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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to

This poem is taken from PN Review 205, Volume 38 Number 5, May - June 2012.

Four Poems Sinéad Morrissey
The Second Coming of Christ


The summer my mother joined the Seventh-day Adventists -
announcing over dinner that Saturday was the Sabbath
and the practice of Sunday worship, an invention of Rome -

the stock-markets crashed in August. I'd been off work
for weeks, keeping immaculate house, craning my neck to catch
the sea's inhalation at the rim of the village,

its ochre-bouldered aftermath, and thinking too much
of the black-edged photograph in Orlando Figes' A People's Tragedy
of women of the 'former classes' in the winter of 1919,

selling whatever they owned on the streets of St Petersburg.
Carpets, samovars, oyster knives, if they existed,
have long since been bartered for bread. Instead, they proffer

a coat or a blanket, three spoons, a dinner plate,
at the rag-end of what can be done without,
though one of them still wears a veil, as though to block the shame

of people passing, or of who she used to be, or both.
Riots broke out across London. My children quarrelled and cried.
It rained. I cooked pancakes for breakfast and omelettes

for lunch and our daughter started to speak in sentences:
me me go upstairs now no. Our first-born stopped waking up
in the night after dreams of volcanoes and birds.


I looked up Seventh-day Adventism on the Internet:
a sect that expects the second coming of Christ
and which enjoys the greatest life-expectancy of any sub-group

in America
. There are questions I still haven't asked -
if she no longer accepts Darwin, for instance,
or if the Word of God came down to her in a dream

or brought her to her knees with trembling.
I can't imagine it: Jesus back amongst us, recognisably
Himself, but presumably she's expecting it -

cities razed, fields piled high with bodies, the seas on fire
and then a great light streaming from the sky
as when He ascended, visible to everyone in a single instant,

while trumpets sound. Or if, with other Millenarians,
she thinks the saved will be whisked off
like wheat from chaff or froth from milk or hailstones in reverse

in the shutting of the aperture between one second and the next.
I stack the dishwasher twice a day, give my children baths,
sweep the floor in the kitchen when they've gone to sleep

and consider the steady eradication of what's bearable -
ransacked flats, furniture axed for firewood - the likelier scenario.
Come the Rapture, not me, nor any of my kind, will be taken up.

A Day's Blindness

December. The year at the back of it
blown and shrunk to dark
in the morning, dark in the afternoon
and the light in-between
like the pale blue flicker of a pilot light
in a boiler's black intestine.

There was the usual breakfast
- coffee, soda bread, jam -
neither one of them speaking.
Her slept-on hair. The papers
still to go out for and a walk
to the top of the road and back,

past crows' nests fisted in trees,
to look at the Lough. It happened
at once: no jolt, no warning,
no shutter cranking low
over everything, no shadows
starting off on the periphery

like hares in fields
and then gradually thickening.
He stood up to carry his plate and cup
to the sink and couldn't see.
He sat back down. The clocks
went on consuming Saturday.

He would have needed practice
at being blind to pretend to be sighted.
He had none, so she saw.
The son was away in Florida.
He asked her to leave, and for hours then,
as through the womb's wall,

he heard her about the house,
moving around upstairs,
using the bathroom,
and perhaps just once
- or twice? -
saying something soft
and incoherent into the telephone.

Outside, at a quarter to four,
a watery sunset broke over
the squat hills. He couldn't tell
the lifting and the thud
of the returning dark apart.
He sat on at the table,

rolling crumbs beneath his thumbs
and waiting, either for what was taken
to be handed back -
the fridge, the kettle, his cuff-linked shirt -
or for the kleptomaniac visitor
he couldn't lock out

to be done with it, finally,
to sever the link -
to haul him up out of his chair,
into the hall, and through the brown door
to a garden ruined with hooves
and there would be

horses set loose from the Bond Yard
where his father worked
in the Hungry Thirties,
their coats engrained with soot
and their heads encased in steam,
accusing him.

Ladies in Spring by Eudora Welty
- a translation

Dewey is going fishing with his father to the swamp.
The earth is powder-dry. The sky is laden.
The river's a half-drained basin with the bottom poking through:
mud, tree-stumps, driftwood spiked like antlers, rocks.
They have a pole each slung over one shoulder
and a bucket for the catch. There are no fish.

Miss Hattie Purcell from the post office is making it rain.
She surprises them, sitting in the puddle of her clothes,
concentrating. Of everyone back at the Royals -
the schoolmaster, the Seed & Feed owner -
only she has the power. They go round her
like skirting a preacher they haven't the time for.

The indigo bushes are latticed with climbing vines.
Violets are blooming, and frowsy white flowers
Dewey doesn't know the name of that happen in spring.
They run a rickety plank to a smashed-up bridge
in the middle of the Little Muscadine
and drop their bated lines. Schtum as a heron,

Miss Hattie sits rigid on the crest of the riverbank,
whatever language magic might be made of
running in her mind. Blackie! Then again, Blackie!
And here comes his father's name, shot across
to them out of the maples. Blackie! Miss Hattie
doesn't move. Some other lady entirely

has gone and placed her round bright face in the branches
where a circle of sun has landed and uttered this cry.
Then she runs away. The swamp is still as a Sunday.
She must be about to die, thinks Dewey,
watching for his fish. His father flourishes
a lunch from his overall pockets and they laugh.

It starts to rain - yes, praise to heaven rising
where it falls O hallelujahs - one plopped drop at a time.
Soon the river's so ploughed and puckered
it looks like a muddy field you'd step onto and be safe.
And if the rain could be translated into words
Little You and Little Me, Little You and Little Me

would be the closest thing to meaning you could catch.

Photographs of Belfast by Alexander Robert Hogg

The year the Great Ship Herself
is fitted out
at the mouth of the Lagan,

her panelling
drilled through & threaded
with miles of electric cables

& her gymnasium
horses finally bolted

fifty cubic tonnes
of soot
falls over the city

in drifts, in rain, in air
breathed out then in again,
re-textured as dust.

He notices
the stark potential
of tarnished water

for the plate-glass photograph:
how there are slate-tones
& oiliness together

& how, in standing pools
& running drains,
it coats the children's feet

with ubiquitous, gritty ink.
Alleyways & back yards
snag on his mind:

he can barely pass an entry
without assessing
the effect the diagonal

of a porterhouse roof
beside a streetlight
might produce, whereas

to photograph a yard
on Little York Street -
its ruin of toppled bricks

& broken guttering,
the windows of its houses,
open holes -

is to cast the viewer out
onto the no-man's-land
of her own estate

& to prove the eye is banked
as much by what unravels
as by flint.

There is the tidy shop
he makes his tidy living in
selling a wallet

of possible poses
for posterity: the Father
with his Watch-Chain,

the Sailor on his Stool -
but for this commission
from the Corporation

he's sending home
dispatches from Sebastopol
Street in which

a man by the railings
ghosts himself
by turning his head too soon.

One cannot tell
if the room in the photograph
entitled 'Number 36'

is inhabited -
light from the missing
upper storey is shafted

by jutting planks,
the fire-black walls
are crystalline,

& yet outside similar terraces
with crumbling masonry
& dark for doors,

in bedraggled
unspeakable arcs
he's conjured with his shillings,

each child strong enough
to manage it
carries a child.

This poem is taken from PN Review 205, Volume 38 Number 5, May - June 2012.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
Further Reading: - Sinéad Morrissey More Poems by... (21) Articles by... (4) Reviews by... (2) Reviews of... (2) Translation by... (1)
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