The Island

Spike Island lies in the middle of Cork harbour, a green mound ringed by a prison wall. When Rosemary Canavan penetrated this enclosed world as a prison teacher, the only way she could record her experience was in the poems which form the main section of this collection. Other poems observe the changing country around her, and the strange landscapes of love.



There used to be skylarks, he said:
we would lie
on the flat of our backs
in summer, to listen,
and in the hedgerows,
crab apples.

But the fifty acre field
grows no hedgerows
for birds to flutter and perch:
no corncrakes rasp
to break the still air
above the sileaged grass,
and the skylark's song
no longer tumbles
to the fields and woods
round Ringabella.      




Could they see the print
of our faces on the window
when they returned, those
dwellers in our old house?
Some sort of hippies, my father
said, seeing the crocheted rug
on the sofa, its many colours
spangling the dull light of the kitchen.
Did they love to live
enfolded by those stone walls
knitted with cow’s hair, hare’s blood?
Were they uneasy as dark came
(that woman at the stair’s head)?
Did their children hear boards
shrink and creak towards nightfall,
hide heads under blankets
and still not shut out the fear?                       


Oh, Joe
with the brown skin,
teak-coloured curls, and lips
cherubic, serene
like a Medici page boy;

you shrug, cheerfully,
when someone taunts
you sleep with men

(at ease in here)

outside, will you
pillow your face
(deep breath)
in the white bag again

and the fumes make
strange images come in your brain
and your limbs
dance dance like a madman’s –

what use to you then
is the geography – Primary III –
you took with such delight
and pored over
for a whole afternoon?


Sometimes you walk where I cannot follow you

We had walked into the garden
the big man and I
when suddenly
he was in my bed
wearing only navy-blue underpants
His great bear-body
was hot and comforting
until you knocked at the door
and I tried to shake him off
but he was so heavy, so heavy –
and he did not seem to hear
when I pleaded with him

I had nothing to wear

so pulled on a short jacket
it did not cover one of my breasts
and I had to leave the caravan
where we stayed
and cross a field
which was sky-blue studded with pools of concrete
where boys were playing hurley
(whether they saw my one exposed breast
I do not know)
to reach the house where you and the children
were making breakfast

On the veranda a hag with snow-white hair accosted me
could she use my oven to bake buns for the hurley team?
I was angry at her intrusion
but she knew what I had been doing
so it was difficult to refuse

I do not know if I ever gained the kitchen

But I was walking in the fast lane
of a four-lane highway
the road was broad, deserted
except for a woman in a small car
she waited until I had walked by

and then I was turning, turning, scraping inside
a great womb-shaped piece of white clay
beating a fork around to make it perfectly smooth
the outside was ribbed
I touched it with a finger
and it was searing, white-hot from the fork's friction
at my touch it collapsed to a little low teapot
covered with fine coils of white clay like curls
it was no bigger than the palm of my hand

Sometimes where I walk you cannot follow me.

Home Biography Reviews The Island Truckers Moll Workshops Contact