Three poems by Patricia McCarthy

 
 

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…

 

IV

 

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.

 

V

 

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.
 
 
VI

 

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.

 

Patricia McCarthy

About Patricia McCarthy

Patricia McCarthy is the winner of the National Poetry Competition 2012. She was born in Cornwall, and brought up mainly in Ireland. After studying at Trinity College, Dublin, she lived in Washington D.C., Paris, Bangladesh, Nepal and Mexico. She now lives in East Sussex, where she taught for fifteen years at a famous girls’ school. Her work has won prizes and been widely anthologised. Her recent collections include 'Rodin’s Shadow' (Clutag Press/Agenda Editions, 2012), 'Horses Between Our Legs' (Agenda Editions, 2014 – chosen book of the year in The Independent), 'Letters to Akhmatova' (Agenda Editions, 2016), 'Rockabye' (Worple Press, 2018), and 'Trodden Before' (High Window Press, 2018). 'Around the Mulberry Bush' (Waterloo Press) and 'Hand in Hand' (London Magazine Editions) are both due in 2021.