Sunday 28 February 2021

Two Superb Poems by Denise O'Hagan


Nature’s grand chandelier

(A Villanelle in the time of climate change)


The yolk of the sun, by mid-afternoon

Lay heavy on us, to the shade we drew near,

Craving the night, the limpid light of the moon.


A child lifted her mask, asking, ‘Will it end soon?’

Her mother replied, ‘It’s the usual, no need to fear

The yolk of the sun, by mid-afternoon.’

But the scent of the ash in the air at high noon

Wilted her will, made her want to disappear,

Craving the night, the limpid light of the moon.

‘Where are you, my child?’ Her cries, out of tune,

Died on her lips under nature’s grand chandelier:

The yolk of the sun, by mid-afternoon.

The child stumbled on unseen, trying not to swoon,

Drawn to the shimmering sea, ’til there became here,

Craving the night, the limpid light of the moon.

Surrendering at dusk to a watery cocoon                          

She rejoiced, for she’d fled this smouldering sphere,

The yolk of the sun, by mid-afternoon,

Craving the night, the limpid light of the moon.

Still the rain kept falling

i.m. Mimi


I’ll not forget

The sombre shuffle in

From the rain, the pain of it

Of nods and handshakes

Murmured condolences

Which cannot help but miss the mark

But it’s all we have:

Inadequacy on a pedestal.


Oh, get on with it! She’d chuckle

Cross her legs and light another cigarette


And so we did,

With the inevitable mini rituals

Attendant on the outward one:

The squeak of shoes on stone

And clearing of throats, misting of eyes

At the wavering brush of candlelight

And spray of lilies over her.


The moment’s happened, then, she’d say

The one we shrink from, and push away until we can’t


Yet there’s no end

To what we can’t admit

As later anecdote and wishful thinking shape our memory

And, chameleon-like, it changes in the telling.

But this much I know:

Her dark-haired grandson who sat apart

Inclined, black-shirted, at the piano,

His fingers dancing a song of his own making

Tenderly, as if he’d spent his short life

In preparation of this moment

Under the thirteenth Station of the Cross.


She adored her music

From Bach and Billy Joel to Casablanca’s theme


She was a good listener.

But now it was our turn

To hang onto words, to incantations

Expressing the inexpressible.

I clutched my tissues, hot and damp

And still the rain kept falling.



In her letters, notes and diaries – a litany of ruminations

Words had stretched her past her troubles, far beyond


The black bug of the waiting hearse was shiny

Doors open, mouthing glassily in the pale air

Reflection-laden, gleaming

As holy water splashed

Like slivered tears

On wood.


Contrary, contemplative, and one of a kind
Mistress of the mercurial: my mother


The grave-studded hillside

Stretched, like a thousand-piece chess-set
With exhausted pawns, falling

And tilting Kings and Queens

Watching, as she disappeared

Under scoop after scoop of earth

The richer now for holding her.


Second prize in the Sutherland Shire Literary Competition, April 2020 (and subsequently published in Sutherland Shire Literary Competition magazine, 17 April 2020).


Denise O’Hagan was born in Rome and lives in Sydney. She has a background in commercial book publishing, manages her own imprint Black Quill Press, and is Poetry Editor for Australia/New Zealand for Irish literary journal The Blue Nib. Her poetry is published widely and has received numerous awards, most recently the Dalkey Poetry Prize 2020. Her debut poetry collection, The Beating Heart, is published by Ginninderra Press (2020). 

            Denise O’Hagan / Black Quill Press




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