Poetry by Kathleen McCracken

Aurora Borealis

Once where my mother, a girl 

stood forested, deer gathered. 

Backlit, their coats and antlers 

became a chorus of sparks.

Later, her white skates blading

the millpond’s frosted surface.

From nowhere, inverse illumination

cantatas of polar light.

Christmas eve, the rushing reds and greens 

the bells they said belonged to Santa’s sleigh

she knew in fact were solar winds

whipping up the exosphere.

Now in her winter garden 

the apple tree’s an ice-rimed

signal fire, figure she will translate to mean

the arrival of what has been.


I am sitting in my father’s Adirondack chair

re-reading Blood Meridian, the part where the Comanches

ride down the filibusters 

who like the kid are spooked –

  the piping of the quena,

 flutes made from human bones.

Later there’s the Yuma raid and Glanton’s skull

 split to the thrapple 

then at the end the dancing, fiddling judge 

who says he’ll never sleep or die.

I read it to him once – those were the passages

my father liked the best.

The judge makes sense

he’d say, sometimes there’s simply

no way out.

My mother’s garden quivers at its peak. 

Orange shoals of dwarf calendulas

late lupin with their spines undone

the tool shed ringed in rhubarb. On stilts 

the painted houses built for bluebirds 

travelling north from Tennessee.

She wants to know the reason why

there hasn’t been some kind of sign –

 no jew’s harp, no camphor.

His going caused a lapse in the mechanics.

Shouldn’t there be gaps

an opening for visitations?

I read the epilogue again

its disquisition on sequence and causality

its talk of fire struck from rock

then spot the broad-winged hawk 

that banks and glides

red against a geodesic line of sky.

Aman in Ireland

My name means


In my country

I was a champion

rode horses

in the mountains

through surf froth

over salt-desert plateaus.

I was a winner

of races, received

gold cups, money.

I became wealthy.

In this country

I am grateful

for the coat, the boots

the blankets, the bed

where I sleep unburdened

each night returned

to the gray Caspian

the black Karabakh

each morning beseeching 

please take me to the place of horses.

About the contributor

Kathleen McCracken
Kathleen McCracken is the author of eight collections of poetry including Blue Light, Bay and College (Penumbra Press, 1991), which was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Poetry in 1992, and a bilingual English/Portuguese edition entitled Double Self Portrait with Mirror: New and Selected Poems (Editora Ex Machina, 2014). She is the recipient of the University of Toronto Review's Editor's Choice Award for Poetry, the Anne Szumigalski Editor's Prize, the Glebe House Harmony Community Trust Poetry Award and the 2017 Poetry Ireland/Tyrone Guthrie Residency Bursary. She was a finalist for the WB Yeats Society of New York Poetry Competition, the Montreal International Prize for Poetry, The Walrus Poetry Prize, the 2018 Grist Pro Forma Poetry Prize and the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize. In 2019 she won the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. She has held several Ontario Arts Council awards and an Individual Artist Award from the Northern Ireland Arts Council. Her poems have appeared in The Malahat Review, Poetry Canada Review, Exile Quarterly, Poetry Ireland, The Shop, Revival, Abridged, New Orleans Review and Grain, and she has given readings in Canada, Ireland, Portugal, Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States. Kathleen is currently Lecturer in Creative Writing and Contemporary Literature at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Visit Kathleen at www.kathleenmccrackenpoetry.com

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