Below are three poems from Patricia McCarthy’s new chapbook-length sequence Whose hand would you like to hold…, published by Agenda Editions, written during lockdown. Patricia has written about the sequence for The High Window here.
from Whose hand would you like to hold…
Holy week, our childhood voices singing Gregorian chant far off, nuns’ rosaries chinking as thuribles fill with incense, hands with candles. Under a blue moon only, we genuflect – while sirens wail in emptied city streets through silences that echo for miles. Long have we swapped naves for woodland paths, treading in imprints of a man who shouldered everyone on his way to the cross: a man we need urgently to help us here where ash dieback matches the dieback of people who run out, even, of mountain air. Maybe it is his heart beating in every tree, his pulse in throats of nightingales still too soon to find in the early April season. We daub foreheads with ash from old bonfires. Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday: cross after cross, masks stolen by thieves from wards where eyes of the paralysed on ventilators stay open all night unseeing, comatose. We do not hear the tapping of nails into flesh and wood. Our girlhood voices suddenly lack a tune. Nothing to sing about under this blue moon.
Pink Super-Moon, in between worm moon and flower moon, who are you as you loom over lands far and wide with all your names: sprouting grass moon, egg moon, fish moon. Do you let the traditional plaits of children in reservations swing like metronomes over you, your rhythms and tides given to wigwams and clearings, your colour absorbed from their wild ground-phlox as it spreads widely into Spring after Spring. Or do you signify the end of the world as we know it, your appearance dangerously close to the Earth that laughs in your face, showing off blossoms, shivers of green in silver birches, oaks – no trace of the plague. Or can you see behind what appears, decipher ancient scripts of almanacs and bibles, a dreamt-up quatrain by Nostradamus about a queen from the east causing an uncontrollable endemic, men turned into the dust that tints and covers you? Pink Super-Moon, restore in life our trust.
This cottage has known it before: its long cold room with its musty air offered as a mortuary, sin-eaters chanting outside and glorified bodies inside souls escaping, soot-coated, up wide chimney-breasts with ghouls of non-believers. Rats, like now, more numerous than people, circus acts performed by fleas on their backs before their leaps onto putrified skin of the few still living. Wet nurses, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, physicians tired from rubbing onions, herbs and chopped-up adders onto boils, wiping hung pigeons over infected bodies, giving draughts of ten-year old treacle and vinegar, offering even urine to sip as fevers rise, buboes swell and multiply. No one in the streets except a few flagellating themselves to escape what they think is the wrath of god. A stench everywhere in that long lockdown. No running water, tin pails for excretion, outside pumps dry. Lessons to learn from shut doors about The Black Death’s cure.