of the rarest
and blossoms the fairest…


Seen at first, it’s a mason’s whim:
two long and delicate lines
chiselled to perfect balance
each side of his apple-round cheeks.

But this man’s entwined in no Eden:
look again – his arms are twisted and tied
to a crossbeam strapped to his shoulders
so his neck muscles scream for release,

drowning out the sweet pulse of forgetting
of self in the stretched hands of praise
of St. Kevin nestling the blackbird
in the shape of prayer’s cruciform.

No chicks can fly from the other’s stretched palms
forced to agony by human decree:
his yoke scores the flesh of each century still
seeking substance in enmity.


Its hills appease me
like the negotiated comfort feeds
of a hardy child
nurtured on thick and thin
who will spend her life seeking
such button studs in time
as this cornfield by brown lea
under a wind-sharpened sun,
and finding them, wonder,
how is here a familiar sight?


The first aerial photograph
taken of us unawares
beavered us verso and recto into view –

our spring-straggly gardens,
muck of farmyards behind
and in between,

the strange valleys of our roof
above windows dropping lashes
before our widening eyes…

So often since then
we’ve slipped the house
that stopped the wind from Slievenamon

only to seek its shelter again
in the face
of the indifferent fields.


The sea is free and cold
where you lived beyond conception.

Gills flickered my taste and you turned
to nuzzle my dusty interior.

You slipped the torn driftnets hung
for your sibling flushed out on the tide;

swam past the laborious flies
I cast each month from the shallows of fear.

You are in me now leaping weirs
towards the pool of your spirit-sinew

that churns with the silts of your spawning
freshly breaking through.


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